Thursday, December 08, 2016

Winter Reading Challenge 2016-17

 If you are interested in joining this no-rules challenge, 
post a comment with your books, 
but even better, if you are on Facebook, 
you can join our small group of readers.

One week into a challenge, and I'm still reading a book from the Autumn Challenge! I've been quite busy with other stuff that I'm surprised is taking me so long (baking, cleaning, rearranging book on shelves) and that leaves little reading time. But, I never give up the positive anticipation of better or easier days for reading indulgences.

Again, all my book choices are results of reading books off my own shelves and moving them on!

Russka (Rutherfurd). I got bogged down about halfway through this in early November and plan to finish it off during these dark, cold months.

Dear and Glorious Physician (Caldwell). Taylor Caldwell was a new and unknown author to me until a reader-friend at church kept talking about loving her books and continuing to re-read them. The only one I was really interested in reading was this historical fiction, and it is tome at over 500 pages. 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend (Katarina Bivald). I actually saw this in a bookstore while on our trans-Canadian trip last year where it had just come out on as a new book there. Sounds like a fun booklovers book.

Wish You Well (Baldacci). I read only one of Baldacci’s books and struggled for any interest in it. Even though he’s a fellow native Virginian, has a lake house in our county, and frequently speaks at our county library, I wasn’t interested in reading him anymore. But a long-time book-friend heartily pushed this one on me, and I trust her suggestions. And, since it is set here in southwest Virginia during the 1940s, I’m looking forward to it and to seeing the movie adapted from the book and filmed in a community not too far from where I grew up.

Rebecca (du Maurier). The same friend with the Baldacci suggestion also suggested this one. Plus, I heard really good things about it on a podcast I listened to this fall (I think this is the one). Everyone said this is a page-turner, so I’m looking forward to some cold days with hot tea and Rebecca.

The Road (McCarthy). Another earlier suggestion from a fellow bibliophile as her favorite. So much of this sounded familiar, and then I realized why – we saw the movie several years ago. 

Winter Garden (Hannah). This author, quite popular and prolific, became known to me through The Nightingale which I read via audio. It was terrific, but I was surprised it was not based on a real event. I heard a short interview with her that  all the research she did for The Nightingale led to the writing of this one is set in World War Two Russia. 

The Intrepid Explorer (Lakusta). Boy, I’ve carried this one over all year! Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get into it this time. If not, you’ll probably see it again for the Spring Challenge! It’s about James Hector’s explorations of the Canadian Rockies.

The Good Life: The Moral Individual in an Antimoral World (Mendelson). Cheryl Mendelson wrote that book many of us have – Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. The Good Life should be an interesting read in these days after the election. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trying to regenerate a comeback

After months (and months) of writing posts in my mind, and weeks (or maybe months) of falling into a silent observer on the only social media I sort-of pursue, I'm trying to regenerate some sort of a come-back. I do enjoy the virtual visiting with network (and actual) friends, and realize that my silent presence on Facebook over time evidently and unfortunately changed my news feed in an unappealing way. I've missed blogging and the good conversations that often result. However, I've been so busy that sometimes I chronicle in-my-mind what I've been up to, as if it really matters. But with limited time, an often-tired mind, yet the desire to do some re-connection, that's just where I'm going to begin. :)

For months before my husband retired, I was busy-busy with household projects to complete; some things were just easier to do and get done without having to explain. Since the first of August when we again were able to re-live those days before-children, we've settled into a routine that goes through some occasional resettlement, especially as the seasons — and their accompanying tasks change. 

I've rediscovered some kitchen joys! After years and years of planning and preparing meals for a houseful with the often demanding time schedule, I now have no time schedule. Ahhh! And being able to take my time and pace myself has led to a more fulfilling role of provider. 

With the six nice-sized pumpkins that came out of this year's garden, I cut and oven-baked them, then puréd twenty cups. Some purée was frozen for future pies and pumpkin tea bread, and some was transformed into pumpkin butter. 

And with the good availability of cranberries right now, I've prepped several bags for  cranberry salad. Simply by chopping cranberries, naval oranges, and crushed pineapple together,then stirring in sugar, I can freeze this in portions to thaw later and add raspberry jello for a treat we love year round. 

In preparation for cold winter evenings and the warmth of much-loved potato and leek soup, I've sliced, and washed-and washed-and washed leeks (it's simply amazing how much sand accumulates between those layers), pre-cooked and frozen them to add to some of our bountiful harvest of potatoes this summer. 

