Happy Birthday to a Hero

Jane_Goodall

Today is Jane Goodall’s 80th birthday, and I want to wish her a very happy birthday. I have admired her work for over 40 years! She is one of my heroes, and I was very blessed to be able to meet her a few years ago. She came to the school where I was teaching, to help launch our new Roots and Shoots club, and I was asked by my principal to introduce her at the school assembly. Why me? …because I Shadow_of_Manhad told my principal my story about reading her book, In the Shadow of Man, when my son was a newborn, and about how that book had really influenced my parenting! In reading about the chimp, Flo, who was such a wonderful mother, I learned a lot about patience and close attachment, and it really hit home with me as a new mom.

My principal asked me to tell that story as I introduced her, so I did. And my son, Dan, came in from Portland to be present in the assembly and to meet her. It was an extraordinary experience. She must have liked it all because she kissed my cheek after the introduction. It’s a totally awesome experience to have your cheek kissed by one of your life heroes! So, for her 80th today, I send her a big birthday bear hug and wishes for good health and many more years of her inspirational work.

Goodall

 

Rainy Rainy Saturday Morning

rainySaturday

It’s a rainy, rainy Saturday morning. Son and Grandboy are laughing and playing GO FISH on the kitchen table. Daughter is knitting on some beautiful new yarn that arrived in the mail yesterday. Husband is puttering around in the basement. And I am listening to the second book in The Once and Future King while doing laundry. I just want to pause and enjoy this rainy Saturday morning because this is one of those little moments that make up a lifetime, and I want to savor this simple, beautiful, happy moment in time. Despite the rain!

A Seven-Year-Old

celebrations

Yes, my Grandboy turned seven at the end of December, but he’s not the seven-year-old I’m talking about. No, I’m talking about this blog which is Seven years old today!

January 27th, 2007… I was on a medical leave from my teaching position, with time on my hands to enjoy my new Grandboy, read lots of books, (and talk about those books with my Mom over the phone) and also explore the new-to-me world of book blogging…

I am a very shy and private person, but I was intrigued by the book community discussions and the creativity of those blogs. So, as another way of sharing books with my Mom, this very shy person started a book blog and began to write about what I read and how my reading impacts my life.

I immediately discovered that the very best thing about the book blogging world is the people!  Blogging friends and authors are cherished people in my life now, even though most of us have not met each other in person yet, although I have been very fortunate to be able to actually meet a few of them. [Kristen, it was so fun to meet with that group of Seattle-area bloggers way back when. I love being able to picture Z when you write about him, although my mental picture of him is of a little boy and he has grown so much since then!] This blogging world has also inspired and expanded my reading, encouraging me to read beyond my usual patterns and explore other books worlds. It has all enriched my life tremendously.

The book blogging world has changed a lot in seven years. I remember when Twitter arrived, and I was intimidated by the very personal contact the bloggers were beginning to have with each other. My shyness factor kept me away from that world for a long time. Now, I enjoy those more personal and informal communications about books and life. But I still love sitting down and writing a blog post and exploring how a book intertwines with my life.

I am also “older and wiser” than I was seven years ago. A few years ago, after a series of sad family happenings, I stopped blogging for 15 months. Part of that silence was about grieving, but the other part of the silence had to do with privacy and trust. Unfortunately, I had learned first-hand that the internet can be used for malicious purposes or to present a completely fabricated view of a person’s life. It was a traumatic experience, and it took me a long time to come to terms with the vulnerability I felt for myself and my family by being online.

But I really missed blogging and the interactions with my blogging friends. I finally decided that the best thing I could do for myself was to return to my blog and continue to write about my life — with honesty and emotional integrity. That’s what really matters afterall.

So my blogging journey continues and I celebrate seven years of sharing my book life with you. Thank you, dear readers, for stopping by my blog occasionally to read my thoughts. And a special thank you to those of you who didn’t give up on me during my silence and warmly welcomed me back. You all mean the world to me!

Thank-you-post-it

The Changing Light of a Room

changing_light

“I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.
~May Sarton

It’s been a quiet New Year’s Day. I kept thinking I should be doing something more than just enjoying the quiet of this “empty day.” But after the rush and noise of December, I will take May Sarton’s words of wisdom to heart and just enjoy the last of the light on this first day of 2014.

A Reading Year

woman_reading

2013 has been a “return to reading” year for me. Sometimes life hits you with multiple punches at the same time…the “old one-two,” as my Dad used to say. And three years ago, my family was hit by a combination punch that left me emotionally unable to focus well enough to read [or blog] for well over a year. But when 2013 began, I was delighted to realize that my reading focus had returned. It’s been a wonderful, enjoyable year of books for me, and it’s interesting to step aside for a moment and look back on my year’s reading journey.

