Sunday, May 30, 2021

Life: It Goes On - May 30

Happy Sunday! I hope that you're lucky enough to be enjoying a long weekend. I'm on day two of a four-day weekend and so far it's been a busy weekend, largely spent doing the things that should be done on Memorial Day weekend. It's not like it's warm enough to enjoy spending time outside anyway. I'm using my usual summertime Sunday post picture, since it's the summer kickoff weekend but the weather feels more like April. So over it!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished the first of the Hamish Macbeth books then skipped the second and third, which I've already read, and started the fourth. I'll finish that one then I'm finally back to books that have been on hold. 

 We finally watched Knives Out and both enjoyed it thoroughly. 

Read: I'm bouncing between books; I can't seem to settle on anything. I was reading George Saunders' A Swim In A Pond In The Rain but I had to read that a chapter at a time. I'm still working on Anne Serba's Ethel Rosenberg. Now I've started Virginia Pye's River of Dust, which is certainly something I would normally race through. 

Made: Ham and cheese sliders, a new take on guacamole with roasted corn, pork loin with apricot glaze, taco salad, goulash. I actually spent some time cooking, for a change!

Enjoyed: A hug from one of my oldest friends yesterday. So grateful for vaccines!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Getting back to that desk, which has gotten shoved into the back of my garage. I'm still not sure if it will end up being stained or painted. Because that's how I operate. 

Thinking About:
We've been to three cemeteries this weekend, putting flowers on the graves of our families. It's so important to both BG and me to honor them and to think about all who have gone before us. 

Feeling: Sad. Yesterday we went to say our goodbyes to The Big Guy's aunt, who had been placed on hospice; we were grateful to go when we did because she passed shortly afterward. She was the last of that generation on both sides of his family. It's strange to think that we are now the oldest generation of that family. 

Looking forward to: Miss H will be coming through the door shortly, for the second of three weekends where she is basically using our house as a hotel. But we're always happy to get to spend time with her. 

Question of the week: How are you spending this weekend?

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Project Hail Mary
by Andy Weir
Published May 2021 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

My Thoughts:
Andy Weir's written three books and I've read them all. That might seem odd until you think about how few science-fiction books I read. But Weir hooked me with his debut, The Martian, and he gave me more than enough in Artemis to keep me reading his work. 

Weir doesn't need to worry about what I think about this book; it's already a bestseller and is being made into a movie starring Ryan Gosling. But maybe he should because I'm not alone in feeling that this book had so much potential but just missed the mark so many times. 

Perhaps a different editor would have said "hey, this book is 100 pages too long," or "you've got this really sexist stuff in here that won't play well with a good part of your readers" or "there are a couple of gaping holes in this story." Weir's developed a bit of a formula now and part of that requires coming up with a lot of problems that his very clever lead character needs to solve. It seems to mean that some things that shouldn't need to become problems do just so that the lead character can solve them. If you've read or seen The Martian, you'll see the pattern. 

Don't get me wrong, I love the clever character who has to use all of his (or her) wits to survive. And I'm not opposed to reading a whole lot of science stuff to get there. And since I don't know a whole lot about science and this is largely speculative fiction, I don't really care if the science is even right (except that even I know that if you're going to move into zero g, you'd better have your seatbelt on; Ryland Grace doesn't seem to know that). And I enjoyed the back and forth between Ryland trying to survive and Ryland gradually remembering what happened that got him where he is. As much as I liked Ryland (and I did, even when I wanted to slap him for being stupid), he was not my favorite character. Rocky is by far and away my favorite character. Unlike any character I've ever seen in a book, Rocky is an insatiable learner, highly creative and intelligent, a great friend, and surprisingly emotionally sensitive. 

I'm crossing my fingers that when they wrote the screenplay, they winnowed out the parts that didn't make sense or that seemed over the top and left moviegoers with more than enough action and a terrific story. Because there really is a great story here and it did have me racing along, even as I shook my head. Weir has included some things that, literally, made me gasp in surprise and that's always a good thing, right? I Here's where I hope the movie hews to the book - the ending is surprising and unique and I'm afraid that Hollywood will do what Hollywood so often does and ruin the movie by changing the ending. 

