Sunday, February 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - February 19

That picture there, on the left? Nothing whatsoever like the weather we have had for the past week. It has been gloriously sunny and warm here. Record high temps warm. Cocktails on the patio warm. Doors and windows open warm. Not that I'm for losing the polar ice caps or for having deathly heat waves in the summer, but it's hard not to be a fan of global warming when you have a week in February like this one! Next weekend I'll be talking about snow again; but, for now, I'm a happy girl!
This Week I'm:

Listening To:

Watching: I finally started watching The Crown on Netflix and I'm really enjoying it. Poor Elizabeth - she lost her beloved father and had this great pressure put on her all at once. Can't wait to find time for some more episodes.

Reading: I'm setting aside The Girl In The Garden for a couple of days to read Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of The Team That Barnstormed Its Way To Basketball Glory. I downloaded it from Netgalley but also had been sent a ARC of it. I put the ARC in the hands of my brother-in-law who used to coach women's basketball and he is really enjoying it.

Making: We grilled several times this week so I haven't really "made" dinner too much; I did make up a delicious beef stroganoff one night. Best thing I made this week was lemon martinis I made Friday night when we had cocktails on the patio.

Planning: On a home repair of my washing machine. Paid a guy to come out because it was leaking like crazy. He gave us an estimate of $400+. That wasn't happening so we tried a couple more things ourselves and it is hardly leaking at all any more. Then we discovered we can get the part for a fraction of what the guy wanted and there are YouTube videos for the repair itself. What could go wrong?!

Thinking About: Oh, let's be serious. You already know the answer to this one.

The Big Guy's brother & his wife and the view from their deck of Lincoln
Enjoying: Time with The Big Guy's brother and sister-in-law, especially getting to sit on the deck of their condo building on February in nothing more than a cardigan!

Miss H
Feeling: Happy to see my girl so happy in her life these days. Seriously, how great is that smile?!

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We all reread a childhood favorite and I can't wait to see what people chose and how it held up to their memories of the book.

Question of the week: Do you ever go back and reread childhood favorites? If so, how did they compare to your memories of them? I've read Little Women a couple of times as an adult and I still adore Jo March

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
Published February 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, thru Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.


My Thoughts: 
When I started to see this one around, I knew I wanted to read it. Not because I was interested in the summary (I hadn't even read it), but because I have heard so great things about Saunders' Tenth of December. I sort of love going into a book completely unprepared, only expecting that the writing would be very good.

If you've read this blog for long, you know that I'm not one for books with ghosts and other such supernatural doings. So when I tell you that this book, largely told by spirits caught in limbo, will almost certainly be on my top ten list at the end of the year, you'll begin to understand how impressed I was with Lincoln In The Bardo.
"What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departure caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly flattened at the memory.
the reverend everly thomas 
And yet.
roger begins iii 
And yet no one had ever come here to hold one of us, while speaking so tenderly. 
hans coleman 
Ever.
roger begins iii"
Bardo, a Tibetan word, literally means "intermediate state" or "in-between state." In Lincoln In The Bardo, young Willie Lincoln has just been "laid to rest." But he is not at rest. Nor are the denizen's of the cemetery whose own stories are woven in with Willie's. Along the way Saunders intersperses nonfiction passages (which may or may not be actual nonfiction) about the last days of young Willie and the toll it took on his parents. We're all familiar with Mary Todd Lincoln's profound grief, but Saunders shows us the quiet, profound grief of a many who is not just carrying the weight of his own grief but that of the families whose sons he has sent to war to be killed.

In lesser hands, the multitude of story tellers and the mixing in of the nonfiction into the story could have been a mess. In Saunders' hands, for my money, it was brilliant. I loved this book from the first sentence "On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen" to the devastated father riding away from the cemetery in the end.

Now I need to go find a copy of Tenth of December...and maybe everything else Saunders has ever written.







Monday, February 13, 2017

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud
Narrated by Suzanne Toren
Published August 2006 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my audiobook purchased at my local library book sale

Publisher's Summary:
Friends at Brown University, Marina, Danielle, and Julius are still looking to make their marks as they approach their 30s. Marina lives with her celebrated parents on the Upper West Side while trying to complete her book. TV producer Danielle's success is due to the puff pieces she churns out. Freelance critic Julius can barely make ends meet. Into this mix comes Bootie, Marina's college dropout cousin, who is just the catalyst the three friends need to start making significant changes in their lives.



