Friend Coffee; Rainbow Flatware Satisfaction; Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

I had coffee with a friend this morning and feel quite revived and perky. It’s funny how it continues to be a little scary to make such plans, and I continue to feel a little nervous beforehand, but then I have a fun time and when I come home I feel happy and I wonder why I don’t go out more often. (Well, and I wonder why I said so many dumb things. But it gets easier to dismiss those as the friendship gets more established.) Also, I smell delicious from sitting in a coffee/doughnut shop.


I continue to be so, so, so happy with my rainbow flatware. At this point I am so converted to it, and to the idea of owning it, that I think I would buy any set of it I encountered, just to Have It. Paul and I each have a monthly allowance, for things only one of us wants and neither of us needs; the flatware fits beautifully into this category. (Paul generally spends his on cool workshop tools that he wants but doesn’t really need for anything; mine tends to accumulate.)

I just read Roz Chast’s new book Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

(image from

(image from

I love love love love Roz Chast books and so do the kids, but this is one I think the kids won’t want to read (yet): it’s a graphic (“graphic” as in “graphic novel,” not as in “graphic violence”) memoir of the aging and decline and death of the author’s parents. It is not cheery, but there are a lot of funny parts. It made me feel kind of sad and scared and stressed about my parents, and also about Paul and me, and also about aging and decline and death in general. I realize I am not selling this. But I felt like it was the good kind of sad/scared: an informative, helpful, thought-provoking sort of book—and also entertaining. I liked it. I said to Paul: “I am not sure there could be a book more fitted to my current interests.”

Before I was ever pregnant, I read a lot of books about pregnancy because I was interested in pregnancy and it was something that was likely to be of even greater interest soon. I tuned into things people said about pregnancy and motherhood: real life people, but also people in movies and books; and I was drawn to novels and movies that involved pregnancy and early motherhood. I got a job at a daycare because I was interested in babies, and I asked the moms about their pregnancies and labors and deliveries. I also watched shows like A Baby Story.

I think a lot of times when people say “No one ever tells you…” or “No one ever talks about…,” the actual situation is that people ARE telling, they ARE talking, but it’s hard to tune into things and/or research things before they apply to us. This is where anxiety and what is commonly (and not very nicely) referred to as “over-thinking” serve me well: because I sometimes think (and/or worry) a lot about things before they happen, I get INTERESTED in those things, so I tune in. I don’t think I ever one single time thought “No one ever tells you…” about pregnancy, childbirth, or early motherhood. Things surprised me a little here and there, of course, and other things took some personal experience before I fully understood them, but it was never that sad, betrayed, lonely feeling as if other people could have warned me but inexplicably chose not to. If anything, I thought things like, “Lots of people say X, but really when it happens it’s not so bad.” Like the weeks of bleeding I knew to expect after childbirth: that sounded awful, but wasn’t a big deal at all. Or I worried quite a bit about being naked or partly naked in front of the delivery staff, but by the time things got to that point I was pleased and amazed to find I didn’t care at all. (This is where the anxiety/over-thinking serves me less well: I can spend a fair amount of time worrying about things that are completely fine and/or don’t happen.)

“Parents/us getting old and dying” is something that is happening and keeps happening and will continue to happen. People ARE talking about it; they ARE writing about it and filming it; they ARE telling us about it. My parents are, I hope, quite a long way from that point; I hope Paul and I are even further away from that point. But I’m interested NOW, ahead of time, so I’m tuning in.

I’m trying to draw the line somewhere sensible. On one end there’s “worrying and fretting about things that might not even happen, might not even be issues, and might not be so bad when they happen.” It reminds me of something Augusten Burroughs said in his book This Is How: he recommends that when you or a loved one is seriously ill, you wait to worry about what COULD happen until it DOES happen, because at that point it will just be What Is, rather than The Scary Unknown. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s going into the situation unprepared and unaware, crying out “NO ONE TOLD ME THIS WOULD HAPPEN! NO ONE TOLD ME I’D HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS! NO ONE TOLD ME MY PARENTS WOULD GET OLD AND DIE! NO ONE TOLD ME IT WAS $10,000/MONTH FOR ASSISTED LIVING AND INSURANCE MIGHT NOT COVER ANY OF IT!” I’d like to find somewhere in between those extremes: aware in general of a wide range of possibilities, without spending time getting upset about things that haven’t happened and might not.

