Monday, August 31, 2020

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Wishful Drinking
by Carrie Fisher
Read by Carrie Fisher
Published September 2009 by Simon and Schuster
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher’s Summary:
Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty—Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher—homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed. 

This is Carrie Fisher at her best—revealing her worst. She tells her true and outrageous story of her bizarre reality with her inimitable wit, unabashed self-deprecation, and buoyant, infectious humor.

My Thoughts:
The other day I finished the book I had been listening to and started the next one that I had on loan from the library only to discover that I just could not listen to it. Not that day, not in that frame of mind. I needed something light. I often call the books I read between heavier books “sorbet” books. But what I had in mind this time was something more like chicken broth for the brain – I needed to feel better. I wasn’t sure what that would be – a mystery, something funny, perhaps, gasp!, a romance? I started browsing what was available right now that wasn’t too long. I looked at a lot of options; but I knew this was the one as soon as I found it.

Wishful Drinking is based on Fisher’s show of the same name and I can’t tell you how much I wish, after hearing this, that I had been able to see her perform the show. We already know a lot of what Fisher has to say (who her parents are, how they were broken up, who she married, that she was an addict, etc.). But Fisher tells her life story in the way of any great storyteller: filling in, embellishing, and making even the saddest things funny. No one, with the possible exception of her ex-husband, Paul Simon, is safe from her wit. She says that her mother was horrified when she found out that Fisher had begun cooking for her daughter, insisting that she would send her cook over to take care of the cooking. She mocks her parents’ multiple marriages, George Lucas’ directing, and the famous friends she partied with.

As funny as she is, Fisher is also brutally honest about her addictions and her battle with mental illness. Pretty heavy topics but, again, Fisher finds away to make them funny. She says that it was hard for doctors to diagnose her bipolar disorder because the effects of her drug and alcohol abuse so closely mirrored the symptoms of that disorder. In the end, to battle her depression, Fisher needed electroconvulsive therapy and I’ll be damned if she didn’t find a way to make even that hilarious.

Now I’m sure that this book is funny in print. But if you haven’t read it yet, I cannot recommend highly enough that you listen to it instead of reading it in print. Fisher’s comic timing is impeccable and that last few minutes of the book simply wouldn’t be the same without her reading them. This was just the book I needed!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 30


Guys, I started to type May, instead of August, in the title of this post. Just a mental lapse or an indication that I want time to slow down and warm days filled with birdsong, pots of bright flowers, lush lawns to continue longer? Yes, yes I do want time to slow down. As much as I will enjoy cooler nights, the beautiful fall colors, and the smells of the season, fall is much too short and this year means we are nearing the end of being able to sit outside together in most of the country. Before we get to that time, though, I plan to enjoy as much time outdoors and with others as I can!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: The Fire This Time (review next week) and lots of Spotify. I wish I could listen to podcasts on work but I haven't figured out how to do that yet; and, without a commute, I really haven't figured out a good time to do that because I'm always eager to get to my books when it might have worked. 

 Lots of baseball, some basketball, and, today, the Michael York version of The Three Musketeers. I had forgotten how comic it was and how beautiful the sets and costumes were.

Read: I'm working my way through Gary Krist's The Mirage Factory and am, happily, surprised to find Krist addressing racism as Los Angeles was settled. 

Made: We ate lots of leftovers from last Sunday's big family dinner so I didn't have to cook much for a few days. Then it was salads, caprese pasta, and BLTs - summer fare!

 My parents were recently up to see my sister and brother-in-law in Wisconsin and my brother-in-law ended up driving them home. He needed to get back home so we met my sister about halfway to help get him home and we got to enjoy a lovely couple of hours having a picnic with my sister. It was much needed and an absolutely beautiful day!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On completing the refinishing of an end table - I'm hoping not to have to paint it but we'll see once I'm completely finished. Then it's on to cleaning up a table that my father-in-law built when he was in high school that will be used a vanity in one of our guest rooms. 

Thinking About: Rearranging my basement. Guys, I talked The Big Guy into getting rid of a big, ugly recliner down there and once that's gone I can move some things to allow for a dedicated workout space. BG is really missing getting to go to the gym and has been picking up some weights so he could keep up with that piece of it; but, come winter, he'll need to make more use of the cardio equipment and I'd like to make that a nicer place to be. 

Feeling: Like there's never enough time but confused as to why that is? I used to have five people to take care of, including all of the cleanup and things on the calendar. How can we be down to just two of us and I still don't seem to have enough time to get it all done? If anything, I think I a worse job of keeping my house clean!

Looking forward to: Possibly getting out of town this weekend to go see Miss H. 

Question of the week: Are you already burning apple-scented candles and drinking pumpkins spice coffee?

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

A Spool of Blue Thread
by Anne Tyler 
Read by Kimberly Farr 
Published February 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library 

Publisher’s Summary: “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon. . . . ” This is how Abby Whitshank always describes the day she fell in love with Red in July 1959. The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate an indefinable kind of specialness, but like all families, their stories reveal only part of the picture: Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets. From Red’s parents, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to the grandchildren carrying the Whitshank legacy boisterously into the twenty-first century, here are four generations of lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn house that has always been their anchor. 

My Thoughts: Once upon a time I read and loved Anne Tyler’s work. And then, for reasons I don’t recall, I stopped reading her books. Perhaps because her work almost always centered around families and I hadn’t quite reached the point in my life where that kind of book resonated with me. But they do now and I’ve been wanting to get back to Tyler for a while. But you know, shiny new books come out faster than I can read them and once they’re not shiny and new, I kind of forget about getting to them, so it took me five years to finally pick this one up. 

I was delighted to find that Tyler’s writing has not lost a beat. She still creates marvelous characters, interesting family dynamics, and so many passages that spoke to me. In fact, I think I'll let Tyler writing speak for itself. She has these things to say about being a mother: 
“You wake in the morning, you’re feeling fin, but all at once you think, “Something’s not right. Something’s off somewhere; what is it?” And then you remember that it’s your child – whichever one is unhappy.” 
“You know how you just have to touch your child, sometimes? How you drink him in with your eyes and you could stare at him for hours and you marvel at how dear and impossibly perfect he is?” 
“She loved them so much that she felt a kind of hollowness on the inner surface of her arms whenever she looked at them – an ache of longing to pull them close and hold them tight against her.” 
“One thing that parents of problem children never said aloud: it was a relief when the children turned out okay, but then what were the parents supposed to do with the anger they’d felt all those years.” 
“It came to her so clearly now: the stiff-armed reach out to her side with her palm facing backward, the confident expectation of some trusting little hand grabbing hers.” 
Tyler has this to say about growing older: 
“It makes you wonder why we bother accumulating, accumulating, when we know from earliest childhood how it’s all going to end.” 
“She had always assumed that when she was old, she would have total confidence, finally. But look at her: still uncertain. In many ways she was more uncertain now than she had been as a girl.” 
“For years, she had been in mourning for the way she had let her life slip through her fingers. Given another chance, she’d told herself, she would take more care to experience it. But lately, she was finding that she had experienced it after all and just forgotten, and now it was returning to her.” 
“To my earlier self I would like to say, “Relax. The story will come in due time. Trust your characters. Let them tell you what happens next.” 
This book was nominated for the Man Booker prize but I’m not sure why. Yes, I enjoyed the book – Tyler’s writing and her characters and her way of exploring family dynamics and secrets. But as she moves back and forth in time, she took me out of what I had understood to be the story and I felt like I was reading another book and I was left without the resolution I wanted. Despite all of those lovely quotes and Tyler’ ability to tell a story, it just didn’t feel like it could have been one of the best books of 2015. For me, it’s not a five-star read. But then, there’s nothing wrong with a really lovely three-star book.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Daddy: Stories by Emma Cline

Daddy: Stories by Emma Cline

Published September 2020 by Random House Publishing Group

Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:

An absentee father collects his son from boarding school after a shocking act of violence. A nanny to a celebrity family hides out in Laurel Canyon in the aftermath of a tabloid scandal. A young woman sells her underwear to strangers. A notorious guest arrives at a placid, not-quite rehab in the Southwest. 

