Sunday, December 31, 2017

Life: It Goes On - December 31

Well, this has been quite a year, filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I'm tired of getting angry every time I turn on the television or open the internet. I'm tired of reading slumps and I miss blogging but I can't make myself focus on it. In 2018, I want to take my life back. I want to make time for things that are important, I want to find a way to fight that doesn't overwhelm everything else in my life, I want to have time to count my blessings. Christmas time is always a good time to remind myself about all of the blessings in my life. I have enjoyed having a lot of time off work lately to recharge and relax. Now I'm ready to say goodbye to 2017 and look forward to a new year!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been listening to a lot of NPR lately. Even though it means hearing the news, it also means I'm learning a lot and hearing a lot of interesting stories. I think, though, it's time to start a new audiobook. Not sure which one yet, though.

Watching: Football, "Elf," "You've Got Mail," "Kate and Leopold." Why, yes, The Big Guy humored me and watched not one but two "girlie" movies with me this week!

Reading: Guys! I am loving the writing in Far From The Madding Crowd! I'm not going to get it finished by the end of the year but I'm so glad the Classics Club gave me the push I needed to get back  to the classics.

Making: We have seriously been eating a lot of leftovers this week. We made a ham for Christmas and had several meals off of that, including cooking the bone into ham and bean soup.

Planning: Forty Bags In Forty Days starts again February 14 and I am already formulating a plan of attack for this year. BG has agreed that he is really going to work on getting rid of things this year so I may be able to tackle some areas that I haven't been able to do much about in the past.

Thinking About: What I'm going to do in the coming year politically. I need to become more active in a more productive way.

Enjoying: Another long weekend.

Feeling: Like I need to schedule a few days off in the next few months to help me make it through the winter.

Looking forward to: The Fourth of July. Yes, you read that right. I've got another great-niece or great-nephew due that day and I already can hardly wait to meet this new little person!

Question of the week: Are you choosing a word of the year for 2018? Have you given any thought to what your first book of the year will be?

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Life: It Goes On - December 24

In an effort to try to get back on track, I'm writing again, even though it's only been a few days since I've done one of these posts.  I've absolutely loved having these past few days off work. I've had time to help the kids finish up their shopping, make some yummy meals, put my house in order and catch up laundry, and find lots of "me" time. I even got lucky and missed the first wintery weather commute!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm still adding new Christmas music to my playlist. And taking some off as well, because I tried some newer versions of old favorites that I really did not love.

Watching: The Nightmare Before Christmas as I type this. I've mostly had the television off while I've been off work but when it's on, I've been trying to watch things that put me in the mood for the holidays. Pretty cranky that I haven't been able to find The Family Stone yet.

Reading: I'm finishing Pachinko today and am glad I won't have any time to start something new for a day or so so that I can just roll it around in my brain for a bit.

Making: Lasagna, pizzas, taco soup; we've dipped pretzels and then I used the rest of those ingredients to make pretzel/peppermint almond bark and peppermint almond bark.

Planning: A New Year's Eve potluck dinner and game night.
Grandma Shep and Miss H

Thinking About: The Big Guy's mom, the originally Mama Shep. I always miss her even more this time of year.

Enjoying: Being relaxed, for a change, at Christmas.

Feeling: Ready for 2018. We've had the highest of highs this year but also some pretty deep lows and I'm ready to put those behind us and look to the future.

Looking forward to: Going to Christmas Eve services tonight and hearing "Silent Night" sung in German during the candlelight portion of the service.

Question of the week: What is your favorite thing about Christmas (if you celebrate)?

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Month of Faves: Reppin' The Holidays

I've come to dread bringing out the Christmas decorations. It's so much work and no matter how much I think I'm cutting back, it can still seem overwhelming. And it never looks like one of the lovely homes in magazines or even on Pinterest.

Still, bringing out the Christmas decorations is also bringing out memories. Here are a few of the ornaments on our tree that make me happy.

From left to right, top to bottom:
One of the first decorations my parents had on their Christmas trees which was given to me as part of a shower present when we got married; the bride and groom were given to us by dear family friends the first Christmas after we were married; the Empire State building commemorates our honeymoon that included a stop in New York City; Mr. Jeremy Fisher who is one of the hundreds of frogs I've collected in my life; a Danish paper ornament represents my Danish heritage; one of the Santa collection my boys have been given over the years; one of the angel ornaments Miss H has been given at Christmas's past; and, finally, each of the kids has a wooden candy cane which are always some of the first ornaments on the tree.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Life: It Goes On - December 21

Apparently life is going on to such an extent that I can't even find time to blog right now. Or read much, for that matter. I have a few days off this week to finish up shopping, get last-minute shipping done, wrap and get food ready. When I scheduled these days off, way back in January, I did it to make sure I had time for just those kinds of things. It was also with the hope that I would have enough time to get things caught up around the house and to have some "me" time. Surprisingly, I have found that I have time for both of those things. I will finally finish a book this week!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Christmas music, of course! I've spent some time the past couple of weeks making a playlist that includes classics, new versions of classic songs, and new music. With over 3 hours of music on it, I'm still surprised by how often certain songs appear when it's on shuffle play. Even thought it's on my playlist, I still can't listen to Andy Williams' "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" without thinking of the SNL skit with Will Farrell on the turntable!

