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Here we are, in the middle of another heatwave, and my First Edition’s Parnassus book was waiting for me on the front porch this morning. I left the house early to score some parmigiana cheese to make the pesto my August basil is telling me it’s time to make.

The book of the month is, “Chance’s Are…” by Richard Russo. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I couldn’t wait to dig in; there’s always tomorrow for pesto…

Three 60-something-guy-friends are meeting up on the Vineyard and we flashback to 1969, when they were seniors in college and gathered around a TV to hear their draft numbers announced – like me standing in a deli line waiting for my number. Not. Not like that AT ALL. It’s hard, as a woman today, to imagine the gravitas of that first draft call for our young men in December of ’69. I know that some of my friends had to go to Viet Nam:

Who wouldn’t want to go to Southeast Asia and be shot dead in a jungle?

Some, like my brother Dr Jim, accepted his fate and enlisted; he went to OCS just to get it over with. My step-brother Dr Eric became a med-evac helicopter pilot, cause he told the Army he wasn’t about to shoot people; some friends were deferred for good and sometimes sketchy reasons, and some of them did a walk-around, like Lyle. He ended up training bomb-sniffing dogs in the states. I don’t know how that happened and unfortunately Lyle died last year in Vietnam, so I guess we’ll never know.

My starter marriage husband joined ROTC in 1969 at Harvard Law School. It was supposed to transition him into the National Guard, but that never happened. Clerical error?

Bob got a low number, but fortunately had well-documented asthma as a kid. Even today, if I get a bronchitis, he gets pneumonia. The Bride and the L’il Pumpkin unfortunately have inherited his reactive airway disease, which has been pretty scary in the middle of the night. Great Grandma Ada reminds us that asthma will keep our little Grandbaby Boy safe, always. I try not to think it can also kill you.

In the wake of Woodstock nostalgia, which Gma Ada made Bob retell again this past weekend, I find myself feeling adrift. The Big Chill group did a Face Time chat on the day of their arrival in a re-purposed school bus. Bobby, Dickie, Jeff and friends. They were heading into the unknown of a prolonged camping trip with music, mud and acid; while i was heading into a marriage in Cambridge, MA I thought would save me. A nice Catholic boy. Mea Culpa.

Bob’s been sounding wistful. Long before cell phones, how did he ever find Albie in the newspaper taxi on the road to Yasgur’s Farm?

I’ve been wondering what the hell was happening in 1969? We landed on the moon. We went to a concert about Peace and Love in a field. And we started a draft to send our best and brightest off to be slaughtered. What a country.

But even earlier, we imported slaves to our shores and killed Native Americans with impunity. 400 years ago, in 1619, twenty Africans came to Jamestown, Virginia in chains. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

And today a New York City cop was fired, finally, for killing an African American man selling cigarettes on the street in Staten Island. Despite clear video of the man in a choke-hold saying, “I can’t breathe,” it only took five years and a social movement to convince the police chief that Eric Garner didn’t need to die. Anyone wondering why we need a Black Lives Matter revolution should read last Sunday’s Times. And vote for Bernie!

I’m not sure who I’m voting for yet, but my fear is that Mr T, President “Bone Spur,” may try to slide us into another war, you know, for his numbers. His polls are dropping. And with him, it’s all about the numbers, the size of the crowd. Dr Freud would know exactly what that’s about!

Here is the school bus and the newspaper taxi 50 years ago. Did you know where your children were?

 

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This weekend we had our very first double sleepover. We picked up both Grandkids around lunchtime Saturday and returned them to their grateful parents on Sunday. Bob warned me not to get my hopes up, four year olds may meltdown at bedtime and need to go home in his PJs. I however, would have none of that thinking, we were going to have so much fun, my L’il Pumpkin would forget where he was and sleep like an angel. Which, spoiler alert, they both did!

When we arrived at our townhouse it was cold and drizzly with an Amazon box on the front porch. I’d been collecting beads and jewelry making tools for the Love Bug for awhile now, and had recently found a cute craft box for her. She is very much like my daughter, her Mama; type A, hyper-organized, in love with the Container Store. I knew she’d love her craft box, but I needed something for her brother.

Thank goodness for two day delivery service. I ordered a small tackle box and a bunch of kid-sized real tools for the L’il Pumpkin. I had a plan but forgot to tell Bob about it, luckily he pitched right in – explaining each tool, then trudging up the steps together, they began “fixing” things, including the squeaky daybed he and his sister would be sleeping on that night!

I know – raising gender neutral kids is new to me, though I did help the Pumpkin make a Black Panther necklace!

Then we went out for a trek in Ms Berdelle’s Secret Garden. We searched in the misty rain for Tinkerbell trim – small, delightful pieces of nature to design and  construct a fairy house: pine cones, bark, leaves, dead flowers, berries, stones, snail shells. Anything glorious and small would do. I didn’t dig up moss for a thatched roof because Bob said it’s still living and we’re not arguing anymore over little things like that.

Every summer at Camp St Joseph for Girls I loved hiking through the woods and coming upon a fairy circle; a large, round patch of sumptuous moss surrounded by ferns in the dappled sunlight. I’m sure my love of mystery and magic began there in the Catskill Mountains many years ago.

When we returned home I started cooking dinner for four again! Mrs Zimmerman’s shallot chicken, mashed potatoes (little clouds), and broccoli (little tress). At Nana and Pop Bob’s house they can watch TV while I’m cooking and eat as little or as much as they want. It warmed my heart to see how much these two love butter! We followed that up with popsicles because we’re saving popsicle sticks for the fairy house. Then we played a good game of Alphabet Fish and the Li’il Pumpkin won!

After pulling out the trundle bed, we read my Editor Lisa Winkler’s book about a girl named Zimmerman, “Amanda at Bat” https://www.amazon.com/Amanda-at-Bat-Lisa-Winkler/dp/1533240094  It is a wonderful story about speaking up and making sure your voice is heard. And their eyes were starting to droop by the end of “Escargot,” while the Frozen night light sent its bat signal onto the ceiling of our 2nd bedroom. Good Night Room.

Long story semi-short, we all slept like babies and Bob made blueberry pancakes in the morning. Then we high-tailed it off to Great Grandma Ada and Hudson’s apartment to build our fairy house. Bob and I had made an executive decision to skip Hebrew School, sorry cousin Nancy! We’ve made a brave start jockeying a glue gun like nobody’s business, and we’re relying on Hudson to carve a tiny crooked fairy door. We have a very special tree stump in mind… then the Bride arrived to pick them up.

I was going to write about orchid and dandelion children. How one needs special care and an exquisite environment, while the other will flourish no matter where they find themselves. That’s the program I was listening to on NPR when I sat down to write, an old rehash of nature vs nurture. My Love Bug was definitely a wild orchid baby, the kind who would wake at the sound of a pin dropping, while her brother could sleep through a smoke alarm.

And I realized that I was a mixture of the two, a child who was smothered by my foster mother Nell, and never allowed to have a sleepover, yet my St Joseph camp mates could never wake me when it was time to head out into the night looking for trouble. But don’t worry, I found my own trouble eventually!

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This morning the sun is out and the temperature should be going above freezing. Underneath our coating of snow, crocus are beginning to awaken and cardinals are singing. For the first time, in a long year, I’m feeling hopeful.

Last night Bob and I attended the first in a series of USN Evening Classes. All the proceeds from ticket sales help to sponsor their need-based scholarships. First night always features a celebrity lecture, and this year did not disappoint with a third grader’s dad on the ticket. I’ve heard Jon Meacham speak before at Monticello, so I was looking forward to his insight on the state of this so-called presidency.

“We’re still here!” Meacham exclaimed, to the room of muffled laughs.

This Pulitzer Prize winner and presidential biographer went on, without notes mind you,  to remind us of his love for Andrew Jackson, “I like genocidal maniacs with a heart of gold.” More tentative laughter… Meacham dismisses Mr T’s comparison to Jackson, a fabrication of Bannon’s doing, telling us he is a simple “real estate impresario.” However, we must not dismiss his followers.

In May of 2016 he interviewed candidate Trump in his tower. Meacham arrived early and was standing alone in the huge gilded lobby on Fifth Avenue, when a family of four came through the door. They were tourists, all-middle-American folks. The young boy looked up at his dad and said, “Do you think he comes through this same door?” That beatific look of wonder, as if they were visiting a holy place, was the reason he was elected.

Mr T, like a carnival barker, managed to sell his “MAGA” movement to the forgotten middle class of the rust belt. For a family of four to live a normal middle class life in our country, they must earn at least $130,000 a year. Meacham told us that would allow them the minimum benefits of owning a home and a car and taking one vacation a year. However, the median middle class income for that same family today is around $55,000 – and the reason Mr T won lies in the difference.

