Life In General: Sharing the Story

Happy Friday, and a happy official ending to the first full week of 2016. It’s been a busier one than I would have liked, especially after spending the two weeks of Christmastide doing virtually nothing and sleeping until 9 or 10 each morning. But we hit the ground running on Monday, and haven’t stopped since. 

Amidst rehearsals and meetings and doctor appointments this week, there was a lovely oasis of time on Tuesday evening...

The Sunday Salon: The Challenge Year

About 20 years ago I started keeping track of the books I read in a book journal, usually a 5x7 hardcover lined notebook. It wasn’t a particularly elegant system - I simply listed the title and author of the book, using a separate page for each month. If the book was a particular favorite, I might jot an asterisk beside it; if it was the second (or third or fourth!) time I’d read it, I would note that too. At the end of each month, I totaled the number of books read during that time, and at the end of the year, I skimmed through the year’s reading and made a “favorites” list. 

The Sunday Salon: Regrouping

Ah, summer. You have finally deigned to grace us with your presence, and those of us here in the midwest are appropriately grateful. I am showing my gratitude this Independence Day weekend by exercising my freedom to sit on the deck, read, ride my bike, read, go for a ride in our classic sports car, read, eat lunch at a favorite outdoor cafe, read...well, you get the picture.

The Sunday Salon: Of Wind (and Windbags); Closets; and Special Places

Blustery. That's the best word to describe the general state of our weather this winter, and it seems to be carrying over into this makeshift of a spring season. This morning the wind whipped around the north side of the house like a twister, rattling the very window panes like the angriest of March lions.

But wait - it's APRIL.

I wonder what the climate change experts are making of these prevailing winds?  Perhaps we should be investing in wind turbines after all.

Today's temperatures are somewhat seasonable, but yesterday was winter redux. Thirty-seven blustery degrees for a high, with not a whimper of sunshine in sight. Nevertheless, I took a leap of faith yesterday and flipped my closet, meaning I transferred all the winter clothes to the the winter closet, discarding an entire 30 gallon plastic sackful in the process. Haven't worn it all year? Gone. Worn it but unhappy whilst wearing it? Into the sack.

Then I did the same with my spring clothes.  The remaining pieces are now hanging, color coordinated, in my closet. And if I have a moment's panic that there are only half a dozen t-shirts left instead of three dozen, I remember that for most of the winter I wore the same four shirts over and over again.

I have become ruthless - RUTHLESS, I tell you -  when it comes to paring down. I do believe my husband and dogs are frightened of me when I get into "pitch it" mode. They huddle up together on the couch, trying to disappear as if afraid they too will get tossed into the nearest bin.

Of course they're safe, but I really have completely embraced the concept of less-is-more, especially since moving into this house. We have lived here over six months now, and I figure that anything I haven't missed yet I'm not going to miss. Yes I only have one set of dishes, but that's really all I need. Instead of 30 different coffee mugs stacked precariously in the cupboard, I have six and that has been plenty. I feel lighter all over without so much stuff taking up space in every corner of my house. (Yes, Deb Smouse, you are spot-on again!)

There are two things that I have trouble tossing - one is books (although I give A LOT of books to our local library book sale) and the other is pictures. Even though nearly all of our new photographs are stored digitally, I have hundreds of old printed ones that I can't bring myself to throw away. I know I could have them digitized, but I like having them in their original format. Happily, they've all found a home inside a wicker storage chest in the basement.

As for books..well, even thought I have plenty of empty shelf space in the "library," there are some books I won't have any qualms about consigning to the book sale. I am reading one right now (well, I was reading it until I finally said 'enough') in which the "hero" is such a slimy, self-serving windbag that I can hardly wait to drop it into the big wooden bin for donations at the library. "Pitch it" mode, indeed.

