dual personalities

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Fear not, little flock*

Life gets busier and busier the closer we get to Christmas, and if we’re not careful, we’ll spend so much time getting things done that we won’t be able to focus on what’s really important. Yesterday, for example, I spent the morning distributing gifts with our Church and Community Giving Tree program. By the time I got home, the non-stop cheerfulness and smiling had taken its toll. What’s more, instead of feeling good about helping people, I had started to question the program itself: were we helping or enabling? Fulfilling a need or creating dependents? — Probably some of both.  Feeling tired and deflated, I went home and took a nap. The nap restored some of my energy, but I still needed a spiritual boost. What better antidote than the Bible? I had taken up my DP’s challenge to read a chapter of Luke a day until Christmas, so back to Luke I went and was duly rewarded. I highly recommend reading the New Testament (Isaiah, too!), but don’t forget the nap — naps help us retain what we read (studies have shown!) and we awake feeling calm and renewed.

Have a great weekend and don’t stress!

*Luke 12:32


Dear Santa Claus

And the Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your desire with good things,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters fail not.

–Isaiah 58:11 (RSV)

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What do you want for Christmas? All I want is the usual–for everyone in my family to be happy with the gifts I give them. I would also like my eyebrows and eyelashes to grow back. 😑

By the way, the wee babes turned three on Wednesday!

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They are still pretty little, but they’ve come a long way, haven’t they?

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One and a half pounds!

They never cease to amaze me.


Yes, Santa came to the NICU!

Although there are two weekends before Christmas, I know that this is the last weekend when I will actually be able to get much done, so that is my plan. Maybe we’ll even get the tree up. (Maybe not.) How about you?

While I am getting things done, I will be listening to Christmas music. Here’s one of my favorite carols, based on an old Longfellow poem, and sung by Casting Crowns.

You can read the poem here.

Setting up my office

I may have mentioned at some point that my program recently moved to new office space. Slowly but surely, I have been furnishing the suite, stocking the supply closet, and appointing my own office. This is very exciting for me, as it’s the first time I really have my own workspace — with windows and a door. I feel especially lucky because I was able to pick out my furnishings. As you might guess, I asked for bookshelves, first and foremost!


Clearly, I need some plants

Shelf space is at a premium in our apartment, and there are lots of volumes that just make a bit more sense on campus than at home — journals, for example, and works of criticism. I still have all of the texts I ever taught, as well as plenty that I read for research. Having them in my “staff” office feels like that old part of me still exists. That’s also why I hung up my Concord map over the meeting chairs.


Henry David Thoreau would disapprove of all the things on my desk that gather dust

Maybe it is a little silly that I want to have a “writerly” or “scholarly” office as a mere staff person. But in some ways, it’s all the same, right — it’s about sitting at your desk and doing the work. Being in a space that makes you feel like yourself surely helps you do the work.

Every morning you climb several flights of stairs, enter your study, open the French doors, and slide your desk and chair out into the middle of the air. The desk and chair float thirty feet from the ground, between the crowns of maple trees. The furniture is in place; you go back for your thermos of coffee. Then, wincing, you step out again through the French doors and sit down on the chair and look over the desktop. You can see clear to the river from here in winter. You pour yourself a cup of coffee.

Birds fly under your chair. In spring, when the leaves open in the maples’ crowns, your view stops in the treetops just beyond the desk; yellow warblers hiss and whisper on the high twigs, and catch flies. Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

–Annie Dillard

Well, it isn’t so nice as that. But at least I can see trees from my desk, even if it stays very much planted on the floor.

Wednesday tidbit.


“He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Go tell it on the mountain

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Oh, weekends in December! There is always so much to do. I wrapped a boatload of presents and went to the “Holiday Sale” at my church. I bought some used books. (I had donated three cartons of books, so I came out on top of that equation.)

The OM and I bought our Christmas tree at the neighborhood Optimists’ lot. We found one right away and bundled it home where it is waiting in the garage to be set up and decorated at a later date.

We also went to see They Shall Not Grow Old (2018), a documentary film about WWI directed by Peter Jackson. My DP wrote about the documentary last year when she saw it. It was an impressive film, no doubt about it, but I have to say, after ten minutes I was thinking, “Why did I want to see this movie?” I stayed for the whole thing, but it was an extremely unpleasant experience. Trench warfare, bad. I get it. There are a lot of good things to say about this movie, but reading about it would have been enough for me. We came home and watched The Commancheros (1961) which made me feel much better.

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I went to the 8:00 service at church again and came home and finished A Serpent’s Tooth by Craig Johnson, a Longmire novel I had been re-reading. Speaking of books, I also read Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry last week. I admire McMurtry a lot, but this book, written in 1975, did not really grab me. I think it was supposed to be funny and I was not really amused. I read half and then skipped to the end. The movie you will recall, was a huge hit back in 1983. It won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay. You can’t say that about many movies! I had never actually seen it, so we watched it on Amazon Prime this weekend.

