Sunday, March 31, 2019

Life: It Goes On - March 31

Happy end of March! It's not exactly going out like a lamb (and lord knows, it came in like a lion), but it's close. We're on that roller coaster ride of early spring now - Wednesday it was 75 degrees, yesterday I needed my winter coat. Needless to say, we ate dinner on the patio on Wednesday!

In Nebraska, the flood waters have mostly receded but it will take a long time before all of the roads will be repaired, the fields plantable again, and life can return to a new normal for those who lost everything. Now comes the part where Nebraskans do what Nebraskans do best - pull together and help those in need. Every church is collecting clothing, food, and household goods; so many places allow you to round up your bill to donate the difference to flood relief; and thousands are volunteering their time. It's one of those times that remind me why I live here. Which is a good thing after this long, hard winter when I spent so many days asking myself why we never left Nebraska!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished The Trespasser on Thursday. I thought I had another book ready to listen to only to discover that I had downloaded the print edition; it will now take me another 14 weeks to get that book on audio! Yesterday I downloaded Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach; I'm only about 20 minutes into it so no opinion yet other than that I'm enjoying the readers.

Watched: Some You, some Grace and Frankie, some TLC Saturday night decorating shows, Big Fish, and a whole lot of college basketball. I love March Madness!

Read: I finished Before The Fall and started Lisa See's China Doll, April's book club selection. I'm also starting Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles.

Made: Beef stew, potato/cheese soup, and BLT salad - see what I mean about about how it's been cold and then warm?!

Enjoyed: Getting the house decorated for spring/Easter and doing a lot of refreshing around here.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: 40 Bags In 40 Days continues - I'm tackling my office and moving on to the basement and I'm trying to get the other two people in this house to work on their spaces. Wish me luck!

Thinking About: How I can find time for all of the things I'm loving right now. I've become a terrible blog friend and I need to get back to regularly checking in with my blogging friends.

Feeling: Like a mom - excited for the kid who's closing on his first house in less than a month, hopeful for child who's working toward her degree, anxious for the child who's on the hunt for a new apartment.

Looking forward to: Another quiet week to putz around the house getting things done.

Question of the week: I'm in a rut with cooking and need some new ideas. What's your go-to meal?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Secret Lives of the First Ladies

Secret Lives of the First Ladies: What Your Teachers Never Told You About The Women Of The White House by Cormac O'Brien
Published 2005 by Quirk Books
Source: loaned to me by my mom

Publisher's Summary:
Secrets Lives of the First Ladies features outrageous and uncensored profiles of all the presidents' wives.

You'll discover that Dolley Madison loved to chew tobacco. Mary Todd Lincoln was committed to an asylum, and Mamie Eisenhower never missed an episode of As the World Turns. You'll also learn why Hillary Clinton went to work for Wal-Mart (long before she started campaigning for a higher minimum wage).

Complete with biographies of every first lady, Secret Lives of the First Ladies tackles rough questions that other history books are afraid to ask: How many of these women owned slaves? Which ones were cheating on their husbands? And why did Eleanor Roosevelt serve hot dogs to the Kings and Queens of England? American history was never this much fun!

My Thoughts:
I have had this book on my shelves for a long time. Laura Bush is the last first lady included; updated versions have since been released. And then you may have noticed that it sat on my nightstand for months and months. It made an excellent nightstand book - none of the first lady's stories is more than a few pages long, perfect for reading a few minutes before you end your day. In fact, it would make a great guest room night stand choice for that same reason. O'Brien, to my way of thinking, shows very little political bias. Likewise, he pulls no punches. Of Letitia Tyler's (wife of our 7th president, John Tyler), insistence that her female slaves not work in the field but instead in the home, O'Brien says: "We can only assume that such splendid generosity downgraded their roiling hatred to simmering resentment."