Trump offered his followers the American Dream, the “Right to Rise,” as Lincoln said. Only his nationalism is a leftover from our post-WWII prosperity, with women in the kitchen and people of color knowing their “place,” and his tactics are closing our country’s borders figuratively and literally. That last part is my opinion, and part of the reason I’m marching with women on Saturday. Again.

The rest of Meacham’s speech was filled with enlightening, little-known anecdotes to illustrate his Four Characteristics of a Successful President:

  1. Curiosity – Jefferson’s insatiable intelligence
  2. Humility – JFK reaching out to Eisenhower during the Cuban missile crisis
  3. Candor – Churchill reported all the facts, he was a straight shooter
  4. Empathy – Poppy Bush, Gorbachev and the Berlin Wall

Meacham ended by reading a poignant letter that George HW Bush had sent to his mother about the loss of his three year old daughter, Robin, to leukemia. “If you want to know someone’s heart, you have to break it.”

I walked away last night wanting to read “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush.”  My step, on the icy parking lot last night, wasn’t hesitant; it was as light as a feather, and my heart was full. The voter registration forms I left in our local coffee shop are almost gone.

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The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Billy Collins was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. This may have been one of our country’s most fragile times, when more people sought peace from poetry. And he is a poet who gets us, and last night Bob and I had the distinct pleasure to listen to him read some of his poems at Salon 615. Everyone of a certain age has picked up a book in rapt anticipation, only to find a few pages down the line that it’s something we’ve read before. I admit it, and Collins makes it bearable in his poem “Forgetfulness.”

Like that moment when he realized he was older than Cheerios, at the age of 70, and so wrote a poem about it. He scatters serious sonnets in among his readings, so last night’s audience gasped and laughed in unison. Because poetry is “…a megaphone.” Because he loves to make up new words, like “azaleate” – which loosely translated means we’ve arrived at a place just before, or after, it’s signature event. Oh, it’s too bad you’ll be missing the peak leaf season here in Vermont, let’s say. Or:

Bob and I azaleated the lavendar blossoming in Provence this year. 

Collins writes about cats and dogs from their point of view. And he even writes about Tennessee Fainting goats! This type of goat freezes and keels over whenever it is startled or feels panic. It’s something I may be catching here in loud and noisy Nashville 🙂

What brought me nearly to tears was Bob’s reaction; he didn’t fidget or head for the bathroom. He actually loved listening to Collins, we poked and prodded each other at yet another small truth that bounced between the two of us. It was like going to Jacob’s Pillow when we were young and discovering that he enjoyed the ballet almost as much as I did!

Then, towards the end of the evening, he turned to that ultimate question all couples must grapple with, “Who will go first?” The universal hope that “…you will bury me.” But is that really true love, to want to go first and save yourself from grieving. Bob has told me so often that due to his genetics he will most likely go first, and I almost believe him.

But what if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow? A very real possibility in this busy city. He would still buy peanut butter and jelly, he would still drive like someone from NJ. Maybe he wouldn’t search for a beach house, or maybe he would?

Collins recommended a book, one that had inspired him in his youth, by a philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, “The Poetics of Space.” And I remembered the Bride showing us her Public Policy building at Duke, the light pouring in through modern-Gothic arches. And just last year, pointing out her son’s little hidey-hole inside his closet in their new home.

In the first and last days of life, it is the cosmos of the home that takes on the full weight of human habitation, as retreat and space of belonging. Bachelard’s greatest work remains a compelling reflection on the enduring human need to find psychological refuge in familiar places and spaces, though its author admitted that poets and story-tellers got there first. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/book-of-a-lifetime-the-poetics-of-space-by-gaston-bachelard-1673212.html

Here he is reading from his book, “The Rain in Portugal.”

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Stripping away the mandate for people to purchase healthcare, chopping healthcare down to the bare bones of a “skinny” bill that would have thrown millions off Medicaid, with a simple assurance of replacing the ACA in the future, was unacceptable to three Republican senators. And thank the Lordie for that!

Now we can return to our summer fun with a side-eye on politics, waiting for this administration – and NOT our healthcare – to implode. If you’re in the market for a good beach/lake/pool read, here’s what’s on my revolving nightstand (a bookcase in the form of a table).

I just finished reading one of Parnassus Bookstore’s Special Editions, “Do Not Become Alarmed,” by Maile Meloy. It’s a thriller, with three families on a cruise ship to South America when their children are suddenly swept away by a tide during a botched shore excursion. I approached this read half-heartedly since I didn’t need to be depressed in my fictional life, but I was swept away by the prose. Full disclosure, I didn’t finish the book at night since I was afraid it would have left me sleepless!