In the end, I'm glad I read this one, even as frustrating as I so often found it. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Leave Out The Tragic Part by Dave Kindred

Leave Out The Tragic Parts: A Grandfather's Search For A Boy Lost To Addiction
by Dave Kindred
Published February 2021 by PublicAffairs
Source: originally received, via Netgalley, from the publisher then checked out from the library

Publisher's Summary:
Jared Kindred left his home and family at the age of eighteen, choosing to wander across America on freight train cars and live on the street. Addicted to alcohol most of his short life, and withholding the truth from many who loved him, he never found a way to survive. 

Through this ordeal, Dave Kindred's love for his grandson has never wavered. 

Leave Out the Tragic Parts is not merely a reflection on love and addiction and loss. It is a hard-won work of reportage, meticulously reconstructing the life Jared chose for himself—a life that rejected the comforts of civilization in favor of a chance to roam free. 

Kindred asks painful but important questions about the lies we tell to get along, and what binds families together or allows them to fracture. Jared's story ended in tragedy, but the act of telling it is an act of healing and redemption. This is an important book on how to love your family, from a great writer who has lived its lessons.

My Thoughts:
You might think that a person who's dealt with addiction in her family would shy away from books about addiction. But there is a comfort in knowing that you're not alone and that you aren't alone in not having known the "right" thing to do to save your loved one. Perhaps even, selfishly, there is a comfort in knowing that your loved one is one of the lucky ones. 

Even if you can't relate to what Dave Kindred and his family went through, this is a book well worth reading. Kindred, a highly respected sportswriter, knows how to tell a story. For Jared's story, it may be even more important that Kindred knows how to research a story. Putting together the story of the life of a "traveling kid" isn't easy; they criss-cross the country, hopping freight trains, traveling with a changing cast of characters, and drinking and using drugs heavily. Jared never entirely lost contact with his family, calling periodically and sometimes paying visits where he brought along some of his companions, which made tracking his life from the time he left home easier to do but not easier to understand. Understanding would never entirely come for Kindred, as it doesn't for most families of addicts. There are no easy answers to addiction, nor to the need of some to be entirely free of the bonds of traditional lifestyles. 

This is not, as you can well imagine, an easy read. One reviewer said that it does, mostly, leave out the tragic parts. I don't know that I'd agree with that and I don't know that a book needs to be grittier to make readers understand how hard the life of an addict can be for the addict and those who love them.Included are pieces written by some of Jared "Goblin's" friends that tell the story better than anyone else could. Kindred writes with honesty (Kindred is quick to admit his own shortcomings) but also with deep love and a respect for the reasons that the travelers choose to live the way they do. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Life: It Goes On - May 23

Happy Sunday! I'm posting early because I've got a busy day ahead of me. I'm starting my first project of the year today - I'm refinishing a desk that we inherited from my great uncle. It's never much been my style and, over the years, our family has been hard on it. It needs to get moved from where it's been in my family room so it makes sense to get it cleaned up while we're moving it. That's my part of a larger project that involves doing some rewiring, moving the entertainment center and hanging the tv on a different wall. That job belongs to The Big Guy and Mini-him and I'm happy to leave them to it. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Jenny Offill's Weather and I'm still trying to figure out what I think of it. Since nothing else that I've had on hold has come in yet, I checked out the second book in M. C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth series. 

Watched: Not a lot this week - I've been too busy actually seeing people at long last!

Read: I finally finished Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees, which had been meant to be a book club choice but I've changed my mind about that. Not that it's not a good book. It's just that there are some things in it that I know would be very difficult for some of our members to read. 

Made: Tex-Mex turkey chili, grilled pork chops, Southwestern salads, and Bushman's bread. Can you tell that our weather has gone from wet and chilly this week to hot? 

Enjoyed: So much time with friends! Tuesday was our first in-person book club meeting at someone's home since October, Wednesday was a five hour happy hour with two of my besties, and Friday was an evening on the patio with friends. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: See above. This is bound to be a project that takes much longer than I think it will.

Thinking About: What I still want to do in the laundry room to finish that revamp. That project sort of took a backseat to the family room revamp once Mini-him bought BG the new tv. 

Feeling: Proud of Miss H who today celebrates three years clean. She has come such a long way in those three years!

Looking forward to: A four-day weekend next weekend. 

Question of the week: Since I've scratched Fall On Your Knees from the book club line up, I'm in need of a new selection written by a Canadian author. Preferably one that is set in Canada and not too dark. Any recommendations?

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold The Dreamers
by Imbolo Mbue
Read by Prentice Onayemi
Published June 2017 by Random House Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library (I also own an ecopy)

Publisher's Summary:
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future. 