Each of the chapters includes a "data" box - date of birth and death, marriage date, husband, children, years she was first lady, religion, a sound bite, and, curiously, astrological sign. O'Brien devotes a few paragraphs to each woman's early years and background, including how their courtship with their future husbands. He includes a good amount of detail about their lives as the wives of politicians and their impact as first ladies, the impression they made on those around them at the time, and their impact on their husbands. At the end of each chapter, O'Brien has included a few details about each woman that are of particular interest. Not surprisingly, the chapters on the more recent first ladies are longer, what with more information to be found on them. But, there is a surprisingly lot to be learned about the early first ladies as well.

How many of these things did you already know:

  • Helen "Nellie" Taft was responsible for the planting of the cherry trees in Potomac Park in Washington, which draws 1.5 million people to the city annually when they are in bloom.
  • Julia Tyler (John Tyler's second wife) first got the Marine band to play "Hail To The Chief" upon the president's arrival at social events. 
  • Bess Truman (wife of Harry Truman) fought to save the White House. Congress wanted to raze it and start over but Truman saved it and oversaw extensive renovations. 
  • Several of the first wives believed they were psychic and more than one of them held seances.
  • Caroline "Carrie" Harrison (wife of Benjamin Harrison) crocheted some 3,500 pairs of slippers which she donated to charity. They were color-coded to reflect their intended recipients - blue for those who had sided with the North and grey for those who had sided with the South during the Civil War.
  • Pat Nixon's (wife of Richard Nixon) real name was Thelma. Her father always called her "Pat" because she was born the day before St. Patrick's Day; only after his death did she begin calling herself Pat, and then Patricia.
While these are not, of course, full autobiographies of each lady, each of the provides a good overview of each of these women with the kinds of detail included that make readers see the real person. I definitely enjoyed this book, even if it did take me months to read it!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Aysmmetry by Lisa Halliday

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Read by Candace Thaxton, Arthur Morey, Fiona Hardingham, and Aden Hakim
Published February 2018 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, Folly tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, Folly also suggests an aspiring novelist’s coming-of-age. By contrast, Madness is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.

My Thoughts:
You know how I always talk about how much more I feel like I get out of books when I've forgotten what they are about and don't read the synopsis before I start reading a book? Yeah, well, this time that backfired on me. I had no idea this was three distinct stories (sort of) and was so thrown when the second story started. I kept trying to figure out how the two would intersect. It took me a while to understand and just enjoy the second story on its own merits. And then Halliday gave me a third piece that ever so subtly explained it and I almost missed it because it was listening to the book while I was driving.

The review of this book in The New Yorker called this book an "event," something bigger and more than other superbly written books in recent years have been. That review was written last year when the book was published. And this book did appear on several "best of" lists for 2018. And yet, I had never heard of it until I saw those lists. So maybe not the event that reviewer had anticipated; still, I found it to be a well written work, one that had me thinking on many levels and wondering, when I finished it, what I had missed. Was Ezra mean to Alice or was he just a man so set in his ways that he was doing the relationship the only way he could? Certainly Alice benefited from the relationship, but was that enough for her? Was Amar actually a threat the authorities were justified in holding? What was his brother being held for?

So, maybe Asymmetry didn't become quite the event that reviewer had predicted. And maybe I didn't have nearly the reaction to it that I've had to several other well-renowned books of late (George Saunder's Lincoln In The Bardo, for example). Still, I'm very glad it showed up on those lists because I did enjoy it quite a lot.

This is another book that I highly recommend "reading" by listening to it as the readers are quite good. It's a book that lends itself well to having multiple readers and there's not a weak one in the bunch.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Life: It Goes On - March 24

Well, well, well - I think we are finally headed into spring. Which is not to say it's time to put away the winter gear yet but I did wear sandals all day on Friday. I'm not going to look at the forecast for the week - I don't want to know if it's going to be bad - I'll just check it each morning and live with that.

I have had the best mental health four-day weekend. Checked a lot off of the to-do list, knocked out a lot of my 40 Bags in 40 Days bags (including today getting a dresser, desk and desk chair out of my basement!), and got in a fair amount of friend time. I didn't get as much done as I had planned but was happy to be able to support friends who needed me.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I started listening to Tana French's The Trespasser and I'm really enjoying listening to a book read with an Irish accent!