I’ve joined a virtual book club that has another Nashville connection. I adore Reese Witherspoon, probably because I can see her playing the Flapper in the movie version of The Novel, and she just started her own book club on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RWBookClub  She gave her followers three choices, and the winner is  “The Alice Network,” by Kate Quinn. The year is 1947 and although I’ve only just started, I’m in love with the main character. Based on the true resistance network of brave women and men who had gone behind Nazi lines in France, I’m anticipating a wonderful ride.

Teed up and ready to read are two more books: J Courtney Sullivan’s “Saints for All Occasions,” and “Hunger,” by Roxane Gay.

Who wouldn’t love Sullivan’s exploration of family and faith? I read her novel, “Maine” months ago and it had the ring of truth to this lapsed Catholic. Here is what Ron Charles at the Washington Post had to say about “The year’s best book” – “Saints for All Occasions:”

“This family has a way of forgetting what it doesn’t want to know,” Sullivan writes, and Nora depends desperately on that common predilection. “She wondered how much longer she could keep up the lie, even as she understood that she had committed herself to it for life.” The most fascinating element of the story is watching a daring act of deception coalesce into the solid-seeming shape of history.    https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/j-courtney-sullivans-saints-for-all-occasions-is-this-years-best-book-about-family/2017/05/08/3a57acd8-30ca-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?utm_term=.d32d5c3a3b0f

And getting skinny is somehow not on and always on the mind of memoirist Roxane Gay. In “Hunger,” another First Edition’s pick, she chronicles her childhood rape and her reaction to that trauma by overeating. In her own words: “I grew up in this world where fat phobia is pervasive,” she says. “And I just thought, ‘Well, boys don’t like fat girls, so if I’m fat, they won’t want me and they won’t hurt me again.’ But more than that, I really wanted to just be bigger so that I could fight harder.”

Whether you get your books in the mail from Nashville, download them on your tablet, or visit your local bookstore or library, you may want to peruse the Man Booker Prize long list: http://themanbookerprize.com/news/man-booker-prize-2017-longlist-announced

And if you are lucky, you may light upon a free book in a public place. Yes, I did say free so keep your eyes peeled! The talented Emma Watson is an official book fairy, but you could sign up to deliver books too! All you have to do is clap your hands, and visit their site, truly. http://ibelieveinbookfairies.com/

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Ibsen’s dollhouse it’s not.

But like Nora, I’ve left my serene mountain retreat behind for a week of city life. And since this city is the cathedral for American music, we seem to have picked a particularly jam-packed weekend to be here.

Bonnaroo is happening outside of town https://www.bonnaroo.com/lineup/ Our Jersey Shore girl Nicole Atkins is playing this year.

In town we have the CMA Fest http://www.cmaworld.com/cma-music-festival/ with tons of free music everywhere.

And of course since last night was a full moon, we all had to go to the Full Moon Pickin Party for the Friends of Warner Park. We arrived early with the Bride and Groom to meet friends and neighbors for a tailgate cocktail/supper soiree. There were food trucks galore inside the gates and so many musicians I lost count.

As we spread out our blanket and set up the Pack n Play last night for an adorable 7 month old baby boy, I was reminded of going to Tanglewood with our babies in Lenox, MA. I would make some newfangled cold strawberry soup, my friend Lee would bring the main course and another friend might bring dessert. We had elaborate wicker picnic baskets, real plates and sometimes brought candles. Listening to the Boston Symphony Orchestra each summer conducted by Seiji Ozawa under the stars was a high point of our life in the Berkshires.

Last night we had a total of nine kids running through fields, catching fireflies, petting multiple dogs, and climbing sand hills. We even got to see Jupiter through a telescope with her moons. Bluegrass and country music filled the air but it was really the fellowship of fun-loving, happy people that filled my heart.

Nashville is a particularly friendly city; you can start talking with a complete stranger at a sidewalk cafe and feel like you’ve known each other for years after paying your bill. Yes, that happened. He talked about calling the wrong “Holly” on his cellphone, which led to catching up and an invite to see U2 at Bonnaroo. We talked about serendipity, and how we must sometimes just jump into that stream and go with the flow as trite as it may sound.

