The Slow Life

I have found myself relaxing a lot this week.  I haven’t made any new recipes (just a favorite–Roast Salmon with Lentils).

It looks kind of like this, but this is Martha's version (photo from

It looks kind of like this, but this is Martha’s version (photo from

I’ve been reading snippets of books I got part-way through ages ago (Seabiscuit and Brat Farrar).  Did you know that to calm Seabiscuit down, they got him an older, wiser horse stall-mate?  And a monkey.  And a dog.  Supposedly (according to Hillenbrand’s excellent book), you could often find the monkey sleeping on Seabiscuit’s stomach and the dog sleeping on Seabiscuit’s neck.  Or maybe the monkey was on the neck.  Either way, I like that Seabiscuit just needed some calming friends to become a great race horse.  Okay, and some training and practice and food and lots of smart people around him.  But also some friends.

I’ve also watched the entire first season of Call the Midwife.  I like it a lot.

photo from

photo from

And I’ve been working.  It has been slow, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot.  I’m sorry I haven’t written much.

Reason 2,948 Why I Love My Job

I love my job for lots of reasons–for the sheer insanity that happens sometimes when you’re working with the general public.  For the random information I learn every day.  For the chance to help people with small things like using a website that can impact the big things like getting a job.  It’s great.

But today I like my job because in the building where I work, there are thousands and thousands of stories waiting to be read.

I spent a large chunk of yesterday reading.  It was my day off, and no one else was home (except for Peanut).  What better way to spend a few hours than polishing off one of those library books I needed to return today?

I read about the Civil War, and I learned all about various battles and spy rings and all sorts of exciting things.  So many of those things happened in my adopted state of Virginia, and I didn’t know about them before.  It was kind of amazing.  (I mean, I knew that lots of Civil War battles took place in Virginia.  I just didn’t know as many details as I should have known.)

Today I started a new book that’s taking me to Oxford, and I get to soak up an entirely different set of experiences.

photo by Emily Aimsworth, found on

photo by Emily Aimsworth, found on

Color me happy!  (And yes, that is why you should visit your local library.  It’s free and exciting and not at all dull.)

Reading Break

I’m going to write less today so that you and I can both go and read something else, preferably something on paper.  This is the selfish reason for that: I have three books checked out from the library, all due between one day and three weeks from now.  I want to read them all very very badly.

This is what I will be reading today:


book cover from

These are what I’m excited about reading as soon as I finish the book above:

first impressions

book cover from

book cover from

It’s a sad librarian story, right?  But if I go read right now, it becomes a happy librarian story.
Also, if you’re looking for a good read, I’m pretty excited about these three.  In order, you’ve got the Civil War, Jane Austen meets modern novel, and culinary/French awesomeness.  I’m only halfway through the first of the three, but I think they’re all winners.

Oh, and smart people say that reading fiction helps your brain function better.  So if you don’t do it for fun, do it for your brain.  (The first one is non-fiction, but I still think it has to do something good for your brain.  Read anything you want!)

The Book Boxes

Today was book unpacking day.  I admitted defeat with three or four boxes left, which seemed inevitable since we moved from a 5-bookshelf home to a 3-bookshelf home.  Our new house has more of just about everything, but definitely no built-in bookshelves.  We’ll have to improvise.

I couldn’t believe what a difference it made in the house to unpack some of our books.  As the book nerd in the family, most of the books are mine.  And as they came out of the box one by one (or in a giant stack most of the time), they reminded me of all these different times in my life.  

I just love books for that.  I would almost rather have a book that I read on a trip than a photo album of the trip.  The books remind me of everything I was thinking about at the time–of what I cared about and what I saw.  Seeing all of those books stacked up made me want to read as quickly as I can, so I can store new memories in new books.  

Speaking of awesome book-ish things, have you ever seen the “Ideal Bookshelf” website?  Jane Mount’s art combines lots of things I love (pretty and books, for starters), and it gives such a fun look into people’s lives by depicting their most treasured books.


art by Jane Mount

And this is what my ideal bookshelf looks like at the moment: 


photo from

It’s a little bit more shelf-like and amoebic than Jane Mount’s ideal, but it would also hold real books, which is a plus.

Reading Time: Three Bags Full

One of the things that changed during the first several months of marriage was the reading pace I used to keep up.  Reading together isn’t something that Scott and I do very often, and thus my reading time decreased pretty significantly in the past several months.  Not a big deal, just true.

But… I was glad to read a whole heck of a lot on the plane last week, and I managed to start and finish a book in old-timey Hannah pace.  It felt good to get swept into the story and finish it before my new-book-momentum lagged.

When you read a book slowly, you have to keep getting back into the story and remembering who did what and who has what strange habits, etc.  It’s like seeing new acquaintances once a quarter and trying to keep everything you learn about them straight from January to April.  If you read quickly, it’s so much easier to keep all of that information straight in your brain.

