Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year End Wrap Up

Over 10,000 pages

282 posts

33 books

In Julie & Julia, Julie Powell's blog starts out with a simple off-hand comment "If I wanted to learn to cook, I'd just cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking." The genesis of this blog was not much different. I'd read a couple of "year of" books and mentioned at the dinner table how much I enjoyed them, and that they had given me a lot to think about. My then-10-year-old daughter said she didn't understand what I meant by a "year of" book and I tried to explain by using the example of someone deciding to read "year of books" for a year, and then I thought, hey, that could be me, and so here I am winding up the year.

Reflection is an essential element of memoir. The types of books I intended for this project, those in which the author chose a year in which to try something different, do an experiment, and write about it include an epilogue type section in which they look at the ways the changed, however expected or unexpected. I don't have any life altering things to share here, but that is not to say I haven't changed over the course of the year. I am pleased to say I started a project and saw it through to its completion. I intended to read two books per month on a particular theme, and write about them, and so I did. I have tried in the past to keep diaries and journals, and have set them aside in short order. In creating this blog, and making it public, I felt an obligation to keep it up. Bridgewater State College has a Writing Across the Curriculum network, of which I am a member. The more one writes, the better a writer one becomes and so I have felt that I should try to write more myself. Public writing makes one vulnerable and I was quite aware that some posts were not as good or interesting as others, but it was the writing itself that was important. Writing about reading also helped. I knew when I was reading a book that was not as good as it could have been, and I knew when I was reading a really good book. And I took a few moments to think about why I liked or disliked a particular book so much, and this helped me to become a better writer as well. As regular readers know, about halfway through the year I started reading some of the books out loud to my husband, James. He mentioned that one common element the books had is a section in which the writer has to get through some difficult thing in order to acheive the goal they set out (Julie Powell and aspic; Simon Majumdar and his awful train trip through Mongolia). Was there such a thing for me this year? I read a few books I didn't enjoy very much, and probably would have put down were it not for my "project," but I am glad I read even these for the reason mentioned above. Another common element in these books is a section on "cheating" - a place where the writer broke the rules (this is especially true for the "not shopping" books). Did I cheat? I suppose I did. One of the "dog days" book was really classified as fiction, although based on real events. And two of the "back to school" books covered considerably less than a year's time. I bought one of the books (Mass Casualties) new without trying to get it elsewhere. I did cover this confession in my November 13 post, and still have no regrets about it.

James and I rediscovered the joy in reading together. It forced us to stop and take some time for each other. The books we picked were funny, and so we had plenty of opportunities to laugh together. If I have one sage piece of advice to offer readers for the year this is it: Read with someone. It will help you connect with them in ways you didn't know.

I will also say that many of the books did make me thougtful. Rebekah Nathan's book helped me to become a better teacher, and after reading Plenty I bought an "egg share" through my CSA so that I could add another local food to my diet. I am somewhat less cynical about religion after reading Jacobs, and Cohen's books.

I thank all who read my blog and especially those who posted. Reading comments from authors, and others with connections to the books were especially thrilling to this librarian. This is my last post for this blog. In 2010 I will start a new "year of" project "Celebrating the States" in which I will honor each of the 50 states through movies, food, and books. I hope all will join me. I have another recently started blog The Bridgewaters Project. This blog celebrates all things called Bridgewater.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wrapping up A Year without "Made in China"

One of my early memories is pretending to mend a hole in stuffed dog made of cheap vinyl with a plastic toy sewng machine. In so doing I managed to make the hole bigger and also noticed that both toys said "Made in Japan". And then I started noticing "everything" said "Made in Japan" and most of it seemed pretty shoddy. I even remember seeing a news program for children "In the News" that explained in 3 minutes how hard the Japanese worked to send exports to other countries. I never see "Made in Japan" on anything anymore. It all says "Made in China" now. Sara Bongiorni and her family set out on New Year's Day 2005 to see if they could make it through 12 months without buying anything "Made in China"

Bongiorni certainly underestimated her very young children "...the kids at one and four, are too little to know what they are missing. Can you imagine the howls if they were teenagers?" she says to her husband, Kevin. She discovers just how loudly four-year-olds can howl when denied the appropriate Halloween decorations. And also just how fickle they are once said decoration makes it into the house on a technicality. In Sold Out! Llewellyn simply left his wife and two teenagers out of his experiment, he was the only one who swore off buying for a year. In Not Buying It Judith Levine and her partner deal with the child issue by not having any. Levine points out that she is not sure she could have done her experiment if children were a factor. Adults can make do with last year's shoes, but kids sometimes outgrown a pair a season.

Cheating is a common theme in the "year-of/stunt genre". Almost all of them set out rules, and have a chapter or section on "cheating". The Bongiorni's have all kinds of exemptions about Chinese products entering their homes: gifts don't count; hand-me-downs don't count; anything they already have doesn't count. Even so, they have a greater "cheating" list than any of the other books I read because what they discover is that to live in society as we know it, we rely heavily on China. Even when they wanted to make or build something themselves, or simply repair something rather than replace it with something "made in China" they discover that often the pieces and parts they need are made in the forbidden country. However, they also discover what we here in New England call "good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity - make it last, make it do, or do without". Coffee maker breaks? (gasp) - boil water and run it through a filter. TV on the fritz? - read a book!

Christmas presents its own set of problems, since virtually all toys are made in China. Using the gift exemption and spending a lot of money on expensive toys made elsewhere they manage to have a fine Christmas. Bongiorni thinks quite a bit about the gifts her husband buys for her: "soap and Canadian office supplies". While she doesn't immediately see the romance of these gifts the bigger picture becomes clear. They are quite romantic. Kevin had to put a lot of thought into what he could get for her that wouldn't come from China. And he did all of this after he "spent the better part of a year in ripped shorts and flip flops."

True romantics know that real gifts are not given on gift giving occasions. They are given everyday. Once the receiver and the giver realize this they will find themselves in a relationship that transcends others. Take a minute everyday to thank your mate for everything they do for you.

Wrapping up Julie & Julia

Julie Powell was more worried about having to eat eggs when she first started her project than she was about having to eat brains. I don't think aspic even occured to her at the time, yet she forged ahead, plunging headlong into a project that no amatuer chef had ever gone before. It is just this that made her project so fascinating. She didn't skip recipes that would seem too gross, and she set a deadline and stuck to it. When she fell behind due to bathroom mishaps, or loss of water, or maggots (yes, maggots!) she figured she would just have to make up for lost time, rather than adjusting her deadline. I think some of my students could take a lesson from her. The deadline is firm, everything else must adjust. That being said, I can't even imagine taking on something like she did even though I've already eaten eggs, and brains, and I have a bigger kitchen and a dishwasher (I mean an automatic one, not my husband). I do have something she has though, which would allow me to undertake just about any project I put my mind to - a supportive husband.

Thanks, James. I love you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A sad change to my profile

The "about me" section of my profile indicates that I have a dog, a rabbit and fish. Yesterday our sweet bunny, Niki, died. She is buried in our backyard.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Say it isn't so

Well, it's a good thing Julie Powell inspired a whole new generation of French chefs. According to this New York Times article there is a dearth of good French restaurants in the city. Those of us who live in and around Bridgewater, Massachusetts are used to not having good French restaurants and know we will just have to get our own copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and fix up our own helpings of haute cuisine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New Book

I finally got a copy of A Year Without "Made in China" by Sara Bongiorni after my second Interlibrary loan attempt. This copy comes to me by way of the Snow Library in Orleans, Massachusetts. I've got nine days before the end of the year. I should be able to finish it in time.

For a preview see this video.

Selling Out - Wrapping up Sold Out!

I guess all us baby boomers do it at some point, selling out, I mean.

Since James and I were born at the tail end of the baby boom (1963 & 1964 respectively) we were among the last to do it. The picture is us in 1986 (it only looks like 1968!) back when we tread lightly on the earth because we couldn't afford to do otherwise. And even though we drove a complete pig of a vehicle - a 1970 International Scout (James, correct me if I'm wrong on the year) we couldn't afford to drive it anywhere. Idealists? You bet! We were out to save the world from itself. We spent most of the first ten years of our marriage with one or both of us in graduate school. Young liberals in love. To say money was tight is an understatement. I once got mad at James because he had an evening snack of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after we'd already had dinner, and I was worried that we would run out of food before the rent came due. April is not the cruelest month - it's February which has the fewest days before you have to come up with rent again. I remember thinking I would never take a plane trip again because I couldn't imagine ever being able to afford one again.
Like Llewellyn we are now solidly "middle class". Of course most people think they are middle class, even those like Llewellyn who have two homes, and three television sets, and nine computers. I would like point out that we have only one home, one television set and two computers and be a bit holier than Llewellyn, but the fact is we could probably afford to have as much as he does if we really wanted to. Unlike Llewellyn though, we have about as much job security as one can have - James and I both have tenure at a State College. Llewlleyn never knows where his next job is coming from. James and I moved a lot in the first 10 years of our marriage. It was always an adventure. Twelve years ago we came to Bridgewater to take a job, our daughter was born here, and now the prospect of picking up and moving somewhere else is just too adventuresome for us.
I am intrigued by those who give up spending. I have been following the "My Year Without Spending Blog" and have read of others who went on a year-long spending fast. I imagine I could do it, too, as I actually hate to shop so it wouldn't be much of a challenge for me. I like to think, though, that I make my purchases with some thought behind them. Lists of thing to be purchased are made, and things are removed from them, or postponed indefinitely. I am glad to do this so that when I want to build a bathroom on the second floor of my house, for instance, I can pay for it without borrowing. I also know that no matter how much I attempt to lessen my footprint on the earth, there are "necessities" that come with living in America that most of the world can not even dream of having.
If, like me, you think you are middle-class check out the How Rich Are You? website. You will probably find, as I did, that you are really filthy, stinking rich.