Friday, December 23, 2011

Turn and Face the Strain

My husband has been singing this song by the inimitable David Bowie as we undergo our move. One verse I want to quote for you:

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Temporary Lapse

Due to the overwhelming necessity of focusing on our move, guests, family, and the holidays, I'm signing out until the New Year. Thanks for your support, comments, and interesting thoughts! I look forward to reconnecting once our internet works again and I have a few moments to call my own.

Many blessings in this season!


I will be:

Playing music with family
Eating way too much wonderful food
Baking Bread

And many more things including, but not limited to: packing and unpacking, trying to set internet up at the new place, moaning in frustration over the ineptitude of the internet company, watching movies with my husband, eating homemade French Onion Soup, and making music with family.

I'll look forward to resuming contact in a few weeks! Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


I've always considered myself a change-lover, but I'm not sure where I got that misconception. The truth is, I love to think about change, to roll new ideas over in my mind, to look into the ramifications of this move or that opportunity, but when a door opens and I must go through it in my life, I suddenly think of all the things I'll miss from my old place, and find the uncertainty of the new overwhelming. Emotionally, I struggle until I find a new equilibrium.

The first box packed!
This I have had the chance to observe in myself lately, because my husband and I are moving. It's a wonderful move--lateral in space but most definitely an improvement on financial fronts--that will give us the freedom to consider more opportunities in the future. We will spend our first night in the new place on Christmas Eve.

Now I am eight months pregnant, so I am doing more directing than actual moving, and dear friends and family are volunteering their hours and muscles. We are about halfway moved, at that awkward stage where it seems that anytime we need anything it's at the other house.

The strange thing I'm realizing is that my fear of change does not make change bad! In fact, this fear should be faced and laid to rest as I root into the unchanging soil of love within and around me. If all were to change in a terrible way, I would still be loved and would still love. So let me hold to what is sure while all around me swirls, while my physical environment shifts, and while my accustomed routines are disrupted. Because I have all I need, here within me and beside me.

All I need is love. The rest is dispensible.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today I'm Thankful For... Peanut Butter Fudge

My mother-in-law has a secret fudge recipe. It's one of the reasons I love Christmas above all other seasons. Yes, she's given the recipe to me, but no, I won't give it to you. I will however describe the perfect piece of peanut butter fudge, a piece of which I just ate.

Creamy but with texture that stands a little tongue-probing. Nutty, yes, but caramelized and creamy, with overtones of marshmallow. Definitely impossible to stop with just one piece. Scary when considered calorically, comforting when considered with a sweet tooth.

Your peanut butter fudge is the best, L.!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Chocolate Oatmeal Pie

Oh, it's good! This pie is a rich,  caramelized, gooey delight, the fun of which is augmented by how easy it is to make! I brought one to our Thanksgiving meal--you could make this for Christmas, or for any special occasion.

Chocolate Oatmeal Pie

Mix together:
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 c corn syrup
  • 2 T melted butter
  • 1 t vanilla
  • ½ c coconut
  • ½ c oats (quick or regular)
  • ½ c chocolate chips

Pour mixture into unbaked pie shell and bake for ½ hour-45 mins or until surface looks uniformly set and overall color is golden brown

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Invasion and Public Perception

There's something about being pregnant that seems to announce to the world, "Touch me! Flatter/insult me! Tell me horror stories about the great ordeal through which I'll be going in just a few short weeks!" "Ask me hideously embarrassing questions about any topic which strikes your interest!"

Why? Why do old women and young place their hands reverently on my bump (and I'm always perversely glad when my child refuses to move until they're gone)? Why does my weight--always before a subject not to be ventured upon--become of such interest and approval/disapproval? And why in the name of all that's holy does every woman who has ever given birth, thought of giving birth, or heard of someone else giving birth tell me about all that can go wrong with birth--the enforced C-section, the endless labor with no progress, the hospital that ignored everything it was told--and then blithely turn away from me, saying, "Good luck with yours!"? Why do people ask me how we conceived this child (and yes, I'm tempted to say, "The usual way")?

I seem to remember reading a discussion at some point about how the pregnant woman becomes public property--how most individuals in our culture seem fascinated by the burgeoning belly, by the promise of new life, by the straying from the perceived societal norm of flat bellies. It is as if personal boundaries--easily infringed upon in daily life--become non-existent during the five or so months when pregnancy is discernable.

