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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading Round-up: December

December was so jam-packed with activity that my reading time suffered.  Hence I have only a few titles to share with you, but they were all great reads.

The Anxiety Disease by David Sheehan 

was first on my list.  I have several family members who suffer from anxiety.  Some suffer only occasionally, others suffer greatly and frequently.  I wanted to learn more about anxiety, so that I could be more understanding and maybe even be of help.  Though this book was written in 1983, I found it to be so very insightful and helpful. It looks at anxiety, not as a psychological disorder, but rather as a disease.  As such, it can then be treated and controlled.  Dr. Sheehan discusses the various stages of the disease, and believe me, he is spot on.  He also offers hope and suggestions for dealing with the disease.  If you or someone you love is trying to deal with anxiety, I highly recommend you read this book.  It gives you insight into the helplessness of the victim, and helps you gain empathy.  The disease is not as simple as "just get over it", anxiety is as real as any other disease and should be treated as such.

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

is also connected to the theme of anxiety.  Audrey, the main character, is trying to gain control of her severe anxiety and panic attacks, brought on by severe bullying incidents in school.  Audrey is in the midst of recovering through the aid of a good therapist, a very supportive family, and a new accepting friend.  Audrey makes a complete break from the hurtful incident and is home for now, but hopes to soon attend a new school.  Though she still has setbacks ( she hides from anyone who comes to the door) she is bravely taking steps to re-enter the real world.  She wears sunglasses 24/7 in order to feel comfortable around people; she needs this bit of symbolic distance to feel safe.  The book provides a great look into the anguish  and struggles of one who is dealing with severe anxiety and of the effects it has on those who love her.  In this age of social media that seems to promote a callousness brought on by a feeling of anonymity, it is important to remember that words do hurt and can do immense damage.

Two Across by Jeff Bartsch

This book made my list this month because I've become intrigued by crossword puzzles. Every morning since we have been retired, Bob complete's the Star Ledger's crossword puzzle as we sip our coffee and munch on some breakfast.  I tend to check emails while he works the puzzle but am sometimes called in as back up to use my computer, when when he gets stuck on a stubborn clue.  So when I saw this title in the library, I snatched it up.  A good choice - a very different plot and engaging characters.  Stanley and Vera, two brainiacs, meet at the National Spelling Bee, where they end up as co-winners defeating the list of most challenging words. The two form a somewhat weird bond as they meet again and again at yearly reunions.  Their relationship takes a even stranger twist when Stanley talks Vera into a "fake" marriage.  The relationship is often tortured by unrequited love and the two spend more time apart than together communicating through complex crossword puzzles they write and which are published in major papers such as the NY Times and Washington Post.  Besides the presence of interesting characters and a clever plot, Two Across taught me quite a bit about the construction of crossword puzzles.

Vintage by David Baker

was by far my favorite book this month.  This book has much to endear the reader to it:

  • a onetime bestselling author who has lost his way
  • two devoted daughters who adore their father 
  • a father who brings his daughters love and warmth along with the lovely meals he teaches them to prepare
  • a love for great wine
  • a scoundrel who indulges in excess of drinking and womanizing  
  • a mystery of a legendary spectacular vintage from 1943, stolen by the Nazis and a frantic search to find it
  • a search of a lost soul to finally find what is truly important in life (hint - he finds it!)
  • one of the best endings I've read in a long time
That's it for this month.  What books would you recommend for starting off a new  year?  I'd love to hear some suggestions so I can start a new reading list for 2016!  Happy New Year every one.  May it be the best one yet.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Keeper of the Past

As you age and enter that lovely winter era of life, when the aches increase along with the wrinkles and white hair, believe it or not there are some perks. One of those perks, in my opinion, is that you become the keeper of your family's history.  You are called upon to remember traditions, to remember family members long gone, to keep the family's history from slipping away into oblivion, to pass it on to the next generation.  The Christmas season is the perfect time to step up and fulfill this responsibility.  Reminiscing is delightful, but also, as you can imagine, a bit bittersweet.

As our parents died, Bob and I inherited a few items from each family.  One of those items was a collection of Christmas ornaments.  A few years ago, I decided to dedicate a special tree as the "vintage tree". This tree would be where we placed the ornaments from our parents' trees.

As we hung the old ornaments, tender memories of Christmas's past were shared between us.  Our girls, however, were grown and were not around when we decorated this tree, so they missed many of the stories.  So, this year, inspired by a Pinterest post I had seen, I added vintage family photos to the tree.  I was hoping these photos of long ago family members, some of whom they never met or even heard of, would inspire the telling of Christmas's past and loved traditions, and the stories of beloved relatives.

Now, along side some of our favorite ornaments from our childhoods, there are photos of some of our favorite people.

