Reunited and it feels so good.

Reunited

We didn’t take toys on our trip, for fear of leaving or losing them. Luckily, there were plenty of toys at the cabin and everyone was properly diverted in between trips to go “snowing.” Nevertheless, on the drive home, the boys began to ask about their new Steiff chimpanzee and gorilla … and were delighted to find them still here, waiting for them.

The Blank Page

2013 is a book yet to be written, and I have always been paralyzed by the blank page. Thankfully, it is easier to continue living day by day than to continue writing through a block… but still I wish I could sneak a peek ahead and read the outline.

We returned today from a lovely family celebration of the New Year (and my husband’s birthday) in the mountains of Arizona. The boys enjoyed the idea of snow far more than the experience of being cold. I can’t blame them – they are, after all, little desert scorpions. Those of us who knew snowy winters as children relished the experience. My mother-in-law, who lived much of her life in Moscow, particularly loved to go for walks, multiple times a day. She told me that she was imagining her mind contained a little camera that could capture these moments and play them back to her. I could have whipped out my iPhone at any time and “captured the moment,” but it’s never quite the same as experiencing life first-hand, unedited and raw.

After a blissfully uneventful trip home, we discovered that our boys are battling right and proper little man colds. Sigh… and so it begins. Welcome, 2013. Take off your shoes and stay a while.

You Can Never Go Home Again

I am sitting in the more formal dining room, rather than the living room, because it is the room with the best light, and because it is not as cluttered with the paraphernalia of boyhood. I often find that I can breathe better in this room, perhaps even think better. There are two young persons (allegedly napping) down the hall. It surprises me that lately it has been my two year-old, rather than my four year-old, who has been fighting the midday nap. It does not surprise me that this agitates me beyond belief. I’m selfish like that: you see, the hours between 1 pm and 3 pm (or even 4 pm, if God is being particularly kind) are MY TIME. My husband is still at work* and the boys are resting. This is the time I get to myself… to do what I please.

And lately, it pleases me to read books about the post-Roman world of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. I know, right? I’m not precisely what you might call a medievalist. If I had to pick my favorite time period, it would be the world on the cusp, just before the Age of Steam-Driven Empires, and just until the first great war. The 19th century, if you like, though my interest reaches a bit before and bleeds out somewhat into the 20th. Change was in the air, and not all of it for the better. But for now, I’m immersing myself in the world of Constantine and Charlemagne, and all because of the Yale Open Courses and a former professor, Paul Freedman.

I am thirty-two, and at present am employed as the Chief Domestic Diva (read: stay at home mom) of the Markov Family. Probably not what was expected of me when I entered Yale University as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman. In fact, though I always knew that I wanted to be a mother, I know that I didn’t think through what that would mean for my “career path.” (At this point in my life, you see, that is the sort of thing one puts in quotation marks.) I have been thinking ahead lately to a time when my boys are in school and I would like to re-enter the workforce, and though I am not sure precisely what I would like to do when that time comes, I know it involves some sort of teaching and writing. Having gotten that far, I came to the conclusion that the best mode of preparation was to do a great deal of reading and studying.

I lack the time and discretionary income to do advanced degree work, even from home, but we do live in a marvelous age of free online university courses, and so I decided to begin with a professor that I knew I liked, studying a time period that seemed interesting precisely because it was such an unknown. Most of us, let’s face it, still carry around that horribly inaccurate image of “The Dark Ages.” I also enjoy my readings because they are not focused on: nutrition, childrearing, or housekeeping. It seems as though nearly all of the reading I have done over the past six years has been such practical fare… and while that has its place, I (as a graduate of the Humanities program at Yale) am delighting in learning for its own sake.

All that being said, it is becoming increasingly obvious that you can never go home again. Make no mistake, sitting in my air-conditioned dining room in Arizona I am not “getting a Yale education from home.” Anyone who listens to these lectures and thinks that is deluding themselves. The real Yale education, as I experienced it, had far more to do with the discussion sections so casually mentioned in the lectures, office hours with the professor, and of course extensive reading of the sort of books one does not find in the Phoenix Public Library. Then again, I have opportunities I did not have then: I have time to listen to lectures repeatedly, and to supplement other lectures and books (in this instance those from the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series). I am able to read entire books if I want to, not the section that is photocopied into the Course Reader. (The “luxury” of not having the reader available to off-campus students is that we must purchase every book.)

