Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Moments

Once again, this holiday I was reminded of what is most important in my life. Relationships. Once again, I was reminded that all we have are moments. This moment. Right now. Always, right now. So we must be sure we are present, appreciating every one.

It can be as simple as holding a baby on your chest. Or holding someone’s hand as you look at the ocean. Or hugging your dog. Or sharing laughter over a silly game. Or eating biscuits with honey for breakfast two days in a row. Or more!

The bad stuff will come and go. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, lost jobs, lost people. The good stuff may only come in moments. So grab them. Hold them tight. See the beauty around you. Savor joy when it comes.

My words for 2017:

Yoga

Meditation


Happiest of New Years and Many Wishes for a Wonderful 2017!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN- JANUARY 2017 BOOK SELECTION

During the holidays I started two terrific books. I have not finished either one due to the breakneck pace of the season. The most I could get through at night was a page or two before falling asleep. So, those two will have to wait until next month. Instead, I am reviewing a past read; indeed one of my favorites of all time: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

This book was a revelation. It sat on my bookshelf, a gift from my brother, for a good year before I finally picked it up. I thought, from reading the book jacket, that I would probably like it but was in no hurry. How could a book about a dog be anything but fun, escapist fare? I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I have always believed animals to be somewhat mystical creatures. Dogs, in particular, evince a particular joy in life while giving unconditional love and an uncanny ability to heal. That healing can be physical, psychological and/or spiritual. Enzo, the dog in Racing gives a face to these beliefs. Humorous and profound, this novel is for everyone, animal lover or not. I loved this book.


Highly, highly recommend.


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Star Stuff

Recently, I’ve been watching a program on TV called Star Talk, hosted by Neil deGrass Tyson. deGrasseTyson is an astrophysicist (say that three times in a row) who has become well-known because of his engaging, approachable personality and hands-on style of teaching difficult concepts. Topics range from Quantum Physics, Quantum Mechanics to Time Travel, Black Holes, Dark Matter, The Walking Dead and more. Yes, I said The Walking Dead.

The format of the show consists of Tyson doing interviews. Some are done via video conferencing and some in person with guests in the studio. The studio guests are normally a comedian and a professional in one of the fields mentioned above. They then proceed to discuss everything from philosophy to theoretical physics to string theory to pop culture. I love this show! It never fails to push me intellectually. I don’t pretend to fathom everything they discuss but I love trying to understand.


Once before, in April of 2015 I wrote a blog called Look Up about deGrasseTyson and his mentor, Carl Sagan. They both encouraged us to stretch our intellect and to never stop learning. When we think we know everything, we stop growing.

This time of year is the perfect time to remember this.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.




Sunday, December 18, 2016

DECEMBER BOOK SELECTION- THE CHEMIST

This month’s book selection is Stephanie Meyer’s second adult fiction novel: The Chemist. I rarely buy hardbacks but I was curious to see how Meyer handles adult fiction. I was also interested to see her subject matter and  if her writing style had changed. I read all four of her hugely successful Twilight series books and enjoyed them. I thought she was still developing as a writer but that her storytelling ability was excellent. Her novels sparked a phenomenon, which is no small thing.

The main character of The Chemist is best described as a female Jason Bourne. The character has many names but the one most used is Alex. I’m giving very little away to say she is a highly-trained employee of a covert agency and is on the run for her life. You learn this information in the first few pages.


This is a hefty book at over five hundred pages and Meyer kept my attention for most of it. Very well-done characterizations make you feel you are meeting the people she has created. I have to say she excels, however, at her rendering of action sequences. They fairly thrum with excitement and heart-pounding situations. Our girl Alex can run with the best of them. A fun read.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Heart to Heart

So, the last few months have been intense with all the election drama. I have never seen such offensive divisiveness during an election in my lifetime. It has been disturbing on so many levels. Not only some of my friends, but also some of my family members have been on opposite sides of the great divide. It has caused such friction that at times my heart literally has felt broken.

I can’t remember a time when I have felt so passionately about issues. Because of this, the realization that people I care about felt completely the opposite was incomprehensible to me. I found that we could not even discuss the differences without getting angry. This in itself is disturbing. We have always been able to talk. It seems the whole country is having the same problem. No one is listening and everyone is angry.

So here’s the deal. The election is just now over but I came to this conclusion more than a week ago. I’m going to let it go. I’m not letting go of what I believe in. I will continue to fight against hate and injustice. But I am going to remember why I love my friends and my family. Because the truth is I love them no matter who they voted for. My love was not contingent upon them agreeing with everything I say. No matter how heinous I may have found the opposing candidate, no matter how shocking, they have the right to believe exactly what they choose.


It is my deepest wish that the country will do the same. That families, states, communities and our country will not be divided by ideology. We are America, these are the rights we fought and died for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and equal rights for all. Freedom to be whomever you choose to be. United we stand. We are all in this together. And guess what. We already are great. 




Wednesday, November 9, 2016

NOVEMBER 2016 BOOK SELECTIONS- REMNANT CHRONICLES & LITTLE BEACH STREET BAKERY

I’m still leaning toward lighter fare these days. When I stop to read, I want to escape with a capital E. My first choice was Book 1 of the Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson. I think this would be classified as a YA Fantasy series. I learned about it from a blog post in Miss Snark’s First Victim. Love this blog. It’s for aspiring MG and YA writers and has fostered a great community.


Book 1 is well-written and is an adventure story with a runaway princess an assassin who is also a love interest (!) and an errant prince. It’s not as fluffy as I make it sound. There are enough daggers,death, secrets and mystery to satisfy most any reader. I will probably read Book 2 which is a good sign.



My next escape was in Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery. This was recommended to me as good, light, escapist literature and it did not disappoint. Colgan’s work is described as romantic comedy fiction although I believe she is dipping a toe into Sci-Fi in her next book. This definitely falls into the former category and does so very well. The characters are interesting and well-drawn and the setting on an island off the Cornish coast is lovely. Colgan has a funny, dry sense of humor which is refreshing. One problem is the occasional, random change of point of view. I’m not sure this is a problem in her later works since I have only read the one. I can’t be the first person to notice it. Still, this is not War and Peace and it’s not meant to be. I liked it. Great vacation read.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Reunion

I’ve written often in this blog about the great teachers, philosophers and spiritual leaders whose ideas I love to explore. Some of these ideas resonate with me on a profound level and some do not. Some leave me with just small chunks of lovely insight.

What is important is that you don’t have to study only the great intellectual masters to gain growth and wisdom and insight. I think I have always “known” this but feel it’s important to acknowledge it.  

I recently attended a school reunion and was reacquainted with people I had not spoken with in many years. What moved me so deeply was the discovery of something new in each one. Some classmates I probably had not ever had a conversation with, some I had a long-standing opinion of, some were close friends and remain close. To a person, I was illuminated, enlightened and so grateful for the opportunity to reconnect.

The whole experience was so intense I was overwhelmed with the good will, love and feeling of inclusiveness. Of shared history. History that joined and did not divide.

My take away is you learn from every single person that crossers your path. 

No judgement. Let the lessons come.


Falkland Island Penquins
Together and separate

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

OCTOBER 2016 BOOK SELECTION- THE LIGHT OF PARIS

This book was a revelation. The bookstores seem full-to-bursting with “Paris” titled books. My preconceived notion was that most were somewhat light and must sell quickly and well, judging by the profusion of them. It’s the “kitsch” of the moment. Kind of like beach reads. Not to judge, because all have their place. My taste just often leads elsewhere.

When I saw this title, The Light of Paris, I passed it over, in spite of it being by Eleanor Brown, the gifted writer of The Weird Sisters. That book had not been a particular favorite, but I had admired her unique storyline and writing style. A few weeks later, a friend recommended TLOP so I decided give it a try and grabbed a copy from the library rather than invest.

I love this book! I love being surprised. The storyline was not completely unique: a woman loses track of herself and struggles to find herself again. Anyway, someone very wise once said, and I paraphrase, there are no truly unique stories, just different characters and different authors. The difference here is, two women take the same journey more than seventy years apart with two different outcomes. I have read several books lately in which the narrative jumps back and forth through time. This is the first one that I feel does it successfully.

The descriptions of Paris are so full and rich you feel as if you are walking its streets, sitting in its cafes, drinking wine and watching its changing light over the rooftops. The Light of Paris is truly lovely and full of unexpected insight about the wisdom of being true to your calling.


Recommend.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Memory

Memory is an ephemeral thing. Recently I ran across a plain brown notebook. I had written across the front of it: Trip to Rome, March 2000. Seriously. Sixteen years ago. Of course I remember the trip. It was wonderful. Rome is one of my favorite cities in the world (not to name-drop, but it is). The first time I saw the Colosseum was through the smudged window of a bus many years before that 2000 trip. I put the notebook aside after glancing through it; I wanted to savor it later. I remembered the trip, the feelings, but not the details.

I tried to find that notebook to refer to while writing this blog. I couldn’t. It’s somewhere, and it will turn up, but what I did find were numerous other notebooks. Snippets of my life. Morning pages, poems, story ideas, other trips. Although many were not finished, were cast aside or interrupted, they each represent moments in time. My moments. Maybe when taken together they would represent a microcosm of who I am. I wonder if, a hundred years from now, if the notebooks survive, what some great-great-great would surmise about my life. Would it be of interest? Would these scribblings represent? Would they misunderstand? Understand?


What I know is, if we don’t write it down, and sometimes even if we do, so much is lost. There is a magic about life, about its colors, shapes, smells, sounds, emotions and experiences that defies words. Defies description. But when we read about it, sometimes, just sometimes, we live it again.


“The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
                                         ― Eden Phillpotts, English author and playwright or
                                           -W.B. Yeats or 
                                           -Bertrand Russell

Sunday, September 11, 2016

SEPTEMBER 2016 BOOK SELECTIONS- PREP & GOLDBERG VARIATIONS

Prep: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld is an examination of the rarified atmosphere of the ultra-exclusive, private prep-schools that funnel the children of the very rich or very connected into Ivy League schools. Lee Fiora, the female protagonist is an exception, a scholarship student.

Lee’s observations form the core of the novel. She is revolted by and fascinated by her fellow students in equal measure. It is painful to watch her struggle to fit in and her obsession with the school’s golden boy. Ault, the fictional prep school she applies for and attends turns her former at-home personality of being easy, relaxed and out-going into one of being withdrawn, shy and agonizingly uncomfortable. It’s as if she moves through the world without skin.


Sittenfeld’s coming of age story has been compared to Catcher in the Rye. You cringe at her inability to see outside herself. You want her to be older, wiser. You want to sympathize, yell at, shake and protect her simultaneously as she tries to navigate her life. You remember adolescence.



Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs centers on three cousins who travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico to meet with their estranged, super-wealthy grandmother at her invitation. The name comes from Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations. Inarguably one of the most famous pieces of music ever written, it contains music that moves from soft and moody to intense and lively and everything in between. 

The title refers to the three cousins and Gloria, the grandmother. Extremely different and yet somehow meshing. Gloria is an extremely unsympathetic character. A hard and bitter woman, she brings the three there, after ignoring them their entire lives, to pick a successor to manage her vast fortune. She is in for a shock.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Don't Worry

You would think I would learn from experience. But no, not so much. Maybe needing reminders is just the human condition. I think so.

So, I was watering my beloved plants. Love the plants, not the watering. I was a bit out of sorts because something I had wanted to do for pleasure (go to an afternoon movie) had been sidetracked by a serious of unforeseeable events. I wanted to at least accomplish watering the plants so I would feel the day had not been completely lost. Then I remembered something. I remembered another day, a kind of déjà vu thing, when I was also watering plants. I actually wrote about it in my blog almost exactly two years ago. On that afternoon, two years ago, I remember stopping and picking up a book of poems by Mary Oliver.

I wrote:

Instead of being in the moment like I’m always preaching and noticing their (the plant’s) beauty, I’m rushing through the task with a vengeance. What stopped me was this. As I was waiting for the trays to fill with water, I was reading a Mary Oliver poem. Her vivid imagery reminded me that life is a series of moments. Why living in the present moment is such a difficult task that needs constant reminding, I do not know. I do know it’s best to take care and not let those moments slip away. Enjoy them when you can. See them. Be there.”

So I walked over and picked up a book of poems by Mary Oliver called Felicity. A different one than before, actually. Immediately my mood changed. I was calm. I once again was reminded of the beauty around me. I didn’t worry about the past. I didn’t worry about the future. I didn’t worry about what I did or did not accomplish. I did not anguish over the meaning of life. For that moment, I was in the moment.  


Some people have the gift of seeing. And they share that gift with us. Mary Oliver is one of those magical people.



“Things take the time they take. Don’t Worry.”
-from a poem by Mary Oliver

Thursday, August 18, 2016

FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016

I made my first choice for favorite Book of the Year in August 2015. So, for consistency, my year will continue to run from August to July. My book selections this year:

August 2015:  The Winter Sea- Susannah Kearsley & Dream Lover- Elizabeth Berg

September 2015:  Minnow- James E. McTeer

October 2015:  Shine Shine Shine- Lydia Netzer 

November 2015:  A Spool of Blue Thread- Anne Tyler

December 2015: A Tale For The Time Being- Ruth Ozeki

January 2016:  The Secret Place- Tana French

February 2016: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress- Sijie Dai

March 2016:  My Name Is Lucy Barton- Elizabeth Strout

April 2016: The Rake’s Tale- Bettie Williams & The Killing Floor- Lee Child

May 2016: The Secret Chord & The People of the Book- (both by) Geraldine Brooks

June 2016:  The Short Drop- Matthew Fitzsimmons

July 2016: Eligible- Curtis Sittenfeld

This has been a good year. Lots of good books made this a difficult choice. As usual, more books were read or listened to on tape than I reviewed, but the ones above made the cut. I decided a while ago that I was not going to disparage another author’s work. If I don’t like it , I won’t review it. That being said, my favorite book this year was, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.


This novel has stayed with me. Truly beautifully written, the finely drawn characters and unique story are memorable and haunting.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

AUGUST 2016 BOOK SELECTION- THE INVENTION OF WINGS

This month I went from light to heartrending. I have only once before had such a visceral reaction to a story. That novel was the brilliantly written Kedzie, St. Helena Island Slave by Bonnie Stanard which I highly recommend. Interestingly enough, it was about the same subject matter.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is a well-known book and deservedly so. Several years ago, it was an Oprah book selection, a surefire jettison to bestsellerdom. But I didn’t choose it for that reason. In fact, I frequently find that I have to follow my own instinct on what I choose to read. I am often disappointed by what is recommended by friends. Reading is just so personal, isn’t it? I started listening to it as a book-on-tape and quickly found I had to own the paperback.

The story takes place during the pre-Civil War climate of the early 1800’s in Charleston, South Carolina. It traces the relationship between Sarah Grimke, the white daughter of an upper-class plantation-owning family and Handful, the slave girl that was her “gift” upon the occasion of Sarah’s eleventh birthday. The novel is based on the real life of Sarah Grimke who became one of the first female Abolitionists and a pioneer, along with her sister, Angelina, as a women’s rights advocate.

Growing up in the south, I have been aware of the heinous history of slavery all my life. Kidd’s writing is sheer poetry, but the detailed descriptions of the repression and casual brutality sickened me and left me overwhelmed with grief and a new awareness. Perhaps because of all the recent, violent events, there is new understanding that we are a long way from healing the scars of racism that were the result of slavery.

