Quiet pleasures in the house, on the ridge, on the road: more close reading of Hawthorne, a walk with Chris amid rain, big skies and a bakery visit on the highway heading north.
Today's bit of work and research had me reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's re-telling of the Ovidian story of Baucis and Philemon, an older couple who unknowingly host the gods Jupiter and Mercury in their humble home. Hawthorne describes the honey that Baucis and Philemon feed to their guests:
"But, oh the honey! I may just as well let it alone, without trying to describe how exquisitely it smelt and looked. Its color was that of the purest and most transparent gold; and it had the odor of a thousand flowers; but of such flowers as never grew in an earthly garden, and to seek which the bees must have flown high above the clouds. The wonder is, that, after alighting on a flower-bed of so delicious fragrance and immortal bloom, they should have been content to fly down again to their hives in Philemon's garden."
Wilkie joined our household in the fall of 1996. He's lived with us in southern California, upstate New York, and central Arkansas. While we've seen him grow from a teeny kitten into a venerable cat, he's kept us good and steady company as we've changed from graduate students to tenured professors. (Though I think he liked things better when I was a graduate student because I could work at home more....) Chris says that Wilkie's "emotionally intelligent," and Wilkie does seem very aware of my mood--I'm always grateful for his tender responsiveness. Over the years I've posted entries here about Pippin and Emma, so it seemed high time to say that Wilkie's friendship is definitely a good thing.
And--yep--in a fit of sentimentality, I'm going to post a picture of him.
I wrote earlier this year about the new HVAC system we got installed. It turns out that they didn't hook something up quite right when they put it in (it's a new-to-them model, and they're still learning its ways). The result: last night was chilly! But Chris called the company this morning, and they sent someone over quickly. Now the house is back to its cozy temperature.
As I got ready to go for my walk this afternoon, I took my flannel-lined chinos out of the dryer so that I could wear them. They were still warm. When I put them on, it triggered a memory: when we were little we would put our outdoor winter clothes in the dryer in the morning to heat them up before heading off to the bus-stop. That way, we'd have a little pocket of warmth around us as we walked out into the chilly day. It wasn't nearly as cold today as it was on those Pennsylvania mornings of the past, but it was still nice to have an envelope of recent warmth around me, and it was a nice to feel the memory.
For the past year I've been working, on and off, on a set of three large canvases, each painted then collaged with abstract shapes cut from old books. This morning I worked on cutting out shapes for the third one, and Chris helped. This evening after dinner I did the glueing, which went much faster than I thought it would (and also much faster than the previous two). The trio is ready to be hung!
This past semester I taught an Introduction to Gender Studies course for the first--and probably only--time. I decided in mid-2009 that I would be teaching it, so it's been on my mind ever since then. I lived with thoughts about what to teach and how to structure the course, and then I finally got to put those thoughts into action. I finished grading the students' last assignments today, and I'm pleased with how the course went. It wasn't always easy to teach what can be such a charged subject, but I think I can count the experiment as successful, for both me and the students.
On my way out of Altus on Saturday I stopped at the Post Familie Winery. I bought a few bottles of wine, but my real goal was something else: I wanted to get some of their muscadine grape juice. As grape juice goes, it's pricey, but it's also very, very good. Chris says I shouldn't think of it as juice but rather as non-alcoholic wine. I think I get more pleasure out of drinking it than I do out of alcoholic wine, so from that perspective the price seems to justify itself. Today at dinner-time I opened the first of the bottles I bought, and it was so wonderful that I'm already regretting that I didn't buy more.
I'm glad when the winter solstice rolls around each year; it's nice to know that the days will start to get longer soon.
My solstice festiveness was somewhat fettered today: early this morning I got up to watch the lunar eclipse, but the cloud cover was so thick that I couldn't see anything; this evening I went down to the lake to watch the sunset, but one of our neighbors must have put a new lock on the gate without telling the rest of us the new combination so I couldn't get in. I feel like my day has been book-ended with these little vexations.
But there were some good things:
- It was a balmy, sunny day. After needing a hat, scarf, and gloves last week, it was funny not to need even a coat today!
- The bees were flying, and they enjoyed sipping up 3 jars' worth of honey which we poured out for them.
- I had some moments of insight about Hawthorne (a welcome development, since I soon need to start writing my Hawthorne paper for a conference in early January).
- A great blue heron flew overhead twice as I was standing outside the gate to the lake, watching the bright sky and the glorious lit-up water.
- Despite my frustration at not being able to get to the dock, it felt good to be so energized by a sunset.
Here are two digitally altered versions of a photo I took this evening. It was this amazing sky, as seen through the trees outside our house, that made me run down to the lake as the sun was slipping away....
I enjoy road trips, and I can often get some pleasure out of driving around town to get tasks done. But during the run-up to Christmas it's not so much fun to be on the road in town. Tomorrow I'll have to venture out to do some things, but today I was glad to stay at home: all my work was here, and I took my afternoon exercise break by walking on the ridge instead of driving to the indoor track. All through the afternoon I had a pot of chili (my own vegetarian recipe) cooking on the stove, which made the house feel and smell especially cozy.