In ten remarkable stories, Emma Cline portrays moments when the ordinary is disturbed, when daily life buckles, revealing the perversity and violence pulsing under the surface. She explores characters navigating the edge, the limits of themselves and those around them: power dynamics in families, in relationships, the distance between their true and false selves. They want connection, but what they provoke is often closer to self-sabotage. What are the costs of one’s choices? Of the moments when we act, or fail to act? These complexities are at the heart of Daddy, Emma Cline’s sharp-eyed illumination of the contrary impulses that animate our inner lives.

My Thoughts:

Four years ago I read and reviewed Cline's debut, The Girls, and was impressed by her writing and remarked that I was looking forward to reading more of her work. So I jumped at the change to read her latest effort; but I'm nearly always torn about short story collections and this one was no exception. As is so often the case, some stories were more interesting than others; and, although there's no doubt that the stories are, for the most part well written, some are certainly better written. 

All of the stories are small pieces of the bigger picture. In many of the stories, we soon become aware that we have missed something big and we leave the story still not aware of exactly what has happened. But what has happened isn't exactly the point of the story; how the characters react is a story unto itself. The stories are, to my way of thinking, unceasingly dark, exposing the ugliness of people. Some of the stories focus on the older men looking back on the failures of their lives (What You Can Do With A General, which looks at a father who doesn't under his grown children who have come home); others focus on young women dealing with the seedy side of the world they live in (Los Angeles, about a young woman who decides to take advantage of the sexual perversity of men without understanding the ramifications of her actions). 

My takeaways from this collection:

  • Cline is certainly a talented young author who writes intelligent works and who crafts realistic stories and characters.
  • From what I've seen so far, Cline is inclined to look at the dark side of life.
  • Knowing that going in will help set expectations and help me to make sure I'm reading her work in the right frame of mind. 

When you're reading books for review, you don't necessarily get the chance to read the book that suits your mood. I don't think this one did that for me and I can't help but wonder if I would actually have enjoyed it more if I had read it at another time. Or, if I so often wonder about short story collections, if I would have enjoyed it more if I had broken it up instead of reading straight through it. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 23

Happy Sunday! Hope you are all staying safe and well because 2020 just seems to be saying to us, "You think that's all I've got? Hold my beer!" Back in March there was a meme that was going around the second week which said "Just a warning: this week is starting by changing the clocks, has a full moon, and ends with Friday the 13th. Good luck people. P.S. Don't forget to wash your hands." Remember when that sounded scary?! Now that seems like child's play, what with virus, hurricanes, fires, and political unrest. 

We've been babysitting the grandkitty again this week so I've continued my work in the basement. This week I dove into the file cabinets and have about 40 pounds of paper ready to be shredded. And I'm not finished yet. But all of that time in the basement, with a cat I'm allergic to, has really set off my allergies so that project is going to sit for a couple of days (as are the other projects I've started and not finished downstairs!). 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: One day I finished listening to a book and KNEW that I could not start the next book I had in queue. I needed something that would give me a break from the nonfiction and heavy stuff I've been reading. So checked out what the library had available right away and came across Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking. I cannot tell you how often I laughed while listening to that book! It was just what I needed before launching into another book that will make me angry. 

Watched: The Democratic convention - so weird without all of the hoopla and energy. But it also gave an opportunity to do somethings that they couldn't have done otherwise. I also watched a lot of HGTV (which made me want to stop with the decluttering and do something more creative!), and last night Miss H and I watched A League of Their Own

Read: Like my listening, I needed something in print this week that would take me away and so I followed the advise of Ti (Book Chatter) and picked up Ruth Ware's first book, In A Dark, Dark Wood, which I raced through. 

Made: Last night I made a lemon, raspberry ricotta cake for our weekly dessert date night with friends. It was definitely a do again but with some tweaking. We're doing a family dinner tonight since both Miss H and Mini-him are in town and I'm making zucchini appetizers, a pork tenderloin with apricot glaze, rosemary biscuits, caprese salad, and apple/Snickers salad. Can you tell I've got my cooking mojo back all of a sudden?! Who knows how long it will last? 

