Frost Flower January 21, 2020
January in Tennessee is chilly, wet, and calm after the delights of the holiday season. The decorations are put back in the basement, rooms are tidied, and I turn my attention to some neglected projects around the house. I hate to see the glitter of Christmas fade but I also enjoy the stillness of January and a return to quiet mornings and simple food. Tennessee winters are wet and gray with the occasional “shirt-sleeve” day alternating with a cold snap that might bring a dusting of snow. Last year, on her daily walk, Caroline noticed some Styrofoam peanuts on the ground but on closer investigation it turned out to be frost flowers. This phenomenon happens in very specific winter weather conditions where freezing air and warm wet ground forces sap to expand rapidly and extrude out of thin cracks on the stems of specific plants (ironweed). This sap freezes on contact with the air and forms beautiful swirls around the stem. The latest deep freeze produced a “super bloom” of frost flowers along the dirt road on the farm. We bundled up to enjoy dozens of these beautiful flowers as they don’t last long once the air gets above freezing. I’m always amazed at the beauty every season offers.
January is also a great time to talk, think and write about books. Recently I was at the post office getting yet another book delivery. When the postman commented on the number of book shaped packages in our mail, I had to confess that we have a book problem in our house. We don’t just have one library but “his” and “her” libraries that dominate several rooms and overflow into every other room of the house. It is a problem that we have no intention of fixing. So, I wanted to talk about a few books I really loved this past year.
I didn’t finish school until September of last year so much of my reading was academic and often difficult but I grew a new vocabulary that has opened my reading world. I enjoyed Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story by Jody Gentian Bower. This lovely and very readable book looks at the heroine’s journey in classic literature as a template for women’s empowerment and how it is very different from the classic male hero’s journey. Women’s lives aren’t just a version of men’s but fundamentally different in their needs for finding authentic and fulfilled lives. This book is based on Jungian psychology but fully explains the ideas in a way that is understandable and helpful.
After two years of academic writing I needed to mentally shift back to my more personal style. I took several months off any kind of writing to take a big break and just settle into life without deadlines and word counts. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo was exactly the right book at the right time. I savored every chapter by slowly reading two of the short chapters every day. Louise gently guided me though the difficulties and joys of the writing life. I needed her encouragement to let me know I’m not alone in the solitary act of writing.
Because I can’t house all the books I want to read and I like a variety of books when I travel, I keep my Kindle app full of easy reading material and take advantage of the free Amazon Prime e-books and magazines. I particularly liked Listening Below the Noise: A Meditation on the Practice of Silence by Anne D. LeClaire. This was another book in which I slowly savored every word. For many years, Anne would take two days a month to be in silence. She chronicles the difficulties, joys and changes from her silence practice. I also enjoy a lot of silence and although I don’t have specific parameters, I try to spend time with just the bird songs and rustle of trees as often as I can. Silence is soothing in our noisy, overstimulated world and this book quiets the over-connected soul.
August 2019 was a difficult confluence of final exams and health challenges for my elderly mother. I was constantly stressed about one or the other which, of course, gave me a terrible flare-up of TMJ (jaw pain), something I have had trouble with for several years. The pain is cyclical but, when I’m in the middle of an episode, it is miserable and exhausting. I do seek treatment but I needed to really get to the root of my particular problem so I ordered every book on the subject I could find. Help came from Taking Control of TMJ by Robert O. Uppgaard. I literally had forgotten the correct placement of my jaws because I was compensating for the pain and grimacing. Just the simple readjustment of my position- plus being aware I was clinching from stress- helped me relax and start to find some relief. It has taken several months but I’m much better now. Thank-you Dr. Uppgarrd.
For some reason, I’m just not a novel reader. I wish I was, but I just can’t keep characters straight. Fortunately, I enjoy listening to novels which helps me overcome my name deficiency problems. During a drive to Florida, putting up Christmas trees and making dinner, I listened to Circe by Madeline Miller. This beautiful re-imagining of the story of the Greek goddess Circe brings the Greek myths to life in a new and fresh version. I just love Greek mythology (or any mythology for that matter).
Other books I’ve really enjoyed:
Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday
Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole
Betty Crocker’s Lost Recipes (vintage recipes I loved as a child, yum!)
Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter
How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch
Digital Minimalism and Deep Work by Cal Newport
Bonus: Three books for book lovers.
I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life by Anne Bogel. Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Nancy Goldstone. Howard’s End in on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill