On Giants' Shoulders

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Fairy Tale For Adults

Sometimes a book sits on your bookshelves for years, but you never quite get around to reading it. That was the case of The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin. I had seen it recommended in various places, so when I spotted a used copy in Annie's and I had book credit to spend, I bought it. Then it stayed on the shelf for years. At some point I offered it to my daughter when she was in search of something new to read, and I'm pretty sure she actually read it.

This summer I decided that it fell into that anagogical category of literature (it's in effect a modern version of a beast epic), so I wanted to include it among the books the lit girls and I would do in the fall. Of course, the first thing I had to do was to actually read it. I also discovered that there was a sequel and I decided to get that as well. Initially I hoped to find it in the UVM library, but unfortunately their copy was either misshelved or lost. So I bit the bullet and bought one. I'm so glad I did.

This week I finished The Book of the Dun Cow, and now I can enthusiastically recommend it to other adult readers. It's fine for teens, but it is most definitely not a children's book, there's too much sadness and violence in it for younger kids. I am so glad that I bought the sequel because my first reaction on finishing The Book of the Dun Cow was to pick up The Book of Sorrows and see what happened next.

The characterizations in these books are incredible. There is certainly an allegorical or symbolic level to the story, but in the same way that The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia are more than allegory so are these books. You'll both laugh at and cry with Chauntecleer. You'll find him noble, heroic, comic, and flawed. His brave crowing of the hours in the last chapters of the book is one of the most touching scenes in mythical literature. You'll love Pertelote and her womanly ways. Then there are the other characters, the weasel, Mundo Cani the dog, Russell the fox, the widow mouse, the very foolish turkeys. All and all a delight despite the fact that they are found in the midst of a war on evil. You'll find the book both a page turner and one that you want to go back and re-read for the sheer beauty of the language and the power of the myth.

I am so looking forward to doing this particular book with the girls in the fall. I'm only sorry that it stayed so long on the shelf without being read.

I Think I Need to Change My Profile

I say in my profile that I'm allergic to exercise, but actually I'm not anymore. As a matter of fact I am turning into a jogger. I never thought it could happen, especially at my age, but it has. I started doing this Couch to 5K program in June because I thought it might help deal with the middle aged spread that I still had despite dropping a lot of weight this past year. My initial goal was to get to the point where I could actually run a mile (not the 5K the program was saying they could get you to in 8 weeks). At that point I couldn't run a tenth of a mile without getting winded and stopping to catch my breath. Well... I still haven't run a mile without walking breaks yet, but I am now regularly running over a mile total three days a week. Yesterday I did our neighborhood loop (about .7 mile) with only three minute walking interval. Tomorrow I'm scheduled to do two 8 minute jog intervals with one 5 minute walk in the middle. We'll see how that goes.

What's surprising about all this is that I'm actually enjoying it. I don't necessarily enjoy the burning lung sensation, but I do enjoy the challenge of it and I am actually finding the first part of every jogging interval to be absolutely exhilarating. I am beginning to understand why runners run. If this gives me nothing more than some insight into a whole group of people whom I never understood at all before it will be worth it. I used to shake my head in disbelief when my daughter said she preferred jogging to walking. In fact, I've already gained physically as well. Not only has my endurance increased, I have dropped some inches in my middle, so I guess this interval training thing really does work. Now if I can just get some of the more jiggly parts to stop jiggling...

This activity is helping me enjoy summer in a whole new way. I get to see whose flowers are blooming, how people's gardens are doing, what birds we have in the neighborhood, whose got little kids running around outside. I'm no longer stuck in the house, I'm actually out there seeing the life of the neighborhood. People smile at me, they wave to me, they say hello. I don't stop for a chat because I'm on a mission, but I do smile back, wave back, and yell out a hello back.

Next challenge to myself is to see whether I can jog a whole rosary... I love multi-tasking. Yesterday I prayed about half of a rosary while standing next to the hole in the fence my daughter's horses had gone through earlier in the morning. I was keeping the one who had been put back in in while my husband went to retrieve her mother. It seemed like a good use of time to pray the Rosary instead of just standing there. I finished it up while walking over to the other field to find the hole in the fence they made to get in with the other horses. Then I cobbled the top strand of that fence back together and went back to tell my husband where that hole was. He meanwhile spent the whole forenoon catching horses and fixing fences. I'm not sure that he was able to multi-task at all.

