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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.