...to grading. I was frazzled when final exam period ended, and though it was an appealing thought to power through the last bits of grading for my classes, I wanted to make sure that my mind was clear and calm when I read the students' last submissions of their work. So I've been on hiatus for the past 3 days. It was the right decision. Today I read some papers from my Latin literature students, and I could tell that I was a better reader--because more rested and collected--than I would have been if I had done it right away.
I live in central Arkansas; a friend lives in the northwestern corner of the state. We decided to meet up today for lunch and a chat in Altus, which is midway between us.
We're both fond of Altus, a small wine-producing community tucked among rolling hills. As I was driving into the town today, there was a fair amount of very picturesque fog, making Altus seem like the Scottish village in the musical Brigadoon, appearing out of the mists once every one hundred years....
It was great to spend a little time there and meet up with a friend I haven't seen in quite some time.
Chris and I both have good memories of eating rum balls during the Christmas holidays when we were young, and so we like to make rum balls ourselves at this time of year. Tonight was the night: we mixed, rolled, and sugared a double batch.
Today was the last day of exams, and I had my last student appointment of the year this afternoon. There's still plenty of work to do while school is on break: grading, reading, preparing for next semester's courses, and writing a conference paper for early January. But I'll enjoy having a more flexible schedule within which to fit the work.
I know that having deer in one's yard isn't a rarity in much of the US. Some people even find it a nuisance. But for me--no matter how many times I see it--it's a magical thing.
Usually Chris sees more deer, more birds, more everything because he's an earlier riser than I am.
But mid-morning today, when Chris was out, I got to see five deer grazing near our bee-hives. It's been some time since we've seen them coming through the yard, so I was especially glad to get a view of them.
There's always a lot to do this time of year, but today I had a kind of break-through and managed to calm down, slow down, and figure out a reasonable time-line for getting things done while enjoying doing them, too. This afternoon I was able to put the plan in action: I graded Greek exams, worked on some holiday gifts, and put in a few loads of laundry--all the while being glad to be sitting at our big table, looking out at a great view, and listening to the "first wave" (=alternative 80s) station on satellite radio.
We both still have grading to do, but we needed to spend some time today not on that but on straightening up the house. I like to do a thorough-ish clean for the holidays, and this year some things had gotten more out of control than usual since recently we were hanging out with Pippin rather than doing house tasks when we were home. No regrets on that front, but it's nice to have made some progress in cleaning things now. Chris was an amazing cleaner today, and I'm grateful that he gave me some momentum when I couldn't seem to get enough on my own.
At school we are given a certain number of "dining dollars" each semester that we can use in the coffee shop or cafeteria. I usually use mine up on coffee, since I get a cup almost every day. Chris had a little more left, and today we nearly finished his allotment by eating dinner on campus. Friday dinner is always the same menu, year in and year out, and I really enjoy it.
I didn't grow up around chickens, but I've been fond of them--from a distance--because I associate them with Greece and Italy, where I often saw them outside country houses.
Chris is gearing up for our getting chickens this spring, and he's been helping to take care of the campus chickens this fall. I've gone with him a couple of times, and today I really wanted to check in on them because I kind of missed seeing them. I'm getting fonder of them--from closer than a distance--and I think that's a good sign.
I am a real fan of bluebirds (not just birds that happen to be blue, but bluebirds), as any long-time reader of this blog is likely to know. I'm always on the look-out for them, and yesterday I thought one flew by my car as I was driving to school. But I wasn't sure.
Today I was sure: I saw two bluebirds winging their way across the road this morning. Oh how great.
It's our new HVAC system, which is being called into duty this evening for its biggest heating challenge yet. As we're facing a low in the low 20s tonight, I'm grateful that we were able to replace our old system with an updated one earlier this autumn. And I'm enjoying the fact that my home office feels very cozy. Our cat Wilkie seems to agree about the coziness, because he's curled up on my table as I type.
And here's a testament to our warm house: the miniature orange tree is blooming! Chris called me over to it so that I could smell one of its blossoms. A wonderful sweetness, but especially amazing on a dark December night.
Sometimes when I was growing up there would be a day in December when after dinner we all had tea--this on its own was rare, because my parents were (and are) dedicated coffee drinkers. But this tea was special for another reason: after pouring our cups we would each put a sugar cube and some rum in a teaspoon. Before plopping the sugar and rum into our cups, we would light the rum and watch the little blue flames burning over the sizzling sugar. Then, on the count of three, we would all dunk our spoons into our tea.
I didn't do anything as elaborate as that this evening, but I was hankering after the special taste of that tea, so I made some chai and added a dose of rum. It did the trick!
I came into the office on this quiet Saturday afternoon to work on some final things for my courses. I think I've now written the last hand-outs for the year! There are always so many review hand-outs--charts, lists, practice sheets--for the beginning Latin and Greek classes. There's definitely a pleasure in writing them, but there's also a pleasure in being done with writing them.
The students were very forthcoming in class conversation today, and it felt nice for the discussion to happen. Then, at one point at the end of class, almost everyone broke into the most good-natured laughter about something we were talking about. It seemed like a really sweet moment, especially because it was the last class meeting of the course for the semester.
The coldest day of the season so far, but also the most vibrant sunset I've seen in quite some time.