Watching: Last weekend was all about volleyball and the Nebraska women's team surprising everyone, except themselves, by winning the national championship. We went out to watch the championship match so we could celebrate with like-minded people. Also, this week watched the finale of this season's The Voice. Can't argue with the winner but I thought, in the finals, Brooke was the winner.

Reading: Ti, of Book Chatter, posted about what she'll be reading for her final book of 2017. We bloggers like to focus on what we'll read to start a new year; but Ti suggests that how we end the year is just as important. I still need to read Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd for the Classics Club by the end of the year and it actually seems like the perfect choice as my last book of the year, as it will point me in the direction of reading more classics again in the coming year.

Making: The Big Guy, Mini-him, Miss H and I Facetime'd with Mini-me and Mrs. S. on Sunday to frost Christmas cookies "together." It's not the same as having everyone around the table together but it's not a bad alternative. Today I'll be making taco soup to take to my parents' for Christmas Eve supper; we have our big meal at noon and then do soups at supper so it's easier to work supper around church services. I also spent a lot of hours the past week putting together Christmas presents but I can't talk about that just yet because, ya know, they're presents.

Planning: Working on plans for New Year's Eve; but, other than that, I'm trying not to plan too much just now so that I can live in the moment through the holidays.

Thinking About: How much we're going to miss having all of the family together this year. On my side, we've been very lucky for a long time and been able to have almost everyone together at Christmas. This year, there will only be about half of us. There will be no chaos, which is both a good and bad thing.

Enjoying: These few days before the holiday weekend to relax, have some quiet time, and finish things up without racing around. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever?), I think I'll head into the celebrations rested.

My actual laundry baskets are not
this nice!
Feeling: Accomplished. I don't know how I got so far behind on laundry but it took me all day yesterday to wash, dry, fold and hang what I swear must have been every clothing item the three of us own. It's the little joys in life, isn't it?

Looking forward to: Being with family! And finding out what's in the giant box Mini-me and Mrs. S sent for me. Seriously, I've been like a little kid wondering about that box!

Question of the week: If you don't celebrate Christmas, how do you enjoy having some time off this time of year while the rest of us are running ourselves ragged? For those of you who celebrate Christmas but won't get to be with family, how do you make it still feel special?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Life: It Goes On - December 10

What a quiet week it's been. I wasn't feeling well for much of the week; just a cold and it wasn't the worst cold I've ever had by any means, but I just felt out of it much of the week. I did have dinner with a friend Tuesday night that ended with me getting home at 10:30!

I finished the Christmas decorating on Monday; the Christmas cards are, finally, ordered and will go out in the mail this week; and the shopping is almost finished. Still, I can hardly believe that it will be Christmas Eve two weeks from today!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Mostly music, a lot of which is from my Spotify play list. It's helping me to be in the holiday mood.

Watching: I stayed up until after two last night (this morning?!) just so I could watch It's A Wonderful Life. It doesn't feel like Christmas until I've watched it and I haven't caught it the past couple of years.

Reading: Not much, I'm afraid to say. Hence, no book reviews this past week. I'll finish The Wife, The Maid, And The Mistress for book club this week and then I'll finally finish Pachinko. Then it's on to The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch which I'm reading with a friend. At 800+ pages, it'll likely be the last book I read of 2017.

Making: I have a pork roast in the oven and will later make chicken noodle soup for later this week. The Christmas baking is in full swing - yesterday was Oreo truffles, today is Bavarian mints and puppy chow. I'll bake cookies in a couple of days so we can FaceTime frost cookies next weekend with Mini-me and Mrs. S. That was so much fun last year; it almost felt like they were with us. Except I couldn't send Mini-me to the steps to calm down which is a tradition that goes back to the years when his brother could get him so wound up he couldn't stop laughing.

Planning: On getting the Christmas cards mailed this week, finishing the the Christmas goodies (spritz cookies and dipped pretzels are yet to be done), and finishing up the shopping for those I need to get gifts shipped of to so those can get mailed this week.

Thinking About: It's all Christmas all of the time for the next couple of weeks around here.

Enjoying: Feeling like I may have won a argument with BG. May have. It will all hinge on whether or not we can find a new rug for our family room. If we can, I get furniture rearranged that I've been wanting done for months. Marriage is all about the negotiations!

Feeling: Like I nailed it at BG's Christmas party on Friday night. It was my first party with the company he's at now and I always stress before hand about what to wear, being in a room full of people I don't know, and having to meet the boss. I wish we'd gotten a picture of the two of us - we looked good!

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday.

Question of the week: What are your must-have's for the holidays?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

#AMONTHOF FAVES - This is how we read

What with the reading slump(s) and the crazy year, I haven't kept a very good record of what I've read  so far this year. Fortunately, that reading slump also means there aren't as many books to keep track of this year so I've taken a quick run through of my blog calendar to grab some quick statistics.