And even our beloved pets:

I'm hoping these photos will trigger fresh conversations about our family, rekindle dormant memories, and encourage my girls to cherish that constant, unquestioning love that only comes from family.

Enjoy the blessings of the season!  I'd love to hear about any new traditions you are starting.  What ways do you try to honor your family's past?

Friday, December 4, 2015

November Reading Round-up

"I'm late! I'm late! I'm late for a very important date!"  What the heck happened to November?  I was just making preparations for Thanksgiving and the next thing I know it's December. YIKES!

So, I apologize for getting my November reading list out late, but truly, someone must have wiped a week out of my calendar. I'm sure everyone is feeling the same  at this time of year. So much to do; so little time to do it all.  And to top it all off, half of the books I read this month were duds.  Here's my review:

The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy

This historical fiction book was one of my favorite reads this month. The story flips back and forth between Civil War era and present day America.  It follows the story of Sarah Brown, daughter of John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame. Sarah was a talented artist who painted secret code maps for the Underground Railroad--a little known fact. These maps were thought to sometimes be hidden in the heads of dolls to be carried by the children of escaping slaves.  As Sarah's story unfolds, so does the twin plot line of Eden, a modern day woman who is emotionally ravaged by years of failed attempts to conceive a child.  Eden and her husband try to restart their life in a new home in West Virginia near Harper's Ferry.   This Civil War era house just happens to be the very home where Sarah stayed while her father was executed after his attack on Harper's Ferry.  When Eden unearth's a doll in a secret root cellar in the home, the secrets of the house begin to unravel.  I loved the coincidences the author creates between the two time periods and how the author shows that the actions of one generation can affect the lives of many generations to follow.

Bed and Breakfast by Lois Battle

I chose this book because of the title.  I just love bed and breakfast places. Bob and I have a favorite B&B that we patronize whenever we visit Cape May.  It's called Inn at the Park, and it is owned and operated by two very lovely people, Jay and MaryAnn.  Unfortunately, they just announced their retirement and will no longer be hosting their B&B after January.  Just wanted to give them a shout out and to let the blogworld know what truly welcoming and sweet people they are.  Here are just a couple of shots of them and their beautiful Victorian home:

MaryAnn, an avid tennis player at age 70, was dressed for a big tourney that was to take place immediately after breakfast.  You go girl!

The parlor where hors d'oeuvres are served to guests every day at 5:00.

Back to the book... the setting for Bed and Breakfast is Hilton Head, South Carolina.  The main character is Josie, a close-to-seventy-year-old woman who tenaciously runs a B&B that she insisted she and her husband buy after years of nomadic wandering as her husband "Bear" pursued his military career.  Josie has been widowed for many years when the story opens and the reader can see how much the B&B gives meaning to her life.  The plot is complicated by the sibling rivalries of her three grown daughters. Life is never dull when you have nosy guests, and even nosier friends, not to mention a sister who lives next door.  A fun read.

Ruth's Journey:  the Authorized Novel of Mammy from Gone With the Wind by Donald McCaig

This sounded like a fascinating story, but was such a disappointment.  I couldn't get past the first two chapters.  The setting begins in the Caribbean Islands of the slave trade days where the French are unsuccessfully trying to quell a slave uprising.  The graphic violence and history book reporting was too much.  I wanted to get into the mind of Mammy and hear her thoughts of Tara and the O'Hara's but that never happened...I peaked at the ending (Oh Horrors, yes I did)
 and still didn't see any glimpses of the Mammy of Gone With the Wind. 

Lesson Plans by Suzanne Greenberg

This one also made the loser list. I thought I would be so interested in a book whose characters decided to homeschool their children, but the two families who were the focus of the story were so messed up and dysfunctional, I just couldn't stand reading any more about them! The main character was a father who mourned the loss of his liberal, activist lifestyle of his youth after being forced to do the adult thing, like go to work and support his family. So, since wifey made big bucks, he decides to quit the workforce and homeschool his three girls in a completely free environment.  Just imagine what that looks like...Montessori in hyper-drive!  Kids with no limits, no schedules, no plans!!! comment.  Then there was the other homeschool novice, a mother (recently separated from hubby) who has become so overprotective of her highly allergic and asthmatic daughter that she might as well have put the girl in one of those John Travolta Bubble Boy glass domes.  This woman seriously needed help, and hubby just walks out because he can't cope with his wife's phobias.  Hello?? there is a child here in need of an education and guidance...Step up man and take charge!  I had to leave these guys to muddle to the end of the book alone. I just don't have patience for irresponsible adults. I was especially disappointed because I really think homeschooling can work for many kids and was hoping this book would paint that picture for me...alas not to be.

That's it for November...gotta get shoppin'...Let me know what you have been reading.  Take a stab at reading my two duds, maybe you can change my mind.  Any disagreements about my reviews are welcome too.