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ fa├žades. 

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

My Thoughts:
The Guardian says: "This is not a story of noble immigrants versus the evil banking class: Mbue is too skilful for that. The Edwardses are self-absorbed and selfish but slim bridges of genuine affection exist between them and the Jongas. On the other hand, the Jongas are not simple Africans who eschew materialism and can teach the Edwardses how to live a contented life. Both Jende and Neni rejoice in the consumerism of America and grasp at all that capitalism has to offer."

I agree 100%. In Behold The Dreamers, Mbue has created characters who are multi-dimensional. The Jongas are both naive and willing to do what it takes to get what they want. The Edwardses can be both generous and courteous and yet incredibly blind to real life. The Jongas are no less generous but Jende has a temper and Neni's morals might be called into question. All are, at heart, good people who are, as we all are, flawed. 

In this story about power, both the Jongas and the Edwardses are trapped in a powerful system, albeit one that stronger favors the Edwardses when it comes to the ability to survive. In Jende's interview with Clark, Clark barely registers the meeting while it means everything to Jende. Cindy thinks nothing of passing on their castoffs yet for Neni these are things that will make the Jonga's lives so much easier. Jende is powerless in the face of the immigration bureaucracy and at the mercy of those who claim to understand it. Yet, Clark is also trapped in a powerful system - he finds himself helpless in the face of his company's dealings. And Cindy, who is living a life of luxury, is also living a life filled with dread that "her people" will find out the truth about her past and the truth about her addiction. 

An NPR review of this book says that Mbue can be unsparing in her depiction of the elite who didn't see their existence threatened by the financial collapse. It was simply a terrible inconvenience. One of Cindy's friends complained that they might have to fly coach or let go of their help and actually have to cook for themselves. No worries that the rug would be completely pulled out from under that cook if she/he lost their job. Clark lands on his feet almost immediately but, as we all remember, so many others were devastated by the financial collapse of 2008. 

I've owned an ecopy of this book for some time but (as so many books on my Nook do), it has languished, unread. When one of the categories for my book club for 2021 was a book about immigrants, I knew it was time to pull this one out. I'm so happy that I did. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book, it's going to make a great book to discuss this month. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Death Of A Gossip: Hamish Macbeth Series #1 by M. C. Beaton

Death Of A Gossip: Hamish Macbeth Series #1
by M. C. Beaton 
Read by Antony Ferguson
Published 1985 by St. Martin's Press
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library
Publisher's Summary:
When society widow and gossip columnist Lady Jane Winters joined the fishing class, she wasted no time in ruffling the feathers—or was it the fins?—of those around her. Among the victims of her sharp tongue and unladylike manner was Lochdubh Constable Hamish Macbeth. Yet not even Hamish thought someone would permanently silence Lady Jane's shrills—until her strangled body is fished out of the river. 

Now with the help of the lovely Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, Hamish must angle through the choppy waters of the tattler's life to find the murderer. But with a school of suspects who aren't ready to talk and dead women telling no tales, Hamish may be in over his head, for he knows that secrets are dangerous, knowledge is power, and killers usually do strike again.

My Thoughts:
It's a well known fact here that I adore Hamish Macbeth and that I've read several of the books in the series. I've kind of bounced around in the series; when I was listening to books on CDs, I listened to whichever one was for sale at my library's book sale. When I was recently looking for an available audiobook that would be a quick read, I found that I could start at the beginning. 

It was fun to get the first introduction to Hamish, his beloved but not available Priscilla, Chief Inspector Blair, and the denizens of Lochdubh. This first book sets up Hamish's past but focuses more on the mystery of the book than the characters of the village, as so many of the later books do which I missed. I also had to remind myself that this book was published 36 years ago - there were places where I questioned the appropriateness. And, to be honest, it wasn't the best written book. The summary indicates that there was some concern that there might be another murder but I never felt like that was an issue - this was a very simple who-done-it and readers are never given the clues that will help them solve the mystery. Beaton also focuses a great deal on the details of each character's physical appearance. While I'm all for getting a good picture of the characters, it felt like too much detail in a book of this nature and, to be honest, the descriptions often felt a bit like those a student might write. 