Total Books Read: 55
Written By Women: 43
Written By Men: 12
Fiction: 38
Nonfiction: 17
Diversity: 8
Set In Other Countries: 8
Audiobooks: 8
DNF: 3
Feminist: 4
Mystery: 7

I'm pretty happy with my fiction-to-nonfiction ratio (if I could have finished Grant, I'd be even happier with that ratio). I'm a little surprised by my female author-to-male author ratio; I know I always read a lot of books by women, but I don't think it's ever been this lopsided before. I'm down on audiobooks this year since I've spent the past several months listening to podcasts and music instead of books. Three DNFs is really big for me. Although I'm disappointed that I didn't enjoy those books more, I'm proud of myself for not pushing through them when I wasn't enjoying them. I read well more mysteries this year than I usually do; they were real saviors during my reading slump. I would like to see my diversity reading at a higher number, as well as my feminist reading (although, to be honest, I'm not entirely clear on how I'm defining a feminist book yet).

I'll finish at least four more books this year but that final number will still be well below my usual number of books read in a year. I'm pretty sure I've bought more books this year than I've read!

What have I learned from taking a look at these numbers? First of all, I HOPE I've learned to accept fewer books for review so that I can read what I'm in the mood for instead of having to read on a schedule. Secondly, I want to listen to more books; I'm thinking the library will be helpful with this (time to renew my card). Third, read more of my own damn books. Finally, read more diversely and more feminist book, and continue to increase the number of nonfiction books I read each year.

What did your reading look like this year?

Monday, December 4, 2017

#AMONTHOFFAVES - These are a few of our favorite things

Any one here surprised that on the 4th, I'm already behind on A Month of Faves? I won't keep up anyway; I never do because that requires I spend a lot of time writing posts and we all know that's not going to happen. On the other hand, I'm not going to get a lot of book reviews posted this month, either. So I might as well have something to post!

For the first, our hosts have asked that we post about some of our favorite things in 2017.

In no particular order, here are a few of mine:

Two Dots: I don't actually play that many games but this one has me addicted. To the point where it has cut into my reading. It may be time to take it off my phone.

My bullet journal: I haven't done as much creatively with it this year but I love having a planner that allows me to be entirely freestyle without boxes that I have to try to fit into. To-do lists, calendars, gift lists, party planning, some drawing, and even actual journaling. Now that I've moved to a permanent book, I'm going to be keeping these so be able to look back on in the future.

Gold Bond Healing Foot Cream; My current favorite foot cream. I had my first ever pedicure this summer and it took a whole lot of this stuff to help my heels after that.

Grace and Frankie: My favorite series this year. It's funny, touching, sad. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are so good. I can hardly stand the wait for the next season.

The wedding: Of course, my very favorite thing of the entire year was Mini-me's and Miss S's wedding. It was a crazy busy week, I got a little cranky sometimes, not everything went exactly as planned, and was exhausted when it was over. But it was everything the two of them wanted which is all that this mom wanted from the day they announced they were engaged.

What were some of your favorite things this year?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Life: It Goes On - December 3

We went down to see this year's version of the above. There will be the obligatory of it later in this post. It was a beautiful evening, especially considering that it's December and I only had to wear a jacket, and the lights are beautiful so it was well worth doing. But one of the main reasons I wanted to go downtown was to help me get in the Christmas mood. It's been tough, given that it hasn't been in the least wintery...yet. I don't know who you do it in places that don't really have winter. Anyway, instead of a lovely brass ensemble playing Christmas music or even Santa with his music grinder (I kid you not, we've seen that), they had a old-time rock band playing. And not acoustically. It was very disconcerting and disappointing. So I'm just going to have to create my own festive mood as I finish decorating today. Eggnog and Nat King Cole to the rescue!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been turning on my Spotify songs and just letting them shuffle play. There have been some strange juxtapositions!

Watching: Volleyball, football, The Voice, and, last night, I stayed up late to watch About A Boy.

Reading: See sidebar. Which will probably not change all week. Seems I'm in another reading slump. Or too distracted to focus on reading and too busy spending time writing, calling, and faxing my Senators and Congressman.

Making: I haven't really made anything this week. The Big  Guy's been making dinner or we've been eating out. The only meal I think I made this week was breakfast for dinner one night, including egg clouds.

Planning: On finishing the decorating and ordering Christmas cards today and getting as much shopping finished up this week as possible.

Thinking About: My week's been spent thinking about Miss H has she's been on her trip this week. I'm so knocked out by her fearlessness. She'll be home later today and I will be able to relax; but, I've enjoyed getting to travel along with her via phone and social media. She's had quite a great time.

Enjoying: The stroll through the mall in downtown Omaha and drinks with friends on Friday.

Feeling: Happy to have added a new stocking to my mantel this year for Mrs. S. I'm still trying to find a stocking hook that I like, though!

Looking forward to: Dinner and drinks with a former coworker/friend on Tuesday. NOT looking forward to BG's company's holiday party. I HATE those things!

Question of the week: What are your favorite holiday season activities?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff

The Witches Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published October 2015 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: my copy was a Christmas gift

Publisher's Summary:
The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness."

My Thoughts:
At the beginning of this book, there is a long list of "characters." It's more than a bit daunting, but absolutely necessary. My book club read The Witches this month and everyone of us, even with that list, had a hard time remembering, when we talked about the characters, if they were the accused or the accuser. And that's because there is so much information in this book and then, all along the timeline, Schiff detours off to give readers detailed histories and character studies of each of the players.

