Saturday, December 31, 2011

Farewell to 2011

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

I always read these lines from Tennyson aloud on New Year's Eve, as I say farewell to the year that was. And I always do a review of the year that was in my trusty little notebook. My reviews are always positive. All I list are my "nice things and accomplishments," not my heartbreaks and failures. Every month as the year progresses, I keep a running list of "nice things and accomplishments," and then I compile my master list for the year in its entirety, in the categories of creative writing, scholarly work and teaching, and personal successes for me and my family.

This year, three things stand out.

First, I wrote my longest and most ambitious novel, still untitled, though right now the working title (for me at least) is No Exceptions: the story of a seventh-grade honor student who brings her mother's lunch to school by mistake, a lunch that has in it a knife for cutting up her mother's apple; she turns it in immediately, but is now facing mandatory expulsion under her school's zero tolerance policies. Writing this book was a great joy for me. It was so long, and all-encompassing, that I wrote on it everywhere. I wrote while lying in bed in my hotel room at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics conference in Cincinnati - I wrote while sitting in cafes in Santa Fe - I wrote while visiting a wonderful librarian who is also an amazing composer in the charming guestroom of her home in Missouri. Wherever I was, I wrote. This reminded me how much I love writing, especially when I am in the middle of a long, compelling project.

Second, I dealt with the painful and difficult task of readying not one, but two, ruined properties for sale. It took me YEARS to face the fact that I had to do this, and that in order to do it I was going to have to borrow tens of thousands of dollars on top of massive debt I already had - and I was going to have to toil without ceasing for weeks and months - and I was going to have to dwell in the land of heart-rending memories. But face it I did, and do it I did, and both properties sold and are now out of my life. Oh, my darlings: whatever you have to face, just go ahead and face it! Whatever you have to do, just go ahead and do it! You will be so glad and grateful and relieved that you did.

Finally, I had the adventure of moving (temporarily) to Indiana and starting a new life there in a whole new part of the country. I had never before even seen a field of soy beans! I discovered what it is like to teach at a small liberal arts college in a town of 10,000 people where I can walk everywhere (and where "walking everywhere" means walking three or four blocks to get everywhere). I learned how happy I am in a small, compact, manageable little world. Maybe some year hence I'll learn how happy I am in a huge, bustling, overwhelming city. But right now happiness for me is French toast and hot chocolate at the Blue Door Cafe in Greencastle, Indiana - where I'll return tomorrow evening on a 6:59 p.m. flight from Denver to Indianapolis.

So those were the three highlights of my year. I wonder what the three highlights of 2012 will be.

Friday, December 30, 2011


The holiday season is overlaid with special memories for my family. My mother's birthday was Christmas Day. Grandpa's birthday was December 30: today is the day he would have been celebrating his 101st. Both of them left this earth last year: 2010. So the season is filled with sweet memories of these two beloved ones.

The boys and I - with their girlfriends this year - baked my mother's butter cookies earlier in the month. On Christmas Day I served her yeast cinnamon rolls, made from her recipe. I even said to Gregory what she always said: "See, no raisins!" She altered the recipe years ago because Gregory dislikes raisins. So I pointed out to him their continuing absence, in a voice that wobbled a bit with remembered love.

Every year for the past many years we had a wonderful birthday party for Grandpa at his favorite restaurant, Dino's on Colfax in Lakewood. So today four women who loved Grandpa, and who through him came to love each other, are gathering there to have lunch and share stories, as well as updates on our current lives. It used to be that Grandpa was "news central" for all of us: he would tell me about Bonnie's stay at the Trappist monastery, about Billie's knitting class, about Kay's fishing expedition. Now we have to tell each other directly. And so that's what we'll do at 11:30 today, with hearts full of memories of this inimitable man who took such a vivid interest in all of us up until the last days of his long long life.

It is definitely the season for remembering.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

With MORE Love to My Writing Group

Many years ago, a fellow Boulder Montessori preschool mom told me that she was interested in writing children's books. Did I have any advice to give her on how to get published? Yes, I told her. Step one is to find yourself a writing group to critique your manuscripts before you start sending them out. She drew herself up, affronted. "I KNOW how to WRITE," she said icily.

Well, I know how to write, too, and I've been in a writing group for almost my entire career, learning how to write better. Another writer friend of mine, a Newbery medalist and mega-best-selling author, has been in a writing group for all of her career, learning how to write better. Perhaps needless to say, this mom who didn't need a writing group has never been published. And I still continue to meet with my beloved Boulder writing group, grateful for every suggestion that falls from their often-critical lips.

Right now I'm wrestling with what at first seemed two opposing sets of criticisms on my new book/series in progress. One friend loved the particular book manuscript but thought the series concept was "forced" and "weak." Another loved the series concept but thought the particular manuscript I had completed featured an unlikeable main character and was pitched at too high a reading level for the intended audience, with not enough lively action and too much quiet introspection.

At first I felt like shrieking and falling into a helpless faint on the floor.

But then I had tea with Phyllis, and together we figured out how to fix the series concept completely with two small, easy, but wonderful changes. This morning I'm having tea with Leslie to brainstorm how to deal with her worries about the story.

This project is going to be a thousand times better just from these two sets of comments, and I'm still awaiting comments from the rest of the brilliant insightful group.

I DO know how to write. And it's my writing group who taught me how to write. And who continue to teach me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

"A Book that Surprises Me"

In the wake of my ruminations about what to write next, I gave myself the Christmas present of ten sessions with amazing poet, essayist, and creativity coach Molly Fisk. I met Molly several years ago when she was the teacher/leader for the annual poetry-writing retreat I attend every January (coming up soon!). Her radiant creative presence turned me into however much of a poet I am. So I figured a few sessions with Molly couldn't hurt as I fumble toward a new book.

I had my first Molly coaching session over the phone on Christmas Eve morning. I told Molly my dilemma. I told her that I want to write something new, different, and wonderful, but if I write on the top of my note-gathering page, "Wonderful New Book," I find that heading a tad intimidating, in a counter-productive way. She asked me how I'd feel about writing instead, "A book that surprises me." Ooh!

I think that's exactly what I want in my next writing project: to write something that surprises me. Molly is going to work with me on leaving room for surprise in my writing, to open myself to the possibility of surprises in a welcoming, but non-desperate way.

Along these lines, I've just read an essay of Molly's on doing something backwards on purpose: "Whatever it is you always do, don't do it." Wear your watch on the other wrist. Move your desk to face a different wall. Habitual behavior dulls our senses and limits our possibilities. Molly writes, "When you get attached to the way you always do things, you are in big trouble. The universe arranges disasters for people like you." She suggests that we can avert disaster "just by wearing unmatched socks once in a while, mowing the lawn in figure eights, eating lemon meringue pie for breakfast, and taking an occasional overnight flight to Mallorca."

It sounds like a plan!

Friday, December 23, 2011

If You Do What You've Always Done

I spent much of my blissful snow day yesterday thinking about what I want to write next.

I have a dilemma.

On the one hand, I keep hearing in my head the disturbing thought: "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." I sort of like what I've always gotten - I've had a charmed and very happy writer's life - but of course I would like to have a LEETLE bit more fame and fortune. Actually, what I'd really like is literary immortality, to write a book that children would be reading for generations. Maybe that's too much to ask of the writing gods. But why not dream big on this day-before-the-day-before Christmas?

On the other hand, I keep hearing voices, both disturbing and not disturbing, that incline me in the opposite direction. The disturbing voices of this sort these days talk about "branding": readers want to know what they're getting when they pick up, say, a Claudia Mills book. These voices say: remember "the new Coke" and why it was such an epic flop? The less-disturbing voices here say that we all have our own creative DNA: Jane Austen just isn't going to write War and Peace; Vermeer just isn't going to paint huge canvases of Napoleon's coronation.

And then there's a third group of voices, probably the wisest of all. These voices say that writers aren't supposed to be even thinking about the reception of their work; they're supposed to be thinking of writing the most beautiful, true, and powerful sentences that they can, one after another, and let the world make of those sentences what they will.

