Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For the love of writing

I just finished reading  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  I absolutely loved it, despite it's stupid name.  When I first saw it on my mom's table, I wrote it off as one of those cheap novels that is written specifically for numerous dumb-downed book clubs that have sprung up all over the place (thanks Oprah.  Oh, and I'm not referring to the Capitol View Manor Book Club of which I was part or the Jefferson City book club that I have visited!).  It's unfortunate name hides a wonderful tale.
It was one of those books where, about halfway through, you're suddenly struck with the awful realization that the book will eventually end.  And then you find yourself completely conflicted.  You can't put the book down because you absolutely must find out what happens next yet, to devour the book means that you will soon finish and that, you realize, is simply unacceptable.  So you begin to ration your reading in order to make the book last longer.  It's as if you believe with your whole heart that not turning that last page will somehow keep the characters and places and everything else wonderful about your new found world...alive...indefinitely. 
It did end, though and I did mourn my great loss at not having another page to turn.

But I realized something about myself as a result.

The book is composed entirely of letters between various individuals.  Every character is introduced and fleshed out through the letters that they exchange with others in the book.  It was a fascinating concept, to say the least.  And it made me yearn for the time when folks exchanged lengthy correspondence.  It has truly made me want to stop using email for anything other than business exchanges and appointments.  The internet and technology are wonderful tools, don't misunderstand me (I write a blog, for crying out loud!).  It's just that we have all but lost our ability to let loose our thoughts via a medium that demands more than 100 character statements.  Twitter seems to be the technological equivalent of "twaddle"-- the word that Charlotte Mason used to describe "dumbed down literature with an absence of meaning."

So, what I learned about myself from reading this book is that I really do want to write.  And not just letters.  And not just blog entries.  I want to write more.  I always used to think that I didn't have it in me to write a novel.  I'm not a great teller of tales, per se.  But I do love to write about people I know and places I love and things I observe along the way and there's no reason that I couldn't tweak those a bit and form them into more than just journal entries.  I would like to write essays, too.  I think of Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors, and how she writes gorgeous novels (Who else thinks that The Poison Wood Bible is one of the best books in the world?) and telling nonfiction, as well.

This is all good and fine, I suppose, but I know that I have issues to overcome for writing to ever become something that I really "do."  Thus, I am going to start with correspondence.  Real, tangible, paper correspondence.  The boys and I are going to participate in The Great American Postcard Swap.  The group is currently being finalized but once it is finished the festivities will begin.  We will start with Alabama and the family from that state will send one postcard to the other 49 families that are participating.  Each week we will move onto the next state.  Our only requirement is to send a Missouri postcard to everyone else on the list one time but at the end of it all, we will have postcards from every other state.  How fun!!!

Further, I have chosen to participate, myself, in something called Postcrossing.  It is a postcard swap on a grander scale.  Once registered on the website, your name is put into the database.  You receive a name and an address of someone from anywhere in the world.  Once you send them a postcard, you log it onto the website and then you are eligible to receive postcards.  And so it continues, as long as you want to participate.  I've already received my first name and address--a young woman in Russia.  I am so excited about this new adventure and we've got to put up that huge world map so we can start pinpointing all the locations from which I get postcards.

So, if you're lucky, you just might be getting a real letter from me sometime in the near future.

You've been warned!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Silk Route

I wish you could have joined us this morning.  As I've mentioned previously, the one constant in our learning adventure has been the study of history.  We are currently studying the Middle Ages and we just finished reading about Marco Polo and his journeys East with his father.  A suggestion in our activity book was to set up a mock Silk Route in your house.  The travelers were to start off with a map of the route and continue on a journey that would take them through the Taklamankan and Gobi Deserts, the Tun-huang-shih and Loyang-shih oases and down the Yellow River, triumphantly finishing in Peking.  Aidan approached me last week, all but begging me to have us do this activity.  Admittedly, I thought it sounded extremely cool and I promised him that I would follow through.  Today was the day.
I busily set up the stations throughout our house, constructing signs designating the various stops and then adding my own ideas to the mix.  I drew up a scroll of instructions and warnings and sent them on their way.  The first oasis provided them with raisins and dates and fresh water.  Don't pay attention to the fact that this was really just our teeny bathroom.  After each of their treks across a desert they found themselves at an oasis.  The second rest stop, the Loyang-shih, offered them ginger snaps as a snack and a note that told them that this was made from one of the many spices they would find in the East.  I got a big, "Thanks, Mom!" for that.  After they picked up their oars and made their way down the Yellow River (really, as they climbed the stairs to the second floor), they found themselves in a Chinese Marketplace.  There I was, waiting for them.  I decided to dress up and my costume ended up a conglomeration of many cultures.  I wore a brown skirt with embroidery and shiny sequins on it, a yellow shirt with more embroidery on it, a crazy belt that we made while living with my parents (braided from some psychedelic fabric my mom had around), a string of jingle bells, and a muslin turban upon my head.  I offered my weary travelers ivory (dominoes), gold jewelry and spy glasses (Mardi Gras beads and party favors), precious gems (colored glass rocks), silks (I simply raided our dress up box) and exotic animals (rubber snakes).  They, in turn, offered me gold doubloons, Argentinian coins, jeweled rings, gold pieces (fool's gold) and diamonds (found on our property--not real, unfortunately).  We had so much fun that we did it twice. They really took their trading seriously and they offered comparable items for their purchases.  At the end of it all I got the greatest gift of all.  Aidan turned to me with his gorgeous smile and said quietly but with conviction, "Thanks, Mom.  This was really fun."
I must agree.
I hope they never forget about the Silk Route.


Perhaps you've noticed that my posts as of late have come sans photos.  I hate that because I love to help create a mood for what follows by sharing a glimpse into our life via photographs.  Well, their obvious absence is due to the fact that we are in deep doo-doo with regards to our computer.  We have completely, utterly, unbelievably run out of memory.  I mean totally.  I can't even upload one stinking picture.  Although we have a decent internet connection you would never know it.  All of our "energy" is taken up by everything lurking on our computer. "Everything" meaning--all my pictures.  Evidently, my camera upgrade last March did a whopping job on our computer's memory capabilities.  I believe John said something to the effect that all of the pictures that we had on the computer up until the new camera purchase (3-4 years worth) didn't take up the same amount of space on our hard drive as did just the last 10 months of pictures taken with our new camera! Yikes!  I guess that's the cost of better picture quality, eh?  It certainly doesn't help that our CD burner doesn't work so we can't save our pictures via that accessory.  We purchased what we thought was a second hard drive last month but it turns out that it seems to be only for backing up, not saving permanently.  That doesn't help us.  So, we have to figure out what to do next.  I would be lying if I didn't confess that both of us have let our minds wander into the land of "maybe we should just get a new computer..."  That would definitely solve one problem but.....really, that's not a very green solution.  I shudder when I think of adding to all of the technological refuse that has become such a problem in our day.  To our defense, though, the way computers are made these days it doesn't always make sense to try and fix your old one, especially when you can get new ones for cheaper and cheaper prices.  Blah!!  I just want to take pictures and share them with all of you.
Any computer experts out there who want to throw in their two cents on what might be the best course of action?  I would love to hear from you!