More Reading (Non-RAS)

So, in addition to my RAS challenge I am also reading things on my Kindle and Nook devices. Some for book group, and some for just because. All of these books are worthwhile reading, so go ahead and enjoy one or all of them.

A few months ago Barnes and Noble emailed me to tell me I had three hours to spend $7.59. The only thing I could do was fire up my Nook and search for a book I wanted to read on it. (I don’t love my new Nook Glowlight — it feels cheap compared to my Kindle Paperwhite). I eventually chose The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I read it in two nights, staying up late to do so. My book group is now reading it — I am pretty sure they will be critical, but I don’t care. It was a fun read.

Shortly after the the Charleston, NC AME Church shooting a Facebook friend mentioned that she’d heard of the Charleston church and Denmark Vesey in a book by Sue Monk Kidd called The Invention of Wings. I’d read Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees a few years ago, so I knew she was a great writer, so I downloaded The Invention of Wings in Illinois, before we returned to Maryland and began reading it on the drive home. I finished it a couple of nights ago and when I read the author’s note was surprised to discover it was fact based. I knew Denmark Vesey was a real person and the church was real, but I didn’t realize that everything, including the two main characters, Sarah and her sister Nina, were really abolitionists and crusaders for women’s rights. I’m really glad I read this book. It was well written and I learned a lot.

For book group last month we read Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. While reading it I declared to anyone who would listen that it was the most well-written book I’d read in a long while. I still think so — and I am not the only person who does. I was at a dinner party and another guest (a professional writer herself) mentioned the book and said it was so well-written she wanted to go through the book and list all the verbs. All the Light We Cannot See is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives are connected and whose paths intersect near the end of World War II.

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Andrew’s graduation

Yes, it seems like only last week we dropped Andrew off at Oberlin when he was a new student. I took photos and planned a blog post about it but waited too long and now he’s graduated. Time sure does fly!

andrew-clareAndrew graduated from Oberlin with honors of some sort. We even went to the home of the president of the school to celebrate his honor where we drank punch and ate fruit on sticks. Dean’s sister, Diane, was able to join us for much of the weekend.

Oberlin goes all out for graduation and invites several alumni back for reunions. Oberlin goes from a small quiet college town to a very busy place. It was even more busy this year because one of the graduation speakers was Michelle Obama.

We spent much of our long weekend lounging on the grass. The weather was perfect for that — although it became a little hot on graduation day. I thought I would be in mourning since I loved Oberlin so, but strangely I didn’t feel sad. It would not be the same without Andrew there, and I said my expensive farewell to Bead Paradise.

lightsMy favorite, and most anticipated part of the weekend was the illuminations in Tappan Square the night before the graduation ceremony. It did not disappoint.

The ceremony was far too long, but the two main speakers were excellent. Michelle Obama’s was the best, by a long-shot. My favorite takeaway from Obama was:

“And I know that these days, that can seem counterintuitive, because we live in such an instantaneous age. We want everything right away—whether it’s an Uber or your favorite TV show—and we want it tailored to our exact preferences and beliefs. We fill our Twitter feed with voices that confirm, rather than challenge, our views. If we dislike someone’s Facebook post, we just un-follow them, we un-friend them.

And even here at Oberlin, most of the time you’re probably surrounded by folks who share your beliefs. But out in the real world, there are plenty of people who think very differently than you do, and they hold their opinions just as passionately. So if you want to change their minds, if you want to work with them to move this country forward, you can’t just shut them out. You have to persuade them, and you have to compromise with them. That is what so many of our heroes of history have done.”


Marian Wright Edelman’s was inspiring too — although a bit long. Someone suggested that since she was an elder she felt the need to be thorough in her speech. My favorite takeaway from Edelman’s speech was “So often we want to be a big dog and make a big difference but all of us can be a flea and bite and bite and move the biggest dog. Enough determined fleas biting strategically can make the biggest dog uncomfortable. And if some of us are flicked off but keep coming back and continue biting, we can change our nation. So be a flea for justice—for children and for the poor.”


More photos

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Thoughts on reading and reclaiming the joy

Now that I have begun to read again (hallelujah!) I’ve been thinking of why I quit — or at least slowed down and what I can do to continue to read. It is not that I quit enjoying reading — it is more that I found other things to do instead including the Internet, playing games on my tablet, and enjoying that third glass of wine.