Before Cleaning

This is me, throughout my entire life, with every single thing I don’t want to do: “It’ll be easier to do it when X happens.” It’ll be easier to eat well when I’m pregnant, because then I’ll be motivated. It’ll be easier after the baby is born, because I won’t feel so sick and unhappy and be so bothered by smells/tastes. It’ll be easier when I stop nursing so I’ll be less rabidly hungry and can also work on losing weight. It’ll be easier when I’m pregnant again because then I’ll be motivated.

It’ll be easier to trim those shrubs when it’s spring and I know the town will be sending around a truck to pick up debris. It’ll be easier when it’s summer and I can see how the shrubs have grown, and the kids will be home so it won’t be so pleasant to be inside. It’ll be easier in the fall when it’s not so hot and there aren’t so many bugs. It’ll be easier in the spring when these aren’t so LEAFY.

Future Me is so WITH-IT and WILLING! Future Me has a can-do attitude! Future Me is sensible and has self-discipline! When in fact I have always been Regular Me: my room has always been a mess, I’ve always had enough willpower to overcome any diet/exercise plan, and I don’t care about yardwork except insofar as the neighbors care. If a genie were to magic me into a slim, well-exercised body; a clean, well-organized, sparingly-possessioned house; and a tidy, well-landscaped yard, it would all be back to regular before it was time to fill out his one-year follow-up paperwork. I would like to HAVE all these things, but I don’t want to spend the time OR the effort to MAINTAIN them.

Periodically I get into some new plan that is going to help me to do the maintenance as well as the frenzied work, but it doesn’t work because there is a major issue at the heart of things: I don’t want to. It’s not worth it to me. I’ve seen how much effort and time it takes to keep the house clean, and I’m not interested. Of course I’d rather have a clean house! ANYONE would rather have a clean house, that’s like asking, “But wouldn’t you rather drive a Mercedes?” The issue is COST: how much time and work it takes to keep it that way. I can see why it is worth it to other people, because I have other things I spend time on that are worth it to me but not worth it to other people.

This leaves me a bit up a creek, however, when suddenly it IS worth it to me. For example, when houseguests are expected. Our house is a comfortable enough nest for me, but it gets much less comfortable when I imagine it through someone else’s eyes. But, think of the astonishing number of hours it would take to get it clean! And then, I KNOW I’m not going to maintain it, no matter how many decades I’ve spent thinking “I WOULD do it if only it STARTED clean.” So then it is both WORTH IT and NOT WORTH IT, at the same time, and that is hard to cope with, motivation-wise. I become driven only by stress and resentment and fear, and that is not a pleasant way to feel.

I imagine there are a lot of people who say “Piff! Who cares what they think? They can take it or leave it!” This is not a familiar mindset to me. I DO care what they think. To mention psychotherapy for the second time in a week, no amount of “SHOULDN’T care” and “WHY care?” and “DON’T care!” and “Here, take this pill that will help you care less” helped that go away. Some things, I believe, are temperament: just as I’m not someone who feels restless and unhappy in a messy house, I’m someone who cares how other people feel about that same house.

I can ADJUST the caring a bit, however. I can talk myself through it. I can remind myself that I don’t notice the little dusty corners of other people’s spice racks; I can remind myself that I feel nothing but relief when I go to someone else’s house and it’s messy; I can remind myself that people don’t really DEEP-DOWN care very much about my house, even if they DO feel critical and sniffy about it, which many people don’t. But I was thoroughly trained as a child that if you don’t take every single item off every single shelf every single week, it’s NOT CLEAN; and although that training hasn’t made a difference to my everyday life, it turns out to be hardwired when the panic sets in. And then there I am, red-faced, heart pounding, ready to snap the head off of anyone who talks to me or needs anything from me, scrubbing the inside of the cabinet under the sink while piles of books and papers are covering the dining room table, and jackets and mittens are covering the area right inside the door. PRIORITIES, Swistle. PRIORITIES. This is not the time to anger-clean your sock drawer.