On my list now is to bake bread again. Dinner rolls, larger special sandwich rolls, and loaf bread — in particular, Ezekiel bread which I've never made. I have gotten all the necessary grains to grind for it, now just to find the time to do it!

Another enjoyment I've reclaimed has been seasonal decoration. I've never gone overboard at all, but seasonal decor is comforting to me and really does help to make a house a home.

Other projects continue to get done, and still others begin their origin on my ever-expanding, organizing list of to-dos, many of which may just make it to a blog post. 

And what about reading? It continues, although at a slower pace right now. I am looking forward to some cold winter days which are free of projects when I can fall deep into BookLand again! Right now, I'm only reading at night, and many of those nights are much later than they used to be. 

Until next time (and hopefully not too much later) . . .

Monday, September 26, 2016

Needed everyday

Friday, September 16, 2016

My Reading Life: The World is My Home (Michener)

James Michener is almost a household word. Whether or not someone is a reader, he has likely heard of Michener. I've never read any Michener before, but I've associated his name with historical fiction and big, fat books. Until the last few years, I've not had a lot of time to read big, fat books, so seeing a few of his titles pique my interest, I've stepped onto the Michener path.

I decided to first read his memoir, thinking this would give me good background into his novels, a landscape of sorts. A few years ago I read Pat Conroy's memoir-of-sorts before I read a number of his novels and found it really helpful to know about him first to understand why he wrote what he did. I thought the same would be true of Michener, but now, I'm not so sure. Michener's novels are highly rated by readers (four - five stars), though this memoir seems to have a few lower reviews than the novels. If I didn't already have a few Michener's on my shelves, I probably would not choose to read anything else by him. 

My reading copy of his memoir is 512 pages of small font, and the pages are fairly densely packed. Lots of words. Lots and lots of words. All of which would be fine except, there are just too many. Michener obviously didn't have a problem thinking about what to write, nor the lack of time and effort to type them all out; he just writes everything. In fact, he mentions how he avoids or overcomes any hint of "writer's block" by rewriting sections. He loves to write.

There is no doubt that Michener was an accomplished author. He wrote about what he knew and had experienced. He researched well. And he described in this memoir that most every night, he would spend time at his typewriter recording the events of the day. That, in time, provided the fodder for his novels. Unfortunately, in The World is My Home, I believe he must have combed through and included every note he ever kept! The book contains fourteen chapters with headings such as "Mutiny," "Tour," "People," "Writing," "Intellectual Equipment," and "Meanings." Whenever the pages were just not striking my fancy, turning them until they did was easy. 

 The first lines I marked worthy of keeping were these: 
"Privacy is obtained at night by pulling cords that drop wide curtains made from woven fibers taken from the coconut palms, and when one sees those curtains fall gracefully at night, one has the feeling that peace and benediction have descended upon that house."
What a beautiful description! I can see, and even feel, soft island breezes fluttering those falling, light curtains. I hope I always remember this picture every time I close our window coverings at night. And I hope I seek to beckon that peace and benediction within.

Another marked passage Michener wrote in the "Travel" chapter that resonated with me:

"It was a magical road, and often when I walked back home after finishing my work harvesting asparagus for the man who owned the farm at which the road ended, I would visualize myself continuing to walk westward, right past my house and through the dusk toward the wonders that my geography books assured me existed out west. I always saw myself as traveling alone, moving into one great adventure after another, and never did my mind tire of that imaginary exercise." 
Michener had developed a good foundation upon which to enjoy life: 
". . . I had none of the clothes and games and equipment that boys my age would normally have had. All I really had was that music, the art I remember so well and the endless books from the library; the essential elements of those three I could take with me intellectually and without burdening my knapsack."
When I got to this one, I had to laugh rather sardonically and wonder what Michener would say about this 2016 election:
"I do not want ever to be governed by men or women who have not subjected themselves to the election process and have thus learned humility."
And I thought I might be the only one this happened to:
"Sometimes when I have to look up a word, I waste a great deal of time because I start to read the dictionary as if it were a novel that makes me eager to see what comes next. The words of English have been endlessly fascinating for me. . . ."
One of Michener's early professions was an editor for a major publisher:
"I acquired an abiding respect for the concept of a book as one of the finest symbols of our civilization . . . . a timeless pledge to the future."