Sue Monk Kidd quotes the words of Professor Julius Lester: “History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another’s pain in the heart our own.”


I recommend this book if you think your heart can take it. 


Friday, July 15, 2016

So Simple Revisited

This month I am reposting a blog I wrote almost three years ago to the day. It was about Elie Weisel. His spirit continues to be a gift to us. In honor of him and his work: 

I am not ashamed to say that I adore watching Oprah Winfrey. I may not be globally considered the most intellectual of thinkers to admit this, but I suspect I am not alone. It’s not so much the celebrity interviews and Master Classes, although I enjoy those as well, but her conversations with the great thinkers, philosophers, teachers, humanitarians. She does us all a great service by allowing us to hear them.

Today I only had a bit of time to watch an episode of Super Soul Sunday with Elie Weisel. I knew of him, of course, and even missed an opportunity to hear him speak due to unforeseen circumstances. What an incredible spirit:  Humanitarian, author, teacher, human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize winner. She talked with him about his recent brush with death and serious open-heart surgery. He expressed his thoughts upon being faced with death and said, “I have so much left to do, to read, to write, things to tell my loved ones, friends to embrace, conversations to have. I wasn’t ready.” 

I thought, if after all he has accomplished, he feels he has just begun, I need to be listening. Instead of feeling that a person’s “time” has passed, perhaps it is just beginning. Instead of winding down, it’s really all just preparation for what is ahead.

I constantly am reminded that every day, every moment can hold a lesson.  Even the face of this man moves me. In spite of man’s many missteps, he believes in humanity.

“Whatever you do in life, think higher and feel deeper. Life is not a fist, it is an open hand.”

          -Elie Weisel


Sunday, July 10, 2016

JULY 2016 BOOK SELECTION- ELIGIBLE

If you are a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, chances are you will like this month’s book selection, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.

My summer reading continues to be on the light side. I noticed this novel advertised as a new release in a magazine and was curious what a present-day retelling of a favorite tale would look like. The story is a take-off of Pride and Prejudice with modern sensibility.

There are still five unmarried sisters, a frivolous mother and a vague father. The male love interests are still present. The catastrophic and thoroughly modern situations the girls and their suitors find themselves in diverge wildly from the original. As a result, Sittenfeld gives us a wry, tongue-in-cheek commentary on contemporary dating, reality TV, gender identity and courtship. This is a fast, easy read and great fun.

Recommend.




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Contradictions

Happy Summer!

I’m not trying to be morose here, but I have questions.

Contradictions. One definition is: a direct opposition between things compared; inconsistency. Inconstant: Changeable. Variable.                                                              

Sometimes it seems like simply too much. We know, on an intellectual level, if we think of it at all, that we will lose people during our life’s journey. But that doesn’t prepare us. I guess I thought I would be old and gray and past caring. Funny that.

Contradictions. I wasn’t prepared for the asymmetry. The suddenness. The inexplicable. The random nature of well, nature. How is it that some people endure a long multitude of diminishing illnesses that lead to the inevitable… while others, too, too young vanish in a breath? And every permutation and combination in between. No one is assured a set journey. A set amount of time. It’s inconstant. Inconsistent.

In every single case the people remaining are in shock, grieving, trying to process the loss. I don’t get it. Is this some cosmic decision made before we are born? A decision to suffer…or not…for our soul’s growth? For someone else’s? That maybe makes sense.

When I was young, I desperately wanted to know what the future held. Now I know why most of us don’t have that gift. It would not be a gift. There was wisdom in that.

So what I say to myself every single day is: Be present. Pay attention. Be grateful. Don’t complain. We have Light and Dark. We have Joy and Sorrow. We have right now. Right 
Now. 

