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Posts Tagged ‘Ann Patchett’

Yesterday, I was listening to an NPR On Point interview with Ann Patchett about her essay in the NYT – she had decided to spend 2017 as her year of “No Shopping.” Her friend, Elissa Kim, inspired her to give up shopping for frivolous things. Kim had returned to the US after a trip to India and felt, “…obscenely rich.” She was shocked by our sheer abundance compared to the street people she met on her journey; so, Kim gave up shopping for a year. https://www.npr.org/podcasts/510053/on-point-with-tom-ashbrook

The rules were simple: No clothes; No shoes: No bags; No jewelry

WHAT?! What if your winter clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry were all in a Pod stacked somewhere in a warehouse? What if you had to buy holiday presents? Patchett said this didn’t apply to food, which is good since I’d seen her a few times at Whole Foods, and even though we’d met at her store, Parnassus, and I’d sat in front of her at the Love Bug’s Grandparent Turkey Day, I never imposed myself on her celebrity.

Living in Rumson taught me one thing, you may get introduced to the Boss at the gym, but you never fawn over him.

Still, after reading ALL of Patchett’s books, and knowing her husband is also a doctor, I felt a certain connection and found myself stuck to my Sonos on the Nashville NPR station. This year of living without shopping came about seamlessly. She said it had something to do with, “…the state of the country.” Oh I hear you girl. Also realizing that, “I had enough!” To which I would add, I am enough. And finally, she thought she’d been spending a little too much time, “…chilling out by browsing online.”       http://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2018/01/02/author-ann-patchetts-year-of-no-shopping

There were so many questions I had after listening to this interview. How do I chill out?Why do we shop? As I’m typing, an email shoots into the right corner of my screen from Eileen Fisher, telling me about their new blue… Oh dear God. I ignore it. Then the doorbell rings, it’s an Amazon package…

But mostly, I am left wondering why people are so darn mean on social media?

I made the mistake of checking On Point’s Twitter feed to add my opinion to the mix, and there were all these nasty comments along the line of, “…it’s called poverty/what a bunch of pretentious, entitled/this is the worst etc.” A TED talk featuring a woman who saved $37,000 one year by not shopping seemed to really set the mob mentality over the edge.

Still, I listened to the subtext. What would happen to our economy if everyone just stopped shopping? And I heard the anger, the anguish of a certain part of society, the part that likes to pit US against THEM. They don’t just cling to their guns and their religion, they like to shop! They not only rejected the idea of doing without, they disparaged the “liberal elite” for trying to do so.

It left me wondering when Republicans became the party for the working class; of course I know it started with LBJ and the South, with that drum roll of racism that still underscores our gerrymandering. My Daddy Jim never finished grade school, worked his whole life and taught me to always root for the “little guy.” The Flapper always said, “Charity begins at home” because we were so poor. She idolized FDR! We came from the coal mining hills of Pennsylvania and always thought the GOP was out of touch, was the party of (and for) the rich. This latest tax scheme should enlighten us all.

Because a certain British rag couldn’t reach Patchett for a comment, they headlined their article about her abundance of lip balm, because at one point she thought she might have to buy some but found more in her coat pockets. My comment was about how Millennials are more interested in the Fashion Chain, ethically sourced materials, and so they love to shop vintage. I was actually trying to listen to the interview, not judge the panel.

I must admit I’m starting to like web browsing ever since we bought our mattresses online, and mea culpa, I’m guilty of standing in a Target aisle wondering how the heck I got there and what I wanted. And then there’s the problem with shoes…

Still who wouldn’t want to find more time and money by not craving that one (insert consumer product here) that will change your life forever? Maybe this will redeem me? Here is a picture of our adorable Cali cousins, little Frankie is in a red beret wearing a lilac bunny sweater that the Flapper knit for the Bride thirty some years ago. I’d call that “Sustainable Knitwear!”

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My favorite living author, who also happens to own a bookstore in Nashville, asked her readers what the title of their autobiography might be; “What would be the title of your life story?” The graphic on Parnassus’ Instagram account was a cartoony book titled “Can I Get Extra Cheese On That, a Memoir.”

Now I have nothing against cheese, in fact a day without cheese is like a day without a squeeze! But since that title was taken, I thought for maybe a split second and wrote “Victory Gardens.” That title means so much to me, and I realize it probably makes you think of the push to grow our own food after WWII, if you are of a certain age. But if my foster parents hadn’t scooped me up in Scranton at ten months of age and planted me in Victory Gardens, I might have been heading for an orphanage.

In that tiny, four room cement house, in the “temporary” development built to support the war effort at Picatinny Arsenal, I was surrounded by enough unconditional love to grow  strong. You remember the ice cream truck, and the doll house Daddy Jim built from the ice cream sticks; my trips to town and free samples of everything, especially bologna at the butcher shop.

Yesterday I listened to NPR’s Fresh Air in the car and I was rooted to my seat. I couldn’t leave the car and face the oppressive 96 degree heat – plus the topic spoke to me. Two culinary historians were promoting their book about food during the Great Depression. The authors were talking about their grandparents, but we Boomers grew up with parents who lived through this period, so our childhood kitchen tables reflected that period of time perfectly. And don’t forget, I had two mothers.

In Victory Gardens, Nell would proudly tell anyone within earshot that she was really good at opening cans, then her face would light up like a Christmas tree at her own joke! I remember dinners that consisted of canned hash with a fried egg on top. A vegetable side would mean a sliced tomato. Frozen foods were a novelty, so in this Catholic house we ate frozen fish sticks on Fridays. One day a week we ate out at the diner. And for a very special occasion she might make her specialty, stuffed cabbage, a Slovakian miracle simmering in sauerkraut.

But the Flapper, in her old Queen Ann house in town, would cook! She simmered meatballs in sauce she made herself, and even though she was working ever day she managed to get a delicious hot meal on the table every night. She taught me how to shop for the freshest ingredients by season, and how to save a few pennies here and there. Of course I’ve told you about her Depression-era Mac n Cheese, the kind with bacon because they could not get real butter. One of both Moms’ favorite stories was how as a young child I could tell the difference between butter and margarine. Later I learned they had to put yellow food coloring in a Crisco-like substance in the 30s to approximate butter. And ps, I have never purchased margarine in my life!

So while listening to “Creamed Canned and Frozen” yesterday, one author spoke about  bologna and mashed potato dinners. I had to smile since bologna was a staple at my cement house too. With the Flapper we made delicious ham sandwiches on rye bread with real dill pickles we picked from a barrel.

But the funniest thing the authors Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe said was their children would not eat the food they were preparing during the writing of this book, since it didn’t look like food to them! And thinking back, canned hash does look like something maybe the dog didn’t like…http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/15/489991111/creamed-canned-and-frozen-how-the-great-depression-changed-u-s-dietsta The Flapper, however, cooked creatively with spices, and spicy food believe it or not was deemed suspicious in the 30s.

Spicy foods were [considered] stimulants. They were classified as stimulants, so they were on that same continuum along with caffeine and alcohol all the way up to cocaine and heroin. And if you started with an olive, you might find yourself one day addicted to opiates. It put you on a very slippery slope — watch out for olives!

Today we are asked to learn where and how our fish were harvested, what the cows have been eating before we buy a steak, and how sustainable is the farm growing our produce. Would the Flapper pay more for organic milk, like I do? It’s a wonder panic doesn’t set in the moment we think about getting a meal on the table! I wonder how or IF the Love Bug will cook, maybe she’ll use a replicator a la Star Trek? I remember how she turned her nose up at the first chicken nugget I offered her, after all, it doesn’t look like chicken!

So even though I grew up in a bland house that referenced a garden without an actual garden, where a tinned tuna casserole made with soup was considered nutritious, I managed to become a fairly inventive home cook imho thanks to the Flapper. And the real victory was when the Bride asked for all my recipes when she was setting up her own kitchen after college.

While Lee and Al were visiting I made stuffed eggplant; a recipe I made up as I went along, sauteing garlic and mushrooms, mixing with the eggplant, and of course baking with cheese sprinkled on top! This was right before they went in the oven, Bon Appetit!  IMG_4981

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I’ve never heard of a book getting so much pre-publication press. The Bride sent us the NYTimes Book Review and pre-ordered it from her fabulous Nashville bookstore. Bob pre-ordered it on his Kindle. Then right after Parnassus uploaded Ann Patchett’s new year book recommendations on their blog, Musing, she sent out another special edition to sing the praises of a previously unknown author http://parnassusmusing.net

“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi – Ann said

I’m making it my personal mission to urge everyone to buy it and read it, in part because the author isn’t around to do his own promotion, and in part because he’s left behind a wife and a young child who should get the royalties. I want everyone to read this book because it’s a brilliant piece of writing and a singular and profound piece of thinking, but it’s also more than that: When Breath Becomes Air makes us stop and think about how gorgeous life is, how heart-wrenching and brief and amazing. Paul Kalanithi’s life was short but utterly essential, as our lives are, in very different ways, short and essential.

From what I hear, every store in the country has sold out of this book!

Dr Kalanithi was a neurosurgical resident at Yale when he began to feel the symptoms of his disease. Metastatic cancer had flooded his body, his lungs were peppered with tumors. Time stood still. Should he and his wife have a baby? Would he ever be able to practice in a field he’d spent nearly half of his life studying and preparing for; could he learn how to die in such a short time. He had been a student for so long, obtaining two BAs and an MA in Literature at Stanford. Then still searching, he received another MA in Philosophy at Cambridge. Finally medical school, with a residency in Neurological Surgery, followed by a post-doc Fellowship in Neuroscience.

We know what this life is like, the Groom is in his last year of a Fellowship in Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine. They have been waiting to buy a house, waiting for that academic posting, waiting.

Dr Kalanithi was almost finished with his training, when he would have to reverse course, and become the patient. But from everything I’ve read, his writing is sublime. He takes us on the adventure of his life, from being home-schooled in Arizona, to his first introduction to a cadaver in medical school. Witnessing both birth, and death in the same day. Not every doctor can craft a perfect expository essay, but it seems his steep background in literature uniquely prepared him to write his own biography. He started typing during chemo.

Knowing how this will end, normally I’d pass on this book. I’d say no to the pain of reading what happens around us every day. Aunt Sue died of lung cancer last year, Bob became a patient last Fall suffering complications from spine surgery. The Groom’s mentor at Vanderbilt succumbed to pancreatic cancer right before Christmas – a physician who was so loved at Vandy, his nurses stayed at his bedside round the clock for weeks before he died. My brother Mike and Brian. And then there is my own Father, dying at 47 from brain cancer, when I was seven months old.

But I’ll be next to pick up Bob’s Kindle. Maybe I’ll learn how to live each day as if it is my last. I’ve always wondered what that phrase would mean to me. Would I start trying to squeeze 20 or 30 more years into the time I had left, check off my bucket list, or would I relax and simply enjoy each moment? Accepting the fact that we will all die, and choosing to live life with grace in spite of that, is our highest calling.

I only have a picture of my Father on my desk, Dr Kalanithi’s daughter will have so much more.

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Rainy day snooze in the aviary

Rainy day snooze in the aviary

I awoke to tiny, click/clack paws-on-wood-floors and thunder. Roaring mountainous thunder and more rain. It’s coming down in buckets, replete with lightening and it seems the cat and dog of the house do not like thunderstorms.

Mornings like these at Camp St Joseph for Girls meant we could sleep late. They were called Rip Van Winkle mornings! No bugle calls or flag raising, just hanging out in the cabin, playing jacks or pulling the covers up to finish a book by flashlight.

I had to stop reading my book, “The Dovekeepers” by Alice Hoffman last night. Not because I was too tired and the words were swimming on the page, but because I knew what was coming. And OK, so this book is about Masada, and we all know what was coming 2,000 years ago when the Jewish people held onto this fortress despite a drought and the onslaught of Roman soldiers.

No, Hoffman was about to tell me why the two young grandsons of one of the matriarchs in the book had lost their ability to speak. I already knew, the backstory was perfectly clear. But I just couldn’t let her language of blood lust and revenge be the departure point to my dreams. I needed a restful night. Maybe today I’ll pick up where I left off, if the sun would only show itself.

Last night one of my favorite literary prizes, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, was awarded to Aussie Richard Flanagan for “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

Named after a famous Japanese book by the haiku poet Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North is described by the 2014 judges as ‘a harrowing account of the cost of war to all who are caught up in it’. Questioning the meaning of heroism, the book explores what motivates acts of extreme cruelty and shows that perpetrators may be as much victims as those they abuse. Flanagan’s father, who died the day he finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.
– See more at: http://www.themanbookerprize.com/news/winner-2014-man-booker-prize-fiction#sthash.duwYDC1W.dpuf

Another book about war, another exploration of man’s inhumanity. this time told from the point of view of a male surgeon working within the confines of a Japanese POW camp. How soon I wonder, will someone be telling the story of a disaffected British citizen who travels to Syria only to become the executioner and butcher of Westerners for Youtube? The cost of war is too high. I’m feeling overloaded with hate and vitriol from the news lately. It’s no wonder we Americans are addicted to cat videos.

Leave it to my favorite novelist/book store owner, Ann Patchett,  to recommend books for us on a wide array of subjects; for instance, Buddhism and nihilism? “A Tale for the Time Being is about Buddhism, nihilism, the second World War, bullying, physics, marriage, depression, and expectations — it is constantly pushing past the reader’s expectations.” As the editor of Parnassus’ scrumptious blog, Musing, so aptly put it –  “Is there anything better than finding the perfect book?” And particularly on a rainy hump day. If you happen to be in Nashville, her shop dogs could use a good pet! Happy reading! http://parnassusmusing.net/2014/09/30/notes-from-ann-frogs/

 

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Bob was driving yesterday when we happened to catch the last half of Ann Patchett’s interview on NPR with Terri Gross. She was talking about how her life changed when she moved back home to Nashville, because it was her husband’s home too. Most of us do dream of leaving home and making our way in the bigger world, and she certainly did that. I thought about how our lives can pivot at times, we think we’re going one way and suddenly we find ourselves in a different place entirely. And we wake up, look around, and decide to embrace this new place…

You just roll up your sleeves and you do the job that’s in front of you and that’s what people do. And you know what? It’s easy for me to say this now that I’m years on the other side of it, but it’s a privilege to see someone through that time in their life. And the trick of it is to love them for who they are that day…”http://www.npr.org/2014/01/23/265228054/patchett-in-bad-relationships-there-comes-a-day-when-you-gotta-go

Patchett was talking about taking care of her grandmother as she was dying. It was supposed to be her sister who stayed at home, in Nashville, and would be the family’s caretaker. But instead, tables turned and her sister moved away just as Patchett agreed, after an eleven year courtship, to marry her boyfriend Karl. She was still smarting after a brief early marriage. That essay too is included in her new book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. I’ve yet to read her new book of essays, but after listening to her interview, I’ll have to wait until I return to the Love Bug so I can purchase her book in her bookstore, Parnassus. And no, she wasn’t pushing her bookstore with Terri Gross, but she was extolling about her love of independent bookstores. And I found myself agreeing with her.

I thought about meeting my husband again, after many years apart. I too had been burned by a bad first marriage at nineteen. The kind you know never should have happened, the kind you are second guessing while you’re saying “I Do,” and thinking “What If.” Young feminists at the time called these “starter marriages.” I sometimes think in discovering our own strength, the strength to leave, we started a revolution. I knew it was over when he told my sister Kay he could never be vulnerable. And I think we raised boys who were not afraid of vulnerability. https://medium.com/religion-spirituality-and-philosophy/838b400fe2a5

I had returned home and was keeping watch at my foster father’s dying bedside when my MIL Ada found me and pulled me into Bob’s hospital room. He was recovering from some minor surgery and thought he was hallucinating. His vulnerability matched mine. We met at fourteen, and married at thirty. And so our story resumed, the he.went.to.woodstock  (meets) she.went.to.westchester story.

I’m glad Ada kept most of my newspaper articles, faded yellow paper over the years. There was no Cloud to store and collate all my writing, but my MIL who will be 90 this year, became my biggest fan and super star archivist over the years. I may have to scan all those essays for posterity. They are like all the pictures stored away in boxes, waiting to be digitized on some rainy day. But first I’ll catch up on all things Nashville on Parnassus’ new blog  http://parnassusmusing.net it’s for anyone who loves to read – period!

“Let go of who you think you should be, and become who you are.”

another reason to call Nashville

another reason to call Nashville

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Happy New Year everyone! Tonight I will dress to the nines and attend yet another hospital gala, and believe you me I’ve seen many a silent night auction come and go. Someone will get falling down drunk, someone will bid on a puppy they’ll have to return in the new year, and someone will start singing Meatloaf’s Dashboard Light song with alacrity. Electric slide here we go again.

But this morning I’ll kick back and cogitate on a word – meme. What is a meme anyway? We’ve all heard it and let it roll right off the back of our heads like we know what it means. Well, according to dictionary.com it comes from the Greek meaning “mimic” as in imitating a certain behavior; more recently, it is a bow to biology and gene theory. Think of gene cells, how they mimic one another.

meme

a cultural item that is transmitted by repetition and replication in a manner analogous to the biological transmission of genes.

or

a cultural item in the form of an image, video, phrase, etc.,that is spread via the Internet and often altered in a creative or humorous way.
Medicine meet technology! There was a picture of Beyonce that became a meme; meaning it floated around the internet in different adaptations: Beyonce at a football game; at a WWF match etc. Just Google “meme” and her picture will appear.
But I love it when literary and pop culture collide to invent a meme. I happen to love Lena Dunham. The “Girls” creator is never afraid to show her body or try to explain the existential trip of 20 something women living in NYC. She is the present-day equivalent of Carrie Bradshaw’s “Sex and the City.” This year, the character who plays Dunham’s mother attended an academic conference and told her daughter, “I never thought I’d meet so many other women who feel the same way I do about Ann Patchett.”
And there it is – feminist fireworks! Ms Patchett, the owner of my favorite Nashville bookstore Parnassus and writer extraordinaire, is now a meme. A meme who spans the generations. In the past I thought of Ann Tyler as my meme (or maybe my muse?). Her writing spoke to me. Sometimes I’d have to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn’t caught up in one of her novels come to life.
So tonight let’s not list all the great and minor things of 2013. And let’s not try to predict the trends and memes of 2014. After all, it’s just one night in five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes.  Let’s all take a deep breath, and stay in that electric slide moment. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”  Unknown

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The nine hour drive home from Nashville can be eye-crossingly boring. I reluctantly passed by Dollywood in favor of listening to the continuing saga of a Janet Evanovich audiobook. One McDonalds with Elvis all over the walls blends with another rocking chair on a Cracker Barrel porch until the Blue Ridge Mountains appear just in the nick of time. Only a sporadic NPR signal saved me from driving off a cliff.

Our dearly beloved Vice President got me wondering, what does the President think of gay marriage? One answer might be, “Who cares?” After all, we know he is a constitutional law scholar and downright brilliant. We also know he ate dog meat as a child in Indonesia because if we were a kid, in that part of the world, we’d eat what our parents gave us too. One culture’s delicious blue cheese is another’s smelly mold. But watching the polls on gay marriage ‘evolve’ in this country is inspiring: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/same-sex-marriage-support_n_1499247.html

Listening to the White House Press Secretary dance around good ole Biden’s plainspeakin’ ways and say that the President’s opinion on gay marriage “…is what it was” made me smile. And now the Republicans would just love to force his hand on this, but don’t let them set the agenda for us Mr President. If Mitt could carry his dog on top of his car at one time in his life, we know he wouldn’t do that again today. If Mitt can embrace health insurance reform in MA, we know he can and did ‘evolve’ and would like to destroy it for the rest of us. Surely Mr President, you can continue to help breathe life into our Constitution. Remember that gay rights are human rights, and that words have meaning.

Here are some shots of Ann Patchett’s independent bookstore in Nashville where anyone can stroll in and play the piano. Browsing among books is a guilty pleasure for this word nerd. We Americans are an independent lot. We respect truth in politics, and in fact we long for it. We give you permission Mr President to keep evolving, along with the rest of us.

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