Books I read in 2014

I LOVE having others recommend books to me… so I’m going to tell you a few books I read this year and perhaps you’ll find a new friend for your shelves.

Roddy Doyle’s “A greyhound of a girl” entertained and moved me. I liked John B. Keane’s “The Bodhrán makers” and Frank O’Connor’s “An Only Child”.

I enjoyed Charles Frazier’s “Thirteen Moons”.

It wasn’t as affecting as his “Cold Mountain” but still an amazing read, as a 12 year old narrator is given a key, a horse and a map and sent to run a trading post at the edge of the Cherokee Nation.
20141231_180255 (1)
Of course, as usual I re-read Anita Shreve’s “The Pilot’s Wife”.

I LOVE this book. I live differently after I read it. I got it in 2000 when I was pregnant with Oran. It was free with a box of tea bags and I was very dubious that it could be insightful or moving but it proved to be both.
She published her new book “The Lives of Stella Bain” which harked back to an earlier novel, which I can’t name or it would spoil the twist!

Kinta Beevor’s “A Tuscan Childhood” is autobiographical and evokes the landscape and artistic milieu of the author’s family.

I’m currently reading Barbara Ehrenreich “Smile or Die” which is a perfect antidote for anyone who’s fed up with the devotion to “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. I get the theory of the Law of Attraction and creating vibrations to attain our desires, but the die-hard proponents of the theory seem sadly lacking in compassion to me… if you take the theory to its logical conclusion, then EVERYONE deserves their circumstances, and my 47 years have shown me that’s nonsense; we all need to help each other and be sympathetic and empathetic, rather than judgemental. Ms. Ehrenreich’s personal experience is with breast cancer treatment and what she identified as a dangerous addiction to preaching positivity to ill and depressed people.

I found two John Holt books which I hadn’t read before: “Instead of Education” and “Freedom and Beyond”. Like so much he’s written, I found myself nodding along.

I’m re-reading Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” after studying it 33 years ago for my English exam. I usually read very fast but am trying to deliberately slow down and savour his brilliant story of Pip, Joe and Mrs. Gargery, Miss Havisham and Estella.

For Christmas, as well as a bookshop voucher, I got a copy of Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette” which looks brilliant – based on her own experiences teaching in Brussels. The cover says it’s about bearing repressed feelings and cruel circumstances with heroic fortitude.
Villette

The book which has had all of the older family members laughing this Christmas is the compilation of satirical news stories from Waterford Whispers News.
20141231_180354
One of our favourite spoof stories was:

WWN story

And this one:
20141231_180500

I’m reading Roald Dahl’s “Esio Trot” to Eamonn and we are both loving the story of Mr. Hoppy who loves his neighbour, widowed Mrs. Silver, and gains her love by “magically” helping her to achieve the dream of having her per tortoise grow bigger.
20141231_180306
Anthony Hopkins, playing C. S. Lewis in “Shadowlands” says “we read to know we’re not alone”, (quoting a student’s father, I think, who was a primary school teacher). That phrase stays with me and I feel there’s truth in it. I guess it’s why the breastfeeding, home birth and home education newsletters are so important to me from my memberships of these support groups. I have old newsletters from MANY years ago (20, even) and I know they may seem superfluous now that all information appears available on-line (for a fraction of the cost of felling a tree) but I am SO GRATEFUL for the trees and process that produces paper for me to hold. I can’t imagine nursing a small baby with a phone or screen in hand instead of a newsletter or book!
Here’s to many happy hours reading in 2015!

The Christmas Box from America

I grew up listening to lots of radio. Radio 1 was the soundtrack of my childhood. This time of year, there would be plays, letters and essays read out about an author’s Christmas from a previous year. A common feature, especially if the author was from the west of Ireland, was the arrival, to great fanfare, of a box of gifts from relatives in the United States of America. I remember talk of parcels of clothes which would be worn to Church for Midnight Mass. There was a touch of the exotic about these gifts. The clothes would be new and unusual, not the staple fare of a drapery in a small country town.
With my mother’s family living in Australia, we would receive calendars with photos of landmarks there. At least once, a box with clothes arrived. My Aunty Fran sent her daughter Judith’s beautiful white dress which I wore for my Confirmation ceremony.
My mother’s Christmas present one year was to call her mother and sister in Brisbane for 45 precious minutes. The price of that call was £45. This must have been in the early 1980’s.
We just got off the phone with my eldest, Darragh, who lives in Maui, Hawaii. Last week we spoke to him for almost 4 hours, at a cost of the princely sum of €5.
But this evening, joy of joys, the box of gifts he put together for us arrived.

Elva and Eamonn with the box from Darragh in America

Elva and Eamonn with the box from Darragh in America

Such excitement! Such joy!
Among the thoughtful and carefully chosen presents, was a box of 12 packs of BRAND NEW PLAYING CARDS!!! A gentle comment on how often we have been about to play a game of cards, only to discover that the Queen of Hearts and Knave of Spades have gone gallivanting somewhere, only to be discovered shivering disconsolately, down the side of a chair or under the couch, or cunningly, masquerading as a bookmark in some tome on the shelf.
20141223_181504
Eamonn sorting a new pack of cards

Sometimes happiness really is in the SMALL things.
Darragh won’t be at our table this Christmas time to share dinner and woeful jokes from crackers. But it feels as though we are very close, just the same.

Waiting for Christmas

I love this time of year; this season waiting for the birthday of Jesus. I love choosing which photo of the children to send out with Christmas cards to faraway relatives and friends. My overseas card destinations include: Australia, USA, Germany, France, Italy, England and Wales.
Advent and Christmas can seem like a time of traditions: for us, always having a real tree is important. A family can often be a clash/compromise of the parents’ family-of-origin traditions. My birth family valued home made decorations with a minimum of tinsel and glitter. We would make coloured paper chains and string them around the kitchen and the room Granny called “the parlour”.

Home made decorations and tinsel co-existing peacefully!

Home made decorations and tinsel co-existing peacefully!

I like to wait until the last Sunday of Advent to get the tree decorated but this year, the excitement of the younger people has been at fever pitch and the tree is in situ, its lights winking cheerfully, wrapped gifts beginning to appear from hiding places in bedrooms and cupboards, and a fervent hope that our kitten’s playfulness won’t extend to clawing through any wrapping paper until the day itself.

Our Christmas tree

Our Christmas tree

Angel on our tree

Angel on our tree

This year, Elva (11) organised the Advent wreath and it is often lit during meals.

20141213_055939

The crib is very important.

The Crib, awaiting the birth of Jesus

The Crib, awaiting the birth of Jesus

It is set up way ahead, with Mary, Joseph and the donkey having to make a long journey around the windows until Christmas Eve.

The 3 Wise Men start out at the same time, from a different direction, and don’t get to arrive until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

3

Mary, Joseph and donkey

Mary, Joseph and donkey

I heard a psychologist speaking about why Christmas is so important and why we have such high expectations (often dashed) of how we hope to FEEL. She talked of how people with insecure attachments often had the greatest unmet expectations at this time. They make a big deal of the season but can be terribly disorganised. She had some lovely phrases about how often the “kin-keeping” falls to women, who seem to be particularly charged with doing the “work of belonging”. She advised that we would all be mindful of who is doing the social labour and support each other and be gentle with ourselves if the task of making the season joyful falls mainly on our shoulders.

I wish you joy as you make memories with your kin.