Sunday, July 30, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 30

Happy Sunday! It's been, as it's been so many other places, really hot here this past week. Fortunately, this weekend has been much better. We were able to eat sit on the patio last evening when we went out to eat and today decent enough to do some yard work...until it rained. It was a lovely rain and much needed, especially in light of the fact that we're under water restrictions throughout the city. It was lovely to sit with the doors open and listen to the rain fall. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: A couple of podcast episodes of We Can Do Hard Things, with Glennon Doyle, the Barbie movie soundtrack, and I started Ruth Ware's Zero Days

 We went with friends yesterday to see Oppenheimer - long but very good, with excellent performances from Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey, Jr. and Emily Blount. Thought provoking and definitely makes me want to read more about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb. 

Read: Guys, I finally found a book that I've raced through - Curtis Sittenfeld's latest, Romantic Comedy (a Reese's Book Club selection, although I didn't know that when I checked it out). The perfect kind of summer reading - light but smart. Tomorrow I'll start Mercy Snow, by Tiffany Baker. 

Made: Pasta in a creamy lemon, basil sauce; lots of salads; burgers on the grill. Almost every meal has included watermelon and there has also been a lot of fresh corn, in one way or another. This week's menu will include burgers (we have two left over from tonight), BLT's, and a version of the puff pastry creations I've been seeing all over Instagram. 

Enjoyed: Taking a vehicle load of stuff to the Goodwill today. I actually got rid of a lot of books, which I reorganized this weekend. At this point in my life, I'm starting to realize that, even if I have paid money for a book, I own books I'll never read and it's time to let them go. I thought it would be hard to let go of so many books but it was, as almost everything I let go of is, freeing. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: A couple of trips this fall to see my siblings and their families. 

Thinking About: 

Feeling: I was on a step ladder yesterday and forgot that I had to step down three steps, instead of two, and took a tumble, landing on the wooden floor. On the plus side, it was in the kitchen and I was in the middle of the room so I wasn't at risk of hitting my head on anything. But when you're in your sixties and you fall, the idea that you might seriously hurt yourself goes through your head very quickly. Fortunately, I'm not hurt, just sore. And feeling a little stupid. 

Looking forward to: Another quiet, unstructured week. Except...

Question of the week: Do you ever feel like there's something on your agenda and you just cannot remember what it is? I feel like there's something I'm meant to be looking forward to this week but I can't, for the life of me, remember what it is. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue

The Rachel Incident
by Caroline O'Donoghue
304 pages
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them. 

When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.

My Thoughts: 
We first encounter Rachel years later, when she is married, pregnant and a journalist (finally using that college degree). She's come across an article mentioning that Fred has fallen into a coma and it takes Rachel straight back to the past, to the time when she first met James while working in a bookstore together. At six-foot tall, bookish, and adrift, Rachel was easy prey for James, who all but bullied his way into her life. Soon the two were living together, becoming the best of friends. "Running riot" is a good description of the lives they were living; "bohemian existence" is putting it nicely. 

Everything is going swimmingly, despite them struggling to make ends meet. When James comes to the reality that he's gay, they both embrace it. But when James and Fred hook up, it changes things. Yes, Fred brings them bottles of wine, flowers, and fancy foods. But it's hard for Rachel to see Fred, her literature professor, as her best friend's lover. Until, in desperation, she realizes she can use the situation to her own advantage. Soon Fred has found her a position as his wife's intern, a position which pays poorly but gives Rachel an emotional life and a new friend. 

Meanwhile Rachel has found herself a boyfriend, a young man who is more than a little listless and unreliable. When he has to go home to care for his mother, Rachel discovers that she's pregnant. Through a misunderstanding and other circumstances, Rachel finds her relationship with Fred's wife at an end, her relationship with James tested, and herself a pariah in the community. 