Jumping may be out of the question now, but we are walking everywhere! And a beach house is still in the works once we’ve settled into city life. I wish we had a “summer home,” a family place for generations at a lake or a beach that our grandparents may have built. My family’s summer home on Lake Wallenpaupack in PA has been long gone since my Father’s death, though I do have a memory of roaming the gardens in my First Holy Communion dress and veil. Bob’s grandparents, Russian immigrants, created a bungalow colony on some land in NJ. It was called “Four Bridges” and sheltered Great Grandma Ada and her sisters’ families for many summers. Unfortunately, that parcel of land just sold last month!

Feeling wistful about a summer home after reading “Maine” by J. Courtney Sullivan. It’s  about an Irish Catholic family’s summer cottage and the secrets of its matriarch who is masterfully drawn. It touches on three generations of women, and the expectations society and religion placed on them. One character, in fact, is obsessed with building dollhouses! Like Ibsen, the juggling act we women must do to navigate a marriage and children hasn’t changed all that much. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/books/review/book-review-maine-by-j-courtney-sullivan.html

Today, with professional women the journey can be more complicated than ever – because we still do the “mental” work of a household. The scheduling of doctor appointments, the camp and school related activities, the meals, the grocery list….even the best dads seem to need direction when it comes to domestic chores (sorry Bob). Still, our stellar Groom is right in the thick of it, on daddy duty all weekend while the Bride sees the results of all the music-alcohol-related-accidents…

Speaking of which, I’m very careful walking down the stairs of this townhouse.

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While cleaning and decluttering my aviary, I discovered a wish list I had made back in February of 2002 while still in NJ. At that time my son was applying to college and my daughter was working at her first post-college job in DC. I was anticipating the dreaded Empty Nest syndrome. It was fun to read the 25 wishes; many have already come true! Though I do not have an agent or a cook…yet.

Strangely enough, the very first thing on my wish list is to get more organized! Which is exactly what I’m doing; I now know where every single utensil is in my kitchen, I have the perfect amount of towels, and I have thrown out all those files I kept of Rumson Borough Council meetings. I did however keep the random thank you note from readers. It’s always nice to know your copy was read, and not just used to line a bird cage. Newspapers, good stuff.

As you probably know I am NOT a list-maker. But I did pick up a book during the Cville Festival of the Book titled, “52 Lists for Happiness,” by Moorea Seal. Anita and I were talking about how we could have more fun during these Trumpconian years, how we could avoid being dragged down by politics. When I read on my Facebook feed yesterday that we had dropped the “Mother of All Bombs” on Afghanistan, during the holiest week for Christians and Jews, I thought it must be fake news. But I knew Gail, the person posting this, she is a devoted activist and feminist in her church and our community.

She held un umbrella over our heads when we marched in Cville to support Planned Parenthood. She helped organize our first trip to Richmond to march for women’s rights. Gail knows a thing or two. She probably makes lists because she knows how to get things done! Gail quoted a minister, Rev Emily Heath, who said:

Next time someone tells you this is a “Christian nation” remind them that we just bombed Afghanistan during Holy Week.

Specifically we did it on the day that Scripture tells us Christ said these words:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Number 9 on my wish list was to have a “writing room.” A retreat from the world that was not just a corner of the dining room. As I sit here this morning looking at the journal I bought that might prompt me to make lists, I am profoundly afraid for our nation. We have an unpredictable President dropping bombs with alacrity, because his daughter was moved by dying Syrian babies, but not by a dead Syrian baby who washed up on a Greek island. But no, we can’t let Syrian refugees into our country. God Forbid.

At least Assad has decided to move civilians out of their war-torn cities, Sunnis go to Sunni territory and Shia go to Shia. That’s a step, to get the proxy war moving along. The Russians must be just as worried as we are! “The meeting in Moscow on Friday between Russian, Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers was the first held between the three allies since the US launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase in response to the alleged chemical attack.” http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-39597630

I am now packing up my home, about to start a new chapter. What will I carry with me, what about all the Flapper’s correspondence? Yes. The elbow noodle pictures from preschool? Probably not. Will we be welcomed into a new community? Will people ask us, as they do all over the South, “What church do you belong to?”

Well, I belong to the church of peace and love, to the people who don’t run their lives by dogma or dietary dictates. I belong to my family of all colors and faiths. I belong to the sisterhood of brave, smart women. I’m going to start my first list – The Things That Make Me Happy Right Now:

Classical Music

Ms Bean

Birds Singing

The Mountains

Spring

The GIF of Our 2 yr Old Grandson Dancing

Bob in the Buddha Garden

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