You would think that something that happened more than 300 years ago might not be that well documented, wouldn't you? I thought so. Turns out that 17th-century Puritans were prolific diarists. Heck, they recorded absolutely everything. Everyone recorded everything. Which is how, even though the official transcripts mysteriously disappeared, there were plenty of records still available for historians to comb through. Still, as much as I'm impressed with the amount of research Schiff and her team have done, it can get more than a little overwhelming. This is not a book you'll race through; but then, it's not a book you should race through. Although those who know report that Schiff doesn't break any new ground here, there was certainly a lot of information that was new to me. For example, I had no idea how widespread witch hunts had been in Europe before they made their way across the Atlantic or the extent to which the judges at the "witches'" trials ignored glaring contradictions that would have led any rational person to find these men and women innocent.

Although the book made a lot of best-of lists in 2015, it's not a book without bias and Schiff frequently made modern references that felt a little out of place in the narration. I went into this book with high hopes that it would be a book that would pull me in and keep me reading. In that regard I was disappointed. When I struggled with the book in print, I moved to audio. I had some concerns about being able to stay focused but it turned out that by combining the audio and print, I was able to find the balance I needed to finish the book. Which I liked quite a lot, even though, on rereading this, it sort of sounds like I didn't.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Published March 2016 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: bought this one for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

From the award-winning author of Boy, Snow, Bird and Mr. Fox comes an enchanting collection of intertwined stories.

Playful, ambitious, and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In “Is Your Blood as Red as This?” an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea” involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don't You Think,” a key keeps a mystical diary locked (for good reason).

Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift, or an invitation?

My Thoughts:
I picked up What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours partly because of this:

Winner of the PEN Open Book Award
An NPR Best Book of 2016
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Pick
A PBS NewsHour Best Book of 2016
A Slate Best Book of the Year
One of Esquire Magazine’s Best Books of 2016
One of’s 10 Favorite Books of 2016

Those are some serious kudos there. But mostly I picked it up because I remember someone (a podcaster? a blogger?) fangirling about it big time. So much so that it stuck in my head in a way I couldn't shake loose. of short stories which are loosely tied together by the theme of locks and keys. Which, because I didn't read the summary before I launched into the book, I didn't wise up to until well into the book. Which is ridiculous because those things play such prominent rolls in several of the stories. But, hey, sometimes that's how I read...obliviously.

Like every book of short stories I've ever read, I liked some of these stories much more than I liked others and not just because I understood some of them more than I did others. Although that's true. I adored the first story, "Books and Roses" with its intertwined stories about love and family and secrets. "Drownings" and "Dornicka and The St. Martin's Day Goose" read the most like modern twists on traditional fairy tales. ""Sorry" Doesn't Sweeten Her Tea" offers insight into idol worship and the repercussions on young girls. Puppets play a role in more than one of the stories and give readers much more than you might think to consider.

Lewis-Syford House
"A Brief History of The Homely Wench Society" combined my past and my present. There is, on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a home built in 1878 that sits right on fraternity/sorority row that appeared to be sitting empty when I went to the University. There were a lot of rumors about it, the most popular being that it was the home to a secret society. It's exactly where I imagined the Bettencourt Society meeting in this story, a secret society of young men admitted to the society based on their charisma. Once upon a time the young men of the Bettencourt Society held a dinner where each member was required to bring a homely wench. Word got out and young women across the campus formed their own society, The Homely Wench Society. Nasty women, as it were, which brought me full circle from my past to my present.

If you like your short stories unique and with unusual characters and story lines that sometimes make you think "what the heck did I just read," What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is for you. I'm still working on what I like in a short story collection; it would appear that Oyeyemi may already have figured it out for me.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 26

I had every intention of at least getting a Thanksgiving greeting up last week; but, you know, life... Miss H left on Friday for a ten-day driving trip to South Carolina so we spent a lot of time last week making sure she had every thing she would need for that. As you can imagine, I felt like I was driving along with her every mile of the way until she safely arrived at her friend's place last evening. I don't know about her, but I'm exhausted! Proud of her for having the courage to do it; I don't think I have the courage to do it.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: My favorite thing I listened to this past week was my great-niece chattering. She was so much the center of attention that we were almost able to ignore the Huskers' painful football loss. Almost.

Watching: See above.

Reading: I have only read 10 pages since Wednesday night. But I have started Pachinko which I am reading with Care of Care's Books and Pie. Care is a big reader of the books selected for The Morning News' Tournament of Books and Pachinko is one of the book selected for the tournament.

Making: Crockpot cherry steel cut oats, bread pudding (and bread crumbs with the crusts), banana bread, pumpkin muffins, egg muffins. My mom insisted on doing all of the food for Thanksgiving dinner herself which is why you don't see any of that kind of food on my list. It also explains where I got my control freak tendencies from, doesn't it?

Planning: On getting Christmas decorations up this week. I usually do them this weekend but my sister, her husband, their daughter and her fiancé came in yesterday and spent the night. So no decorations yet but at least my house is clean!

Thinking About: I believe I've mentioned that my thoughts were on the road with Miss H. Which is pretty much what I'll be thinking about until she pulls into our driveway next Sunday.