 Having Miss H home for the weekend and evenings on the patio. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing the side table project I started a week ago and then had to set aside until I could get more supplies, painting a headboard for the guest room and finishing that paper project now that the extra cat is out of the way. 

Thinking About: More projects, more projects!

Feeling: Frustrated that these allergies have kept me from getting more done this weekend. 

Looking forward to: A week without an extra cat. That's how sad my life has become that that is now a highlight!

Question of the week: What's on the menu at your house this week? While I'm cooking, I'm looking for new recipes!

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 16

Happy Sunday! Wish you were all enjoying as beautiful a morning as we are having here. It's been a productive weekend which is capping off a productive week. Got rid of our extra cat on Wednesday but in the meantime I got a lot more done in my basement last week and took a load of stuff to the Goodwill yesterday. You all know how happy that makes me! I'm hoping to pull up a couple of pieces of furniture today to start a couple more paint projects but I've been battling a sinus headache this weekend so we'll see if I can maintain that level of activity. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started this month's book club selection, A Spool of Blue Thread and it took me no time at all to remember why I used to read so much of Anne Tyler's work. 

Watched: Lots of baseball and some NBA basketball because sports. Also, lots of HGTV. Between the later and Instagram, I'm feeling the urge to paint, rearrange furniture, redo my shelves...basically drive The Big Guy crazy!

Read: I finished Emma Cline's short story collection, Daddy (review this week) and started Ruth Ware's first book, In A Dark, Dark Wood. I have a couple of library books I should have started but I just wasn't feeling them and when Ti (Book Chatter) mentioned that she was reading Ware's book and then raved about it, I grabbed it off my shelf. I'm ready for something that just takes me away from everything. 

Made: I made cast iron steaks the other night, with a mushroom and roasted tomato topping, then used the leftover steak to make a killer steak salad. Also made a quick and easy ice cream that tastes good but it so rich and fatty that we could only eat a little at a time. Still, it's something I'll tweak because it's fast to make and will be easy to modify. 

Enjoyed: An evening on the patio Friday with Mini-him and an evening on the deck with friends last night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Those aforementioned painting projects and a rearrangement of the pantry. 

Thinking About: How much I hate the changes Google has made to the Blogger platform. It's so hard to go through comments now and I've been getting so much more spam (and most of it obscene). Why do sites/apps seem to be making changes just to make changes?

Feeling: Like I need to take a break from social media. It just makes me so mad, so sad, and so tired. 

Looking forward to: Miss H is coming up this weekend and I'm already planning some yummy  meals to have while she is here. 

Question of the week: I've seen that some of you are knitting, some doing needlepoint, others, of course, are reading - what other ways are you finding to keep yourself from being overwhelmed by all that is going on?

Friday, August 14, 2020

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Read by Tara Lynne Barr, Marin Ireland, Mens Survari and Lisa Taddeo

Published July 2019 by Avid Reader Press/Simon and Shuster

Source: audiobook checked out from my local library 

Publisher's Summary:

In suburban Indiana we meet Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks and, after reconnecting with an old flame through social media, embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming. In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who allegedly has a clandestine physical relationship with her handsome, married English teacher; the ensuing criminal trial will turn their quiet community upside down. Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. Based on years of immersive reporting and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy. “A work of deep observation, long conversations, and a kind of journalistic alchemy” (Kate Tuttle, NPR), Three Women introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

My Thoughts:

I've got to stop checking books out just because I remember there was some buzz around them when they came out without having at least some idea what they are about. Once again, I was clueless going into this one and I'm certain it colored my impression of the book. Some of my impression is also due to this being a book I might have enjoyed more if the timing would have been better and I think I would have enjoyed it more in print, although all of the readers were solid. 

I think the reviewer from The New Yorker really liked this book (although, to be honest, I wasn't entirely sure which is an odd sensation after reading a review). She kept referring to the relatability of these characters. She alway referenced provincial thinking. Perhaps its the later than makes me question the former. Maggie was the only character I found relatable; not only couldn't I relate the other two women, I couldn't imagine that I know anyone who might have those kinds of relationships. But then, I've long ago learned that we don't know what's going on behind our neighbors' doors. So it's entirely possible there are women on my block who could completely relate. 