Some Quick Stats:

  • 90 books read this year (hoping to finish up a couple of ‘currently reading’ books before ringing in the New Year
  • 21 audiobooks (listening-while-knitting also made for quite a few FOs). And for comparison, last year, I only listened to 3 audiobooks in the entire year!
  • 27 Kindle books (I unashamedly love reading on my Kindle because I can enlarge the type, read in the dark, and download thousands of books from the library!)
  • 16 classics. I’ve always loved reading the classics, and reading those 16 books filled me with a wonderful feeling of “returning to myself.”

Favorite Series:  I am loving reading Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. And I also loved reading Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick series!

Favorite Non-Fiction: The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown.

Favorite Classic: Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury.

Favorite Book of the Year: The Morville Year, by Katharine Swift. This was the first book I read in 2013. As I read this book, I created a “visual book review” on Pinterest, with photos of all the plants, people, places mentioned in this wonderful story of an English garden. For me, it was a lovely project that combined my love of reading, gardening, and learning!

2013 also brought more major life changes for us, but this time they were the most positive of changes. My husband and I retired this year, and thus, there is more time for joyfully reading on my front porch as I take breaks from the garden. We’ll see where my reading journey takes me in 2014!

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Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Mrs.Palfrey

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor, has been on my TBR list for ages. Why did I wait?? It’s a lovely book, so if you haven’t read it yet, don’t hesitate any longer.

A widow, Mrs. Palfrey, moves to the Claremont Hotel in London, which serves as a retirement home for quite a few elderly people. She quietly adjusts to this new stage of life and to her new life at the Claremont. Moving from her own home into the culture of a “home” for the elderly is a challenge, but she sets some wise rules for herself:

They were to be part of her rules, her code of behaviour. Be independent; never give way to melancholy; never touch capital. And she had abided by the rules.

The days are long. Hours pass slowly. The interactions with the other guests are often a strain. Her family is remote and the one family member who does live in London, (her grandson) doesn’t visit, but she continues to live her life with dignity and integrity, not complaining or gossiping, and trying to remain true to herself.

And then one day she meets a young man, a struggling writer, who helps her when she falls while walking home from the library. He is kind and attentive to her, everything she would wish her absent grandson to be. When he comes to the Claremont to visit her, everyone assumes he is her grandson, and she simply fails to correct that impression. It becomes a very important relationship to her, although seemingly less important to the young writer. It infuses her life with hope and nostalgia, and their connection, although mostly superficial, provides a deeper perspective of life and the aging process for her.

It’s not a dramatic book. It’s a quiet story of aging, of the inevitable changes that happen as one gets older, and of the courage one woman has in facing that last stage of life quite alone. Mrs. Palfrey shares with us that “It was hard work being old,” but she shows us that it can be done with quiet courage and dignity.

I’m treating myself this weekend to the movie version of this book. My local library had the DVD on the shelf, and I’m so looking forward to watching Joan Plowright and Rupert Friend bring this story to the screen.

Mrs.Palfrey

Celebrating December

Virtual_Advent

December has arrived and I am enjoying this holiday season. Thanksgiving weekend was fun with the Grandboy, who helped us put up the Christmas tree, adding his own creative “ornaments” — some of his books! (A boy after my own heart!)  I’m knitting as fast as I can to finish a couple of scarves for special people in my life. And I’m reading as many holiday books as I can, something I’ve never done before! I am also participating in Kelly & Marg’s Virtual Advent Tour, a lovely blogging community holiday tradition. Celebrating December!

book_tree

The Death of a President

President

On November 22nd, fifty years ago, I was an 8th grader home alone from school with a bad cold. Mid-morning I turned on the television to watch some old soap opera, but instead saw nothing but views of empty Austin_banquet_tablesbanquet tables. I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, and it took quite awhile for the sound to warm up so I could hear what was being said. When the sound finally came on, I was shocked to hear that President Kennedy had been shot. A short while later, they announced his death. What a terribly sad time for all of us. For me, that heartbreak certainly marked the end of my innocent idealism of childhood.

It’s incredible to realize that 50 years have gone by since that horrible happening and that defining moment in my own life. Even after 50 years, the pain is still present and I’ve had difficulty with all the recent books, news reports, magazine articles, and so many photographs published in remembrance of that tragedy. Especially the photographs we were shielded from at that time. It was a kinder time that way.

The death of this young president was a very personal loss for me. Rather than dwell on the memories of the assassination, I’ll share some of the reasons I felt his death so deeply.

