Sunday, October 29, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 29

Happy Sunday! It's grey, it's cold, and all of the things that were still alive outside are now dead. And this is why I'm not a fan of autumn. I did bring in my herbs and some flowering plants and will see how long I can keep them alive. On the plus side, there are a few tomatoes still sitting on my counter that ripened off the vine this past week because it was abnormally warm to start the week. So maybe one more round of BLT sandwiches with home grown tomatoes? 

I finally finished the furniture for Miss H early last week, after much frustration. I'd liked to have had another week or two to work on it, but it looks good and will serve her purposes. And now I can finally focus on getting some other things done around here. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Madame Restell, by Jennifer Wright; unfortunately, my loan expired before I could finish the book so it will be several weeks before I can finish this on. This week I'll start Louise Erdrich's The Sentence, the November pick for my book club. 

Watched: The usual football and volleyball and the last ever episode of Grace and Frankie. I'm really going to miss the laughs and those two ladies. 

Read: M. C. Beaton's latest Agatha Raisin mystery, Dead on Target, my nod to Halloween. 

Made: Tonight I made a new version of chicken pot pie, which includes a puff pastry topping, instead of the usual pie crust. It's a definite make again, but I'm definitely be upping the seasoning. 

Enjoyed: A Zoom happy hour with my Tier 1 friends on Friday. It was just the therapy I needed! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: This weekend we go down to help Miss H get settled into her new place. I love doing that, so I'm looking forward to it. Before we go, I'm going to plan out the best layout for her furniture on graph paper and gather together all of the things we'll need to get things put together and on the walls. 

Thinking About: Now that our basement will finally get to be an adult space (for the first time every), I'm busy making plans for what that space will look like one day. BG keeps reminding me that we have other, more pressing, things to get done around here before then; but I'm going to keep dreaming. 

Feeling: Blessed. Yesterday was my birthday and I was wow'd by the number of people who reached out over social media, the number of cards I got, and some very thoughtful gifts, including these frog stepping stones which arrived from Mini-me's mother-in-law, who is also, now, a friend. 

The Big Guy gave me the house to myself for much of the day, and you know how much I enjoy my alone time. That was only interrupted by a visit from Mini-him, who brought me lovely flowers, lunch, and a book. I may have messed some things as a parent, but I certainly taught that boy how to treat his mama (and, I hope, all women) well. 

Looking forward to: Tomorrow night we're headed to dinner out to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary. We're going to one of the last old school steak places left in Omaha; they still have a salad bar and serve baked Alaska. Tuesday we're going to see the musical, Tina, about Tina Turner. 

Question of the week: Some years back, my sister got me a set of peg doll figurines of the lady Supreme Court justices. Later, she added a suffragette to my peg doll collection. Last year, she had one of my mom commissioned, to be added to what has become referred to as my "strong women" collection. Last week, the latest addition arrived in the mail...Miss H. To say that it brought tears to my eyes would be an understatement. She really is one of the strongest people I know (although I love that she still needs her mom and dad on a pretty regular basis!). If you had this kind of collection, what famous woman would you add? Who would you add from your own life? 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store
by James McBride
400 pages
Published August 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate Timblin, the Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. 

As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

My Thoughts: 
Confession: this is another one of those books that I picked up without any notion of what it was about; I picked it up solely based on the author, an author I've been meaning to read for years, an author who's written three books I own but have never read. It's time I thought. And now I can't help but wonder if I might have done those other three books a disfavor. Not so much in ignoring them for so long (although that's certainly a disfavor), but in having set the bar so high for them with this one. 

The New York Times calls this book "a murder mystery locked inside a Great American novel" and a web. 

That murder mystery begins in the opening pages of the book, when that skeleton is found and then the mystery disappears until it is finally explained in the closing pages of the book. There is not much investigation, nor an inquiry in 1972 and readers will be forgiven for forgetting about that skeleton over the course of the book. They'll forget about it because McBride's about to weave that web, bringing in more and more story lines that, at first, seem to be leading nowhere. 

