Monday, January 28, 2008

right on schedule, the doldrums set in

Julie left for her apartment in Maryland today. The dogs and I are sort of mooning around the house, looking up hopefully at every sound from outside. Lucie and Rufus don't know it yet, but they won't see Sister (as we like to think they think of her) again for a long time. Maybe it's better for them that way - thinking that each passing car is hers returning home. I know better.

Spring classes don't start at the University of Delaware until the second week in February, so we had Jules at home for the better part of two months. With neither of us working, I think this was the most time Julie and I have spent together since that first summer after we moved here, when we would drive to West Branch every day to swim and lay in the sun. It has really been wonderful having her home, and I know I will miss her every day.

At the same time, however, I know she needs to get back to school and to her life in Maryland. She has such a clear goal and is focused on accomplishing it. When she and Tom were growing up, we always said to them "when you go to college" not "if you go to college" and they both took that to heart, it seems, with four degrees and counting between the two of them.

I try not to have too many regrets, but one of them is definitely that I never finished college and got a degree. At least Tom and Julie did not make that same mistake. For that, I will take partial credit.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

been knittin'

Everyone is familiar with the cultural trope of the shop that is unexpectedly shuttered and closed on a beautiful summer day. A hand-lettered sign hangs crookedly on the door, explaining, "gone fishin". Lately, those who come to "If this isn't nice...", expecting a bit of nonsense or profundity have found instead an empty shop, lacking even a sign on the door. I apologize for that. The fact of the matter is that I am deep in the clutches of my newest obsession, knitting. I can't begin to tell you how much I am enjoying it.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my daughter-in-law, Kristy, gave me a refresher course in knitting when she and my son were here over Christmas. I don't remember anymore when I first learned to knit, but I know that by the time I was in college, I had knit a couple of sweaters. I only did the actual knitting and perling, you understand. My mother would cast on the stitches, bind off the sections as I completed them and sew the pieces together. But, hey, I did the knitting.

My brother, Bill, who has always been good with his hands, learned at the same time I did, even though he was still just a kid. He would knit the rows together so tightly that every once in a while he would hand his knitting over to me so that I could knit a row in to loosen it. When I read about the pregnant character in one of Louise Erdrich's books who knit the little onesies for her baby so tightly that they stood on their own and resembled little suits of armor, I understood exactly what she meant.

So, anyway, I have been knitting. I started by making a scarf for myself with the beautiful Malabrigo yarn that Kristy gave me as part of my Christmas present. I made a scarf for Ben with some yarn that he selected, and I have most recently been working on a scarf for Julie with some yarn that she picked out for herself. Nothing too complicated yet, in other words, but I did cast on my own stitches and bind off my completed work. I have even learned to fix my own mistakes - if they aren't too serious.

I have missed posting on my blog, and I hope a few of my readers have missed my posts, as well. (If you are still out there. Are you out there?) At least now I have hung a sign in the window so you will understand where I have gone. I will be back, though. Stay with me.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

looks at books, as Ben would say

When we moved here, one of the first places our family went en masse was to the local public library to get library cards. Some of my previous posts have stressed the importance of libraries in our daily lives. It has been an ongoing struggle for me, however, to learn to appreciate the library here, and one of the many things I have found lacking is an established book discussion group.

That first summer we moved here, I approached the reference desk to ask the reference librarian for a list of book discussion groups. The dapper and hirsute little reference guy looked up from his reading and told me the library didn't have any book discussion groups, but that he thought the local independent book store might have one. He seemed somewhat surprised that I even thought the library would provide such a service.

I tried the group at the book store, and while I found the other ladies there friendly and welcoming, I found the book store owner who led the discussions to be somewhat distant and off-putting, and not too surprisingly, more interested in selling books than discussing them. In the event, the store soon closed, and I was left without a book discussion group. No big deal, you might think, but I had previously belonged to two groups for a number of years, and I missed the intellectual give and take. Plus, it was the best way I knew to meet people with interests similar to my own.