Another issue is that I am SO BORED of cleaning this house. SO BORED. Thinking of cleaning that dining room AGAIN makes me want to lock the door behind me and rent someone else’s house for the week. This is when my mind always turns to having someone else do it: if someone is going to have to do something so boring and unpleasant, shouldn’t it be someone who can get PAID for it? But clutter is a bigger issue than cleanliness. And getting someone in here to clean is a bigger wasp nest of anxiety issues than doing it myself, so. “Can’t you just put on some music while you do it?,” says the memory of the psychologist. Er. Do we have different definitions of boredom, or is it that we are affected by music to different degrees? “What’s the big deal, Sisyphus? Just put on some music! That always makes ME feel energized and motivated!”

Well. I am writing this because I need to get started, and I don’t want to. I will feel somewhat better when I DO get started—until everyone comes home and starts to mess up the work I’ve done, at which point I will feel much worse. But I still need to get started.

Fiesta Flatware Quandry Resolution

Since we talked last:

1. By the time I finished writing the post about my Fiesta Flatware Quandary, I felt so panicked about the situation that I picked up my purse and got right into the car and drove 30 minutes to the store without even waiting for the comments/voting. I was nearly panting by the time I arrived. I walked directly to the flatware section and it was not there.

2. OH WAIT THERE IT IS, just moved to a different shelf and lying flat on its back so I couldn’t see it!!! I picked up one box and cuddled it all the way to the register.

3. I spent the rest of the day feeling intensely satisfied about the purchase, especially as the “BUY IT, BUY IT RIGHT NOW, WHY ARE YOU EVEN WASTING TIME ASKING??” comments kept coming in.

4. This morning I woke up wondering if I should have also bought the third set.

5. No, that would have been silly.

6. Well, but.

7. 9:51 a.m., comment from Megan B.: “Go buy what you can because Cambridge Silversmiths has discontinued this pattern and soon you won’t be able to find it anywhere! I sold my final set on Amazon for over $100 because people are having such a hard time finding it now, so RUN and buy all you can now!”

8. 9:52 a.m., purse in hand and on the way to the car.

9. In car: “They won’t have it. Don’t get your hopes up. You were very, very lucky to find even ONE set. The SECOND set was AMAZINGLY lucky. If you don’t find the third set, you still have TWO sets, and that is a LOT of rainbow flatware.”

10. THEY HAVE IT!!!!!!!!!!

11. Take it out and look at it at every traffic light all the way home.

Fiesta Flatware Quandary

I am in a shopping quandary. Yesterday I found this Fiesta Masquerade flatware:


which I have wanted for literally years, at $40 for a 20-piece set. That is a very good price for this flatware. I bought it and rejoiced. Ever since, I have been petting it and crooning to it and holding it to my cheek (sideways, to avoid danger to the eyes).

Here is the quandary: the store where I found it had two more sets. Do I rush back today to see if they still do, and buy another set? Issues:

1. Forty dollars is a good price for this flatware, but it is still forty dollars.

2. We have enough flatware. We have enough that even with seven of us, it’s not often we run out of utensils. (I think it’s actually BECAUSE there are seven of us: it means the dishwasher gets run pretty often.) We may have to start a second drawer for flatware, and we do not have a generous number of drawers in our kitchen.

3. Four place settings is not enough for our household if I wanted to set the table all rainbowy.

4. I read some reviews online complaining that the little pieces of colored enamel can fall out. This makes me think I won’t be happy with the flatware in the long run and shouldn’t buy more.

5. I read some reviews online complaining that the little pieces of colored enamel can fall out. This makes me think I need replacements on hand because I can no longer live without rainbow utensils.

6. It’s a half-hour drive to go check, and maybe they won’t even have it. (I’m not going to call.) (Really, I know, but I’m not.) (Listen, you and my ex-psychologist both.)

7. When I really love something, I’ve found it’s better to BUY IT UP. Otherwise I later find myself on eBay paying too much.

8. When I really love something, I’ve found it’s better to buy a reasonable quantity. Otherwise I later find myself with huge overstocks of something I used to love and now feel done with.


POLL! We need a POLL!

The Fiesta Flatware Quandary


Interaction Opportunities

Pretty often it happens that I read something about a way to live life (LOSE WEIGHT! ORGANIZE STUFF! BE SUCCESSFUL! BE HAPPY!), and I turn out to disagree with that particular route pretty thoroughly, and yet I end up getting something useful out of it anyway. For example, I read the whole Fly Lady cleaning system, and what I got out of that was:

1. When someone says “Just x minutes!,” it’s never actually just x minutes
2. Having a clean house is not that important to me
3. Bless or oppress?