But still. I can write (well, try to write) beautiful, true, and powerful sentences about lots of different kinds of things. Right now I'm trying to decide whether to write them about the kind of things I've always written about - realistic school/family stories about middle-class kids struggling with relatively small problems like having to master the times tables - or about something else - something dark and dangerous? or haunting and strange? or - ??

Or - ????

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let It Snow

Yesterday, on the Winter Solstice, I discovered what my son Gregory assures me that "everybody knows": if you go to Google and type in "let it snow," some pretty delightful things begin to happen on your computer screen. (And then I discovered something else that "everybody knows": fun things also happen if you go to Google and type in "do a barrel roll.")

In any case, no sooner had I Googled "let it snow" than it did indeed begin to snow: such thick heavy flakes that I had to put the car in the garage all covered with snow because it was snowing faster than I could brush it off. This morning there is at least a foot out there, and it's still snowing. The university is closed. My friend Carol and I decided to cancel our breakfast date at Lucile's, rescheduling it for next week.

The sudden joy I felt upon canceling the long-awaited, extremely fun breakfast date made me remember something I realized once years ago: there is nothing in my life that I'm looking forward to so much that I wouldn't prefer having it be canceled.

I wonder why this is, and what it means. Partly it's just that it's such a gift to be delivered an unexpected, unscheduled block of time: Here is this extra hour, here is this extra morning, make of it something magical. Part of it is that I might just be an over-scheduled person, and this is a signal to myself that I should restructure my life so that it has more down time in it, time for what Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write) calls "moodling."

I still want to go to all the Christmas activities coming up at church, and one more Hanukkah party of the three I'm attending this season, plus the rescheduled Lucile's breakfast (yum!). But right now I'm loving sitting here puttering at my computer (though I am NOT going to spend this gift of a morning doing email!), and listening to laundry thumping around in the dryer - thinking about baking the yeast-rising cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning - thinking about maybe even making some notes for a new book - and just looking out my window watching the snow as it keeps falling.

Monday, December 19, 2011

With Love to My Writing Group

My writing group has its annual holiday dinner tonight. We have been in existence as a group, depending on how you measure its existence, for some nineteen years. The group had been in the process of formation when I attended my first meeting in the fall of 1992, the year I arrived in Colorado to assume my faculty position in the philosophy department at CU. And when I showed up, then we were fully formed: done!

There were eight of us then, including me. Over the years, two left the group (but didn't leave our hearts); another left only to come back again; and a new member, our first new member in eighteen years, joined us a year ago. I have no idea how many books we have collectively published in our almost two decades together. I would guess that it is close to a hundred.

It just occurred to me that my being a thousand miles away from my writing group this past semester might be one explanation for why I've been writing so little, and why what I have written hasn't yet been ready to be published. Duh! Without the expectation of having a chapter to share every two weeks at our every-other-Monday-night meeting, without the encouragement through fallow times, and the brisk, bracing critique of work-in-progress, I haven't been writing at the same level. I just haven't.

But now I've finished a first draft of a new possible chapter book, and I have it to hand out to the group tonight, for them to read at home over the next couple of weeks. Just knowing I had the deadline of the dinner tonight, at six o'clock sharp, with all of seated around the table holding hands, was enough to get me to move heaven and earth to finish it.

Oh, writing group, I love you, and I need you. Merry Christmas, darling writing group.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Home for Christmas

I'm back in Colorado, after my now-favorite 6:45 a.m. Frontier Airlines flight from Indianapolis to Denver, which puts me down on the ground at DIA at 7:30 a.m., with a whole wonderful day-of-being-home-at-last stretching ahead of me to start cramming in some of the mega amounts of holiday cheer awaiting.

Yesterday's holiday cheer: wrapping up and shipping off all of the Christmas presents for my sister and her husband (we send a LOT of presents to each other - most of what is under the tree every year is gifts from Cheryl and Carey) - then hiking with Rowan for two hours on the snowy trails of Boulder's winter wonderland - then the CU philosophy department's "non-holiday non-party" with "fancy" dress code: I wore the sparkly outfit I bought to attend the National Book Awards gala back when I was a judge in the category of Literature for Young People in 2005. It was fun to have an excuse to wear it again.