Michener described Somerset Maugham's thoughts about words which I'm sure many of us understand:
"Somerset Maugham, who late in life confessed that when he first thought of becoming a writer he started a small notebook in which he jotted down words that seemed unusually beautiful or exotic . . . . "
Though this quote is not from this memoir or any of Michener's novels, he did describe just how I feel too:
From Michener's introduction to Ernest Hemingway's 1985 edition of The Dangerous Summer

While I am glad to have become acquainted with Michener through his own words about himself and his life, I regret that a rather negative opinion formed within me about Michener. Though I only marked one, such quotations as the following were sprinkled throughout this memoir. 
". . . I made a discovery that suddenly struck me: 'Hey! I can write better than any of these clowns!"
And within two paragraphs of the end of the book:
"I . . . consider myself one of the ablest storytellers of my generation."
Readers of his books have hailed him as a great storyteller, and he may rightfully be. Yet, to proclaim that about oneself, to me, steps over the line into egotism. That egotism oozed through these 512 pages.

Where was the humility, the thankfulness for his writing gift? I suppose in some way, Michener's inability to express that appreciation has something to do with his thought here:
"The New Testament has caused me great trouble, because by nature I ought to have identified with Saint Paul, and I have wrestled with him all my life, finding him in the end just another Aristotle. He is not my man, so I missed entirely the greatness of the Pauline letters, but I studied his words constantly and found two passages that affected me deeply but in contrary ways. In First Corinthians, Paul spoke tellingly of athletics, saying: 'Know yet not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain.' I read this long before Vince Lombardi uttered his version of the same principle: 'Winning isn't the main thing, it's the only thing.' Early in life I decided that I would never battle to be first, or aspire to be first, or bend either my life or my attitudes in order to be first, and the older I got and the more I watched other men strive inordinately to be first, the more satisfied I was to settle somewhere else. Saint Paul's and Lombardi's pronouncements made me decide on my priorities, and I am more at ease with my own doctrine now than when I first framed it."
 Waiting on my shelves to be read and hopefully enjoyed more than the memoir:

And the possible addition of this one:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Recap: Summer Reading Challenge

I am pleased with my finish to the Summer Reading Challenge. Not all the books I pulled from the shelves for it got read, but I usually heap too much on my plate.

Nevertheless, my main goal this summer was to finish reading Pat Conroy, and I did. (Actually, I've not read The Boo, but it is unavailable for all practical purposes, and last year I abandoned South of Broad halfway in.) I had two books left, The Lords of Discipline and Prince of Tides. I intend to post about the books individually as soon as some time frees up. These two books combined totaled 1240 pages, and I read them back to back. I love Conroy's writing, and by this I mean his wordsmithing, but his subject matter can undo his reader. I'm so glad that I had read his My Reading Life first (besides The Water is Wide, read long ago). Had I not understood from his narrative in MRL about all the stuff in all his life, I think I would have quit him and never looked back. But because I had that background knowledge of his life, his subject matter was easier to understand and put up with. And I'm glad I am done. That is, until I get my hands on a copy of the new book of his writing excerpts, A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life which comes out in October.

My 2016 Summer Reading Challenge accomplishments / stats:
15 finished (print and audio)
4 abandoned
(3 print / 1 audio - though I might finish the audio at some point)
3321 print pages

1566 audio pages listened to
4887 total pages June-July-August
Quick comments on the (descending August-June) list below.

Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Gates)
Audio. Very long. Worthwhile, even though much of the pre-1990 history was lost on me.

The Letter Writer (Rinaldi)
Print. Juvenile historical fiction. I always enjoy and learn a lot from Rinaldi.

Strong Medicine (Hailey)
Print. I was drawn to this because I'd read his Hotel as a teenager and liked it. This one is focused on the pharmaceutical industry. Interesting.

The Prince of Tides (Conroy)
Print. Long. Took a while to get into this one, but it was my last, and I was determined to conquer it.

Crazy Busy (DeYoung)
Print. Thankful it was short.

A Country Doctor (Jewett)
Audio. Most interesting and a good listen.

The Lords of Discipline (Conroy)
Print. Hard, hard subject. Distressful much of the time. Another Conroy.

Lone Survivor (Luttrell)
Audio. Autobiography. Captivating.

Wonder o' the Wind (Keller)
Print. Autobiography. One of the best books I've read. Loved learning his background. More extensive review later. 

Beach Town (Andrews)
This beach read settled that Andrews is off of that yearly list. I'd read one of hers before that was okay, but this one just had too much indulgent-everything for me.

In Mozart's Shadow (Meyer)
Another juvenile historical fiction. I don't think I've read any Meyer before (and I have a few more on my shelves). Seems well-researched and plausible and gives a look at the young Mozart with understanding.

