Tuesday, December 31, 2019

First Lines: November and December 2019 edition

Ooof. It’s been a struggle keeping my psychological head above water for the past few weeks.  I finished hardly any books in November (the same was true in October).  In December I chose some shorter or familiar books, and so was able to complete a total of five.   What’s not included here is the selection of poems – Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry – that also helped get me through. 

I have no photos to include here because my computer tends to crash every time I open my photos library.  I only have 49,608 photos.

Book 1
The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep?  We can ring you if he shows up.” 
            Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

Book 2 – did not finish this one
124 was spiteful.  Full of a baby’s venom.

Book 3
The party is his mother’s idea.  Bart’s birthday is October 31, which is one of the three worst birthdays a person can have, along with Christmas and September 11.

Book 4
Sydney struck Phryne Fisher, quite literally, in the face.

Book 5
The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.

Book 6
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

Book 7
“Ada! Get back from that window!” Mam’s voice, shouting. Mam’s arm, grabbing mine, yanking me so I toppled off my chair and fell hard to the floor.

Book 8
“I regret exceedingly —” said M. Hercule Poirot. He was interrupted. Not rudely interrupted. The interruption was suave, dexterous, persuasive rather than contradictory.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold: A George Smiley Novel, by John le Carré  © 1963. 
Read for book club.  I found it terribly depressing.  How could a book that takes place mostly in East Germany be anything else?  The interesting thing, though, is that it was written just two years after the Berlin Wall went up.   The Wall is an integral part of the plot.

Book 2 – did not finish this one
Beloved, by Toni Morrison © 1987.
This book began in such a fascinating way – as a ghost story, and a house with a personality.  But on the advice of book club, I abandoned reading it.  The writing is great.  Extraordinary, in fact.  Perhaps I will be able to take up this book again at a later time.

Book 3
Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand.  © 2017 
For book club; I led the discussion, mostly because I felt unequal to the task of volunteering to lead the discussion for our January book, Great Expectations.  Ms. Hilderbrand is touted as the Queen of the Summer Novel.  While this novel takes place during the winter, it seems to have the qualities (mostly not positive ones, in my opinion), of a good beach read.  In our defense, we picked this book because we wanted a light read. 

Book 4
Death Before Wicket, by Kerry Greenwood. © 2008  (Phryne Fisher Mysteries Book 10). 
I did not know that this would involve so much discussion of cricket (the sport).  Also includes racy scenes, kidnapping, and tarot card readings.  All of this takes place at a university.  The "Sydney" in the quote of the first lines is not a person, but the city in Australia.

Book 5
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré. © 2003. 
My favorite of the Harry Potter series.  Ah, the familiar characters, and the known plot were a solace.  Harry’s detentions with Professor Umbridge were suitably evil.  The Room of Requirement is the best idea ever.

Book 6
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.   © 1985.
I first read this shortly after it was published.  The only reason I re-read it now is because I think I might want to read the recently-published sequel.  The writing is excellent.  The society described is more plausible today than it seemed to me in 1985. 

Book 7
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley.  © 2015.
Children’s lit – takes place in Britain in WWII.   Newbery Honor Book.  A good story.

Book 8
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, by Agatha Christie.  A Hercule Poirot mystery.  © 1960.
A very short, rather predictable story, but five chapters of Hercule Poirot spending Christmas holiday in Britain was just the ticket for recent days.

For my picks of my favorite reads during 2019, click here.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Lift up your heads, fling wide the portals

Adorned with joy

There are trials that await me when I make a trip to visit my Mom and my Aunt.  But I must say, their trials are more difficult than what I deal with while I am there.  Both of them confront daily the war that is old age – loss of vision, hearing, muscle, friends, energy, motivation.   For one whole day during my recent visit, my Mom felt too awful from nausea to get out of bed.

When I visit, it’s easy for me to hang my head and see only the sadness and difficulty my dear ones face.  It’s easy for me to rage at the illogical world that exists within the confines of the retirement home.  Yes, I do need that glass of wine at the end of a day spent there.

There is a decent piano in the common area right outside my Mom’s room.  I had brought my hymn books, and so spent about an hour playing and singing Advent hymns and Christmas carols.

“Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!” says the Advent hymn.  I’m not a mighty gate, but I would do well to lift up my head and notice the moments of joy.  

Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates,
Behold, the King of glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near;
The Savior of the world is here!

At first my Mom wasn’t singing, but then I started to play Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light, and Mom said, “Oh, that’s my favorite!”  And we were off and singing together – joy!  

More joy: some cousins came to visit for a few hours, and we had a blast reminiscing about our ancestors.

Even more joy: My brother brought a small Christmas tree, a small tinsel garland, and some ornaments from our childhood.  My aunt has vision problems, so my Mom looked over the ornaments and selected which ones to put on the tree.  My Mom has problems lifting her arms up, so my aunt put the ornaments on the tree.  It was so good for these sisters to have a purpose and a task to work on together.  The ornaments sparked fond memories of family times spent together. 

Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple, set apart
From earthly use for heaven’s employ,
Adorned with prayer and love, and joy.

Visiting the retirement home is crazy-making, and parts of it this time were the usual craziness, but I lift up my head and give thanks to God that some of our visit was adorned with prayer, love, and joy.

Just to finish out my hymnal's version of the Advent hymn:

Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee, here, Lord, abide.
Let me Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in me reveal.

This Advent hymn is one of my favorites, and not just because it is based on Psalm 24, which my father read at our wedding.  I like it because it's got instructions for me.  I've got to open the portals of my heart, I've got to see the joy, and then turn it around and, with God's help, reveal grace and love.    

(For those not familiar with the Advent hymn Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates, here it is, sung by a large choir with a really impressive organist.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Caramelized Playlist

Thanksgiving onions 2014

Here is the playlist we listened to during the Caramelization of the Onions today.

-       If I had words from the movie Babe.   Sung by mice.  Saint-Saëns to a reggae beat.

If I had words to make a day for you
I'd sing you a morning golden and new.
I would make this day last for all time
Give you a night deep in moon shine.
- lyrics by Scott Fitzgerald

And then, of course, this naturally followed:
-       The Saint-Saëns Organ Concerto #3, final movement.  Pull out all the stops!

To switch things up a little:
-       Peter, Paul and Mary singing Blowin’ in the Wind. 

Which prompted me to say to Younger Daughter, "Bob Dylan wrote that song.  Have you ever heard Bob Dylan sing?"  No.  So next up in the play list was 30 seconds of:
-       Bob Dylan sings Everybody Must Get Stoned. 
“Why does it sound like a carnival?” Younger Daughter asked.  So we switched to:
-       Twist and Shout, The Beatles.

Then back to classical music:
-       Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg. 

Then Youtube selected this for us:
-       Rondo Alla Turca, by Mozart. 
-       Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the final movement.  This included some dancing around the kitchen, because by that time the onions were sliced and in the pan.  A bombastic finish to the caramelization process.

This is the version of the 1812 Overture we listened to:

Check out the plethora of great Dad jokes in the comments on that youtube link.  But bemoan the fact that the youtube poster did not bother to say which orchestra is playing. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  May your onions be sweet!