Pumpkin Patch

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We harvest the pumpkins by candlelight when the moon hangs full over the black trees and the wind is cold. The goblins steal them otherwise. The stories say they see where we take them if we harvest during the day, and any other night they’d be in the fields themselves, stealing them anyway. So we all come out together, on the last night of the eighth month, to harvest them all at once.

Some of the vines are already broken, too dry or too weak to hold onto their fat pumpkins for so long. The goblins stole those. The rest are waiting for us, and we plant candles along the edges of the fields, line every row, and being the harvest.

Leaves rustle in the wind, and the night flows around us. The rest are singing, long, slow, sad songs of lovers lost and nights too cold for comfort, but I only listen. I like to hear the songs, hear the music of the leaves and the wind, hear the branches whispering together and the owls hooting in the darkness.

Harvest is my favorite time of the year. Some of the younger girls are afraid to come and work with us. They don’t like the thought of the goblins watching from the trees, and the boys have surely told them a few ghost stories to stir them up, but their mothers make them come anyway. We need everyone to bring in the pumpkins. The draft horses haul the wagons slowly through the field, and we collect them and pile them inside. The elders say the knives we carry are to ward off the goblins, but really, we only need them for the rougher, thicker stems.

The candles keep the goblins away. And the moon. We won’t need the knives for that.

Tarzan of the Apes

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I have a tip for you.

When you are traveling with a backpack and running through train stations in Europe, it is probably not the best idea to carry a whole stack of books with you.

Your shoulders will get very tired. I promise.

The reason that I know this, is because I did travel through Europe. I did bring my books with me. And I did collect more books while I was there. Yes, I know there is a wonderful invention out there called a kindle, but I am old fashioned, and I like my books made of paper and ink, thank you very much. So I run through train stations with a library in my bag and strain my shoulders.

And that will never change.

One of the books that I lugged along through Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy, was Tarzan of the Apes. I’d never read it before. I hadn’t even brought it initially, confining myself to only three books and a few notebooks for the three week trip. This one turned up on a bookstore shelf in Portugal, right at the beginning of our trip. It was gorgeous, it was one I’d never read before, and I really, really didn’t need it.

So my friend bought it for me for my birthday. I love her.

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Tarzan of the Apes. This book was published in 1912 and has been made into way too many movie adaptions since.

Only two of them are good.

Disney is one of them.

Ehem.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The story was interesting, the idea fabulous, (which is why it has hung around for so long) and the writing was very well done. I enjoyed the chapters about his childhood the most, from the mutiny that stranded John Clayton and his pregnant wife on an unknown beach in the African wilderness, to the life they tried to build there, their child, and subsequent deaths and the baby’s adoption by Kala, a mother ape with a dead baby. The classic Disney feel-good story is nowhere in sight in this book. Among the apes Tazan is a tolerated outsider, occasionally caught in the wild rages of the bulls and cared for by his surrogate mother when his injuries following these altercations are too severe for him to care for himself. The life he lives is a wild, brutal one, and he develops accordingly, although a great deal better than a real child would in such a situation. (We have to have a story after all.)

Edgar Rice Burrough’s vivid descriptions of the deep jungles in the African interior, his larger-than-life character, and his insights on the ways of man make this a story to add to your classic bookshelves! I deeply enjoyed the hours I spent reading it, and will probably pick it up again.

When I don’t have a pile of books taller than I am in my bedroom, waiting to be read.

It has remained for man alone among all creatures kill senselessly and wantonly for the mere pleasure of inflicting suffering and death.

Mother

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We go to the bath houses after the healers leave us. She always likes to go to the bath houses first, to get the smell of their herbs off her skin. She’s never liked healers. Their prodding fingers, their clucking tongues. Their remedies that have never really taken away any of her pain. I’ve spent my life listening to their chatter, listening to them coax her to take just one more sip of whatever concoction they’ve prepared. I don’t like them much either. Not anymore.

The servants help me get her down to the baths. I can carry her now, if I want to. She’s so light, like a bird. But I don’t like to carry her. I’m afraid, with my deformed foot and my awkward gait, that I’ll drop her. And one more injury, one more pain in her body, and I may not have her anymore.

I can’t lose her. She’s my last defense, the only one left who loves me enough to keep me in the palace with her. I need her.