When President Kennedy was elected, I was at a very impressionable age, and I was completely captured by this young and vibrant dressmaker01president and especially by his beautiful wife, Jacqueline. With her elegant fashion sense and her love of the arts, she became my role model. A book I adored during that time was called I was Jacqueline Kennedy’s dressmaker, by Mini Rhea. I poured over the drawings of dress designs, and loved reading about Mrs. Kennedy’s style and elegance. Photos of me at the time show her influence on my own style of dress… I remember reading that her philosophy was “simplicity is elegance.” And, oh, she was elegant! But even better, she loved literature and art, and so did I…

My family and I always enjoyed watching Jack Kennedy’s speeches and news conferences. The_Kennedy_WitHe had such a wonderful sense of humor, and I remember we watched news conferences and the state of the union addresses together because they were so entertaining as well as informative. On my shelf I still have a little book from 1965 called The Kennedy Wit, compiled and edited by Bill Adler, full of those humorous answers, comments, quips and jokes from throughout his presidency. An example of his wicked sense of humor was his famous statement at the White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners:

“I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House — with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

Many people, young and old, were deeply inspired by President Kennedy’s inauguration speech:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Kennedy_and_AFSI took that eloquent call to action very seriously, too, and a few years later I was accepted into the American Field Service exchange program, and spent a year as a student in Argentina, immersing myself in a different culture and truly becoming a “citizen of the world” through that experience. So much of who I am now is directly tied to that pivotal year in my life. Click here to listen to President Kennedy talking with a group of AFSers in 1961.

As I remember the death of a president fifty years ago, I revisit the powerful influence President and Mrs. Kennedy had on my own life. When I remember the Kennedy years, I also remember me and my own ‘beginnings.” The memories are vivid. So this is a poignant anniversary and a loss I still feel deeply after 50 years. It is not “history” to me … It is “story.”

Kennedys

A Guilty Read: Emil and the Detectives

Emil

It’s not what you might think from the title of this post… Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner, definitely IS a book I’d recommend to anyone who loves young people’s classic literature. It’s a sweet, fun mystery about a young boy who goes alone to visit his grandmother in Berlin, and runs into trouble and adventure on the way. But when I saw Emil and the Detectives on the shelf at my library this week, I was flooded with guilt. Why…? Well, it’s a memory that goes way back…

Dad's_studyMy father was a university professor, and his home office (which we called his “study”) was a wonderful, magical room full of books and art. There were very few children’s books in his library, though, but Emil and the Detectives was one that I discovered on his shelf and read with delight. At that time, I had a friend who was German, and who had never read it, so I happily loaned it to him — without asking my father’s permission, as if the my father’s library belonged to me and the book was mine to loan. Unfortunately, my friend’s family moved and he never returned the book. I had to tell my father what I had done and that his book was gone forever. Oh the guilt!!

So, yes, I checked the book out of the library and read it again and found it even more delightful than I had remembered it. Emil is a “model boy,” (meaning a very thoughtful, kind, and considerate young man) because he chooses to be. He dearly loves his widowed mother and does everything he can to make her proud and to help her in every way he can. He runs into some pretty rough characters in Berlin, but also finds a group of young friends who help him after his money is stolen on the train. It’s a fun adventure.

The book, itself, has an interesting history. It was written in 1929 and survived censorship by the Nazis during the Second World War. It has been translated into 59 different languages. My father was nine-years-old when it was published. Did he read it and love it as a young boy? Or did he read it after his war experiences in Germany? I would love to be able to ask him those questions and discuss this delightful little book with him. Sadly, we never discussed it when I was little. I wasn’t punished for lending his book without his permission, but it was a life lesson for me, and I will never get over knowing that he was disappointed in me for my poor decision.

But, please, read it — guilt-free — and enjoy it. It’s a worthwhile read.

emil-1

Dandelion Wine

DandelionWine_Tomislav Tikulin

Cover art by Tomislav Tikulin

Ray Bradbury captured my heart with this novel, Dandelion Wine. It is the story of a young boy and his brother during the summer of 1928, and Mr. Bradbury infused it with magic and wisdom, gifting us a journey through life and death and family and community, all through the eyes of a young boy just becoming aware of it all. It is beautifully written, almost poetry in some parts, and full of warmth and love.

I thought of my Dad throughout the entire book. Born the same year as Ray Bradbury, he was eight years old in 1928. He was named Ray, too, and was a wonderful storyteller and writer himself. The stories in this book reminded me of many of his boyhood stories that we now treasure, so I was already familiar with the “time machine” experience of family stories that span generations, and loved that Mr. Bradbury could put that warm and embracing feeling of family into such beautiful words.

And I also thought of our Grandboy throughout the entire book. Looking at his experiences and our relationship with him through Mr. Bradbury’s lens makes each shared activity seem extra special. Memories of my own grandparents came flooding back, and it is simply incredible that I am now the Grandma. What special memories will the Grandboy have of us in years to come? It gives a poignancy to every moment we spend with him. Ray Bradbury reminds us that we carry those loved ones within us, within our family stories. “No person ever died that had a family.” 

Young Douglas in this book becomes poignantly aware during that summer of 1928 of just what it means to be alive. That first awareness is a universal experience, captured and distilled into a wonderful ‘wine’ of words by Mr. Bradbury, to be savored again and again.

Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered.

This book is now one of my very favorites. It’s an honored position.

Ray_Bradbury