What I Am Into This Month – August 2011

Following suit, linked to Megan at SortaCrunchy and Sarah at Emerging Mummy, I will sum up my August.

On My Nightstand:

  • Together, hedged in by teeming life

    While I didn’t actually read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or even read it in the past five years, I lived it every day in Ontario. The first night we stayed on the farm, blanketed in humidity, ears ringing with the overwhelming buzz of insects, blocked from my grandparents’ old house by thick and wild overgrowth, I thought of Annie and her knack for describing the awe-inspiring beauty and horror of her rural landscape. Case in point, the sheer number of cicadas my 2-yr-old son and I found on a single tree one day (about 5 and then more later), emerging from their skins:

Cicada emerging from its skin

  • Elizabeth Hay’s Alone in the Classroom – not as engaging as her Late Nights on Air, I still appreciated the Canadian literary qualities of the book. I also enjoyed reading a book that showed me how a writer could link together stories from an ancestor’s life in the early 20th century.
  • Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children – a fascinating book featuring eight topics like praise and self esteem, why kids lie, sleep deprivation, etc. I love this kind of book – lots of interesting research that is already changing my perspective and practices with our kids.
  • The Bible – it’s always on my nightstand but it’s been open more than usual this month.
  • Little Princes – orphans living in terrible conditions in Nepal after being sold by their parents, who were deceived by traffickers…it was a truly moving story. A young man goes down to volunteer and ends up starting a charity to help reconnect the families.
  • Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen – light summer reading for my vacation – I got right into this story but at the end of the day, knowing it is fictional (but based on some facts) makes it intrinsically disappointing.

Want to Read: The Help, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Book Thief

T.V. Shows
We don’t have cable, so the most TV I watched was on the flight back to BC from our family vacation in Ontario, when I watched 3 consecutive episodes of What not to Wear. It is worth noting that my plane TV screen only worked on one of four flights. And earlier this summer I watched (and surprisingly really enjoyed) the first season of Gilmore Girls.

Movies I’ve Seen: We actually took our two preschoolers to a real movie in the theatre: Winnie the Pooh. I borrow quite a few DVDs from the library such as Monsoon Wedding, the Red Balloon, Exit Through Gift Shop, Roman Holiday, etc. I watched Kandahar last week and it’s really stayed with me. 

In My Ears: I listen to music a lot to help me concentrate at work, and have finished about five months of going through my ipod songs in alphabetical order! Now I often go for shuffle songs, though I don’t like being surprised by all the Raffi and children’s music that ends up interspersed! Enjoying Broken Social Scene, Downhere (old college friends of mine, who have just released a new album), Bjork, Feist, Stereolab – the usual.

Newest Blog Reads and/or Internet Interest

  • Dahlhaus – dear (yet far-flung) friend of ours who’s career as an artist has been advancing in leaps and bounds!
  • My photographer husband, who is starting to embrace the marketing necessity of blogging (many great new posts to come).
  • MelbourneMumma – another mom with lots of inspiring ideas and images.
  • Other people who do similar types of art, such as artandtreasure, serendipity, knit the hell out (love that “vision” sweater thing! I hope I find time to knit this year), phrogmom, and more!

What I’m Looking Forward to Next Month:

  • My dear little almost 4-yr-old, so proud to be dressed like mommy (and my 2-yr-old oblivious of the point of the photo).

    The beginning of autumn, my favourite season – the crisp air, the morning mist that crouches over the riverbank where I work, apples from the orchard, curry, stuffed pumpkins, preschool (for my daughter), flannel sheets, fall leaves, purple asters. For me, autumn is like New Year’s Eve for some – I am often struck by a sense of renewal and artistic inspiration.

  • My beautiful daughter’s fourth birthday next week. Watching her grow and learn to print, read, be kind. It is so much fun being a mom.
  • A welcome return of Saturday brunches with friends…look forward to reconnecting with lots of you!
  • A short trip to Victoria later in the month.
  • Lots of fall events at work, which I am planning and designing ads, posters and promotional material for.

Summer on the farm

Old journals, letters, and artefacts from my family farm

This summer we vacationed at my childhood farm in Southwestern Ontario, along the shore of Lake Erie and nestled in by a hedge of field corn, overgrowth, humidity, and the intense, throbbing hum of cicadas and crickets.

People are often quite surprised to discover that I am from a farm. My dad was born and lived his whole life on the same farm. In August, we convened with my parents and “far-flung” siblings, to quote my brother, and our 8 children under 7 years old. We spent lazy mornings playing in a pile of sand, splashing in the velvety lake sand, or playing with all our childhood toys and games. The delight of Lite-brite, Viewmaster, Little People, and Connect Four were not lost on the next generation.

Kids sitting on the foundation of the old barns

But at night, I quickly unearthed a box full of old letters from my grandfather’s sister to her parents during her year at Normal School, 1939-1940. As always, I became engrossed in the details between the lines. If I were to write a book set in that time period, I would have pages of details about the movies showing, the prices of gas, hotels, eggs, and flannel, and the kinds of things a rural girl cared about in those days. Being on the farm, outside the same sleepy hamlet where my ancestors’ farm days were lived out, I cannot help but be fascinated and feel a sense of connection with the past.

I brought home more journals, ledgers, letters, and some other trinkets: a bone dice that has to have been handmade, some belt buckles, a brooch, some pocket mirrors, a metal toy pig, and a renewed interest in writing. Another notebook is filled with recipes for cleaners and home remedies.

antique items

A few of my souveniers from the farm

What is it in me that finds this stuff so fascinating? Partly it’s the mystery – as a child, I spent hours exploring the barns and former site of “the old house,” hoping to find a secret room. It occurred to me that rather than reading 70-year-old letters, I should be asking my living relatives to share their own stories and memories.

On my last day in Ontario, I rediscovered some of my Great Grandma’s journals, and my dad and I enjoyed going over them for details of his birth in 1945, and also the accident when he was 10, when he was hit by a car quite seriously. Dad’s sister eagerly shared a number of her memories of their childhood, which mean a lot to me since he doesn’t recall some of those things. I love hearing the stories of how the farm used to be in several phases over the past century and a half.

1945 journal

Great Grandmother's 1945-49 journal open to the page about my Father's birth.

I am home again now, shaking off the lazy mental state of vacation and time travel. I picked up the Elizabeth Hay book, “Alone in the Classroom,” and engaged by how similar parts of her story are to the kind of novel I was cooking up while reading my stash of old journals and letters – a similar time period, also about her aunt who was a teacher. It will probably be a few years before I can develop enough of a plot to write my own book, but it’s nice to be thinking about writing again.

corn field

Corn field on our farm in Ontario