Candles float in the water of the baths, their lights flickering on the surface. Lilies as big as my hand grow in the corners, and the tiles are newly cleaned and smell of lavender oil. I help Mother off with her robe and get her into the water. The servant brings me rose oil, and I massage her shoulders for her, feeling every bone beneath her papery skin.

She’s been sick for so long. My father can hardly bear to look at her anymore, although I think he loves her more than the light of the moon and sun together. He avoids her now, and his deformed daughter. When she dies, I think he’ll give me to one of his nobles as a gift. A twisted little girl, whose only worth to him was in her mother’s faded beauty.

When You Don’t Have Time

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“No one reads anymore.”

Do you know how many times I have heard that? Articles, people ranting on social media. Everywhere you look someone else is making the claim that no one reads anymore.

But I do.

I’ve read nearly forty books this year, everything from classic literature to mythology to YA and children’s books. If you jump on Goodreads you’ll find people who have doubled that score. (Or tripled it. You guys are awesome. Please teach me.)

People still read. Just not as much as we used to.

And you know what? I get it. We all have jobs. We all have responsibilities. We all have people depending on us, schedules to juggle, deadlines to meet. We all have relationships to maintain, and, yes, we all do need to socialize at some point or another. (Only not really.)

So how, in the name of all sanity, do we manage to fit reading into all of this business?

I have no idea.

Ha! I’m kidding. I read forty books this year, remember? So here are a few of my tips for making time to read.

1) Make it a priority

Okay, not your main priority. Your kids still have to get fed and your boss will probably fire you if you don’t show up to work on Monday. Even if you tell him you were reading a really good book. But do you really need to binge watch that show on Netflix? Or spend that extra half an hour on Pinterest and Facebook? It’s so easy to waste time on social media and not even notice we’re doing it. Could you be reading a few pages during your lunch break instead of refreshing Twitter for the eighth time? (I am totally guilty of this.)

2) Lower your expectations.

How many times have you heard that in a motivational post?

Hopefully not many.

But seriously, don’t put pressure on yourself to read thirty chapters every time you sit down. When I was a teenager, I used to binge read books. I would sit down with a new book and finish it in one sitting, reading for six or seven hours straight.

I was crazy.

I also can’t do that anymore, except on the occasional weekend when I should probably be socializing and letting my friends know I haven’t died out quite yet. I don’t have the time or the focus anymore. I get distracted with this task or that one, and I forget to pick up the book again until it’s too late. So now, I employ the best aid to an adult reader on a tight schedule.

The bookmark.

Instead of reading ten chapters or finishing a book in two days, read a chapter. Read three pages. Read one page. Pick your book up before you head to work in the morning, or read on the bus, or on your lunch break. (Talk to your coworkers too, though. I don’t want them mad at me for ruining your social habits.)

The point is, it is okay to take a month to read a book if that’s what it takes.

3) Read for ten minutes

Ten minutes is nothing. I take longer than ten minutes to shower. Ten minutes before you go to bed will not ruin your night’s sleep, I promise. (Unless you get sucked into the book and read until 1 AM. In which case, I am very sorry.) Set a timer if you have to, or wake up ten minutes earlier than usual and read in bed before you get up. It seems like nothing, but ten minutes of reading every day will have you plowing through books. Especially if you never picked them up otherwise. Really. Take ten minutes.

4) Keep your book where you will see it

Beside your bed. On your kitchen table. On the counter. Beside your couch. Somewhere it’s easily accessible and within your sightline. If you put it back on your bookshelf while you’re not reading it, I can guarantee you will forget. And when you have ten minutes to spare, you will reach for your phone instead.

5) Bring your book with you

I always bring a book with me. When I go to work, when I’m running errands, to the dentist, the doctor. So much of our time is spent waiting. Waiting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for someone who is late. Why not have a book to read while you wait, instead of scrolling through Facebook and glancing at the clock every five minutes?

Well, there you are. My tips for fitting more reading into an already busy life. Anyone else have things that they do to snatch time for a couple of pages? I’d love to hear from you!

All The Light We Cannot See

I am a big fan of historical fiction and nonfiction. Especially anything connected with WWII. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Book Thief. (Both fiction.) The Hiding Place, The Diary of a Young Girl, Schindler’s List. (All nonfiction.) I’ve read them all at one point or another. And loved them all. So I am always on the search for another historical masterpiece to delve into.

All The Light We Cannot See fit that description perfectly.