Watched: A whole lot of college basketball between the NCAA and NIT tournaments.

Read: Here's another thing I thought I'd find more time for the past four days. I am enjoying Before The Fall which I'll finish this week.

Made: Things have been super casual in the kitchen this week - chicken salad sandwiches, nachos, chili dogs - and we've been out to eat more than usual.

Enjoyed: Book club, time with friends, time with my parents and time to myself. And finding homes for these spindles my mom passed on to me from her collection, a sterling silver bowl I found at the Goodwill, and a vintage pastoral print I found on Facebook Marketplace. Yes, yes, I know it sort of defeats the purpose of 40 Bags if I keep getting new things but a girl needs a refresh once in a while!

This Week I’m: 

Planning: We've got nothing on the calendar so I'm planning on getting through the rest of my upstairs rooms for 40 Bags. Then it's time to tackle the basement. Ugh. But after getting some furniture out of there, it already looks so much better so that will help with my mood as I work through that.

Thinking About: Spring planting and some changes I want to make in our yard this spring.

Feeling: Happy to have been able to help friends today. It's always good to be able to put smiles on people's faces.

Looking forward to: Right now, I'm tired physically and mentally. Sundays are clean sheets day so I'm looking forward to crawling into bed sooner rather than later.

Question of the week: Are you a March Madness fan?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
Published 1991 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Source: bought my copy of book club

Publisher's Summary:
In this debut novel, the García sisters—Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofía—and their family must flee their home in the Dominican Republic after their father’s role in an attempt to overthrow a tyrannical dictator is discovered. They arrive in New York City in 1960 to a life far removed from their existence in the Caribbean. In the wild and wondrous and not always welcoming U.S.A., their parents try to hold on to their old ways, but the girls try find new lives: by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating to be caught between the old world and the new. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents sets the sisters free to tell their most intimate stories about how they came to be at home—and not at home—in America.

My Thoughts:
Last spring my husband and I went to hear Julia Alvarez speak and were both so impressed with her story and what she had to say about being an author. I knew it was time to read some of her work so I put this book on my book clubs list for 2019 to make sure that I did just that. I decided to start with her first novel, a book that is very much based on her own life history.

What I Liked:

  • I loved getting the story from multiple points of view - each of the girls and both of their parents get a chance to shine and let readers see where they came from and how that past affected their acclimation to a new culture. Every one of them had a very distinct voice.
  • Alvarez really brought the culture and history of the Dominican Republic alive.
  • I appreciated looking at immigration from the point of view of a family that not only came from wealth but was very familiar with the U.S. before they arrived. Still, the change was difficult as Papi was not able to pick up work in the U.S. as a doctor. And in this land built of immigrants, those whose families had been here longer were quick to try to squash the newbies. 
  • The relationships between the immediate and larger families felt very real. These sisters had each others backs but they also had their quibbles with each other and resented being lumped as "the four girls."
What Didn't Work As Well For Me:
  • I understand why Alvarez told her story in reverse chronological order but by the time I got to the end of the book, I was struggling with remembering which of the sisters had grown up to do what. I think I would have been happier with a more linear story line that allowed me to stack experiences on each other for each of the girls and the family.
  • Because of the reverse chronology, we also don't get what feels like a more traditional ending. I'm not sure I felt satisfied, then, by the ending which was actually the beginning. 
Will I read more by Alvarez? Absolutely. I know she has more to teach me about the land of her family. I'd also like to pick up some of her poetry. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Read by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Chris Chalk, Rutina Wesley
Published Published September 2017 by Scribner
Source: purchased my print copy, checked out audiobook copy from my library

Publisher's Summary:
An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds. Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

My Thoughts:
My god, does Jesmyn Ward know how to rip your heart out of your chest. Ward makes readers see what it's like to live your life without hope of something better. The pain of these characters is so raw.  I needed there to be a bad guy, someone to blame for what was happening to these characters. But the bad guy here isn't a character in this book. But then, you already know that.