We quickly travel back in time to the 1920's and 1930's, to Chicken Hill, where African Americans and Jewish immigrants live in sometimes uneasy peace with each other and with the "real" Americans who live down the hill in Pottstown. McBride introduces to a wide range of characters in the neighborhood and a complicated water rights issue that will try your brain but stay with it, the payoff is well worth it. Not even the smallest detail is a throwaway in this book; everything points to something more. McBride takes his time building the novel; but it never felt too slow, so wrapped up was I in the people of Chicken Hill, the dynamics of the people who lived there, the music and politics of the time. There is humor here, tension, heartache, sadness, satisfaction, and joy and so many small and great lessons to be learned (although McBride is never preaching here). 

I picked this one up without knowing anything about it. Now I doubt I will ever forget it. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese

Cutting For Stone
by Abraham Verghese
560 pages; 23 hours, 54 minutes
Read by Sunil Malhotra
Published February 2009 by Knopf 

Publisher's Summary: 
Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers born of a secret union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics—their passion for the same woman—that will tear them apart and force Marion, fresh out of medical school, to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as an intern at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him—nearly destroying him—Marion must entrust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.

My Thoughts: 
I bought a paperback copy of this book something like ten years (or more) ago but it has long languished on my bookshelves because of its length. It felt intimidating, as so many big books do. But when a friend from work strongly recommended it for perhaps the third or fourth time, I knew it was time to get to it. 

I figured a read/listen combination was the best route to go so I requested the audiobook from the library. But at nearly 24 hours long, there was no way I was getting this one listened to in 14 days. It never occurred to me that it would be weeks and weeks before I would be able to check it out a second time to finish it. When that turned out to be the case, I went to pull the paperback off my shelves...only to find it gone. I assumed that I had purged it, in light of the fact that I had requested it in audio format. I resigned myself to waiting for the book. And then, when I randomly decided to reorganize my books one day, I found it, shoved down behind other books. I had something like 200 pages left to read and put it on my bookshelf to read in bed at night. Except I didn't. I either went to bed too late to read or had a library book I needed to finish up and read that instead. So it was weeks before I got back to it, other than to read a few pages at a time. I do not recommend this as a good way to read a book; it's certainly not the way I intended to read/listen to this one when I started. 

In breaking the book up, I can't help but feel that my overall impression of the book suffered. What stuck with me when I got back to the book was not the emotional attachment I had formed for Marion, but rather a feeling that there was entirely too much medical detail, not enough connection to Shiva, and the feeling that the reconnection Marion makes late in the book with a woman he'd spent his life in love with was lacking. 

The Guardian has this to say about the book: 
"This is a book narrated by a surgeon, and structured as a surgeon might structure it: after the body has been cut open and explored everything is returned to its place and carefully sutured up - which is not, in the end, how life actually works."

Which is to say that Verghese chooses to reveal quite a lot about several of the characters well into the book, in time to bring the story to its climax; but, perhaps, too late for the reader to remain connected emotionally. It pulled me out of the story, as did all of the medical detail. 

But, again, I will never know how this all might have felt if I had read this one straight through. I never stopped caring what happened to Marion and I was glad that he has some resolution to things that had troubled him all of his life.  


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 22

Happy Sunday from Omaha, where it was 80 degrees and sunny and today I'm working on furniture between sprinkles and outfitted in sweatpants and a hoodie. Racing to get these last two pieces of furniture finished for Miss H before it gets entirely too cold to work outside...and also before we have to pack them up to take them to KC. 

The ash tree in our front yard is in full, glorious color and when the sun has been shining, it has bounced the most beautiful rosy light into my office. As I've struggled with autumn this year, that was a good reminder of the good things about this time of year. I needed that, after having pulled plants out of pots and garden beds yesterday, something that always makes me blue. 

Last Week I: 
Listened To: Finishing Not That Bad today. It's so, so hard to listen to, but so, so important. 

Watched: Grace and Frankie, Daisy Jones and The Six, and a lot of football, including a Husker win. Oh, yeah, and the Husker volleyball team knocking off the No. 1 team in the country, a team we've been unable to beat in the last ten times we've come up against them.

Read: I finished James McBride's The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store.  Not sure what's up next. 

Made: Lasagna tortellini soup (it was a huge hit!) and boozy chocolate cake. 

Enjoyed: Lots of time with family and friends. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I thought I was about finished with this cedar chest but I wasn't happy with it so I've sanded the top back down and will restain it tomorrow and then finish cleaning up the copper.  