Today's holiday cheer will include a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators holiday schmooze and a performance of the Christmas Revels at the downtown Boulder Theater, starring my philosophy department colleague Alastair Norcross and his wife, Diana. Tomorrow: children's pageant at church, open house at the parsonage, and caroling to shut-ins. Monday: breakfast at Lucille's with my colleague Carol and my critique group Christmas party. Tuesday: the first of the THREE Hanukkah parties I'll be attending this week.

But I still did write my page today on my book-in-progress. There is no joy like being in the middle of a book, where the project FINALLY has enough momentum that it practically writes itself. I wrote on the little couch in my upstairs office, with my mug of hot chocolate beside me, and best of all, Snickers purring against my chest. Now maybe I'll write just a bit more on the couch downstairs next to the Christmas tree.

Ding-dong merrily on high!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Where to Write

Maybe my favorite thing in the whole entire world is writing in different wonderful places. They don't have to be VERY different or VERY wonderful. I don't have to write in a cafe in Paris (though that would be lovely) or in a cottage by the sea (ditto). But it's so satisfying to have a day like the one I had yesterday, when I was in mega-writing mode.

I wrote chapter two of my book (these are short chapters) lying on the couch at the Blue Door Cafe, sipping my hot chocolate.

I wrote chapter three of my book lying on the couch by the fireplace in the Prindle Great Hall. One of the major accomplishments of my time at DePauw has been learning how to turn on the fireplace: where the secret key is hidden, and how to insert the secret key into the secret keyhole in just the right way to make the flames burst into brightness.

Where to write chapter four? I thought about this for a bit and decided to write it in an overstuffed armchair by the Christmas tree in the sitting room/lobby of the Inn at DePauw, right next door to my house.

With these three different delicious writing locations, yesterday might have been my best writing day ever.

Today I've already done my Blue Door Cafe writing. Now I'm at the Prindle, but I need to type up two chapters first, as I can't bear to let too much of the typing accumulate. So I'm not sure I'll do any writing by the fire today.

Tomorrow I fly home to Colorado for Christmas. Maybe I'll write on the plane, though even loving flying as I do, I can't say that I especially like writing on those little plastic tray tables. But once back in Boulder, I can try to think of possible options there. Even in my house, there are three lovely possibilities: the small couch in my office upstairs, the couch in the living room by the Christmas tree, or my bed with the wooden bed tray my father made for me many years ago. All good!

All very good indeed.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From Burned Out to On Fire!

In the last twenty-four hours I have gone from thinking that my new possible book project is terrible, hopeless, boring, and bad to thinking that it is lively, fresh, and pretty terrific. What happened to make me change my mind about it? Here's what happened: I sat down and actually started WRITING IT.

What a difference actual writing makes!

I could hardly get myself out of bed this morning to write on something so unpromising, but I remembered my own blog post of just YESTERDAY about making luck by showing up, so I dragged myself over to the Blue Door Cafe, ordered my hot chocolate with whipped cream (lots of it) and chocolate shavings on top, and I started writing chapter two, following yesterday's lackluster, ho-hum chapter one. All of a sudden I started being funny. And I started having fun. By the time I ordered my French toast, an hour later, I knew that for better or worse, I'm going to finish this book. It may or not be published, or even publishable. The first chapter still is fairly dull. So what? I can go back and fix that later. I've already written chapter three. I think I'll write chapter four this afternoon, perhaps sitting by the Christmas tree at the Inn at DePauw next door to my little house.

Just write, just write, just write. That's all you have to do. Really. IT'S ALL YOU HAVE TO DO. Your Muse is tearing her hair out right now, because she has such wonderful gifts to offer you, but there you sit, a lump on a log, stubbornly doing SOMETHING ELSE when you could be writing. She can't make you write, poor thing. But she can make magical things happen when you finally pick up your pen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I read two interesting tidbits of thought about luck yesterday.

The first comes from Edwidge Danticat's very sad novel, The Farming of Bones. As two of the characters are in the process of fleeing from the horrors of an anti-Haitian massacre in the Dominican Republic, they meet up with a fellow refugee, who asks one of them a strange question:

"Do you have good luck?" Wilner asked Yves.
Yves laughed out loud. "Why do you want to know?" he asked.
"I like to know what kind of luck a man has had before I start on a journey with him," Wilner replied.