If you're interested in interval training checkout www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml There's a whole training schedule there as well as a message board and lots of other cool information.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Lit Prep

That's what I'm doing these days when I'm not mowing the lawn, weeding the garden, or trying to run intervals. We couch potatoes must get some exercise, but lit prep does give me a chance to laze around for a bit.

This fall I'm going to be doing anagogical literature with my girls. That's literature based on spiritual matters rather than realistic fiction. We'll be doing Dante's Inferno, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (yes, I do know that one's Protestant), at least part of Milton's Paradise Lost, some George Macdonald (probably the Princess and the Goblins), Walter Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow, Robert Siegel's Whalesong, and if we have time perhaps C.S. Lewis's Perelandra and a Madeleine L'Engle novel.

So in preparation I've been reading Dorothy Sayers Introductory Papers on Dante and have just begun C.S. Lewis' A Preface to Paradise Lost. I've owned the book for years and never actually read it. Abby took it off to Duquesne with her and used it heavily when she was taking Milton. I probably ought to let her teach Paradise Lost, but undoubtedly she'll have a job by then and won't be available. So I'll just let her mentor me through teaching Paradise Lost. She should enjoy that.

Anyway, if you want to better understand the history of epic poetry, or you want some great reinforcement for the value of liturgy (Lewis touches on this briefly, but powerfully), I suggest A Preface to Paradise Lost. If you want a good explanation of allegory I suggest Introductory Papers on Dante. If you think I've totally lost my mind to even think about doing such sophisticated stuff with high school kids I would respond that it's the second time I've done Dante with high schoolers and I did Bunyan with my own kids when they were much younger. Some of the other books were ones that I either read to my own kids or which Abby read herself long before college. I wanted to look at specific types of literary devices this year (metaphor, simile, epic poetry, allegory, rhyme scheme, and meter) and this looked like a way to do it while exploring some kind of great stuff and spiritual values as well.

If I had to give the course a title it would be Allegory, Epic Poetry, Beast and Fairy Tales, but I'm actually just calling it Anagogical Literature (when I can manage to type the word without misspelling it that is).

I've got to get my computer geniuses to scan a picture onto my blog for me. My lit girls mom took a picture of me and the girls at our last class of the year and gave it to me on Sunday. I'd like everyone to get a chance to see who these cool kids are. Maybe by the weekend...

So now it's breakfast and then either weeding the carrots, mowing the lawn or back to Lewis. I probably will make myself weed the carrots, but I'd sure prefer to curl up with that little blue book instead. If people only knew how much I HATE weeding carrots.... I decided yesterday I'd better start not hating it so much or it might end up as a purgatorial excercise. Oh well, at least I earn activity points for weeding carrots. Frankly, I'd rather run intervals, but I'll appreciate those carrots next winter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My New Apron

Awhile back I urged people to buy their mother's, wives, girlfriends, etc. an apron from The Kitchen Madonna. Well my dear daughter took me up on the suggestion and got me a beautiful Angelina apron. It came complete with a Saint Benedict medal and some holy cards, but I suspect that's because Kitchen Madonna knows I'm Catholic. This is the prettiest, most well made apron I've ever owned. It has pockets in two different places, it's reversible so you can wear the white side when you're cooking and then switch to the patterned side for serving your guests. It has a lovely feminine ruffle at the bottom. It just makes you feel like wearing an apron for the fun of it. She has other styles and other materials in addition to the lovely blue flowers on white that my apron has. I'm planning on buying more aprons when I get some extra cash. In the meantime, I urge everyone to visit her site and consider a purchase. The aprons cost more than the ones you'd buy at K-Mart, but believe me, the quality is well worth it.

Come on, ladies, let's don our aprons again!

On, and as I said before, I'm not making anything by recommending these aprons to you. I just happen to really, really like this apron and would like other people to enjoy the Kitchen Madonna's work as well.