Search This Blog

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Regarding Reading

What To Do On Cold Wintry Days

There is something about winter that makes the reader in me content.  When the thermometer dips below freezing (heck even when it goes below 45 degrees) I long to stay indoors and find my fun with a book, a blanket and a mug of rich coffee. Reading seldom fails to lift my spirits, even when the skies are so gray and the trees so bare you feel like you just want to hide until spring.

Stephen King once wrote: Books are a uniquely portable magic. I couldn't agree more. Within the pages of a book, I can live for awhile in a place I've only imagined, ( a family-owned vineyard in California, for example as in Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave) or be the person I often wished to be, ( a confident, enthusiastic, motivating writer such as Claire Cook in her self-improvement book Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention), or lead a life I've only dreamed about  ( as Sara does when she opens a bookstore and introduces a community to the joys of reading in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald) .

So during these next few wintry months...Indulge. Go places. Try on new identities. Live a dream or two. Browse your bookshelves, download a new title on your Kindle, run to the library if you dare; but for goodness sake...get a book  and cuddle up.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book Club Survives and Thrives

Book Club Year-End Review

The Maple Glen Book Club, my neighborhood group, has survived another year of reading and discussion.  This may sound trivial, but I know that many book clubs do not last for very long. Our group is well into its second year and membership has grown rather than diminished!

In fact, I think having a neighborhood book club has helped us to understand our neighbors better and to feel more a part of the community.  One of the new members was new to the neighborhood, so the book club was a good way for her to meet new people and network with others about the community. Another member, moved to a different neighborhood but continued attending our book club.  It provided her with a way to stay connected to a place she had lived in for decades.  What a nice feeling it is to see the book club help people navigate life changes.

The year wasn't without its struggles!  The most difficult thing for us is to choose a book we all want to read.  After several depressing reads that provoked tons of moaning and groaning, we decided we needed to come up with a few new parameters for choosing books.

The culprits that created our turmoil:

January's Choice - Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This story of generations of Africans sweeps through 300 years of struggle from Ghana to America.  Though beginning chapters were detailed and well researched, we found latter parts very thin and at times relying on stereotypes.

February's Choice - They May Not Mean To But They Do by Cathleen Schine

The group chose this book because it was touted as funny and full of family antics.  Ha! It was so depressing to see the suffering and loneliness of aging parents. We found nothing to laugh about.

March's Choice - Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Again this book came with great reviews but our group found this tale of two families blended by divorce even more depressing than Schine's book. Replete with adultery and borderline child neglect, we just couldn't see why the reviews were so glowing.

April's Choice - Emma by Jane Austen

So, in desperation we decided to do a classic.  Bomb big time!  However, there were maybe a couple members (I mean me) who enjoyed the book. To make up to the group for forcing Emma on them, we discussed the book over an English tea compete with lavender bread, scones (with jams and clotted cream) and of course two types of perfectly brewed tea.  My hubby graciously played butler and served our tea hot from the pot.

May's Choice - any book by self-help author Andrew Mathews

As I look back on our choices this one seems kind of prophetic. Were we searching for help?  Many in the group chose the title Being Happy. Well... all I can say is we hadn't found yet how to be happy with our selections.

June's Choice - Crimes Against the Book Club by Kathy Cooperman

You just have to love our Freudian choice!!! I think we chose this in a desperate, sarcastic attempt to save the group from mass suicide.  But this was a turning point for our selection process.  It marked the one-year anniversary of the organization of our group, so we took the occasion to re-visit ways to improve book selection. This is what we came up with:

  • no self-help books
  • nothing political in nature
  • no misery porn
  • no celebrity autobiographies   

Additionally, we came up with a new way of selecting the next book.  We would decide on four titles as a group.  Then we would vote for our favorite on our group Facebook page, assigning a 4 for our favorite choice, down to a 1 for our least favorite choice.  Points would be tallied and the title with the most points would be our next read. This gave everyone a chance to look at summaries and reviews and decide which one they liked best.  Plus, there was no peer pressure applied because you didn't have to vote with the whole group sitting in front of you.  This seemed to work quite well...most of the group enjoyed the remaining reads for the year.

July's Choice - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

An apocalyptic sci-fi novel.

August's Choice - Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

An historical novel set in WW II, that follows the story of three women ( a socialite in America drumming up support for war victims in France, a Polish concentration camp prisoner who endured medical experiments, and a German doctor who conducted those experiments).