Still, it was a nice to return to Lochdubh and to begin at the beginning, to see how the relationships between the recurring characters began, and to get a good background on Hamish and why he is the way he is. I'm looking forward to moving on chronologically in the series as time and availability permits. These books are always a nice break from my heavier reading. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Life: It Goes On - May 16

Happy Sunday! Coming to you tired but happy after getting out of town and spending time with family. We took my dad to spend a couple of weeks with my brother's family and those great-grandchildren are already making him so happy! Miss H met us there and she and I even got to crash my niece's baby sprinkle. Do you know about baby sprinkles? I hadn't heard of one before but if this one was a good example, they are lovely celebrations of moms-to-be who aren't first timers. Sadly, we had to cut out earlier than planned today because of the forecast, missing out on my nephew's vaunted smoked pork chops; the trip wasn't nearly long enough.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I started Jenny Offill's Weather but wasn't feeling it last week so I listened to music on my commutes for a couple of days and an episode of Terrible, Thanks For Asking. 

Watched: The Voice, American Idol, baseball. 

Read: I'm bouncing around between books, trying to get everything read before review dates and library return dates. Right now I'm racing to get through Fall On Your Knees which I really wish I had more time with because it's lovely but I can't check it out again because there's someone waiting on it - probably another book club member since it's one of our selections. 

Made: Monday The Big Guy made me french toast for dinner because I'd been craving it and another night he cooked a turkey the other night, just to get it out of the freezer which left me with a whole lot of turkey so tonight, it being chilly and grey, I improvised a turkey chili which was really delicious. Now to remember to write down what I put it in so we might be able to make it again some time! 

 Getting to see the renovations my brother and his wife have made in their home since we last were able to visit, exploring some new-to-us places, eating at an old favorite and lots of time with the family princesses. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: The furniture rearranging I talked about last week and refinishing a desk. 

Thinking About: How closed-minded some people can be.

Feeling: Like weekends are never long enough...even when they last three days. 

Looking forward to: Having Miss H up for a few days next weekend for a special celebration I'll talk more about next week. 

Question of the week: Rainy days or sunny days - which do you prefer? I'm a sunshine girl all the way but two of my kiddos love rainy days. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Mrs. Rochester's Ghost by Lindsay Marcott

Mrs. Rochester's Ghost
by Lindsay Marcott
Published August 2021 by Amazon Publishing 
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Jane has lost everything: job, mother, relationship, even her home. A friend calls to offer an unusual deal—a cottage above the crashing surf of Big Sur on the estate of his employer, Evan Rochester. In return, Jane will tutor his teenage daughter. She accepts. 

But nothing is quite as it seems at the Rochester estate. Though he’s been accused of murdering his glamorous and troubled wife, Evan Rochester insists she drowned herself. Jane is skeptical, but she still finds herself falling for the brilliant and secretive entrepreneur and growing close to his daughter. 

And yet her deepening feelings for Evan can’t disguise dark suspicions aroused when a ghostly presence repeatedly appears in the night’s mist and fog. Jane embarks on an intense search for answers and uncovers evidence that soon puts Evan’s innocence into question. She’s determined to discover what really happened that fateful night, but what will the truth cost her?

My Thoughts:
I'm not, as a general rule, a fan of retellings or spinoffs of books that I love but as it was the Spring-Into-Horror readathon, I figured a book about a ghost that also happened to have a tie to one of my favorite books would work perfectly. 

What Worked For Me: 
  • Marcott has brought a lot of the elements of Jane Eyre to this retelling - an orphan who travels to be a teacher for a mysterious man's young daughter, a first meeting between the girl and the man that results in the man being knocked off his trusty ride (here a motorcycle instead of a horse), a mad wife and her brother who tries to make Jane believe Rochester is a terrible man, and a gothic atmosphere with dense fog and ghostly apparitions. 
  • I was kept guessing throughout the book, even though I assumed that I knew what the final answer would be regarding Rochester's guilt. Still, the final reveal was a surprise. And Marcott managed to throw in some things that were red herrings for me, even if she didn't mean them to lead me astray (that's just how my mind started working while reading this book). 
  • I liked Jane - she understood how to relate to Rochester's daughter, she had devoted friends, she was willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, and she wanted to be able to make her own way in the world. 
What Didn't Work For Me:
  • Jane's family has some secrets that have been kept from her for most of her life. But it felt unnecessary to me to have it revealed throughout the book. There was enough going on already. 
  • The chapter's alternate between Jane's story and Beatrice's story of the last day of her life with flashback's to her life. Beatrice's story line seems to be a nod to Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, itself a takeoff from Jane Eyre which tells the story of Rochester's first wife. I liked the idea of paying homage to both books. Unfortunately, Beatrice's story didn't entirely work for me. 
  • Rochester was not a good guy on a number of levels and I had a hard time with the ending of the book because of it. He's done some things that I felt like Jane would not have been able to overlook. In the end of Jane Eyre, I'm able to forgive Rochester. Here I had a harder time which made it harder to be happy for Jane. 
I'd give this one 3.5 stars, if I gave stars, a solid read that gave me a good mystery and took me away from real life in just the way I needed. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat In Difficult Times
by Katherine May
Published November 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered. 