Note to Self (Thorn)
Daily read type book was extremely short daily reads. Too short and too milky.

The Butterfly's Daughter (Monroe)
Another beach read by an author that's not disappointed me yet. Story about a young woman discovering her family background interwoven with the migration of the Monarch butterflies. 

Keep It Pithy (O'Reilly)
Audio that was short and moved right along. 

Return to Sullivan's Island (Frank)
Print. Typical beach read. I'd read one of hers in the spring, and this one was a good story, yet too much of the indulgent-everything for me.

Plantation (Frank)
Print. Abandoned after a chapter. 

The Influenza Bomb (McCusker) 
Print. Abandoned. Just could not get into this. I read his other one last year (The Gabon Virus) and struggled to get into that one too.

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay (Jensen)
Audio. Abandoned after more than halfway through. I might return to it one day, but the "hardscrabble" was too much for me. 

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl (Wilson)
Print. Abandoned. I don't even know where to begin to describe why I could not continue this, and believe me, I tried many days to read it. The writing style is beyond explanation for me. So, all of you who love it, bless your hearts. 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Finishing the fifties!

I wrote the following exactly 363 days ago. I intended to finalize it and post it, but I never did. I just been too busy! Now that I'm entering a new decade of life tomorrow, I thought I'd go ahead and post it. So bear in mind that you need to add a year whenever I've mentioned time. And I fully intend to write another post of thoughts as I enter my 60s (that still just sounds way out there to me). 

July 2015:

I've never been a big birthday celebrator. I'll always, though, make a whatever-you-want birthday meal for my husband and children, but for myself, I don't bother. Going out to eat for my birthday was a nice treat which I always appreciated, but it is often now more effort than I want to take, especially when you live fifty miles from nicer restaurants. Nowadays, I'm just content to be home and continue life as usual. 

I've also never been one to ponder much on the past; my husband does sufficient for both of us combined. I'm a future looker and planner. So when my birthday rolls around, I'm not given to think much at all about the past year or years. But on my birthday yesterday, while I was relaxing after a refreshing cool shower following the two-hour push mow of the lawn, I realized, Hey, you are beginning the last year of your fifties. That took me back a bit. Next year, if the Lord wills, I'll be trying to swallow the sixty decade. A little pondering ensued.

When I was much younger, maybe in my teens and twenties, middle age in my mind was from the thirties and forties, and old age was the fifties and sixties. I guess ancient must have been the seventies and beyond. Ha! Now, I've reorganized that timing, but I don't know where the transitions are, though I lean toward ending middle age with the mid-sixties or so. Nevertheless, it doesn't matter. At all. I discount that adage "You're as young as you feel." Plenty of young people feel bodily old, while many older people feel bodily young. Thankfully, I don't have a lot of aches and pains at all. Some, of course, but those are often related to inactivity. 

Today, I thought I'd give myself (actually make myself) contemplate finishing the fifties in a blog post (or several). I've neglected this poor ole blog, rather, I've given myself to tasks other than blogging leaving little time to sit and write. I keep writing posts in my mind as I throw myself into other tasks, saving many topics and articles to a draft (there may well be as many drafts as posts). One of the activities after I "retired" from teaching and looking forward was to write regularly. And I fully intended to. It just hasn't happened yet. Other things needed to be done first. 

When I "retired" from teaching, adjustments needed to be made. I had a house full and bookcases packed to overflowing with all-things-school. Those things needed to be moved out and on to others. And they were. After two years, I only have bookshelves containing books to read and only one short shelf of books that have impacted me enough to not part with the volume yet. Thankfully, homeschool resale groups on Facebook and PaperBackSwap aided this transition. 

Conquering the bookshelf project helped me move on to updating our living areas. As many of you know, raising several children and homeschooling for over twenty years doesn't allow much time, effort, or resources to redecorate or renovate. Some things needed reshaping for eye-appeal and for age-appeal as we were closing in on this old-er age period. A new sofa that lacked the wear-and-tear sadness that thirty-five year old furniture takes on after a large family, some new carpeting, updated bathrooms with ADA toilets (again, for our old-er age), and a few new window valences and some decor items helps to breath some relief and life into any home. A mostly cleaned out attic, desk drawers, and filing cabinet helps alleviate less worry for those who will inherit by default that task one day. I learned a lot from my mother about all this but only when my sister and I cleared, closed, and sold her home after her death a few years ago. She was not a keeper, and neither am I. I have my share of clutter, mainly papers, because I don't always take time to put things in their place while they are in my hand. And she kept her things is such order so we wouldn't have to. I didn't appreciate that until after she died and we saw how easy it was to close the house. So, I don't intend to leave a mess for our children to deal with. Updating things like bathrooms and kitchens have a logical place when you think twenty years down the road. Why, if at all possible, leave a house in need of repairs and updates which the children will have to take care of to resell? And why leave unnecessary items - old filed papers, owner's manuals of things discarded, books, even clothing - to burden them? I'd rather make that difficult time as easy as possible. After two years, much is now done. A few areas of organization remain, and completion is targeted for the first of September. 