Parchman prisoners
It would be easy to put that label on Big Joseph. He really is a terrible person. But he's a product of his environment. It would be easy to call Leonie a terrible mother. She is. But she, too, is a product of her environment, a young woman who is desperately in love with a man whose parents will never accept her, a mother to two children she can't care more about than she cares about herself, and a sister who cannot stop grieving.

She is not alone in her grieving. Pop and Mam are grieving Given as well. They are all grieving Mam who has not yet succumbed to the cancer that is slowly killing her. But she is already gone from their lives in so many ways. And Pop is carrying a grief that none of them know about. That will come out in the stories Pop tells Jojo about his time in Parchman, the Mississippi State Penitentiary as a young man and the boy he tried to save.

I bought this book shortly after it came out but for some reason I never picked it up. When I saw I could get the audiobook, I grabbed it. I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough. The readers are all excellent and add so much to the story. In fact, I'm not sure I would have felt the way I came to feel about Leonie were it not for Retina Wesley's reading.

Things got a little hard to follow toward the end of the book. The supernatural element that Ward had used so effectively to tell her tale really took over the book and, for me at least, things got a little muddled. It is to Ward's credit that I had been, until that point, perfectly fine with the supernatural element as it is something I often struggle with in a book. For those who don't have that problem, the ending may not bother you.

I don't know that I will be able to read this book again but I will probably keep it on my shelf. Just the sight of it while be a good reminder of this country's dark past and the way that past continues to echo through the generations.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Life: It Goes On - March 17

That image looks like some kind of joke (Sorry, folks, Nebraska is closed). Sadly, it's not. Two days last week the entire western half of the state was closed down due to a massive blizzard. Even as that was happening, rapid melting and heavy rains caused catastrophic flooding that has washed out roads, stranded entire towns and destroyed others, and resulted in significant loss of livestock. Amazingly, only two people are known to have died, so far. Where we are at is unscathed but even here, there are a number of highways leading out of town that are closed. It will take years to recover from this.

In the first column, the 2nd and 3rd pictures are of Offutt Air Force Base; in the 4th column, that is ice that has washed down the river and stranded on land; the bottom right picture is the route I take when I go to the town I grew up in, a town that is now completely isolated.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry and am nearly down with Tara Westover's Educated. I'm hoping to finish it in the next couple of days then I'm on to Tara French's The Trespasser.

Watched: Um. Some college basketball. Bill Maher's show. The Voice. I've been home alone a lot this week and have had the t.v. off as much as possible.

Read: I'm reading this month's book club selection, How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.

Made: Ebelskivers, reubens, fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches. Nothing fancy here this week as we try to adjust to some schedule changes that are impacting meal times.

Enjoyed: Spending time with my parents this afternoon. I've hardly seen them since Christmas what with our snowy winter.

This Week I’m: 
Sandra, Elena, Sonia, and Ruth - gifts
from my sister in their temporary
home. How cute are they?!

Planning: On finishing up some painting projects, finding homes for some new things I've gotten, doing some painting in Miss H's room, and getting at least seven more bags out of my house as part of 40 Bags In 40 Days.

Thinking About: All of the Nebraskans impacted by the blizzard and the floods.

Feeling: Cranky.  I came home from work on Friday to find that my garage door wouldn't go up. Or down all of the way. Finally got a guy out this morning and spent $400 I could have found much better ways to spend.

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and possible a couple of days off this week.

Question of the week: Have you ever volunteered to help after a natural disaster?

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison

The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison
Published January 2013 by Grove/Atlantic Inc.
Source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
The River Swimmer is Jim Harrison at his most memorable: two men, one young and one older, confronting inconvenient loves and the encroachment of urbanity on nature, written with freshness, abundant wit, and profound humanity. In “The Land of Unlikeness,” Clive—a failed artist, divorced and grappling with the vagaries of his declining years—reluctantly returns to his family’s Michigan farmhouse to visit his aging mother. The return to familiar territory triggers a jolt of renewal—of ardor for his high school sweetheart, of his relationship with his estranged daughter, and of his own lost love of painting. In “The River Swimmer,” Harrison ventures into the magical as an Upper Peninsula farm boy is irresistibly drawn to swimming as an escape, and sees otherworldly creatures in the water. Faced with the injustice and pressure of coming of age, he takes to the river and follows its siren song all the way across Lake Michigan.