O'Donoghue manages to create a book that starts out very much playing for laughs but the humor gets darker as life gets harder and harder for Rachel. Ireland in an economic collapse means Rachel's only hope for a job is in a call center, her parents' dental practice is going under, and her boyfriend can't be relied on to help. O'Donoghue tackles a lot in this one - sexuality, sexual identity, infidelity, economic crisis, unwanted pregnancy and the difficulty in finding medical help, parent/child relationships, friendships, morality. Rachel isn't always a sympathetic character, but I couldn't help but care for her, especially as the adults around her kept letting her down. I was glad that O'Donoghue circled back to the beginning of the book and gave readers (and Rachel) some closure and hope. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 23

Happy Sunday! I can't believe there's only one week of July left, especially since it hasn't felt much like July here, what will all of the rain and cooler temps. This coming week, though. Woah, it is going to be a scorcher - we're finally getting what so many of the rest of you have been suffering through. I'm going to try to embrace it because, come January, I'll be wishing for heat. Knowing that, when I got my hair done last week, I had 3" of hair cut off. Shortest it's been in a while and I'm loving it. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone. Sadly, my loan expired before I finished and I had gotten rid of my print copy; so I can't finish until I can get the audiobook back!

 We went to see Barbie last night - a friend and our husbands, who are very good sports. I have not laughed so hard at a movie in a long time. But it also has such a great message. We highly recommend it! One quibble - we all felt like they weren't sure how to end the movie and what they did was a bit corny. 

Read: Back to Chris Bohjalian's Midwives

Made: A new Dutch baby recipe with blueberries and lemon and today I'm making Asian chicken salad and red velvet cake for Mini-him's birthday dinner. 

Enjoyed: Book club. We played a rousing game of Jeopardy, based on The Midnight Library

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've started bringing things out of my dad's place that he will not be taking with him when he moves so I need to find new homes for some of those things. Given the heat, I'll probably spend a lot of time working in the basement, boxes up Miss H's things that have been decorating our family room area, hauling more things out to go to the Goodwill, and reorganizing. 

Thinking About: Still thinking about the idea of Swedish death cleaning and pondering what we need to do to get on board with that. At the same time as I think about what needs to be done to move both Miss H and my dad this fall. 

Feeling: Like I need another day off of work with nothing at all on the agenda - no hair appointments, no doctor's appointments - just a full day that I'm not trying to cram off of the cleaning into. 

Looking forward to: A quiet week. 

Question of the week: What are your best tips for beating the heat but also enjoying summer? 

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter
by Margareta Magnusson
Published January 2018 by Scribner
128 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
In Sweden there is a kind of decluttering called döstädning, dö meaning “death” and städning meaning “cleaning.” This surprising and invigorating process of clearing out unnecessary belongings can be undertaken at any age or life stage but should be done sooner than later, before others have to do it for you. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, artist Margareta Magnusson, with Scandinavian humor and wisdom, instructs readers to embrace minimalism. Her radical and joyous method for putting things in order helps families broach sensitive conversations, and makes the process uplifting rather than overwhelming. 

Margareta suggests which possessions you can easily get rid of (unworn clothes, unwanted presents, more plates than you’d ever use) and which you might want to keep (photographs, love letters, a few of your children’s art projects). Digging into her late husband’s tool shed, and her own secret drawer of vices, Margareta introduces an element of fun to a potentially daunting task. Along the way readers get a glimpse into her life in Sweden, and also become more comfortable with the idea of letting go.

My Thoughts:
You know how much I love to organize and how I'm always working to declutter my house (and still we're overwhelmed!). Any time I hear about a new idea to help with that process, I'm interested. But it wasn't until I heard someone talking about Swedish death cleaning on a podcast recently that I decided it was time to learn more. 

The concept it this: one day you will die and your loved ones will have to go through all of the things you have saved over the years and you can make their lives so much easier if you will take the time, particularly as you get older, to get rid of things that will have no real value to anyone else once you're gone. 

Not everything. Magnusson doesn't suggest that you get rid of everything you love or even live a minimalist life. She admits to being "somewhere between eighty and one hundred" and still keeps on a shelf a large stuffed animal of which she's quite fond. But, similarly to Marie Kondo, she recommends you go through things you don't use any more, take a moment to recall the memories they carry, and then get rid of them. Unlike some other methods, Magnusson's ideas about Swedish death cleaning recommend taking your time, advising that it may take years before you can go through everything. Even more reason to start now and not what until you're too old and it's even harder to part with things. 

Magnusson is big on shredding and tossing (some of the things she said she tossed seemed to me to be things she might have donated to a charity). She has also sold many of the things she got rid of, often without even asking her family if anyone might want the item. I'm sure that's meant to avoid any fighting amongst her family; but, having just cleaned out my parents' home, I know it can be done without fighting (I can't swear there were never any hard feelings or things people might have wanted that they didn't get). I also know that there were items that I was the only person who really wanted. Imagine if I had been looking forward to one day having the stewardship of that item, only to discover that my mom had sold it.

Magnusson has a sweet way about her and the book has a very personal feel. I can't say that there was a lot here that was new for me; but it was good reminder that we all have well more than we need and well more than I would ever want our children to have to deal with. I finished the book about a week ago and have already found that it has provided the encouragement I needed to let go of some things I might otherwise have held on to for emotional reasons, which is where I always struggle. For that I am grateful for this book.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 16

Happy Sunday! Woke up to a thunderstorm, but the sun is popping out now. We've had so much rain lately that I was easily able to dig things up to transplant yesterday. Yeah, I know - you're not supposed to transplant in the height of summer. But everything is going into shady places and came from spots that needed to be thinned so I'm willing to take the chance. And I need to get plants where I want them before we put down landscaping fabric and rock so I'm going to have to take some chances. This is going to be the "summer" project that may not get done before the first snow falls! 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone. The reader is SO good! There's no way I'm going to finish it before my loan runs out so I'll have to finish it in print (I've owned a copy for, probably, ten years) and I'm going to miss hearing it. But, at least I 'll still have his voice in my head and know the correct pronunciation of all of the names. 

 Last night we went to see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny with friends. Verdict: some of it is filmed so darkly that you can't really tell what's going on; it is, of course, over the top; it feels so much truer to the original than several of the followups have and pays homage to it in so many ways; and they've done such a good job of creating scenes with a much younger Harrison Ford. I liked it a lot. 

Read: I finished The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning and now I'm back to Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America

Made: A new pasta dish that was a big hit with both of us. I substituted a different pasta than it called for, though. Have you tried cascatelli pasta? It's not cheap but we're big fans. 

Enjoyed: Friday evening we went to my dad's senior living place to join him in listening to a duo sing songs that made the residents so happy. They were all singing along, swaying to the music. Then the guys (and their wives) were nice enough to stick around and chat with the residents. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: It will depend on the weather. If it's raining, I'm going to do some work in the basement. If it's nice out, I've got a couple of small painting projects I want to get done. 

Thinking About: Moving both my daughter and my dad this fall. My planning and organizing skills are going to be put to good use! 

Feeling: Lazy - I'm having a hard time getting moving this morning. 

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday - I'm going to work on a game for this month's book, The Midnight Library

Question of the week: Will you please shoot me your best tips for preparing for a move? 

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Reconstructing Amelia
by Kimberly McCreight
Read by Khristine Hvam
12 hours, 15 minutes
Published April 2013 by Harper

Publisher's Summary: 
Kate's in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate. 

An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump. 

Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save.