This may be partly due to the fact that, due to the obvious nature of pregnancy, one's personal life becomes suddenly public. The state of my reproductive organs has always been of an intensely personal nature to me, but now anyone,--from the waiter who offers my husband and myself seating for "Two and a half" to the smiling strangers who ask me when I'm due--can see exactly what is happening in the innermost sanctum of my body and make a crushingly good guess about what is happening in my emotional temple as well. My womanhood, which before I could either downplay or accentuate by my wardrobe choices and carriage, is now flaunted before the world. Every move I make fairly displays the femininity I carry. My round and lovely belly going before me is the flag of identification with every mother throughout history who has populated the world with all these wonderful, zany, tactless people.

It's a strange, far-too-public place to be. And yet there is very little I can do about it other than the obvious: repel unwanted advances, though that becomes very difficult as I'm usually not prepared and often in the moment more concerned about giving offense than anything else.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Am I missing a vital point in this public interaction during pregnancy? What is the strangest position in which you've been placed by being pregnant in public? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Gift of Silence in Friendship

We had the gift of a good friend's presence overnight and this morning. As always, her smiling face brought answering smiles to ours, her industry in the kitchen inspired our own culinary creativity, and her determined peace exemplified the internal journey of selfhood through often overwhelming life-trials.

Usually when she comes we talk and laugh and share anecdotes of our lives, but this time I felt sulky. Even though terrified of being a bad hostess, I still could not force myself to interact much. The was, I needed to be alone. I needed to read and ponder until I had finished my current book (Villette, Charlotte Bronte). I needed time to sit and wonder over my infant's imperative elbowing me in the ribs. I needed coffee, consumed in grateful silence.

I informed my friend, with hesitation, of my feelings, and was delightfully surprised when she laughed and said she could use a good quiet reading morning herself. So we made coffee (with molasses and ginger), sat next to each other, and read! I found myself gradually opening up and by the end of the morning we had a wonderful chat before parting

A good friend is one with whom you can be silent, without offense. Thanks, D., for being such a great friend! I'd pick flowers with you any day!

Friday, December 9, 2011

BWV 1001

Bach has one of the most structural and beautiful styles I've ever heard. This talented gentleman, Xavier Diaz-Latorre, demonstrates a lovely violin sonata in d minor.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Today I'm Thankful For... People Who Share

I'm 7 1/2 months pregnant, and am finding it difficult to fit this burgeoning belly into normal tops! But I haven't bought any maternity tops, mainly out of the dispiriting oppression that comes from trying on clothes that would have once been too large for me, that either look stupid or cost too much, and that I (hopefully) will only wear another three months max.

But today one of my tablemates in Biology class handed me a bag full of beautiful maternity tops! I can't wait to wear them! What a gift.

I'm thankful for people who share. How has someone shared with you lately?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

First Snow!

While it has rather derailed my plans for the day, I'm still happy to greet the first snow in these parts. I believe the squirrels are pretty thrilled about it too.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I've seen Carl Larsson's work before, but had no idea he was so prolific or that his work would be so rewarding. This post from librarian Angela Bell brought me great satisfaction.

Swedish artist and designer Gudrun Jorgen has me stunned with color! A site worth exploring.

This post by Margarita consolidated some wonderful tips on writing through pain and lack of motivation.

Elsita makes some simply lovely dolls and photographs them beautifully. Her most recent, a pin/pendant doll, is reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood to me.

Leslie contemplates the importance of celebrating who people are, rather than stumbling over who they are not.

Scott ponders making a living from one's passion.

Sal of Already Pretty shares this wonderful video.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Like Wine Through Water

 "I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind." --Catherine Earnshaw

So much has been written about Wuthering Heights that I could add little to the cultural dialogue which has been taking place ever since the book appeared in 1847 under the androgynous psuedonym Ellis Bell, creating little stir except to be characterized as coarse, with a "moral taint", 1 offering "shocking pictures of the worst forms of humanity." Readers were advised to "burn Wuthering Heights", 2 though there were glimpses of the coming recognition, as when a reviewer said that the work "of Ellis Bell is only a promise, but it is a colossal one." 3 Critics and audience alike seemed perplexed--Victorian sensibilities were shocked, but the genius of the author was undeniable. One reviewer expressed this in writing, "Wuthering Heights is a strange sort of book,—baffling all regular criticism; yet, it is impossible to begin and not finish it; and quite as impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it. " 4  

The book opens with the ambivalent narrative of Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff--whose glowering brow has cast shadows and thrills through countless susceptible rebels for over 150 years through book, drama, television, and music--is introduced and the strangely-assorted house of Wuthering Heights described. And then the story unfolds. When Lockwood falls ill, his highly voluble housekeeper begins to tell the story of the Earnshaws and Lintons with all their loves and hates and intermarryings. Lockwood stays divorced from these wild dwellers of the moors, leaving the frame story quite distinct from the central narrative, returning at the end in time to witness the only happy turn of events in the story (young Cathy and Hareton Earnshaw walking through the moors together, happy with a happiness their unfortunate parents never experienced) and leaves without being detected by any other than old Ellen Dean, the housekeeper.

Heathcliff. The name summons up images of immense cruelty and romantic torture, the dark-browed Bryonic hero in all his agonies wreaking havoc unapologetically on those around him. The rags-to-riches story is universal, as is the idea of the hero found in obscurity and raised to wealth and prosperity by a benevolent sponsor, eventually falling in love with said sponsor's daughter and restoring honor and wealth to the ancestral home. Interestingly, each of these conventions is inverted in Wuthering Heights, for Heathcliff--though initially seeming favored by the master of the house--falls out of favor in a drastic way with his successor and, upon falling in love with the daughter of the house and overhearing part of her conversation condemning his place in life, leaves the Yorkshire moors for parts unknown. He returns only when he has earned enough wealth and learning to thoroughly undermine the house of Earnshaw and, it is obvious that he hopes, to win the hand of the lovely Catherine.

But Catherine--the sprite of the wilds, capricious, willful, beautiful, sympathetic and cruel by turns--has married the foppish neighbor, Edgar Linton, and here is where the story, which has heretofore been painted in tones of sepia and burnt match ends, turns to sullen charcoal and ashes. For Heathcliff is not the man to yield to fate, nor has he the resources within himself to find joy in anything at all without Catherine at his side. His obsessive love for Catherine expresses itself as a kind of creeping hate which reaches out and encompasses nearly every person on the moors who has ever touched his life. He embroils the master of Wuthering Heights in gambling debts until he owns the mansion and the man (Catherine's older brother) kills himself in drunken despair, he perverts the affections of young Hareton Earnshaw, the son of the slain man, taking great pleasure in seeing a vigorous mind sinking daily into slothpits of twisted ignorance, and he marries Catherine's pale sister-in-law only to torture her until she flees with his weak-minded son to faraway environs.

The spiralling story continues as Catherine dies in childbirth, her physical sufferings only a shadow of the emotional pain caused by a fierce interview with Heathcliff. Years pass, while Heathcliff hordes his hate, until the children are old enough to be manipulated into his diabolical plans involving a forced marriage between his son and Catherine's daughter. Here, however, for the first time in the story, a ray of light shines in pearly splendor over the tortured moors. For Cathy is not only her mother's daughter, but also her father's, and she has a depth of true affection and nobility within her which begins to slowly overcome the putridity around her.
Emily Bronte
Eventually Heathcliff, tortured for twenty years by yearning for Catherine's ghost, finds it and dies happy--or at least as happy as such a twisted soul without the benefit of early love or even the slightest strain of nobility of character can, and Cathy and Hareton Earnshaw begin a new generation of lovers in Wuthering Heights, blending some of the intensity of their forebears with a purity of affection that is altogether new on these windy moors.

Much as the early reviewers did, I found myself riveted to the reading of this complex, rough-hewn book. Emily was the most private of the three Bronte sisters, and much of her personality has been obscured by the careful apology, purging, and editing done by her surviving sister, Charlotte, who was much more concerned with the opinions of the world than the others and who seemed to find the accusation of coarseness so often applied to all three sisters' work a cutting criticism. There is little remaining after Charlotte's "defense" to tell what Emily thought or felt, though she has been characterized so often as the Wild Mystic of the Moors. We have only her published work--some poems, Wuthering Heights, and a few diary pages and letters, to grant us a clue into her character.

Which leaves us solely her work to judge, not a bad situation for an author of such great stature and originality. Novels spring from their authors' minds and hearts and lives, but are not the sum or even necessarily the parts of the creator. To insinuate that Emily--to all accounts a virgin, not knowing the love of a man to her death--somehow personally experienced and embodied the characteristics of her story is to ignore the workings of creative mind and imagination combined with acute observation of humanity and nature and executed with outstanding technical prowess. Full of power, Wuthering Heights shivered me to the soul, skewering me with a kind of sympathetic horror for the individuals who so ruined their own lives and those around them. The blending of identity between Catherine and Heathcliff--embodied in her famous statement, "I am Heathcliff!" 5 --brings an underlying uneasiness to this love story and cries for repeated reading and consideration.