Another thing I did that did actually restrict my joy of reading was be too critical. At some point in the past 10 years I thought I needed to be on guard while reading and be as critical as possible. I no longer read for the sake of reading. I “needed” to be ready to either argue why I liked or disliked a character or scene or plot.

Reading like that takes energy and takes the fun out of reading. If I like something — great. If I don’t, then that’s fine. Did the story move me in some way? Yes? Good. No? Then move on. No need to be all critical — maybe the book that moved me didn’t move someone else and maybe the book that didn’t, did move someone else. No need to waste energy arguing the point.

So some of you wondered why I [really] decided to do the Read a Shelf project. The answer is because I’ve used many ways to relax all my life and reading was my favorite until I made it a burden by being critical. If I am reading I am not wasting my time on games or the Internet. (By wasting time I don’t mean reading blog posts or writing them — I also don’t mean meaningful FB interaction.)

Anyway — I should go now, I have some reading to do.

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RAS 3: The Book of Ruth — Jane Hamilton

I couldn’t tell you where this book came from. I am sure it was not new when I got it — I probably picked it up from a used book store after reading and liking Jane Hamilton‘s second book, A Map of the World.

What I liked most about the extremely depressing A Map of the World was that it took place in Wisconsin. While I don’t know the area of Wisconsin in which this book took place, the fact that it was in Wisconsin made me happy, despite the subject matter.

The Book of Ruth is also depressing, but very well-written and the story is engrossing. The Book of Ruth takes place in Honey Creek a (made-up) small town in Northern Illinois on the border of Wisconsin.

Honey Creek is way up in the very north of Illinois. If you lean over the Abendroths’ back fence your torso is in Wisconsin.

I tried to plot where the town could be by clues in the story.

  • Borders Wisconsin
  • 40 miles from DeKalb
  • Rockford is closest big city

I figured it was somewhere near Harvard, Illinois. I have probably been there. Dean was there just last week. Ruth’s Aunt Sid (from the book) lives in DeKalb — where I went to college and near where Dean’s brother lives.

The Book of Ruth centers on young Ruth, the daughter of a bitter, likely depressed, woman named May and an absent father named Elmer. Ruth has a brother, Matt, who is brilliant and who eventually escapes to MIT. Ruth marries a local man, Ruby, who may or may not be developmentally delayed. The book is about dysfunctional families living in poverty and what they do to survive.

I’ll continue reading Jane Hamilton (happily she’s written at least two more books) but will wait a while in case her other stories are as depressing as A Map of the World (social ostracization) and The Book of Ruth (poverty, depression).

Stats 298 pages. Started June 14. Finished June 26.

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RAS 2: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin — Benjamin Franklin

A fair number of years ago I bought a set of books at a library sale in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I was with my sister-in-law, Jill, and she claims I paid more for the set than I thought. No matter, it was a collection of well-known dead authors and to me it was a bargain.

Not that I read any of the books which eventually found their way to the top self of the living room, then to a box in the attic. One book, however, remained on the top self. It was a pure accident.

I never expected to read Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I am not very much into history — especially American history — so had no interest in reading this. However, I figured I would give it a try.

Franklin was quite ambitious as a teenager and beyond. In his early adulthood he embarked on a sort of self-actualization quest trying to better himself in 12 steps (virtues):

  1. Temperance – eat not to dullness; drink not to elation.
  2. Silence – Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order – Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution – Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality – Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; that is, wast nothing.
  6. Industry – Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity – Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; speak accordingly.
  8. Justice – Wrong none by doing injuries; or omitting the benefits of your duty.
  9. Moderation – Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness – Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity – Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.

I learned a few things about American history that was otherwise elusive to me. For instance, I never quite understood who General Braddock was, even though we lived for years near one of his abandoned cannons. I knew he was a British soldier, so why would Franklin want to help him obtain horses and carts? It was the French and Indian War which was before the Revolutionary war so we were not necessarily enemies of the British at that time, although it seemed much of the colonies were a bit passive aggressive. I didn’t know that!

I was surprised that the book was as readable as it was. Benjamin Franklin was interesting and had a captivating way of writing.

That’s not to say that it was not incredibly boring in parts. Lots of parts. I basically skimmed the end of the book.

I cheated on this book. I turned every page, but did not read every word.

This 200 page book took me many weeks to read. Hopefully the next book won’t take that long.

Stats 200 or so pages. Started May 12. Finished June 14.

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Found (in Oberlin): The Place Where the Sidewalk Ends

We spent Memorial Day weekend in Oberlin for Andrew’s Graduation (more on that later) and much of the time was down-time as we waited for Andrew to do this or that. Sometimes we simply rested on the grass, other times we drove around the area. On one of our drives we drove through a new neighborhood in Oberlin, not far from Andrew’s house. In one corner of the neighborhood was a strange brick structure in the middle of a neatly mowed lot with sidewalks leading to it and floodlights pointed towards it. Dean and I discussed what it could be for (it had signs inside it that said “PRIVATE”). On the way back to the car, however, I found something more interesting. I found the place where the sidewalk ends. Right there in Oberlin*.

Where the sidewalk ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends,
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

— Shel Silverstein — 1974

* It is fitting to have found this during Andrew’s college graduation weekend. Interpretations of the poem suggest that the place where the sidewalk ends is where childhood ends and adulthood begins.

Categories: Musings, Places, Travel | Tags: , | 3 Comments

RAS 1: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons — Lorna Landvik

I finished my first Read a Shelf (hereafter to be known as RAS) book at around 3 in the morning. I started it Friday, the day I wrote the blog post.

Angry Housewives Eating Bon bonsI bought Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons at a Barnes and Noble many years ago probably because I was angry about something and because it was about a book group. I’d been thinking about trying my hand at writing a book about a book group so I wanted to see what my competition was like. It was also 20% off, according to a big red sticker that was still on the book when I began reading it on Friday I had the book on my “to read” shelf for a long time and eventually it found itself to my, “heck, I’ll never get to that shelf” shelf. The book is so old it is browning around the edges.

I think I avoided reading it because of the word “bon bons” in the title. Also I was watching Desperate Housewives at the same time and maybe I figured too many angry and desperate housewives might make me the same. (although I was working part time — it was from home).

So about the book. It was good. I was completely caught up in the lives of Kari, Faith, Audrey, Merit and Slip. Ms Landvik fleshed out their characters very well. Not so much the males in the book; except for a neighbor, Grant, and Faith’s son Beau, males were more or less one-sided, which makes sense, in a way. And the “bon bons” made sense after one of the husbands remarked that he thought the book group was just a bunch of angry housewives sitting around eating bon bons. The women liked that so much they called themselves AHEB.

The book mentioned three places with which I am very familiar, which I found interesting and put a smile on my face.

  • One of the AHEB’s daughters attends Oberlin College (where my son goes and a place I adore).
  • At a wedding reception in Washington, DC another AHEB shares a table with a developer who claims to have built most of the houses in Bethesda (where I live).
  • Finally one of the children of a third AHEB ends up living in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (a town just south of Chetek — when we got to Eau Claire we knew we were nearly at Grandma and Grandpa’s house).

The book was predictable, but that’s okay. I don’t really mind guessing what is going to happen in a story I am reading. The only complaint I have about the book is the author’s use of clichés and slang when unnecessary. Yes, the book began in 1968 but the only slang that should have been used is in conversation, not narrative. I admit this is a pet peeve of mine — and maybe it is something I need to get over.

Stats: 404 pages (paperback). Started May 8, finished May 12, 2015.

Categories: Reading, Series | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Frankly…the best pizza I’ve ever tasted!

We try to go out for dinner once a week or so. Sometimes more often, sometimes less often. Last night was our planned night out and Dean suggested a new restaurant he’d read about in the Washington Post. A restaurant in Kensington. We rarely go to Kensington for dinner — in fact the only restaurant in that area we’ve eaten at is one of Black’s eateries: Black Market Bistro.

Dean warned me that the restaurant he’d read about served only pizza. That was fine, I like pizza. We could not find the restaurant right away, so drove around a bit found parking (free!! — Kensington is NOT Bethesda) and followed Dean’s iPhone directions to the restaurant. We’d driven right past it but didn’t see Frankly…Pizza! on the awning until we were a few yards away. We walked past about 8 tables of patrons enjoying the warm spring evening, eating pizza outside, under the awning, and headed indoors to be seated. We would have preferred to eat outdoors, but got a nice table inside the eclectically decorated, but pizza themed, restaurant. At first it seemed very loud, but either we got used to it or the noise quickly died down.

Our waiter was energetic and friendly and suggested we choose a pizza each. Dean wavered between a clam pizza or a sausage pizza, settling on the sausage pizza. I chose the clam. They also served house made sodas, wine and beer on tap. I chose a NZ sauvignon blanc and Dean chose an IPA. Dean ordered an arugula salad, which was delicious, but I was keeping my appetite for my pizza.