The groups I had belonged to were about as different from each other as they could be. One of them was at the public library where I worked, and was led by my friend and supervisor, Ruth, the Reader's Advisor. The group was open to the public and met monthly throughout the school year. The group members were a mixed bag, mostly women, mostly middle-aged, but ranging in age from early twenties to quite elderly. The group dynamics were those familiar to everyone who has every participated in discussions of this kind.

A group of people is a group of individuals, after all, and we had every type: the woman who attended every session and read every book, but never spoke a word; the woman who thought she was clever, but was sly instead, and tried to take over every discussion with recollections of her life; the radical who was no longer young, but espoused the causes of her youth, and found links to them in every book we read. We had the elderly, emaciated woman who was wealthy and quite prominent in our small town. She couldn't remember if she had read the book, but ate the cookies provided like she hadn't eaten all week, then promptly fell asleep. We had the young mothers who brought their restless children to the group, and promised the kids would read quietly, although they never did.

The library staff members took turns leading the discussions, which kept things fresh and interesting. It was an adventure and a pleasure to lead the group, but I learned not to lead discussions about my favorite books because I just took it too personally if everyone didn't love the book as much as I did. I learned to ask a question and wait patiently for an answer, even though my instinct was to hurry on to the next thing. I learned that in a group of that kind, the discussion leader needed to lead with a firm hand; and that the people who were most offensive were also the most difficult to offend so subtlety was not the answer. Good life lessons, all.

My other discussion group was led by Ruth, as well, but it was a private group, with the members hand-picked from among our co-workers at the library and close friends of Ruth's. We were all about the same age - I would say maybe ten years separated the oldest member of the group from the youngest. We met in each other's homes every six weeks. There were probably eight to ten of us in the group at any given time, and we grew to know each other quite initmately. Our December discussions were held at the country club over a Christmas dinner, and our July discussions always included a picnic or a barbecue. It was hard to leave this group of friends when we moved. Harder still when I realized that there would be no replacement group in my new home town. And so it has been - until last week when an article in the local newspaper caught my eye.

To be continued...

Monday, January 14, 2008

more domestic than you might think

The quilt that covers my bed is in need of some TLC. Literally within a 24-hour period, Rufus shredded the quilt top in one spot and barfed on it in another spot. So, the quilt needs to be washed, but I can't wash it until I mend the square he shredded. Frankly, I am not that good at mending, but I will stitch it up the best I can, as I have done for years.

Way back in the early 70's when I was a college coed living in a dorm, patched jeans were all the rage. I raided my mother's fabric remnants and patched my hip-hugging bell-bottoms even where they didn't have holes. It was a laborious process, let me tell you, but I found it worth the effort.

That is basically what I have been doing with the quilt on my bed for the past few years, as it slowly comes unstitched at the seams. The quilt is faded red and cream and sort of a khaki color - not really something I would have chosen for myself, but I bought it in hopes that Ben would like it even though it had flowers on it. That was back before my snoring (and my need to sleep with dogs on the bed who scratch and barf in the night) drove him to a more quiet, tranquil room of his own.

The curtains in my room match the cushion on my chair and are a lovely blue on cream toile - I always wanted toile curtains. I bought additional matching fabric and have been using it to patch my quilt, much the same way as I used to patch my jeans. Most of the patches don't cover holes of any kind, but they are strategically arranged and, to my eye, quite pleasing.

Although I much prefer writing about sewing to actual sewing, this doesn't get my quilt mended, so off I go. Hope I don't prick my fingers too badly.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

you knew it was coming... surely as the night follows day. Here is my list of the worst books of 2007. One caveat: these are the books I actually finished and didn't like. There were probably a handful of books that I started and pretty quickly knew weren't for me, and so gave up on them. I am usually pretty good at choosing books and don't bring home too many clunkers.

There are only three books on this list, and the third one is the worst, although not by much. Take my advice, and don't read these books!

1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - My God. This book was so bad. It was like a black hole. I couldn't finish it. I couldn't give up on it. And I couldn't read anything else. I finally slogged all the way through it, but it took forever. A really bad translation, perhaps? Surely it wasn't this poorly written in its native Spanish. I read this because it received many rave reviews on LibraryThing - but then so did The DaVinci Code.

2. Twin Killing by Marshall Cook - At first glance, this appeared to be a typical cozy little who-dun-it. It was not. I suppose I could have forgiven the second-rate writing if the author had not constantly thrown in references to the strong religious beliefs of all the characters and our brave fighting men in I-raq, but that was not the case. The play-by-play at a high school football game was excruciatingly boring, and the passage where the author tries to describe an erotic dream of lovemaking from the POV of his female protagonist was laughable and embarrassing. Far better writers than him have attempted that and failed.This book needs a warning label: Cloyingly sweet and heavy-handed. Not for those who appreciate fine writing.

3. On the Road to Heaven by Coke Newell - Reviewed in an earlier post, this was the worst book I read this year. I would have never even started it, let alone finished it, but that I felt an obligation to LibraryThing to complete and review the book.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

favorite books of 2007

One of the best things that happened to me in 2007 was joining LibraryThing, the online community that I mentioned in an earlier post. When I joined LT, I was inspired to start reading again after a several year hiatus, and, in fact, ended up reading 123 books last year. Looking over that list of books, I decided to cull my favorites and post them here. I ended up with seventeen books, and thought, what the hell, why not the best seventeen books of the year? The only order these are in is the order in which I read them; that is to say I probably read the first one in January or February, and the last one in December.

I was delighted to realize that while the majority of the books are fiction, as usual, it is a slim majority, indeed, with nine of the seventeen books I selected being fiction and eight of them non-fiction. I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction this year, with Julie's excellent assistance at selecting books.

Without further ado, here they are, and I hope you find something that looks interesting to you.

1. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - I loved this comedy of manners about a bright young thing from London who goes to stay with her cousins in the country and decides to re-arrange their lives. The cousins are straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, and never know what hits them.

2. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott - I really loved this book. The author is so encouraging and honest in what she writes.

3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - I was concerned that this book wouldn't live up to all the hype, but I absolutely, un-reservedly enjoyed it. A wonderful first book for this author.

4. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer - This is a fascinating - and really scary! - look at the Church of the Latter Day Saints. It details the history of the church, but also focuses on the heinous murder of a young Mormon woman and her daughter, brutally killed by two of her polygamous brothers-in-law.

5. Find Me by Carol O'Connell - The latest Mallory book. I sat up one night and read the whole thing. Once again the author takes the NYC detective on the road - this time down fabled Route 66. O'Connell expertly weaves Mallory's personal quest into the search for a serial child killer who has been burying bodies along the road for decades. I cried as I read the last page of this book, and that is very unusual for me.

6. When Madeline was Young by Jane Hamilton - I enjoyed this book so much. The narrator reminisces about his childhood growing up with his parents and his sister and his father's first wife, Madeline, who was severely brain-damaged as a young woman. This is a hauntingly beautiful novel.

7. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell - I knew immediately I would enjoy this author's irreverent and smart-alecky writing style, but I didn't realize how much actual history I would learn from her. I want to go on an assassination vacation!

8. Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton - I really enjoyed this book so much. After having visited friends in Sierra Vista, AZ earlier this year, I have seen much of what the author describes in this book. So I was interested in it from that aspect, but I also really enjoyed his witty and informative writing style. And his love of that part of the country shines through in every phrase and paragraph.

9. Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart - What a delight this book is! The author spent the summer of 1945 in New York City with her best friend, where they both worked at Tiffany's. She writes in such a sweet, straightforward way that is all the more charming for its simplicity.

10. The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard - This may have been the best book of the year for me. An atmospheric mystery set at West Point during the time that Edgar Allen Poe was a cadet there.

11. The Unnatural History of Cypress Parrish by Elise Blackwell - This was a very interesting little book, to be read in small doses and savored. On the eve of Hurricane Katrina, an old man remembers the great flood of 1927 and the events that led up to the destruction of his home and many others in southern Louisiana.

12. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane - This book created such a steadily building sense of dread in me that I finally had to read ahead to the ending. I hate it when I do that! And it was so surprisingly sad, as well.

13. The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of my Life by Pat Conroy - I love Pat Conroy, and his cookbook is written in the same wonderful, personal style as his novels.