Thinking About: Everything. Seriously, I wake up in the night and my brain is all over the place and I can't get back to sleep. 

Feeling: Still not happy about it being fall...even as I think about soups and all other manner of comfort foods. 

Looking forward to: A little weekend trip. 

Question of the week: Have you ever refinished or painted furniture? If so, which do you prefer doing? Any favorite products to recommend? 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet
Published October 2022 by Norton, W. W. and Company, Inc. 
240 pages

Publisher's Summary: 
Millet makes fiction that vividly evokes the ties between people and other animals and the crisis of extinction. 

Her exquisite new novel is the story of a man named Gil who walks from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed love. After he arrives, new neighbors move into the glass-walled house next door and his life begins to mesh with theirs. In this warmly textured, drily funny, and philosophical account of Gil’s unexpected devotion to the family, Millet explores the uncanny territory where the self ends and community begins—what one person can do in a world beset by emergencies. 

Dinosaurs is both sharp-edged and tender, an emotionally moving, intellectually resonant novel that asks: In the shadow of existential threat, where does hope live?

My Thoughts: 
My alarm to put the house to bed for the night so that I can put myself to bed for the night has just gone off but it's time to get my thoughts down about this one before I forget them. And I might; because, while this is a lovely story, it's also a quiet, small work that so closely feels like real life that it almost blends into it. 
  • If you're looking for action, look elsewhere. This is the stuff of one man's life and the family he finds for himself after years of not really having one. And while there are grand ideas (for goodness sake, Gil walks from New York City to Phoenix; he confronts a man who's bullying his wife and son), those moments are not the highlight of this book, rather they are explanations of Gil's character and moments in which to see him grow and open himself up. 
  • Is it a little unbelievable to that Gil would wind up in Phoenix and have a family of four move in next door, all four of whom he is able to win over simply by dint of being himself? Yes. But also, it's so wonderfully written that it doesn't feel unbelievable when you're reading it. 
  • It's a lesson to be mindful of the special people in your life, to be kind, to give back when you can, and to open yourself up to life's experiences. 
  • It's funny. Not in the laugh out loud way but in the chuckle and smile way. A quiet way, like so much about the book. 
  • Millet does, what appears to me to be, a terrific job of writing her male characters in particular. 
  • It took me a while to understand the title, and all of the talk of birds. But in the end, this is what I understood Millet to be asking: are humane, kind people on the verge of extinction or will humanity find a way to survive, just as those dinosaurs who survived extinction to become birds did? One can only hope. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

White and Faded: Restoring Beauty in Your Home and Life by Janet Parrella-Van Den Berg

White and Faded: Restoring Beauty in Your Home and Life 
by Janet Parrella-Van Den Berg
Published September 2023 by Nelson, Thomas Inc. 
208 pages
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher, through TLC Book Tours, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary: 
The only thing more beautiful than home transformation is personal transformation. Bring new life into your home and your soul through the gorgeous photography, inspiring story, and creative design ideas from Janet Parrella-Van Den Berg, founder of popular UK brand White & Faded. Journey through these hope-filled pages, and discover the hidden beauty in your own home and life.

In White & Faded, Janet Parrella-Van Den Berg takes you on a stunning photographic tour through her restored English homes as she invites you into her personal journey of restoring her own sense of value and purpose—and reveals how you can do the same.

So what is White & Faded? As Janet explains, she loves white things as a culmination of all colors and a representation of new mercies. And she loves faded things, such as cast-aside furniture, as a reminder that even what is painful or imperfect can be repurposed to reveal hidden beauty. Janet gives insights into both the literal and metaphorical aspects of white and faded as she draws on her decades of experience to offer:
  • Full-color photography of restored English country homes, including a 1767 Georgian rectory in Kent and a home originally built in 1500
  • Practical restoration tips—from large-scale homes to smaller antiques
  • Fresh decorative ideas you can adapt to your own style, home, and season of life
  • Fun inspiration—from antique to modern—ideal for fans of HGTV and Magnolia Network
  • Inspiration to incorporate a touch of seasonal charm throughout the year
  • How to make white work with kids and pets
  • Janet's own remarkable story of trauma, love, and rediscovered identity
How will you create a place in your life where you feel loved, find healing, and discover new treasures? Sometimes seeing the past through new eyes gives hope for the future—and looking ahead can be a beautiful way to come home.

My Thoughts: 
I've been working with TLC Book Tours for a decade, perhaps, and still there are glitches. I received this book for what I understood to be an Instagram post. But they didn't know I had an Instagram so were surprised when I didn't post here on my designated day. So this book is getting both. Here's what I had to say on Instagram: 
I have always dreamed of an all-white house and Leo me some chippy, worn, well-loved furniture [as, by now, all of you know] so I was excited to receive White and Faded through TLC Book Tours. Even my husband was impressed - wish I had had it years ago when I was trying to convince him to go all white! The photography is beautiful and the way Janet Parrella-Van den Berg ties the choices she's made in her home to the events of her life is lovely.
Seriously, this book was sitting on my (not white) coffee table and The Big Guy picked it up and browsed through it, as he will with any of the books I have sitting around. I expected some comment about how impractical all-white is, or how he could never live without color. Instead, he remarked on how pretty the rooms were, how calming it felt. If I would have had this book twenty years ago, would my house look entirely different? Maybe. Maybe not. 

But with my daughter finally getting her things out of our basement, we will finally be able to make that space our own. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be able to use this book to create a bright, calm, clean space like the ones in this book, a space for which my heart has been aching for decades. For that, I'll be forever grateful to Parrella-Van Den Berg for showing my husband that all-white doesn't have to mean boring or impractical.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 15

Happy Sunday from chilly, grey Omaha! 

Well, this weekend has been a bust. Thursday, as I was driving home from work, I began to feel like I might be coming down with something. This wouldn't be alarming but for the fact that I'd found out that day that I'd been exposed to Covid earlier in the week. So, our weekend trip was postponed. I don't believe that what I have is Covid; but whatever it is, it's had me down all weekend. For once I've allowed myself to give into it - lots of sleeping, comfort foods, no guilt about unfinished chores (after all, I wasn't meant to be home to do anything, right?). After 48 hours of doing that, though, I'm feeling better...and guiltier about doing nothing when so much needs to be done. Today will probably not be a day of napping, Instagram, and football. At least, not JUST those things!

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay. This is a tough one. 

 Lots of football; a couple of Husker volleyball matches; some episodes of Shrinking, Grace and Frankie, and Ted Lasso; and Wes Anderson's adaptation of Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, and Dev Patel. 

Read: Trying to finish up so many books. There will actually be reviews to be written soon. 

Made: The worst banana bread I've ever made. How can a tried and true recipe come out so much differently than it usually does? It was dry and hardly tasted of banana at all. So today, we turned one loaf into French toast, soaking up loads of egg and milk and dusted heavily with spices. Much better. But still...

Enjoyed: I talked The Big Guy into getting carry out from one of our go-to places last night and it was delicious and all I had to do was order it online. Why don't I do that more often, treat myself to an easy meal? 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On finishing up furniture for Miss H. Three weeks until all of these extra things are out of my house and I can begin dreaming about what I'll do with that space that's been freed up. 

Thinking About: The three new bananas sitting on my counter. Eat them or let them get overripe and try another batch of banana bread? 

Feeling: Rested

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday. 

Question of the week: How easy is it for you to just let yourself be still, to rest? 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

A Fever In The Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan

A Fever In The Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan
Read by Timothy Egan
10 hours, 29 minutes
Published April 2023 by Penguin Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary: 
The Roaring Twenties--the Jazz Age--has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson. 

Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he'd become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows - their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman - Madge Oberholtzer - who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees. 

A FEVER IN THE HEARTLAND marries a propulsive drama to a powerful and page-turning reckoning with one of the darkest threads in American history.

My Thoughts: 
Every once in a while my friend passes along The New York Times' Book Review sections, and my to-be-read list grows rapidly. This is one of those books I wouldn't have heard about were it not for NYT and, consequently, I would never have learned about this dark period in the history of the U.S. Midwest. 