The book does not read like nonfiction. Taddeo takes us back and forth between the women's stories and I sort of kept waiting for the point at which these stories would come together. Which, of course, they didn't. The detail of the sexual encounters make this a book you probably won't want to listen to in front of other people and it, again, made the stories feel less like nonfiction. I get that Taddeo wanted us to understand something about these encounters by including that level of detail but it sometimes took me away from the point of the women's stories and took away from the feelings the women had about passion, which was the point of Taddeo's work. 

If the summary intrigues you, I urge you to read other reviews before you make a decision about reading this one (except you, Mom; you will NOT like this one). Other reviewers rave about this book. For me, it just wasn't the right book right now. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Published March 2020 by Random House Publishing Group

Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:

This is how you find yourself. 

There is a voice of longing inside each woman. We strive so mightily to be good: good partners, daughters, mothers, employees, and friends. We hope all this striving will make us feel alive. Instead, it leaves us feeling weary, stuck, overwhelmed, and underwhelmed. We look at our lives and wonder: Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this? We quickly silence that question, telling ourselves to be grateful, hiding our discontent—even from ourselves. 

For many years, Glennon Doyle denied her own discontent. Then, while speaking at a conference, she looked at a woman across the room and fell instantly in love. Three words flooded her mind: There She Is. At first, Glennon assumed these words came to her from on high. But she soon realized they had come to her from within. This was her own voice—the one she had buried beneath decades of numbing addictions, cultural conditioning, and institutional allegiances. This was the voice of the girl she had been before the world told her who to be. Glennon decided to quit abandoning herself and to instead abandon the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living. 

Soulful and uproarious, forceful and tender, Untamed is both an intimate memoir and a galvanizing wake-up call. It is the story of how one woman learned that a responsible mother is not one who slowly dies for her children, but one who shows them how to fully live. It is the story of navigating divorce, forming a new blended family, and discovering that the brokenness or wholeness of a family depends not on its structure but on each member’s ability to bring her full self to the table. And it is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts so that we become women who can finally look at ourselves and say: There She Is. 

Untamed shows us how to be brave. As Glennon insists: The braver we are, the luckier we get.

My Thoughts:

I don't really know why I requested this book from my library, which should tell you that I had no idea what it was about when I requested it. Fiction? Nonfiction? Short stories? Literally, no idea. Imagine my surprise, as someone who reads very little in the way of what might be called "self-help" books to find that this, then, is what I was reading. 

I'll be honest; it took me a little while to get into this one, even though Doyle certainly has a interesting story and, for the most part, I enjoyed her writing style. Oh heck, let's just get the stuff I didn't like out of the way while we're here. The first thing is that I couldn't quite tell if this was a series of articles or writings that happened organically or if Doyle sat down to write the book straight through, which wouldn't be a big deal except that there were what I would call, for lack of a better phrase, a continuity problem. In one chapter, Doyle would continually refer to her wife and in the next chapter she would call her by name; there was very little point in saying "my wife" so often after that (unless she still just loves to hear that, which she might). That's a little thing, just a niggling annoyance. But what I liked less (and it's a problem I often have with this kind of book), was the "I've got it all figured out and my way is right" impression I often got from Doyle. The thing is, there's plenty here to suggest that she spent a lot of years getting to this point and made a lot of mistakes along the way. Maybe what I want is something along the lines of "I screwed up a lot but here's an example of a time I feel like I got it right and maybe it would work for you, too." 

All that said, I liked this book overall. I liked it a lot. 

Having an addict in the family has made me appreciative of what it takes for a person to overcome their addictions. I guarantee that Doyle doesn't get us the full story of how she recovered. It's certainly possible to wake up one day and decide you're going to get clean but it doesn't keep happening without struggle and we don't see that. But that's not what the book is about so it's ok and I can understand how that may have influenced the way she lived after that. 

