Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I love me some New Year's resolutions.  I love the fresh and clean feeling of the new year, new calendars, new planners, putting away the Christmas decorations, cleaning out closets and underneath beds.  I love January magazines, with their articles about diets and cleanses and organizing.  I love that the days are getting just a little bit longer every day.  I am ready to hit this January hard!  Watch out!

I decided yesterday driving home from Target that I'm tired of whining - I've got such a good life.  My baby is healthy, my husband is sweet, hardworking, and cute, I've got a good job and live in a lovely neighborhood - what the heck do I really have to complain about?  Sure, I'm tired a lot, and I don't have time to exercise like I'd like to, and I have an addiction to sugar, and I wish I could work less and still retain benefits.  I'm not alone.  And these things are not ideal.  But I am so lucky.  Navel-gazing and bellyaching aren't going to change any of those things and will likely only make me feel bad.  So forget it, pal! 

I'm not saying I'm never going to complain again, or feel sorry for myself sometimes.  I'm human.  But whether I eat a piece of chocolate or whether my thighs are heavier than I'd like - these are small potatoes.  So I'm gonna make potato salad - and savor every messy, tangy bite of my life.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Better Not Pout

I keep opening the fridge and the pantry, scanning the shelves, expecting what I want to magically appear.  What do I want?  Something sweet, but it's not there.  I still haven't had candy - it's Christmas Eve, and I've made it this far, so there's no stopping now.  Except that i don't really think I've curbed my sweet tooth much.  I've been eating pumpkin bread, cupcakes, frosting, scones, Pop Tarts like there's no tomorrow.  So what the hell is the point of cutting out chocolate, except to make myself crazy? 

You know that time in the morning when you resolve that THIS is the day you make changes, the first day of the rest of your brand-new healthy life?  I've had quite a few of those lately.  I see Oprah and Dr. Oz smiling from the bright yellow cover of her January issue, and i so badly want to believe that they can tell me how to remake my habits, cleanse myself of my dietary sins. 

Maybe they can.  Maybe they can't.  Maybe it doesn't matter what they advise, because what's really eating at me isn't found in a box or a grocery cart or a tree or a plot of soil.  It's all in my head, an endless loop of anxiety and perfectionism and melancholy, an inability to LET GO and just breathe.  It's Christmas Eve, for Frosty's sake!  I'm putting this out there, into the universe, hoping that I can give myself a break and just enjoy the next few days.  There's a lot of pressure to be "in the Christmas Spirit," and if you're just not quite feeling it, you feel like there's something wrong with you.  I am trying to keep Christmas in my own way, even if I haven't quite figured out how yet.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Crampton Hodnet, by Barbara Pym

You might think that with an almost six-month-old at home, I would have no time to read.  Well, you would be wrong!  I enjoy a luxurious 30 minute lunch break at work, which after microwaving my Lean Cuisine and cleaning up my silverware amounts to about 24 minutes, and the nightly 3.5 minutes from when I get into bed to when I fall asleep.  In that 27.5 minutes a day, I indulge in my true passion - books.

When the modern world presses upon me too much - people looking down at their phones, almost running smack into me in the aisles of Target, the incivility and stupidity of reality television and the news - I crave a retreat to a simpler time.  No, not the Amish inspirational romances that are so strangely popular these days.   I crave something British, a bit genteel but with a smidgen of droll wit - something like Jane Austen or Barbara Pym.   Pym's novels of the mid-twentieth century are like Austen's with their drawing rooms, spinsters, and vicars; just add electricity, automobiles, and church jumble sales.  I adored Pym's Excellent Women and have been slowly making my way through the rest of her works.   Alexander McCall Smith, another author who's work I've been recently enjoying, wrote a nice piece on Excellent Women for the Guardian.