My Thoughts: 
I'm always interested looking back at the summaries of books once I've finished them and seeing how they match up to the book I've just finished. This one is as remarkable for what it leaves out as for how accurately it explains the book right up to the last sentence. While Bootie certainly a catalyst for change, he's not the only person who comes into the lives of Marina, Danielle, and Julius who causes upheaval. Ludovic Seeley, ambitious Aussie, comes to New York City to launch a revolutionary new magazine and Murray Thwaite, Marina's famous father and, essentially, the emperor here, will both come between the friends.

Because my thoughts are never far from politics these days, I couldn't help but think, as I listened to this, that The Emperor's Children is exactly the kind of book Trump's fans would enjoy, a book about intellectual elitists who are failing spectacularly. I so often find myself lumped into the category of "intellectual elitist" (you know, because college degrees seems to equal intellectual elitist in some people's minds), but these characters are what I think of when I think of that term, people who expect, because of their education, that life will just fall into place for them. People who continue to believe they are entitled even when life works to push them down.

I don't know many Ivy League educated people but I certainly know people who feel entitled and people who think that they are above others because of their backgrounds or where they come from. So I could certainly recognize people I know in these characters. Fortunately, I couldn't actually relate to them. That didn't stop me from finding them interesting but it also meant that I sort of hoped that they'd all fail spectacularly. Messud seems to hope so, too, which makes things fun. But she doesn't hold much fondness for small towns or their morals, either, nor for those who think they are above higher education.

The narration, for the most part, was good, although Toren's voice for Bootie made him sounds like a prepubescent child which made it hard for me to buy into his character as well as might have in print. And the ending? It was one of those that made me say "that's it?" It's one of those books that just kind of ends. The book may also have suffered in following immediately on the heels of The Interestings, another book about entitled New Yorkers, that also incorporated the 9/11 tragedy.

In the end, I did enjoy the book quite a lot. Messud writes smart, witty stories with intelligent, interesting characters and she makes me think.






Sunday, February 12, 2017

Life: It Goes On - February 12

Books have always been my way to escape when things got too stressful or hard. Now I find I can't focus when I sit down to read. It's so all consuming that I even forget to do the things I love, including keeping up with my blogging. The other day I found I was several weeks behind on my blog feeder. I've entirely missed readathons, including Diversathon which I'm so disappointed about.

Keeping my resolution for February in mind (focus), I'm going to work this week to find a balance, one that brings some focus back to the things that I can control.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The Baroque composers: Handel, Bach, Vivaldi, Pachelbel, Albinoni - guys that give me all of the feels but in an ordered way that smooths my jangled nerves. And when I'm ready for something a little more upbeat, the Incubus station on Spotify for the energy to get things done.

Watching: I'm finally all caught up with Orange Is The New Black! Do you watch it? Do you want to talk about it? Because I need to talk about it! Also, loads of episodes of Flea Market Flip and Fixer Upper to inspire me around the house. I'm wondering if The Big Guy could learn to weld - so many things I need metal work for!



Reading: I finished Lincoln In The Bardo during Friday night's #LitsyPartyofOne (it will almost certainly still be in my top ten books of the year come December) and now I've started Lisa Jewell's The Girls In The Garden. I also finished The Emperor's Children and started Mr. Rosenblum Dreams In English which is a nice break from back-to-back audio books about friends in New York City.

Making: Pork tenderloin, chicken ticoritto (if you've lived in Lincoln, Nebraska you'll know what I'm talking about), grilled bratwurst (why yes it was nice enough to grill, thank you very much!), chili, cinnamon monkey bread. Dinners during the week are so much easier when you've done prep work on Sundays!

Planning: Wedding stuff. Getting things ordered, planning set up, hiring people, finding the fun extras that will make it "their" day.

Thinking About: After all of those episodes of Flea Market Flip, I'm thinking about ways I can use what I've got to make new end tables in my family room. Also, I'm feeling the need to paint - I took Wednesday off work and got my powder room painted and now I'm ready for the next project.
Robin's Nest - Springfield, NE

Enjoying: A little retail therapy with a friend. Yet another way I was planning wedding and getting my creative juices flowing!

