Thursday, January 28, 2010

Foy Vance

Geoff introduced us to Mr Vance a few months back, and I've found myself listening to this Irishman with the beautiful voice a lot recently. This song moves me deeply, so I thought I'd share it with whoever stops by The Backyard today.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sabbath rest

Stump with lichen
Originally uploaded by the gladdings
With temperatures creeping into the 50s, we decided to hike a trail in the Kentucky Palisades this past Saturday as part of the rhythm of rest we've established. Being outside the city in the quiet of the countryside is extremely restorative for all four of the Gladdings. We drove south to Jim Beam nature preserve (this being Kentucky), and found the trailhead as described on the website, although, despite it supposedly being "open 365 days a year", the gravel parking lot's barrier was down and locked. So we parked in the grass by the track, and walked in.
We spent a delightful couple of hours getting up close to lots of lichen and fungi - the only green to be found in the drab colours of winter. Rebecca overturned numerous rocks, and the eager looks of anticipation on Maggie and Seth's faces as the secrets the rocks held beneath them were revealed was priceless. "Can we turn this one over too?!" The highlight discovery was a newt, with golden ants, wriggly earthworms and beetles aplenty.
We heard cardinals chipping in the distance, saw vultures circling, and were accompanied by a Downy Woodpecker, who flitted from tree to tree ahead of us for awhile.
We breathed deep of the solitude the woods afford, catching glimpses of the palisades through the trees, and hearing the sound of running water from the small streams winding their way down to the Kentucky River below.
One day in seven to rest. Good idea.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Favourite kids' books

I realized I was missing a very important category of books in my review of 2009 - childrens'.
So, here are a baker's dozen of some of the books that make us laugh out loud, or that have beautiful illustrations or that we just really like. Top honours goes to "The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone" by Timothy Basil Ering, a beautiful, whimsical tale of greening 'cementland' that we delight in reading over and over again. In a similar vein is "Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney.
A brace of beautifully illustrated stories are "The Wild Girl" by Chris Wormell, and "The Raft" by Jim LaMarche. In bibliography, we love Brian Wildsmith's "Saint Francis." In traditional tales, Margot Zemach's "It Could Always Be Worse" is a favourite.
In the fun category are "Tacky the Penguin" by Helen Lester/Lynn Munsinger and "Todos Hacemos Caca" by Taro Gomi. In the fun for kids, but especially for adults category are "Where's My Cow?" by Terry Pratchett/Melvyn Grant and "Duck for President" by Doreen Cronin/Betsy Lewin.
Finally, the family favourites. These tend to be a moving target, but here are ones we read on a regular basis. For Maggie: "The Paper Bag Princess" by Robert Munsch/Michael Martchenko, which ends with the immortal lines, "'Ronald,' said Elizabeth, 'your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum.' They didn't get married after all." For Seth: "Skippyjon Jones" by Judy Schachner - "Holy Frijoles!" - whose website is as cool as her book. And then, when we just need some pre-school humour, "Pooh! Is That You Bertie?" by David Roberts - the family that boffs together, stays together!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Best Books - 2009 Pt. II

Here are my favourite novels from last year. There are some years when one novel leaves such a lasting impact that it's easy to say, 'that was the best for this year.' 2009 was not one of those years. There were several novels that vied for the 'best of 2009' spot, but none that really stood out from the rest. So, I have settled on "Mudbound", the debut novel from Hillary Jordan, as first among equals. The story is told in the first person by the six protaganists. A father moves his family to an isolated farm in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II. The story unfolds as the war hero sons of the farmer and the sharecroppers on his land return and form a friendship that exposes the racism deeply embedded in this part of the South. Another son, the antithesis of his war hero brother, creates more tension, as long-held secrets hold sway over the two families. An unblinking and beautifully told narrative of the personal and structural evil that is racism.
In historical fiction, the standout novel was "World Without End" by Ken Follett, the epic sequel to "Pillars of the Earth", one of my favourite novels, which is in post-production as an 8 hour mini-series. I also enjoyed "The Eleventh Man" by Ivan Doig, whose "Whistling Season" is another favourite.
Madeleine L'Engle's "A Live Coal In The Sea" is a beautiful, painful and hopeful story of three generations carrying the scars and open wounds of poor choices and long-held secrets.
In short stories, Wendell Berry's "Fidelity" comes highly recommended. I'm not a fan of short stories usually, but after a slow start, I was drawn into this collection - my first by this son of Kentucky, our new home. Also set in Kentucky, I was pleasantly surprised by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor's "Faith, Hope and Ivy June", her 136th(!) novel. It tells the story of two high school students who spend two weeks in each other's school: one a private girls' school in Lexington, the other from "the hollow" in Hazard County.
Thanks to Rebecca, I have become a big fan of adolescent literature - here are my favourites from last year. "Notes From the Dog" by Gary Paulsen, who is consistently good: a laugh out loud, ache in the gut tale of the summer friendship between an awkward teen and a young woman with breast cancer. Did I mention it features a garden? Another couple of crackers in this genre are "Angry Management" by Chris Cutcher, which features a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of an evangelical; and "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, another laugh out loud story which also manages to be entirely non-sentimental about the issues of racism, justice and poverty that it raises.
In the "late night page turner" category, "Simple Genius" by David Baldacci takes the honours. Although I find that when I re-read one of his, I barely remember what happened. Which probably says more about me, than it does about him.
In the "old friends" category, highlights were "Airman" by Eoin Colfer; "Nation" by Terry Pratchett; and "The Private Patient" by P.D. James, which I'm really hoping is not her last novel.
I hope you find at least one to whet your appetite from among this selection - support your local library! And remember, just because you start a book, you don't have to finish it. In that category this year was "Foreign Body" by Robin Cook - complete and utter tosh.
Up next - the best books of the last ten years...

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Jr Day 2010

MLK march 2010
Originally uploaded by the gladdings
We wrapped up warm and headed downtown to join the thousands of Lexingtonians who chose to mark the day by marching together in honour of Dr King, and to be reminded that there is still much work to do. It was Maggie and Seth's first time to join a march, and when I got back to the house with Seth we watched clips of the march on Washington, and Dr King's "I have a dream..." speech. It was particularly poignant for us as we now call Lexington's Martin Luther King neighborhood home.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Best Books - 2009

I (Sean) have been keeping a reading log for 10 years. For some reason I read more books in 2009 than any year previously - 83, for a total of more than 25,000 pages. For those of you who enjoy reading as much as Rebecca and I do, here are the books I enjoyed most from among those 83.

The most important book I read in 2009 was 'The Transition Handbook' by Rob Hopkins. Having become increasingly informed of the looming crisis "peak oil" presents, I wanted to read this book, which friends had recommended as a hope-full response to what seems an insurmountable reality. It chronicles the history of the "Transition Movement" (which began in the U.K. and is now spreading globally) and also provides hands-on advice for what it will take to make the transition from oil-dependence to local resiliency. I highly recommend this as an introduction to this vital issue that continues to remain 'off the radar'. (See also the excellent documentary "A Crude Awakening.") In a similar vein I also enjoyed Bill McKibben's "Deep Economy."

My favourite biographical work was "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp, a non-sentimental, and wryly humourous account of her 20 years as a high-functioning alcoholic. Also in autobiography (in the "I did something for a year and wrote about it" category), I thoroughly enjoyed "The Year of Living Biblically" by A. J. Jacobs.

In the "books about the Book" category, I loved "Genesis: The Story We Haven't Heard" by Paul Borgman. Dr Borgman is a professor of English at Gordon College, who has spent 25 years wrestling with the Genesis stories with his undergraduates. His exploration of the Abrahamic narrative is particularly excellent, and there is insight and profound pondering on every page. Highly recommended. I also found Sandra Richter's "The Epic of Eden" excellent - a very helpful introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures.

An 'honourable mention' goes to Rob Bell's and Don Golden's "Jesus Wants to Save Christians" - which i re-read in 2009 for a small group study.

That wraps up my favourite non-fiction books I read last year - the fiction recommendations will be up next.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Campsie Place - January 8th 2010

It has not been above freezing since we came home, with little hope of that any time soon. Our Houston-acclimatized bodies are feeling it! Our narrow side street has been inaccessible to the city ploughs, which makes for a pretty picture, but slick footing underneath. Maggie and Seth were excited to see snowdrifts, but disappointed to discover that it's not "fun" snow - so cold it's just powder. We hung the final curtains last night, and i finished putting that plastic wrap stuff over the south facing windows. There's still an arctic gale blowing through the kitchen cabinets - the tile floor sucks the heat out of our feet. We've plugged the draughts best we can, but with the thermostat set at 60, the heat still stays on most of the day. Welcome to winter!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Family photos

Rebecca & Seth
Originally uploaded by the gladdings
Our dear friend Geoff Maddock took some beautiful photos of us a month ago, and we've finally got around to uploading some. We have a lot of catching up to do on the blog - watch this space!