Possibly a Jack Kornfield interpretation of the teachings of the Buddha. Either way, it’s good, yes?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

JUNE 2016 BOOK SELECTION- THE SHORT DROP

Because I have spent the last several weeks traveling, I carried my Kindle for convenience sake. When I’m home, I still prefer a book in my hands but this gave me a chance to peruse the free downloads I have accumulated. My first read I will not discuss because, although I did finish it, I decided early on not to give bad reviews.

My second read, The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons was a real surprise. I have to admit I chose it thinking it was an easy one to let go. You know, read a few pages and delete? I was hooked from page one. What is even more surprising, this, like The Killing Floor (my April selection), is not my usual genre. Gritty, action adventure can be fun if done well. And this one, Fitzsimmons’ FIRST (published at least) novel is terrific. It is well-written, multi-layered, with complex, mostly well-rounded characters.

The novel centers on the mysterious disappearance of a young girl that has attained mythic status in the ten years since its occurrence. Gibson Vaughn, the anti-hero protagonist has a deep connection to this girl. As an infamous computer hacker and former marine with his own tragic past and a bleak present to contend with, he is given the chance to find out what happened to her.

Fast paced and surprising, this one was hard to put down. I am definitely a fan. I’m looking forward to his next one, Poisonfeather, due out in the fall.


Yes! Read this one.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Connections

Lifelong friends are a rarity, aren’t they? As I listened to two of my dearest friends on a three way call recently, (One of the times I really love technology) I was reminded of so many years and shared experiences. We live on literally opposite ends of the country but their voices remain as constant as our laughter.

There is a lot of talk about family in our lives and truly that remains my constant and my barometer for values, integrity, love and loyalty. For some people family is their barometer for “what not to do.” I was truly just lucky. Unfortunately, my family is spread across the nation, from coast to coast. Just like my two oldest friends.

When I think about my daily life, I honestly don’t know how I would function without my friends that are here. Some people drift in and out but a special few are steady. We don’t live in each other’s pockets, but I see them frequently. A dinner, a brunch, a shopping excursion…. All really just an excuse to talk. Sometimes to complain about daily things, ask advice, share time. Almost always, laughter and appreciation is involved.


I think I have said this before, but I believe one of the most sacred and meaningful parts of life is in your relationships. They take a little care and nurturing, but are so worth it. I don’t take them for granted. I acknowledge them and am grateful.



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MAY 2016 BOOK SELECTIONS- THE SECRET CHORD & THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK

I submerged myself in two works by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Geraldine Brooks this month: The Secret Chord and The People of the Book.

I was first introduced to the work of Brooks through a book club’s selection of Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. I no doubt would have never picked up this book on my own, because of its subject matter. That would have been a great loss to me as since then she has become one of my favorite authors. Brooks is a master at the art of historical fiction. She says she loves a structural framework of historical fact and from that she builds her story.


The Secret Chord is a novel about King David told from the point of view of his soothsayer, Natan. It begins with David's conception, follows his difficult childhood and years as a common shepherd, describes his garnering fame by slaying Goliath with a slingshot, and charts his years as King. The tale is not linear but moves back and forth through his life to help us understand the man as Brooks depicts him. Brooks does not glorify David in the least. He is shown with all the violent and ruthless choices he made along with their sometimes devastating consequences.


The People of the Book is another work of historical fiction based on the real, famous, ancient illustrated manuscript, The Sarajevo Haggadah. The story follows a rare book expert as she is called in to verify, restore and preserve this incredible work. During her examination of the text she discovers ancient artifacts within the manuscript which provide clues to its journey of survival of more than five hundred years.  Each artifact, a butterfly wing, salt crystals, a wine stain, a white hair, has its own story  within the story. This is beautifully constructed fiction that again travels back and forth through time.


I have to say, this is not light reading. Perhaps it was more difficult because I was experiencing both books simultaneously. In particular, the violence of the past and the heinous acts done in the name of religion have stayed with me. Not for the faint of heart, but if you like historical fiction, no one does it better than Geraldine Brooks.