Enjoying: Gorgeous, gorgeous weather. It was so warm that when the crew went up to the high school near my parents' for the annual field goal kicking contest, they didn't even need to wear jackets. You'll notice some even wore shorts.

Feeling: Like I don't really want to get out the Christmas decorations. Does that make me a Scrooge? I really love my fall decorations so I'm always sad to put them away. Plus, it's such a major job!

Looking forward to: A much quieter week both at work and at home.

Question of the week: Am I the only one who doesn't look forward to starting the whole Christmas decorating process?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Classics Club Spin

Every...oh, heck, I don't know how often...The Classics Club has a "spin." You're meant to make a list of twenty books that you post to your blog and then the overlords at The Classics Club will spin the wheel of death to get a number and you're to read the book that corresponds to that number. I'm just kidding - it's not a wheel of death (at least I assume not) and I'm pretty sure there is no overlord at The Classics Club. At any rate, you get the idea.

You'll have noticed that I didn't put up a list of choices last week. That's because I've never joined in on the spin before and really didn't think I'd be doing it now. Until the other day when the spin result post popped up on my reader and a little light bulb went on. I have very few reading commitments in December so I have plenty of time to read whatever I want. And I clearly need a kick in the butt with my classic reading.

The spin result was #4 so I just picked the fourth book down on my list. Which means that, before December 31, I'll be reading Thomas Hardy's Far From The Maddening Crowd. Once I've read the book, I also plan on watching the 2015 movie adaptation starring Carrie Mulligan. I'm looking forward to both!

Anyone want to read along with me?

Monday, November 20, 2017

Nonfiction November - Nonfiction Favorites

This week's prompt is hosted by Katy at Doing Dewey:
"We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites."
Do you remember the other day when I said my nonfiction reading was all over the place? Because I thought that, I assumed it would be tough to do this prompt. Since six years ago I started tracking my favorite books of the year, breaking out nonfiction, I thought I'd head to those lists to see if I could find any patterns. It turns out that, while the subject can be almost anything (from drug addiction, careers in math and science, the Civil War), I tend to like to get those stories in the form of a biography, memoir, or personal essay collection. Apparently I need to be able to learn about a topic through an individual.

How the information is presented is less important. Some of my favorite personal stories are incredibly sad (The Year Of Magical Thinking, An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination, Behind The Beautiful Forevers, This Republic of Suffering). Other favorite nonfiction works include healthy doses of humor (Cocktail Hour Under The Tree of Forgiveness, anything by Sarah Vowell, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, and I Feel Bad About My Neck).

Like any book I pick up, my nonfiction choices are largely a matter of what appeals at a particular time. Am I ready to immerse myself in a book dense with information (anything by Ron Chernow, Instant City, On China) ? Or, maybe something that give me information in a way that's less scholarly (Moranthology, Orange Is The New Black, The Happiness Project). What it comes down to is that the book needs to be well written, just like any other book.

What qualities do you look for in a nonfiction book?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 19

It's November 19th and I just went outside in my barefoot. The backdoor is standing open. It is only 48 degrees but, in the sun, it feels warm. And I know how few days we have left before going barefooted is no longer possible.

This homebody has certainly had a busy week! Sunday Miss H and I went to a basketball game; Monday night Miss H, The Big Guy, and I went out to eat because Miss H and I had free pizza to redeem; Tuesday night I had book club;  Thursday BG and I went to the U.S. Olympic Team Curling Trials; and Friday Miss H and I went back to them. I would have loved to have gone back again last night for the final match; but, let's be honest, I really didn't want to have to get cleaned up in time to go. Or leave my house again.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: The soundtrack to La La Land. Mostly in my head. Seriously, I cannot get those songs out of my head! I like the soundtrack well enough but a week of it is quite enough.

Watching: My late night movie this weekend was the 1965 version of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's Cinderella, starring Lesley Ann Warren, Celeste Holms, Ginger Rogers, Walter Pidgeon and Stuart Damon (remember him as Alan Quartermaine on General Hospital?!). I adore this movie but I'm the only one in my house that does so I can only watch it when I'm by myself.

Reading: I finally finished The Witches and spent a couple of days dipping into new books. I finally settled on Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. It's pretty much perfect after two heavy nonfiction reads.

Making: Between eating leftovers and eating out (dinner both nights of curling was at the event), I was hardly in my kitchen this past week. Yesterday I did use the last of this year's tomato crop to make homemade marinara sauce so we had spaghetti with that last night. Best marinara I have ever made so I'm looking forward to pulling out the container I froze later this winter.

Planning: Thanksgiving's long weekend. I need to get my Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping lists ready so I can knock out a bunch of Christmas shopping this weekend.

Thinking About: Miss H is heading off to South Carolina by herself on Friday. She'll be gone a week. You moms out there will know that I'm consumed with making sure she has everything she needs to make her travels safe. And then I won't stop worrying until she is back a week later.

Enjoying: Sunshine and fresh air.

Feeling: Unfocused.

Looking forward to: Family time. And my sis and her hubby spending the night Saturday night!