While I don’t have access to the professors and graduate students I used to know, (nor even the suggested paper topics for the course, which are not among the materials supplied by Open Yale Courses) I do have the skills acquired over the years of writing research papers. If I find myself so inspired as to write an essay, I’m sure I can cobble together my own topic and bibliography. More likely I’ll keep extensive reading journals (having just re-read How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren) and process my responses on this web site.

I am different now than I was in 1999 when I first entered Directed Studies, a freshman-year intensive study of the Western Canon. Life has changed my perspective: I am a Christian, I am a wife and a parent. This and many other factors will play into my readings as I work my way through the “Great Books” again, but I am not afraid. Any book truly worth reading is worth reading again, and worth reading properly. If I have any goals for this period of “Self-directed Studies,” it is that I wish to know that I have read, understood, and engaged with these books in a way that I was not at leisure to do while I was a student at Yale.

* Today it happens that he is overseas, but I am speaking in general terms.

Tea With a Former Professor

Tea With a Former Professor

I am beginning my study of the Early Middle Ages (History 210) with Professor Paul Freedman, via Open Yale Courses. Only four of the required books have arrived thus far, so I’m going to start by listening to all of the lectures before returning to the beginning. This is certainly a “luxury” lacking when I was an undergraduate at Yale: even had I recorded the lectures somehow, I wouldn’t have found the time to listen to all of my lectures again. That being said, this experience pales in comparison to the real deal. Not only did I take a seminar with Professor Freedman (significantly smaller class size with more intimate discussions), but the subject of that seminar touched upon those things – food, spices, and trade – that made him positively light up with glee. (This is not to disparage his lectures here, because the very nature of this course is a more broad-strokes overview of an historical period.)

Squeak Loudly

 

I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but in middle school, I played the clarinet in the school band. I also played the saxophone and the flute, but the clarinet earned me the most grief. Slightly less embarrassing is admitting that I played the clarinet in a German school orchestra. At least in an orchestra, the viola is the most hated instrument, and anyways the music is far more noble. Mozart wrote for clarinets, so they can’t be all bad!

But back to middle school: my band teacher at the Nicholas A. Ferri Middle School in Johnston, Rhode Island, was a man by the name of Daniel Coyne. I remember a few things about his teaching, including his bushy eyebrows. Long before Leonard Bernstein, he conducted us with his eyebrows. I recall how he instructed us to sit up as if suspended by a string from the ceiling, something which has come in handy throughout my life. And most often of all, I think of his maxim to “squeak loudly.” Let us put aside that the squeak is a sound coming from the clarinet when it is played incorrectly: the advice was given to all members of the band. When we were uncertain of how to proceed, we ought not play quietly and hope no one heard. He advised us to play boldly, so that he could catch the mistake before a concert, and correct it. “If you’re going to squeak, squeak loudly.”

I am going to translate his advice to another field of life: that of the New Year’s Eve Resolution. In my 30 years, my attitude towards resolutions has run the gamut: I’ve made one, intending wholeheartedly to keep it, then failed; I’ve made many, and failed as many; I’ve made none, knowing that I was bound to fail and declaring the whole thing a sham. In recent years, I tended towards the latter attitude, thinking that if I declared no goals, then I would not be caught in failing to attain them. There is of course an awful feeling to such failure. Just as each week I am ashamed as, again, I confess in church the same sins: lack of diligence in my Bible studies and prayer, improper attitudes towards my husband, our children, the home, and all the accompanying sins, I find myself each year setting the same goals, and ashamed that none of them were met in the previous year.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the lack of goals is more hurtful to me than failing to achieve them, so here, without further ado, is my attempt at a list of New Year’s Resolutions, or personal life goals, for the year 2011 and beyond. I hereby declare my right to amend and edit said list whenever I so feel the desire.