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May's story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas. 

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

My Thoughts: 
"Everybody winters at one time or another: some winter over and over again."
I'm can't recall who recommended this - one of my blogging friends. Thank you to whoever it was who brought it to my attention. This was another of those books that was the right book at the right time. But even if I had read it at another time, it is still a book that had much to offer to me, as a person who has wintered over and over again.
"There are gaps in the mesh of the everyday world, and sometimes they open up and you fall through them into somewhere else. Somewhere Else runs at a different pace to the here and now, where everyone else carries on. Somewhere Else is where ghosts live, concealed from view and only glimpsed by people in the real world. Somewhere Else exists at a delay, so that you can’t quite keep pace."
Chapters are divided by winter month names but they are really time that May has wintered. I got so wrapped up in her personal story that it took me a bit to settle into the ways that what she did could be used to help others learn how to get through low periods in their lives.  
"Wintering is a season in the cold. It is a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider. Perhaps it results from an illness or a life event such as a bereavement or the birth of a child; perhaps it comes from a humiliation or failure. Perhaps you’re in a period of transition and have temporarily fallen between two worlds. Some winterings creep upon us more slowly, accompanying the protracted death of a relationship, the gradual ratcheting up of caring responsibilities as our parents age, the drip-drip-drip of lost confidence. Some are appallingly sudden , like discovering one day that your skills are considered obsolete, the company you worked for has gone bankrupt, or your partner is in love with someone new. However it arrives, wintering is usually involuntary, lonely, and deeply painful."

As much as I enjoyed the book and felt I'd learned a lot from it, I didn't realize just how much until I went back and copied the many sections that I had bookmarked. I'm going to keep those notes handy. I know I'll come out of this period but I know, from experience, that I will have another period. It might not take something as traumatic as losing a parent, but it will come. Next time I will be better prepared. I will know that what I need to do is to allow myself to feel wintering as a need. "It is the courage to stare down the worst parts of our experience to commit to healing them the best we can." We need to understand that we need to allow ourselves to take care of ourselves during this time and to embrace it. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Life: it Goes On - May 9

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there and those who have mothered children in one way or another! It will be a quiet day here. We went to see my dad yesterday and then I went and spent some time at my mom's grave. If your mom is still alive, make sure you call her or see her today; you have no idea how much you will miss her when she's gone. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: The Little Paris Book Shop, which, as it turns out, is hardly set in Paris at all. 

Watched: The new television set that my son bought us. Just because. We didn't particularly need a new television set (and we certainly didn't need one as big as this one), but Mini-him knew his dad was jonesing for something new and said he owed it to us. We raised a good kid. 

Read: I'm still reading Andy Weir's Project Hail Mary and, finally, finished Dave Kindred's Leave Out The Tragic Parts

Made: Pork roast with sweet potatoes, ham and hash brown casserole, salads. If it wasn't easy, it wasn't getting made because we were busy this week. 

 Getting my hands in the dirt and getting our patio ready for the summer. I'm having fun this year doing some different things in the backyard and The Big Guy moved our raised garden and spent a lot of time getting the vegetable gardens planted and cleaned up.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing up the planting and painting outside, rearranging some furniture inside (that's what a new tv will do for you), and heading south to see my brother and his family. It's going to be another busy week!

Thinking About: What projects I'm going to work on this summer. 

Feeling: Sad today, missing my mom. But I'm going to get busy and keep my mind occupied. 

Looking forward to: Hitting the road. I so missed our road trips last year. 

Question of the week: Are you a gardener? If so, what's your favorite thing to plant? 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Backyard Guide To The Night Sky by Andrew Fazekas

Backyard Guide To The Night Sky
by Andrew Fazekas
Published March 2019 by National Geographic
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Explore the star-studded cosmos with this fully updated, user-friendly skywatcher's guide, filled with charts, graphics, photographs, and expert tips for viewing -- and understanding -- the wonders of space. 

