How I Spent My Winter Vacation

by Caro Carson

Do you remember that essay topic from your school days? I believe I would have written something like this:

Dear Teacher,

I spent my winter vacation doing the work you assigned. It was not fun.


Young Caro

This year, I could have written the exact letter–to my son’s teacher. He had missed weeks and weeks of school due to illness. All that work had to be made up before the end of the semester. He’s in high school, so we’re talking about subjects I couldn’t coach off the top of my head. Not subtraction, but bisecting equilateral triangles. I haven’t done that since, well, since I was in ninth grade. Unlike riding a bicycle, it did not come back to me effortlessly.

Needless to say, I spent my winter vacation keeping my son’s nose to the grindstone. In the process, I learned lots of things ninth graders are supposed to know, especially those taking AP Human Geography. How do dialects develop, how do countries form, how does pop culture spread, and what is the difference between race and ethnicity? Go ahead. Ask me. I’m dying to get on “Jeopardy” before all this good knowledge gets covered in cobwebs. I’ll take Balkanization for $1000, Alex.

But a funny thing happened as I delved into ninth grade subjects: I started having fun. My son did not enjoy the assignments like I did. Of course, he had to take tests, and I didn’t, but the joy of learning purely for knowledge’s sake is perhaps one of those markers—like deciding you actually want to take a nap—that make you realize you’re an adult. In that case, I had a very adult winter vacation. Dear Teacher, I thank you.

How about you? Have you learned anything new lately, or read any good non-fiction books? Perhaps history is your thing, or science, or how-to manuals. I know a lot of us enjoy reading cookbooks without having any intention of actually preparing the recipes. I’d like to hear what you enjoy reading when you aren’t enjoying a novel. Please, leave a comment—and thank you in advance for sparking my curiosity on your favorite subject. I just might have to go get a book about it…

Caro Carson

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9 Responses to How I Spent My Winter Vacation

  1. Caro–

    I watched a PBS show the other night called the Poisoner’s Handbook, and it was about how one of the first medical examiners and a toxicologist worked together in New York in the 1920s and on to develop all these tests to determine whether a person was poisoned or not.

    It was really the beginning of forensic science and really kind of interesting. I now know that should I ever have a character poison someone in my books (not going to happen!) they will likely get caught!

    • Caro Carson says:

      You’ll never have a character in a book get poisoned? Sounds to me like you just tempted the universe! You know what they say: never say never! LOL. At least you’ve got some research in your head. Cheers!

  2. Joanna Sims says:

    Hi Caro,

    Recently, my husband (who loves history), got me hooked on “America Unearthed”. Scott Wolter is a forensic geologist who uses geology to “unearth” the true history of the United States. It’s pretty fascinating, particularly when he finds proof that the history we have been taught in school about our own country is inaccurate.

    Happy 2014!


    • Caro Carson says:

      That sounds great. There are some great “non-fiction” TV shows out there. There is also some horrible garbage, and I confess I watched that whole Shark Week “Megalodon” documentary before the ending disclaimer that it was fake! Arrrgghh. But I always find Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows enlightening, at the least. His new series for CNN is riveting. I learned more about the Congo in one hour than I could have learned in a semester of class, I think. Hmmm…it might be time to go hit the DVR and set some more non-fiction shows to record.

  3. Caro! Human Geography, yes! That does sound like a great subject for a novelist to study.

    Most of my nonfiction reading is for research. Speaking of the Balkans, I created my own Balkan country once. Created my own Viking country, too–because like hey, WHAT IF a Viking culture had managed to survive (adapting and changing, of course) into modern day?

    Nowadays, having created my own version of Monaco, I know a lot about the Grimaldis, about the government of Monaco, about the Prince’s Palace, how to address a prince or a king, and about the cultures and histories in general of the seven smallest states in Europe: Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and…this is surprising, Vatican City!

    Oh, and I love flora and fauna and figuring out which trees and bushes ought to be on the hillsides of whatever state or country I’m using for my setting in the current WIP.

    Great topic! :D

    • Caro Carson says:

      I think it would be great fun to invent a country. I might have to try that in a future book! You mentioned Malta, which brought an instant smile to my face. My 20th anniversary cruise took my husband and I there for the day, and the history of that little Mediterranean island is truly amazing. Between the wars waged by the Knights of St. John and the pounding the citizens survived during World War II, I was astounded at how often that tiny island played a key role in world politics. The city of Valletta is just gorgeous. The buildings are all built of native rock and they literally glow golden in the sun. I’d like to go back for a week sometime. Or, right this second.

  4. Caro Carson says:

    Wow, Michelle. That sounds like a great lesson for kids to learn–for everyone to learn. Your comment is a humbling reminder to me of how fortunate I am to live where I do.

  5. Hi Caro – I recently read a fascinating non-fiction book called DRINK by Ann Dowsett Johnson – where she describes the intimate relationship between women and alcohol, and the unintended consequences of feminism and equality on this issue.
    The sections on current college coeds’ drinking was heartbreaking.
    This was what I would describe as an eye-opener book.
    I recommend it!

  6. Caro Carson says:

    Oh, that does sound interesting! Perhaps it’s like smoking, where it was a sign of women’s gains in equality when they could smoke cigarettes like men did….but of course, it wrecked their health like it did for men. :( I’m not sure I could stand to read about college co-eds, young lives ruined, etc. That’s one problem with non-fiction: there’s no guarantee of happily-ever-after like there are in Special Editions. I do like my happily-ever-afters!

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