The quote in question

Months ago I found this quote in a book, and ever since it has hung above my kitchen sink, the place where I find it easiest to brood and stew. It’s been a reminder I need.

Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors.

What do you think? Is it true?

If you were taking a guess at the kind of book it comes from, what would you say?

(No fair Googling!)

Concerning rain

Confession: I am a sunshine lover, but oh, the nice rich rain!

All day it has fallen; and if it nourishes even me, how must the grass feel?


It rained and it rained and it rained. Piglet told himself that never in all his life, and he was goodness knows how old–three, was it, or four?–never had he seen so much rain.

A. A. Milne, from Chapter IX: In which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water


Little Brother’s Secret

When my birthday was coming

Little Brother had a secret.

He kept it for days and days

And just hummed a little tune when I asked him.

But one night it rained.

And I woke up and heard him crying;

Then he told me.

“I planted two lumps of sugar in your garden

Because you love it so frightfully.

I thought there would be a whole sugar tree for your birthday.

And now it will be all melted.”

Oh, the darling!

Katherine Mansfield


Rain in town is a joy all its own

Streetlights dripping

Cars swishing

All the umbrellas

Making comrades from strangers

Suited up, slick and shining

Lights in the windows are home and hearth

But I am out and about.


Rain in the country is another joy

A lush moist pattering

The full creek rushing, nothing else to be heard

Soft air lighted, grey and green, misting

I hear the grass growing, the warm earth drinking.

Richness luxury fertility.

Shari Zook

The second year

In Holes by Louis Sachar, Stanley Yelnats is sentenced to eighteen months at a boys’ penitential camp, where each boy must dig a five-foot hole in the desert every single day. Five feet across in every direction, five feet deep. “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy,” some people thought. “The first hole’s the hardest,” the other boys assure him. After a grueling first day of blisters, backache, and sun, he drags himself back into camp and compares notes.

“Well, the first hole’s the hardest,” said Stanley.

“No way,” said X-Ray. “The second hole’s a lot harder. You’re hurting before you ever get started. If you think you’re sore now, just wait and see how you feel tomorrow morning, right?”

“That’s right,” said Squid.

“Plus, the fun’s gone,” said X-Ray.

“The fun?” asked Stanley.

“Don’t lie to me,” said X-Ray. “I bet you always wanted to dig a big hole… Every kid in the world wants to dig a great big hole,” said X-Ray. “To China, right?”

“Right,” said Stanley.

“See what I mean,” said X-Ray. “That’s what I’m saying. But now the fun’s gone. And you still got to do it again, and again, and again.”


The second year on a fixer-upper is the hardest.

The first year we were exuberant—the faults of the property didn’t matter, because we were going to change it all anyway. Fresh energy, fresh ideas, the newborn joy of acquisition. It was all ours!

We planted trees, bought animals, dug a garden, and mowed grass for hours and hours and hours.


One year later, much has changed, but less than we hoped. Most of our trees didn’t live, killed by frost or deer or lawnmowers. Most of our animals didn’t live, killed by cars or traps or wild animals. The energy flags. The ideas age. The rose rubs off.

One year later, we plant more trees, knowing they may not live. We get more animals, hoping, hoping. We expand the garden, plant the seeds deeper.

One year later, I draw less joy from the idea and more joy from the act. Much more. I spill countless seed packets into fresh earth, although I have little faith they’ll grow. I just like putting them in.

We’re smarter this year, knowing how to do things a little better, and also smarting, knowing that our mistakes are just beginning. This is the only way we know to learn: knowing better than last year but not as much as next year. The second year’s the hardest.

The undeveloped brushy parts of the property bothered us a little, last year—the scrap metal and old tires, the thistley areas and overgrown banks—but only a little. We had the rest of our lives to fix it up. This year we mind them more. We’ve lived here over a year, you know? We should have had time to get to them by now…

The second year’s the hardest.

Shari dug her shovel into the dirt.


“You’re right,” he said to X-Ray. “The second hole’s the hardest.”

X-Ray shook his head. “The third hole’s the hardest,” he said…

All too soon Stanley was back out on the lake, sticking his shovel into the dirt. X-Ray was right: the third hole was the hardest. So was the fourth hole. And the fifth hole. And the sixth, and the…

He dug his shovel into the dirt.

After a while he’d lost track of the day of the week, and how many holes he’d dug. It all seemed like one big hole, and it would take a year and a half to dig it… He figured that in a year and a half he’d be either in great physical condition, or else dead.

He dug his shovel into the dirt.


Stanley dug his shovel into the dirt. Hole number 45. “The forty-fifth hole is the hardest,” he said to himself.

But that really wasn’t true, and he knew it. He was a lot stronger than when he first arrived.

–Louis Sachar

A soft black drizzle

Confession: I adore long, slow books with words like magic—Dickens and Bleak House at the moment.


Source: Claude Monet, The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), 1903, oil on canvas, public domain on wikipedia


Assignment: Shari Zook, please describe the state of the city in the painting above.

“Alright. Here goes:

London was full of mud and fog that morning.”

Not bad, not bad.


Assignment: Charles Dickens, please describe the state of the city in the painting above.

“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.”

Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1852-1853


Having spent a paragraph on the mud, he then addresses the fog…

Dickens spins straw into gold.

This is why I read seriously.