Stargazing's too much fun to leave to astronomers. In these inviting pages, "Night Sky Guy" Andrew Fazekas takes an expert but easygoing approach that will delight would-be astronomers of all levels. Essential information, organized logically, brings the solar system, stars, and planets to life in your own backyard. Start with the easiest constellations and then "star-hop" across the night sky to find others nearby. Learn about the dark side of the moon, how to pick Mars out of a planetary lineup, and which kinds of stars twinkle in your favorite constellations. Hands-on tips and techniques for observing with the naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope help make the most out of sightings and astronomical phenomena such as eclipses and meteor showers. Photographs and graphics present key facts in an easy-to-understand format, explaining heavenly phenomena such as black holes, solar flares, and supernovas. Revised to make skywatching even easier for the whole family, this indispensable guide shines light on the night sky--truly one of the greatest shows on Earth!

My Thoughts:
My hubby accepted everyone's discarded National Geographic magazines and subscribed to it for years. Recently I convinced him it was time to get rid of the several hundred copies we've been storing. But the problem is that we can't just throw them away - they are just too high quality to just put in the trash so I'm working now to find a new home for them where they will be appreciated. 

National Geographic brings that same high quality to the books they publish. When I post reviews on Netgalley, they always ask "Would you buy this book for yourself or a friend?" The answer with this book is a resounding "yes," as it has been for all of the National Geographic books we've been reviewing this year. The photography is, as expected, spectacular, they are packed full of information, written so that they are accessible to most ages. They make terrific resource books that make readers want to learn more. 

Backyard Guide To The Night Sky covers much more than the expected sun, moon, and planets. Chapters include The Atmosphere, Comets and Meteors, Beyond The Solar System, and Beyond The Milky Way. It also teaches readers how to navigate the night sky and provides sky charts. I'm pretty stoked that this book has finally convinced my husband to pull the telescope he bought at least 15 years ago out of the basement! We're looking forward to trying it out this weekend and using the sky charts. According to the spring chart, we should be able to find Ursa Minor and Virgo. As I'm just finishing Andy Weir's latest book set in space, this book is the perfect nonfiction accompaniment to that. 

I really can't recommend these books for your family highly enough. This book, in particular, would make a great book for families - a wonderful learning tool for young people and an aide to an activity that the entire family can enjoy together. 

Thanks to the ladies of TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, check out the full tour

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Beauty of What Remains by Steve Leder

The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift 
by Steve Leder
Published January 2021 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
As the senior rabbi of one of the largest synagogues in the world, Steve Leder has learned over and over again the many ways death teaches us how to live and love more deeply by showing us not only what is gone but also the beauty of what remains. 

This inspiring and comforting book takes us on a journey through the experience of loss that is fundamental to everyone. Yet even after having sat beside thousands of deathbeds, Steve Leder the rabbi was not fully prepared for the loss of his own father. It was only then that Steve Leder the son truly learned how loss makes life beautiful by giving it meaning and touching us with love that we had not felt before. 

Enriched by Rabbi Leder's irreverence, vulnerability, and wicked sense of humor, this heartfelt narrative is filled with laughter and tears, the wisdom of millennia and modernity, and, most of all, an unfolding of the profound and simple truth that in loss we gain more than we ever imagined.

My Thoughts: 
Ti, of Book Chatter, read this book for her book club and struggled to make herself pick it up to read a book about grief and dying. I'm so glad she did and that she recommended it to me. It was exactly the book I needed to help me with the grief of losing my mom. Like Ti, this one will be one of my favorite books of the year. I read this book only at home - it was inevitable that I was going to cry while I read it. 

Steve Leder may have spent his life as a rabbi, spending much of his time communicating with people. But putting that ability on paper doesn't always work. Leder, it turns out, is excellent at making readers feel exactly what I imagine those he tends to feel. Comfort, warmth, wisdom, humor, compassion. 

Much of the book is Leder's reflections on what he has learned from spending time with those who are dying, particularly people with whom he has been close. He wants readers to understand that the dying are not afraid. His other lessons for the family of the dying include: 
"Do not waste the rest of your loved one's life worrying about his or her death. Treat the person you love like the fully alive, fully human, fully beautiful person he or she is. Enjoy him or her for every good moment of every hour of every day. Assume your loved one can hear absolutely everything you are saying in his or her presence. She is alive, treat her that way. He is alive, treat him that way. 
Give an Academy award-winning performance despite your fears. The fears that dying people express to me at the end of their lives are fears about whether or not the people they love will be okay. Even if you have to pretend a little or a lot, you need to tell that person you love who is dying that you will be okay. [Say] We love you. We will take care of one another. You can rest. You can let go because you have taught us and given us everything we need to be okay when you are gone."