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Shirley MacLaine was very good, but I was not that impressed with Debra Winger, who I was not surprised to read was high on cocaine the whole time. It is a “funny” movie that turns tragic and then everyone cries and feels better. Standard stuff. Movies like this were a dime a dozen in the 1930s and 40s.

By the time the wee babes came over for dinner on Sunday night the OM and I were kind of exhausted. They ran circles around us as usual. Lottie wanted to have a dance party and was disappointed that daughter #1 was not there to spin the records. C’est la vie, Lottie; this indeed is life.

Last night we went to the Lutheran Church where the wee babes go to pre-school to see their Christmas program, which consisted of the 2-5 year old munchkins singing a few Christmas carols. It was chaos, but adorable. There was no way to take any pictures, because all we could really see was other grandparents holding up cell phones to record the occasion. This would have bothered me back in the day with my own children, but now I just go with the flow.IMG_4749.JPG

Here is a picture the boy took of them practicing last week. (They were a lot more dressed up last night.) Those 2-year olds in the front really have no clue! (Especially that wee laddie who is not even facing in the right direction.)

Go tell who on what mountain? Hang in there–only two weeks ’til Christmas!

The best things happen while you’re dancing

We had a wonderful weekend! It was destined to be a good one, because we started it by watching White Christmas. What an absolutely perfect movie. As always, we just loved the wardrobe, the dancing, the impeccable dialogue, and everything in between.

This time around, DN did a little couples analysis. Phil “ootzes” Bob along, “every step of the way.” Betty, too, is a “slow mover,” and Phil tells Judy that she’s “in there with the champ.” Doesn’t it usually work out that an “ootzer” ends up with a slow poke? What I’m saying is, DN and I are Bob and Phil. I ootz. He was a “lonely, miserable man” before he met me 🙂

Just kidding. We like to think of ourselves as Phil and Judy…

or better yet, Judy and John (DN’s favorite)
Well, our fun did not stop with a Friday night movie. On Saturday, we trekked all the way to Northern Virginia to pick up our wine subscription at our favorite winery (la dee da, I know) and then to Frederick, MD for some antique shopping. We made out like absolute bandits, though many purchases were gifts that I cannot share.

I did pick up this pretty Vera tablecloth for myself…

IMG_5249I got the Spode wine glasses at TJ Maxx the next day. I spent the rest of the day writing cards, sorting presents, making to do lists for the next two weeks, and cleaning.

IMG_5252Like I said–a wonderful weekend!

Going once, going twice, gone!

Here we are one week closer to Christmas. As usual, I’m way behind with my shopping but I’m not getting stressed. This year I’m going to enjoy myself. Last Saturday I did just that by spending a good portion of my day at an antiques auction. Most things went for a song. There were two 19th century spinning wheels that each sold for about $50,

and a couple of old fan back Windsor chairs that together brought around $100. If I had any place to put fragile antique chairs, I would have bid.

I was tempted by this lovely old book case/cupboard, but could not figure out where I would put it. Although it wasn’t in great condition, it should have fetched much more than it did.

I also liked this cradle a lot, but again, have no place for it. I suppose that’s what most people thought.

There was even a modern reproduction secretary similar to the one my niece rescued from the curb in her old neighborhood. No one wanted this one either and it sold for $50.

In the end, I bought this Chippendale style mirror for $10. I was the only bidder.

I don’t know how old it is and I don’t really care because it’s the perfect small size for my foyer. I’d show you a picture of it in situ but my camera-computer interface won’t work, so I have to rely on auction photos. At any rate, I got a good deal!

We’ve lamented the apparent death of antique ‘brown furniture’ many times, and you can read about the decline at Yankee Magazine which points out that part of the problem is that children don’t learn history in school anymore. I don’t know what they do learn, but it sure doesn’t make them appreciate their country’s past. According to the article, “Aging baby boomers looking to downsize are facing their children’s rejection of their Royal Doulton china, Grandma’s silver, and even the family photo albums. To their children, all this stuff is “mildewed and unmeaning.”” Wow, even family photo albums? Unmeaning? How depressing is that? Obviously, not everyone in the next generation feels that way. Our own children, for example, appreciate family history and antiques, so the situation may not be as gloomy as it seems. After all, the prices are great for those of us who still care!

I hope you’ll forgive the fact that this isn’t a very holiday-season-appropriate post. I have been decorating assiduously and I’m in a festive mood. And though I hate to see people abandon their past and treat its surviving objects with derision, I try to keep it all in perspective:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2nd Corinthians 4:16-18).

And one more thing to remind us about the importance of remembering our history… Today marks the 78th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Let’s not forget that.

*all photos retrieved from Blanchard’s Auction Service November 30, 2019.

“By perseverance the snail reached the ark.”*

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I know this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 
~ Philippians 1:19

Paul knew he could trust God to deliver him just as I know it. I take each day as it comes and am grateful for feeling pretty good and for being able go to work. I wish my eyebrows and eyelashes would come back in (not to mention the rest of my hair) but I am learning to be patient.

