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Showing posts from January, 2008

Reading Journal: "Out Stealing Horses" and "Walking Naked"

I've finished reading two novels during this, my second week of pain. The first was Per Petterson's award-winning Out Stealing Horses, translated from the Norwegian and published by Minnesota's own Graywolf Press. It's a novel about fathers and sons, coming of age, memory, and pain, narrated in mesmerizing prose and set in a beautifully evoked Norwegian landscape. The prose is so quiet and controlled that you can hear the snow falling through it. The story circles back from the present to the narrator's adolescence in post-War Norway as the he gathers up the threads of his father's story and his own, and weaves them together to find a pattern. There's a kind of quiet machismo in the telling of the story, and women come into the story only in a few crucial places, almost as silent markers along the course of the narrator's masculine coming of age.

The second novel was Nina Bawden's 1981 novel Walking Naked, published by Virago Modern Classics. Th…

Every Time

On a rainy evening last July, Clara and I sat in the assembly hall of the Kenilworth School and listened to performances by the school's Year 10 GCSE music students. These were students who had chosen music as one of their major areas of concentration as they entered the final and more specialized years of secondary education in Britain. At the end of this school year, Year 11, those students will take a GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) exam in music. Some of the pieces we heard that evening were simply wild and rather formless experiments with the possibilities of GarageBand. Others, like an original piano piece by Will's friend Chloe, showed a real gift. I have to confess that I held my breath through most of Will's piece, a song he wrote called "Every Time." It was another amazing moment in a year full of amazing moments. He's put the song up on MySpace now; click the link and you should find it there (until Will removes it). Just do…

Notes on Reading

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My short shelf of Virago Modern Classics and Persephone Books.

Reading is, to a certain extent, a solitary activity. When the boys were younger, I read aloud to them, and after their bedtime I often read aloud to Clara while she knit. I read all of Bleak House aloud to her, and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and two or three Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. But most of my reading is done silently, the words on the page quietly transforming themselves into worlds within my head.

I like to read novels by twentieth-century British women, such as the novels reprinted by Virago Modern Classics and Persephone Books, two important British publishers of women's fiction. It started, I suppose, when a girlfriend in college introduced me to the novels of Virginia Woolf. It was intoxicating to have that feminine stream of consciousness fill my head, giving me at least limited access to an experience very different from my own. But later, as a stay-at-home father and "homemaker,&…

MRI: The Results Show

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Dr. Behrens called this afternoon with the results from yesterday's MRI. The images did show a disk herniation pinching the nerve root that leads down my right arm to my thumb. Everything you need to know about the condition can be found here. At left is an MRI scan (not mine) showing a sagittal view of the exact location of my problem, between vertebrae C6 and C7. The next step, if things don't begin to clear up soon, may be to have a neck injection. I was okay with the MRI, but I'm definitely not okay with injections! I'm hoping that the combination of prednisone, muscle relaxants, and painkillers will get me through this. The pain seems to be lessening, and I'm sleeping much more comfortably at night. The numbness in my thumb and wrist is still there, but that often lasts longer than the pain. Thanks to all of you who have expressed concern and sympathy, both in comments and in person!

MRI

I went in at noon today to have an MRI at the Allina clinic in Northfield. For those of you who've never had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), it's quite a simple procedure. Once it's been established that you don't contain any metal parts (e.g., a pacemaker, metal bone clips, shrapnel, etc.), you lie down on a narrow table and are fitted with earplugs. (Fortunately, my scan didn't require "contrast," i.e., an injection of a special dye to make soft tissues show up more clearly on the scan.) The narrow table then slides into a narrow tube, so that you feel like Gulliver in a Lilliputian subway. The tube contains a powerful magnet, which in combination with bursts of radio waves creates an image of the inside of your body. For several minutes (about ten minutes, in my case), you are submitted to bursts of clicking and beeping that sound suspiciously like a Philip Glass composition. The only thing required of the patient is to lie still. I did qu…

Figure Skating

My mother-in-law has been in town this week for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. She's a figure skating fanatic. She and my late father-in-law also came out in 1998 when the World Championships were held at the Target Center. She enjoys the ice dancing and, eccentrically, the compulsory figures, so she gave Clara and me her tickets for the women's finals. Michelle Kwan won that year, and we were there to see it. But my favorite skater that year was a sixteen-year old Hungarian girl named Diana Poth, who came in tenth. This unpublished poem is from my early days as a poet:

Free Skate at Worlds
(Love Poem for Diana Poth, HUN)

Inscribe this poem in ice argot,
the fluent calligraphy of spin and glide,
tongue of cold steel untranslatable
into any frictional language of earth—
there is no word for the breath-held
caesura of your leaps, the smooth
scissor-sound of your cool perfection.
The mirror is ice-opaque which now
proclaims you the fairest…

Reading Journal: "The Brimming Cup"

Dorothy Canfield's The Brimming Cup (1921) is a coming-of-age novel—or, rather, a coming-of-middle-age novel—about Marise, a wife and mother of three young children, who struggles to come to terms with marriage and motherhood and with the realization that her days of youthful passion are long past. A kind of midlife crisis is precipitated with the arrival in her neighborhood of handsome, passionate Vincent Marsh, who offers Marise a return to the passionate life and deep feeling of her young womanhood. Will Marise leave her children and her solid, sensible husband for a more romantic existence with Vincent? It's a simple story, but Canfield excels at elaborating the inner lives of her characters, and bringing out the drama—often the melodrama—of their moral struggles.