These particular lessons spoke to me. They brought me back to the final 24 hours of my mother-in-law's life. As she lay hours away from death, her family gathered around her bed, taking turns holding her hands, telling her how much we loved her and that she would soon be with her beloved Jack. But I took equal comfort in believing that she could hear the conversations in the room - the stories, the laughter, the comfort we offered each other.

After having sat more than a thousand dying people and their families over the years, Leder thought he knew what grief was but it wasn't until his own father died, after a ten year battle with Alzheimer's disease, that he really understood death and grief personally. Despite the fact that Steve Leder and I have almost nothing in common, this book felt personal for me, too. Again and again, passages felt as though they were written for me. 

While Leder can, of course, draw on his faith and belief in the afterlife to find comfort, I've struggled with that. "It is the impermanence of the body that has convinced me of the eternality of the soul. Physics tells us that energy never dies, it merely assumes a different form." Where faith fails me, the idea that there is a scientific explanation to believe that my mom is still with us is something I can believe in, an explanation for the signs I see, the presence I feel. 

"Grief is surprising. Not at first, when you are prepared for it to pick you up and slam you against the rocky shore, but later, in a month or two or ten. Anyone who think the shortest distance between two points is a straight line does not understand grief." Leder then goes on to recount a time when grief hit him unawares. This man understands, I thought. The other day I let my dad's phone ring through to the answer machine and it was my mother's voice on the message. I almost couldn't leave a message. 

I don't think I'm overstating it when I say that this is an important guide in how to live your life knowing that one day you will leave the Earth, how to prepare for death, how to help someone through it, how to comfort others. I checked it out from the library but I'll be buying a copy to own. A few years ago I would have thought it was odd to feel so strongly about a book about dying and then I read Joan Didion's A Year of Magical Thinking, another book I checked out from the library and then bought. Both that one and this one have some of the most important lessons I've ever read. 

Thank you, Ti, for guiding me to this book and the comfort it gave me. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Life: It Goes On - May 2

Happy Sunday! It's the last Sunday for that picture - the trees bloomed this week and now they're dropping their flowers like crazy. I love them like this but it certainly requires a lot of sweeping! I'm a happy girl this weekend - I've been two places this weekend to get plants and am headed off shortly to get the final things I need to be able to finish planting and to do some painting outside. Plus I've spent a part of both nights sitting on the patio, enjoying beautiful weather, some pear cider, and, one night, great friends. And that was only one of the three nights I got to spend with friends this week. My soul needed that so much - what a difference vaccination has made for us!

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: The Little Paris Book Shop, which is our book club pick for June. It was a pick to satisfy the requirement for a book about books. I'm about 25% of the way through it and still not sure where Nina George is going with this story. 

Watched: My hubby got the bulb that he needed for our tv this week but it's still sitting on the counter. Which means that we're still watching "tv" on the iPad. Which further means that I, at least, have watched very little this week. We did watch the Nebraska spring football game with my dad yesterday.

Read: I finished several books this week, including Katherine May's Wintering which was another one of those books that was just what I needed right now. 

Made: We had a lot of ham left after cooking one for ham salad last weekend and we've been finding all kinds of ways to us that this week - in salad, in a potato and ham casserole, with eggs. I love ham but even I'm getting very tired of it!

All of that time with my friends, a FaceTime call from my niece with some exciting news, getting my hands in the dirt again and reworking things in the yard. The cat enjoyed spring this week, too. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing a lot of yard work. Also, we need to do some major furniture rearranging this week with the arrival of a new television which is getting put on a different wall. But that's a long story for another day. 

Thinking About: All of the things. Between what's going on in my own life and what's going on in the world, it's hard to shut off my brain. Which is physically exhausting sometimes. 

Feeling: Lighter. Spring does that for me - sun, warmth, fresh air. It always means a lot of work but also a lot of time to just stop and relax. On the patio I give myself permission to just sit for as long as I want. 

Looking forward to: A trip south to see my brother's family in a couple of weeks. 

Question of the week: What's your favorite thing to do outside?