My pizza was delicious. I think it is the best pizza I have ever eaten. The crust was perfect — thinish but puffed up at the edges — and wonderfully chewy. The toppings, mozzarella Romano, garlic and olive oil were amazing. Together the crust and toppings were heavenly. Dean’s pizza tasted more like a regular pizza. Good, but not as good as mine.

I can’t wait to go back to Frankly…Pizza. I will definitely take my daughter who thinks the only restaurant that can make a decent white pizza is Pines of Rome. She is so wrong.

Categories: Food, Rave | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Read a Shelf

Please note: I created a page for this here. Because it is a thing. Please to to the page I created for updates.

I recently ran across a blog post in which a woman has begun to read a shelf of books in her home. She got the idea from a book called, The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose.

I’m always saying I need to read the books I have in my house before buying another one. I took a sabbatical from my book group to do just that, but failed miserably.

We have at least 8 bookcases in the house, most filled with many unread books so I am going to see if I can read the books I have not already read that sit on the top shelf of one of my living room bookshelves. The only exceptions are books that I’d planned on throwing away, unread, anyway. Also I do not have to read non-fiction or scientific books that might have ended up on the shelves. One more exception — if a book is on the shelf and is part of a series and I have not read the book just before that book in a series, I get a pass on that one until I read the book before it. (Jasper Fforde’s Something Rotten, for instance. I read the first book in the series and thought this was the second, but it was the third. I never got around to reading the second).


The top shelf

The books are:

So, wish me luck — I will need it with Joyce, Franklin, the Lambs and Longfellow…

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We went to watch Rugby but saw the Big Parade instead

Andrew graduates on Memorial Day. His final rugby game was supposed to take place yesterday, Saturday, May 2 so we planned a trip to Oberlin to watch his last game. We knew we would not be able to spend much time with him since he was also going to a banquet for the end of the Rugby season, but these days, even an hour or two is enough for us. Shortly before we were planning on leaving for Oberlin Andrew called and told Dean the game had been cancelled. Denison (the opposing team) decided that with finals coming up next week they should study and not play rugby. Dean was bummed but since we’d already paid for our hotel room we decided to go instead and only stay one night.

We arrived at Oberlin around 6 and met Andrew at Weia Teia for dinner. He brought a friend with him and they both told us about how it was lucky we were in town that weekend because the Big Parade was the next morning and the Folkfest started that evening. Among the names of folks singers for the weekend was Tom Paxton – an artist I’d never seen, but had heard of. Another name Andrew mentioned was Kimya Dawson — a name I didn’t recognize, but when I later looked her up, would have loved to have seen her live. Her highly recognizable singing voice made me smile though the movie Juno (as well as a couple of Comcast ads).

Andrew took us to see an art exhibit called Erosion. My favorite part of the show was a series of journal entries the artist’s mother wrote and the artist’s corresponding leaves or flowers captured in glass.

After the art show we went to a dance titled The Only Way (scroll down to the second entry) about the struggle for women’s rights.The dancing was amazing and the message important.

Andrew had to leave us to work on his float for the parade so Dean and I went back to our hotel.

The next morning we arrived in Oberlin shortly after 10. I spent 45 minutes shopping at my current favorite store, Bead Paradise, where I bought three shirts, a pair of sunglasses, a chain for my new sunglasses and a beautiful Hobo wallet.

The parade was a lot of fun. See this YouTube video for some highlilghts. I took photos of all the floats and groups, but wondered where Andrew’s was, only to be told by Dean that he’d already gone by. I concentrated on a friend of Andrew’s (and son of family friends) that I missed my own son walking right in front of me. The fact that he was wearing a long red dress and straw hat had nothing to do with my not recognizing him. (He’s the tall one in the image below.)

Andrew parade

After the parade we walked around Tappan Square  and finally met up with Andrew and a few of his friends. We got in line with them for a free meal. As we approached the tent where the food was being served we saw a number of men and boys with shaved heads except for a small ponytail. Yes, we were in the Hare Krishna food line. I am not sure any salt was used.

Hare Krishna food

After lunch we listened to some folk singers and lazed in the sun. We met several of Andrew’s friends — all of whom were very friendly.

I love Oberlin and the feeling of community (and Bead Paradise) and am going to probably go through a period of mourning after Andrew graduates.

Where else can you sit in a kabob restaurant and watch an Alaskan husky wearing a batman costume people watch?

Dean and husky



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