Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Absolutely Wonderful

cherry tree in bloom April 2024

Today I went for a walk outside and discovered that spring has arrived.  I hadn’t noticed sooner that our Kwanzan cherry tree is in full bloom.  I hadn’t noticed sooner that the big lilac bush is on the verge of blooming.  I hadn’t seen until today that the neighbor’s dogwood tree looks stunning.  Suddenly today there is evidence that it is time for tiny children to learn how to ride tiny bicycles.

I don’t know yet if this is a break in my recent pattern.  In the last week of February, I was energetic enough to get myself to walk (inside, on the treadmill) every day. I was successful, for about a week, at engaging in this healthier practice.   Then my aunt died, and that exercise effort ceased.  There was just so much to do and at the same time so much to process in my head and heart.

Bleeding heart.  So delicate.

My aunt would have loved a day like today.   She was by vocation an artist, especially in watercolor painting.  She thrived on noticing color, shape, and line.  Her go-to phrase was “Absolutely wonderful!” which is how she would have described today. 

We weren’t expecting my aunt to depart so soon.  She had been quite ill, but I really thought she would turn the corner.  Earlier in the year, she said, “I’m planning to make it to 90 years old.”  I thought she would, but she missed it by a few weeks.  My last words to her were, “I love you, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”  And she replied, "Wonderful!" I had planned to drive to see her the next day, but it was not to be.  Instead, we made the trip to the funeral home.

I have conflicting emotions I am working through.  And a whole lot of estate tasks I am working through.  I was glad to have some moments today to leave all that behind and enjoy the flowers and warm air.

Lilac bush ready to bloom

Sunday, March 31, 2024

First Lines: March 2024 edition

Reading skills

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in March.   It’s been a tough month, for reasons I may go into later on.  Or not.

About mid-month I found I was disappointed with the large list of books I had hastily downloaded to read in the hopes of taking my mind off things. I haven’t even listed them here as “Did not finish” because I didn’t get far enough.  I abandoned those, and instead I searched for authors I had enjoyed reading in the recent past.  And found something I actually liked reading.


Book 1

That Veronica and I were given keys and told to come early on a frozen Saturday in April to open the school for the Our Town auditions was proof of our dull reliability.

Book 2

September 1955

It had been raining for hours and still a light pattering soaked the cobbled pavement, fallen leaves swimming in puddles all around.

Book 3

1:  Pat Distracted on a Tedious Art Course.

Pat let her gaze move slowly round the room, over the figures seated at the table in the seminar room.  There were ten of them; eleven if one counted Dr Fantouse himself, although he was exactly the sort of person one wouldn’t count.

Book 4

1: I Really Hope… But Then Again

As the final chapter of my junior high school life comes to an end, there’s so much that I’m hoping for… or AM I?  For example: I really hope that I get into art school.  But I’d miss all my friends at RAD. 


Book 5

The Story of Two Sons and Their Father

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that will come to me.”


Book 6

Prologue:  Tumult at Carnegie Hall

May 5, 1916. Some three thousand people are packed into seats on both the sloping main floor and the four tiers of boxes and balconies sweeping in graceful arcs around the side and back walls.


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett. Published 2023. 312 pages. 

I loved this book, I think, because of the rhythm of it, the acknowledgement of the pandemic, and because the main character used the dilemma of the pandemic to tell her story (or at least some of it!) to her children.  The love that is expressed in the family, the sense of home that was found after searching – it turns out I was longing to read about that.  I read it for book club, to be discussed in May.

The one big problem with my reading of it is that I have never seen nor read the play Our Town, which features prominently.   I also liked Patchett’s recent memoir. But I could not read Bel Canto. I am not a full-throated fan of Ann Patchett’s writing, sad to say.



Book 2

The Radcliffe Ladies' Reading Club by Julia Bryan Thomas.  384 pages. First published 2023.

The book takes place in the mid-1950s in Cambridge, Mass.  The first part of the book seemed stilted and weird.  A woman who has left an unpleasant situation in Chicago establishes a book shop in Cambridge, near Radcliffe & Harvard.  She hosts a book club in her shop, to which four undergrad women show up.  The book discussions were interesting to me but mostly involved the bookshop owner pedantically driving the book discussion.  The characters of the four college women seemed one-dimensional.  Then suddenly the book took a very dark turn, with a violent incident.  It seemed like a completely different book.  But I guess this plot twist was what kept me reading to the end. 



Book 3

Love over Scotland:  44 Scotland Street Series #3, by Alexander McCall Smith.  Illustrations by Iain McIntosh.  First published 2006.

Lighthearted, funny, loveable characters.  Bertie’s trip to Paris is The Best.


Book 4

School Trip, by Jerry Craft. Y.A. graphic novel.  248 pages. Published 2023.

The author is a Newbery Medal winner for a different book.  This one seems geared toward middle school kids, but it held my attention.  I liked the art work and the characters, although a few characters are ultra-annoying, to make a pedantic point, as is sometimes the case with YA novels. 



Book 5

 ​​The Return of the Prodigal Son:  A Story of Homecoming, by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Published 1992. 162 pages. 

I read this for my church’s Lenten study.  It’s slim but gave me plenty to think about.  A parable is an allegory which gives us an opportunity to decide which one character in the story represents us.  Nouwen’s genius is to depart from that unnecessarily narrow method, allowing a much richer understanding of the parable.

I found myself exploring the title of the parable/book in other languages.  Here are two.  The German one is very different from the notion of “homecoming” in the English title.

Title in Dutch: Eindelijk thuis = Finally Home

Subtitle: Gedachten bij Rembrandts 'De Terugkeer van de Verloren Zoon

= Thoughts on Rembrandt's 'The Return of the Prodigal Son

Title in German: Nimm Sein Bild In Dein Herz = Take His Image Into Your Heart 

Subtitle: Geistliche Deutung Eines Gemäldes Von Rembrandt

= Spiritual Interpretation of a Painting by Rembrandt


Book 6

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes by Adam Hochschild  320 pages • first pub 2020.

The story of a woman in the early 1900s who marries a man in the upper class but who maintains her passion for rights for workers.  I picked this book because I had read another by this author, and appreciated his writing style.  

The book starts out with a public violation of the Comstock Act, a law originally passed in the 1870s which outlawed the distribution of contraception or information about contraception.  As our (bad) luck would have it, the Comstock Act is rearing its ugly head now, 150 years later.  Pay close attention.  The powers that seek to control and oppress are still there and still strong.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

First lines: February 2024 edition

This is false advertising: this is NOT my stack of books.
The finger puppets, however, are mine.
The only one of these books I have read is Persepolis.

February was a month of mostly light reading.  Even though this particular February had a whole additional day added to it, I managed to finish just four books.  I had a ridiculous amount of other tasks on my plate.  



Book 1

“We’re white!” my three-year-old son yelled from the back seat before pausing to shout, “And blue!”



Book 2

Eleanor Roosevelt never wanted to be a president’s wife.



Book 3

Omertà, and Fascinators

Even if she had not been an anthropologist, Domenica Macdonald would have understood the very particular significance of weddings.



Book 4

The Riding Ring

Perveen Mistry sighed, adjusting her hat on her sweating brow.  It was six-thirty in the morning and already eighty-two degrees.


Did not finish

When I sat down to write this book, I imagined it would be a history of Russia under Vladimir Putin, detailing the changes that have taken place in the mind-set and the worldview of the man himself and his inner circle: how it all began, and where it has all led.  As the book progressed, I came to realize that the participants in the events described did not fully remember what had actually happened.




The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Color of Life: A Journey Toward Love and Racial Justice, by Cara Meredith.  Cara Meredith.  240 pages • first pub 2019


At first I felt the author was so enthusiastic and giddy that I would not finish the book.  But then it got more serious, with the examination of what it means to be a white mother of mixed-race children.  I read it for a community church discussion in March.


Book 2

Eleanor Roosevelt:  A Life of Discovery, by Russell Freedman.  Published 1993.  187 pages.  Newbery Medal.

It’s a book aimed at ages 9-12, but it addresses some (but not all of the possible) adult themes – the marital situation of the Roosevelts, including the affair FDR had with Lucy Mercer.  It’s well written, and has interesting photos.  I read it for book club.

Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to so many places, to report back to her husband the Governor or the President, that she was nicknamed “Eleanor Everywhere.”   She did not have a particularly happy home life, neither during her childhood nor her adulthood.  But she did fulfill her sense of purpose.  After WW II she worked hard in the UN and was responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. 



Book 3

Sunshine on Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street Series #8), by Alexander McCall Smith.  297 pages.  Published 2012.

An enjoyable and amusing tale which includes a dog, a wedding, a doppelganger, and a holey kilt. 

For those who are wondering, a 'fascinator' is “a particular style of ladies hat that serves no practical function and is intended only to be decorative,” according to Professor Google.

See more info and photos here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascinator



Book 4

The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey.  Published 2019.  340 pages.

Second in the mystery series starring a woman lawyer in 1920s India.  Includes lots of horseback riding through the forest.  A well-spun tale.



Did not finish

All the Kremlin’s Men: Inside the Court of Vladimir Putin, by Mikhail Zygar.  Published 2016. 396 pages.  “Translated from Russian; no information is available about the translator.”

It turns out I could not bear to read about this topic right now. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - 


 I would love to hear about what you are reading these days.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

In Honor of SuperbOwls

 The Year Flaco the Owl Roamed Free

With any luck, this is a "gift" article, meaning you can read the whole thing if you don't have a Times subscription.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

First Lines: January 2024 edition

Some of my parents' books, 2012


Below are the first lines of the four books I finished reading in January.



Book 1

Prologue: What Is America?