As a person who knew early on that I wanted to be a mother, I often find it annoying when people make it seem that being devoted to your children is also killing your true self. On the other hand, when I was a stay-at-home mom, it didn't take me long to realize that I needed more and I had to find a way to make that work. Doyle makes it clear that deciding that she needed to live for herself as much as she lived for her children didn't mean she loved her children less or mothered them less. 

Doyle writes a lot about feelings and how we need to allow ourselves to feel all of our feelings and to listen to what they are telling us; "...being fully human is not about feeling happy it's about feeling everything." 

"Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that's what they're for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you're doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes." 

In other words, it's ok to be sad. Or angry. But also, spend some time with those feelings and find out why you are sad or angry. It's an opportunity to learn something about yourself and a chance to do things differently to try to avoid being sad or angry for that same reason again and again. 

"Consumer culture promises us that we can buy our way out of pain - that the reason we're sad and angry is not that being human hurts; it's because we don't have those countertops, her thighs, these jeans. It's a clever way to run an economy, but it is no way to run a life. Consuming keeps us distracted, busy, and numb. Numbness keeps us from becoming."

I highlighted a lot of passages about bravery, raising girls and boys and how we are programmed from an early age, revolution, mental illness, and helping people. But where Doyle really grabbed me and convinced me that she was someone that I will keep following, was when she wrote about racism and religion. You know by what I've been reading (and especially if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram), that I've been working hard to educate myself about racism and to change my ingrained thinking. Again and again, I've seen black people tell white people to ask their white friends that know more than they do how they can help. Doyle feels like that person, the one you can turn to who will help you understand and do better. 

I've been struggling with religion for years and about a year ago, I had all but given up on it entirely. But my daughter, who has learned through her recovery to believe in a Higher Spirit which is not necessarily God, has always kept me thinking about that idea. But I wasn't sure how that worked for me. Doyle, who does believe in God, gave up on organized religion a while ago but writes extensively about her faith. "In fact, my favorite idea of faith is  a belief in the unseen order of things." Doyle's ideas about faith spoke to me. Before I return this book to the library, I'll be reading those passage again and will be taking notes that I can refer back to when I need it. 

So while I may have had some problems with this book, there was so much that felt like Doyle knew exactly what I needed to hear. She's not a writer, or a person, for everyone. But Doyle is ok with that. She's worked hard to get to that point in her life. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 9

Happy Sunday! How are you all holding up - with summer heat, with the kids returning to school soon and the debate about what form that will take, with politics, and with this damn virus? In some ways, I feel like my life is just going on in the normal way - work, cleaning, laundry, meals, projects around the house. I'm still doing all of those things but so many of them are being done differently: working from home, picking up my groceries instead of actually shopping, sanitizing daily instead of just wiping down the counters when I do dishes. So it's never far from my mind what's going on outside of my safe haven and it's really starting to wear on me. My to-do list has plenty on it already but I think I'm going to prioritize a little painting project because those get me outside and always lift my spirits. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished At Home and started Lisa Taddeo's Three Women. I'm struggling with it, to be honest; I've sped it up so I'm listening to it at 150% speed in an effort to try to get through it.

 Guys, I have watched so much more tv this week than I usually do but most of it has been HGTV and oldish movies so nothing much notable. We are cat-sitting Mini-him's cat while he is out of town for work and his cat and our cat do not get along. So poor Mini-him's cat spends most of the time shut in the basement. Feeling sorry for him, I have spent a lot of time this past week down there with him to play and keep him company. Consequently, I've also gotten a ton of work done down there!

Read: I'll finish Glennon Doyle's Untamed today and I'm also, very slowly, getting into The Mirage. I've been reading/listening to a lot of nonfiction lately, though, so I may break that up with some fiction. 

Made: A killer chicken salad, the usual summer staple - pasta with fresh-picked tomatoes and basil, and strawberry shortcake. Today I'm making roasted tomatoes and basil because I have about a quart of cherry tomatoes that need to be used and we cannot eat them as fast as they are coming off the vines this year. 
 Time with my parents, Miss H, and friends but the, literal, highlight of my week was getting my hair done yesterday. I so rarely leave the house that it is good for me to get away from here for a few hours, get pampered, gossip, and just relax (even if the hand sanitizing and temperature taking as you come in the door and wearing of masks remind us that this is not a normal time). 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Weston will be with us until Thursday so I'll be getting more done in the basement this week. More for the Goodwill, more garbage out, and, undoubtedly, more working to convince The Big Guy that two people do not need this much stuff. 