September's Choice- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lot's of great discussion about this classic

October's Choice - The Dream Life of Astronauts by Patrick Ryan

This was probably the one bomb of our post-revised selection era.  The characters were deplorable people with few redeeming qualities...the plot was not what the reviews hyped it to be.  Good attempt by us to try different genres and topics ... we'll keep plugging away.

November's Choice - At Home In Mitford, Jan Karon

Determined to enter the holiday season with a feel-good read, this book, the first in a series about Mitford, NC, was a sure winner.  We had a great time reading it and lots of fun at our discussion meeting.  Here are a few pics of the Mitford "goodies" shared at our November meeting.

Esther Bollick's famous orange marmalade cake that sent Fr. Tim into a diabetic swoon.

Puny's cornbread that she made for Fr. Tim.

December/January's Choice - What Alice Forgot, Lian Moriarity

We are looking forward to reading this over the holiday!

Final thoughts...Maple Glen Book Club had quite a reading year. We read quite a diverse group of books, lots of different genres. We overcame a flagging selection process. Made new friends.  Kept the old. And celebrated the joy of reading with friends and neighbors.

Have a great reading year in 2018 everyone!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Quarterly Book Report

Say It Isn't So

It's April.  That means we are officially one fourth of the way through 2017!  Three months gone!!  How can that be?  I haven't even clearly defined my New Year's Resolutions!!! I know one of my resolutions was to write more blog posts. Yikes. I promise to get going with that one. So, before any more time goes by, I'd like to share with you the books I have read so far in 2017.  Since there are a number of them (another resolution - read more) I will not bore you and review them all, just present titles from the best to the worst and give a quick thumbs up or down.

Great Reads

The Language of Flowers, Vanessa Diffenbaugh
👍👍👍👍👍 ( You gotta read this one)

The Book That Matters Most, Ann Hood

Never Too Late: Your Roadmap to Reinvention (Without Getting Lost Along the Way), Claire Cook

Nine Women, One Dress, Jane L. Rosen

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, Amy Reichert

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller  👍👍

Not So Great Reads

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

Homegoing,Yaa Gyasi

They May Not Mean To But They Do, Colleen Schine

May you have a fabulous remainder of 2017.  Hope this list gives you some food for thought.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Responsibility to Remember

The Responsibility to Remember

A while back I wrote a post about my neighborhood book club, and how we discussed the topic of everlasting life.  One of the things we concluded was that we live on in the lives of our loved ones.  I told you in that post, that it made me think of my Aunt Marie, my mom's sister who died very young.  I feel we have an obligation to share with the next generation, the stories of the family and friends who have populated our lives, the people who we hold dear, the ones who need to be remembered.  And so, this post is dedicated to my Aunt Marie.  I write of her because I want my children to know her, to know she was special to the people in her life.  She played a big role in my growing up, even though I never met her.  Her memory was very much alive in my family.

I've decided to share my aunt's story in a poem I wrote for her.  As a retired person (YAY!!) I am pursuing some of the things I love to do but never had the time, and one of those things is writing.  To that end, I joined a poetry group at the Senior Center and have met some very wonderful people.  The group is led by a very capable and inspiring poet who is very gracious in sharing her expertise and in encouraging us to write (more about this group in a later post). The following is one of the poem's I wrote for this poetry seminar:

Dear Aunt Marie

I never met you, 
Yet I know you well.

I know of your gentle spirit,
That so washed over a family
It left them lost and wailing
In the cold hospital corridor
When they heard the news
You were gone.

I know of the fierce love you inspired.
Of the mother who carried
You for blocks to see the latest picture show.
How she endured the scorn of passers-by,
Who spat their disapproval such a big girl,
Wouldn't walk.

I know of your unwavering faith,
Revealed in posies written to the Lord,
In pretty prayers beseeching saints,
In dozens of parochial girls
Who wept beside your coffin,
Knowing an angel was born.

I never met you,
Yet I know you well.

I see you in the sprinkle of freckles
On my sister's face,
In the eyes that blink back at me
From the mirror,
In the family line of sweet-hearted girls.

I see you in the cherished vase
That once belonged to you,
In the tender way it is handled,
For the precious story it can tell.

I never met you,
I know you well.