Have you read Wuthering Heights or seen any of the many video adaptations? What are your impressions of the story and characters?

1   Unknown. "n/a." Rev. of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Spectator 18 December 1847: n/a. Print
2   Anonymous. "n/a." Rev. of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Paterson's Magazine March 1848: n/a. Print
3   Anonymous. "n/a." Rev. of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Atlas 22 January 1848: n/a. Print
4   Anonymous. "n/a." Rev. of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper 15 January 1848: n/a. Print
5   Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: New American Library, Inc., 1959. Print. p. 84

Friday, December 2, 2011

Joy Await Thee

My husband has been learning to play the bouzouki lately and yesterday, while I made a pie, he joined me in making what we felt was very good music! The song we are currently working on is performed below in Gaelic by the excellent Scottish band Capercallie. It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful Scottish ballads of all time. Enjoy!

What is your favorite Celtic song?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Today I'm Thankful For... Special Mugs

Do you have a favorite mug? I do, or rather several. For tea, I love the beautiful posies-and-poppies cup my sister brought me from England. For cappucinos, I love a six-ounce cup with strawberry flowers. And for random beverages--cider, hot chocolate, steamers, chai--I love this recently thrifted mug with a perplexing image of a bird and butterfly. It has thick walls which hold heat remarkably, a nearly-unreadable stamp on the bottom indicating that it was crafted with care, and has lately been filling me with joy each time I use it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seasonal Cooking... Collard Greens

3 for $1! Collard greens! The farmer squinted at me as I pursed my lips, uncertain how to cook this (phenomenally nutritious) seasonal green. How could I resist? We handed him a dollar and walked away the dubious owners of a shopping bag full of green leaves.

Fortunately for all of us our friend D. visited the next day and enthusiastically showed us one delightful way to use them, and we've had them every day since!

How do you use collard greens?

Sauteed Collard Greens

  • Chopped onion
  • Diced Garlic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lime
  • More greens than you think you need, washed and torn or sliced

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until fragrant, then add the greens and the lime, cover, turn down the heat, and let steam until the leaves are wilted but still have great texture.

Serving Suggestion: On whole wheat tortillas with a basil-garlic bean paste and cheese. Outstanding!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thrifted Serendipity

I like the concept of thrifting far more than the actuality, but occasionally I seem to have a day of joy and come forth victorious!

For 79 cents, this lovely Oriental scarf, which will be finding a home as inspiration on my thumbtack board.
What glorious finds have you discovered lately?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Surfeit and Lack

My Thanksgiving weekend was spent basking in leisure, eating wonderful food, and relating with friends and family in several locations. It was wonderful! Highlights included an impromptu foot-stamping jam session with flute, guitar, bouzouki, and harp that resounded through my parent's old Victorian house, all the potatoes and gravy I could eat, and the manifest charms of a cat so sleepy she couldn't hold her head up.

It was lovely, but it is over--leaving me feeling sludgy from unhealthy food, sluggish from lack of exercise, and sullen from too much talking and interaction. Normally this state finds me puzzled and gradually dissipates, only to be restored around Christmas time. But this year I don't want to spend a month and a half of my life under par. So I'm taking action! Peaceful, contemplative action.

This week the McIntyre household will be avoiding sweets and meat, eating lots of veggies, and enjoying simpler meals, to counteract the excess of the weekend. I am also planning to study and read a lot, take naps and hot baths, and forswear the TV and internet in favor of making music, writing, and just sitting to contemplate this constantly-changing life. Pots of herbal tea, my harp, and my yoga mat will be my companions.

There's a balance between surfeit and lack which I want to learn. Life is a series of small moments, building upon each other to create the kind of internal and external structure we present to ourselves and the world. This week, this moment, I choose simplicity.

How are you incorporating your holiday celebrations into your own life?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Shattering Glass and Dancing in the Dust

Enjoy, even if you've heard this song a million times on the radio! I think this may be one of the most striking music videos I've ever seen, and Adele's authenticity and powerful voice give me the shivers every time.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today I am Thankful For... My Husband

This Thanksgiving day I am thankful for my husband! Little did I know when we first met--and clashed with the clanging of cymbals--almost three years ago that today we would be living in harmony and anticipating a child together!