After the renos and redos, I wanted to deep-clean. That task is mammoth in this house; the older four-room part from 1937 and the newer eight-room part from 1978 is all wood inside. Not paneling, real wood. As in 1" red oak rough cut planks laid out in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal patterns. It's novel. And I like novel things; that's what swayed me with this house when we bought it nineteen years ago. Little did I realize then - and doubt it would have made any difference then - that spiders love, absolutely thrive, in and on this scaffolding. Oh, yes. And they can hide so well - in corners, between the planks, in doorways. That deep-cleaning task involved vacuuming walls, and ceilings, besides the normal floors, washing clean rather than wiping ceiling fans and lights and everything else. Nothing escaped the cleaning rag. The wooden floors which deserved more attention than I liked to give got some hands-and-knees scrubbing.

After I "retired" from teaching, another one of my goals was to read more. And yes, thankfully, I have been. Much more. I think I would love to get to a point where most days all I had to do after completing my walk was to sit in my chair on our porch or in our library and read. That hasn't happened yet. Yet. 

In the years that I was teaching outside the home, my compulsive submersion into my classes derailed a lot of things, in particular, my health. My walks disappeared, my weight soared, and my sleep shortened. And I felt trapped with no escape. My task-centered behavior even after retiring was inconsistent to correct the abuses of body. Only after some frustration with a well-meaning physician assistant and his assigned doctor coupled with the inability to recover well after two back-to-back bouts of an intestinal virus did I find some redirection. Almost on a lark, I decided to change to my husband's physician thinking that it might be more convenient to have us both with the same doctor. His is a lipidologist with a family practice. Thankfully, Dr. C accepted me as a patient because of my husband. On my first visit, I was more-than-impressed with Dr. C. I really had no big reasons for the visit other than to establish myself as a new patient. Although I knew I'd not felt back to normal after the virus bout, I had only a vague "weariness" to describe. After a visit that was much longer and inquisitive than I had ever had, he told me I had come in with nothing specific yet three major things going on: the weariness (which he took seriously), family history of stroke, and weight gain. Off to the lab for bloodwork I went, with a return for a carotid artery ultrasound, coronary artery CT scan, and followup scheduled. Besides being impressed, I was appreciative of Dr. C's concern with my weariness. Many doctors brush off those vague complaints. He didn't; he zeroed in on my health with an eagle's eye and ordered, unbeknownst to me until the results were back, a blood panel for thyroid function, lyme disease, mononucleous, and iron. All negative except mono. He said I had had mono in my past, probably in my teens / twenties and never known it other than the flu or severe sore throat, and that the mono had been reactivated recently by a severe stress on my body. That stress was concluded to be those intestinal viruses. And who knew mono could be reactivated?! Although it will take time for recovery, at least the body is left to recover itself and no treatment or drugs are involved. 

Other bloodwork showed through-the-roof results for large particle cholesterol and triglycerides. As a lipidologist, he looks specifically for certain things that other physicians do not. Because of my family history of stroke on one side and familial high cholesterol on the other, he checked my carotids and coronaries for plaque formation but found none. Whew! The intervention now was to lower the cholesterol via an anti-cholesterol drug and weight loss. Learning how difficult it was for me to ever lose weight, coupled with the interfering fatigue that the reactivated mono would have on exercise activity, he said sometimes some people (like me) needed help to lose the weight because it had to come off for the cholesterol to return to normal. His helpful prescriptive intervention has been one of the most encouraging and helpful actions I've ever had. Although this still involves much personal focus and fortitude, I don't feel like I'm helpless now. It will be something I will struggle with continually, even if I get off all the extra weight and the cholesterol / triglycerides return to normal. It will be a challenge, and I'm only out of the gate in this race.

As I finish the fifties this year, my goal is to gain control of this health issue by continual attention to diet and exercise. I really do want to live until I die, not just exist. There are travels to pursue and books to read which might not be able to be pursued in a state of existence resulting from a stroke or diabetes. So, here's to finishing the fifties!