Posted by: Sally Ingraham | December 7, 2010

Busy Being Unemployed

Having so much time off is blowing my mind. I get up every day and feel completely confused for a moment…wait, it must be some kind of a trick. I don’t have to go to work today? Again?!

In the past I’ve usually been traveling if I have more than a few days off together. I’m trying a new thing these days though – staying home. Home is a pretty fun place to be. I have many house projects – aside from making curtains, there is painting the kitchen, painting the radiator covers, painting a mural in the bathroom, painting a mural above the fireplace…lots of painting. Also to keep me busy I have: cooking and baking experiments (so far lasagna and mac ‘n cheese is as fancy as I’ve gotten, but there is a Shepherd’s Pie in my near future!); loads of laundry in the washing machine that I own (good-bye laundromats!); playing the cello (or rather, trying to keep it tuned…it’s been awhile since it’s seen anything beside the closet wall…); jumping and dancing and generally making a fool of myself with the encouragement of whatever is on FitTV at the moment; playing with my cats; streaming movies through my new Roku player (too much of a homebody to even go out to my mailbox to check for a physical Netflix movie some days…!); listening to 89.3 The Current (the best radio station I have yet to discover, thank you Minnesota!); writing letters; making my Christmas presents; and of course reading.

It’s the reading that I’m taking a break from right now. In spite of the fact that yesterday was a fabulous snow day and therefore the perfect day to curl up on the couch with books, I was rather productive and even took a carload of returnables to the recycling center (and then bought myself a gift box of Chimay beers with matching goblet!) So today I decided to devote myself to reading, and after hours of it, my brain hurts a little!

My reading is a bit more intensive these days since I am pretending that I am in school again, and am therefore taking notes like a regular note-taking wizard. See all my pretty notebooks? 🙂 I haven’t actually opened the Marquez yet, and the 6th volume of Proust was being camera shy.

Of the books pictured, my favorite at the moment is The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. I’m fascinated by his theories about how children reinvent their native tongue with each generation, using their own internal universal grammar to make a language out of what they hear spoken around them. I’m also intrigued by the concept that thinking exists without words, and that our minds must therefore translate the immense ideas that easily exist in our own heads, into strings of words that can be understood by those around us. Spoken and written language can barely express what our real thoughts are, as is evident every time you speak or write something and immediately grumble, “That’s not what I meant at all…” I’m eager to see what else Pinker has to say, and of course as this is my first earnest foray into the world of linguistics, I’m taking him with a grain of salt. His theories are so interesting though.

I wouldn’t say that Palace Walk is speaking to me yet. It’s the first of The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, which Hedgie of The Compost Heap recommended to me last year after I admired his review of Akhenaten: Dweller in Truth by Mahfouz. I’m finally getting around to reading the series along with Richard and several other people (see my sidebar for details on the readalong). I’m enjoying the setting and cultural details, but I’m finding the style a bit flat and even though I keep reminding myself of the traditions and customs of the time and the religion, I’m groaning over the boxed up reality of the women in the story and so far can’t stand the father/husband character. Only on chapter 11 though, so there is plenty of the book left to see what happens.

I am rather fond of Lin Yutang, author of Importance of Living. He has such a quirky style, and is quite funny at times in his attempt to reveal something of what he calls the Chinese attitude toward life. I can relate to someone who is interested in keeping in harmony with his natural human instincts, someone who recognizes that ‘Man is, as it were, sandwiched between heaven and earth, between idealism and realism, between lofty thoughts and baser passions. Being so sandwiched is the very essence of humanity; it is human to have a thirst for knowledge and thirst for water, to love a good idea and a good dish of pork with bamboo shoots, to admire a beautiful saying and a beautiful woman.

I feel like I’ve appreciated the grand ideas and beautiful thoughts enough for one day, so for now I’ll embrace one of my baser passions and go see what kind of fun beer I have in my fridge at the moment. Otter Creek Brewing‘s Alpine Black IPA has been treating me very well lately. 🙂


  1. You’re welcome from Minnesota! I love The Current too. You might also like a quirky little northern MN station, WTIP ( There’s some crossover in their playlists, but WTIP is a little lower key. And bonus–polka hour on Sundays! 🙂

    • Ooo, thanks for the tip. I’m always on the lookout for new music, and you can’t get much better than a polka hour! Brilliant. 🙂

  2. Staying home ROCKS. It’s pretty much my favorite. 🙂

    Isn’t the Pinker book fascinating? It’s been ages since I read it so I don’t remember many of the details, but I was enthralled through the whole thing.

    Haven’t started the Mahfouz yet, but I’ve heard it takes a while to get going. I should probably crack it open soon…

    • Yes, the Pinker book is making me go “Eeee, science is so COOL!” on a regular basis – and it is so entertaining.

      I definitely have high hopes about Palace Walk improving as I get into it, but at the moment I am finding my linguistic explorations far more interesting…

  3. I got that Lin Yutang but haven’t had the time to start it. Staying home is nice. Not always but to have a nice long stretch of time for reading and everything else would be terrific. That Pinker book does sound very interesting. Alpine Black IPA… I try to imagine what that tastes like. Dark beer I suppose?

    • Black IPA is a fairly new beer style – this was my first experience of it. It’s definitely dark, and has a full body but also the bitter hops flavor of IPAs. The bitterness is toned down by a kind of caramely flavor. It is quite delicious. 🙂

      • A bit like Guinness, I suppose. I saw the brewery when I satyed in Dublin.

  4. In How the Mind Works, Pinker relates a story about Jon and Shawn Blick, twins who got themselves into a heap of trouble in the late 80s, after one of them bit off the ear of a cop, in an attempted burglary. Because there was a reasonable doubt as to which twin ate the ear, the case was dismissed. I grew up with the Blicks. That’s my claim to fame. (I also know which one has a gift for chomp. But I’m all silence….) Cheers, Kevin

    • Whoa. That is kind of hilarious. Their parents gave them names that rhyme?! 🙂

  5. I read Palace Walk this year and I seem to be the exception in that I liked the first half of the book best. Most seem to enjoy the second half a lot better. I might join you for books 2 and 3, since they have been on my shelves for ages.

    • It would be lovely if you joined us! I have the feeling if I sat down and devoted a nice fat chunk of time to Palace Walk I would dig right into it and start enjoying it. It is fascinated, I just don’t care for the characters at this point.

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