What Didn't Work For Me: 
  • Egan does a fine job of reading his book...except that he's prone to take breathes or pauses at strange places in sentences, say between a first and last name. It's not a very big deal but it was one of those things that really started to annoy me. 
  • Occasionally I felt like names were repeated where it was unnecessary, as though Egan was afraid readers would have forgotten who a particular person was. 
What I Liked About This Book: 
  • You all know how much I LOVE to learn about something entirely new to me in my reading and in A Fever In The Heartland, Egan introduces me to new names in U.S. history who played a tremendously important role in their lifetimes, but whose names have disappeared over time. Understandably, in this case, as the country tried to forget how close it had come to allowing a hate group to rule not just towns and counties but states and the entire country. I had no idea how vast and how powerful the Ku Klux Klan was in the Midwest in the 1920's, that Indiana had a greater percentage of the state with Klan members than any other state in the country. In all honesty, I wasn't entirely unaware that the Klan had been in the Midwest at that time and who they had attacked - The Big Guy's great-grandfather was a leader in the county in Nebraska they lived in at the time. 
  • For the most part, I really liked the way Egan structured the book, introducing the events early on that would ultimately lead to Stephenson's downfall then retreating to give readers the background to the characters and the time. 
  • This is an exceedingly timely book, given how closely the events of the time seem to mirror the events of our own - corruption, a charismatic leader who convinces people to join his cause, root hatred that was fanned by leaders into a movement that framed the values of entire cities and states, even though it wasn't the popular opinion of the majority. 
Would I Recommend It: 
  • Yes - it's a time in history that is little discussed but important to remember and a terrific cautionary tale. Egan purports that it's 100% factual (conversations being reported directly as they were recorded at the time) but it's a dynamic, propulsive read. 
  • A word of caution - you'll know going in that the Klan was an extremely violent group. But Stephenson was also an extremely brutal man and Egan pulls no punches in describing the things that Stephenson did to women. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Many Lives of Mama Love: A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing by Lara Love Hardin

The Many Lives of Mama Love: A Memoir of Lying, Stealing, Writing, and Healing by Lara Love Hardin 
320 pages
Published August 2023 by Simon and Schuster

Publisher's Summary: 
No one expects the police to knock on the million-dollar, two-story home of the perfect cul-de-sac housewife. But soccer mom Lara Love Hardin has been hiding a shady secret: she is funding her heroin addiction by stealing her neighbors’ credit cards.

Lara is convicted of thirty-two felonies and becomes inmate S32179. She learns that jail is a class system with a power structure that is somewhere between an adolescent sleepover party and Lord of the Flies. Furniture is made from tampon boxes and Snickers bars are currency. But Lara quickly finds the rules and brings love and healing to her fellow inmates as she climbs the social ladder to become the “shot caller,” showing that jailhouse politics aren’t that different from the PTA meetings she used to attend.

When she’s released, she reinvents herself as a ghostwriter. Now, she’s legally co-opting other people’s identities and getting to meet Oprah, meditate with The Dalai Lama, and have dinner with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. But the shadow of her past follows her. Shame is a poison worse than heroin—there is no way to detox. Lara must learn how to forgive herself and others, navigate life as a felon on probation, prove to herself that she is more good than bad, and much more.

The Many Lives of Mama Love is a heartbreaking and tender journey from shame to redemption, despite a system that makes it almost impossible for us to move beyond the worst thing we have ever done.

My Thoughts: 
I can't remember where I first heard about this book or what it was that appealed to me about it. I do know that by the time it became available at the library, I had already forgotten and was expecting something completely different when I picked it up. As has become my habit, I didn't look at the summary on the book and just launched into it. 