My Thoughts: 
It's late, I'm tired, and I want to make sure I get a review posted this week so let's get straight to it: 
  • Readers will have to keep suspending disbelief as a police detective allows Kate to go along to, and even participate in, interviews. Pretty sure that would never happen in real life. 
  • Grace Hall comes across like the school in 1999's Cruel Intentions, where the staff is ruled by the parents and seems willing to be oblivious to what the kids are doing. Or unwilling to take a stand. Or too busy with their own interest or wanting to be friends. 
  • This book strangely brought to mind The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood for me in the way the story reveals itself. Like Siddalee trying to learn about her mother through other people and a scrapbook in Sisterhood, Kate is trying to understand her daughter through social media posts, emails, texts, and in asking questions of others. Like Sisterhood, here readers learn far more about Amelia than Kate does, as we are privy to Amelia's own voice, a version of what happened beyond what was available to Kate. 
  • There's a character who gets a lot of print space without, in my opinion, of course, really contributing to the story, even though told Amelia that he was Amelia's father. Just so she could pretend Amelia's dad wasn't a jerk? Except...well, that's a something you'll just have to read the book to find out. 
  • I was fairly well convinced that Amelia didn't jump, but McCreight does a terrific job of making readers doubt that assumption. Her heart's been broken, she's being humiliated, she's just been accused of cheating by a teacher she revers, she's struggling with not knowing who her father is, and  she's 15. I think we can all imagine what all of that would have done to us at that age. 
  • McCreight covers a lot of themes here: suicide, sexuality, sexual orientation, homophobia, bullying, mother/daughter relationships, friendship, first love, secrets, and communication. 
  • There are a lot of old tropes at play in this book: adults are useless, the good girl versus the bad girl, beware the nice characters, gay best friend. There's also a lot of foreshadowing, which I realized in retrospect. Made me wonder if I had been reading this one, instead of listening to it, if I would have caught on sooner to some of the secrets that were later revealed. 
  • And by "sooner," you know I mean "at all" because, of course, I was completely taken by surprise again and again as the book came to its conclusions. And you probably also know that having that happen helped me forgive a lot of the other things that had troubled me about this one. 
  • Even when it was all said and done, I still can't imagine how a mother moves on after losing her only child, especially with as much guilt as Kate carried. 

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 9

Happy Sunday! What a beautiful weekend we're having here in Omaha! Plus I took Friday off and spent it with Miss H so that makes this an even better weekend! Days like yesterday are what gets me through the winter - we were invited to some friends' lake house and spent several hours sitting on the beach, soaking up the sun, listening to the lazy "waves" lap up to the shore, catching up with old friends, all followed by a delicious potluck dinner. When we arrived home just before ten, we were so relaxed that we contemplated going to bed early! 

Pretty excited to say that I finally managed to get my comments here working again AND Bloglovin' working again so that I can look at other blogs. It's been months since either has worked properly. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Reconstructing Amelia, which I will finish in the next couple of days. That's a good thing because Abraham Verghese's Cutting For Stone just became available today. 

Watched: Miss H and I did a rewatch of Mean Girls Friday evening while we ate chocolate chip cookie dough. It's kind of our thing to make cookie dough without any intention of actually making cookies...and then eating too much of it. 

Read: I have two books going already; but when I picked up The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning  by Margareta Magnusson, I started it immediately. 

Made: For our potluck dinner yesterday, I took a spinach salad. I got the recipe from my mom; and, even though it wasn't a traditional family fave, it will always make me think of her. 

Enjoyed: See above. So much time recharging my batteries this week. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Miss H is planning to move out on her own this fall so she and I went through all of the stuff in my basement that we've been saving for "some day." Threw away one bag of stuff and three boxes will go to charity. The rest all needs to go back into boxes this week, ready to be moved in the fall. We also need to work some more on our backyard project. 

Thinking About: How to balance moving both my daughter and my dad this fall! Good thing I like to plan and, even more importantly, plan ahead. 

Feeling: Relaxed. 

Looking forward to: A quiet week. 

Question of the week: Do you prefer to have a summer filled with fun activities or lazy days lolling in the sun? 

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

The Hunting Party
by Lucy Foley
Published February 2019 by HarperCollins Publishers
10 hours, 8 minutes
Read by Gary Furlong, Elle Newlands, Imogen Church

Publisher's Summary: 
During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves. 

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps. 

Now, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it.

My Thoughts: 
It's probably not a good selling point for this book if I tell you that a week after finishing it, I couldn't remember what book I had listened to prior to my current listen. I'm pretty sure that's not the way you're supposed to feel after finishing a murder mystery. That will make even less sense to you after you read on and find that I was completely surprised by the ending. 