It’s that third thing that has been the most helpful. I truly dislike the word AND concept of “bless” and so this expression is hard for me to even THINK, let alone SAY, and yet it has been very useful for figuring out what things to get rid of and what things to keep. “Does this item BLESS me or OPPRESS me?,” I think, wincingly, and then I figure out which category the possession falls into.

ANYWAY. I read some books about parenting teenagers, and for the most part I haven’t found that I go back to those books/concepts time and again or that I have revolutionized my parenting because of them—but I did get one major thing from them, which is that if your teenager chooses to engage with you, you should GO WITH IT. The gist of it is that teenagers are reluctant to share things with parents, and in many ways it is GOOD for them to be separating at this time—but that if they DO choose to interact, TAKE IT.

This seems so obvious, or it did to me when I read it. Yes, yes, if my child interacts with me, I should interact back. But then I got to the stage where what my child wanted to interact about was Violent Opinions About Russia, or Some TV Show I’m Not Interested In, and things didn’t click quite so hard. That’s when the book became useful to me: the child is choosing to interact with me, it does not matter WHAT he is choosing to interact about, that interaction is WORTH GRABBING.

This is why right now I am watching the first season of 24, even though it is too scary for me. It is also why I watched this video:

It didn’t appeal to me and it’s not the kind of thing I’d usually watch, but I’m glad that when Rob mentioned it, I immediately watched it. It’s not just that it’s good for the parent-child relationship, it’s also that teenagers find neat stuff.

Trees that Cross Property Lines

Do any of you know, from either study or experience, what the rules are about trees that cross property lines? For example, let’s say we have a tree that grows in our yard, but branches cross over the fence into our neighbor’s yard. Let’s say our neighbor dislikes the tree because it shades their yard and drops nuts/leaves (i.e., not because any branches appear dangerous or broken, or are threatening the fence). If our neighbor requests it, do we need to remove the branches that cross the fence? What if this means removing about a third of the tree? What if it means removing the entire tree? What if it is a very large and established tree, and it would be a shame to lose it? What if the situation actually involves multiple trees? What if having trees pruned/removed is expensive, WHICH IT IS?

I’m asking the question in two ways. One of them, of course, is legally: what MUST we do, legally? But I’m also asking from an ethical/neighborliness standpoint, for areas where the law lets us do what we want: what OUGHT we be willing to do, even if we don’t want to? For example, obviously I don’t want to pay $400 to have branches trimmed that aren’t bothering me (or in danger of falling), but since it’s OUR TREE and we OWN it, should I go ahead and do so even if I don’t legally have to?—things like that.

Human Error

Rob and Elizabeth and I were having lunch at Wendy’s the other day when my attention was caught by a conversation at a nearby table. “Uh! It’s the WRONG SANDWICH!” said a woman, with an incredulous half-laugh. She couldn’t even believe it. It was supposed to be the SPICY chicken, but THIS was the HOMESTYLE chicken! She looked around in real disbelief. How could this possibly have happened—and to HER?

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(screen shot from

This has got me thinking about what seems to me to be a very low tolerance for human error. The clerk rings something up wrong, and the customer treats the situation as if the clerk has deliberately attempted a criminal action, rather than as if the clerk has made a normal error, just one inaccurate move among tens of thousands of accurate ones. The clerk apologizes for the error and fixes it, and the customer doesn’t bend at all, and doesn’t say thank you at the end of the transaction, and leaves the store with very unpleasant body language. Or an item is ordered, and the wrong item arrives, and the customer cannot believe such a company could even stay in business. Employees who are not 100% error-free! How can this even happen in today’s world?

We know from our own personal experience that humans make mistakes, and they make them regularly. We might try to improve, especially if we notice we’re making the same mistake again and again, but in general we completely understand that we are 100% guaranteed to make at least occasional mistakes, and we feel (completely fairly) that other people should understand that about us and allow for it. It can’t be otherwise, literally CAN’T BE otherwise: we MUST make occasional errors. (And, of course, apologize and fix it when we do.) But when we encounter someone else’s mistakes, many of us are seriously appalled. It was the HOMESTYLE CHICKEN, if you can believe it!!! This means that an employee PICKED UP THE WRONG SANDWICH BY MISTAKE!!!

It isn’t that mistakes aren’t annoying, or inconveniencing: of course they are. It is annoying to me to have to mess with a return because someone else made a mistake and sent me the wrong thing. It is upsetting to me to be overcharged for an item because someone else made a mistake and didn’t apply my coupon. I hate having to go up to the counter to ask for the sandwich I should have gotten in the first place, and I HATE getting home and finding the salad dressing isn’t in the drive-through bag, I REALLY DO. It has an effect on my life, and it’s a negative one, and it feels so unfair to have it be SOMEONE ELSE’S FAULT. It wasn’t MY mistake, so why am I the one having to go to the effort to fix it? So unfair!

But this is an excellent area for allowing one’s own character to be improved by negative example: it’s so easy to feel outraged until you witness someone else being similarly outraged. When I ordered a used book, and the copy that arrived was paperback instead of hardcover, it was my first natural impulse to feel aggrieved. Look how little care has been taken to fill my order accurately! How inconsiderate! How thoughtless! And perhaps they are trying to RIP ME OFF!! In short: “Uh! It’s the WRONG book!!” But then I see someone making a huge fuss over a very similar mistake, and I can’t believe she doesn’t understand that every single human being in the world is going to make errors from time to time: that it is unavoidable, and that she is making her own share of errors that inconvenience/annoy/upset others.

It helps too to spend some time working in customer service, I think. Seeing people’s outsized reactions to one’s own (much easier to understand) errors can help a person stay empathetically pleasant when handling a transaction from the other side of the register. Rob doesn’t yet know it, but that woman’s incorrect chicken sandwich is what ensured him a retail job next summer.

Having Guests: Figuring Out Everyone’s Expectations

I’ve nearly forgotten what I was going to say/ask about the impending visit from Paul’s aunt/uncle. Fortunately, I ended that post with breadcrumbs: “With this post I’d intended to discuss the practical aspects of hosting/guesting: meals, activities, expectations, etc.”

The first difficult thing is that they have planned a 3-day visit in our area (as part of a longer road trip), and they are staying in a hotel 30 minutes from our house, and they haven’t made clear what percentage of the visit they intend to spend socializing with us. This visit could be anything from “We’re staying in a hotel for comfort/non-intrusiveness, but we will be at your house from breakfast until bedtime each day” (this was my mother-in-law’s style) to “We’ll be in the area as part of a larger trip, and would love to get together for coffee with you while we’re here.” I suspect it is somewhere in between—in fact, if I had to guess, I’d guess right in the middle: getting together for a good part of each day to do excursions and talk, perhaps sharing 1-2 meals each day. That’s my GUESS.

Thinking about this, I realized how much expectations enter into these things. There are visitors who expect the heads of household to give up their bed to the visitors, because visitors are supposed to get the best room/bed in the house; there are visitors who expect no such thing and would be horrified if it were offered. There are visitors who expect to have a fun and interesting schedule planned out for them, and there are visitors who expect to do their own planning and would be agitated if presented with pre-made plans. There are visitors who make lists of dietary requirements, and there are visitors who make their own eating arrangements.

Goodness! So much potential for ruffled feathers! Such things get SO much easier with repeated visits: by the time my mother-in-law died, I felt like I knew what she expected from a visit to us, and also which of those expectations I was willing to meet. It wasn’t fun, but it was familiar. With Paul’s aunt and uncle, I suspect this will be a one-time thing—but even if they end up making it a regular thing, THIS is still the FIRST one.

I think what I’m interested in discussing is, what would be YOUR expectations going into this, knowing what you know: i.e., that we don’t know them well, that they are in their 70s, that there are some potential resentments, that they are religious and from the midwest? What would you GUESS they would expect/want? What might you make sure you were prepared for? What might you specifically offer?

Some things, I might want to head off before they are issues. I loved Judith’s suggestion in the comments on the backstory post: she suggested saying, “Would you like me to find out the times of the services of churches around here so you can decide which one works best for you? We’re not part of a congregation here, but I hear the people at xyz church are very welcoming.” I might want to use this whole concept of laying out what we’re OFFERING.

In some cases, though, I’m not sure what I’m offering. Am I offering an open invitation for any meals they’d like to have with us? Possibly! Or possibly that would be quite stressful, especially since I don’t know their dietary situation. Am I offering to take them around and show them places? Welllll…it’s not that I’m not willing, it’s more that I don’t really…go places? or do things? So I’m not actually sure where I’d take them or what we’d do. I ordered a tourist manual from my own state, to help me out.

The other thing is that if they’re planning to take it easy and spend most of their time relaxing at their hotel and/or going out on nice drives or something, I don’t want to make THEM feel that MY expectations are for them to spend more time with us. Meanwhile, they may be sitting at their house thinking, “We don’t want to make them feel like they have to spend the whole three days with us…”/”We don’t want to make them feel like we came all that way and then ignored them.” Well. These things are a little tricky. It does help me to think that such things are probably ALWAYS tricky the first time, for EVERYONE: it’s not that I personally can’t read the minds of my guests while everyone else is having no trouble with it.

Also, it helps to know that I WILL get better at this with time and experience. The only guest we’ve had is my mother-in-law—but as we get used to entertaining a variety of guests (if we do indeed get used to that), we will start having Our Things: the recipe that stretches so well and makes good leftovers for the next day’s lunch; that nice walking trail; that fun little town with cute shopping; that great place for souvenirs; that beautiful drive with the great lunch place at the midpoint; etc.

One thing that did NOT help was the sudden horrified realization that even though they’re not staying with us, they will want to see our house. The INSIDE of our house. I wonder, if I cleaned every day for the next month until their arrival…

Doing Something

“I really advise talking to yourself less.” That is something I just said literally out loud, to myself.

Things are usually a little grim at the beginning of a school year, which is more surprising now that this means everyone leaves me alone for a big chunk of the day. I can picture Earlier Me looking at the situation with open-mouthed astonishment: “You have the house to yourself for HOURS A DAY and you are STILL mopey??”

It’s odd how difficult it can be to do the things that I KNOW will make me feel better. I finally got a start on it by making those things very, very small. Eat one baby carrot. Walk around the house one time. Take a vitamin. Drink a glass of water. Sit in the steps for a couple of minutes and look at the trees.

One of my relatively new techniques to fight off sad/bad feelings is to try to be interested in something, ANYTHING. It doesn’t have to be a BIG thing: it can be the “one baby carrot” of interest, which would be something like “look up one thing on Wikipedia.” In this case I managed to reel in a bigger interest, which is Jane Austen.

I’ve tried Jane Austen books several times over the years: they’re so famous, and it’s embarrassing to me that I get her confused with the Brontë sisters (I also get individual Brontë sisters confused with other Brontë sisters), and I like to be familiar with famous things so I don’t feel dumb when the subject comes up. But I just couldn’t slog through the books: so many commas! so many now-obscure social practices! such odd dialogue, heavy with meanings that completely elude me! They’re about 200 years old now, and even the sentence structure was hard to get used to.

What broke me through was watching the MOVIE Pride and Prejudice, and I think my only real motivation was seeing Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I found, though, that it opened the book RIGHT UP for me: the people making the movie are from the same time period as me, so they basically translate it into what I can understand: even when the dialogue is quoted verbatim, the delivery of the line by Colin Firth a modern speaker does wonders for comprehension. I added the annotated edition of the book to my wish list, because I thought that would give me even MORE translating/help, plus I wanted to know more about things like “I can tell by one character’s reaction that she was just insulted—but why was that insulting?” I didn’t READ the book after receiving/unwrapping it, but I did add it to the To Read shelf. (This is a practice Paul finds very frustrating. He thinks if I don’t read the book right away, it means I didn’t really want it. He is incorrect.)

Next, encouraged by Pride and Prejudice (and by Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant), I watched Sense and Sensibility. I liked that one TOO! I still hadn’t read the annotated copy of Pride and Prejudice, but I added the annotated copy of Sense and Sensibility to my wish list, and after the next gift-exchanging holiday it was mine.

The same pattern happened with Persuasion. (I’ve learned, incidentally, that there is HEATED CONTROVERSY about which movie versions of each book are Best. I found it boring and stressful to read the debates, so instead I chose which version to watch based on which actors I wanted to see.)

Several times, I thought about reading one of the three annotated books, but now it felt like it had been too long since I’d seen the movies. It became one of those things I’d get around to SOME day, but for the time being there was a certain layer of dust involved.