Feeling: Better after a relaxing weekend, largely spent paying no attention to politics.

Looking forward to: Spring. Did I already mention that? I am so ready to start eating on the patio!

Question of the week: Do you shop flea markets? If so, what are your favorite things to look for or are you just looking to be surprised?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit Of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar

Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
Published February 2017 by Atria
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
When George Washington was elected president, he reluctantly left behind his beloved Mount Vernon to serve in Philadelphia, the temporary seat of the nation’s capital, after a brief stay in New York. In setting up his household he took Tobias Lear, his celebrated secretary, and nine slaves, including Ona Judge, about which little has been written. As he grew accustomed to Northern ways, there was one change he couldn’t get his arms around: Pennsylvania law required enslaved people be set free after six months of residency in the state. Rather than comply, Washington decided to circumvent the law. Every six months he sent the slaves back down south just as the clock was about to expire.

Though Ona Judge lived a life of relative comfort, the few pleasantries she was afforded were nothing compared to freedom, a glimpse of which she encountered first-hand in Philadelphia. So, when the opportunity presented itself one clear and pleasant spring day in Philadelphia, Judge left everything she knew to escape to New England. Yet freedom would not come without its costs.

At just twenty-two-years-old, Ona became the subject of an intense manhunt led by George Washington, who used his political and personal contacts to recapture his property.

My Thoughts:

What I Didn't Like: 
Never Caught, sadly, suffers from coming in my reading directly on the heels of Victoria: The Queen, a subject of which there is so much information it took 600 pages to include it all. Of course, much less is known about the life of a slave in 18th-century America; it stands to reason that the book would be much shorter but it also stands to reason that much would have to be inferred about Judge, rather than based on known facts about her.

Throughout the book, Dunbar tended to use phrases like "we can assume that" or "she would probably have." It's a small thing but, for me, the book would have been stronger if Dunbar had simply given us the facts that led her to those conclusions then let readers draw their own inferences or simply said something like "this being the case, it's possible that" or "given those circumstances, this might be why..."

What I Liked:
I learned a tremendous amount about George and Martha Washington when I read Ron Chernow's Washington so I was not under any illusions that the Washingtons were progressives when it came to matters of slavery. But, let's face it, the majority of  people are not delving into that 900 page behemoth; a bite-sized lesson like Never Caught is far more likely to be the way they will find out that although Washington treated his slaves better than many slaveholders, they were still his property and he was acutely aware of their value and his reliance on them.

When Ona Judge dared to leave them, they knew they ran the risk that if they did not capture her, their other property might get ideas into their heads as well, something they couldn't tolerate. Furthermore, they were the most famous couple in this new country and their reputation was at stake, both in the eyes of other slaveholders and in those of the people already fighting against slavery. Once Judge made her escape, Dunbar had much more information to base the book on, the ads the agents for the Washingtons posted, the letters Martha wrote, and Judge's own story which she told to a couple of reporters late in her life.

I had not been aware of how many people were already opposed to slavery eighty years before it was finally abolished, particularly in the city of Philadelphia. It would have been difficult for slaves to make the acquaintance of free blacks, but it was not impossible. The free blacks had a good system in place for assisting runaways and, although it was still not easy and extremely dangerous for all involved, many slaves made their way to freedom this way.

That guy we grew up believing was so honest he could not tell a lie? Yeah, he wasn't above using illegal methods to try to bring Judge back to Virginia. Fortunately for her, her own quick wits and some luck in the people that were hired to help Washington, Judge managed to elude her would-be captors. Even so, life for a free black was extremely difficult. This might go without saying; still, I learned a lot about the lengths they had to go to just to stay alive.


In the end, despite the terrible poverty she suffered most of her life after her escape, Judge still felt it was preferable to having remained a slave. That's a statement about slavery that's hard to ignore.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Happiness Project: February

When I posted my January resolution, I said that I wasn't entirely set with my resolutions for the year. Since then I've finished that, put together a list of "commandments," and I'm working on ways to measure my progress for each of the resolutions. Which brings me to February's resolution: Focus.

I've always been a daydreamer, and a person that has a hard time finishing projects; electronic devices have made it even harder for me to stay on track and make good use of my time. I struggle to stay focused. In the coming months, it's going to be really important for me to make good use of my time, stay on task, and keep my eye on the ball.

