Summer Stories: The Frothiest Part of the Reading Year

I really think some stories are seasonal.  Autumn stories get us to think about life and its priorities; generation-spanning epics are good for those long, winter nights and spring stories are about inspiration. Summer stories live in another world, one of twilight and green shade and flirting. Summer novels are meant to be read with pink lemonade on a porch swing or on a chaise in the shade.  These are the tales of romance and fun, even the ones that don’t contain conventional love stories. Summer is the frothiest part of the reading year and Peter Mayle writes summer stories like no one else.  His novel, A Good Year, suggests the summer can do more than help you through a domestic crisis; it can lead you  to the best part of your life.
This tale goes well with lemonade..
If Summer is the season for self-awareness, then Max Skinner is neglecting the calendar as well as his personal life.  While others are living their London lives, Max has bartered his for a high-stress job and a possible bonus. A self-serving boss robs him of both just as Max learns the uncle who raised him died. Max may be out of a job but he’s inherited an old house and vineyard in the country beyond Avignon. With help and encouragement of his best friend, Max leaves behind his career in the City to rediscover life somewhere in France.
…or other drinks of Summer
Now, anyone who reads Peter Mayle’s books knows his stories require certain things. There is always sunshine, as well as the pleasures of food and wine, and somewhere the hero must run across a House That Needs Work. A Good Year delivers that and more.  Here is the sunny, dusty, green paradise known as Provence and the hard working families that have been there for generations who regard
“The Invading English” with reasonable suspicion. Max’s legacy turn out to be a vineyard and “almost-chateau” badly in need of attention, money and care.  Still, these are not the most serious obstacles keeping him from becoming the region’s next wine maker.  A heretofore unknown daughter of his uncle appears who could challenge his inheritance.  Even worse, the vineyard’s product is vile. Max’s wine is comparable to cat urine.
Of course obstacles make up the structure of stories and life; the setbacks that happen to us mean less than how we deal with them.  Max’s adventures among the vines are a lesson in the art of adaptation through friendship, intelligence and a certain amount of acceptance of the Eccentricities of Others.  The life he has at the end of the story is not the future he foresaw at the beginning, nor is it etched into stone but he has patience and hope. After all wine, like Summer and word of mouth, needs time to develop so the best part of life’s journey may lie in enjoying the road to success.
So as the summer begins to heat up, remember why you wanted it to appear. Smile at the sunshine in the early morning and savor the taste of just-ripened fruit.  Do a lazy backstroke in the pool, if you have one, or enjoy the feel of a cooling shower if you don’t.  Term papers and deadlines can take a back seat for the moment.  Summer is calling with the promise of A Good Year.

Taking Arms Against an Ocean of Clutter

Full Disclosure:  I carry the “clutter” gene in my DNA.  While my mother’s clan of military migrants moved their Spartan households around the map, my Dad’s family decided there wasn’t an empty bottle or old magazine on earth that shouldn’t be saved.  And while half of my chromosomes are Clutter Monkey, my husband got the gene from both sides.  Given this, you can probably imagine what our house has looked like in the past.  You can imagine it, but you’ll be happier if you don’t try. By March of this year the flotsam and jetsam of life were threatening to swallow us whole.  I’ve done a bit to beat back the tide but I’m getting a lot of help from a book my sister sent me.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has done more than help clean up my house.  It’s  brought some needed perspective to my life.
Most “how-to” books are filled with lists of steps.  Marie Kondo teaches tidying by concept.  One of her big ideas for recognizing the extras is to spread out everything you have of some category.  Then pick up each item, one at a time, and see if it gives you a “spark of joy.”  If the item doesn’t spark you, out it goes.  That may sound silly but think about it.  Aren’t there some possessions you like more than others?  I decided to try this theory out on my shoes.

Now, for an anti- fashionista, that’s a whole lot of zapatas…

Fast forward with the KonMari method and I’m left with the shoes that spark.

That result proves two things to me: 1) I have a subconscious rule limiting me to shoes that are black, brown or white and 2) I was giving a lot of house room to footwear I didn’t like. Worn-out shoes, half-pair shoes, shoes that hurt my feet.  Now my footwear fits my feet, my needs and the space in my closet.
The KonMari method honors what (and who) you love and the roles they play in your life. If a loved one got you an unsuitable gift, remember to thank the gift for the affection and event it commemorated. That’s the reason you got the present in the first place and your acceptance completed it’s purpose.  Now, move the gift on (discretely!) to someone who will love it for itself.  Non-sparking mementos from finished relationships aren’t keeping your memories of someone, but holding on to those tchotchkes may be holding you back from reaching out to new people.  Getting those items out of your life helps you to move on.
This method even works on pictures, my sister says.  As a doting mom and the custodian of the bulk of our parents’ photographs, she had a million snaps taking up room everywhere and no real way to review them. Now they are culled through, organized and in place, ready when she wants to share them.  
Now, I still have a ways to go but our house looks more like a home instead of an episode from A&E’s Hoarders.   We’re healthier, happier and it takes us less time to find the possessions we want. I won’t finish “The Great Tidy” in one fell swoop, but I’ll tell you one thing: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is one of the books I am keeping.

My Desk Needs a New Home

Free, to good home close to me: one wooden student’s desk, desirous of continuing
 its Academic and Professional career.
Although manufactured during the Cold War, Desk’s classic design and sturdy construction have allowed him to support generations of students through many levels of academia, earning various former owners multiple high school diplomas, three associate degrees and a Bachelor of Arts degree (Summa). Desk has also played a substantial supporting role in such post-graduate tasks as resume and correspondence preparation, personal accounting and other personal business concerns. Multiple levels of technology have partnered with Desk (starting with manual typewriters and continuing through CPU’s, CRT’s, printers, scanners, tablets and all-in-one flat screens) and all have found Desk’s surface adequate for their purpose. In addition, Desk has been successfully utilized for reading, creative writing, a solitary meal and the occasional nap.
Although possessing only a single drawer, Desk’s storage capacity is surprisingly large, as the drawer can hold upwards of 40 pounds of clutter at a time.  This drawer shows a positive talent for attracting and safeguarding all matter of small objects (even from their owners), from pitch pipes and guitar picks to flash drives, keys and pocket change. His open shelves are also surprisingly capacious, and have been deemed acceptable cat bunk beds by experts.
Desk has been cleaned and his drawer has been retrofitted with new pulls. All he needs to return to action is a fresh coat of paint and a setting where he can be of use. Desk is anxious to relocate and only regrets he cannot pay for his own shipping. Any parties interested in adopting &/or employing Desk can contact me here. A photo of Desk is attached. (Sorry, accessories not included)

Thank you for your time.

The History We Never Question

As a rule, we don’t question many things we are taught.  If your Mom said stuffing should be cooked separately from the turkey and your Dad decreed all Fords are junk, chances are you accepted those statements, at least until you reached adolescence.  If your favorite teacher taught a specific subject, then you probably learned to like the same field.  Maybe you adopted some of the professor’s opinions. All of that is well and good until those beliefs become accepted history.  As somebody said (Orwell? Napoleon? Churchill?) history is written by the winners which means some accepted historical accounts are nothing more than preserved propaganda and lies. You know this if you’ve read Caroline Alexander’s book, The Bounty.  Or do you still loath and fear Captain Bligh?

When I was a kid, my cousin used Captain Bligh’s name whenever we pretended we were pirates. According to my cousin, no buccaneer or sailor on the Seven Seas was meaner or sneakier than this terrible man.  Of course, he got his ideas from watching Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty”, a wonderful old black-and-white picture that contrasts Clark Gable’s bare-chested nobility with Laughton’s debased and evil Captain Bligh. The picture and source made it clear the sailors that took over the H.M.S. Bounty were mutineers in name only: their actions were caused by the barbarous treatment of Captain Bligh and taken only to save their own lives. That’s a thrilling, romantic idea, but is it fact or fiction?  The difference, Caroline Alexander explains, is much more compelling as well as complex.

The fact is, the battle for the Bounty was created by two social climbers, Peter Heywood and William Bligh.  Both men joined the navy as teenagers in order to build personal fortunes, one of the few legal ways in that culture a man could rise in rank and wealth. Bligh rose through the Navy’s ranks through years of hard work before he was offered command of the Bounty. Peter Heywood secured his berth through his family’s connections, (including Bligh’s father-in-law and Fletcher Christian). For whatever reasons, when the rebellion occurred, Heywood and Bligh ended up on opposite sides.  Bligh and the loyal half of the crew were put off at sea in a 23 foot boat while Heywood remained with Fletcher Christian and the mutineers in the Bounty.  Over the next 47 days, Bligh and his remaining crew covered more than 4,100 miles of the ocean in an open boat, fighting hunger, thirst, cannibals and stormy seas. Meanwhile, the mutineers sailed to Tahiti and divided into two groups again.  This time, Fletcher Christian and the core mutineers sailed on to Pitcairn Island while Heywood remained in Tahiti.

Bligh returned to Europe and was initially hailed as a brilliant sailor, innocent of blame in the mutiny. Another ship, the HMS Pandora, captured Peter Heywood and his companions and returned them as prisoners.  Peter’s family got him legal help and used their influence to circulate the rumor that the rebellion should be blamed on its victim, Bligh. The mutinous crew captured in Tahiti were all convicted and sentenced to hang but the two mutineers with lawyers were pardoned. The mutineers without lawyers or influence were hung. Heywood got a promotion along with his pardon and returned to his career in the Navy. Bligh survived other voyages and rebellions and lived to watch his name get dragged through the mud. Even as he became a rear admiral, he rarely received command of another ship.

Caroline Alexander is too smart to take even these truths at face value.  Her research shows Bligh as neither tyrant nor martyr, but a man so anxious to avoid failure, he obsessed over details and continually criticized of his subordinates’ job performance. (Blight was less physically abusive than many other British Captains).  In the end, Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty is less a search for truth about the rebellion than an investigation into the conspiracy that obscured it.  At sea, William Bligh was a capable officer but against a collective of political operators, neither he nor the truth stood a chance.