Back to the current situation. I was moping around in my nice quiet house, feeling extremely stupid for feeling sad. My goal was to lug myself out of it with the help of a new interest, but nothing seemed interesting and also I was battling that silly feeling that it had to be an enduring/consuming interest or else it wasn’t worth pursuing. My eye lit upon the little stack of books, and I felt a flicker. Grabbing that flicker and feeding it some tiny twigs, I looked up Jane Austen on Wikipedia to see which book she wrote first; it was Sense and Sensibility. I ordered the movie from Netflix, and yesterday I watched it. Then I started reading the annotated book, which so far is GREAT.

I think this may be the first time I’ve read an annotated book. I was familiar with them in general because Paul has a few of them, and it is nearly impossible not to keep commenting aloud while reading one. Apparently.

This is what an annotated book looks like:


On the left page, it is the original book, but with little numbers next to things. On the right page is a list of those same numbers, with comments. On this pair of pages, the comments include:

1. A definition for a word whose meaning has altered a bit in 200 years.

2. A remark about what will happen later, and how this relates to the way a character is described throughout the book. (Annotated books are best if you’re already familiar with the plot, because the annotations are FULL of spoilers.)

3. What a passage in the book indicates about a character’s temperament.

4. What another passage in the book indicates about another character’s temperament.

5. Another definition.

6. A picture of a barouche, which will be referred to on the next page with a further explanation of what owning a barouche would have signified at that time.


Other pages have included relevant information about Jane Austen’s own life; comments about what “gentleman-like” would have meant at that time; comments on how something represents Jane Austen’s earlier writing style and how she might have done it differently later; comments about other popular books/ideas of the time; comments about what a person would have meant by such a remark; etc. For the most part, I like to read the entire page of book, THEN look at the annotations for that page; otherwise, I feel like the children are still here, interrupting my reading every sentence or two. Sometimes I do look at an annotation mid-page, if curiosity trumps disruption, or if something is too confusing without it.

Anyway, I love it. It’s like being in school again, but only the parts I liked, no “compare and contrast” essays to write. And it feels pleasing to be learning something, even if I have to fight off “What FOR?” and “What’s the point?” feelings. Learning something is good for its OWN sake, but it’s hard to get out of the habit of thinking of it as “to get into college / to get a good job.”

Plus, one of the things that MOST makes me feel like kicking myself when I’m looking back on times I was bored, bored, bored (a summer in college where the courses left me with TONS of free time; my first pregnancy, when I was unemployed) is thinking about how many things I COULD HAVE DONE with all that spare time. “Learn a LANGUAGE or something,” I scold those former selves. “Finally get around to reading books you feel you ought to have read! Get a book on sketching, and give it a try! Get a book on a place you want to travel someday! Get a book that FINALLY helps you understand how Congress works! It doesn’t have to be The Funnest and Most Interesting Thing in the Whole World, it just has to be SOMETHING.” So it’s pleasing to be actually DOING something like that this time around.

One of the biggest unexpected upsides is having something to think about. When I was cooking dinner last night, I was thinking about the movie; when I was trying to get to sleep, I was thinking about the annotated book. I hadn’t realized how much of my thinking was “I feel icky/sad/bad” until it got replaced with other things, such as whether Hugh Grant was too cute to play Edward, or about the new-to-me definition of the word “sensibility,” or about how extremely well that one actor portrayed the awfulness of her character, or how well my embarrassing tendency to tear up over almost NOTHING would have fit in with the fashions of 200 years ago.

The Girl with All the Gifts

I just finished reading The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey, and I loved it.

(image from

(image from

I read it in part because I kept hearing about it, and I like to read such books early on, before I have to fight off the silly “I can’t read it now because it’s gotten too much fuss” impulse (“Oh, everyone who reads it loves it? Then I will not read it. I would hate to love a book, or to belong to a group of people who love something.” WHY DO THOSE FEELINGS HAPPEN). It’s post-apocalyptic fiction, which is a category I tend to like, and it’s also science fiction, which is a category I like when it hits that sweet spot between “too sciencey” and “female space-warrior in bikini armor.”

Joss Whedon liked it and wrote a quote for the back cover, if that persuades you one way or another.

I was sorry the book was over, but I was mostly satisfied with the ending. (I had a couple of questions that occurred to me afterward and left me feeling less satisfied, but I still loved the book overall.)