Thinking About: How badly I have been doing as a blogger. I haven't participated in readathons in an age, haven't updated things around here in even longer, and I'm terrible about responding to comments and visiting other blogs. I think my plan for my word of the year, "Enough," needs to be to do enough work as a blogger to regain the real love for it I used to have.

Feeling: I'm missing my family today in so many ways. Missing getting the whole big clan together at my parents, missing my kids all being home together. I miss my people!

Looking forward to: A very quiet week capped by an even quieter weekend. BG has some pretty big dental work scheduled for Friday so he'll probably be laid low for a few days. 

Question of the week: Back to what I asked in the first paragraph - how are you holding up? What ways have you found to make things better or to make them feel more normal? 

Thursday, August 6, 2020

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

At Home: A Short History of Private Life
by Bill Bryson
Read by Bill Bryson
Published October 2011 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In these pages, the beloved Bill Bryson gives us a fascinating history of the modern home, taking us on a room-by-room tour through his own house and using each room to explore the vast history of the domestic artifacts we take for granted. As he takes us through the history of our modern comforts, Bryson demonstrates that whatever happens in the world eventually ends up in our home, in the paint, the pipes, the pillows, and every item of furniture. Bryson has one of the liveliest, most inquisitive minds on the planet, and his sheer prose fluency makes At Home one of the most entertaining books ever written about private life.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's Weekly calls Bill Bryson's exploration of the history of our homes and lives "free-ranging" and I think that is the perfect description. He opens the book writing about the building of the Crystal Palace, home to the 1851 Great Exhibition in England which takes us off into the history of glass making and construction. 

By coincidence, little more than 100 miles away, in the same year a rectory was being built which Bryson would one day be living in and which he would use as a map for this book. In discussing his home, Bryson writes about the history of how homes as we know them developed. We learn about the rectors who occupied homes like the one he lives in, and what they did, which very rarely involved tending to a flock. Once inside we learn about rats and all manner of creepy creatures, the history of the use of and search for spices, furniture through the years, disease and death, childbirth and the raising of children, the industrial revolution and child labor, the way certain words (such as toilet) have changed through the years, and the history of the telephone. 

The book is chock full of information which I found, for the most part, very interesting and wished that I had bought the book so I could refer back to it in the future. But...I often forgot what room we'd started in since Bryson so often went off in a direction that had little to do with the room. Because Bryson's home tended to have rats in the study, that's what Bryson talked about in that chapter but he included nothing about why a room called a "study" ever came into being (although, to be fair, he did touch on, when talking about the change from living in one great hall to having many rooms in a home, that often rooms began being used for a purpose just because there were so many rooms). In some ways, it felt like Bryson had found a lot of interesting information about a lot of things that he wanted to find a way to weave into one book. Bryson certainly does know a lot about the subjects that he's included and stuffed the book full of interesting tidbits; for example, Queen Elizabeth I used to take the silverware home when she visited people's homes. 

Bryson does a marvelous job reading his book but I must say I was surprised to find that he was born in the U.S. and lives here now, given that he speaks with a British accent. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

In The Valley by Ron Rash

In The Valley
by Ron Rash
Published August 2020 by Doubleday
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Ron Rash has long been a revered presence in the landscape of American letters. A virtuosic novelist, poet, and story writer, he evokes the beauty and brutality of the land, the relentless tension between past and present, and the unquenchable human desire to be a little bit better than circumstances would seem to allow (to paraphrase Faulkner). 

In these ten stories, Rash spins a haunting allegory of the times we live in—rampant capitalism, the severing of ties to the natural world in the relentless hunt for profit, the destruction of body and soul with pills meant to mute our pain—and yet within this world he illuminates acts of extraordinary decency and heroism. Two of the stories have already been singled out for accolades: "Baptism" was chosen by Roxane Gay for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories 2018, and "Neighbors" was selected by Jonathan Lethem for The Best American Mystery Stories 2019. And in revisiting Serena Pemberton, Rash updates his bestselling parable of greed run amok as his deliciously vindictive heroine returns to the North Carolina wilderness she left scarred and desecrated to make one final effort to kill the child that threatens all she has accomplished. 