This Roseville vase was given to my aunt Marie when she was confined to bed after complications as a result of measles.  Her Aunt Thelma gave it to her and it was originally filled with a bouquet of Tootsie Roll Pops.  After her death the vase became the symbol of Marie's sweetness and goodness and became a cherished family heirloom.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016

My Top Five Books of 2016

This year I really tried to read at least two books a month.  As it turned out, I read 39! It feels good to complete and surpass a goal.  There were many books that I really enjoyed, a few that I dropped or just skimmed and one that I threw across the room.  But, I won't bore you with an entire list and will just share a bit about the top five that made my favorite list.  These are not in order of most to least favorite...that's just too much thinking to here goes in random order:

Persuasion by Jane Austen
I think I liked this Austen novel even better than Pride and Prejudice. The unfulfilled longings of both main characters, Anne and Capt. Wentworth, were palpable from page one. Years earlier, Anne had been persuaded to break her engagement to Captain Wentworth because it was deemed an inappropriate match. She eventually finds the courage to stick a finger in the snotty eye of Victorian manners and be true to her feelings.  True love finally triumphs...doesn't that always make for a lovely story? And, of course, Austen's language and turn of phrase is simply luxurious.

The One-In-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Touching and heart-warming. In order to earn a Boy Scout service badge, a young boy does chores for Ona Victus, 104 years of age. They develop a very charming relationship...then one day the boy does not show up.  A few days later, the boy's father arrives to finish his son's chores. He learns more about his son and about himself as he too develops an unpredictable relationship with Ona. Don't miss this one!

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
This book was on my to-read list for a long time.  When I finally got around to reading it, I was so glad that I did.  It was fun and touching at the same time. Bernadette Fox, the title character, is absent for most of the novel.  Instead the bulk of the plot revolves around Bee, Bernadette's 15-year-old daughter, who is trying to find her mother who simply disappears from the cruise ship that is taking them on a tour of Antarctica.  Hence...the title.  I so enjoyed this book, that I am eager to read Semple's most recent book, Today Will Be Different.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld I must confess, I truly do love all things Jane Austen.  So, when I saw that Eligible was a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, I just had to read it.  I must admit, I was anticipating a fairly silly can you transplant those Victorian manners to 2016? But, I was totally delighted by the story.  A good story is a good story...great characters transcend time periods.  Nuff said!

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
A book about a bookshop?  You betcha! What more could a book-lover ask for? How about a book about a mobile bookshop, run by a librarian who has been put out of work because libraries and paper books are being digitally replaced?  How about a book set in a secluded village of Scotland where the residents are starving for books?  Jenny Colgan has given us book -lovers a book to hug!

So, that's my top-five list.  Hope some of these titles might spark an interest for you. I'd love to hear what you felt were your top reads of the year.  Leave a comment.  I'm making up a new to-read list for 2017 and could use a few new suggestions!  Happy Reading Everyone.

Monday, December 12, 2016

I Love My Book Club!

BOOK CLUBS: Some Thoughts

I am a member of a neighborhood book club, The Maple Glen Book Club, to be exact.  It has a total of eight members. Several of the women I had never met before, even though I have lived in this neighborhood for over twenty years and so have they.  Several I knew by sight and name, but none were close friends.  It's an amazing thing to live in a fairly closed community (there is only one entrance and egress that we all must pass through) and not come to know the people of that community.  A big failure on my part, but it appears, this situation was true for most of the women in the group. Food for thought.

Happily, as we continue to hold our monthly meetings and share and discuss our thoughts about the books we read, we are getting to know one another and appreciate our similarities and differences.  Besides the opportunity to read  and talk about books, book club, at least our book club, is a place to share some interesting thoughts about life.

Recently, we read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

The book got very mixed reviews from our group.  I had read it before and had so loved it that I recommended it to the group.  It's quirky and weird in many ways, but had enough of a puzzling conflict that I thought it would appeal to most members. Only one other member really and truly liked the book; one couldn't get into it at all and the rest of the group toughed it out and read it any way, even though they did not like it.   In our ensuing discussion, we discussed how that is one of the reasons we wanted to be a part of a book club. It forces us to read books we normally wouldn't choose to read.  It expands our book boundaries. And...even with books most of us do not like, we manage to find some kernel of truth to plant.

With Mr. Penumbra that kernel occurred in the message one of our members felt the book was trying to convey.  The plot of the book revolves around a rather cliche problem: the search for immortality. Though set in modern day and sprinkled heavily with the techno babble of Silicon Valley, the novel's setting was also very DaVinci Code-like with a secret organization that was trying to decode the meaning of life hidden in some ancient books. I won't give away too much of the plot or the conclusion, just in case  you want to read this book, but I do want to share the message our group felt the book exposed: friendship is the key to everlasting life.  Love, of friend or family member, promotes lasting memories, memories that are transferred from one generation to the next.  We live on in the memories we make in the hearts of others.