14. Miss Alcott's E-mail: Yours for Reforms of All Kinds by Kit Bakke - I picked this book off the library shelf and put it back a couple of times before I actually brought it home and read it. I don't know why I hesitated, as it is a delightful and informative book.The author's idea is to send an email to Louisa May Alcott and see what happens next. What happens is a combination of memoir of Ms. Bakke's life in the turbulent 1960s, a biography of Louisa May Alcott, and an extremely readable history of the time in which she lived.

15. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid - A young Pakistani man strikes up a conversation with an American in Lahore. He shares the story of the time he spent in the U.S. as events which seem to be beyond the control of both of them unfold. The narrative style of the book worked very well here, with the unsaid as important as what was said.

16. Letter From Point Clear by Dennis McFarland - There was a lot more to this book than I initially expected. Adult children of a dysfunctional family is a topic that has been done time and again, but this author came up with an interesting interpretation.

17.Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman - This is a really delightful collection of essays on the joys of books and reading. I bought a copy of it for Julie for Christmas.

Friday, January 4, 2008

how does it do that?

Most days Rufus and I take a morning walk and an evening walk. Our "regular" walk takes about twenty minutes, but if the weather is bad or the sidewalks are icy, we may pare off a block and head for home. Since our city blocks are not laid out on a grid, we don't walk a perfect square or a perfect rectangle or any other perfect geometric shape. I am confident, however, that we do head in every direction of the compass as we make our circuit.

What I puzzle about on these damp, cold mornings, in particular, is how can it be possible that no matter which direction we turn the cold wind is always blowing directly in our faces? Is that a phenomenon unique to Northeast Ohio, or just to my own little neighborhood?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

vital statistics

Today is my birthday. I was born on January 3, 195-. (I am not embarrassed about my age, but Ben says it is not a good idea to post that type of information on the internet - as if it wasn't available anyway.) I am 5' 7" tall, unless I have begun to shrink already. I weigh, well, more than you might think I would, but twenty pounds less than I did three months ago. (And hopefully, twenty pounds more than I will in a few more months.)

My eyes are brown and my hair is, in transition, let us say. I am not sure what color it will be when it grows out, but I see a lot of gray at the temples. I have freckles on my shoulders and across my nose, and age spots blossom on my arms and legs from many years of laying in the sun.

I don't think I take an inordinate amount of medication for someone my age, but together with my vitamins and supplements and aspirin, it is definitely more than I would like to take. I collected five bottles from around the house, including Lovastatin, baby aspirin, multi-vitamins, calcium tablets and fish oil "softgels". I take them all daily, with the exception of the fish oil, which I have a hard time remembering.

Every day I walk Rufus and exercise and read and write and cook and knit. It seems like a very full schedule to me, but some time soon I will have to add finding a job to that list. Until then, I will remain as I am, unemployed, and healthy in body and spirit. Not bad for a 50-something-year-old.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


In the spirit of beginning the way I mean to go, I wanted to be sure and make my first post of 2008 today. I am delighted to say good-bye to December and to realize that I won't have to worry about Christmas again for about, oh, eleven months. That is not to say that I didn't have a wonderful Christmas, because I did. Julie was home, of course, and Tom and Kristy and the girls were here for almost a week. I was once again overwhelmed and humbled by the loving generosity of my family.

One of the presents I requested - and received - from Kristy was a knitting tutorial, along with a whole knitting kit that she put together for me and some really beautiful wool yarn. Those of you who have known me for a long time - say thirty years or so - know that I used to knit. I have had the urge for a while to take it up again, and so asked Kristy, who is a skilled and creative knitter, if she would help me do that. I had my first lesson a week ago on Christmas afternoon, and am delighted with my progress.

I managed to lose four pounds last month, for a total of twenty pounds over the last three months. I would not ordinarily be thrilled with that, but when I think that two of those three months were November and December, I will admit to being pleased. I feel like I have a head start on the usual January weight loss panic. It's a good feeling.

I hope you loyal readers have been hanging in there during this month-long hiatus. I don't make resolutions, but I will be posting more in the coming year - you can count on it.