My Thoughts:
I've been a fan of Ron Rash's for more than ten years, since I read Serena (my review). I'm always eager to read more of his work; when I saw this collection included a novella based on Serena, I knew I wanted to read it right away. I thought I might race through the short stories to get to the novella but two things stopped me: I began to worry that the novella might not live up to my memories of the book on which it was based and the short stories are too good to be rushed. 

Richard Price, who knows brutal writing, calls Ron Rash a "gorgeous brutal writer." In everything Rash writes, there is a brutality and these stories are no exception: a group of Confederate soldiers threaten to burn down the barn and take everything of value from a young mother and her children, an ex-con tries to airdrop toys to the children he loves but has been banned from seeing, a kidnapped young woman is turned into a drug addict, and an abusive ex-husband demands to be baptized so he can marry a his former wife's young sister. But Rash's darkness is never entirely without heart and hope, saving his work from complete despair. Last Bridge Burned helps us see how small acts of kindness can make all the difference; The Belt showed us the ultimate gift of love. And, my God, his writing is as incredible as it was when I first picked up his work. From small slices of a life to epic tales, Rash gives readers vivid imagery and memorable, relatable characters. 

And the novella? It gave me everything I wanted - Serena Pemberton at her Lady Macbeth best, the battle between human lives and profits, astonishing violence, and tenderness. Perhaps, best of all, Rash left me with the hope that we may not yet have seen the end of Serena. 

There aren't a lot of reviews of this collection out there so you're going to have to trust me on this one. If you can handle the darkness and violence, and are a fan of short stories, I cannot recommend this collection enough, 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Life: It Goes On - August 2

August?? How did that happen already? I know those of you who have school-aged children feel like summer is over once they go back to work but I cannot emphasize to you enough that Summer. Is. Not. Over! We have another month. Heck, the calendar says we have seven more weeks but I'd rather think of September as fall so I'll go with four weeks of summer left. I got some landscaping stones from my parents today and I've started a new garden project so I'm going to need all of those weeks! This whole virus thing has given me entirely too much time to think of projects to do!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I'm still listening to Bill Bryson's At Home and learning so much. Dad, you'll be interested to know that there is a part about Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. Bryson says that no visitors are ever allowed to the upper floors but we know differently, don't we?!

The landscape stones on the right are my new project. 
 Lots of HGTV (which doesn't help with me finding all kinds of new projects to do!), including Hometown and Good Bones and some a couple of episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Read: I finished Ron Rash's latest collection, In The Valley, and loved the novella at the end, in particular. Then I started The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist which I'll be alternating with Untamed by Glennon Doyle. 

Made: Pasta with fresh-picked tomatoes and basil, Austrian potato salad, fresh-picked green beans with bacon and purple onion, and, for Mini-him's birthday dinner, Asian chicken salad, red velvet cake, and homemade ice cream. 

One of Mini-him's birthday
presents when they were
nearly finished. 
 Mini-him's birthday dinner with his girlfriend, a six-hour happy hour evening with one of my besties and a visit with my parents and Miss H today. It was just what I needed to start digging myself out of the blues. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Continuing putting Miss H's room back together as a guest room (including painting a headboard) and organizing the things she left behind. 

Thinking About: What I can work on in the basement while I'm keeping Mini-him's cat company. We're cat sitting this week and his cat and our cat do not get along. So he has to stay in the basement for the most part when he's here and I like to turn on some bird videos and keep him company. Lord knows, I have plenty to do down there, as always. 

Feeling: Tired. I haven't been sleeping well. This tends to run in cycles for me so I'm hoping this passes soon. 

Looking forward to: Cooler temps for the next few days. This weekend has been glorious and we've enjoyed a lot of time outdoors. Looking forward to more dinners on the patio. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite quick and easy summer dinner?