My Thoughts:
Jim Harrison is one of those authors who I’ve been reading about for years but never actually reading. I mean, I own one of his physical books which sits collecting dust on my shelves and I even requested this one from Netgalley before it was released. Still I hadn’t read any of his work.

Sometimes I think we know too much about authors, we have the ability to learn things about them that may color our impression of them to such an extent that we put off reading their books. I hadn’t felt that way about Harrison until he died last year and something someone said about him at that time put me off. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was. Perhaps something along the lines of “man’s man.” Which, of course (although why “of course” I cannot say), meant he wrote books for men and; therefore, not for me. Ridiculous, I know, and I’m a little embarrassed about what that says about me.

But I’m bound and determined to go back and read the books I requested on Netgalley that I never got to when I had the chance before they were published. So I bought The River Swimmer. And now I am kicking myself for not picking up Harrison’s work sooner.

To be sure, the two novellas in this book are about men and the first of the novellas, The Land of Unlikeness, is about a 60-year-old man facing a kind of crisis of identity and direction. There’s nothing in either of the novellas to which I can especially relate (other than that both stories are set in the Midwest, which may have been all it took). It didn’t matter. Harrison’s writing sucked me in and his characters intrigued me. The man can absolutely make a scene come alive. Both novellas have elements of humor, which I enjoyed; but The River Swimmer is also brutal. Both served to bring emotion to the stories.

The Land of Unlikeness is an intimate story; we are mostly living in Clive’s head as he returns to his childhood home to care for his mother and, in the process, examine what has become of his life. As he works to rebuild his relationships with his family, Clive also comes to realize that home is enough. In The River Swimmer, Harrison takes us on the journey of a 17-year-old man child as his life takes him from his tight-knit family farm on an island to Europe. There is an element of fantasy in this story and an element of the old-fashioned tall tales but it comes down to be the story of one person trying to find his place in the world.

As further incentive for you to try Harrison, specifically for those of you who have seen and loved the movie Legends of the Fall, Harrison wrote the novella on which that movie is based. I’ll definitely be finding that other Harrison book on my shelves and then I need to get my hands on Legends of the Fall!

Monday, March 11, 2019

How To Be A Bawse: A Guide To Conquering Life by Lilly Singh

How To Be A Bawse: A Guide To Conquering Life by Lill Singh
Read by Lilly Singh
Published March 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library; I also have a copy I purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Lilly Singh isn’t just a superstar. She’s Superwoman—which is also the name of her wildly popular YouTube channel. Funny, smart, and insightful, the actress and comedian covers topics ranging from relationships to career choices to everyday annoyances. It’s no wonder she’s garnered more than a billion views. But Lilly didn’t get to the top by being lucky—she had to work for it. Hard.

Now Lilly wants to share the lessons she learned while taking the world by storm, and the tools she used to do it. How to Be a Bawse is the definitive guide to conquering life. Make no mistake, there are no shortcuts to success, personal or professional. World domination requires real effort, dedication, and determination. Just consider Lilly a personal trainer for your life—with fifty rules to get you in the game, including:

• Let Go of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): Temptation will try to steer you away from your goals. FOMO is just a test of your priorities, a test that a bawse is ready to pass.
• Be Nice to People: Treat niceness like an item on your daily to-do list. People will go out of their way to help and support you because you make them feel good.
• Schedule Inspiration: Lack of motivation isn’t permanent or a sign of weakness. Expect it and proactively schedule time to be creative.
• Be the Dumbest: Challenge yourself by surrounding yourself with people who know more than you do. It’s a vital way to learn and improve.

Told in Lilly’s hilarious, bold voice and packed with photos and candid stories from her journey to the top, How to Be a Bawse will make you love your life and yourself—even more than you love Beyoncé. (Yes, we said it!)

WARNING: This book does not include hopeful thoughts, lucky charms, or cute quotes. That’s because success, happiness, and everything else you want in life need to be worked for, not wished for. In Lilly’s world, there are no escalators, only stairs. Get ready to climb.

My Thoughts:
I don't remember where I first heard about this book. I didn't know then, and I didn't know when I started listening to the book, who the heck Lilly Singh is and why she might have any idea how to conquer life. But the book got a lot of buzz when it came out and the audiobook was available when I needed a book that I could listen to right away. So How To Be A Bawse it was.

Guys, Lilly Singh is really funny. She is also very self-aware and extremely hard working. Even though I'd never heard of her before, she has earned a People's Choice award, two Teen Choice Awards, and ranks tenth on the Forbes list of top-earning YouTube personalities. None of that came without a lot of effort. Singh doesn't presume to suggest that she hasn't made any mistakes along the way but she has learned a lot as she worked to build up her brand.

Sure, we're not all going to reach the same levels Singh has reached. You do have to have a certain personality type to do some of what she has done. But so much of what she suggests her readers do are things we can all try, things we are all easily capable of doing.

Be Nice to People, for example. It takes very little effort to choose to be nice; which just need to remember to do it. Give a compliment, say good morning, treat everyone the same way you treat the "most important" person in a room. In If You Can Do It, You Don't Have To Say It, Singh, suggests that we stop telling people what kind of person we are and what we can do and just showing them by doing the things. Simply, right?

It would never have occurred to me that this was going to be a book I would want to read again. But there is seriously a lot here to think about and I'm glad that I have it on my Nook to pick up again to remind myself of what Singh has to say. I'm not trying to conquer the world but I'm always game to try new ways to conquer life. Whether or not that makes me a bawse, I can't say. But I might as well shoot for that, right?!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Life: It Goes On - March 10

Huzzah! I think we are going to survive winter! The moisture falling out of the sky the past couple of days has been rain (after six more inches of snow on Thursday); and, let me tell you, it's melting like crazy with temps above freezing. Today we are even getting sunshine! My kitty is loving that the sunny spots on the wood floors are actually warm this morning.

Moving on, happy birthday this week to two of my biggest supporters, my dad and my uncle! Thanks to both of them for all of the support they've shown this blog over the years and all of the reviews they've contributed. Love you both!

It's been a busy week around here. Mini-him's car is in for repairs. Instead of paying for a car rental (accident was his fault so his insurance won't cover that), he's been relying, as Blanche Dubois would say, on the kindness of others. I don't mind playing chauffeur too much as it means I get to spend a lot of time with him, which I always enjoy; but, it has taken a bite out of my evenings.

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing Thursday. If this is a book you haven't read yet, but want to read, I highly recommend the audio version. The readers were exceptional. Friday I started Lisa Halliday's Asymmetry strictly based on the fact that it appeared on a lot of 2018 "Best of" lists. I didn't even read a synopsis before I downloaded it from my library. More than an hour into it, I still don't know where Halliday's going with it.

Watched: Some Westworld, some You, and some college basketball. Other than that, not much.

Read: I finished Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer Friday but have yet to pick up another book.

Made: With all of the running around, I ate out a ridiculous amount this week. I did make some French onion soup the other night. It's so simple to make, I don't know why we don't have it more often.

Enjoyed: My first ever campaign launch. Mini-him and I drove across the river to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to watch Bernie Sanders kick off his 2020 campaign. Correct me if I'm wrong, Mom and Dad, but I believe the first time I heard a presidential candidate speak was in 1968 when Robert Kennedy's campaign train stopped in the town. I don't remember a thing he said (I was 7 at the time), but I do have a vivid memory of the crowd and the excitement. In 1976, again before I could vote, I got to hear two presidential candidates speak, including Jimmy Carter who is the only candidate I've ever heard speak who actually won the election.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: To continue 40 Bags In 40 Days. Yesterday I worked on my dining room. I didn't get rid of much in there but did get things reorganized. There's one thing I'd love to get rid of but it was my mother-in-law's (it was her sister's and something she wanted when her sister died) and the Big Guy loves it. But, guys, it's seriously not my style. I can't imagine it will ever come out of the buffet!

Thinking About: Heading down to the Omaha Women's Day March. For some reason, at the last minute, the Omaha organizers decided not to do the march in January with everyone else in the world. Just as well, temps that day were in the teens. But I'm feeling super productive today so we shall see if I want to put a halt to accomplishing things around here.

Feeling: Like taking my own spring break from work. I'd love to have a week to work on projects, hit up some thrift and antique stores, read guilt-free, and just putz around.

Looking forward to: Seeing my mommy and daddy on Thursday. I've hardly seen them since Christmas, what with all of the snow on the weekends!

Question of the week: I have six sets of dishes, four are china. I'm seriously thinking of getting rid of my everyday dishes and using one of the sets of china for everyday. It sort of seems silly to only use them on a dozen or so times a year. Have any of you done this? If so, how long did it take for you to break enough of the china to decide it was a bad idea?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Custom of The Country by Edith Wharton

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
Originally published in 1913
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook...because I couldn't find my print copy*

A scathing yet personal examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class. As she unfolds the story of Undine Spragg, from New York to Europe, Wharton affords us a detailed glimpse of what might be called the interior décor of this America and its nouveau riche fringes. Through a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating, and through a most intricate and satisfying plot that follows Undine's marriages and affairs, she conveys a vision of social behavior that is both supremely informed and supremely disenchanted. - Anita Brookner

My Thoughts:
I am a little embarrassed to admit that I've been doing such a bad job with reading classics that I've sort of forgotten what it takes to read one. Patience. A time commitment. An understanding that there may not be a lot of action and there will be a lot of detail. Fortunately, because I had picked this book for my book club to read, I had to make sure I had read it.

And I'm so happy that I did because Undine Spragg turns out to be one of the great bad girls of literature. I really can't believe that her name isn't as well known as Becky Sharpe (Vanity Fair) and Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With The Wind). In fact, she may be worse than Scarlett O'Hara - Scarlett, at least, was trying to save Tara when she married again and again for money instead of love. There is nothing that Undine cares about more than Undine. As much as I disliked Becky Sharp for the better part of 700 pages, eventually I came to hope she found happiness. Undine, not so much; I never stopped disliking her.

Which just goes to show that you can dislike a character and still enjoy a book about them.

Also, that I will find pleasure in anything that Edith Wharton writes. I adore the way she skewers the privileged classes and those who aspire to join them (I do love me some snarkiness in a novel!).
"The affair was a 'scandal' and it was not in the Dagonet traditions to acknowledge the existence of scandals."
I adore her descriptions:
"...her pale soft-cheeked face, with puffy eye-lids and drooping mouth, suggested a partially melted wax figure which had run to double-chin."
 "...what Popple called society was really just like the houses it lived in: a middle of misapplied ornament over a thin steel shell of utility. The steel shell was built up in Wall Street, the social trimmings were hastily added in Fifth Avenue: and the union between them was as monstrous and factitious, as unlike the gradual homogenous growth which flowers into what other countries know as society, as that between the Blois gargoyles on Peter Van Degen's roof and the skeleton walls supporting them."
Most of all, I adore the way she sees the truth of people:
"Mabel had behaved 'beautifully.' But it is comparatively easy to behave beautifully when one is getting what one wants, and when someone else, who has not always been altogether kind, is not."
I must admit that I had my doubts about choosing Wharton for book club. But it was a success; while people acknowledged that it was slow going getting started, they got more and more wrapped up in it and found they had to find out what would happen to Undine. Undine never disappointed. And neither did Wharton.

*I have a very old copy of this book. I'm pretty sure that I've used it somewhere around the house for decorative purposes. Therein lies the problem with decorating with books!

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Read by Julia Whelan
Published February 2018 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.

In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.