Here are the things I'm going to do to try to become a more focused person:

1. Limit use of my phone - If you know me, you know how attached I am to my phone. Sometimes when I'm working on the computer, I'll even pick up my phone to check Litsy or other apps I can only use on my phone. While I'm already on an electronic device! The trick to this has been in trying to decide what my limit is going to be and how I'm going to reach that goal. At home, I think this will mean, leaving my phone in a different room than the one I'm in; at work, leaving it in my purse.

2. Stay on task - Again, this is a tough one to measure and a lot depends on what the task is and how long it takes. The main thing will be, I think, to just say "no" to myself any time I think I'll stop in the middle of something to do something else. Say "no, you can't redo the bookshelves right now" while I'm in the middle of dusting them. Yes, I have done that before and a fairly short task soon became a project lasting several hours.

3. Try meditation or yoga - This was already on my list when I started yoga last month. I'm leaving it there as a reminder to continue the yoga (which takes much more focus than walking on a treadmill). And I'm thinking adding some meditation time might not be a bad idea, either; try to clear my mind and calm myself.

4. Shut the television off - We are terrible about turning on the television when we walk in a room and once it's on, it tends to stay on, even if we're not particularly interested in anything that's on. Makes it tough to focus on the other things I'm trying to do. The other piece of this will be to leave the room if it's on. The Big Guy likes to have the t.v. on (he suffers from tinnitus and that doesn't bother him as much if there's some other noise) but I don't have to be in the same room all of the time. After all, we used to limit the kids' t.v. time; why not limit ours?

So I'm turning off the computer now and walking away from the television BG just turned on!


Monday, February 6, 2017

Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird
Published November 2016 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Victoria: The Queen is a new portrait of the real woman behind the myth—a story of love and heartbreak, of devotion and grief, of strength and resilience.


My Thoughts:
Coronation
More than 600 pages. More than 80 years of life. More than 60 years on the throne. Some of the best known names in world history. Some of the greatest changes in world history. One of the great love stories. One woman we think we understand. After all, we've read our history books. We've watched the movies.

I didn't know the half of it. Baird schooled me not just on Victoria's life, but on the lives of her family, her place in the world, and world politics in her life time. I tend to learn history one place or one person at at time, often losing track of where that person or place fit into the greater world. Baird does an excellent job of grounding readers on world events throughout Victoria's life, without getting too mired down in them and losing track of her subject.

Suffice to say that Victoria lived in a time of massive changes in the world: the overthrow of monarchies, the surge of the industrial revolution, and the dawn of the suffragette movement. She reigned through wars, saw her family married into the monarchies of other powers, and her life intermingled with most of the most famous people of her time.

The book is slow going; those pages are tiny print packed with information. Baird had unprecedented access to diaries, letters and papers which allowed her to paint an incredible full and nuanced portrait of a queen who was so much more complex than most of us realize.

We so often think of Victoria in one of two ways - the deeply devoted wife that spent the rest of her life in mourning after the death of her husband or as a cranky looking, fat old woman. She was, in fact, both of those things. But she was also a a feisty queen who was prone to give her prime ministers hell, a woman who loved to laugh, a ruler who reveled in her country's strength but preferred peace to war, a woman whose beloved husband may not have been the greatest love of her life, a woman who was so desperate for someone to care for her that she allowed herself to be hoodwinked, and a person who often doubted her own knowledge.

With John Brown, who may have been
Victoria's great love (left) and Munshi Abdul
Karim, (who abused Victoria's trust (right).
I'd always thought of Victoria as something of an super hero for women. But it turns out she wasn't entirely the paragon of feminism I'd imagined. Partly because the queen just didn't have as much power as I'd thought. Then there was the relationship she had with Prince Albert. She called him "my Lord and Master!" I mean, I know it was kind of the thing to do in those days but she was the queen! Also, she was strongly opposed to the suffragette movement and reveled in the love her country showered on her for being the mother figurehead.