What Didn't Work For Me: 
  • I finished this book a few weeks ago and what I might not have liked about this one has faded from my mind. Perhaps the only thing is that, toward the end, there is a fairly long bit about an encounter Hardin had (which I'm not going to get into because the encounter itself is really amazing) that I thought went on a bit longer than needed. 
What I Liked: 
  • It's probable that I wanted to read this book because it's about an addict in recovery. Given how closely addiction has impacted my family, it's a subject I'm always interested in reading about and a subject I really wish people would read more widely about. 
  • Love Hardin is an educated, white, suburban woman - not the stereotype of a drug addict and I'm grateful that she is shedding light on the fact that addiction can happen to anyone, anywhere. She makes no excuses for the things she did while she was in active addiction and doesn't cast blame on anyone else for her addiction. She does explain the things that lead her to use in the first place, how she came to be of a mindset that allowed her to justify it, and how others played a part in her drug use but she always makes it clear that her drug use was a result of an addiction which was greater than her ability to break out of it. 
  • If you read or watched Orange Is The New Black, you saw that people in jails/prisons aren't universally bad people. Love Hardin introduces us to the people she met in jail, showing them to be women who are largely there due to the circumstances of life. Most of the women she knew in jail were resourceful, supportive, and caught up in a system that doesn't work. Many of them were addicts coming in and our prison system doesn't stop that; many others become addicts while they are incarcerated. 
  • This might be the best look at how difficult it is to get your life back in order after your release from jail/prison that I've read. You're required to have a job but you have so many court required appointments that it's almost impossible to hold onto one...assuming you can get one with a prison records. You're required to have a home address to get a job but you can't find a home without any money which you can't get because you don't have a job. You have to distance yourself from the people who could drag you back down but those people are often the only people you can turn to when you need help. 
  • Love Hardin was certainly aided in her ability to turn her life around by her educational background and finding good people who were willing to help. She knows she was blessed to find those people and to have reached the level of success she has now reached in her life. Now she is giving back, trying to help others. 
Would I Recommend This Book: 
  • Absolutely. For anyone who wants to expand their knowledge of addiction or our penal system or for those who love a good survival story. It's well written, very personal, and very honest. 
  • Book clubs will find a lot to discuss in this book. One thing I'd hope they would look at is the way they might react to finding out someone like Love Hardin lives in their neighborhood. 

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 8

Happy Sunday! It's sunny, but cool here - very fall like. I was trying working on a piece of furniture yesterday and was not happy that it wasn't warm enough to work barefooted and in short sleeves. Can we all agree to days that are warm enough for short sleeves then evenings that require a sweatshirt or sweater? I could be fine with that. 

Show of hands for those of you who have managed to keep the mums they bought for their porches alive? Yeah, I didn't expect to see many hands up. I have transplanted the giant mum plant that The Big Guy got at Costco and we'll see if it will survive but I may have waited too long to do that...again. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I finished Timothy Egan's A Fever In The Heartland and checked out Roxane Gay's Not That Bad. But then I decided to listen to podcasts for a few days instead, so I've listened to The Big Flop and We Can Do Hard Things

Watched: Husker volleyball and football, NFL football (which is on this morning from London), and some more episodes of Ted Lasso. We're a couple of episodes into Season 3 but since this is maybe (probably?) the final season, I see us parsing the rest of the season out over a number of months. 

Read: M. C. Beaton's Dead On Target and James McBride's The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store. Maybe one day I'll actually finish one of them. 

Made: Not much. Cooking and reading physical books seem to be two things I want to do but can't really make myself do these days. 

 Getting back to working on furniture. Miss H saved this end table when her aunt was ready to send it to the Goodwill. It had a light and she had a vision of how she would use it so home with us it came. Yesterday I'm changing out the lighting (no more plugging it in!) and using Fusion mineral paint for the first time but the biggest challenge with this project is painting the inside of a hexagon. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing a lot of paperwork this week. 

Thinking About: I joined The Cozy Minimalist Community and have started working my way through the courses. It ties in with my desire to declutter, declutter, declutter and organize. The next step is to create spaces I love. 

Feeling: Like my fall allergies kicked in this weekend. 

Looking forward to: A weekend trip to visit family. 

Question of the week: There are houses in my neighborhood this year whose Halloween yard displays have taken over their entire yards. Are people going as crazy with Halloween decor where you live? 

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Now You See Us
by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Read by Angela Lin
11 hours, 11 minutes
Published March 2023 by HarperCollins Publishers

Publisher's Summary: 
Corazon, Donita, and Angel are Filipina domestic workers—part of the wave of women sent to Singapore to be cleaners, maids, and caregivers.

Corazon: A veteran domestic worker, Cora had retired back to the Philippines for good, but she has returned to Singapore under mysterious circumstances. Now she’s keeping a secret from her wealthy employer, who is planning an extravagant wedding for her socialite daughter.

Donita: Barely out of her teens, this is Donita’s first time in Singapore, and she’s had the bad luck to be hired by the notoriously fussy Mrs. Fann. Brazen and exuberant, Donita’s thrown herself into a love affair with an Indian migrant worker.