Set in Oxford, the titular Crampton Hodnet is a fictitious nearby vicarage devised by Mr. Latimer, a young curate boarding with the formidable elder Miss Doggett and her lady companion Miss Morrow.  (Miss Morrow is basically a lady-in-waiting, a spinster in her mid-30's who tend to blend in with the drapes and make witty asides to herself.)  Mr. Latimer and Miss Morrow get caught walking in the rain one day, heading home from the same direction but not together, and the curate freaks out when an acquaintance sees them and assumes they were together - hence the unnecessary fabrication.  These are the kinds of things upon which Pym builds her stories - and slight though they may seem, they loom large in the insular, gossipy circles of her novels.  Her books do not end as happily as most of Austen's do, however - there is a much more complicated depiction of marriage and the roles of men and women here.  Yet I always find myself laughing out loud at something in her tales; they are so wryly funny.  Here, a passage in which Miss Morrow sees Mr. Latimer off to a trip to Paris and then does something uncharacteristically passionate:

It was a lovely morning, when even the monkey-puzzle (tree)  was bathed in sunshine.  She clasped a branch in her hand and stood feeling its prickliness and looking up into the dark tower of the branches.  It was like being in church.  And yet on a day like this, one realized it was a living thing too and had beauty, as most living things have in some form or another.  Dear monkey-puzzle, thought Miss Morrow, impulsively clasping her arms around the trunk. 
"Now Miss Morrow," came Miss Doggett's voice, loud and firm, "you must find some other time to indulge in your nature worship or whatever it is.  You look quite ridiculous.  I hope nobody saw you."
"Only God can make a tree," said Miss Morrow unexpectedly. 

Miss Doggett goes on to point out that she messed up her dress, and Miss Morrow, seeing that her drab colored clothing was unsullied, thinks, 'That was the best of drab clothes.  One could be a nature-worshipper without fear of soiling one's dress.'

I am so glad that I have yet to work my through all of Pym's novels.  They are truly delightful and I intend to parse them out, savoring the pleasure for some time.  And then, of course, there's always the joy of re-reading!

Friday, December 16, 2011

In the Air, There's a Feeling of Christmas...

I love Christmas music.  My husband does not - mostly because he's forced to listen to it non-stop at his place of work, and it drives him crazy.  So we don't play much around the house - but in my car, it's another story.  I love that there's this one time a year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, where we can enjoy timeless songs - and then we put them away for another year with all the ornaments and wrapping paper.  My favorite secular tunes are "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (mood: wistful) and "Silver Bells" (serene.) 

Last night on my way home I listened to a mix CD that a friend made a few years back.  It's pretty eclectic, from Sting's version of "I Saw Three Ships" to Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis."  My favorite song on the CD is NSYNC's version of "O Holy Night."  It is one of the best renditions ever done, in my opinion, and that is my very favorite religious Christmas song.  Say what you will about NSYNC, but those boys can sing, and listening to this feeds my soul this time of year. 

So here is a treat to get you in the Christmas spirit - if you aren't a Grinch.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Woohoo, gum.

So, more than a week in to this whole "no candy" thing, and I haven't caved yet.  There are times when I want nothing more than to fall headfirst into a bowl of Hershey bars, but I've not allowed myself that luxury.  I have had a 4 Pop-Tart day this week, but that's another story.  In my defense, two were consumed in the morning and two at night.  Perhaps it will be a "no Pop-Tart Lent!"

When I miss candy the most is when I'm at work.  This time of year is our slowest; everyone's elsewhere, shopping and decorating and wrapping.  I want the sweet burst of flavor, that zing of sugar and carbohydrate and smoothe, rich momentary relief from boredom.  Our candy jar is well-stocked.  Mercifully, it is hidden in a file cabinet and not in plain sight.  Out of sight, out of mind is true to an extent.

Instead of a mini Kit Kat or Almond Joy, I chew a piece of gum.  Yay.  I enjoy gum.  (I'm reminded of Chandler on Friends, stuck in the ATM vestibule with Jill Goodacre... "Gum would be perfection.")  I like its breath-freshening, thirst-quenching properties.  But it's gum, ho hum, and it's just not the same.