My Thoughts:
Confession: I have never read a Kristin Hannah book before. Not even The Nightingale, which everyone has read. Why not? I can't really recall what put me off her books; probably something that someone I respect said about her writing or one of her books. And I don't know when this happened; but somewhere along the way, I got it into my head that most stories can be told in 400 pages or less. So maybe the size of Hannah's books as contributed to my reticence.

I got some of what I was excepting from Hannah in this book - a novel that could have been edited down about 40 or 50 pages, a story in which there is only black or white, and a fair amount of emotional manipulation. And the other hand, I got what I was expecting from Hannah in this book, characters I found myself caring about and some twists to the book that took the story in directions I wasn't a good way.

Hannah makes sure we don't forget that this book is set in a time when women did not have the options and the rights we have now. In 1974, Hannah reminds us, women couldn't even get credit cards or bank accounts without a man signing for her. Which leaves very few options for a woman who finds herself needing to break away from her husband, even if she were emotionally capable of doing so, which Cora was not.

Hannah's family owns a travel lodge in Alaska so she clearly knows what she's talking about when she describes the beauty of the state, the challenges faced by those who live there, and the battle between those who preferred Alaska to remain untouched and those who wanted to make it more accessible for tourists. She sort of skates over the second of those, uses the third in a fairly predictable way, but oh my, does she do a marvelous job making readers see what draws people to settle in a place that is so harsh and inhospitable so much of the time.

I chose this book for my book club to read this year and read it now as a pre-read to make sure it was one that will work for us. There are some triggers in this book that readers should be aware of including abuse, quite a lot of violence, and murder. But I do think it will make a good book club choice, partly because of those triggers, partly because of the flaws, partly because of the setting and time period, and partly because of the characters. I'll let you know what the others think of it once they read it as well.

I would recommend the audiobook version of this book - Whelan does a fine job of reading it.

At some point, I imagine that I will read Hannah's The Nightingale so I can see what all of the buzz was about. Maybe then, I'll be able to decide if her writing works for me or not.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Life: It Goes On - March 3

Life: it goes on. And so does winter. And so does the snow. I'm starting to feel like a broken record. While I appreciate that the snow has not fallen during morning rush hour (for the most part), we've had three Saturdays in a row with snow and a fourth forecast which makes getting out and doing things on the weekend tricky. Not to mention dangerous. On the plus side, the sun is shining today and my family will be together (albeit some of them by FaceTime, for a family birthday dinner); both Miss H and Ms. S celebrated birthdays on Friday. Hope you've all found things to celebrate this week as well!

Last Week I:

Listened To: I finished Lilly Singh's How To Be A Bawse (loved it!) then started Edith Nesbit's The Railway Children which I immediately gave up on when I found out it was abridged. Instead I started Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing. Wow.

Watched: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the new season of The Voice (at the end of every recent season I say I won't watch the next one but I'm like a moth to the flame), and today I've "watched" Disney's Tarzan and 10 Things I Hate About You while I get some things done around the house.

Read: Not much this week but I did start Jim Harrison's The River Swimmer and I'm enjoying Harrison's writing.

Made: Chicken chili (a definite repeat); cranberry, white chocolate scones (which is a try again recipe); and today I'm making fettuccine al Fredo and cheesecake for the birthday dinner (Miss H's choices but I think we'll all be in a rich food coma when we finish!).

Enjoyed: Book club Tuesday, lunch with friends yesterday (and I got to meet one of my friend's 6-week-old little girl!), and dinner with friends here last night.

This Week I’m: 

Planning: More painting projects and I'm pulling out some spring decor, despite the weather.

Thinking About: My sister and hoping every day finds her feeling better.

Feeling: Tired. I really have to start getting more sleep during the week. It's starting to have an effect on my weekend energy level and that's not acceptable.

Looking forward to: 40 Bags In 40 Days, which starts on Wednesday. I've actually already conquered a couple of areas and gotten rid of three bags.

Question of the week: I've been seeing a lot of deconstructed furniture on Instagram. Have any of you ever done that? I'm intrigued but a little terrified of buying something and then ruining it.