Now I'm cleansing my mind's palate with the latest Peter Robinson mystery, featuring DI Alan Banks. If you've never read this series, I highly recommend. My husband and I both enjoy these books (which is a rare occurrence - usually our reading tastes never intersect). Watching the Dark is the 20th volume, and it's starting out to be just as well-written and compelling as the rest. Robinson masterfully weaves a lot of stories together in his books, and the narrative of Banks, his family, and his colleagues carries through from book to book which I always enjoy. Plus, they're all set in Robinson's native England - another plus for this closet Anglophile.

englandThe thought of England brings me to thoughts of special places, which I've been contemplating this morning at the behest of my friend Bella Cirovic, and her lovely online group 30 Days in April. "Where is the place that you go outside of your home that is your special spot?" Last year that questions was easier to answer - our home in Florida was always a retreat from the world, a place where everything was pretty and clean and new. And even though I couldn't get there every day (or even every week!), just knowing it was waiting for me got me through some rough times.

Bella's right -we need "special spots" to go when the winds get too blustery and life is too cluttered. Spots where the air is calm and clean, and there is space to stretch your arms out wide and breath deeply. I've claimed that kind of space inside my house by clearing away clutter and making room to be still.

But there is value in having a place outside and away to retreat and renew, because those concepts work in tandem. And so I am on a quest now for a new place that fills my spirit with calm and peace and hope. Maybe it will be as close as the pond behind the house, or as far away as the undulating green hills of southern England.

Maybe the wind will take me there.

The Sunday Salon: Reading Through Life

The Sunday Salon.comOh my, it's been ages since we've talked. Time has sped by in its inexorable slick passage while I've worked and shopped and run errands and talked to friends and played for music festivals and hosted benefit concerts and...and...and...


I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

3655754-sea-shells-that-have-washed-up-on-the-beachLife happens and we slip and slide on the tides of it, sometimes washed ashore cracked and broken like the fragile shells we are, but more often than not swept back out into the sea of daily living where we rise and fall at the whim of nature and the gods.

One thing that remains constant in my life is reading. So today - a day when the waves have calmed and the sea of life laps gently around my ankles - seems a good day to catch you all up on the books that have been keeping me company.

I did a lot of memoir reading in January, partly because I was taking one of Andi Cumbo's wonderful online writing classes, but also because I love that genre. I believe our individual stories are SO powerful, and that by telling them we gain so much empathy and insight into the human condition. Three of the standouts for me were Magical Journey, by Katrina Kenison; Devotion, by Dani Shapiro; and Elsewhere, by Richard Russo.

Some sweet relief from the (sometimes) heavy work of the memoir came from a couple of novels - Three Good Things, by Wendy Francis, a novel about Ellen McClarety, a recent divorcee who counts on her ability to bake the best Danish kringle to help her turn her life around, and The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, the latest quiet adventure of philosopher Isabel Dalhousie, one of Alxander McCall Smith's indubitable heroines. Both books struck the perfect balance between frothy and fun without being sickly sweet.

Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator's Wife was a thought provoking historical novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh that sent me to my shelves to search out my copies of her letters and diaries, not to mention her famous memoir A Gift from The Sea.

And I was totally swept up in To the Power of Three, a psychological suspense novel about three teenage girls and the deadly power one of them wielded over the others. This was an older book by Laura Lippman, who is queen of the psychological thriller.

In addition to these titles, I've listened to a couple of audio books - I find those absolutely necessary to keep me from going crazy with the banality of popular radio stations. I'm awfully fussy about what I listen to, though. It has to be a really good story, but not too complicated or deep. The narrator also has to be good. I like a voice that clips along, without too many dramatic pauses. The Replacement Wife, by Eileen Goudge, provided many days of much needed road diversion.

I've spent today catching up and clearing up some of the things I've let slip down to the bottom of the sea these past weeks. I'll end the evening by spending some time with The Good House, a spectacular novel by Ann Leary. This was a library find, and is such unexpectedly compelling reading that I hate to see it come to an end.

But end it will, as all things do. Hopefully my extended leave of absence from blogging has ended too.

We shall see how the tides turn.

How about you? What's been keeping your reading life afloat?