Sometimes, though, the seriousness of what I am going through hits me. When I went to see the radiologist this week and found out about the regimen I will be put through starting next week, I felt a little panicky. But I just keep breathing and believing that everything will be okay. Many years ago I learned a little trick that helps me a lot. I clasp my hands and imagine that one of them belongs to Jesus and that he is holding my hand. It has gotten me through many a dentist appointment in the past and now it is really helpful. Maybe this is childish, but it works for me.

And you know, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.

*Charles Spurgeon

The illustration is by Edward Bawden: Untitled landscape with sunset, 1927.

“I like good strong words that mean something”*

Lately, Little Women has been popping up in my mind quite frequently. At a recent dinner party, one guest confused Little Women with Little House on the Prairie. (Here’s where I say, see, having a PhD in nineteenth-century women’s fiction is a wonderful party trick.) I also recently searched the Baby Lit archives to see which classics they’ve got, since Moby-Dick was a real hit with the little man. Perhaps Lottie would respond well to the March sisters?

Little Women has also been buzzy because Greta Gerwig has directed a new film adaption of the novel with a 21st-century cool-girl cast.

I mean, I just watched this now and thought, “Laura Dern is in this too? And Meryl Streep?” Make that “multi-generational cool-girl cast.”

Mostly, I realized, Little Women has been on my mind because it begins in December.

As young readers like to know ‘how people look’, we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.

Appropriately, Gerwig’s film will be released on Christmas Day.

I did not actually read Little Women until graduate school — it was not a formative novel from my childhood or anything. So when I read the text, I was more focused on Louisa May Alcott and my research topic (domesticity and religion) and less so on a “which March sister are you” approach. Perhaps that is why I’m not so jazzed about Gerwig’s adaptation as my peers on the internet. Given how I responded to Lady Bird (I felt precisely 7 years younger than Gerwig and 7 years out of touch with the very specific high-school nostalgia in which that film indulged), I doubt I’d relate to whatever Gerwig’s version of this novel might be.

Having skimmed this piece, it seems there’s a chance Gerwig is trying to get at…something? I can appreciate the line, “As a girl, my heroine was Jo…As a woman, it’s Louisa May Alcott,” though I’m not sure I believe it. Ultimately, my guess is that this new version will be a 21st-century story and not a 19th-century one.

louisa_may_alcott2c_c._1870_-_warren27s_portraits2c_bostonIf you hadn’t guessed already, my plan is just to reread the novel itself. Why mess with it?

*Jo March, Chapter 4 of Little Women

“It is an anxious, sometimes a dangerous thing to be a doll. Dolls cannot choose; they can only be chosen; they cannot ‘do’; they can only be done by.”

Over the long weekend, I invited the wee babes over to play with my dolls and change them into their Christmas outfits. Mostly, this was an excuse for me to get out the dolls and look through their accessories. I’m talking, of course, about my American Girl Dolls circa the 90s.


Three are mine and two are Susie’s. I accidentally cropped out Kirsten in her cute outfit!

I loved my dolls. I had Kirsten (the prairie doll whose family immigrated from Sweden), Felicity (growing up in Colonial times), and Molly (the WWII-era doll). Classics. Susie had Samantha (the Victorian-era doll and one of the original three), and Kit (the depression-era doll). I will also add that I knew how lucky I was to have so many dolls and so many of their things. I appreciated them, I played with them, and I took care of them.

In preparation for the visit, I read the first book in each series for Kirsten, Felicity, and Molly. And boy they were different. As an immigrant from Sweden, Kirsten’s story begins on the ship over to America! (you have to use the exclamation point because they were so excited to get here). Once in America, the family has to travel by train and riverboat to Minnesota where they are meeting family members. On the journey, Kirsten’s best friend dies of cholera. I was so surprised.

In contrast, the conflicts in the Felicity and Molly books seem much less high stakes, although the contrasts to our privileged lifestyles now still seemed stark. For instance, WWII-era Molly is not allowed to let the Victory Garden radishes grown by the housekeeper go to waste and thus cannot be excused from the table until she finishes them. Likewise, her mother believes it would be wasteful to use fabric to make a fancy dress for a halloween costume, so Molly and her friends settle for hula skirts made from newsprint.


Kit is featured here wearing a dress made by my great-aunt Suzanne based on the pattern for Kirsten’s birthday dress. Lottie declared her “ready to go” when she gave her Molly’s schools satchel that looks like a purse.

Anyway, as usual when you invite almost-three-year-olds over, what they found most interesting was not what I wanted to focus on, but rather the rubber fish in Kirsten’s fishing basket and her honey jars. I got that full set of accessories when I quit sucking my thumb. While they played, I changed the dolls into their Christmas outfits (and didn’t take a good picture because I was running around).


Visiting the American Girl Doll website is kind of depressing these days. The original idea is so lost–through these dolls and stories we were able to learn about how young girls lived in different times. The characters were all independent thinkers, despite and within the confines of their time. Throughout the series, the characters all faced adversity of some kind–but through their intelligence, quick-thinking, and sometimes asking for help, they rose above it and solved their problems. No victims here–something that is important for young girls to read!

It was fun to have an excuse to dig into the boxes, though, and I’m sure next year, the wee babes will be more help!

*Rumer Godden, The Doll’s House