More discoveries in the garden

(This post is only pictures of flowers. You know, just fyi.) It’s a pleasant, warmish Sunday afternoon and I’ve been catching up on what the garden has been doing over the last week or so. Our daffodils are still going strong and keeping us in bouquets, and the tulips are just starting to open up. Despite the snow (!) we had a few days ago, lots of good things are happening outside.

Grape hyacinths (a longtime favourite):

I think these are bleeding hearts, although I’m not sure. The shape is right but I’ve never seen white ones before:

Purple anemones in full bloom, along with some friends:

No idea what these pretty, droopy, purple ones are. Connie, do you know?

Ok, I lied. There is also a picture of leaves. Ivy along the back fence:

Some pretty ground cover:

Hedges in blossom (and in need of a trim):

And the aforesaid tulips, coming out — red!

I can’t wait to see what the rest of the spring and summer brings.

How to cook a hot dog

When I think back on the glory days of my adolescence and young-adulthood — those magical years when we were all far more beautiful and brave than we had any idea of at the time — I don’t think about any particular athletic or academic prowess. I think about the hot dog skit.

Thursday or Friday nights at camp are beach supper nights, one of the last things to happen before everyone goes home on Saturday. We stay down at the lakefront for an extended swim in the afternoon and then it’s always the same: the cooks ride down from main camp, the truck full of hotdogs and buns, baked beans, huge coolers full of juice and water, s’more ingredients and sliced watermelon for dessert. Someone starts the fire and the campers slide here and there around the bleachers, trying to avoid the smoke as it shifts in the wind. There is a stick that is used to draw a circle around the campfire, inside of which campers Must Not Stand. And there is the hot dog skit.

There are always two of you: the safety-conscious one, and the idiot. Play the idiot; it’s more fun. Start in the boathouse and scavenge anything you can to make yourself look weird. Shove a tub up the front of your shirt or a beach-ball up your back. Gird yourself in three or four life-jackets, bedeck yourself in goggles and whistles and pool noodles and whatever is around. Put on a stupid, vaguely-German accent. Brandish your roasting stick as if it were Excalibur as you rush towards the bleachers, yelling that it’s okay! You have arrived! And now you will teach them all how to cook their weenies! (Never a hot dog: always a weenie. No, sorry: veenie.)

There is always a vague script to these things. The idiot puts the hot dogs on sideways; Captain Safety shows her how to put them on lengthwise. The idiot stands too close to the fire, puts her stick in the wrong place, sets her hotdog on fire (if she can) or drops it in the coals (if she can’t). Captain Safety blows her whistle in alarm and corrects all of these blunders. The idiot says veenie about six times per sentence because it never fails to get a laugh.

If you’re the idiot, you know where this is going and you are glad your stomach is strong.

You do it just like you did last year and the year before. You and your skit-mate have this down to a science now. After your hot dog has been set on fire and/or dropped in the coals, you drop it in the sand on the beach and give it a good stomp just to make sure all the flames are gone. But now there’s another problem: your hot dog is sandy. You look Captain Safety in the eyes — morituri te salutant — and then you dunk your hot dog in the lake. By this time there is a low rumble of dismay rising from the bleachers. Is she really going to –?

Oh, yes. You really are. You grab a bun from wherever you’ve put the props, or maybe someone hands you one. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you slam that bun where it belongs and then you take a big, slow-motion bite of your charred, sandy, lake-glazed frankfurter as eighty tweenaged girls cry out in horror. It is disgusting. It’s the grossest part of your week but you chew that sucker and since you’re already this committed, most of the time you swallow it too. In for a penny, and all that. Somewhere deep down inside you hope that you don’t pick up anything weird from the lake water, but you know that it’s worth it, just like it was last year and the year before, just to hear them scream.

Some ephemera

I’ve had several posts rattling around in my brain for a few weeks now — but I’ve hit a bit of a busy stretch, or at least a difficult-to-blog stretch, and I don’t think any of them will ever be realized at this point. So, in no particular order, here are some things I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. Recently I read Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken a Child’s Moral Imagination, by Vigen Guroian. His thesis is that the “classic stories” — fables, myths, and fairy tales in their un-bowdlerized, un-Disneyfied versions — are powerful tools for teaching and nurturing the virtues in our children (and ourselves). Each chapter examines a classic story or two, the virtue it imparts, and the means by which it does so. It’s compelling reading — and enough that I immediately checked out the original story of Pinocchio when I had finished (since I am only familiar with the Disney film version). I was especially struck by this passage quoting George MacDonald:

There are critics who say that George MacDonald wrote over the heads of children. MacDonald himself said that he wrote for “children” of all ages. He endeavored to appeal to the childlike in everyone — not the childish, but the childlike — and to feed the moral imagination. MacDonald dd not exaggerate the power of the imagination. Imagination is a power of discovery, not a power to create. The latter capacity he reserved to God alone. Nor did MacDonald equate imagination with mere fancy, what we used to call “vain imaginings.” Rather, for him, imagination is a power of perception, a light that illumines the mystery that is hidden beneath visible reality: it is a power to help “see” into the very nature of things. Reason alone, MacDonald argued, is not able to recognize mystery or grasp the moral quiddity of the world. As the sensible mind needs eyes to see, so reason needs the imagination in order to behold mystery and to perceive the true quality of things. Imagination takes reason to the threshold of mystery and moral truth and reveals them as such. Reason may then approve or submit. But it remains for the heart of courage with the will to believe and the vision of imagination to embrace the beauty of goodness and the strength of truth as the foundation of virtuous living. (141-2)

2. “Silent Night” — the Christmas carol, I mean — has always driven me a little nuts. It doesn’t scan properly. We expect melody and lyrics to work together in the service of meaning, but in this case, they’re constantly fighting each other. The third verse is slightly nonsensical. Son of God love’s pure light / radiant beams from thy holy face / with the dawn of redeeming grace — what does that mean? Is the Son of God “love’s pure light”? In which case, where is the verb that should go with the “radiant beams”? Or are we supposed to read it as “love’s pure light, radiant, beams from…” where “radiant” is modifying the light instead of describing the beams? I shouldn’t have to work this hard at a Christmas carol, for goodness’ sake.

However. I was leafing through one of my older hymnals and came across an alternate translation, by “Jane M. Campbell and others”:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Yonder the Virgin-Mother and Child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! holy night!
Only for shepherds’ sight
Came blest visions of angel throngs,
With their loud alleluia songs,
Saying, Christ is come,
Saying, Christ is come.

Silent night! holy night!
Child of heaven, O how bright
Thou didst smile on us when thou wast born,
Blest indeed was that happy morn,
Full of heavenly joy,
Full of heavenly joy.

I don’t have any German and so I can’t compare the fidelity of either translation to the original lyrics (except by running it through Google translate, which illustrates the continued necessity of human translators). But as English versions go, I think this is far superior to the more popular iteration. It’s grammatically sensible. It scans perfectly with the melody. I move that we all sing this version instead (start petitioning your choir directors now).

3. I ditched Facebook a good while ago now, but my husband still has an account, and occasionally I hop on his when I want to check something — usually a business or organization that only has a FB page instead of their own website, which is a really boneheaded choice for several reasons, which is a complete digression from the point that I’m actually trying to make. The other night I was scrolling through his feed and all I could think was I don’t miss this at all. Sometimes I regret giving up my account because it also meant giving up a certain ease of connecting with people — but when I remember everything else that came with that ease, I am again satisfied with my decision.

On a somewhat related note, the other night my husband was looking at Goodreads reviews for a book he just finished. (Why? I can only assume it’s because he likes to punish himself.) He found a long, one-star review by a contributor who admitted to not having read past the fifth page of the book. Apparently five pages of the introduction — it wasn’t even the first chapter — was enough for him to feel he had thoroughly understood and engaged with the book’s material.

It is a strange thing to live in an age where every thing demands an opinion, no matter how  dishonestly we may come by it, and every opinion is both instantaneous and public. I had both of these incidents in my mind when I ran across a Wall Street Journal opinion piece this morning, Barton Swaim’s “For Sanity’s Sake, Delete Your Account“:

The in­stan­ta­neous aware­ness of so much folly is not, I now think, healthy for the hu­man mind. Spend­ing time on Twit­ter be­came, for me, a deeply de­mor­al­iz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Of­ten, espe­cially when some con­tro­versy of na­tional im­por­tance pro­voked large num­bers of users into tweet­ing their opin­ions about it, I would come away from Twit­ter ex­as­perated al­most to the point of mad­ness.

I thought of a verse from the 94th Psalm: “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are van­ity.” Af­ter an hour or so of watch­ing hu­man­i­ty’s stu­pidi­ties scroll across my screen, I felt I had peeked into some dread­ful abyss into which only God can safely look. It was not for me to know the thoughts of man.


Weekend Reading: “Never Let Go” (Kelley Benham French)

Weekend Reading is a weekly collation of 3-5 articles that have caught my attention, published on Saturday mornings. Previous editions can be found here.

Kelley Benham French won a Pulitzer for “Never Let Go,” this three-part series on the birth of her daughter Juniper, a micro-preemie born at 23w6d gestation. I just finished her memoir, Juniper: The Girl Who Was Born Too Soon, and was able to track down this series (which became bones of the book).

1. Part One: Lost and Found — A daughter is born four months too soon

2. Part Two: The Zero Zone — Juniper’s first few weeks

3. Part Three: Baby’s Breath — Miracles, in little pieces

(no comment)

‘I’ve been told so many things that I don’t know whether I’m on my head or my heels,’ said Mark. ‘But I don’t see how one’s going to start a newspaper stunt (which is about what this comes to) without being political. Is it Left or Right papers that are going to print all this rot about Alcasan?’