The second comes from a New York Times essay on Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who has won a sudden string of games despite not being particularly good at most of the central skills of quarterbacking. What he IS good at is getting his teammates to believe that they can win. Frank Bruni writes:

Some people have what can be described only as a gift for winning. . . .This gift usually involves hope, confidence, and a special composure, all of which keep a person in the game long enough, with enough energy and stability, so that a fickle entity known as luck might break his or her way.

This made me ask myself whether I am a lucky person. I think I am. When Lori asked me, on the way to the airport on Sunday, if I had checked the status of my flight, at first the question surprised me. No, I hadn't checked. I knew it would be on time. I fly constantly, at least once a month, and my flights are always on time. (Well, except when they aren't.) In the same way, I'm never sick (except when I am.) I've had a fairly charmed writing career, publishing 45 children's books in the course of some 30 years.

But lately I've felt a tad discouraged about my career. My most recent books haven't gotten many reviews - the reviews they got were lovely, but there were so few of them. Am I being ignored, as a new young generation of authors arrives on the scene? And I haven't even been writing much since I arrived at DePauw. Am I burned out? Washed up? Or whatever fiery or watery metaphor you want to employ?

Well, I'd better not be! Because that Frank Bruni quotation reminded me, that if 90 percent of success is showing up, so is 90 percent of luck. He practically defined success as just hanging in there long enough for luck to kick in.

So, hang in there, my lucky darlings. And here, of course, I'm talking both to you, and to myself.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Reconnecting with the Past

I'm back from my whirlwind trip this past weekend to Maryland to attend the party to honor Carroll Linkins, who just retired after serving for thirty years as the secretary and "den mother" for the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

"What brings you back here?" several people asked me at the party, knowing that I had moved twenty years ago to Colorado, and maybe also knowing that I'm now living in Indiana. They thought that I must have had a business trip of some kind to the Washington, D.C., area that coincided fortunately with the date of Carroll's celebration, which doubled as an Institute reunion.

"This party!" I told them. "This is why I came back: to go to the party!"

It was so wonderful to be there, seeing the people I had worked with in my decade as the Institute's editor and staff writer, from 1980-1990. We all exclaimed over how much we all looked just the same. But then we looked at the pictures in the Institute's treasured photo albums - pictures of Christmas parties, summer picnics, wedding showers, baby showers. Oh, we were young then, impossibly young. It was almost heartbreaking to see how young we were, especially for those of us who were pictured with people to whom we are no longer married, or holding babies who grew up to have sorrows of their own. And we took so many more photos that night, too, to be the final chapter in our time together, for we knew that this was the last time we would ever be together in this way. Carroll was the last person left at the Institute. The Institute itself, at least as a part of the University of Maryland, is no more.

On the plane home, I was reading The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat. She writes, "Father Romain always made much of our being from the same place, just as Sebastien did. Most people here did. It was a way of being joined to your old life through the presence of another person."

That's how I felt on Saturday night: joined to my old life through the presence of all these beloved people, and so joined more to my self. I felt more truly me, more truly who I am. Faulkner is often quoted as saying, "The past isn't dead. It isn't even past." It wasn't past for me this weekend, and yet it was - both eternally present and irrevocably vanished.

I'm so glad I flew a thousand miles to go to that one party. Why was I there? Because it was where I once belonged, and still belong, and will always belong.

Friday, December 9, 2011

One More Party

Before I throw myself into the frenzy of finals week, I have one last party to attend. Tomorrow morning I'm getting on a 6:30 a.m. flight to the Baltimore-Washington Airport to spend the day with two dear women friends. That evening I'll attend the retirement party of the woman who served for thirty years as the secretary for the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, where I worked as an editor/staff writer/director of publications for a decade (roughly the 1980s). Sunday morning I'll fly back to Indiana.