Personal:

* Find a good Bible study plan and stick to it, reading and praying each day. (Daily readings of the book of Proverbs after breakfast do not count towards this goal, as this is a family activity.)
* Someday do a simultaneous Bible study with my Mami, so we can discuss it when we’re done, despite the fact that we live across the country from one another.

* Find a good fitness plan and stick to it, including simple things such as taking the boys for walks and going to the zoo, despite the fact that it is much further away from our home since the move.
* Lose the remaining 20 (!) pounds of baby weight, approximately by the time of Alexander’s first birthday and/or my next birthday. This was not even an issue after my first pregnancy, but has proven much more difficult this time around. On the bright side, I’ve had fewer problems nursing, but still this is something I would like to tackle.
* Learn Russian
* Lose the fear of traveling aquired when I received my celiac diagnosis
* Maintain “older” friendships while nourishing the newer ones.
* Be more consistent in phone calls / letters to family members, especially my grandparents in Germany.

Family:

* Lose the ‘tude with my husband: this means no sarcasm, no rolled eyes, no nasty tone. I have become a master of the fine art of submitting without true submission: doing something, but only after stating my disinclination towards it, or questioning whether it REALLY needs to be done, etc, and I need to work on that.
* Keep a reading journal of read-alouds with the boys, ideally on a daily basis.
* Be more patient and forgiving of the boys.
* Be more consistent in my discipline, and gentle in the execution thereof. Allowing things to fester until I become “screaming mom” is not a desirable disciplinary method to me, or to them.
* Organize more frequent family outings, such as trips to the zoo, the Children’s Museum, or picnics in the park. We have so much fun when we do these, especially if Daddy is there, but I put off organizing them.
* In general, manage time better so that I can spend time being with the men in my life – my husband and my sons.
* Find ways to begin to introduce the boys to German. Ask Greg to do the same with Russian.

Home:

* Keep a better pantry. Our new pantry space is much smaller, and requires far better management.
* Be more at peace with informal hosting, so that we can open our home more frequently.
* Make, and maintain a cleaning schedule. In general, the house looks great when people are coming over. Perhaps more frequent hospitality ties into this? When we had covenant group at our home twice a month, I was so more on top of cleaning, even in the midst of the turmoil of early pregnancy.
* Do a monthly “keep, toss, sell” pile, then drop off things at their new homes / the Goodwill, and sell what needs to be sold on Craigslist or eBay.
* Meal plan, and plan out shopping trips accordingly. We now live about 20 minutes from my favorite grocery stores, rather than 8 – 10, which does make a difference when one must make use of precious time between the warring nap schedules of two wee men.
* Plan and execute a yard sale with the in-laws for January. Be consistent about giving away things that do not sell, rather than returning them to the garage.
* Organize recipes. Sell unused cookbooks. Write down recipes as I create new concoctions, so that they may be re-created.

Creative:

* Keep a reading journal. Read and complete at least two books per month, and not neglecting fiction/fun reading. Home school and Cookbooks do not a balanced reading diet make.
* Finally create and print a wedding album.
* Indulge my creative and DIY streak in the boys’ birthday parties. I know full well that they couldn’t care less, and am capable of admitting that this is more for me than for them – but then, in the end, perhaps when they are older, they’ll appreciate it. So long as I do this after hours and don’t shoosh them away with “Go play, I’m busy planning your perfect party,” it’s all good. 😉
* Build at least one cool Ana White DIY woodworking project. Do this while maintaining the house.
* Write every day. Be it blog entry, journal entry, a personal  letter, or work on the two novels and multiple short stories I’ve had floating about in my head since, um, college.
* Find a musical outlet: perhaps a choir? And continue singing. Coincidentally, persuade Greg to take up the guitar again.
* Finally learn how to make use of the embroidery features of my awesome sewing machine.
* Make or knit stockings for the family for next Christmas.
* Make some sort of advent calendar, and possibly fabric garland.
* Make more birthday/anniversary/baby/just because gifts. COMPLETE THEM, and hand them over.
* Make this the year of crafting very cheaply, if not free. Finally make use of the giant stock pile of fabric and other supplies.
* Organize a ladies’ mother’s day brunch / tea at Emmanuel, including finding speakers to propose to the elders.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year find you a better man.”