Saturday, December 11, 2010

Wealth, Entitlement, Human Condition

The back of this book doesn't do the story inside justice. It's difficult, though, to write an accurate synopsis, review or even publicity teaser for this book without giving anything away. This is the type of story that should be discovered by the reader as it unfolds. To elude to the deeper experiences of the protagonist's life would be to cripple the reader and jeopardize her enjoyment.

I apologize for the cryptic review. If you're still waffling about reading this book, consider this: it contains witty prose and dialogue throughout--the author presents a never-flagging, continuous onslaught of salacious phrasing and pithy observations. It also explores family dynamics, the mantel of privilege and celebrity, travel, war, death and bravery. Most of it takes place on Martha's Vinyard and the East Coast.

Enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Paper vs. Screen

I love paper. Books, calendars, cards, maps, files, cardstock, vellum, grid paper, plain paper, colored paper. I love its smoothness and openness, its readiness to transform into something different, according to my imagination. Its ability to fold and hold a new shape. Its scent. I have a whole closet dedicated to paper and rubber stamps, waiting for my next creative urge to overtake me and compel me to dig out ribbons, glitter, glue and ink and paper, wonderful paper.

My husband knows I love paper, and he knows I love to read. Books, that is. I'm not much of a news follower (too depressing) and I only subscribe to a select number of magazines (fewer than 3!), which I peruse noncommitally each month. He also knows I love gadgets of the elctronic persuasion, so he bought me a Kindle. I've been salivating over the Kindle for months now--since it first came out--but was reluctant to put my money on something that would actually decrease my contact with paper books. It doesn't smell like a book; it doesn't rest in one hand like a book (no binding); and you can only loan titles for a specific amount of time to friends' Kindles.

However, the Kindle has several redeeming characteristics I am obliged to illuminate:
1. The screen does resemble ink on a page (they aren't exaggerating--it's amazing how real it looks)
2. The Kindle retains your place--no bookmark needed. It will retain your place in all of the books or periodicals you open and begin reading.
3. The classics are free--ever wish you'd read Charles Dickens? Leo Tolstoy? Jane Austen? They're all here, and they're all free. Everything published before 1923 is free.
4. The reader controls the font size. That's right--no more squinting at tiny font or wearing yourself out flipping pages with large print!
5. It keeps your books organized in categories, named by you, so you can easily find them again. Or you can leave them listed willy-nilly on the screen, in the order in which they were purchased, if that is your style.
6. It's easier to read in low light. A light is necessary--it can't be read under the covers or anything--but it's slightly brighter than a real page.
7. The Kindle book store never closes and boasts most titles at the ready for downloading at a moment's notice or a reader's whim.
8. I almost forgot about the free samples--just like a book store, you can browse a selection for free by downloading a free sample of the first few pages of a book before deciding whether or not to purchase the whole thing.

So, if you've been considering a Kindle, take the risk! Don't be afraid. It makes a great traveling companion.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Irresistible Story

Remember Home Ec class? In addition to learning how to maintain a home and prepare meals and desserts, students had to care for a simulated baby for a week or two. The baby might be an egg, a doll or even just a journal in which each action could be recorded, but the general principle and restrictions of adult responsibility were thus taught and (hopefully) learned. Imagine having a practice baby: a real live, human bundle of squalling, demanding responsibility counting on college students for basic survival and nurture. This is the premise of The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald, based on a real program run in the 50's and 60's at certain Midwest colleges or universities.

Henry House, the main character, is the practice baby who remained to be raised by the house mother and subsequent students, and this is the story of his development and the effects of enjoying the attentions of multiple mothers while forming an attachment to no one.

So far, three Bookworms have read this book and we predict it will earn the Bookworms Anonymous Stamp of Approval. Watch the website for news in the next few months:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bookworms Anonymous Meeting

We enjoyed yet another successful Bookworms Anonymous Meeting the other night--Christine is cooking her way through a cookbook called Vegetarian Traditions and she prepared and served a four-star meal, with Almond-Crusted Tofu appearing as the celebrity.

To read about the meeting itself and our fabulous group of seven readers, check out the website and go to the page "News and Events". To see which books are touring through the club right now, click on the page "What We're Reading" (I know, you'd have figured that one out, but I didn't want you to miss it!).

Winter is knocking on our door now, so it's time to prepare for hibernation. Luckily I have a grand collection of books to keep me sane, or at least as close as possible, and we have one more Bookworms Anonymous meeting scheduled before Christmas to anticipate and enjoy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Memorable Memoirs

I just finished reading two memoirs, each one interesting and completely different from the other. The first one I read was Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende, which takes place in Haines, Alaska. We just returned from a visit to Haines in August, and I bought this book as a gift for my friend who was taking good care of my dog while we traveled. We frequently buy each other books so we can swap them at the next Bookworms Anonymous meeting, which is how I came to read this one ( Heather recounts her life-threatening, life-altering, life-affirming accident and her rescue and recovery, as well as other events over the span of about two years, sharing her daily life, funny and sad moments and her spiritual growth. She depicts her small, friendly town well--I felt like I was there again and longed to return, to meet more people and maybe even meet Heather at the Mountain Market for a cup of coffee.

After Heather's spirit-lifting tale I began reading At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream by Wade Rouse. This hilarious tale takes place in southern Michigan, near the Saugatuck-Douglas area, and it's about Wade's and his partner Gary's quest to live a Thoreau-esque life by leaving behind all of their "urban tchotchke" and living the simple life in a cabin in the woods. Wade's recounting of their adventures in WalMart and gardening and his descriptions of everything from the locals' appearances and attitudes to his own wardrobe had me laughing out loud. Gary channels Lucy Ricardo, seeking guidance on social etiquette and expectations. He intersperses his own tale with passages from Thoreau's Walden, and shares some of his childhood angst and the challenges and prejudice he faced growing up gay. I recommend this to anyone who needs a good belly laugh--it's like a sitcom in print.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The $4.99 mood lifter

If anyone out there still doesn't own an Easy button from Staples, it's time to drive to your nearest Staples (I drove all the way to Grand Rapids, 5 hours each way, so don't try to say you don't have one close enough) and buy one. Better yet, buy a couple in case your friend/enemy/babysitter/accountant/co-worker/mailman/telephone repairman/step-cousin-in-law needs one too. Whoever invented this button deserves a huge bonus and a large raise for brightening up millions of people's lives with the simple three word phrase "that was easy".

For those of you not in the know, the Easy button is a large red button, attractive and friendly in a technologically keen way, sitting anywhere you might need it, that, when pressed, states in a matter-of-fact masculine voice, "that was easy". The button begs to be pressed, performs every time on time, and does so in a consistently cheerful manner. It's fun, it's functional and it's cheap humor therapy.

We were discussing the merits of the Easy button at work the other day when someone said, "boy, it's not very often you hear that phrase anymore. Everything is becoming more and more difficult." I told him, "you need a button. That's the whole point--stop seeing the difficulty in everything and embrace the easy tasks!" Any large, difficult task can be broken down into small steps--the more difficult the task, the more steps--but each time a small step is completed, it merits a pressing of the Easy button. Hence, the more difficult the task, the more times you get to hear "that was easy" so the easier it is! Everyone needs one of these things. Even if a task is truly difficult, once it's over, it's no longer difficult because it's completed. Time to press the button. Go ahead, it's free (the 4 AA batteries last a llloooonnnggg time). Press it twice. That was easy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Whose Dictionary Are You Using?

I attended a seminar yesterday in which the facilitator used the word 'profusively' five times. We were updating our CPR training, and the question was: "if you happen upon a scene were a victim is bleeding profusively, what do you do?" I thought: before or after I correct his grammar? Oh, wait, bleeding is more important than made-up words. Then I thought: Incorrect syntax is preventable, correctable and curable. After performing CPR and saving the profusively bleeding victim's life, I can then offer some grammar lessons. I'm sure the victim would be grateful, or at least willing to listen out of a sense of guilt or courtesy. Next time the victim would bleed profusely and I wouldn't be distracted.

Another of my pet peeve made-up words is supposably. How did this happen? There's no ab! It's an ed. It's actually easier to pronounce it correctly, supposedly, than it is to replace ed with ab. I guess this one isn't technically a made-up word, it's just crippled by BPS, Bastardized Pronunciation Syndrome. It's a common affliction for sesquipedalian words.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Country Mice in the City

Tomorrow I embark on a journey to the city. Chicago! Named for a wild onion, it's the city of big shoulders and wind and it's my favorite major US city (I've been to NYC, LA, St Louis and Orlando, so those are the comps). My sister, daughter and I will stay just outside the city itself and take the train in every day as if we're commuting. We'll stroll the Mag Mile and State Street, take in a show at the Briar Street Theatre and eat lunch at Ed Debevic's. It's October so we will enjoy a color tour all the way there and back and we can leave our outer layers at home.

We'll stop at a Borders Books. This alone is worth the 8-hour drive, each way, so we can sit on the second floor drinking coffee in the window and watching people scurry by on the pavement below. We'll shop at Macy's. Macy's! And the fabulous Columbus Day Sale! Oh, to live in a place with stores. I'm also bringing three of my books to leave in various strategic locations for someone to pick up and read.

This, the eve of a trip to the city, makes me wonder what it would be like to live in an urban place. It seems glamorous from here, tucked into the woods where the only culture is the free karaoke performance at the bar. I'm sure I'd take in a play at least once a month and rarely eat dinner at the same place, cook less often than I do now (it's become my  least favorite chore) and buy fresh flowers from the corner stand regularly. I'd probably dress better--a Life Is Good T-shirt would not be considered dressy casual in a city--and I'd know all of the train schedules, which taxis are the fastest, and the shortest routes on the safest streets. I would be just one more anonymous soul trying to get through the day with no one asking me how I like my new job or if I've seen the new hairstyle of the girl at the gas station.

I'd miss the trees. And my routine: a five-minute, five-mile commute to work on a two-lane road canopied by maple trees much of the way, mine frequently the only vehicle on the entire route. I run out the door most mornings, my boots untied and coat half-on, turn up the radio to hear 5% of the news events occurring in the world, none of which impact our lives here, and which  my commute was longer so I could hear the rest of the story. I always see Mrs. Goetz in her window, watching me turn toward work, so she can later report to me what time I arrived every day last week. She's pretty accurate--if any local employers are considering time clocks, they should just hire her. She'd also be a reliable alibi corroborator if one had driven by her house at the time of the murder. She'd remember, down to the minute, what time she spied the vehicle and which direction it was headed.

But I digress. We are traveling to the city, it will be fabulous, then we will travel home and it will be even more fabulous for the brief interlude of urban sophistication. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Authorial Connections

The internet certainly shrinks the world. I just received an email from author Deborah Clearman, who stumbled upon my Bookworms Anonymous website and wanted me to know she thinks the idea of Bookworms Anonymous is fabulous and she has just published a book, which she wants me to review.

I already ordered her book, Todos Santos, and look forward to reading it--check it out by clicking on the link here--the story sounds intriguing and I can't wait to start!

Reading is such a solitary pursuit, it's easy to forget to acknowledge the writer after enjoying a book. I've been trying to post more book reviews on and contact more authors of works I've enjoyed because positive feedback is so energizing and motivating, I'm hoping the authors I contact will immediately return to the computer and start composing another book, bigger and even better than their last. Posting a review is also a way for the reader to connect back to the writer in a personal manner without much effort.

In this age of electronic communication, we should use it to forge new connections and give back a tiny bit to the authors who have affected our lives so profoundly (or even just affected our lives for an afternoon, allowing a brief escape and a good belly laugh).

So read on! Then, take a moment a post a quick review, even if you didn't purchase the book on Amazon.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Crazy Chutney Recipe

Jean served this absolutely fabulous chutney at our last Bookworms Anonymous meeting and I feel compelled to share it with the world:

Jean's Absolutely Fabulous Chutney

12 cups yellow squash
4 large onions
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
2 tsp salt
6 cups sugar (yes, 6 cups!)
2 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 TBLS mustard seed
3/4 tsp tumeric
1 TBLS celery seed
1 tsp black pepper

Peel (if necessary) and cut all veggies into small bite-sized pieces. Mix all ingredients together. Bring to boil and reduce heat; cook slowly for 20 minutes.

Seal in jars and immediately turn each jar upside down. Serve with everything. Makes 8 pints.

Jean served this alongside her fabulous smothered whitefish fillets, which were basically a bunch of pan-fried fillets layered in a casserole dish, then covered with gently cooked cherry tomato halves, garlic and Kalamata olives, with a few grinds of fresh black pepper. So good you'll fall off your chair.

Monday, September 20, 2010

UP Living

Some days it's easier to remember why we live here, and today was one of those days. Autumn is just peeking through, painting random leaves and gracing us with bright sunshine and cool, crisp days. The tourists are gone now so there's no traffic, no need to lock anything, and I can leave my purse in the truck without worrying whether it'll still be there when I return. The temperature is perfect for light activities, there's no wind and everything smells of earthy, rotting leaves. I spent the day designing five different electric services, driving from one beautiful hunting camp to the next, from the hardwoods to the rocky beach of Lake Huron.

Then I came home and sat on the porch, reading my book (remember, reading outside is an extreme sport) in the sun with a cup of coffee. Heaven.

Today was the kind of day I want to tuck into my back pocket and retrieve next February when we're buried beneath six feet of snow and the newscasters are advising us to stock up on supplies (every good Yooper is always stocked up on supplies, so this dire announcement usually doesn't inspire any action, just humor).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Superfluous Apostrophes

My  new job entails driving to a lot of remote camps and summer homes on roads with no posted names too narrow to pass another truck unless one backs up to the nearest wide spot or driveway to allow the other one by. I've always had a pet peeve for superfluous apostrophes, but this peeve has blossomed into a full-blown affliction, rapidly approaching syndrome-class. It seems of the obviously-wealthier-than-the-locals summer people, able to afford a second home on the water in the pristine Upper Peninsula and bent on plastering their name on every sign post at ever intersection, at least 95% of them put an apostrophe before the S to pluralize their surnames. For example, the sign might say "Welcome to the Harrison's" or simply "The Mason's". These signs were created with posterity in mind, painted brilliantly or carved, and are very difficult to correct. I'm thinking of carrying an entire palette of paints with me, and a portable router or sander so I can paint over or buff out the glaring apostrophes. My only other option would be to carry a selection of slabs and replace each incorrect sign I find, and see if the owners ever noticed the difference. Or maybe I could make up little laminated notes explaining the apostrophe's purpose and its straightforward rules for use and post them near the offending signs. I suppose I'll go on tolerating the blatant apostrophical abuse and occasionally vent about it here and at Bookworms Anonymous meetings.

Why would you want to advertise your punctuational ineptness to the world? Vexing.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Improve your reality--read a book

I don't know who this woman is--she appears in a few of my great-grandmother's photos, none with any clue as to her identity, but she always looks the same. Her facial expression inspired me to create a few different bookmarks in the fashion of Maxine, the saucy old cartoon lady of Hallmark fame.

Right now I'm escaping from reality by reading Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell, about the year she cooked every single recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It's fabulous! I love the way Julie writes, and although we would probably not be friends (she makes no secret about her democratic political leanings, and although I have plenty of democrat friends, it works because we don't mention politics), I am really enjoying this voyeuristic view of her life in New York City and her flashbacks to various childhood scenes. I've read a few memoirs in the past year, and a few books about cooking in the past year, and these two subjects may be my current obsession. I had a long-lived fascination with all things Jewish for a while and read everything I could find about Jewish families and their intricate rituals (Bee Season by Myla Goldberg comes readily to mind, but there were many). Even though I'm not Jewish, will never be Jewish, and don't even know any Jewish people, I was compelled to read novels populated with Jews. Now it's cooking. I don't like to cook and cook only to prolong my life and avoid headaches from low blood sugar, but I'm fascinated for some reason by people who like to cook so much they actually write about it. And, it's interesting when they do it! Way more interesting than when I'm cooking.

So, if you haven't read this one yet, I recommend it for the reading pile. If' you're cooking-obsessed, you may also like The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry which is another cooking-themed memoir by a woman who was lucky enough to lose her job at a point when she was able to move to Paris and attend Le Cordon Bleu for a year. I'm sure now, if there was ever a doubt, I do not want to go to cooking school, but her journey through it will improve reality, at least for a short while.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Historical Event at Bookworms Anonymous

I just returned home from the monthly Bookworms Anonymous meeting and I'm proud to announce we had a historical event at the meeting: THREE books were granted the Bookworms Anonymous Stamp of Approval, and we voted to further categorize the award-winning books so we can have several lists of similar-style books. So far, the categories are: High Literature, Mainstream Literature, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction and Fluff.

The books we stamped tonight, and their respective categories, are:
This book was granted the Stamp of Approval for a few reasons:
1. It's by Anna Quindlen, one of the few authors we read that require no book review. When someone has a new Anna Quindlen book to pass around, we simply hold it aloft and say in a singsong voice: "It's the new Anna Quinnnnd-lennnn," and everyone reaches for it.
2. This particular AQ book caused everyone reading it to gasp aloud at a certain juncture. If you've read it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. I can't say anymore about it.
3. We are all mothers and this book is a heart wrenching tale of motherhood and the worst fears realized.
4. It has an attractive cover. Superficial, I know, but nonetheless important when deciding whether or not to buy or read a book (unless, as mentioned above, it's written by Anna Quindlen).
5. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen (yes, I like her name and feel obliged to keep mentioning it) was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval in the Mainstream Literature category.

This book was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval mainly for its vocabulary and the well developed, complicated characters who populate the book.

Keep a dictionary  handy when reading this tome--even a reader with an unnaturally large vocabulary will need to reference at least two words. The writing is rich and distinguished and the speediest reader will find themselves halting mid-paragraph to reflect on a well worded passage or enjoy a turn of phrase.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Murel Barbery, was granted the Bookworms Stamp of Approval in the High Literature category (this category features highly intellectual themes and/or superior vocabulary).

This is the book that precluded the need for Stamp of Approval categories, and the first book in the Fluff category.

It's a story about a family in the Pacific northwest with three children, all with shades of green for names: Olive, Forest and Jade. The mother is experiencing a midlife crisis and handles it by painting pictures of withered raisins enjoying various human pursuits such as sunbathing and shopping. Forest is living in the wilderness in a primitive shelter and Jade frequently provides food and clothing for him.

It's a light, engaging story perfect for sandwiching between two heavier subjects populated with delightful characters and funny incidents.

Go ahead, start reading...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ready, Set, Change Career

All my life I've worked inside. I've been a waitress, a grocery cashier, a credit union teller, accounting clerk, accounting manager, internal auditor, and an electric utility company member service representative. Now I wear work boots (!!) and have a company truck with a tool box to accommodate my sledge hammer and brush axe. I still have a clipboard. It helps me recognize myself when I picture myself in my mind's eye slogging through the brush, jumping ditches and annihilating small trees and branches that have committed the crime of blocking my vision from one stake to another.

I'm a staking technician: the person (no longer the 'guy') who travels to potential job sites, usually alone, sometimes meeting a homeowner or electrician, to design new electric services, service upgrades or power line extensions or rebuilds. Luckily, I do this in Michigan's Upper Peninsula where the most likely potential threats aren't man or machine, but wolf or bear. Or domestic dogs, unchained and salivating, rushing to defend their patch of crabgrass decorated with their own leavings. This is where my brush axe becomes a multitasking defense implement that so far I haven't had to utilize beyond brandishing it in a threatening manner. Dogs are easily impressed with long, swinging sticks with gleaming metal ends.

I'm the first woman to hold this position in my 72-year-old company. I don't feel as if I'm breaking down barriers, just quietly enjoying the challenges of a physically and mentally demanding job. I'm 40, and I've convinced myself it's a good time of life to drastically switch careers and also to do something outside with the hope of  maintaining my slowly ebbing physique. My education is not in engineering but in business management, with very little math, which turns out to be a regrettable disadvantage. But I'm having fun. Each assignment is its own project, much like a puzzle or mind-boggling riddle, and merits its own file filled with color-coded documents and drawings (I'm no artist but my sketches are improving--should have taken drafting as well as trigonometry) with a clear end, when I can close the file and stash it away in the 'finished' section of the drawer.

Every day brings a new puzzle requiring a creative solution and I approach it with interest and intensity.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another Gloomy Day in Paradise

Yes, it's raining again. The three day holiday weekend, at least in the easternmost tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, featured two rain days and a day of wind. A great writing weekend, but not useful for many outdoor activities. It doesn't seem time yet to wish summer a happy retirement, but the immediate forecast is bleak: rain, rain and more rain.

I finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave and it is truly wonderful. If anyone out there hasn't read it yet, make it a priority! I can't say what it's about, but one passage in the beginning of the book stuck with me. It's paraphrased here, but the general idea is when you see a scar on someone, it is a sign of beauty because scars don't form on the dying. Scars indicate the storyteller is still alive to tell the story. What a great way to look at scars! Cleave says the same thing about tears. There are many profound lessons within the covers of his book but to impart them would ruin the story for other readers.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker is my current read and it's another great one! I put off reading this one for several months because the cover is disturbing--but I discovered reading the first page was enough to consume my interest for an entire rainy morning. Grab a cup of coffee and get comfy in your favorite chair. Prepare to meet some interesting characters!

Now, to turn my attention back to my work in progress...must keep slogging through the first draft of my newest book (straightening back, cracking knuckles, transforming expression to one of concentration and intense focus).

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Writing Weather

It's a grand day for writing. The wind is whipping the trees around (no power outages at our house yet, but there's still hope) and the rain comes and goes so it's impossible to conduct any outdoor activities. The clouds are cruising west to east so fast they look like the time release camera shots on reality TV shows, the sun only winking at us now and then. It's sweatshirt weather, and it's about time! We've had a long, hot summer but it's been so nice for so long, I'm ready for a stormy day.

The muse likes days like this. It's easy to motivate oneself to write, to work on the latest story or novel, when the air is calm and comfortable inside and I can draw energy from the invigorating weather outside the window. And it's a three day weekend! Maybe we'll have three days of crazy weather and I'll finish my entire project and arrive at work Tuesday morning full of energy.

The only other appropriate activity for days like this is reading. I'm currently reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and if you haven't read it yet, get yourself a copy today. It's fabulous. I'm only on chapter three but I'm totally sucked in. The back cover reads: We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again--the story starts there... Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds. 

Sorry, but I have chosen to honor the author's (and marketer's) wishes and not reveal any further information. Go get this book and read it yourself, but if it's a nice day outside, you'll have to carry it outside with you because you won't want to put it down.

The Word That You Heard

I've been so lax in promoting my new book I ought to be arrested by the publicity police and charged with a marketing misdemeanor. I did bring my new book, The Word That You Heard, to the presentation I held last week and it was well received. This morning I woke up and thought, "The book isn't even on my blog!" How lame is that? I need to create posters, post cards, rack cards and a press release. I should probably be working on that right now instead of sitting here writing about it.

I've sold about a dozen copies so far and it's available on Amazon with a Search Inside the Book Feature. Check it out! I've had rave reviews so far and plan to bring it to the next Bookworms Anonymous meeting. (To learn more about our Bookworms Anonymous meetings, check out the website at

Friday, September 3, 2010

Writing on the Fly

Since I've determined the worst part of writing something new is putting the first draft on paper, whether it's with a pen or a laptop (I've been using a combination of both on my third work in progress), I've decided to approach it with a guerrilla attitude. This is just about slogging through the mud of the first draft; crawling beneath the barbed wire fence of irrational, unreasonable reasons to justify procrastination and constructing sentences with a somewhat cohesive theme. So, I write at least one sentence per day. This commitment is supposed to ensure I write more than one sentence, but some days that's enough for me.

It's rather ridiculous how difficult this is.

When I read through what I've written so far, I like it. It shows some promise; a glimmer of originality and possibly enough style to entice readers other than myself and my mother. Shouldn't this be motivation enough to keep going? Apparently, it's only motivation to say "there, I've finished chapter three" without much of an idea how chapter four is going to appear.

The fun part, at this stage, is seeing the notebook grow. Each time I write a few more pages to insert, or type a few and print them out, my cup of satisfaction overflows a little.

Back to work now; must keep slogging.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Public Appearance: Yikes!

I will be speaking at the De Tour Library on Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 6:30 pm.

My speech will include comments about the writing process as well as the book club that inspired my first book, Bookworms Anonymous. Both of my books will be available for sale and 20% of the gross sales will be donated to the DeTour Library.

I can't guarantee the quality of my presentation: I earned straight As in both high school and college speech classes, but those speeches were usually about things I didn't care about and were restricted to five minutes maximum. I once spoke to a peer group when I worked for a credit union for one hour about the future of the credit union for which I worked, and I have very hazy recollections of that presentation. I suspect I entered an alternate mental state and somehow muddled through.

So, please attend, with high hopes but low expectations, and we'll see what happens.


OK, so are there any excuses to justify procrastinating on a project? A project that's been planned, promised and prepared, but not written? Just as I thought.

It's tough to carve out time right now--when I have time, I have no mental energy. When I'm feeling mentally ambitious and creative, I have no time. It's a travesty! When will my 3rd book, The Italian Perspective, get written? Do I expect it to write itself? What's the hold-up?

My job recently changed--I was previously able to perform my job easily whether I was hungover, crippled, vomiting, or in a coma. Now I have a challenging job (the result of a promotion) that requires both physical and mental presence and effort. It's draining.

So, I'm seeking mental energy and time, seemingly the two most sought-after resources in the Universe. I have so many ideas bursting forth, only being 'recorded' in my somewhat reliable conscious mind. Hmm. I carry a notebook but rarely bother opening it to jot anything down. My laptop is at hand every evening with its sometime-functional internet connection but by the time evening rolls around I'm fresh out of ambition/motivation/inspiration.

This isn't an excuse note; it's not a half-assed reason for not writing. It's merely a recognition of my obstacles and a determination to overcome them, such as they are. It's a pledge to learn my new job so I can perform it more efficiently, leaving me time to work on things near and dear.

Wish me well...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Frontier Vacation

I'm on vacation with my family right now, in the temperate rain forest of the Alaskan frontier. We're visiting my aunt and uncle and witnessing their day-to-day lives, learning about their plumbing and electrical systems (there are 2 and 3, respectively) and gaining a greater appreciation for indoor plumbing and hot showers (we have hot showers here, but they require more effort than the one we're used to). It's a fabulous vacation from society, and a great place to learn about supporting oneself via gardening, fishing and trapping (crabs) and relying less on stores and other people.

My aunt's place is comprised of several buildings: the Main Lodge where eating and sleeping takes place, the Powder Room, the Commissary where the refrigerator and some equipment is stored, the Workshop where my uncle does his woodworking and the Power Shed where the battery bank and freezer are situated. There's also a garden of generous proportion ready to provide enough vegetables to feed all of us, and enough to can and prepare for the coming winter.

Did I mention the meals? We've enjoyed gourmet meals for dinner every evening: marinated salmon cooked on the grill; halibut served with cream sauce; tossed salads, garden potatoes, brown rice, homemade biscuits and jam, French toast. The offerings here rival any self-respecting high-end restaurant and at least 75% of the ingredients for each meal originated on the property or in the sea out front.

Since we arrived three days ago my husband has fished twice and brought home enough fish to see them through a month of winter meals. What a fabulous, mentally restful and physically tiring retreat!  I haven't been here in 29 years--hopefully I'll return before another 29 pass.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mid-Year Resolutions

The challenge of maintaining a blog seems to be overwhelming--why else would I keep neglecting it for random stretches of time? A mid-year resolution might be prudent, might renew my dedication and commitment and provide motivation to continue posting blog entries. I hereby resolve to post something coherent, a minimum of one paragraph (don't want to get carried away and fail right out of the gate) at least once a week.

At the moment I'm mired in a new job and still covering the old one; the new one is a traditionally male job, and I'm the first female at my company, aged 70 years (the company, not me) to hold this position. There are many extra challenges for a woman holding a "man's" job, and there are many graces.  It seems bizarre and amazing that I now have a job requiring a shower at the end of the day rather than the beginning, and a job that involves math, design, working with the public and working alone.

I'm also dreaming of writing my third book rather than working on it because all of my mental energy has been directed into my job. We leave  Saturday morning for Alaska, spending the first week with my Aunt in the wilderness, and I'm planning to finish the book there, situated on her beach watching the tide come in and go out. My second book should hit the Amazon shelves within a day or two of this post.

Please stay tuned for my next post, in which I will reveal the new job and the progress of my writing project.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Saturday Book Signing

 Stop by Saturday between noon and 3pm at Safe Harbor Books in Cedarville, MI.

 I'll have several copies of my book available as well as some of my signature bookmarks, designed to go with the book but fun and useful even on their own.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Writing vs. Revising

I recently discovered, or maybe admitted is a better word, that I enjoy revising more than I enjoy the initial writing. If the entire act of writing, beginning with an idea and ending with a book or at least a booklength manuscript, can be distilled into basic steps, mine would be:

1. Brainstorm.  This is great fun! I use a Levenger notebook with the Circa discs so I can easily rearrange my notes, and I write down the overall aim of the piece as well as the general order in which I will proceed, ending up with a fairly loose outline/bullet list for each chapter. Some pages contain notes in mind-map web formations, some contain unrelated phrases, some have tables or charts sketched as I consider, with each book, including graphs or charts but so far I haven't done so. (I'm thinking maybe I'll incorporate graphs and charts in book #3, which is wavering between steps one and three right now.)

2. Create a cover.  More fun, and artistically stretching as I can barely jot my name in a legible manner. I usually manage to doodle something usable, then re-create it on Publisher. I might start writing the cover copy at this point, but I might wait until the book is more focused.

3. Write the first few chapters. The number of chapters written in this step depends on the overall length of the book, the logical places to take a break, my momentum, and my non-writing schedule (all the tasks I must do each day, such as work at my full-time job and keep track of my child and spend time with my husband and help run his business). When I get stuck, I go back to the notebook and re-read my brainstorm notes, adding to them as much as possible so I feel like I'm really working on something. I've read many books on this subject and most authors tell aspiring writers to write a minimum number of words per day (2000 is a common amount; the last book I read, Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See, suggests 1000 per day) but I've concluded this regimen doesn't work for me. However, I don't make a living from my writing! If I did, I'd probably  have to strap myself in and crank out a few grand per day.

4. Revise the first few chapters. I can't help myself, I've got to revise as I go! I try to force myself to wait until I'm finished writing the entire first draft but my revision tendencies are clearly stronger than my inital writing tendencies so I give in and revise at whim. As I'm revising, I keep my brainstorm notebook close by and jot down all the new ideas for future chapters. This is how and when foreshadowing of future events can be inserted, creating a more even and natural flow in the final copy.

5. Write the next few chapters.

6. Revise the next few chapters. Revisit the cover, consider the cover copy and make sure everything promised on the cover is contained in the book and the most important things in the book are included on the back cover.

Keep repeating steps five and six until the work is done.

7. Re-read the brainstorm notebook. Check everything off as you go, or just draw a diagonal line through each page if the entire page is either a) already included in the book or b) unusable.

8. Revise the entire book! Yes, revision isn't over! It's possible to revise until your eyes fall out, but it's not necessary. I generally revise (as in, re-read with a highlighter, post-it notes and a pen in hand) two or three times immediately after finishing writing the book, then I have someone else read it over and give me some feedback. I have four people who usually read my work before it goes anywhere else, and while they're doing that, I'm relaxing with the brainstorm notebook, in case any other little ideas spring forth. I'll frequently have about 27 new things to add to the book by the time I get it back from my readers.

9.Take a break. Take as long a break as possible, at least two weeks, up to several months. Let the book get dark and dusty.

10. Revise one last time. Read it with fresh eyes and incorporate the pertinent feedback and any other brainstorming notes generated during the respite. Enjoy the satisfaction of a finished job. Pat yourself on the back. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Read a book, written by someone else, and notice that yours is just as good (maybe better).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Common Titles

When my first book, Bookworms Anonymous, hit the shelves (the Amazonian shelves, anyway) I immediately established a Google Alert so every time the phrase Bookworms Anonymous hits the internet, I am notified.

It's amazing how many people use the same phrase. Usually the Alerts point me to a book club's website or chat room, where I peruse entries from various bibliophiles such as myself waxing digitally about the latest, greatest book they've read. Today I was lucky enough to stumble upon a blog  ( ) written with style and panache, with today's entry titled Bookworms Anonymous. The author lives in London, a city on my short list of vacation destinations, so the blog is all the more intriguing. And she has a job at Christie's! So cool.

So set up your Google Alerts--enjoy the notifications about everything interesting, or everything containing your name and watch the world expand and shrink at the same time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Janet Burroway

I recently attended a writer's conference in Madison, Wisconsin where I was lucky enough to hear Janet Burroway speak. I'd never heard of her before, but loved the way she talked about writing and the struggle to actually sit down and start writing. She gave all of us permission to write to our lowest standard, which is better than writing nothing at all.

Of course I bought two of her books on break. Of course I had her sign them. And she doesn't merely scrawl her name across the page or write a stock phrase wishing the reader well. She opens the book to a random page, selects a phrase wherever her finger lands, and inscribes that particular phrase to the reader. She said it's like a horoscope. Nifty!  One nice thing about this method, besides giving the purchaser a personalized inscription, is the time it takes. It's nice to spend three or four minutes chatting with the author rather than being rushed off, pushed aside for the next reader in line.

So far I've read one,  Bridge of Sand, and loved it. It's going around Bookworms Anonymous right now, and I'm confident everyone will enjoy it. Ms. Burroway is most well known for her text book, Writing Fiction, which is the preeminent text used in Universities across the United States, but this latest novel is a well-crafted story. As a reader I enjoyed it, as a writer I learned a thing or two.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mobile Home

I once lived in a car. I was only 17, so there were no worries about personal safety or suspicious shadows because I was still immortal. Sleeping while sitting up in the driver's bucket seat of a 1977 Ford Pinto caused no physical repercussions as I leapt out the door every morning, fresh faced and full of energy, performing an abbreviated personal cleansing ritual before working all day as a waitress in a busy medium-priced restaurant. My tips amounted to $100/day, but I was reluctant to spend any of it on lodging. Who  needed a bed when I had a perfectly fine and comfortable Pinto, and generous friends whose showers I could use? Life was simple then.

When I mention living in the car to my children (this happens only rarely and after I've had a couple beers) in an attempt to illustrate how rough I had it, the kids are always skeptical. "I doubt it, Mother. You can't even sleep in a tent, let alone a car." It's true. I can no longer sleep in a tent or on a blow-up mattress. If I sit for too long on any kind of chair, hard or soft, reclining or straight-backed, my back and legs stiffen up and require an embarrassing sequence of Yoga moves to loosen sufficiently to walk like someone my age (40) rather than an octogenarian.

Maybe living in the car caused my muscles to begin petrifying prematurely. Sometimes I blame the car-living for my restlessness--I have never, before or since, been able to literally wake up and drive. One time I was reading by the dome light and fell asleep and had to push start the car the next morning, popping the clutch just before the on ramp (did I mention I lived in the car at a rest stop along the freeway?). It was quite invigorating to jump out of the car and immediately perform intense calisthenics and strength training. Again, I was 17. I remember all of these events clearly but can't imagine feeling energetic after sleeping in a car.

Everyone's question, upon hearing of my car-capades, is: How long did you do that?

This is where the story disappoints. I should have stuck it out, stayed in the car longer. Think of the adventure--the stories I would tell! I could have slept the whole summer in that Pinto, relying on my little battery-powered alarm clock (this was in pre-cell phone 1987) to stir my brain every morning. And the creepy shadows? I barely  noticed them.

So how long was it? "One week," is my standard answer, unless someone probes or expresses doubt, at which time I confess "five days". Five measely days I now look upon sometimes as high adventure, sometimes as teenage folly from which I was lucky to escape unscathed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Slump is Over

I broke out of my reading slump! It turns out when I lose interest in reading, all I have to do is read a non-fiction book. Somehow this jump starts my brain again and I'm ready for a new novel.

I'm reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova, an intimate portrait of a woman with Alzheimer's. Genova spent time on meticulous research and takes the reader into the mind of a cognitive psychology professor who's experiencing early-onset Alzheimer's. I just started reading it, so I can't ruin the ending for you.  It's one of the current selections of Bookworms Anonymous and I have a feeling it'll earn the Stamp of Approval.

Stay tuned to find out, or read it for yourself!

Monday, May 10, 2010

On My Bookshelf

The writing slump is also a reading slump, and the books are piling up. There are 20 books on my to-be-read shelf, and I ordered two more from this morning. I know I had no business ordering those two new books with twenty waiting obediently on the shelf, but the addiction is in control here.

At least my habit is legal, moral (assuming I don't read anything too trashy), non-fattening, enlightening and harmless. It also helps the economy because I definitely buy more than I borrow, and it goes well with coffee or wine. There's nothing better than curling up in the morning with a cup of coffee and a good book, unless it's curling up in the evening with a glass of wine and a good book. Aaahh.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It Doesn't Look Like I'm Writing...

I started writing my third book. It's roughly outlined and I have extensive disjointed notes designed to capture my bright ideas in cryptically phrased snippets. I already know the contents of the table of contents and the appendix. I even have a list of glossary words! But I'm at a standstill.

I haven't written more than a paragraph in the past week.

Of course, writing involves mental effort and angst and mind stretching brainstorming sessions. The physical act of writing or typing is the only visible proof that such activity has occurred, but it's difficult to measure the hours spent agonizing over each word in the first sentence before it is recorded for the first time (I'll revise it several times before exposing it to another reader).

I'm hoping this slump is actually a subconsciously energetic session of word jockeying and theme building, and tomorrow I'll start writing chapters at a time, so compelling I'll be unable to close the laptop and focus on the view outside the window. I'll probably wake up in the middle of the night to record some ephemeral notion, earmarked for inclusion in a specific passage. It's time to focus. Again, hoping the subconscious has been fine tuning all along.

A speaker at the seminar I recently attended in Madison, Wisconsin said (I'm paraphrasing): Every writer experiences an uncontrollable urge, a compulsion, a desire within their soul, to write. Every writer absolutely can not survive without writing and must do so every single day, except right now.

She went on to assure us our subconscious minds are working on our craft even when our fingers aren't, and we should relax and allow our powerful, magical minds to operate and eventually produce pitch perfect prose.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Short Nights

The other night I met a couple high school classmates for a drink at the bar. We've been out of school for 22 years now and as I gazed around the table at my dear old friends' faces I felt every one of those years. We're all sporting fine lines around our eyes and maybe a few gray hairs; a couple of us have gained a few pounds. As a group, we still look good and our recent or upcoming 40th birthdays provided enough conversation fodder to see us through the evening. Our memories of grade school and high school featured vastly disparate recollections--after hearing a couple stories circa 1986 I wondered if we had in fact attended the same school. We agreed we all blocked out certain memories, sometimes to make room for new ones and sometimes to alleviate humiliation.

There was a time when we said we were going out for a beer, we meant ten or eleven beers. Now when we meet for a beer we each have three or four, then leave the bar early to prevent hangovers. What will happen in twenty more years? Will we sip our Milk of Magnesia together? Maybe we will race our walkers to the bathroom.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bookworm Books

How many books would a bookworm read if a bookworm could read all day?