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This book, this wonderfully detailed, immaculate book, offers no fluff, pulls no punches, and doesn’t hedge any of the harsh realities of Hitler’s Nazi regime. It does nothing to soften the stark, barefaced reality of war and all of the horrors connected with it, both for the occupied countries and the German people. And yet, in the middle of the horror, the atrocity of what was happening around them—there was still light. Still good. Still hope.

Anthony Doerr does an incredible job of finding that light without excusing the hideous crime that was WWII.

The book has two main protagonists. Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager living in occupied Paris, and Warner, a German soldier, part of the Wehrmacht. A radio specialist, tracking down illegal radios manned by the underground. He has a head for numbers, a mind for wires and tubes.

And Marie-Laure has a radio.

Her father, a French curator for the Paris Museum of Natural History, flees Paris when the Germans occupy it, taking with him his blind daughter and a very special stone. A gem that has a history of bring bad luck to the man who carries it.

And bad luck follows them both.

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First, her father returns to Paris—and does not come back, leaving Marie-Laure with her uncle, a man unhinged by PTSD and memories of another war. While he is gone, Marie-Laure and her uncle’s housekeeper begin to assist the underground, relaying messages through a secret radio in her uncle’s attic. The messages they send, the radio, and a bombing raid on the town of Saint-Malo, where they live, will pull Marie-Laure and Warner onto the same path and leave a lasting impression on both of them.

This book takes a very close look at the heart of man, the difference between a mind preoccupied by cruelty and one obsessed with self-preservation. It delves into Warner’s past particularly, painting a picture of a boy forced to be a man too early, and one who only ever wanted to stay alive. I think it displays very well that not every soldier in Hitler’s army was a monster. Some were only afraid.

If you are interested in WWII, or just looking for a good, solid novel to pick up, I would highly recommend this one. It’s not a romance or a light read, but it will make you think. You won’t forget it in a hurry.

How do you ever know for certain that you are doing the right thing?

Merchant

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Her booth is in an alley, back behind the dumpsters. She doesn’t like me to come very often, especially since she knows I only buy once a week. I don’t have money for more, but it’s hard to stay away.

I don’t have anywhere else to go.

The streets around her are gray, gray as soot and ashes. The sky is gray. The trees are dead.

The only life left in this dead city is in her alley, and she doesn’t like me to come. Not unless I bring my money with me.

She’s been arrested a few times. They put her in jail for three days once, and I was the only who came to see her, brought her an extra blanket, some food. Harassment, the officers told her. And selling without a license. They told her to stop, but she won’t.

Not while she still has some color left.

I bought crimson last week. I buy every Monday, and the color doesn’t fade until almost Saturday night if I’m careful. If I don’t waste it. Color doesn’t last long in our gray city. It drains away, fades in the cold wind, but I always buy it anyway. A new color every week.

She’s waiting when I get there, and I show her my money first. She smiles at me then, half her teeth missing, the others rotted. She likes to see me when I really do have money, when I come to buy. She doesn’t mind me then. “What’ll it be this week?” she asks, and her voice is as gray as the rest of my world.

“Green,” I tell her. “Forest green.”

Cornfield

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She’s the one to come looking for me, although today’s fight had nothing to do with her. She always comes, and she always finds me here. The cornfield is the only place I can hide and be sure he doesn’t find me, at least not quickly. I spent three days hidden among the rows once, waving leaves overhead, sleeping in the dirt. Even she couldn’t find me that time.

Maybe she didn’t try. Those three days are what it took for him to calm down, so I was safer where I was.

She’s three rows down before she sees me. The corn is up to her chest now, the leaves shivering in the slight breeze. I like hiding here, down on my hands and knees among the stiff stalks. I feel safe. Not even the sky can see me.

But she always finds me. She comes to sit next to me, not saying anything, not apologizing like she used to, not comforting. I think we both know it isn’t her fault by this time. And that it isn’t going to be all right, no matter how many times she says it.

I cling to her, bury my head in her chest so I don’t have to see the bruises on her face and arms, the ones hidden beneath her thin cotton dress. She brought a wet rag along with her, and she cleans some of the blood and dirt off my face, wiping away the tears too.

I hate crying. She knows it, and she knows not to say anything. So we just sit where we are, under the leaves, and wait for the storm gathering in our little house to blow over so we can go back.

It will take a while, I think.