The American novelist and literary critic Ralph Ellison once remarked that, “Whenever we as Americans have faced serious crises we have returned to fundamentals; this, in brief, is what I have tried to do.”  Me too.  


Book 2

This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.



Book 3

Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.  Especially in the summer of 1912. 



Book 4

The Mercy Workshop

There are times in our lives – scary, unsettling times – when we know that we need help or answers but we’re not sure what kind, or even what the problem or question is.



The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country, by Thomas E. Ricks.  416 pages.  Published 2020.

An interesting overview of the first four US presidents' relationship to classical (Greek, Roman) thought, and how that relationship contributed to the formation of the Constitution.  You'd think it would be a stodgy, slow read, but I found it quite engaging and easy to read.  At the end, Ricks put a 10-point list of “what to do now”. 


Book 2

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown, 416 pages,  Published 2013.


This is a book about the 9-man rowing team (“crew”) that made it from underdog status to Olympic competition.  I will read a sports-oriented book only if it is chosen by book club.  And even then, I might not read it.  I did finish this one, but it was sometimes a struggle.  The personal story of the Univ. of Washington team members and how the Nazis used the Berlin Olympics as a propaganda tool were for me the interesting parts of the story. 


This book has been made into a movie, which is well made, but superficial compared to the book (as is usually the case with book vs movie).  The movie glosses over most of the heartbreaking story of Joe Rantz’s youth, which had a profound effect on his ability to work as part of a team.  The movie also ignores how Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl capitalized on the Berlin Olympics as a propaganda tool. 


For me the most fascinating part of the story is the observation train.  On the day of the rowing team meets, a train ran alongside the water, with seats facing the water, allowing spectators to see the race in its entirety.  Pretty cool, yes?

Some boys in a boat

Book 3

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.  493 pages.  Published 1943.

This book tells a coming-of-age story; the description of poverty is overwhelming.  The reading was slow going.  Wondering if it is me, because Boys in the Boat was also a slow read for me.   I read it for the other book club.  



Book 4

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott.  192 pages.  Published 2017.

This book was what I needed to read at that particular moment.  Here’s one quote:

Singing is breath that is larger than yourself, so it joins you with space, with community, with other realms and our deepest inside places. You are joining your strand to everyone else’s, weaving something with the whole, and this extends the community outward into a force bigger than itself.


And that is exactly how I feel about singing.

Singing fruit
Art at the Northside Common Ministries food pantry

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Monday of the Year

January 2017


Sunday Jan 14 2024

Today Pastor said that January is the Monday of all the months of the year.  And in the same breath she said January is full of possibility, and to prove it, distributed “star words” to all us in the congregation.

I have ample evidence that January acts as the Monday of the year.  Getting back into my work schedule has been more difficult than usual this year.  I now work with colleagues half my age, and they know stuff, such as Python, and biofuels markets, and how to make cool charts, that I have proved incapable of learning.  I am reminded of my shortcomings in that regard every work day.

Further January Mondayness occurred just today (which is Sunday), when I banged my knee HARD when going up the attic fold-out stairs to put away the Xmas decorations.  I am fine, but I had to say owie owie owie for several minutes.  I’m lucky I didn’t fall off the attic stairs from the sudden pain.

January Mondayness may also show up in these decidedly “first-world” problems:  The masking tape I had to use for closing up the boxes was awful, despite being brand name tape.  I have not been able to buy a decent roll of masking tape in the past 20 years.  Why did I have to use lousy masking tape?  Because the freezer tape, which should be a star word because it works so stellarly,  has been missing for the past 2 weeks.  And UPS was closed today at the time I was able to go there, so I couldn’t mail the space heater to Younger Daughter (who now lives in even colder climes).

January behaves as a Monday, in that all the organizations I keep stats for expect a reckoning of the stats for the past year.  All the numbers are due in January.  It is overwhelming.

The giving of “star words”  is a fun and possibly misguided church practice  of picking at random a word that is supposed to guide you for the entire calendar year.  Like the star guided the Magi to the no-longer-a-baby Jesus, you know?  I like this custom because I receive a glittery star to hang somewhere in my house.  I tend to like shiny things and words, so star words should be right up my alley.  

I acknowledge with gratitude that someone takes the time to painstakingly glue about a hundred meaningful words onto glitter stars, AND attach a loop for hanging the star. At the same time I admit that in past years I have mostly ignored the star word I picked from the bowl.  

This year my star word is “Listen”.  This is further proof that January is the Monday of months.  

I used to think of myself as a very good listener - I genuinely wanted to hear what people had to say, and was interested in learning about people.  But my skill in this area went out the window in around 2017.  Receiving the star word ‘listen’ is like a slap in the face saying to me, what happened to you, anyway?

I am relieved that my star word is not “CleanUpYourDesk”.

Maybe I could relearn how to listen.  What to listen TO is important, and the choices are nearly endless.   

Pastor is right.  January is full of possibility.

Monday Morning Quiz, 2015