Though some of our group were skeptical that this is the case, for me it rang very true. I immediately thought of my Aunt Marie, my mom's sister who died at the age of 13. Of course, I never met Aunt Marie, but she had a big presence in our family's life.  Her story, her personality, her impact on our family was a lasting one that traversed several generations. I will be revealing her story in a future post, but for now, I refer to her as an example of how a simple tidbit of discussion in a book club meeting can spark big ideas.  It is also goes to show the power of books. They make you think!

Agenda for organizational meeting.

The Maple Glen Book Club has only been in existence since June, but it has had quite an impact on my life, opening up my world to new friends, new books, and new ideas.  Here is a list of what we have read so far:

July:  The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

August: The Light Between Oceans, M. L. Stedman

September:  Take Me With You, Catherine Ryan Hyde

October:  Vendetta, Elizabeth Flaherty

November:  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel, Robin Sloan

In December, in deference to the very hectic holiday season, and through the wise suggestion of one of our members,  we are reading a short YA novel:

The Poet's Dog, Patricia MacLachlan

Happy Reading Everyone!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

In Search of Order

In Search of Order

Being organized is comforting.  I feel in control of this crazy thing called life when I have my days and weeks and months somewhat planned out.  As a former teacher, I led a very ( and I mean VERY) structured life. Simple things like bathroom breaks and lunchtime had to be planned in advance. I lived by planning things out.  You can't just wing-it day after day in a classroom; you would be eaten alive by the little lion cubs! So, when I retired, I continued using a planner to map out all the things I needed to do and wanted to do. I needed to set goals, make lists of places and people to see. I also became the sole meal planner. It soon became apparent I couldn't do all of that in my 5x7 weekly/monthly calendar, so I searched for something better.

I kept encountering a thing called a bullet journal. At first I thought it was just an unorganized daily, bullet-ed list of what happened in your life; a kind of diary.  But as I investigated and looked at examples on Pinterest  I discovered it was much more organized than this and could be the exact tool I needed to organize my unstructured life. No one told me that one of the things you need to adjust to and prepare for when you retire is the lack of structure to your days and weeks. At first the lack of structure was liberating, but that soon palled, and I began to panic that I was wasting valuable time by not setting goals and accomplishing them.  The bullet journal helped me ease off the panic button. All you need to construct a bullet journal is a notebook, a pen, some colored pencils and a ruler.
I found a journal in the sale bin of Barnes and Nobles and turned it into my bullet journal. P.S. pick a nice pen that won't smudge or bleed through pages. Here is my pick: the pen is a Paper Mate Ink it!

I won't go into too much detail about the set up of a bullet journal because there is so much out there on the Internet that you can investigate for yourself.  But, I do want to point out that the beauty of a bullet journal as opposed to a calendar/planner is that you can customize it to fit your needs.  For example, I create a two- page spread every Sunday for the following week.  I construct space for daily appointments, notices of importance. There is also space for meal planning.

And one of my favorite spaces on this 2-page spread is the Quote of the Week block. I like to choose a quote that will help me focus on some aspect of life that I want to work on or that will help inspire me in some way.

In addition to the weekly calendar spread, I use another 2-page spread to create space for listing weekly know those pipe dreams of "this is what I want and need to get done this week." I turn to this page whenever I'm at a loss during the week and I'm asking myself..."what should I do next?"

I also use the bullet journal for lists. For example, right now I have a pretty lengthy Christmas list going that is divided into columns for each member of my family. I have  a list of books I want to read, a list of places I'd like to visit, and a list of house improvement projects.

I also use the bullet journal to organize projects that need to get done.  For example, presently I am re-doing the en suite bath off of the master bedroom.  I listed all of the things that needed to get done to accomplish the task and even some of the "if money were no object, this is what I would do" ideas.

The bullet journal can also be a motivational tool.  I have several sections that I use for personal improvement goals, such as a fitness tracker where I set and record goals for things such as weight loss and steps walked per day, and even a page where I keep track of daily expenditures so that I stay within my budget.

The final thing I will share about the bullet journal is that it is also a relaxation tool. Not only does it help me organize my life, but it provides an artistic release...I  get to color!  If you are artistically talented you can really go crazy with this.  Me, I'm more of a doodler, so my embellishments are pretty simple. The opportunity to color like a child is relaxing in that you really don't have to think...just choose a color and go.

For all you retirees out there who might be struggling with that feeling of being unmoored...give a bullet journal a try.