It was such an intensely young time of my life when I worked there, of all of our lives, and we were so intensely close with one another. One week I remember having dinner six nights in a row with Center people (back then, we were the Center for Philosophy and Public Policy; the promotion to "institute" occurred later). Many people came to the Center after having failed somewhere else: being denied tenure, or reappointment, or dropping out of a Ph.D. program (me). Every single person went on to have not only a good, but a brilliant career, publishing important books and changing the face of the field of applied ethics. And we also transformed our personal lives, as well. When we started there, we were all (or almost all) single (and if married, living apart from one's spouse in a commuter arrangement). We watched each other date, marry (David and Judy even married each other), and have children, children who are now well into their 20s and launching their own careers.

One by one, we all left the Institute for jobs elsewhere. Finally, the Institute itself left: it moved from the University of Maryland to George Mason University this past year. The only person left, the last "man" standing, was our beloved secretary, Carroll Linkins, who retires this month.

So this is the point of the party: to have a reunion of the Institute family, as we celebrate Carroll's service to the Institute for thirty years. And maybe in the room there will be the ghosts of our much younger selves, looking for love, for professional success, trying to make a difference in the world of philosophy, and in the world in which we all have to try to live together.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Finals Week Is Coming

Today was the final meeting of my Rousseau class. We toasted our now-beloved (I hope!) Jean-Jacques Rousseau by holding class at my little house, just steps away from the campus, where we discussed the final five "Walks" in his beautiful late-life collection of essays, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, as well as eating food mentioned in some of his books (crusty baguettes, creamy French cheeses, grapes presumably gathered during the grape harvest at Clarens in his novel Julie, and cherry turnovers to commemorate the cherry-picking idyll in The Confessions). We also played my favorite Rousseau-themed game: I taped names of various Rousseau characters to students' backs, and they had to guess who they were by asking yes/no questions of the others in the class. Some of these were very tricky, especially "Monsieur Dudding," which was the alias Rousseau assumed when he decided to pretend he was an Englishman on one of his travels.

So now finals week is practically upon us. Everywhere is evidence of serious study about to begin. Gobin United Methodist Church has a midnight breakfast for late-night studiers; the Blue Door Cafe has a special menu of "study snacks"; the Prindle has extended hours, and I believe that milk and cookies will be available.

I've decided that I'm going to play the role of bad student trying to salvage the semester. Readers of this blog know that I've spent my semester at DePauw having tons and tons of fun, and being (if I may say so) a wonderful citizen of the university and community, but getting very little work of my own done. I have been a party girl, and now it's time to become a grind.

I think I'm going to throw myself into my own finals week, trying to get done some of the projects I've neglected all term. I can fuel myself with the Gobin breakfast, the special Blue Door snacks, and the abundant milk and cookies on offer all over the campus. This will not help with the weight issues I've been writing about. But it may well help with the work issues. And, heck, finals week is not the week to think about losing weight, right?

Milk and cookies, here I come!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Today was the last meeting of the year for the Prindle Institute student interns; we gathered together to discuss a short essay on the meaning of life that drew heavily on philosopher Susan Wolf's latest book, Meaning in Life and Why It Matters. The claim by Susan Wolf that we were discussing was that a life that is meaningful requires both subjective attraction (you find something that you really care about) and objective attractiveness (you care about something that is indeed worth caring about). A life is less meaningful if one of these two conditions is unmet. You might devote your life to something that is clearly worth doing, such as feeding the hungry, but just not happen to be that "into" it yourself. Or you might devote yourself to a true passion, but a passion for something pointless, like playing tiddly-winks.

The student interns were asking what makes an activity pointless. It seems that we have some fairly obvious examples. A passion for shopping at the local mall seems not to be an objectively worthwhile activity. Another one that was mentioned was counting all the tiles in every ceiling. But the more we thought about it, the harder it was to come up with any reasoned way of drawing the meaningful/not meaningful line.

Rousseau spent his last years obsessed with botany. He writes, "I was determined not to leave a blade of grass without analyzing it." Is this pointless, to try to observe every blade of grass? Someone in our discussion suggested that it would be pointless to try to COUNT every blade of grass. Maybe. But what if while you counted it, you let yourself LOVE it? Is God wasting His time by numbering every beloved hair on our heads? I thought of the artist in the Denver Art Museum who paints exquisitely detailed close-up paintings of different clumps of grasses. Why not spend a lifetime observing blades of grass?