Thank you for your tidy habits!
Thank you for your sparkling eyes!
Thank you for your musical gifts and humility!
Thank you for always watching out for me!
Thank you for being so trustworthy!
Thank you for your honesty!
Thank you for embracing my family!
Thank you for your incredible cooking skills!
Thank you for being interested in my passions!
Thank you for accepting me as I am!
Thank you for choosing me!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deathbed Portrait

I would like to look this peaceful when I cross the Great Divide.

I would not like to have pencil drawings made of me.

But then I'm not John Morris.

I wouldn't mind someone writing a poem.

Like this one by Dylan Thomas.

Or this one by Tennyson.
Which puts me in mind of this momento mori, commissioned by the great metaphysical poet John Donne not too long before he died.

This custom was common in his time. Donne, however, after his beloved wife Anne died, seemed to have anticipated the soft-footed arrival of Death far more than most of us! He preached on it, declaring in his last sermon that "We have a winding sheet in our mother's womb, which grows with us from our conception, and we come into the world wound up in that winding sheet, for we come to seek a grave."

Some of his most famous poetry was inspired by his fixation on death as well--the constantly quoted lines, "No man is an island/entire of itself... Therefore send not to know/ for whom the bell tolls,/It tolls for thee."

I liked him better when he was licentious.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Joy in the Little Things

Today I cleaned three beautiful houses with my mother-in-law. Christmas decorations are going up--one tree is easily ten feet tall, festooned with trendy white gold and dusty teal ornaments and a huge featherlike topper. Santas with quizzical faces peered out at me as I dusted, and stylized snowmen grinned from startling places. I enjoyed meeting each new character and decoration as I labored through the accustomed routine.

Cleaning is certainly not my favorite thing! I look forward, soon, to resigning my position. But I must admit that there are many opportunities to find joy in the work. Leaving a lovely house in perfect condition, tiptoeing across spotless floors, and closing the door on swathes of vacuumed carpet is rewarding. Being more likely to sweep dirt under a rug than pick it up in my own housekeeping, the much more rigorous standards of cleaning on the job bring me satisfaction.

I enjoy finding joy in the little things, even cleaning other peoples' houses!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Glory of Roses in the Rain

I have a stubborn little rosebush by my front door, still blooming in the crisp death of November. Every few days it shows forth another bloom and fills my heart with joy.

May we be like stubborn roses, filling the world with fresh delight in the harshness of autumn.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I Hate... Crumbs in the bed

Breakfast in Bed - Mary Cassatt -
Will this be the Little Alien and me in three years?

I and my ravenous babe-in-utero find ourselves on the prowl for food any time from midnight on, most nights. These foraging missions may result in a bowl full of cereal and resultant heartburn or in (if I'm lucky) an apple and sweet sleep. By far, though, our go-to midnight snack is wheat thins, rescued from the crackling bag at imminent risk of waking my slumbering sweetheart, and consumed in bed gratefully. Baby starts kicking and I (hopefully) make it back to my interrupted dreams without too much hassle.

But oh, the crumbs in the bed! Oh, the scratchy remnants of wheat thins long gone, carving their shapes into my tender skin! And oh, the incessant irritation of having finally found a comfortable place for my husband, my huge belly, and myself, only to realize a full sheet-sweep needs to take place!

I hate crumbs in the bed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Creative Lunches... Peanut Butter & Honey Sandwich

I know, you're thinking, "how can a peanut butter sandwich be creative?" I've wondered the same thing, many times.

But look at this picture! Clear swirls of honey highlighting the rough natural peanut butter. Crusty homemade bread. A glass of clean white milk. And a rose, for contrast.

Try it! You might find yourself surprised.

How do you like to shake up the peanut butter sandwich stereotype?

And, for amusement, I must include this Raffi song--he makes me aspire to play the kazoo.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Wiley, Windy Moors

I'm preparing a longer post on my latest read, Wuthering Heights, and by way of preparation I wanted to share one of my favorite songs by a truly artistic and eccentric lady, Kate Bush. I fancy in Kate's face I can see the manic animation of Cathy's countenance in the early days, and in spite of some over-drama I am mesmerized by the weird quality of Kate's voice. She's captured the strange and lonely elegance of the Yorkshire moors as presented by Emily Bronte.

What do you think?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Today I'm Thankful For... Bran Flakes

Oh Bran Flakes, how you fill me with satifying satiation when all else fails! You are the companion of my midnight munchies, the fellow of my desperate breakfasts, the sidekick of my stomach. You bring peace to the howling maw within me and time and again you always taste delicious. You make the little one in my midsection feel acrobatic and try to kick you off my belly and cover me with milk.