Angel: Working as an in-home caregiver for an elderly employer, Angel is feeling blue after a recent breakup with the woman she loves. She’s alarmed when her employer’s son suddenly brings in a new nurse who may be a valuable ally...or meant to replace her.

Then an explosive news story shatters Singapore’s famous tranquility—and sends a chill down the spine of every domestic worker. Flordeliza Martinez, a Filipina maid, has been arrested for murdering her female employer. The three women don’t know the accused well, but she could be any of them; every worker knows stories of women who were scapegoated or even executed for crimes they didn’t commit.

Shocked into action, Donita, Corazon, and Angel will use their considerable moxie and insight to piece together the mystery of what really happened on the day Flordeliza’s employer was murdered. After all, no one knows the secrets of Singapore’s families like the women who work in their homes…

My Thoughts: 
Falling behind on reviews so we're going back to a tried and true way to get my thoughts down quickly.

Recommended by: 
  • My aunt, whose book club read it. She and I aren't always in complete agreement about books but I always know, going in, her honest opinion about a book which makes it easier for me to decide which ones to read. 

What I Didn't Like: 
  • My one quibble with this one was that Jaswal threw in a lot of "issues" here. That can feel a little forced at times, especially when there is plenty to consider as it is. 
What I Liked: 
  • Angela Lin does a terrific job giving each of her characters a unique voice. 
  • This book is why I read books about other cultures. I had no idea how the domestic worker industry works outside of the United States (to be honest, it probably works this way for a lot of immigrants in the U.S. as well). These people, who leave their own countries to try to earn money to give their families a better life, are treated as nothing more than a commodity. They aren't allowed to move freely between jobs; they are constantly accused of all manner of things, from laziness to theft to greater crimes; they are at the complete mercy of their employers, who may abuse them, refuse to pay them, and not allow them any time off. 
  • Despite all of that, there was a lot of humor in this book, which kept it from being overwhelming. 
  • It's a David vs. Goliath story and, at least to some extent, David gets the upper hand here. 
Would I Recommend It: 
  • Yes, if you like to read books about other cultures and if you enjoy fiction that also teaches you. 
  • Yes, for book clubs - there is a lot here to discuss. 

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Life: It Goes On - October 1

Happy Sunday! I finally broke down this weekend and accepted that it's fall. I've brought out the fall decor, bought pumpkins, and even drank a pumpkin carmelicious coffee (although it was 95 degrees yesterday so that sucker was iced!). 

Sadly, the part of fall that I really dislike has arrived - it's time to pull out the garden, leaving us with empty dirt areas to look at. And the pretty part of fall has yet to arrive - the leaves aren't changing yet, just fading or falling off. And my giant mum is on its last leg because I cannot keep those things alive in pots. Why do I keep buying them, you ask? I wish I had a good answer for you. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: I'm finishing up Timothy Egan's A Fever In The Heartland today. I love finding books that introduces me to parts of history I'd never heard of before. 

Watched: The usual football and college volleyball, the last episode of season 2 of Ted Lasso, and another episode of Daisy Jones and The Six

Read: Lydia Millet's Dinosaurs.

Made: Quick and easy lasagna and our last BLT sandwiches with homegrown tomatoes - we're somewhere in between summer and fall in the kitchen! 

Something of a "me" day on Friday - I had my hair done and got another tattoo (if you're counting, and The Big Guy is, that's three in less than a year). Mini-him told me if I keep that up that I'll be the cool tatted grandma. Does that mean he doesn't think I'd be cool otherwise?! 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I finally got the paint to do Miss H's furniture so I'll be getting three pieces painted this week (and, hopefully, a cedar chest stained as well). Then it's on to a dresser that I've committed to refinishing for Mini-him. 

Thinking About: What needs to be done this month to be ready for two kids moving in November and my dad moving in December plus the two holidays in those months. I think I'll sleep through January! 

Feeling: A little chaotic - I've started so many chores and projects this weekend and keep getting distracted by other things. Putting out fall decor reminded me that I needed to dust. Went to get the stuff to dust and stopped to switch laundry then did a bit of reorganizing in the laundry room. And so it's gone on...

Looking forward to: A relatively quiet week, which should allow me to be productive around here. 

Question of the week: What's your fall flavor - pumpkin spice, salted caramel, or something else?