Monday, April 17, 2017

At home in the world...

I've sort of sometimes kind of skimmed the blogposts at "The Art of Simple," but there are a lot of posts, and many of them just aren't all that interesting to me, personally. There are several contributors to the blog, and some of them have ideas of "simple" that are way more complicated than my ideas of simple. For example, a recent blogpost about "packing light" included at least twice as much as I pack! But every once in awhile a post catches my eye and I read the whole one, and I WOULD like Tsh Oxenrider's book, which is being released tomorrow.

The newest post, in honor of the release of the book, "At Home in the World," posed several questions and challenged people to answer them. That appeals to me, partly because I'm not particularly creative but love talking (= writing), but also for the sake of the topic itself. So for those three people who sometimes read my blog, here goes. (For all I know, at least two of those people skim my occasional blogpost the way I skim most of those I "read", but that's why I like blogs...nobody is forced to listen, but I get to ramble all I want without feeling guilty for doing so, because if YOU decide to read the whole thing, it's YOUR problem.)

So finally getting to the point, here's the first question (in italics) and my response below.

1. Share about a place where you feel at home in the world.
This can be anything from a little coffee shop in an obscure back alley in a tiny village in Central Asia, all the way to your favorite armchair in the corner of your bedroom. Tell me why you love being there so much, and why it feels like home to you.

My spontaneous response to the title of the blogpost was "anywhere but in the U.S." Despite having lived in the United States for just over 19 years (not consecutive, but from birth until 20 1/2, so nearly), and that still being my only passport, I never "fit in." And the problem is that when one doesn't fit in where one is expected to fit in, the result is, at best, being ignored. Maybe that's mostly just childhood (and definitely teenagerhood) in general, but the three months I spent in the U.S. at the age of 35 weren't any different. I don't particularly "fit in" anywhere else, either, but nobody expects me to anywhere else. Outside of my passport country it's kind of that I'm given more freedom to be me, but I mostly take the freedom to be me whether it's given to me or not, so it's not even that. At the very least, outside of the U.S. people can shrug and blame my me-ness on my passport, but they don't reject me because of it. At least, that's the impression I get.

There ARE specific attitudes I enjoy in other places that I never knew I missed in the U.S. until I met them other places. In Latin America, for example, hugs and kisses are everyday life, every day, multiple times a day. I like that. When with my host family in Costa Rica (I was an exchange student there for seven weeks when I was 17, and have been back to visit ten times since), I enjoy greeting and being greeted every morning, by every member of the family. When anyone leaves or arrives, it's hugs and kisses all around, and the same when anyone goes to bed. Some people would hate that (and most U.S.ians seem to), but I love it.

In Germany, where I lived for over 17 years, it's "only" handshakes, but there's still always a connection. In some ways, Latino culture and Northern European culture are totally opposite (maybe "warm climate culture" vs. "cold climate culture" could be the topic of another post...), but I feel very at home in both.

Another aspect with both is that I KNOW where I stand. In Costa Rica and in Mexico (I lived in Mexico for one year when I was 18-19), people say, "Stop by anytime!" and they really mean it, and if you don't stop by, they'll ask you why you didn't and when you are coming. I've only been back to visit Mexico once, for one week, and at the end of that week I flew back to Germany from a city 20 hours away by bus from where I'd been staying with a friend. When my friend realized I'd be arriving at 9:00 at night and my flight was the next morning, she said I should stay with her cousin. Her cousin didn't have a phone and there was no other way for anyone to get a message through, but they gave me the cousin's address. When I arrived, I took a taxi to the address. These people who had never even HEARD of me before opened the door to a stranger, in the rain, late at night. When I said I was a friend of Carolina in Tuxtla, they welcomed me in, fed me, and put me not only in the room but in the bed with a teenage daughter, and were disappointed that I was leaving the next day.

In Germany, it's nearly the opposite in that people only invite you if they really want you, and they don't necessarily, so one doesn't get the "open invitation" of Latino culture. However, again, I'm comfortable with that because I know where I stand. If they invite me to stop by next week for coffee, they want me to do so and they expect me to do so, and if I don't do so, they'll wonder what's wrong and probably feel hurt. I don't have to wonder whether they're just being polite, because in my experience, Germans don't bother "just being polite." (And having been married to one particular German for 22 years, I do have a little bit of experience to go on.) Some U.S.ians mean it when they issue an open invitation, and some even expect to be taken up on it, but I am so utterly lacking in intuition that I can't figure out who does and who doesn't, so it's just a source of confusion for me.

And now I live in Cyprus. The friendly attitude here to large families (which we also experienced in Costa Rica, Peru, Thailand, and South Africa, but not, unfortunately, Germany) is a huge bonus, and I do very well with the laid-back attitudes about time that resemble my experiences in Latin America. And hugging and kisses (on both cheeks, as opposed to only one in Mexico and Costa Rica) are normal and people are hospitable and mean it. That's all cool. Unfortunately, we haven't gotten to be really immersed in Cypriot culture, the way I was in Costa Rica, Mexico, Germany, and even some in our short time (two months) in Thailand. There are certainly practical reasons for that, one being that virtually everyone speaks such good English that it's not been necessary to learn Greek (I'm the only member of the family who can communicate in Greek beyond greetings and set phrases), and there are so many ex-pats that it's very easy to have a very full life without encountering many Cypriots. All the children take drama classes, four are currently taking music lessons (from British teachers), we're active in an English-language church which includes activities during the week for all ages, etc.

At the end of all this rambling, though, there's still the question of how I define "home." I'm good at feeling AT home nearly anyplace (except in the U.S., where I mostly feel stressed...), and I'm good at LIVING where I am. We were only in South Africa for four months, but we had library cards within days of arriving, I joined a homeschool mothers Bible study and a mother-toddler group, the children played with the neighbors, I taught Sunday school, we took the train regularly, we knew where to go grocery shopping: we lived there. Still, "home" was in Germany, where my books were, and that's a definition I've used before. By that definition, the only homes I've had were my childhood homes (five, although three were the same neighborhood, two of those three literally in the EXACT same place, seeing as the last house was built on the site of the house that burned down when I was ten) in the United States, Germany (seven different houses in five different cities), and this house in Cyprus, where we've been for over eight years now, the longest consecutive time my books have stayed on the same shelves in my entire life.

I like my bed, too (we brought it with us from Germany), and no matter how much I enjoy traveling and how comfortable other beds were, there's definitely a moment of sighing happily, "It's so good to be home," when I get back to my own bed. And as it's 10 minutes until tomorrow, that's where I'm headed now.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Books finished in February 2017

After carefully keeping track of the books I read in January, I thought I'd keep that up in February, but didn't write them straight down here and am even less sure that I got them all. I rather hope not, because I don't like to think that I truly only finished six books in the whole month! Again, unusually, all of those listed are ones I read for the first time.

Shadows of the Workhouse, Jennifer Worth  A friend from church saw my post of the books I had read in January and offered to lend me this, a sequel to Call the Midwife, which I of course gratefully accepted. This was likewise very good, although sometimes difficult (emotionally) reading.

Come Rain or Come Shine, Jan Karon  I have the first half dozen or so of Jan Karon's Mitford Series, but have been able to borrow all the others one by one as my friend Sue acquires them. I enjoyed this very much, especially following on the heels of a somewhat depressing book set in post-war London. There were a couple of incidents that were a bit difficult to believe, but I can't think of how to mention them without giving away something rather startling, so I won't!

A Vicarage Family, Noel Streatfeild After enjoying Tea by the Nursery Fire, a fictionalized (but categorized as non-fiction) account of Noel Streatfield's father's nanny, I very much looked forward to this book, the first of the three that are essentially autobiographical. The only thing that annoyed me a bit was that a few characters were completely changed. Yes, I realize that both books are fictionalized, and I know that it can be difficult to remember some details one has made up, but the essential characters of Noel's paternal grandparents are completely the opposite of who they are in the first book, so I wonder which is closer to the truth or if they're both completely fictional. In both cases, they play fairly major roles, so it seems odd! Also, a detail about the nanny's life is completely opposite in the two books, again, a fairly major point in my opinion.

Beyond the Vicarage, Noel Streatfeild This is the third of Noel Streatfeild's autobiographical books, and seemed rather disjointed. It was much more a set of rambling memoirs of an older lady than the first one. (I can't compare to the second one, as Sue, from whom I borrowed both, doesn't have the second one, and when I looked it up on amazon and couldn't find it for less than £28, I decided I wasn't buying it myself, either!) It felt very odd to have some things fictional (for example, the main character is called Victoria Strangeway), but then for the actual titles of the books that Noel Streatfeild wrote to be listed and talked about one by one. Sentences like "Victoria had not read that book since it was published until she re-read it 40 years later while writing this book" when referring to a book, by its correct title, written by Noel, of course, seemed totally out of place. I like memoirs and can ramble just fine on my own, but I suspect that this was published at all mainly on the strength of it being a sequel and being by a well-known author.

The Girl from Venice, Martin Cruz Smith Jörn bought this book at the airport in London and read it in a relatively short time (especially for one who virtually never reads fiction) and talked me into reading it. It took me forever to get through it and I still don't know if I "liked" it. In general, historical fiction is my favorite genre, and specifically, I particularly appreciate World War II historical fiction. But the drama between brothers and not trusting the author to keep certain people alive (he did, after all, except one that he killed off turned out to be alive and then he killed him off anyway...) and the suspense were all things that were not on my list of enjoyable reading. Also, it's set at the beginning of 1945 and I always, very unreasonably, have a hard time not getting annoyed with the characters for not realizing that the war is nearly over anyway...

Past Mischief, Victoria Clayton I read this book in two days, the day I finished it including getting up at 5:00 a.m. and reading until 9:30 (with a short break for a shower, and eating breakfast while reading), having about 10 pages left. I took it with me to church and read another two or three pages before the service started, much to my husband's disapproval (LOL), but actually waited until I got home to finish it completely. It was a very satisfying book, for the most part, with some very surprising twists and finishing with the right number of ends tied up neatly, but not too perfectly to be believable.

I'm of course still reading to the children every day (as I have been doing for 19 1/2 years, and did plenty before that with borrowed children ;-) ), but will only mention that we did read two more Narnia books:

The Horse and His Boy and The Magician's Nephew, C.S. Lewis Again, these were supposedly being read to Helen and Elisabeth, but my husband wouldn't let us read them without him. We managed to finish just before he left for Israel, then had to wait a week to start The Last Battle.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Books finished in January 2017

These are the books I read to myself and finished this month. It's kind of embarrassing how few there are. I'm in the middle of three or four other books at the moment, but as there are only 2 1/2 hours left of this month, I don't expect to finish any more. I was first writing these down as I finished them and had a hard time keeping my comments short (okay, I didn't keep my comments short), but eventually ran out of time to make any comments at all. I don't think I missed any books, but may have. Unusually, every single book I read for myself this month I was reading for the first time.

 At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson The first Bill Bryson book I read was Mother Tongue: the Story of English and How it Got that Way, at least 20 years ago (and re-read several times since). I'm pretty sure I've read most of his books by now, although I only own about half a dozen myself. I've borrowed them from several friends, and the librarian lent me this one (from her private collection), as she did the Shakespeare book by Bill Bryson. I started this after Christmas and finished it New Year's Day.

Arthur, King of Britain, by Michael Morpurgo I think what appeals to me in the King Arthur stories is the utterly casual mix of history, legend, and magic. I went through a King Arthur phase when I was a teenager and own several books from then, but I hadn't read much more in the 30ish years since. I enjoyed this very much. And I read all but the last five pages of it in practically one sitting, while waiting for different parts of a check-up for the application for health insurance. (I was there for three hours. People kept apologizing for how long I had to wait, and I kept saying, "Look: I'm sitting here reading peacefully. I don't know if my children and husband at home are as happy, but I'm fine!")

Twist of Gold, by Michael Morpurgo I read this in one sitting while holding a cat who was missing her humans. Okay, it's a children's book and only took two hours, but I really like Michael Morpurgo. His books cover so many different topics, a lot of them historical fiction (my favorite genre), but not all, and some of them totally surreal. This one was historical fiction about the Irish Potato Famine, or rather, about a sibling pair who manage to escape.

Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth

Better Than School: One family's declaration of independence, by Nancy Wallace

Tea by the Nursery Fire: A Children's Nanny at the Turn of the Century, by Noel Streatfeild

When the Siren Wailed, by Noel Streatfeild 

Angel, by Colleen McCullough

And....I figured I may as well include the non-picture books I read aloud to the children. I read a LOT of other books to them, as well as parts of many other books. (For example, I'm currently reading to Helen and Elisabeth The Usborne Children's Encyclopedia, When We Were Very Young, The Llama Who Had No Pajama, a children's Bible, Hero Tales, and probably more.) All of the books listed below are ones I've read aloud before, but not to the same children.

all the small poems and fourteen more, by Valerie Worth We'd been reading this book for about a year, as part of Sonlight's Core 5 (or F, rather, as I really should get used to calling it, as they changed the names, oh, at least four or five years ago...), "Eastern Hemisphere Explorer," which is what Lukas and Katie are doing right now. This particular book doesn't actually have anything to do with the history, but Sonlight includes a poetry book every year, and this was the one for this Core. We generally read the book several days in a row, three poems each time, each of the three of us reading one out loud, and then would go weeks without reading any.

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis I haven't been getting very far in Sonlight with either Helen or Elisabeth, because we keep reading so many other books! I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to them in December and then started this. Jörn started listening in and then requested us not to read unless he was there! (I made Jörn read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before we went to see the movie in December 2005, but that was the only book he had read. :-) )

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis Again, Jörn insisted on listening in.

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis Jörn wasn't so sure he was going to listen to this one, disappointed that none of the Pevensies were in it, and finding some of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader too weird. He doesn't actually like fiction much, and fantasy even less. So he didn't listen to the first chapter...but then got drawn in and yet again wouldn't let us read if he wasn't home. And won't let us start The Horse and His Boy until he gets home again! (He's been in England for the last five days, gets home tomorrow.)

The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes Another Sonlight book, this one from Core K, for Helen and Elisabeth. Since Jörn was gone, I had to read something non-Narnian.

Peter Pan (abridged), by J.M. Barrie, retold by Susan Shebar I know I read this to Jacob, Lukas, and Katie (that is, three separate times), and I think I may actually have read it to Lukas several times. It's just barely not quite a picture book, but it's very abridged, and not very well done in my biased opinion, and I'm not sure why we own it or how we got it. It's part of the Sonlight Core K (um...A), or at least, it was in 2002, but I know I didn't buy it because I had the original and didn't see any reason for the abridged one, and Marie read the original on her own when she was five anyway. But we have it, so I read it. It was something to keep the children at bay while waiting for Papa to be home tomorrow so we can continue with Narnia.