Nine friends (four couples and a friend who feels very much like the odd girl out), a couple of other guests (unexpected by the party who expected to have the place to themselves) and the small staff of Loch Corrin find themselves snowed in...just as one of the guests goes missing. Almost every is a suspect and Foley has given us plenty of reason to suspect each of them, as she moves back and forth between first person narrators and in time between the days leading up to the murder and the day the body is discovered. We soon learn that there's also a serial killer on the loose in the Highlands, which seems like every bit the red herring that you surely know without me telling you it is. On the other hand, who is the mysterious person several people have seen out in the hills? 

It didn't take long for me to really begin to dislike most of these characters and to wonder why in the world they would hang out together at all, let alone vacation together. Still, it takes a lot to decide to off someone, especially someone who's been a friend, knowing that the suspect pool is limited. So I pretty quickly decided I had solved the mystery of who the killer was; I just didn't know who the victim was. 

Gradually Foley begins to narrow down the suspects and I was happy to discover that a couple of people I liked better were in the clear. More and more I was certain I knew who the killer was and when it looked like I felt quite proud of myself. But there was too much time left in the book. And you know how bad I am at predicting the killer in a murder mystery. Then, when the victim was revealed, I felt certain that my new prime suspect was the killer. Then, boom! Foley completely took me by surprise and then again with the way she ended the book. And it was so good. 

So why couldn't I remember the book a week after finishing it? I can't tell you. As soon I looked to see which book I'd finished, I did remember the details of the book. A lot of this one is predictable and the characters are pretty two-dimensional; but that ending, for me at least, made up for a lot of the faults I found in the rest of the book. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Life: It Goes On - July 4

Happy Fourth of July! I hadn't meant for the usual Sunday post to get pushed back to Tuesday, but I've got more time today than I did on Sunday so that's how this week is going! Were you all lucky enough to get a four-day weekend? Neither of our companies had Monday off and we both opted not to take it off, which makes for a weird work week. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Lucy Foley's The Hunting Party and started Kimberly McCreight's Reconstructing Amelia, which I think was recommended to me by my sister-in-law. 

Watched: The College World Series, and episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ted Lasso, and Grace and Frankie

Read: Caroline O'Donoghue's The Rachel Incident. I have a couple of books started in print but haven't picked up either of them this week; not sure why not. 

Made: Had Mini-him and his girlfriend to dinner on Sunday. Could have done something easy; but I haven't made a real meal in a while, so I did a full summer dinner on the patio thing. Made homemade baked beans, macaroni salad, we grilled burgers and hotdogs, and I made an angel food cake recipe, which I found on Instagram. Well, not an angel food cake recipe - I used a box for that. But a new recipe for "frosting" it, which was delicious and had no sugar, except in the Heath bars that were crumbled up on it. 

My dad sporting his 
Thomas Jefferson t-shirt
& leading the singing. 

 Today we took my dad back to the old neighborhood for the annual Fourth of July breakfast. He was the belle of the ball - so many people not only told him they were happy to see him, but thanked him for coming. And we got to sit with our dearest friends in that neighborhood so got to catch up with them. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: It will depend on what the weather does. I started a project in the basement last weekend, and will get back to that if the weather is too rainy or too hot. If the weather is, as Goldilocks prefers, just right, I'm hoping to get to that table I talked about last week but haven't touched yet. 

Thinking About: Why I don't like fireworks any more. Our neighbor puts on a massive show every year and this year I didn't even want to watch it out of the window. Some of it's the noise, some of it's the overstimulation, some of it's thinking about what an incredible waste of money so much of it is. Maybe it just comes down to me turning into a grumpy old lady? 

Feeling: Last week was a tough reentry after vacation. I really actually needed this cut up work week to recover. I'm feeling much less stressed today and much more on top of things which is so important for my mental health. 

Looking forward to: Miss H arrives Thursday. She was meant to be here for the weekend. But one of her employees can't come into work Saturday morning and Miss H has to cover. Being the boss is great until...

Question of the week: