Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books, Books, Books

This year, I read 55 books. I was hoping to make it 56, but I haven't read in a day or two and I don't think I'm to increase the count as the year winds down in the next 30 hours. We walked to the library on Friday to pick up Anne Lamott's Small Victories, but it's just been following me around the house. Various priorities (and distractions) and trying to get some work done during this holiday week have kept me from what I really would like to be doing - reading.

Since 2009, I've kept a log of the books I've read. Over the past six years, I've read 289 books. Some great, some terrible, most falling somewhere in between. In the category of "I'm sorry I read this," this year's winner is Bittersweet, by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. A talented writer, but literature devoid (in my opinion) of any moral and ethical content gets a thumbs down from me. I probably shouldn't have given it the repeated chances I did, but I kept holding out hope.

I'm not sure which book would receive the blue ribbon this year. As I look back over my list, there were many that I truly enjoyed. I finally read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and wish I had read it years ago when I first learned of it.

My list still weights toward the side of fiction, but I read a fair amount of non-fiction this year. Emily Wierenga's Atlas Girl was breathtakingly honest. A Deadly Wandering  by Matt Richtel was simply riveting and I think of it every time I am tempted to pick up my phone in the car. Lee Strobel's A Case for Christ was eye-opening, challenging, and affirming.

I'm looking forward to what books I'll read in 2015. I've pre-ordered Dee Henderson's latest, Taken, slated for May publication. I was delighted to see that Kristin Hannah has a new novel, The Nightingale, coming in January. I just learned that writer and neuroscientist Lisa Genova has a new book coming in April, Inside the O'Briens, a novel about a family facing Huntington's disease. If you haven't read her, you must pick up Still Alice, a fascinating work of fiction about a woman descending into Alzheimer's disease (movie coming out in January but read the book!). Genova's Left Neglected about the traumatic brain disorder of left neglect and Love Anthony focusing on autism were also great reads.

At the encouragement of my brother, I also hope to read Marilynne Robinson's trilogy, Gilead, Home, and Lila. And then there's always something to find on the yet-to-read shelf of my bookshelf and in the cache of my Kindle.

Here's to a great new year of good reading!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What I Learned in November

Linking up today with Emily at Chatting at the Sky

I haven't done a "What I Learned" post in quite a while, and I'm toying with whether to write seriously and introspectively or offer a more lighthearted take on the month. I suppose I'll settle for a little of each.

Oxtail tastes like roast beef. Glad I was able to sample this exotic-to-me dish at a food and beverage pairing event. It was one of those cases where I just needed to try it and not think about it.

Cutting an onion doesn't have to result in a huge mess.

Christmas tree lights are expensive! We discovered that probably half of our Christmas tree lights aren't working this year. We've gotten a lot of mileage out of those lights and the extreme temperatures of the attic probably contributed to their demise. I invested in new ones and took quite a hit to the budget.

Deicing a plane takes 30-45 minutes. I know I've sat through the deicing process before, but don't remember it taking this long. Perhaps I paid more attention this time because we had to go through it twice for this particular flight (with a roll back to the gate for a medical emergency in between).

Using an app to present your boarding pass is a mixed bag. It's great if it works. It's a little unnerving if it doesn't.

Being part of a team has definite benefits. I am generally a lone wolf. I'm not one for group projects or activities. However, when the chips are down (way down; way, way down), it sure is great to be part of a team who has your back ... and to have theirs.

Words matter. Once we utter words, they are out there. They have torn down or lifted up. They have enhanced relationship or broken it. The lyrics to a childhood song keep running through my head: "Oh, be careful little mouth what you say." Great advice for all ages.

Here's to a new month ahead and all that I'll learn in December!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Books

Books, books, books. Love them. I've read 48 so far this year. A month to go in 2014 ... how high will the tally rise? A few books I've really enjoyed lately:

To See the Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner - Turner is an excellent writer. Her characters are always a little quirky, but they're the best part of her books. This was one of my favorites. I could identify with the quirks (and a bit of snarkiness) of the main character. We waited a long time for this release - hope the wait won't be as long next time.

Grey Mountain by John Grisham - I usually read Grisham's books. They're easy to read, although nothing that makes you think too hard and I usually leave disappointed with the ending. I enjoyed this one, though, as I learned much about the mining industry and its impact on Appalachia. Coal mining is in my heritage, so it was a particularly interesting read for me.

The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel - The friends and I who do a Bible study together chose this book to do for the fall. We're closing in on the end (we'll complete it by Christmas). It's a fascinating look at an investigative journalist's exploration to prove whether or not Christ existed and if He was who He said He was. It's interesting to read from the perspective of a believer; I wonder what it would be like to read from the perspective of an unbeliever.

Atlas Girl by Emily Wierenga - I enjoy memoirs, learning about other people's lives and their life experiences. I actually purchased this book for someone else but decided to read it first. I'm glad I did. Emily writes honestly and captivated me from the first few chapters. Her writing is brave and honest, and I so appreciate her honesty.

As the sweatshirt I used to have said, "So many books; so little time."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Grandparents

I grew up knowing one set of grandparents. My maternal grandfather passed away when I was an infant and my maternal grandmother lived a few states away and passed away when I was six. Most of my memories of her come from pictures, I think. I do recall her being with my mother one day when I came out of preschool. I also remember being at her house and walking down to the post office with my older brother to buy candy.

I was privileged, however, to know my paternal grandparents. They lived nearby until they moved a couple of hours away when I was in elementary school. They would come visit and to attend special events. We would see them at the holidays and usually we kids would take time spending a week or long weekend at their house in the summer. We'd meet them halfway at the McDonalds. 

I had the privilege of knowing these grandparents from childhood to adulthood. I was in my 20s when they passed away. I'm so grateful I got to know them as an adult and not just from a child's perspective. Spending time with them and helping them in their last days and years was truly a blessing I will always treasure.

I chuckle to think that now I'm a grandma. Seems like I was just the granddaughter the other day. I hope we can be as much of a blessing to our grandchildren as mine were to me.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Comfort Food

Food may be the last thing most of us want to ponder the day after Thanksgiving, but leftover turkey and mashed potatoes can be considered comfort food, right? Macaroni and cheese is another good one. The other night I made rice pudding with rice we had leftover from a family dinner (the rice that multiplied, as I sent a bowlful home with my mother-in-law and used some as a base for Chinese food and STILL had enough for this rice pudding endeavor).

I've never had rice pudding or had any attraction to it. To be honest, it seemed old-fashioned and favored by the older crowd. My mother-in-law has been having it fairly often lately and suggested I try making some with the leftover rice. So I did. Rice, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, sugar. Some patience and a lot of stirring and voila. Easy peasy.

I looked at my bowl and thought it looked like creamy rice. Not a very attractive aesthetic. First bite, I remained fairly unimpressed. Second bite, a bit more intrigued. To avoid a bite-by-bite overview, I'll skip to the end and let you know I finished all I made. There was something simple and addicting about it. I can't tell what it was ... it may have been the sugar, but I didn't make it too sweet. There was just something that made me keep reaching for the spoon instead of putting it away in the fridge.

I don't envision having a hankering for rice pudding again any time soon, but I think I'll tuck it away and add it to my list of comfort foods. But I think mashed potatoes and mac-n-cheese will continue to vie for first place.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Thanksgiving Flowers

Lilies and sunflowers may not be typical autumn flowers, but they certainly are lovely and brightening up our home this Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Our Dogs

We have two dogs who bring much joy and laughter and companionship to our home. (They also bring a lot of work and some financial drain, but the pros far outweigh the cons.) One of the best things about having two dogs is watching them interact. They have so many characteristics of a human brother/sister relationship, from the teasing, to the agitating, to the taking of toys, to the sticking up for one another, to the snooping, to letting us know that treats and attention must be dealt out evenly, to the cuddling. Often, just like human siblings, they are in their own corner doing their own thing. But occasionally they'll chill together and just be. And photos like this one just make me smile.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Walking About Town

When we moved to this town, one of my few prerequisites was to be able to walk places. We prepped for this move for a couple of years and spent many a Sunday walking and riding our bikes through neighborhoods seeing if we could find something that might be the right fit. Our first choice was to live "in town," but that didn't work out the way we'd hoped. We couldn't find the right property and our search kept bringing us back to this house, which is about two miles out of town.

It still met my ambulatory requirements, though. We don't have sidewalks, but if you time it right and avoid school buses, trash trucks, teenage drivers before and after school, and rush hour drivers, it's safe enough to walk. There's fairly easy access to walking paths and we can walk to the campus of a residential school in just a few minutes and enjoy a change of scenery there.

But what I appreciate about this location is that I can walk to the places I need to walk to, weather and time permitting. Yesterday, it was a lovely day with highs around 70 (compared to multiple inches of snow forecast for tomorrow) and I walked to the dentist, the library and the grocery store. I can also walk to the bank, the coffee shop, the dry cleaners, the family doctor and the eye doctor. Some summer evenings, we walk to a local ice cream shop that's been in business for decades.

It takes a bit of navigating to walk safely to these places, but I'm thankful to be able to do so and not have to always hop in the car to run a simple errand. All of these places are a bit "out of town," so in some ways I think this might be a more convenient location for us than in town. Of course, if we lived in town, it would be a little easier to walk to some of the great restaurants downtown. And then we'd need to walk more often, I have no doubt!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Cute Toes

Cute toes seem like such a silly, vain thing to be thankful for, but I'm just being honest. This afternoon I got my toes painted "What's Your Poinsettia?", a very happy red color. And glancing down at my toes now and catching a glimpse of red makes me happy.

My toes are red in anticipation of Thanksgiving exposure via flip flops. However, the best laid plans may go awry and these cute toes may find themselves encased in heavy socks and snow boots instead.

It's a privilege and a perk and total indulgence, really, to get a pedi, especially at the end of November. I'm grateful we have the resources for this little treat and that something as simple as red nails (and smooth feet) can be a happy little pick-me-up.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Babies in my House

We had our family Thanksgiving today. It was a nice time together. One of the best parts was loving on the babies in the family. Our great-niece, G, isn't so much a baby. At two-and-a-half she would adamantly revoke the reference. She is the oldest of the littles in our family and it's fun to see her grow mentally and physically. She can give you a run for your money, as two-year-olds are prone to do, but she's a lot of fun.

Next comes our granddaughter H, who we of course love to pieces. She is just a joy to us and we can't get enough of her. We love to snuggle and watch her become more aware of and interactive with everything going on around here. What an utter blessing she is.

And then comes G's younger brother, L. At two months, he's bringing up the rear of this generation. He is long and lean and an avid observer of everyone around him. He just quietly snuggles, waits and watches. More than once, I caught him just intently hanging out with his eyes on someone.

It'll be fun to watch them grow and imagine what they'll be like next Thanksgiving. Such different personalities are already evident and it'll be interesting to see how those personalities push and pull toward and against one another as they grow. They're the leaders of the pack for this next generation and I am so thankful to have babies in my house to hug and love.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Pre-Thanksgiving Prep

We were out raking leaves at 7:20 this morning in temps hovering in the low 20s. Raking leaves is good exercise, but at that hour, it was easy to get frustrated with raking leaves that come from the neighbors' trees (we only have one small tree) for the third weekend in a row.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, which means I've spent most of today cleaning, not another favorite activity. I'm tired and my carpal tunnel is flaring leaving me with tingly fingers and wrists that feel weak.

My automatic default is to get frustrated with all there is to do, but instead I'm focusing on being grateful for healthy bodies that can take care of yard work and housework, the mature trees that are so pretty six months out of the year and having a home to clean. I'm also grateful for an extra-wide table with leaves to increase its length and a festive tablecloth to fit.

So many gifts, so many blessings. Stop complaining, girlfriend, even if it is mental complaining.

I'm also grateful that I just sold a bike on Craigslist for full asking price. That's today's bonus.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Everything

... For what do you have that you did not receive?
- I Corinthians 4:7

Blessed by this video today. It's good for a perspective tune-up. What's in your hands?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Living in PA

I've tried a couple of times to get started writing today and am feeling challenged to get the writing engine revving. But they say the more you practice writing, the better you become. (That's not a set-up for an amazing blog post. Promise.) So, as I type with the sun streaming through the window and having enjoyed a walk with the dogs on a balmy-compared-to-19-degrees-earlier-this-week day, I'm going to express my gratitude that I don't live in Buffalo, NY where they are simply being hammered by snow.

Snow is pretty, say, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or over New Year's when ensconced at a mountain cabin for the weekend. I'm sure snow is less pretty when it's three, four, five or six feet high, or when you have to give birth to a child in a fire department because you can't make it to the hospital, or when your French doors cave in due to the pressure of the snow and you have to barricade them with your treadmill, or when you open the front door and all you see is snow. (I have no idea what you do in such a situation. Hopefully there's another way out.)

I cannot imagine. I think it would be interesting to experience such a phenomenon, but it no doubt grows old quickly and is dangerous for many.

When the weather turns wintry, I'm not a fan of living north of the Mason-Dixon line. I hope someday to enjoy an extended break in a warmer climate during the winter. But for today? I'd say I'm pretty content to be living right here in Pennsylvania and not in Buffalo.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Health

I was filing some bills today and couldn't, once again, get the file door shut without a bit of extra pushing and annoyance. Two crowded files in the back were overflowing and have been daring me for months to clean them out so the drawer would shut more easily. And so, in my typical this-is-not-on-today's-to-do-list-but-hey-I'm-distracted-by-it manner, I decided then and there to clean out the files.

Those files contained our health information. Most of what was in it was EOBs and receipts for prescriptions. Some of it was valuable, like results of bloodwork, lab tests and physicals, as well as the physical therapy exercises I promptly filed away after completed my regimen at the physical therapist's office and only occasionally think about pulling out and reaping the benefits of doing those exercises again.

As I sorted through the files and shredded most of it, I was thankful (again) for our health. For the most part, we've had only minor health issues and even the ones that didn't seem so minor to us truly are minor in the grand scheme of things. I am grateful for mobile, healthy bodies. I know health can change in a moment - sometimes the decline is chronic and due to the way we do or don't take care of ourselves, and other times something big pops up out of nowhere and seemingly wrecks our world.

I've been trying to make decisions that help us to eat better and we try to stay active and exercise (dogs demanding walks help with that). I was doing a PiYo video the other day and realized this old girl isn't the same girl (except in her mind) who can do everything she used to do, at least not without more effort and more pain. It was a good reminder to keep taking care of our health and maintain what we have so we can keep enjoying life ... especially life as grandparents!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Working from Home/Self-Employment

As business majors in college, a friend and I used to joke about how we would conquer the business world, jet around the country to business meetings and employ nannies to help with the children. I think even then we knew neither one of us really had the aspiration or stamina for that kind of life. But when you're in college, you can dream those kind of crazy dreams.

After college, I went to work for a non-profit (great start to conquering the business world, right?) I worked my way up the short ladder, was running the marketing and development departments and then one day my job was yanked out from under me. I'd been unhappy there for some time so while the method of terminating my time there was unexpected, I instinctively knew right away that it was a blessing.

After gathering myself together, I started freelancing while periodically submitting job applications if anything interesting crossed my path. My attempts at applications were halfhearted; I was afraid to return to a workplace as unhealthy as the one I'd left. And so I kept freelancing and here I am, 17 years later, still working for myself, generally by myself, from home.
Some people can't imagine working from home, saying they'd miss the social stimulation of the workplace. It's a similar argument to the one that purports home-schooled children aren't socialized enough. (I have no skin in that game, so no commentary on homeschooling. And as an aside, why is "home-schooled" hyphenated and "homeschooling" is not, Mr. SpellCheck?) In the early days, I missed the camaraderie of the office setting, but then I got married and the house was humming with three children before and after school, and while parenting is not the same thing as workplace interaction (although there certainly ARE similarities ... supervision responsibilities and challenging attitudes, anyone?), combined with lunches out, volunteer work and conversations with clients, I achieved plenty of social stimulation. As time and technology moved forward and birdies flew the nest, I had less and less face-to-face interaction during the day. And to be honest, I don't mind being by myself all.day.long. I'm a homebody and it's easy for me to stay home with my pups most days and not seek a lot of social activity.

But semi-solitude isn't the only reason I'm thankful to work from home. I love the flexible schedule that allows me time to volunteer and keep our household running. I have appreciated being able to help with occasional childcare (have computer, will travel) for others, Taking a friend to doctors' appointments or sitting by their bedside or helping to clean a house. All of this would be so much more challenging if I didn't work from home or really, to be more specific, if I wasn't self-employed. (Perhaps I should amend the title of this post.) I'm glad I have the work environment that I do. No supervising employees, no endless meetings (I can pick and choose and most of my "meetings" happen via email these days), no hassles from management, no exhaustion from inefficiencies or crises, and you can't beat my commute.

Long gone is the girl dreaming of a company jet, corner office and nanny. I'm glad there are those girls. I'm also glad I'm not one of them.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Miscellany

It's a dreary, pre-winter-feels-like-winter day outside. The rain has been consistently falling. And it's Monday. Usually days like this find me a bit stuck, unmotivated, distracted. I wouldn't say I'm having a fantastic, enthusiastic type of day, but I am having a quiet, productive kind of day, checking things off my to-do list and finding myself thankful for a variety of things. Thus, today's miscellany:

  • Finding a hotel room for an event in a few weeks when practically everything is booked.
  • AAA discount for that hotel room.
  • Inventorying the freezer and realizing how much food we have.
  • The freezer, which is probably as old as I am and was a no-cost, gracious hand-me-down that has proven so helpful.
  • Anticipating a delivery of local beef from a farm a few miles up the road from a farmer family with whom we attend church.
  • Discovering homemade (not by me) egg rolls hiding in the freezer - delicious for lunch.
  • Leaf collectors who come even on the cold, rainy days to clear raked leaves waiting by the curb.
  • Laundry that's almost complete.
  • Dogs who have been content to stay inside, but are soon going to be antsy to get outside.
  • Getting to hug our sweet granddaughter tonight.

That's enough to keep a girl going on a rainy Monday.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Resolving to Spend Time With Friends

Two years ago, I made two resolutions. I'm not in the habit of making resolutions since I'm rarely successful at keeping them. But that year, I kept both of them, with some help from my "village."

We resolved to get together once a month with friends of 20+ years, the friends that introduced us. If we didn't get something on the calendar, history had proven that life would get too busy or too involved or too [insert excuse here] and we'd rarely spend time together.

We recently made a list of everything we've done these last two years and it's been great to see the variety of activities and events, everything from roller derby to the ballet to a wolf sanctuary. Some months we simply went out to dinner or hung by the pool, but spending time together doesn't have to be expensive or exotic, it's the together that matters. November's activity is attending a fundraiser for the food bank. This is the first fundraiser on our list, but I'm pretty sure it won't be our last.

Here's to creating more great memories on this crazy life adventure!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Learning New Words

I am a self-proclaimed word nerd. I love playing Words with Friends, Scrabble and any other game with words at the center. I have been kindly mocked for looking up a word in the dictionary and getting distracted by other words that catch my eye. See? Word nerd.

I love learning new words. Most of them I'll probably not have occasion to use, but when I come across them in a book or other publication, I'll be glad to at least recognize them.

I was on Grammar Girl's site recently (looking to see if she had a post on "your" versus "you're" because improper usage seems to be running rampant all around me) and came across two new words.

  • Neologisms: words that are made up or assigned a new meaning. The examples she gave were "blogosphere" and "McMansions." Be careful when you create or laugh at a neologism - that's one of the ways new words are added to the dictionary.
  • Recondite: difficult to penetrate, incomprehensible to one of ordinary understanding or knowledge. I like this one quite a bit. It seems like a useful word to tuck away in my back pocket.

Neologisms can be viewed as recondite by the masses. 

Go forth and use a new word today!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Online Shopping

Some people love to shop. I am not one of them. That includes grocery shopping, but that's a necessity and not really the point of this particular post. I'm talking about having a list of things you want/need/should pick up, visit several different stores to see if they have what you want/need/should pick up and leave virtually empty-handed, provided you have successfully avoided the maze of the perfectly appointed displays of all the other things you don't need or really want that take up space and eventually end up in the donation bag.

For me, it's much easier and substantially more efficient to Google what I want or just go directly to Amazon. A few clicks and done. I know there are downsides to online shopping and those giant commercial online retailers, but if I can get the same thing for a decent price and not pay shipping, I feel much more satisfied and far less frustrated about my shopping experience.

Wish me luck as things ramp up for Christmas.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - How to Cut an Onion

The good news is that I survived the knife skills class without injury! There was one close call, but I made it through unscathed. There was only one minor injury at our table and bandages were close at hand.

As expected, I learned that I don't have much proper knife wielding technique, but now I have some tips that will be helpful in my future culinary adventures. The best part of the class, and the focus of this gratitude post, was learning how to dice an onion without a chopper tool or the handy dandy Grundig hand blender my mother got for me (truly an amazing tool).

I tend to get frustrated when dicing an onion by hand - the onion falls apart, the pieces slip across the cutting board, nothing resembling diced pieces result. But now? Now I know how to do it. I thought about doing a step-by-step tutorial of sorts, but then, in a continuing attempt to avoid injury (and embarrassment at my lack of photography skills), I thought it better to share this video.

The only difference in her technique and what we learned last night is to put the tip of the knife into the onion to puncture it each time to start each of the initial slices. I only add that because it seemed to work well in class. Happy dicing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Being Out-Whatevered

Do you like how I make up my own words? Just play along with me and go with the premise that "whatevered" is an actual word found in dictionaries. 

Yesterday the dogs and I headed out for our daily walk. Like most days, I pretty much looked a fright: yoga paints, sweatshirt, hair pulled back to expose the gray undercurrents that need some attention. Yes, I pretty much look like a vagabond most days when I walk and usually I don't give it another thought. Yesterday, I realized what how I looked, shrugged my shoulders and laced up the sneaks. (One of the most fabulous things about dogs is that they do not care what you look like. At all.Their love and loyalty is not based on visual cues, thankfully. )

So we headed out and had to stop at the park to make a deposit on Shelby's behalf. At the playground, some preschoolers wanted to pet Shelby and so while the delightfully precocious girl was telling me that Shelby "wasn't large, wasn't small, she's medium" and asking if she was a "helper dog," I made small talk with a very put-together mom. Matching clothes, sassy vest, hair and make-up done but not overdone. I thought to myself that it figures today of all days, looking like I did, I'd have the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction with someone.

Yesterday, I felt outclassed.
Today while walking the dogs (notice the theme here), we reached an intersection at the same time as an older lady. She was wearing a visor and running shorts, and I'd guess she was in her 70s. After she admired the dogs and received a fierce growl from Cooper, we all started up the hill - she on one side of the road, us on the other. And she started to jog. We kept a pretty even pace - her running and me walking with two rambunctious pups in tow - but then she took the lead.

Today I was outpaced.

Tonight, I'm going to a knife class with a friend. We're going to hone our knife skills. Well, she'll be honing her skills; I'll be trying to avoid injury.

Tonight, I'm sure I will be out-skilled.

While I hate to be out-whatevered due to my pride, competitiveness, a drive to over-achieve, those opportunities give me time to realize and hopefully improve things I don't really like about myself.

In the park, I jumped to all sorts of conclusions about the perfect life that mother must have had, but I don't have a clue. Maybe she was dressed and on her way home from a doctor's appointment or a job interview because her husband's unemployed; maybe she's been wearing sweats for a month and took the time to dress nicely; maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe I don't know anything about her (except her children are adorable) and I should stop making quick judgments based on appearances.

Today, I felt wildly out of shape when my brisk walk didn't keep pace with the slow jog of a woman who's a generation ahead of me. For a while, I felt frustrated, like I lost a contest that only existed in my mind. Pushing aside feelings of inadequacy and making excuses for my slower pace, I thought, "I should only hope I'm that active at her age." (Don't get me wrong, I have never been a runner and seriously doubt it will seem like a fabulous idea 30 years from now.)

Tonight, well, I'm not sure what I'm going to experience, but I can guarantee you that I will be low on the skill totem pole. So I'm going to try to take my mind off competitive mode and just enjoy the time with my friend and the experience of learning from the experts. Oh, and avoid injury. That is my first and foremost goal. And if I'm successful, I will be grateful for that, too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, so it seems only fitting to remember with gratitude the service of generations of men and women who have given their service and sometimes their lives for independence and freedom, those who serve and protect. And  I'm thankful for veterans' families who often make tremendous sacrifices of their own.

And I think I'm going to leave it at. Everything else I try to write seems to provoke inner mental arguments about war and peace and all that goes along with the topic. Since it's my mind, I guess I would win the arguments either way, but frankly I'm a little tired for that. So I'll just express my gratitude here and in person when I next see someone in uniform.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Late Blooms

With snow in the foreseeable forecast, I'm delighted to see a few final blooms on our knockout roses. They are persevering ... a bit of summer color fighting to survive despite dropping temperatures and competition from the beautiful palette of autumn.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Food Mills and Warming Drawers

Food mills and warming drawers may sound like funny things to be thankful for, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about today and since we're making dinner, both these things came to mind as things that I appreciate for making life in the kitchen a little easier.

I got my food mill last year when my sister-in-law's grandmother moved to a retirement home and was cleaning out her home. I'm not sure how old the food mill is, but it's been through a generation or two in the kitchen. And so it continues. Last year, I tried making applesauce and tomato sauce with it. The tomato sauce was not a success; in fact, I've given up trying to make sauce after several years of trying. It's not the food mill's fault; it's just not a good fit for my skills (or patience). But the applesauce turned out great last year and this year it was even better. It's a time-consuming endeavor, but I enjoy being able to buy local apples and make our own sauce to enjoy throughout the year.

On to the warming drawer ... When we renovated our kitchen, the designer suggested two ovens. I don't cook for large groups very often and really didn't think that was a practical choice for me. But a warming drawer? SCORE. It's perfect for keeping extra dishes or leftovers warm, leaving plenty of oven space for the main dish. It's also great to reheat leftovers during the summer months without turning on the oven and heating the house unnecessarily or using the microwave for a quick hit. I get a lot of use out of the warming drawer and it's one of my favorite things in the kitchen.

The food mill has been in use for decades; the warming drawer less than one. The old and the new are a winning combination for this cook.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Things That Keep Me Warm

Tonight, I'm grateful for a fire in the fireplace, a blanket on my lap, steaming tea in a mug, and a puppy curled up next to me. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, a furnace that works (at it's age, you never know from year to year). The temperatures have headed south and while it's certainly not a polar vortex-induced climate, the chill seems to have settled into my bones.

Keeping it short and sweet tonight. But thankful. Always thankful.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Soup

I love soup. It fills you up and warms you up. I could use some soup on this blustery day as I watch the leaves whirling outside my office window. I'm grateful B considers soup an acceptable meal (unlike bagels and cereal from my single days). Add some rolls or corn bread, maybe a salad or some fruit and bam! Dinner's done.

I don't think I gave soup much thought before I got married. Tomato soup was OK and chicken noodle if I was sick. But I think my affinity for soup started not long after I was married. I pulled out emailed recipes from Pam the other day ... an email dated November 7, 2014, so I'd been married less than a month. I'd requested her recipes for chicken corn soup (something I'd never heard of before I moved north of the Mason Dixon Line) and beef vegetable. I made the beef vegetable last weekend and realized how labor intensive soup making can be.

Soup making is definitely better with a friend. You can chat while the meat cooks or the vegetable simmer. One can chop while the other shreds the meat. You have a fellow taste taster to figure out what needs missing for just the right taste. And it's easier to make more than one kind of soup simultaneously so you both have leftovers to freeze for another day.

Pam and I had "soup days" for a number of years. We tried some different kinds, including New England Clam Chowder and Buffalo Chicken Wing Soup, but we usually always included or came back to the chicken corn and beef vegetable. Stick with what you know, right? For nearly 20 years, I've enjoyed making gumbo with the friends who introduced me to Brian. I have some broth leftover from our last gumbo adventure and am looking forward to adding some shrimp and chicken and savoring not only its deliciousness but the memories of good times with good friends.

Soup is a staple in our home over the colder months and I'm looking forward to making and enjoying different kinds all season long.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - The Food Bank

I'm running behind schedule today, so this is going to be shorter than it deserves to be. One of the best parts of my day/week/month is volunteering. I've volunteered for nearly two decades with agencies helping those in need. For the last five years, I've been a regular volunteer with our community's food bank.

While there is much discussion and debate about real and presumed abuse of various forms of social assistance, the need is real for the large majority of families who come through the food bank's doors. Most of the clients are extremely grateful for the assistance they receive. As a volunteer, I am blessed to offer a bit of help to those who live in our community, a community that has a reputation as being well-off and entitled. There is certainly a facet that fits that classification, but there is also a component of true need and many are unaware. Over the years as a volunteer, I've learned that need exists no matter where you live.

This morning, our food bank was exceptionally busy. With nearly double the number of clients coming through the doors, lines were backed up and volunteers were flat worn out. It was a crazy, non-stop morning and required the efforts of many volunteers - from parking lot attendants, registrar, shoppers, freezer and produce distributors, food weighers, car loaders and the behind-the-scenes re-stockers - to pull it off.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to volunteer and I'm grateful that this food bank, like thousands across the country, exists to serve those in need.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Hardworking Husband

I don't have enough words to express how grateful I am for a husband who works hard. He works hard at his job - running a company, dealing with customers and staff, making decisions that affect lives every day. He does not let his job control his life, but he is fully invested in the responsibilities he has been given.

He works hard at home, too. While we're a team around this joint, he handles the stuff that is beyond my physical capability or desire (such as climbing on the roof to access the gutters), makes sure our cars are in good working order, mows the grass even when he'd rather be watching college football, and checks out things that go bump (or scurry scurry) in the night (although thankfully, that's a rare occasion). I recently wanted to clean the vacuum and couldn't figure out how to get it apart, despite successful past endeavors with other machines. I'm sure the last thing he wanted to be doing at 9 p.m. was helping me dismantle a machine that, according to online reviewers, wasn't designed to be taken apart. When finished, he looked at me and said, "We're not doing that again."

He works hard as facility manager at church, too. With an aging building, there's always something that needs to be repaired and a limited budget requires creative solutions. He's a good leader and what he can't do, he's able to enlist others to help.

He works hard on behalf of his family - and not just in a roof-over-our-heads sense. He and his sister take turns attending doctors' appointments with his parents. He offers advice and insight to our young adult children. He has always been a steady rock in their lives, really all our lives. He is a patient uncle.

He doesn't take a lot of time for himself, but I'm glad when he has the chance to enjoy a bit of downtime, putting miles on the Mustang or getting a Hannah hug. I'm thankful for his work ethic and that he gives his best no matter what he's tasked to do. He's a great example to all of us.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Spray Paint

What? Spray paint is worthy of an attitude of gratitude post? Well, yes, yes, it is. Especially given my aforementioned lack of craftiness. Spray paint is my friend.

It's a beautiful day here and unless you love the long, cold winter around these parts (and you know who you are), it's important to take full advantage of temps in the high 60s since you may not see them again for five or six months. So today was the perfect day to finish a little project that's been lingering for a couple of months: spray painting the stools and chair I got when I did a little "trash pickin'" on a walk this summer.

For the cost of some sand paper, a couple of cans of spray paint and elbow grease (plus a few ibuprofen to stave off carpal tunnel tingling), those stools can now take their place by the pool table downstairs and the chair can used to rock visiting babies to sleep.

Spray paint makes small paint jobs - especially those involving spindles - easier. I've spray painted lamps (good-bye brown, hello crisp black), a changing table for church (magically transformed in less than an hour and who would have thought black for a changing table would be the right choice, but it is), light plates, metal wall hangings (brown had to go to make way for silver) and more. If you don't like the color, it's easy enough to paint over without a big investment (says she who made two trips to Lowe's today to buy the better color).

I feel empowered (I know) when I spray paint. It must release that inner craftiness that lays latent in my subconscious. I finished the stools this afternoon and thought, "What else can I (spray) paint?" Christmas ornaments using the silver paint came to mind, but I'll restrain myself since 1) it's 60-some degrees outside which is not Christmas weather and 2) I'm not going to go crazy and be prepared for Christmas before giving Thanksgiving its due.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude - Ping Pong

For the first four-plus decades of my life, I probably played ping pong a handful of times. So when we renovated the basement and got a ping pong table top for our pool table, I really didn't anticipate playing very often. I thought it would be used by the next generations visiting our home.

And then.

We started to play. The first few times, I was fairly inept and more than a little concerned about my seeming lack of eye/hand coordination. But we've played a few times a week over the last month and I have earned a laudable progress report. Practice really does seem to pay off. I'm still more than a little inept and not likely to turn pro anytime soon (or ever)), but I've become more competitive and actually won (barely) two games over the weekend.

Ping pong give us a chance to unwind together at the end of the day and keeps us active since dark evenings are upon us earlier and after-dinner walks aren't as feasible. But what I like best is how much we laugh during these games - at poor shots, lucky shots, facial expressions and verbal reactions. Not only can we pound out stress on that little plastic ball, drive Shelby crazy by playing a ball game she can't be part of (she paces around the table counterclockwise and howls), and get a little exercise, we laugh together and we laugh a lot.

And so that ping pong/pool table we invested in? Already paying more dividends than I ever imagined. I'm looking forward to continued good times and laughter around that table in the days to come.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Arts and Crafts

Anyone who's known me for more than a week knows that craftiness is not part of my giftedness or skill set. I am a cake-decorating school dropout - true, it was an adult ed class at the high school but I knew during the first session that I was setting myself up for pain and decided to forfeit the class fee and avoid torturing myself. I see lovely pictures of crafts and flower arrangements in magazines and think, "I can do this!" even while muttering to myself, "Why frustrate yourself? Why? Why? Why do you insist on thinking you can do this? Give.it.up."

I have helped in arts and crafts during Vacation Bible School and am usually put to shame by the preschoolers and early elementary students who fully understand and complete the simple projects before them. Me? I best serve if I can write their names on their projects.

I can think of two craft projects that turned out well. I took a wreath-making class (again, adult-ed style) and the finished product was actually presentable because I followed the instructor's example step-by-step and didn't deviate with any of my own so-called creative flourishes. And I once took a basket weaving class with my mother and finished weaving my basket (as opposed to my more talented seamstress mother who gave up on her basket. I found her partially woven basket stashed away when helping her move years later,).

Despite my historic and chronic failures in this area of life, last week I was grateful for arts and crafts. I was spending time with my nephews after school. One escaped to his room to finish reading his book and the other hung out with me, telling me about his day, sharing his grades, trying on his Halloween costume. So very grateful for this time spent together. He is 11 and I fear these times are fleeting but I hope they are laying a good foundation for the future.

Our conversation ran its course and I suggested we play a game. Agreeable, he headed to the game closet and said "Want to make something instead?" Gamely pulling on my Good Aunt Hat, I said, "Sure" even as I was pushing down my defeatist self-talk about how inept I am at anything remotely crafty. This is the same nephew who has a mind like an engineer and at age 5 or 6, when I couldn't help him figure out his Lego project and suggested he wait for his uncle to arrive, gamely said, "I'll figure it out myself." And so he did.

So last week, he brought out the fusion beads and encouraged me as he pointed out the simple designs in the catalog that I could make, counting the beads and following the example there. He helped me search through the hundreds of beads to find the colors I needed, even as he created his own design using the creativity of his mind without painstakingly following an example like I was.

And at that kitchen table, I marveled at the gift of arts and crafts. Yes, I successfully completed two small fusion bead projects, but the real gift arts and crafts gave me that afternoon was the time we were spending together. Aunt and nephew, hanging out, talking about "stuff." I'm pretty sure we'll stop spending time together over arts and crafts in the years to come. The venue is likely to shift to diners, pizza places or college coffee shops, but that afternoon, I was actually happy to be doing arts and crafts, to just be with my nephew, to witness his creativity, to see him be an encourager and a helper.

Bring on the arts and crafts.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude: Hospice

Hospice has been on my mind lately. Today is the day that Brittany Maynard set as the day she would end her life, not desiring to endure the anticipated end-of-life suffering her terminal brain cancer would bring. I saw an interview this week that she may want more time, even as the symptoms of the disease increasingly ravage her body. 

As I watched the video she made in support of her choice, read related articles and listened to various professionals debate both sides of the issue of physician-assisted suicide or a patient's right-to-die or death with dignity (choose your term), my mind went back to a very different death experience and the beautiful gift of hospice.

Residential hospice is where Pam spent the last few days of her life. She was tenderly and compassionately cared for by physicians, nurses and others who also lovingly supported those of us keeping vigil. That became a place of gathering, of laughter, of tears, of camaraderie. It brought together family and friends from every aspect of her life. Many of us had nothing in common except our love for her and in those last few days, that love bound us together as we sat by her bedside and spent those last fleeting moments with the woman who had touched each of us in ways only she could.

Over that weekend, we pretty much took over the kitchen/common area as we shared snacks and stories and memories. I was concerned that other families and guests might feel overwhelmed or bothered by our presence. But I think instead it may have been a gift to them, the gift of seeing us celebrate the life of the one we loved, to find joy in the midst of pain, to find support from those we knew well or barely knew.

Hospice was a gift to Pam and a gift to the ones she loved. We knew she was well cared for and kept as comfortable as possible, even as we knew we could do little for her except be by her side. And the ability to be by her side, to serve her in whatever small ways we could, was a lovely gift in the midst of significant pain. 

Hospice was a safe place for her and for us, and I will be forever grateful to the men and women who serve as hospice workers and volunteers.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Attitude of Gratitude

As soon as I hung up the phone, I reached for the courtesy tablet provided by the hotel and started making my list. March 18, 2011. I was in Mexico, she was in Pennsylvania. She'd been for an ultrasound that morning to check her gall bladder. What they found floored us all: they thought the cancer was back and in her liver.

My list wasn't a list of people to call, things to do, how to figure out how to get home early. It was a list of gratitude. I instinctively knew that if I was going to make it through this leg of the journey, I was going to have to focus on gratitude, on finding something to be thankful for every step of the way.

I had gotten Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts as soon as it was published, but it had been sitting on my shelf for a few months. Ann writes like a poet and poetry with its often flowery wording isn't a favorite of mine. I wanted to read her book, though, and learn more about her answer to the question: "How do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark? What is God providing here and now?"

Even without reading the book, I knew I wanted, needed to start retraining my mind toward thanksgiving and the practice of enumerating the gifts of each day because there were undoubtedly going to be very hard days ahead. And so my list of 1,000 gifts began in a hotel room by the ocean 3,000 miles away from where I wanted to be.

Gift 1: God writes the story. 

I didn't like the suspected plot twist that has just been revealed, but I know who writes the story. I wasn't looking forward to the story we were called to live over the next 60 days, but we found joy and thanksgiving and confidence even in the midst of great suffering and sorrow. Over those last two months of her life, I recorded more than 200 gifts. After she was gone, I breathed deeply, soldiered on and filled that journal to the very last line with 1,217 gifts.

Gift 1,217: Planting roses, rhododendron and peonies to add color to our yard. 

I wrote that gift 369 days into my life without my friend by my side. It was my birthday. On that day, we had a child in trouble and were trying to redirect our hearts toward grace and gratitude instead of courtrooms and jail. Thankfully, thankfully, we were also anticipating the upcoming nuptials of another child. There was much to be grateful for in the midst of dueling pain and joy.

Since then, I've run hot and cold with continuing my list, but when I am intentional about being thankful - whether I've written down the gift or merely whisper a prayer of thanks while walking the dogs, whether it's on a beautiful day or one filled with challenges - I am more content, happier and better able to love and serve the people in my life.

Every day last November, I posted something for which I was grateful on Facebook. This year, I want to go a bit deeper and explore my gratitude further. I'm going to try to write a little something here every day - it may not be very long or deep, or maybe it will be. It may be serious or silly. My hope is that the daily discipline of writing my gratitude will reinvigorate my desire to give thanks in everything.

Postscript: When I returned from Mexico, I read One Thousand Gifts and have kept it propped on my bookshelf where it serves as a daily reminder to have a grateful heart. I don't know that I'll ever reread it, but it is a book that has changed my life. I haven't written in my second gifts journal since January of this year when I was sick and feeling pretty miserable. I'm almost at 1,900 gifts and counting. Always counting.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Just Like Them - An Anniversary Post

They were holding hands as they walked along the retirement community sidewalk that was scattered with leaves. Taking their time, no rush to their steps. Getting their daily exercise, headed to visit a neighbor, returning home from lunch ... it doesn't matter where they were headed, their steps were in sync.
"Excuse me, sir. Would you be able to give us some advice about apples? We want apples that are good for both eating and cooking." Bent a bit by age, they were in the farm market on a grey autumn day, seeking the expertise of the market manager and learning something new together in their sunset years.
They had just walked their tandem bike across the busy state road and were ready to mount it to start the next leg of their journey on the rail-trail. She was bundled in her winter coat, ears covered by bright earmuffs, grey hair peeking out from her knit hat. He wore a cap to protect his head from the brisk air and was assuming the lead position on the bike. They rode in tandem ... a rhythm perhaps forged from decades of life together.


My hope and prayer for us is that we get to be just like them. That we grow old together, cherishing the simple things, like holding hands while we take a walk; learning new things together; and riding our bikes together - provided I still have enough balance - with you in the lead, guiding the way.

Today marks 14 years since we said, "I do," and I'll continue to say it every day we have together. In our marriage, we've celebrated milestones, mourned losses, and laughed our way through and beyond things that otherwise would have chipped away at our love and relationship. I'm ever thankful for the steady anchor you are and the joy you bring to my heart.

No one knows the number of their days, so I'm going to count each one we have together as a blessing. And I'm going to hope we get to be ... just like them.

Friday, August 15, 2014

About Alice

I just returned from the funeral service of a woman I'd only met a handful of times. She was a dear friend's mother-in-law and passed away two months shy of her 95th birthday. As I was thinking about her and the family this week, I realized that when she was my age, she hadn't yet lived half of her life.

I didn't know Alice very well; I'm sure she wouldn't have known who I was if our paths had crossed other than at her son and daughter-in-law's home, where we would have been reintroduced. I attended today's service in support of my friends, but came away blessed by the testimony of Alice's life.

She was born in Plymouth, PA, and raised in Wilkes-Barre in a coal-mining family. She was only eight years younger than my grandfather who, along with many in his family, were also coal miners in that region. She, like my grandfather and many of their generation, left that area for different opportunities. She moved to Harrisburg and began a job in state government. She met her husband through her roommate, and when he was drafted in WWII, she took the train to Mississippi to marry him before he was deployed. And then, like many other young women, she worked while she waited for the next snail-mail letter from her soldier, which took up to a month to arrive.

When her husband returned, she stopped working and stayed home to raise their two children. She and her husband bought a piece of land and built the house where they would live the rest of their lives. They were founding members of the church where her service was held today. They celebrated 50 years of marriage and enjoyed 18 years of retirement together. Alice outlived her beloved by two decades.

When it came time for attendees to share their memories of Alice, there was an awkward pause. I thought to myself, as I had several times over the week, that when you live 95 years, you've likely outlived most of your friends who have shared your life's journey. But then ...

The pastor read from a letter from her nephew in North Carolina, who I'm guessing to be in his 80s. He recalled how Alice lived Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. He said Alice gave those around her much think about as she embodied each of those characteristics. He remembered decades earlier when Alice had made his new bride feel welcome and comfortable when she arrived in Pennsylvania from the South.

My friend's mom said how when she met Alice, she and her husband went to shake hands, and Alice said, "Oh, no. We're huggers." The music minister was a bit emotional as he shared how he missed Alice's kind words of greeting each Sunday from her usual pew. Another woman from church shared how Alice encouraged her in the early years of her marriage, when she was feeling insecure about her role as a wife.

I love stories, and as I sat in the memorial service for a woman I barely new, surrounded primarily by friends of her children gathered in support, I thought about stories. Each of us has a story. Each of our stories matters. If we look closely enough, we can find parallels between our own stories and those of others. The little things we say can make a significant difference and may be remembered decades after we've forgotten the words. Hard work is important - whether on the job, at home, in the community or at church. Sometimes - most of the time - you have to go the extra mile for the ones you love. Perseverance and endurance matter, whether we're building a marriage, a home or a church.

I came away today encouraged by the example of a life well-lived over more than nine decades. I rejoice that Alice is where she has longed to be, and I am grateful to be inspired by her legacy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

More Books ...

This week is the library's annual book sale. I've only been once. How could I not go? It supports a great cause (the local library), and I had a book due and one waiting on reserve. I've been striving to be more self-controlled in my book purchases after clearing off the bookshelves of tomes bought and never read, many of them from previous library book sales.

So because I needed to be at the library on Monday, I thought it too much to ask myself to avoid going to the book sale (conveniently located on the first floor of the library). In an attempt to moderate my purchases, I rode my bike (knowing whatever I purchased I had to carry home) and told myself I would spend no more than $10.

So how did I do? I bought five books and spent $12, but two of them I found as I was walking down a back hallway on my way out. And one of those two is a collection of teachings by Mother Teresa. Really, who couldn't use a word from Mother Teresa?

Here's my stash:

Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott - Anne (as if we're personal friends) is a writer's writer. Her book Bird by Bird has survived numerous book purges, although I haven't read it yet. This short book focuses on three prayers that she finds essential. I've read some of Anne before and while I don't think our faith perspectives always mesh, I'm interested to see what she's gleaned from focusing on these three prayers.

No Greater Love by Mother Teresa - I enjoy reading essay collections and as mentioned above, I think there is much to be learned from Mother Teresa's life and example. This book covers prayer, love, giving, being holy, work and service, Jesus, poverty and the poor, forgiveness, children and the family, and suffering and death. It also includes information about the Missionaries of Charity, a conversation with Mother Teresa, and a biographical sketch of her.

The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton - This is the wild card of my book sale purchases. It runs the highest risk of meeting the same demise as other chancy book sale picks: languishing unread for years on the bookshelf or going back to the library for next year's sale. I should purpose to read it first to make sure it gets read. Doesn't this excerpt from the back cover sound enticing?
"It follows an American librarian who travels to Africa to give meaning to her life, and ultimately loses a piece of her heart."
True Colors by Kristin Hannah - I've read and enjoyed several of Hannah's other books but wasn't familiar with this one. I was happy to stumble across it. It was voted "a book club best bet choice" by Coastal Living Magazine. It appears to have been submerged in the waves along some coast in its former life, but I'm good with that.

Lowcountry Summer by Dorothea Benton Frank - This is a new author for me, but I'm a sucker for novels set in the South. I've read good things about Benton Frank's (clearly not on a first name basis) work, so I thought it was worth a try for a $2.50 donation to the library.

A few others that are in my current line-up are Who is this Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus by John Ortberg; One Light Still Shines, My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting by Marie Monville; and Atlas Girl, Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look by Emily T. Wierenga.

What are you reading this summer? Anything I need to add to my list?

It's a good thing we have a picnic to go to this evening. It will keep me from running back to the library sale, where books are now three for the price of one! Restraint, my dear self, restraint.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gumbo Girls' Book Club: Bittersweet

I've never been part of a book club before, which seems surprising given my love of books and penchant for reading most anything and everything in sight.(I do sometimes skip the fine print, but pretty much read anything else with words.) It's not surprising, though, given that I'm not prone to filling my calendar with social gatherings. L, a book club veteran, told me that book clubs aren't about the books, they're about the food. N is currently the member of a book club and she shares the club's current book picks with me in case anything seems interesting. She recently hosted book club and I asked how it went. She said they really didn't talk about the books, but chatted about a variety of other topics. She actually wanted to talk about the books, and thus was birthed the Gumbo Girls' Book Club.

Natalie and I have a nearly 20-year tradition of making gumbo together and so the name was an easy decision. (I just made it up and she went with it.) This book club works for me because I like hanging out with N to begin with (social gathering - check), she is the quintessential hostess who always has yummy snacks (good food - check), and we often enjoy the same books (books, the supposed point of a book club - check). We don't see each other nearly often enough, so perhaps GGBC will give us added incentive to get together or perhaps just additional fodder for when we do.

That was a rather lengthy introduction to my synopsis (I'd hesitate to call it a review) of our first pick (hijacked from her real book club list): Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Wittemore. GGBC hasn't met yet, but I needed to return the book to the library and wanted to jot down a few thoughts while they were still relatively fresh in my mind. So, if the other member of GGBC is reading this in the midst of a blog-reading binge, let this serve as a bit of a spoiler alert.

The book's description sounded like a good summer read full of intrigue and drama:
On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful, wild, blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it’s the kind of place where children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with midnight skinny-dipping, the wet dog smell that lingers near the yachts, and the moneyed laughter that carries across the still lake while fireworks burst overhead. Before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted:  friendship, a boyfriend, access to wealth, and, most of all, for the first time in her life, the sense that she belongs.
But as Mabel becomes an insider, a terrible discovery leads to shocking violence and reveals what the Winslows may have done to keep their power intact - and what they might do to anyone who threatens them. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and make Ev's world her own.

The story started out strong and grabbed my interest, but it quickly began a steady descent into moral depravity. It reminded of the verses in Proverbs where Solomon lists six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension. Bittersweet had all seven (and many more) in spades. The seeming lack of conscience, or even a remote sense of right and wrong, was disturbingly pervasive in almost all of the lives of the Winslow family and even in Mabel's. With each consecutive chapter, the characters engaged in exceedingly appalling behavior and exhibited zero compunction about any of it.

Beverly-Wittemore is a strong and interesting writer. She uses strong vocabulary and deftly pulls the reader into the story. I think she missed the mark by focusing on the degenerate behavior of the Winslow family instead of structuring more of the story around the secret regarding the source of the family's wealth. That would have better showcased the author's clear talents and made for a more intriguing story. Mabel's back story also deserved more development, instead of the sporadic mentions and brief explanation it received.

I don't always expect - or want - a nice, tidy ending to a book, where everything is wrapped up with a pretty bow. In this book, I didn't get a tidy ending, but I got a disturbing one. I was disappointed with Mabel's choices and the family's somewhat lethargic attempt at penance.

A unsatisfying first pick for GGBC, but here's to a better selection next time.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bits and Pieces

"Aunt Beth, do you have marshmallows? Because if you don't, we can go to the grocery store and get some."  - A voicemail from my 11-year-old nephew. The start of a very fun weekend at the cabin with both nephews - shooting pool, tubing and, of course, s'mores.


"You should have a circus act." - Our octogenarian neighbor as the dogs and I were walking by this morning. I asked if it was because we were that bad (and it had actually been an uneventful walk - no picking up of squirrel carcasses (Shelby), lunging like a lunatic at other dogs (Cooper) or tripping over uneven sidewalk (that one's all me). He replied, "No, it's because you're that good." He's such a sweet man and his wife inspires me so as she takes ambles slowly and determinedly around the neighborhood with her cane and sometimes with her golden retriever!


Upon seeing a promo for The Jennie Garth Project:
B: "She looks like Brandi." (from In Plain Sight)
Me: "No, that's Kelli from 90210."
B: "Seriously?"
Me: "Yes. She must not have been able to get a Lifetime movie gig, so she's doing an HGTV show."
B:"She was on Lifetime?"
Me: "Yes. And no, I'm not watching Lifetime movies anymore. I don't even know what channel Lifetime is. I don't need to watch a Lifetime movie. [Sometimes it feels like we] live a Lifetime movie."
Notes:  90210 and Lifetime movies are relics from my single-girl days. I have much more sophisticated television taste now. Ahem. And generally we strive to keep our lives drama-free, but some days it's harder than others.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Let's Get Back To It

Linking up today with Chatting at the Sky 

It's been three months since I've posted here. I'm not sure why, exactly. I've had plenty to write about, just lacking the initiative to actually sit down and write. I've lost the cadence of writing regularly and it's time to reclaim the rhythm. It seems appropriate to restart at precisely the place where I broke off: a monthly recap of what I've learned recently, hosted by Chatting at the Sky. So, shall we?

1. My nephews, ages 9 and 11, have memorized the chronological order of the U.S. presidents. And not just last names. Oh, no. They know first names, middle initials, and last names. They asked if I could do it and when I declined, urged me to try just 10. I could list at least 10 last names starting in present day and going back in time, but didn't get very far starting at the very beginning.

2. The CEO of my mother's retirement community is very personable and responsive. She called his office with a concern and within two hours, he was in her apartment listening to her opinion on a relatively minor issue. Yes, he happened to be in her building, thus making it convenient to come by, but he didn't have to and I'm impressed.

3. It is possible to get good service at the cell phone store. No, really, it is. I abhor dealing with a cell phone provider (in phone, online, in person) almost as much as calling the cable company. Yesterday, I left our local Verizon store with services better tailored to my usage (I would say " my needs," but I'm becoming less convinced that I "need" a smartphone) and a lower monthly cost. I'd call that a score.

4. Antivirus software can cause a boatload of problems when trying to download certain programs. We had to turn it off to download my mother's genealogy software onto her new computer. It seems counter-intuitive that you have to turn off protection to download something from the very resource you're potentially being protected from, but I've learned it's not uncommon.

5. Our granddaughter is every bit as beautiful as we imagined her to be. We are thankful for her life and for her health, and for a safe delivery for her and her mama.

This is an abbreviated list of things I've learned over the last several months. A bout of sleeplessness in the wee morning hours has rendered me mentally and physically drained, so it's best to wrap it up and hit publish before I lose any more steam.

I hope to make more regular appearances here in the coming weeks. At the very least, it won't be three months before I post again.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What I Learned in April

Linking up today with Emily at Chatting at the Sky and sharing what I learned in April.

Among the things I learned in April ...

Our grocery store's Double Your Money Back freshness guarantee only applies to perishable goods or store brand items. It apparently doesn't apply to the ground flaxseed that I saw the stocking clerk take out of the packing box when I asked where it was. Fresh out of the box and expired a week earlier. Unfortunately, I didn't notice until I got home. Fortunately, the grocery store is less than a mile away and I'm a frequent visitor.

A jube is a screen that separates the church choir from the nave of a church. This one is stunning.

Jube Chapelle Saint-Fiacre, commons.wikimedia.org

Jube, amigo and ciao are all acceptable Words With Friends words. Si, however, is unacceptable. I will never understand the WWF lexicon.

There is such a thing as sinkhole insurance. As an insurance broker's daughter, I'm ashamed not to have known this fact before. It's important to know such things when you live in an area built on limestone. And possibly more important when a sinkhole occurs in your neighborhood.

Benjamin Moore's Normandy Blue is THE color I wanted to paint the great room. Too bad it's 14 years and a house too late.

Benjamin Moore 2129-40

Traveling on a Thursday versus a Wednesday means a $100 bump in airfare. However, renting a car Thursday-Sunday is $100 less than renting it Wednesday-Sunday. Perhaps this is a conspiracy designed to keep things fair between Wednesday and Thursday travelers.

Contact lenses are considered cosmetic by most insurance companies. I know they're an alternative to glasses, but I don't think they belong in the same category as liposuction and Botox. 

This is the second month I've done a "What I've Learned" post and I'm enjoying tracking what I've learned throughout the month .. big or small, serious or fun. What did you learn in the cool, rainy (at least here) month of April?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NeVer ForgeT

Please tell my dad I'm OK.

I was sitting at the desk at my volunteer shift when the text came through that morning. It's the kind of text that makes your heart stop, especially when it comes from one of your children. I had no idea why N would text me this message. He was four hours away, but we had no reason to think he was anything but OK.
Seven years ago, texting wasn't as prevalent as it is now. Brian didn't have texting on his work-issued phone, so the kids would text me if they needed to. I wasn't surprised to receive the text, but I was surprised and a bit baffled at the message. My supervisor and I checked the Internet. I don't remember what we found, but there wasn't much beyond the mention of an incident on his college campus.
I called Brian, who was in the middle of a conference call but took my call because it was odd for me to call during a volunteer shift unless there was an emergency. I told him about the text and he agreed it was strange. He checked online and still couldn't find much information. He called Nate and was able to talk to him briefly and so we knew he was safe. For now.
Havoc was still unfolding as a gunman wreaked panic and despair on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16, 2007.
We watched and listened as the news coverage continued. We prayed and remained surprisingly calm. We knew there was nothing we could do besides pray and wait. Brian tried calling N periodically but was unable to get through. Not surprisingly, the phone lines were jammed as students, family and friends attempted thousands of calls to reach loved ones. I called and emailed our family and friends to let them know that we had talked to N and that as far as we knew he was still safe.

We, along with the rest of the world, learned more of the story through the continuous news coverage. We finally connected with N again much later that day to learn that he had been in class in the building next to where most of the shootings took place. So close. One of the victims was a friend who lived in his dorm.
Seven years later, it's still hard to comprehend what happened that day. That's the closest our family has been to such tragedy. N was wrapping up his first year of college that April. When we sent the kids off to college, we could not have imagined something like this happening. Unfortunately, more parents probably think about such things now as these types of tragedies continue to occur.
We are so very thankful N was able to text me that day when the phone lines were down, that he was safe and that Brian was able to talk to him, even just briefly. We are proud of how he handled such an incredible experience. Life has moved on, with its highs and lows and significant events. N is married and about to become a father in a few months. While April 16, 2007, isn't something we talk about often, I believe it's one of the pivotal experiences that have equipped him to become the awesome father I know he will be.
We will neVer forgeT.

Monday, March 31, 2014

What I Learned in March

Linking up today with Emily at Chatting at the Sky and sharing what I learned in March. I learned:

1. There is  a wolf sanctuary nearby. I've never given much thought to where rescued or unwanted wolves may live, or even the fact that there are rescued or unwanted wolves. A visit is definitely in order for 2014. These are the kinds of things you learn when you compliment a massage therapist's top emblazoned with paw prints and ask her if she's a dog lover. (Yes, but apparently also a fan of the wolves.)

2. When someone offers you a helping hand, at least consider the offer without dismissing it out of hand. And so I hereby thank the kind, kind woman who stopped after seeing me trip and slam my head on the sidewalk last week. She offered to hold the dogs while I got my bearings, but I, fearing Cooper's reaction, said no and that I was fine, even after she pointed out my nose was bleeding. In retrospect, as Brian pointed out, Cooper may have been fine and I should have let her at least try. Hindsight, 20/20 and all that, right?

3. Sweatshirts make good triage bandages. My nose was not bleeding; my head was, so once I realized (through the veil of blood streaming down my face) what was going on, I took off my coat and sweatshirt and wrapped my sweatshirt around my head to put pressure on my wound. I'm sure I was a sight to see.

4. Flesh-colored butterfly bandages are not available at the pharmacies closest to our home. I didn't do too extensive of a search, but when you need to apply one to your forehead, "flesh" is a preferable option to blazing white.

5. My entering-the-tween years nephew still has plenty of impish kid left in him ...

6. I feel mentally, emotionally and physically better when I am warm. So thankful for the opportunity to have several days of sun and warmth during/toward the supposed end of The Winter That Will Not End.

7. Some snacks just aren't all you hoped they'd be.

8. The name of our first granddaughter, but mum's the word on that for now. I don't think it's up to me to publish that on the WWW.

9. Time really does ease the pain. The sense of loss is always there, but poignant memories bring joy and beauty as the calendar pages turn.

10. Sometimes "God blesses you in more delicious ways than you dreamed possible." True words spoken by our server as she served us this free "oops" dessert originally made for someone else, which was a perfect blend of our favorites: chocolate, peanut butter, caramel.
11. Arena football is an, well, interesting experience, especially sitting in the front row and having a player nearly land in your lap. The best part, however, is that I got a date with The Three Amigos.
March was a busy month, full of stories, adventures and memory-making. Our basement renovations continued, so I suppose I could say I also learned how to cut and install ceiling insulation, that epoxy floors take longer than anticipated to dry and "renovation schedule" is a bit of an oxymoron. I was already well aware of that last one, though. And so we march on ...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Beginning

Today is the third time I'll remember her birthday without being able to call her, email her, send her a funny card, or make dinner for her. The last birthday she celebrated here on earth, I had the privilege of making dinner for our families and sharing an evening of quiet, reflective conversation together. Just three days earlier, she had gotten the diagnosis that the cancer was back and had metastasized to her liver. We both knew, without saying it aloud, that the medical odds were not in her favor. But we also knew our faith would buoy us through the journey to come. I will forever treasure the gift of sharing that last birthday evening with her. By my birthday, two months later, she would be gone.

Today, I want to remember her vibrant spirit and the joy she brought to my life. And to do that, I went back to where it all began.

Pam in the Netherlands on our study-abroad European Adventure, 1989

We met the first day of Fall Welcome Weekend our freshman year of college. I can't recall the moment we met, but Pam remembered it being during some crazy, probably ridiculous, game involving shoes. During that weekend, there was a formal banquet and I was sitting at a table with one of my roommates. The details are fuzzy, but I remember inviting Pam to join us. Perhaps I wanted to share my fascination that a guy at our table spelled his name Wray.

After that weekend, Pam and I naturally went our separate ways. We lived in different dorms and had different friends. We had some overlapping classes since we were both business majors, but we didn't really interact until our junior year. We remembered sharing an economics class during our sophomore year. I knew she was in it, but her attendance was, well, less than regular. One day she showed up on what she thought was the day before an exam, hoping to participate in a review, but the professor had moved the exam to that day. She remembers me wearing my then-boyfriend's black leather jacket to class and walking in like I was Joan Jett. Cringe.

Fast forward to junior year. We're living in the same dorm on the same hallway, but far enough apart to rarely interact. We were little more than friendly faces to one another. One evening, I was headed out for an informational meeting about a summer study-abroad trip through Europe. As I reached the end of the hallway, I ran into Pam and asked where she was going. She was going to the same meeting and so we went together.

And that's where a friendship spanning more than two decades began. We became fast friends and had great fun the rest of our junior year. She was a rock as my friendship with my roommate disintegrated quickly for reasons then unknown to me. We'd watch Days of Our Lives between classes and I can still see her doing a volleyball roll down the hallway to my room. We argued emphatically with our New Testament professor over Bible passages regarding the role of women. We were in the same business law class and I invited her to sit with me and three guy friends and share whatever I'd gotten from the snack shop before class. One of those friends starting calling us "The Entity," because where one of us was, the other was likely not far behind.

The summer between our junior and senior years, we spent 10 weeks studying international business in 10 countries, including Russia. We weren't quite as much of The Entity on that trip, interacting with other Messiah students and making new friends from other schools, but that trip definitely cemented our friendship. That's likely to happen when you are 21 and sharing a room on an overnight train into Russia where the train stops for soldiers to board and demand (in Russian) to see your passports.

In London, at the conclusion of our European Adventure, 1989
We roomed together our senior semester. We were the "old ladies" of our dorm, as most juniors and seniors were living in apartments. We may or may not have given our younger RA a bit of run for her money. During those college days, we navigated classes, bad breakups (which ultimately were fabulous turns of events) and job searches. She was there when I caught my hair on fire. We shared deeply, laughed loudly, and were virtually inseparable.

Back then, like most college students, we had no idea where life would take us. We didn't realize that we were building a foundation that would serve us well through the seasons of life ... and death. I didn't recognize then - she might have - all of the blessings wrapped up in those early years of friendship. As time marched on, we really did grow up together.

So today, I celebrate her life and the friendship we were privileged to share. I count it as one of the best gifts of my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

These Eyes, They are A-Changin'

The earliest photo of me wearing glasses is my fifth-grade class photo. (I loved that navy corduroy jumper that was a hand-me-down from my cousin in Arizona, and look at me sporting our school colors, blue and gold. Go, RBS Crusaders!) I remember feeling scared and a little sick in my stomach when I failed the vision test during fourth grade. What did this mean? Was I going blind? The note went home to my parents and off I went to the eye doctor. Afterward, we went to Sterling Optical where I picked out brownish-butterscottish frames. I suppose huge, owl-like glasses were stylish back then. Of course, last weekend in the airport I saw a senior citizen sporting pure white round spectacles that likely cost a fortune, apparently thinking she was stylish, but maybe it was just a Miami thing.

I remember coming out of my bedroom after I got the glasses and could not believe that I could actually see clearly across the living room. "So that's what I've been missing," I thought. I had become so accustomed to my vision that I didn't even realize I couldn't see well. I must have sat close enough to the board in school so that I wasn't affected. Or maybe I just thought if you sat toward the back, like most kids whose names are close to the end of the alphabet and the class is seated in alphabetical order, the board was supposed to be unclear and fuzzy.

I wanted contacts in the worst way, starting probably when I was 12 or 13. My parents said I had to wait until I reached the more responsible age of 16. Lucky for me, my dad went back to wearing contacts after years of wearing only glasses when I was 15. He had such success with those lenses that he was featured in a brochure promoting them. And somehow (because we'll ignore whatever parental politics were occurring at the time) I received permission to get contact lenses, accompanied by The Responsibility and Money Doesn't Grow On Trees lectures.

My senior year of high school, I ripped a contact in Miss Lamison's first period psychology class. Luckily, my dad hadn't left for work and could drop off my glasses for me. My old-prescription-with-a-broken-stem glasses, that is. Back then, you didn't have spare pairs of contacts waiting for you in a drawer. You had one pair that pretty much lasted you a year (or longer). I made it through the rest of the day by propping my glasses up with my finger while in class and foggily navigating my way between classes without vision assistance.

I'm still wearing contacts as I'm not a good candidate for LASIK and I'm too much of a chicken anyway. My current eye doctor is so young I refer to him privately as Doogie Howser. We like to joke a bit, Doogie and I, as I attempt to get him to lighten up a bit. One year, I read a line of type and said, "It's a backwards E." He replied, "Or you could call it a 3."

For the last decade or so, I've been determined to read the smallest line on the vision test, so as to avoid bifocals or "readers." Two years ago at my last appointment, Doogie laughingly told me I was borderline and wouldn't be able to avoid it much longer. I scoffed a bit to myself and thought, "We shall see."

Well, this girl is no longer scoffing and I think there will be a more definitive prescription next month at my appointment. It's become harder to read in low light and to read small print. I have multiple pairs of readers and I'm often grabbing a pair to make it easier to read a recipe or a menu. Earlier this week, I grabbed a pair to read the small print on the instructions for John Freda Medium Brown hair color so I could wash those grays right out of my hair. I laughed as I thought how far that fourth grader has come since she got her first pair of glasses.

These eyes, and times, they are a'changin'.