You may recall that I don't keep very many books once I've read them. This one is a keeper because of the wealth of historical information it contains. Unfortunately, my copy is an egalley, which will be unreadable in a few more days. I may just have to buy myself a copy.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

Life: It Goes On - February 5

Honestly, folks, I don't even know how to open these posts any more. I type something up; I erase it. I'm tempted to tell you how unproductive I've been this week (after all, my bathrooms still haven't been cleaned) but I have been productive, just not in the ways I usually define it. Nothing much has happened but I have been busy all week. I don't want to come to you every week whining. I want to get back to telling you about the things that are going on in my life. So I'm going to try very hard to set politics aside again (here anyway!) and use this space to refocus on the other things that matter.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: This will be my last week of The Emperor's Children; it's been slower going because I've finally been able to get back to listening to NPR in the mornings to get some news. My podcast listening has been entirely The History Chicks.

Watching: A lot of what's been on our television screen this week has been us learning to navigate our way through our new streaming Direct TV and the Apple TV. It's definitely a learning curve that's going to take some getting used to. Of course, I will be watching the Super Bowl later, even though I don't care who wins.

Reading: I'll be finishing Never Caught in the next couple of days and then it's on to George Saunders' Lincoln In The Bardo. Never Caught is the story of Ona Judge, a slave who belonged to George and Martha Washington. It suffers from following in the footsteps of Victoria: The Queen, in no small part because there's not nearly as much information to craft a book from.

Making: Omelets, fried potatoes, chicken and stuffing, pork chops. Last night we had to go with a frozen pizza because a plumbing project gone awry meant we had a torn up kitchen and no water when supper time arrived (which was shortly before a plumber arrived!).

Planning: On installing new kitchen hardware this week and painting the powder room.

Thinking About: Spring. I'm already counting down the weeks until I can eat dinner on the patio. The Big Guy brought me home this planter the other day that has me ready to put away my snowmen collection already (although I won't yet because putting it away early is always a jinx!).



Enjoying: Some beautiful sunrises as I drive into work. Almost makes it worth going to work. Almost.

Feeling: Ridiculous as it sounds, I was a little sad to box up my perry gold phone the other day to ship it up to Mini-me. His phone has died and our phone situation being what it is, he's taking my phone, I'm taking Mini-him's (boring black) phone and Mini-him is getting a new phone. I mean, I've got a newer phone but I seriously need a girly case for it!

Looking forward to: Forty Bags In Forty Days which starts in March. I've reached that time of year when I am seriously in the mood to get rid of "stuff."

Question of the week: Whether you watch the game or are just watching for the commercials, will you be going to a Super Bowl party today?

Friday, February 3, 2017

My Happiness Project: January Wrapup


I'm a month into my attempt to bring more happiness into my life; January is in the books and it's time to check in, to make myself accountable. For January my resolution was to Have More Energy and I picked six strategies to keep me. My results were mixed, partly because I didn't work hard enough at it, partly because life got in the way. At least I'm moving forward and the things I've put into place this month will continue into the rest of the year, they just won't be the focus.

1. Get More Sleep - utter and complete failure on this one, except on the weekends but that's only because I never had to get up on the weekends so I could sleep in. But then I felt guilty about wasting so much of the day in bed. I'm working on some things to help me be better at getting to bed earlier because I'm sure sleep is the key to much of what's to come.

2. Get Moving - I am doing better at getting to the gym more (although still not as often as I want to) and I started doing yoga at home. I'm making sure that I get up more often at work, too. If nothing else, I feel better about myself for doing these things.

3. Drink More Water - I'm killing it on this one, especially during the work week. I'm noticing markedly less dry skin so that's a good incentive to keep it up.

4. Act More Energetic - Eh. The key to this one was not to sit down after dinner, to stay in motion. But that's so much easier said than done. Warmer weather will help - yard work, no need to stay curled in a corner of the sofa just to stay warm.

5. Eat Better - We've been planning meals much more, making sure to include more fruits and vegetables in our meals and I've taken a piece of fruit for lunch almost every day. 

6. Take Care Of Yourself - This was meant to be my kick in the butt to schedule doctor's appointments. That hasn't happened. Yet. But it's on my calendar for the coming week. 

What I learned this month: 

The steps need to have some way to be measured. February is going to be tougher to measure so I'm going to have to give that some thought this weekend. 

Just putting the Happiness Project resolution for the month on my monthly bullet journal page is not enough. I need to add the steps to my daily to-do lists to keep them front and center. 

On to February!