Question of the week: Ladies, have you ever traveled solo? If so, hit me with your best trips for staying awake in the car, being safe, things you need to take. Also, if you live in the south, what kind of weather might Miss H be driving into this time of year? And, if you live along the route from Omaha to Greenville, SC, can she hit you up if she needs help? (Can you tell I'm a worried mom?!)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Nonfiction November - Be The Expert, Ask The Expert, Become The Expert

AND I'm caught up! This week's prompt is hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

My nonfiction reading is all over the place (I'm not sure I've ever read three nonfiction books about the same subject) so "being the expert" is out. I'm not necessarily looking for recommendations about specific topics at this time; I tend to choose nonfiction books because they sound interesting not because I was looking for a book on a specific topic. So "ask the expert" isn't for me right now. So I went to my TBR list and sorted it by type to find out what kind of nonfiction books I've got on it to see if there's a topic that it appears I want to become an expert on. Turns out, that seems to be murders. So, here are three books I'd like to read that will help me become the expert:

The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago by Douglas Perry and The Devil In The White City: Murder, Magic Madness at The Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson are both set in Chicago. Three Bodies Burning: The Anatomy of An Investigation Into Murder, Money, and Mexican Marijuana by Brian Bogdanoff was added to my list after hearing Bogdanoff speak (he was the lead investigator on the case) and is about murder right here in Omaha.

Now that you know about my fascination with murders, I'll understand if you don't want to be friends any more!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nonfiction November - Book Pairings

Week Two's prompt is hosted by Sarah, of Sarah's Book Shelves:

It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This is the prompt that always proves tough for me and I often skip it. This year, I'm in!

My first pairing combines one of my favorite fiction reads of 2016, Jesmyn Ward's Salvage The Bones and Sheri Fink's nonfiction Five Days At Memorial, which I've been meaning to read for a long time. Both share Hurricane Katrina as a central event.

My second pairing is a pair of books set in India which both examine the lives of the poorest of that country's people, Thrity Umrigar's The Space Between Us (one of my favorite books of 2010) and Katherine Boo's Behind The Beautiful Forevers (one of my favorite books of 2016).

My final pairing is two books that deal with the recovery of art in France following the Nazi occupation: Sarah Houghtelling's Pictures At An Exhibition and Robert Edsel's The Monuments Men. George Clooney thought Edsel's book was so interesting that he turned it into the 2014 movie of the same name.

What nonfiction pairings would you suggest?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson by Beverly Gray

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson: How The Graduate Became The Touchstone of A Generation by Beverly Gray
Published November 2017 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?”

When The Graduate premiered in December 1967, its filmmakers had only modest expectations attached to what seemed to be a small, sexy, art house comedy adapted from an obscure first novel by an eccentric twenty-four-year-old. There was little indication that this offbeat story--a young man just out of college has an affair with one of his parents’ friends and then runs off with her daughter--would turn out to be a monster hit, with an extended run in theaters and seven Academy Award nominations.

My Thoughts:
I was seven years old when The Graduate came out; clearly I didn't see it for years after it was released. Still, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of it. Let's face it, everyone knows the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack. I've read some interesting things about the making of the film before so I didn't even read the synopsis when I saw this book was available.

Here's some of what I learned:
  • Producer Larry Turman read Charles Webb's book after reading it because a book reviewer had compared it's protagonist to Catcher In The Rye's Holden Caulfield. He paid Webb $1,000 for the rights because two scenes particularly grabbed him: young Benjamin Braddock decked out in an entire SCUBA get up floating in the bottom of his parents' pool and the final shot of a disheveled Benjamin in the back of a bus with a young woman in a wedding gown. 
  • Robert Redford really wanted the role of Benjamin Braddock and, physically, he was perfect for the role of a young California man, suntanned, blond, and tall. But Benjamin was a kid who was supposed to have had little luck with girls. When director Mike Nichols asked him if he had ever struck out with a girl, Redford said, in all earnestness, "What do you mean?" He was out.
  • Dustin Hoffman gave up a role in Mel Brooks' The Producers to play Benjamin and make love to Brooks' wife, Anne Bancroft, who played Mrs. Robinson. My background has always led me to find nothing odd at all about Hoffman being cast as Benjamin but, at the time, a Jewish leading man was certainly a daring choice.
"The casting of Dustin Hoffman as The Graduate's romantic leading man was a shock to Hollywood, which had spent decades trying to sidestep the Judaic roots of its founders. But in the wake of The Graduate, young Jewish males were suddenly everywhere, and often they were playing characters with backgrounds similar to their own."

