Sunday, February 5, 2023

Life: It Goes On - February 5

Happy (finally sunny) Sunday! We're having an unseasonably warm weekend which makes the six more weeks of winter that Puxsutawney Phil predicted seem more bearable (as if those of us who don't live where there is a real winter know that there will ALWAYS be six more weeks of winter as of February 2). As I type, the cardinals are flitting about the bushes outside of my windows; and, even though I know that cardinals are here all year, birds outside my window also remind me that spring is just around the corner. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Claire Lombardo's The Most Fun We Ever Had. Hoping to finish it today. 

Watched: More Emily In Paris, another episode of Wednesday, and we finally finished Wildcat, which is heartbreaking and hopeful. If you don't want to own an ocelot by the time you finish watching this one, I don't know that we can be friends. 

Read: I think I'll finish Joci Picoult's latest, Mad Honey

Made: Not a gosh darn thing. Seriously. The Big Guy has done what cooking has been done around here and we've eaten out several times. This week, it's time to get back to it, starting with a pork loin and banana bread today. 

Enjoyed: Dinner out last night with BG's siblings and their spouses. I am blessed to have married into a family that I so enjoy spending time with. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: BG and I have some rearranging plans in the works, which will also help with our 40 Bags In 40 Days basement project. Mind you, I say that even as I've just brought home two more fairly large pieces from my parents' house that need new homes, at least temporarily. 

Thinking About: Everything. Mostly while I should be sleeping. I am not a fan of insomnia and I can't imagine how anyone who has a worse case than I do gets up everyday and contributes to society. 

Feeling: Pretty happy to finally be able to play things on the piano that sound like actual music. Much, much more practicing will be required before anyone other than BG gets to hear me play, though. 

Looking forward to: Saturday we have tickets to see To Kill A Mockingbird, which will be starring Richard Thomas (John Boy, for those of you old enough to remember The Waltons). 

Question of the week: There's a new home decor style in town, and it's name is Grandmillennial. I've gotta say, it feels like the style I've been working toward for a long time, a blend of cozy, comfortable, collected and vintage and it's guiding me on what I want to do next in my main living areas. Have you heard about this "new" style? Is it something you could live with? 

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir On The Power of Friendships by Nina Totenberg

Dinners With Ruth: A Memoir On The Power of Friendships 
by Nina Totenberg
320 pages
Published September 2022 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary:
Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship. 

Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace. At the story’s heart is one, special relationship: Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house.

Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family—her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.

My Thoughts: 
I can't begin to tell you how excited I was to pick up this book...well, you know because you are fully aware that I've kept from returning it two extra weeks just so I could finish it. But I suppose that sentence tells you something about how I felt about the book as I read it, as well. I mean, it took me an extra two weeks to read it. Let's be honest, nonfiction takes longer to read than most fiction; it just does. But this book was only about 280 pages, not counting the notes at the end of the book. I should easier have been able to finish it in the allotted two weeks. 

So why didn't I?

Well, because I was looking for a book that was mostly those first two paragraphs of the publisher's summary. But, honestly, there was at least as much involving that last paragraph and Nina's own life. That doesn't necessarily make this a bad book; it just makes it a different book from the one I thought I was picking up. The two other drawbacks of the book, for me, where quite a bit of repetition (yes, I heard you the first time, Justice Antonin Scalia's nickname was "Nino") and a whole lot of name dropping. If you don't know all of the players in Washington, then there are bound to be a lot of people Totenberg talks about of whom you've never heard. 

I've read about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life before so some of the background Totenberg shares here was not entirely new to me. I knew Ginsberg had to push to get everything she got when it came to the law and I knew that she was one of the first women to do many of the things she accomplished. Thought I've long been a huge fan of all things NPR and Nina Totenberg is a name as familiar to me as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I wasn't aware that she, too, was among the first females in her chosen field of journalism. I knew from listening to her for many decades now, that Totenberg was a first-rate reporter but I didn't realize what a bada** she was until I read about how she'd had to push her way into rooms that hadn't previously been open to women and, often, break new ground. What I wouldn't have given to be at one of the dinner parties that Totenberg describes, where these two women, surrounded by other remarkable women (and, yeah, some pretty terrific sounding guys as well) spent the evenings in intellectual conversation, friendly chit-chat, some gossip, and a whole lot of laughter. 

Totenberg is upfront in saying that she had to learn to be a friend and you can, as she writes it, really see her develop as a better friend and her relationships grow deeper, through long battles with cancer, the deaths of spouses, and defending those friendships. Through travels and shopping and movie nights, one on one or as groups. And through those dinners, where Totenberg befriended so many Supreme Court justices while never seeming to lose her ability to remain impartial. Oh, to have been lucky enough to be at one of those dinners.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

by Fredrik Backman
Read by Marin Ireland
13 hours, 11 minutes
Published April 2017 by Atria Books

Publisher's Summary: 
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

My Thoughts: 
I am almost certain that I read the summary of this book before I started listening to it; and, yet, there is a line in that summary thought should have caught my eye and given me a clue as to what might be coming at a certain point in the book. It didn't. Which made this book veer into territory I did not see coming at all which made it a much tougher book to read. And which has me debating as to whether or not I should tell you so that you can be forewarned. I'll think about that as I type on. 