Marise is so sensitive, and she feels everything so deeply, that the writing often has a breathless quality. Here, Marise is standing near the hen house with her little daughter Elly, whose favorite baby chic…

A Pain in the Neck

Day four of spending most of my time flat on my back, taking methylpred to reduce the inflammation, and popping pain killers. Yesterday, Clara bought me a "memory foam" pillow, which makes things just a little more comfortable. The pain is a little less, but my right arm is still numb and pretty useless. Keeping up with the flossing has been a real challenge. Most of all, I'm bored and tired of being in constant pain.

I've used the time in bed to read. I quickly devoured Rumer Godden's lovely children's novel The Diddakoi, about a seven-year old gypsy girl who is left orphaned and has to learn to live with non-gypsies. And the non-gypsies, in turn, have to learn to live with her. It's beautifully done, especially because Kizzy, the little girl, is an authentically willful and sometimes naughty seven-year old, but she's also endearing and completely sympathetic. The novel won the Whitbread Award in 1972. Now I'm a little more than half-way …

The DL

I think I'll be joining Jim on the blogging disabled list for a while. This morning I woke at 4:00 with pain all down my right arm; my arm felt cold and my fingertips were tingling. Clara took me to the ER (these things do happen on Sunday morning), where after describing my symptoms I was told it was as if I had been reading out of a textbook the description of a slipped disc (or, as the take-home sheet called it, "cervical radiculopathy"). Ouch. On top of this, my mother-in-law is coming to visit this afternoon, and our car seems to need an exorcist (going at any speed above about 20 mph, it starts to growl and the speedometer shoots up to 120 mph). My numb fingers don't seem to want to type properly, so I'm taking a little time off. (By the way, Jim seems to be back now and taking visitors at his blog Trout Fishing in Minnesota.) I'll be back as soon as I get the feeling back in my fingertips.

Note: the flossometer may not be updated for a while eith…

Let the Baking Begin

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A Campaign Stop in Sunnydale

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Courtesy of Clara, our resident political blog junkie, here is a brilliant run-down of the GOP Presidential hopefuls (from the Cogitamus blog): The GOP Primary Field in Buffy Villains. Now the question is: Who would the Dems be? Dennis Kucinich as Xander (a good-hearted goofball with a surprisingly hot squeeze)?

Why I Hate Carleton Faculty Meetings

Here's how I spent my time (4:30-6:30 pm) while Clara was the first faculty meeting of the year:

4:30 pm: I go to the Econofoods and buy supplies to make potato pancakes for dinner, and nearly leave my wallet at the check-out. I freeze my hands on the walk home because Will wore my gloves to school (and left them there). I get home and realize I forgot to buy bread (my 50 lb. bag of flour still hasn't arrived).

5:00 pm: Peter calls from the high school, asking for a ride home from Nordic practice. When I arrive at the high school, Will is there, but Peter has gone to the waxing shed to wax his skis. I stop at the Econofoods a second time to buy bread. The express check-out girl is one hour grumpier.

5:30-6:00 pm: I peel and grate potatoes for potato pancakes. I also grate part of my right thumb.

6:00 pm: Peter calls again, asking to be picked up, etc. Peter arrives home and starts ruining his appetite on granola bars, bowls of cereal, and jam sandwiches while I continue to …

Flossing

As some of you already know, my New Year's Resolution for 2008 is to floss regularly. Before we left for England in August 2006, my dental hygienist, Kay, told me that the best thing I could do for myself in England was to floss regularly. I managed, even without a New Year's Resolution, to floss once a day, every day, for the first seven months of 2007. Then we took our last English road trip to Salisbury, where I unexpectedly ran out of floss. I didn't have an opportunity to stop in at Boots for more floss, so my streak was ended. We'll see how well I do this year. The Flossometer at left will keep track of my current and best streaks of consecutive flossing days. Meanwhile, the rest of you should also try to floss daily for good periodontal health. Here's a link to a helpful guide to proper flossing from the American Dental Hygienists' Association.