I hope we remain old friends, dear Bran Flakes, in spite of the fact that I always eat you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Make Mulled Cider

A fall tradition for the McIntyres, mulled cider fills the house with the scents of apples and spices. I drink it hot or cold and use in recipes for a little autumn kick.

Mulled Cider
1 can apple juice concentrate
1 long cinnamon stick or 2 short
3 pods of cardamom
10 or so dried cloves
dash of allspice

  • Put everything in the pot along with the recommended amount of water and simmer on low for an hour or two.
  • Enjoy! When you store, take out the pieces of spices, as they make the flavor a bit musky over time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning to Breathe

Caspar David Friedrich,
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818)

Exhaustion comes in a grey fog, cancelling impetus and outlawing momentum. The list of things to do grows longer in my mind, my emotions boil and seethe, and I find myself in tears over random occurences.

What to do?

I am learning to breathe. In, out. In, out. Long, centered breaths bringing life-giving air and calm into myself. What really matters to me?

To love and be loved. All else is nothing to me.

So I consciously lay aside my to-do list, focus on the dancing eyes of my lover, rest instead of filling my mind with the constant chatter of the world, and find a modicum of peace.

I am learning to breathe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

On Scarcity

I finished One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich this morning. I've read it in bits and pieces over the last month and have found myself captivated by the moment-by-moment optimism of Shukhov, an innocent man sentenced to ten years in a Russian hard-labor camp, by the dominance of individuality even in an environment specifically designed to strip all vestiges of personality from each prisoner, and by the kind of courage that can leave behind what should have been and what could have been for what is.

Life in the Soviet Gulag
If you own this picture, please contact me!

For those unfamiliar, the book follows Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, prisoner C 854, through one day in an unnamed labor camp. A great portion of Shukhov's energy is expended in obtaining food--whether through guile or through favors for others. He wastes little energy, after eight years of his sentence, on thinking about his wife and children in a countryside kolkhoz, or collective farm, nor does he bother himself with questions of right or wrong, with prayer--other than a brief thankful acknowledgement to God for the small blessings of the day--with musings on mortality, or with friendship among his fellow zeks. He loves his work, becoming so entranced with building a wall that he nearly misses the prisoner count and causes his entire squad to be punished. Among the many players within his world, he knows his place and keeps it, rendering respect to those above him and disdain to those below. There are members of the intelligentia imprisoned with him yet he displays no interest in their learned conversation, betraying Solzhenitsyn's own attitude toward the intellectual elite--ironic, since men and women who viewed the world as Shukhov did were very unlikely to read or approve of One Day but it became the banner work of Soviet liberals and intellectuals alike.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Credit: AP Photo/Jacques Brinon
Solzhenitsyn was born at the peak of the Civil War in 1918, the same year the last Tzar and his family were executed, and served Mother Russia as a battery commander in WWII. After years of  keeping his mouth shut, he made the mistake of writing disparagingly of Stalin in a series of letters to a friend, who turned him in to the authorities and landed him in various concentration and labor camps for eight years. (1945-53)

Here's what I find the most telling sign of the political oppressions of the time: publication of One Day in 1962 marked the first mention in print of the forced labor camps  in Russia! Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, "for the ethical force with which he pursued the indispensible tradition of Russian literature", an event which caused him to be exiled from the Soviet Union.

He coined the now-predominant term "GULAG" for the Soviet system of forced labor which began under Stalin after WWI and did not fully end until Gorbachev's time. Numbers vary, but it is believed that over a million persons lived and died in these camps.

Growing up in the conservative Christian tradition, I often pondered whether I would stand firm for my faith under the threat of torture or martyrdom. I find the same self-searching mood is born from reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch and that I am unsure how I would act were I to find myself in a similar situation to the protagonist. If bread were scarce, would I share my only crust with my husband, my child? I like to think I would. But we don't know, living as we do in the fullness of Western plenty, how our essential selves would crumble under a cruel regime.

I am thankful I do not have to face these trials today, and hope for fortitude should I do so one day. Scarcity of anything is a fearsome thing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Today I am Thankful for... Cinnamon and Honey Steamer

For the golden wheat scent of warm milk, the fall-evoking freckles of cinnamon, and the thick cap of perfect foam sliding back to reveal comforting depths of pale milk... For the way it makes my child dance within me... For the way it brings back my first memory, of lying on my back in safety with a bottle of warm vanilla milk... For the joy of knowing the treasured cup traveled all the way home from England in my sister's luggage... For the leisure in which to drink it...

I am thankful.