I never cease to be amazed by how great Fredrik Backman is at creating interesting and unique characters to populate his books. Here he is playing with a large cast and yet every one of the characters stands on his or her own and Backman is able to make readers understand, if not sympathize, with each of them. These are people you've met, in situations you know, even if hockey's never been your thing. Backman is Swedish and I understood that the book was set in Sweden, but this is a book that could have been set anywhere, in any town where a sport is the life blood of the community, in any small town that is slowly dying. 

While I've never been much a fan of hockey, I have lived my entire life in a state obsessed with football, a state where people are growing more and more obsessed with volleyball. I can understand how a town's entire focus, entire hope for the future, relies on the success of its sports team. How the boosters can rule the decisions of a team. How the hometown hero, returned home from glory, falls from grace. I know parents like Peter and Kira, young girls who have been through what Maya goes through, young men who are idolized in the way that Kevin is, young people who struggle in the way the Benji does, and relationships which are tested in the ways they are in this book. In other words, even though I don't know hockey, I do know the people in this book and what they go through.

I cannot recommend the audiobook version of this book highly enough. Marin Ireland is amazing; her ability to voice the wide range of characters is astonishing. Even more astonishing is her ability to channel the emotions of the book. I wish I could "read" the next installment of the Beartown series in audio; but it won't be available for months and I don't want to wait that long. I have already requested the third book in audio, though. 

Some things you should know about Fredrik Backman: 
  • He's only 41 years old yet writes like a man who has already lived a lifetime. 
  • He appears to have lived his entire life in Sweden yet writes like a man who has studied the world and understands that certain things are universal.
  • He's a man. Yes, I know that seems obvious. Until you read his books, particularly this one.  
And here's where I decide that I need to give you that trigger warning I talked about earlier. Fifteen-year-old Maya is raped (I pondered softening that to sexually assaulted but why not call it what it is?). It's not uncommon in a book. What is uncommon is the level of understanding and compassion that Backman exhibits. I couldn't help but wonder if he didn't love someone who had experienced rape; it's so rare to read about the aftermath in such a realistic and honest way, even by female writers. Perhaps it will make it easier for those who have never experienced rape in their lives understand it better; perhaps it makes it even harder for those who have suffered it to read this book. For someone who has had to deal with the aftermath of rape, reading this book brought it all back so vividly. But it was also a comfort to know that there are people out there who understand, made all the more amazing to know that a man can put it into words that are so understanding. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Life: It Goes On - January 29

Happy Sunday from sunny, but very cold, Omaha! We've got a couple of very cold days ahead of us and then we bounce back up into the 30's, which will feel warm by comparison. Which will probably mean that I'll see teenaged boys out and about in shorts and hoodies by the end of the week because when you live where it could be winter for five months, the 30's classify as warm weather. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Claire Lombardo's The Most Fun We Ever Had and am enjoying it so far. But it's long (20+ hours) and I fear that it's going to struggle to maintain my interest and appreciation for that long. 

Watched: January has been a good time to break out of the rut of just finding something on the usual channels to watch and we've been doing much better about switching over to a streaming service to find things to watch. We've watched more of Wednesday and are both really enjoying it; watched more of Grace and Frankie, which still makes me laugh out loud; and I've almost finished the first season of Emily in Paris, which is just a fun, sherbet kind of show to watch. 

Read: I'm bouncing between Jodi Piccoult's Mad Honey and Nina Totenberg's Dinners With Ruth (which I'm determined to finish, although I must admit it's not what I expected and has turned into more work than I expected). 

Made: Hamburger soup which we ate for three nights. Because I'm still incapable of making things in portions for only two people and don't think to freeze portions until I'm so tired of something that I can't bear to think of pulling it out of the freezer some time in the future. 

 Two things this week. Tuesday we joined friends to go see The Fabelmans, which has some very impressive performances. Last night I took The Big Guy out to celebrate his birthday. I didn't buy him a present this year; I told him that I was giving him the experience of an exceptional meal and to order whatever he wanted. Which we did and we had the bill to prove it. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: After working with Miss H last weekend to purge her things, I've kept the ball rolling this past week, mostly in small ways. This week I'm planning to continue that, with the idea that by the time 40 Bags in 40 Days rolls around, I'm essentially down to nothing left to work on except the basement. 

Thinking About: Whether or not this blog has run its course. I'm not reading as much as I once did and I don't want to feel like I have to read just to have something to post. And then I'm not getting reviews written and not having fun writing them, like I once did. I feel like I, not that long ago, pledged to redevote myself to blogging, though, so maybe this is just my mood in the depths of winter. 

Feeling: Tired. Which I'm certain has been made worse by the fact that I'm now checking my sleep on my watch and discovering that what I thought was seven hours of sleep a night is actually closer to six hours of sleep. Which means I probably need to go to bed an hour earlier or into work an hour later. Or drink less caffeine during the day. None of these options appeals to me! 

Looking forward to: Dinner with two of BG's siblings, and their spouses, to celebrate the siblings' birthday, all of which fall within a 30 day window. 

Question of the week: What are your best tips for surviving winter?