What makes this different from shopping? Maybe it's that we feel that the shopper doesn't really LOVE each item in each store in this kind of intense, attentive way. Or maybe we feel that the shopper could love shopping only if she were conditioned to do so by a consumerist culture. Or - ?? It does seem to me that all those blades of grass and hairs on our heads are worth loving in a way that all those i-pods and i-phones are not.

We didn't settle the question of the meaning of life this afternoon. I have Susan Wolf's book on my shelf in my Prindle office right now, waiting to be read, and maybe she'll settle it for me. But it was a good conversation on a gray December afternoon, by the fireplace.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

December Saturday in Greencastle

This is the first weekend in almost two months when I haven't been either away (Milwaukee, Chicago, two different trips back to Colorado) or entertaining house guests, with all the busy fun that involves. It's my weekend to do whatever I want to do all by myself all day long.

So yesterday I did laundry (long overdue), had breakfast at the Blue Door Cafe (veggie omelet for a change from French toast), and then went to a wonderful cookie sale at the Gobin Methodist church on the edge of campus: you pay for a decorated cookie tin (more of a coffee canister) and don a plastic glove and then wander past tray after tray of decorated cookies of every conceivable kind, making your selections.

After that I went to the Putnam County public library, two blocks from my house (about halfway between my house and the Blue Door) and read for my China conference paper, which is going to focus on the Henry Huggins and Ramona books of Beverly Cleary. I sat in the children's room and skim-read three Henry's in the morning and two Ramona's in the afternoon, after corn chowder at the Blue Door and a few of my cookie-sale cookies back at home for dessert. I could have checked out the books and read them at home; reading them there at the library made me feel like Betsy Ray off to Deep Valley's Carnegie Library (this is a Carnegie Library, too), to read all day in Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.

After that I met with two students to help them with their Rousseau papers, and then had dinner with another first-year faculty member, Rachel from Conflict Studies: we both love "sides" rather than meals, so that's what we had. And then we went together to an incredible gospel service by the DePauw gospel choir, held at the beautifully decorated Gobin church. "This is not a concert," the young woman who welcomed us announced. "This is a praise and worship service! Prepare to get up on your feet and praise His holy name!" And wow, it was indeed impossible to sit still and remain unmoved by the music that followed and the passionate intensity with which it was offered.

And then I came home and put on my nightgown by 8 p.m. and read Janet Lambert's 1941 teen novel, Star-Spangled Summer: she was born and raised in Crawfordsville, Indiana, just north of here, and as you know, I now love all things connected in any way with my new state.

So that was my sweet December Saturday in Greencastle.

Friday, December 2, 2011

December Is Here

And this means that my new life for December has begun.

I'm loving seeing my beloved Greencastle decorated for the holidays. There are colored lights strung from the courthouse across the downtown courthouse square, and lights are twinkling on the Christmas tree in the Inn at DePauw next door to my little house, and there is a tiny tree (with appropriately chosen blue ornaments and blue garlands) perched on a small table at the Blue Door Cafe. This weekend I'm attending a Christmas gospel choir concert, and another Christmassy concert, both at Gobin United Methodist church, right on campus. I think I'm going to have a gingerbread-flavored steamer at the Blue Door this afternoon.

My work projects for the month include finishing up the semester in a blaze of glory - helping my Rousseau class students with their final papers and hosting a lovely Rousseau-themed party for them - and laying the groundwork for my Winter Term course on children's book writing and my spring course on feminism and the family, as well as my spring reading group on the philosophy of Cheshire Calhoun.

Most fun will be thinking what paper I'll be presenting at the symposium on "The Image of the Child in Chinese and American Children's Literature" that I've been invited to attend next June at Ocean University in Quingdao, CHINA!!! The abstract is due December 15, so I'm going to spend this weekend curled up planning out ideas.

And I do have to start writing a new children's book, I do, I do!! I have to take the only idea I have right now and just start WRITING IT.

Maybe while sipping a gingerbread-flavored steamer at the Blue Door Cafe?