So, what wonderful book entertained me on the way from Virginia to Colorado and back again?  As you might have guessed from the post title, I read a book called Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann.  It was pretty great.  Let me tell you why.

Book Cover

A good cover never hurts.

I might lose you here, but the book is written from the perspective of a flock of sheep in Ireland.  They’re smarter than your average sheep, largely because their shepherd has the habit of reading to them daily from a wide variety of materials.  Or had a habit.  The book opens with the murder of their shepherd.  The sheep decide to investigate their shepherd’s murder, and then they’re adventuring away for the remainder of the book.

The sheep are such endearing characters.  Each has strengths and a very clear personality, some more traditionally sheepish than others.  Each contributes ideas to the investigation (again, some more than others), and it’s a wonderful story about the flock as a whole and a few sheep in particular.  The people of the village get their fair share of page space, too, to round things out a bit.

The plausibility of the story surprised me.  (Sheep doing investigation of humans?)  But at the end of the story, I was so pleased that the author chose to tell the story through the sheep.  In a weird way, thinking through the perspective of sheep for a few hundred pages is a little bit like thinking through the perspective of another culture for a while.  It helps you to see things in the story that would normally escape notice.  And that made me wonder what similar things I might be missing in real life, which can be a fun feeling sometimes.  Who doesn’t want to have a richer day to day experience, right?

So do I recommend this book?  Absolutely!  No matter what you’re reading, I hope it’s helping you to see things from a slightly different perspective.  And I hope you’re loving it.

New Year’s Declarations

I’m not normally one for New Year’s resolutions.  Only a very small group of people actually stick to resolutions, and I’m not in that group.  Knowing that about myself makes resolutions kind of pointless.  There are things I’d like to remember in 2011, however.

The key thing on that list is to look at the big picture.  Sometimes it’s a challenge when you’re a little minion ant to understand what’s going on outside of the ant hill.  Sometimes it’s impossible.  But there are things I can do to keep my eyes alert and my focus broad.

For one thing, I’d like to keep my reading pace up.  GoodReads says I haven’t finished a single book in the month of December.  (What?!)  That’s sort of okay though.  I wanted to read less and enjoy people more this year.  Goal achieved.  Now I just need to avoid a total lack of reading.

My dad’s mom reads until late at night almost every day.  She’s constantly learning and thinking, and even if she can’t remember which books she’s read, you can tell she’s always processing new thoughts.  I’d like to be like that.

Reading consistently keeps my mind not just moving, but moving outside of its own little problems.  When I’m not reading regularly, I tend to get stuck more in my world with dog hair tumbleweed and work issues and giant to do lists.  When I read, I remember the world that I don’t see every day–adventures and problems and solutions that would never touch my life otherwise.  I think reading is awesome, in case you couldn’t tell.

The second and third things I’d like to do are pretty similar to the first.  Getting caught up in the everyday means that I miss out on things I truly love.  In the last year, two of those things were painting and running.

Painting and running sound frivolous, I know, but keeping up with those things means that I’m maintaining some semblance of balance.  Just like reading consistently, those activities allow me to think in different ways and approach life from a more even keel.  They give me perspective and clarity.

So that’s it.  My “resolutions” are more like declarations of things that are important to me and often get neglected.  They are declarations that in 2011, I will remember to refocus every once in a while.  It isn’t going to be a year of doing one thing really well.  I just want to remember to look around more often and evaluate what I need and what the people around me need.  Then I want to do something about it.

Here’s to small change.

photo by CollardGreens

[Cin cin.]

Reading When There’s No Time

I started this great book a few months ago.  It’s called The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster: 100 ways to make life more efficient.  Really, what’s not to like about that?!

Lots of people who are experts in their field have written a few pages about how to do something quickly and well.  It’s kind of my dream come true.  I spent most of college and grad school figuring out how to write a high quality research paper in the least possible time.

My only complaint is that I recently ran out of reading time.  My free time that used to go towards cleaning my house and lazing around with a book vanished into thin air, and now Peanut languishes in piles of his own dog hair while I try to muddle my way through a minimal number of chores.

I don’t mind my loss of reading time.  I’ve read plenty in the last few years to get me through a dry spell or two.  Even so, I have a proposal for the experts of The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster.

Why not make things easy for your readers?  Why not start the book with the chapter on speed-reading?  Then the people who need the book most will actually be able to finish it before the library starts sending the cops after them.  Just a thought.  Instead of teaching me how to sell a house on page 5 and making me wait until page 135 for reading suggestions, you should make sure I actually make it to page 135.  I didn’t.  Now I’ll never know how to read a page in two to five seconds.  (Okay, so I did scan the chapter on speed-reading after I found out that it existed.)