‘Both, honey, both,’ said Miss Hardcastle. ‘Don’t you understand anything? Isn’t it absolutely essential to keep a fierce Left and a fierce Right, both on their toes and each terrified of the other? That’s how we get things done. Any opposition to the N. I. C. E. is represented as a Left racket in the Right papers and a Right racket in the Left papers. If it’s properly done, you get each side outbidding the other in support of us — to refute the enemy slanders. Of course we’re non-political. The real power always is.’

C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 449-50.

Book club rebel

I quit my book club.

Not because it wasn’t pleasant or interesting — it was. Not because I don’t like the people there — I do. Not even because the scheduling was difficult (although it was, how you say, a pain in the tuckus).

No; I quit my book club because I absolutely could not stand the thought of being told what to read and when to read it, no matter how charming the book in question might be. For the first month, I read A Gentleman in Moscow and that was fine, not least because that novel is simply wonderful and you should all drop everything and read it right now. Well and good.

For the second month, we were supposed to read Tim Townsend’s Mission at Nuremberg, the story of the Lutheran chaplain charged with the spiritual care of twenty-one Nazis awaiting trial at Nuremberg, as well as their families. By all accounts, Mission at Nuremberg is an excellent book. But every time I glanced over at my to-be-read pile and saw it sitting there, a simmering resentment rose within me. I didn’t want to read it. I wanted to read other things. That resentment soon turned to rebellion: they couldn’t make me read it! I read what I like!

It occurred to me that this was probably not the most… constructive… attitude to take to our next gathering. So I quit. And then I returned Mission at Nuremberg to the library, unread.

But then I sat down at thought about it — what was the reason for my fit of rebellion? It wasn’t really about this or that particular book; I may well read Mission at Nuremberg at a later date. It occurred to me, though, that I’ve only relatively recently finished my last round of schooling; it’s been not quite two years since I finished and defended my master’s thesis. And then I ran the numbers, and it turns out that I’ve been in school for exactly 68.75% of my life. That is… a lot of being told what to read and when to read it. Not that I’ve always minded! I did my undergrad degree in English Lit and enjoyed it, by and large. But still.

Now, though, I am completely unfettered — free to read whatever I like, whenever I feel like reading it. I’ve been giving myself permission to stop reading books halfway through if they’re boring me, and to even return them to the library unread if I get them home and then change my mind. I can read just as my fancy takes me, following reading paths and bunny trails as they arise. I have time to do things like decide to read an author’s entire back-catalogue (like my Lucy Maud Montgomery reading project), or read a multi-volume series straight through (like the twelve Poldark novels I read this past spring), or decide that what I really want to read now is only poetry or only travelogues or only whatever I like. And it’s wonderful.

Perhaps in another five or ten years ago I will hanker for some structure and find another book club to join. Until then, though — here’s to free reading!


Here’s to the one that got away

The month that got away, I mean. October; I blinked and October happened. Look, it’s Hallowe’en already and I haven’t posted in more than three weeks.

We’ve been in a pretty busy season chez Pennylegion: my husband has been busy at work, I’ve been busy at home. There have been birthday cakes to bake, retreats to go on, Hallowe’en costumes to make, life to squeeze out somehow in between all of the stuff that goes on. So blogging is the easiest, and first, thing to let go.

Ah, well. It happens. See y’all in November, then.


In praise of “y’all”

I wrote an email recently that went to a number of people. It started “Dear y’all,” and I was struck anew by how glad I am to have absorbed this word into my vocabulary. When you live away from your home country, it’s always interesting to note the ways it changes you as time goes on: the foods you eat, the way your accent shifts (or doesn’t), words that enter or leave your vocabulary. I would never have imagined myself as someone who uses y’all, frequently and sincerely — but I do. And I think it’s one of the most useful words I’ve picked up in a long time.

Canadian English doesn’t have a lot of great options for addressing groups of people. There’s “you guys”, which is serviceable, but which is informal and somewhat clunky — and anyway, some women don’t like being called “guys” and so you run a risk of low-key offending. There’s “folks,” which my husband uses sometimes,  but again, it’s pretty informal and doesn’t always suit. “People” sounds bossy. “Youse guys” sounds ridiculous (sorry, New York). “Ye” sounds very strange if you’re not a Newfoundler or Quaker. “You” is ambigious because it can be either singular or plural. And don’t even get me started on “yinz,” which is — amazingly — even more ridiculous than “youse guys” (sorry, Pittsburgh; I speak this truth in love).

Enter y’all, which might be the perfect second-person plural.

Y’all is adaptable: neither formal nor informal. Y’all is gender neutral. Y’all refers to two people with as much ease as it does to two thousand or two million. Y’all carries warm natural overtones of Southern hospitality. What a useful word!

We don’t plan on staying in the United States forever. At some point we’ll return to the Great White North with our American children, our relentlessly flattening/flattened vowels (cuppah cahffee, anyone?), the freedom of not using pennies, and the anticipatory joy of finally being able to find decent tea at any grocery store. And, of course, with the word y’all. It’s just so convenient; I hope y’all understand.

Explore more: Y’all, You’uns, Yinz, Youse: How regional dialects are filling a void in standard English for a plural pronoun | Florence Y’all Water Tower | America Needs Y’all