One Hundredth Post

It's this blog's one hundredth post! While the balloons are falling from the ceiling onto your heads, let's take care of some business and provide some updates and random thoughts:

1. Following Christopher's suggestion, I invite you to submit, in the comment section for the 50 Pounds of Flour post, your estimate of how many loaves of bread I can make with 50 lbs. of flour. If you want to get fancy, you can tell me how many loaves, pizza crusts, pie crusts, pancakes, cookies, waffles and bagels it will make. But loaves of bread will do. A loaf of bread (possibly challah) will go to the person with the closest guess. Out of town readers may enter the contest, but the bread won't be fresh when it gets to you in the mail!

2. Lenore Hart's Becky, which I was given as an Advanced Reading Copy as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, was released on Tuesday, January 8, and is now available in bookstores (including the online variety). I've only …

50 Pounds of Flour

On my birthday, exactly two months ago, I picked up a 50 lb. bag of Swany White organic unbleached flour at Just Food Co-op. Today, I scraped the bottom of the bag to make one last loaf of bread. I put in an order at the co-op yesterday for another 50 lb. bag. I know that the last bag made many loaves of bread and pizza crusts, pancakes and waffles, pie crusts and bagels and dinner rolls. At Clara's suggestion, this time I'm going to keep track of everything I make using that new bag of flour. What, exactly, can be made with fifty pounds of organic unbleached white flour? How many loaves of bread? How many pancakes? I know you want to know. Stay tuned for the rest of this winter to find out.

More Jane Eyre Debriefing

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Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre.

Penny has asked what I thought of the BBC production. I loved it. I found the stage version of Jane Eyre at the Guthrie Theater disappointing, particularly because of the excruciating accents and the monochromatic Rochester. The BBC's Rochester, Toby Stephens, is a fine actor, and Ruth Wilson as Jane was wonderful. I don't think she's at all "plain," as in the quote in my last post, but she has a marvelously expressive face that was able, I thought, to convey the emotions and the strength of character behind her silences. The BBC's Jane Eyre was, in my opinion, vastly superior to the ITV Jane Austen adaptations about to be thrown at American viewers. Fortunately, they're also reprising the good version of Pride and Prejudice, with the beautiful Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth (oh, and Colin Firth as that wet-shirted Mr. Darcy bloke). The ITV Mansfield Park is a travesty; the Northanger Abbey is sexed up, courtesy of Andrew Davie…

Jane Eyre

I just finished watching, for the second time, the most recent television adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. I saw it for the first time in October 2006 on BBC One in England, and again last Sunday and this on Masterpiece Theater. In July, Clara and Peter and I visited Haddon Hall, in Derbyshire, where most of the production was filmed, and saw a display of some of the costumes worn in the production. The novel has a famous opening line, and a famous final line, but tonight my eyes filled with tears as Jane (Ruth Wilson) spoke these, my favorite words in the novel:

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you—and full as much heart!

How good it must have felt to write those words!

January Thaw

The snowmen are growing back
into snow children,
losing their hats and mittens,
slumping into puddles
like wet-diapered infants,
returning to the egg-
shaped snowball in the child’s hand,
to the wishfulness,
to the upturned face, waiting
for the first snowflake to fall.

Self-Googling

According to a study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 47% of all internet users have self-Googled, that is, performed a Google search for their own name. I have to admit that I am one of those who have self-Googled. It's interesting to monitor one's presence in cyberspace, even if one's cyberfootprint is rather insignificant. As of this evening, a Google search for "Rob Hardy" yields 46,300 results. Most of them have nothing to do with me. Most of them, including an Internet Movie Database entry and a Wikipedia entry (albeit a stub), concern the African-American film director/producer Rob Hardy, whose credits include Trois (2000), Pandora's Box(2002), and The Gospel (2005).

I did discover that my poetry chapbook, The Collecting Jar, is mentioned in the recent issue of the online newsletter Winning Writers, which announces the 2008 Grayson Books Poetry Chapbook Competition and reprints my poem "Cicadas." A Google blog search revea…

A New New Year's Tradition

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A New Year's tradition is born.

The New Year has begun! We greeted the New Year with champagne, fireworks, and noisemakers at Jeff and Mary's house, after a memorable evening of good food, good drinks, and a Trivial Pursuit game that went right down to the wire. My team, which included the son of my valued fellow blogger Jim H., was graceful in defeat. The evening also included the debut of the new deep-fat fryer, which was used to make delicious onion rings and, best of all, Scotch eggs. Scotch eggs are a traditional staple of British picnic baskets, invented by the venerable firm of Fortum and Mason and now widely available in cheap versions as a quick, cholesterol-intensive, artery-hardening snack. My introduction to the Scotch egg was on a Kenilworth market day in May, when I bought one from the Cotswold Pudding and Pie Company. Hard-boiled egg, encased in sausage, dipped in egg, rolled in bread crumbs, and deep fried. Delicious. In Clara's brother Frank's h…