  • Much of Mrs. Robinson's look and her home decor are the result of Nichol's reading Henry James' novella The Beast In The Jungle. Hence, Mrs. Bancroft appears almost exclusively in animal prints and her sunroom is backed by a jungle of tropical plants.
  • Mike Nichols used light and dark to differentiate between Mrs. Braddock and Mrs. Robinson and glass and water to illustrate the way Benjamin was trapped in his parents' world. In fact, a lot of the things Nichols did in this movie changed the way other filmmakers make movies. 
  • That iconic shot at the end of the movie of Hoffman and Katherine Ross, where their faces turn from exuberance to "what the hell have we done?" That wasn't scripted or directed. Someone forget to say "cut" at what was to have been the end of the scene and that's what happened to Hoffman's and Ross' faces when they thought they were done with the shot. It was so perfect that Nichols left it in. 
"In hindsight, it's easy to wonder: If Ben and Elaine have backed away from the future that's been preordained for them by a hypocritical older generations, where exactly are they headed? The fact that there's no good answer reminds us of what this film may actually portend. Perhaps that's what it's secretly about - the end of the happy ending."
  • No one expected this movie to the hit that it was. Young people stood in long lines, even in the cold, to see it because of the way it spoke to them about what would come to be known as the Generation Gap. But not everyone loved it; critics definitely had a wide range of opinions about what it was, what it wasn't, and what it could have been.
"The Graduate's prescience about matters of grave concern to the Baby Boom generation gave it a life of its own. If we young Americans were anxious about parental pressure, or about sex (and our lack thereof), or about marriage, or about the temptations posed by plastics, it was all visible for us on the movie screen. Today The Graduate continues to serve as a touchstone of that pivotal moment just before some of us began morphing into angry war protesters and spaced-out hippies."
"...those of my generation - didn't much want to face a life built on a bedrock of our elders' choices. In Benjamin we found a hero willing to turn his back on the kind of bright upper-middle-class future we weren't sure we wanted." 
  • Gray has done a thorough job of researching and presents a lot of material. She gives the background of all of the players in the making of the movie and follows up with them afterward; she takes viewers through the entire movie to explain what makes each scene work; and she talks about the impact the movie had on the generation it was targeted at and the generations that followed. 
  • As much as I learned, and as much as I did enjoy the book, I think I'm not the kind of person that wants to read a book that breaks down one movie quite as much as this one did. I must admit that I started skimming quite a lot in the last 100 pages. I think if you were a person for whom this movie was a touchstone (a.k.a. someone about ten or fifteen years older than I am) or someone who really enjoys learning about movies, you'd likely enjoy this book even more. 
  • I definitely need to watch this movie again soon while all of this is still fresh in my brain and I can really appreciate the film making touches that made the story work so well.

"The Graduate lasts partly because it offers something for everyone, the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values the artistic innovation that's the legacy of director Mike Nichols. And this film has also burrowed its way into Hollywood's dream factory. The American movie industry, which worships box-office success, has learned from The Graduate brave new ideas about casting, about cinematic style, about the benefits of a familiar pop music score."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Nonfiction November - My Year In Nonfiction

Well, this month clearly got away from me and I'm hard pressed to say how. Nevertheless, as nonfiction is something I'm really pushing myself to read more of, I definitely didn't want this month to go by without me playing along with everyone for Nonfiction November. So this week, I'll be playing catch up. Week 1's was hosted by Jules of @JulesReads:

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

What Was Your Favorite Nonfiction Read Of The Year?
This one's a tie between Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica Of A Figment Of My Imagination and TaNehisi Coates' We Were Eight Years In Power. Two very different books - one that made my heart break and one that made my brain work.

That Nonfiction Book Have You Recommended The Most?
Even more than fiction, I feel that nonfiction is something that I recommend based on what I know about particular readers. For example, I have recommended Shrill by Lindy West to all of my feminist friends but West's language and graphic subject matters make it a book that's not for everyone. For biography buffs, I highly recommend both Grant by Ron Chernow and Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird. But they are both very big books and definitely not for the faint of heart. For my more liberal friends, I always recommend Sarah Vowell's books and Assassination Vacation is no exception. Perhaps the book that I find myself recommending most, of the nonfiction books I read this year, is Notorious RBG which really has something in it for everyone.

What Is One Topic or Type of Nonfiction You Haven't Read Enough Of Yet?
Easy - science. I'm not looking for textbook reads but I would like to read some of Mary Roach's books, perhaps some Carl Sagan, and, definitely, Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics For People In A Hurry.

What Are You Hoping To Get Out Of Participating In Nonfiction November?
As always, it's a great chance to remember the nonfiction books I've read this year and to kick myself in the rear for not reading more nonfiction (although I may have reached a personal best this year). Most of all, it's always great fun to visit the sites of everyone participating so I can find even more nonfiction reads I want to read.

What about you - how was your year in nonfiction?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 12

Thursday morning everyone in my company was pulled into a meeting where they announced that 15% of the company was being laid off and by noon they were gone. In the hours between the meeting and noon, the tension was through the roof and, afterward and into Friday, there was a sense of mourning hanging over those who survived the cut. I was lucky and still have a job but it certainly makes one concerned for the future.

On CBS Sunday Morning today, they had a story about charity where those in need can come to get free books. A fire had destroyed the warehouse the charity is housed in and the man who runs it thought that was that. But locals weren't letting it go and soon they were holding fundraisers and cash and book donations poured in...7,000 boxes of books. My husband looked at me and said "You could run a place like that." To say that the wheels in my head are spinning now is an understatement. I mean, after Thursday I can't help but think it might be time to make a change.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: NPR in the mornings and podcasts most of the rest of the time, including Crimetown, Singing Bones, and Stuff You Missed In History Class.

Watching: "La La Land," finally. I do love movie musicals and the sets and cinematography were incredible. Ryan Gosling turns out to have one flaw...he's not much of a singer. Luckily, the filmmakers managed to work around that, giving Emma Stone the lion's share of the work in their duets. I'll likely watch it again, maybe even this week.

Reading: I'm racing to finish The Witches by Stacy Schiff for book club on Tuesday. I'm very impressed by Ms. Schiff's research and writing.

Making: Chicken and noodles, taco salads, lasagna and brownie sundaes (the last two for dinner with my parents today). I'm planning on making chili this week. The Big Guy thinks it's going to be too warm for chili but I disagree. I'm in the mood for chili and cinnamon rolls.

Planning: On ordering Christmas cards this week; I'd love to have those in the mail and off my to-do list by the first of December.

Thinking About: What it takes to start a nonprofit. See above.

Enjoying: A basketball game today with my girl.

Feeling: Is it getting old for me to say, I'm feeling like I need a third day to this weekend?

Looking forward to: Book club this week!

Question of the week: If I open a nonprofit book warehouse, will you please come volunteer?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir
Published November 2017 by Crown/Archetype
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

 Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

My Thoughts:
A couple of years ago, we gave Weir's The Martian to Mini-him for Christmas. He read it, passed it along to us, and it sat on the shelf for two years. Until a couple of months ago when I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just in time to find out that Weir's latest, Artemis, was available for review so I immediately downloaded it. Then got very nervous that it wouldn't live up to its predecessor. So, how did it live up to my expectations?

Set in space? Check.

Yes, yes, I know the whole point of grown up books with descriptive words is to paint a picture in the reader's mind of what the scenes look like. But, dang, I really wished this was a picture book so you know I can't wait until this gets turned into a movie. Which you know it will be.

Filled with humor? Check.

It's official. I'm pretty much in love with Andy Weir's sense of humor.

Loaded with tension? Check.

This time the it's not just space that's trying to kill our hero. There are actual people with actual weapons. And there's murder, and chase scenes, and a cop trying to take down our girl.

Also loaded with science? Check.

As with The Martian, I have no idea if all of the science rings true. It mostly sounds plausible enough and Weir writes it interestingly enough to make me want to read it and try to understand it.

But, this is also the only real problem I had with Artemis. It's set 100 years from now, right? But, on several occasions, Weir refers to devices and such that we use now. Based on the way that the world has changed in the past 100 years, I can't help but think that people wouldn't still be watching cable TV; that even for the older generation, laptop computers might be archaic; and that fiber optics might have been replaced by something we can't even imagine yet. Still, that's all a small enough thing, because...

Book I couldn't put down because it was so much fun? Check!

I adored Jazz, with all of her faults. And this time, Weir's lead character got to have real interactions with his other characters and I thoroughly enjoyed the relationships Jazz had with the men in her life. Did I like it as much as the first book? Maybe not quite; but, to some extent, that was only because I knew something of what to expect from Weir. Still, it's a a book I will happily recommend to anyone who enjoyed The Martian. In fact, I might just have to make this one a Christmas present for Mini-me as well!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Life: It Goes On - November 5

Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years The Big Guy and I have been married as of last Monday. So often my brain still tricks me into believing I'm not much older than that so it's hard to imagine that we have been "we" for so long. Not long ago I met a woman who has what can only be described as a very unusual marriage; still, she called her husband her soul mate. I'm never sure I understand what that means or if BG and I are, in fact, soul mates. But I do know that no one knows me better than he does, I would not be the person I am without him in my life, and that he is my rock. As opposed to the days I feel 35, some days I feel pretty old so it was strange to think, when he said to me "here's to another 35" that, theoretically, that could happen!

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Podcasts (including Criminal, Pod Save America, and Classical Classroom), NPR in the mornings, and Sam Smith's new album, after listening to him on an NPR interview.

Watching: The World Series, football (it's quite the bleak year for this fan), Disney's 2017 Beauty and the Beast (I loved it in the theaters; in rewatching it, I was as big a fan), and Bridget Jones' Baby.

Reading: Starting a new book today, Beverly Gray's Seduced by Mrs. Robinson, about the making of the iconic movie, The Graduate. I just finished Andy Weir's Artemis, which I'm reviewing tomorrow. I enjoyed it a lot.

Making: For our anniversary, I did roast a pork tenderloin, baked hasselback potatoes, and made chocolate-dipped strawberries. We did chicken flatbread pizza one night. And last night, we had pasta with tomatoes from our garden that are still ripening on our counter and basil I've brought inside to keep growing.

Planning: On continuing work in my office this week. Doesn't it feel like I'm always talking about working in this little room? It does seem to be a room that is always in flux as things change around here. One of these days, I'll finally decide what it's real purpose is!

Thinking About: Yeah, it's one of those weeks when my head's aswirl with so many things I can't even seem to alight on one thing long enough to finish that thought.

Enjoying: A quiet day yesterday while BG was off to spend the day with friends and Miss H took a four hour nap in anticipation of a very late night last night with her best friend who is on leave from her post in Virginia.

Feeling: Like I need to get busy cleaning but I'd much rather be doing organizing and decluttering things.

Looking forward to: A very quiet week. Again.

Question of the week: Last week a lot of you were surprised that I had already started shopping for Christmas. I couldn't possibly get it all done if I didn't start early. My question for you is, how do you find the time to get everything done for the holidays that needs to be done? Start early and spread it out or devote the month of December to getting it all done?