There were 34 books on the table at our last Bookworms Anonymous meeting, and a few of us still have a backlog on our shelves. This was the meeting to which I contributed one lonely book (I hadn't even read it yet, but had just received it in the mail: Anna Quindlen's new Every Last One) because I hadn't had read a book during the month! This was a shocking revelation to the other Bookworms, two of whom had read 10 books each during the four weeks between meetings.

Here's the list of books currently circulating, excluding the few emergency books some of us were forced to read when we ran out of worthy reading material and purchased tourniquet books just to get us through the day:

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Girl in the Green Sweater by Krystyna Chiger and Daniel Paisner
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
Crazy Ladies by Michael Lee West
The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty
If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende
The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard (Angie just read this one! It had circulated through the group years ago when she was working on Mackinac Island and missed a few meetings)
More of This World or Maybe Another by Barb Johnson
Life is So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
Between Here and April by Deborah Kogan
Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (junk food book--compulsive page-turner, not much substance)
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
Wishin' and Hopin' by Wally Lamb

Sit back and enjoy the read...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bookworms Anonymous Meetings Changing?

At our last Bookworms Anonymous meeting last week, our hostess served crab cakes, a rice & veggie side dish, a killer green salad with apples, and ice cream topped with frozen wild blueberries she picked last year. Then she admitted she'd prefer to revert to serving only hors d'oeuvres, which is what we used to serve before we progressed to gourmet meals. Some of us find it easier to serve appetizers only, while some prefer to just plan an entire meal and serve everything from salad to dessert.

Our new rules: it's hostess's choice, still all vegetarian, and she can just let us know what to expect before the meeting. We might have dessert only on a Sunday afternoon, or have a couple appetizers with a glass of wine, or a full-blown gourmet meal.

I like this new freedom. It makes the meetings more interesting and the hosting less of an obligation. Of course, I already have my next menu planned and it's not my turn to host until June, but on my next next turn (seven months after this June) I just might decide to serve cheesecake only. Maybe I'll add some homemade ginger shortbread. Of course it'll be January by then, so maybe a hearty faux-beef stew would be good with some crusty bread and a green salad. Ooh! I can make the new dressing I just discovered. This is how it happens...there are just too many interesting things to make and serve, and I'll probably never go back to anything simple. I have a whole file of recipes to try just for Bookworms Anonymous.

Looks like I won't be giving up cooking anytime soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

My husband invited me to lunch today and on the way there (we were each driving our own trucks, following each other) I realized I didn't have my purse with me. The restaurant doesn't take credit cards so I called my date and asked him if he had any cash, as I had no checkbook or any other way to pay for lunch. "I have cash," he assured me.

We ate lunch and he walked up to pay the bill ($22.47), but when he opened his wallet there were only seven dollars inside, lined up and ready to leap out. "Oops," he said. "I forgot I spent some of my cash on beer last night." Famous last words.

Luckily, we live in the UP where everyone knows everyone else, and in our town, everyone knows we pay our bills every time on time. The waitress/owner didn't even shrug. "That's fine," she said, "just stop in and pay later today or sometime this week. Remember we're closed tomorrow." She didn't even glance at the sign on the wall reading "Absolutely No Credit". Those words only apply to people from away.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Literary jokes

We filed into our monthly book club meeting the other night, arranging ourselves around an already-set, handsomely staged table before noticing the bright paper kites strewn from end to end and pasted with witty sayings or jokes. What a fabulous way to begin a meeting! We took turns passing the kites, each about 4 inches across, clockwise around the table and occasionally reading one aloud between chuckles.

Here are a few samples (most of them are just good, clean fun):
A good egg is hard to beat.
The man who fell into an upholstery machine is completely recovered.
Ignoranus: A person who is both stupid and an asshole.
Testickle: A silly question on a test.
If you don't pay your exorcist you can get repossessed.
A calendar's days are numbered.

And my personal favorite: A chicken crossing the road: poultry in motion.

She had about a hundred of these one-liners, left over from a party her sister threw, and we each took a kite-bookmark home with us that evening.

This idea is perfect for the first-time book club meeting. Lighten the mood before the meeting starts, before anyone has time to be nervous about presenting their first book, before anything serious has a chance to transpire.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I'm traveling in Italy, my first time in Europe, and something strange has happened. The book I brought with me proved unworthy of my attention so I downloaded an ebook from Kindle. Now I'm having trouble tearing my eyes from the screen to witness the gorgeous scenery passing by the bus or train window!

I've always defended the traditional printed page, so satisfying to smell and watch the progress ("I'm halfway through already! Better read slower!") and I've been reading so long it's a natural inclination to carry a book with me, usually tucked under my arm. These past few days, though, I've simply whipped out me iPhone and clicked my way through a book.

I wasn't sure if I loved reading or books more. Now I know: reading. Definitely reading. Bit I can't wait to visit a bookstore again! Maybe on the way home...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Enzo's Girls' Reading List

I promised to list the books Enzo's Girls recommended, and here they are:

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
The Bachelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast by Bill Richardson
Columbine by Dave Cullen
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

It's a short list only because many of the books they mentioned have already toured Bookworms Anonymous, and I've included only those books Enzo's Girls enjoyed and we haven't yet read.

The Girls draw their hostess names months in advance, and the book choosing/announcing strategies vary. Some club members prefer to announce the book title early, allowing time to plan ahead, while others announce the title a month before the meeting to ensure the subject is fresh in everyone's minds and to avoid choosing a title similar to that of the previous month.

Enjoy the list above and let me know what you think of the books!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Enzo Would Be Proud

My first speaking engagement proved successful despite a raging head cold and a sleepless week! My second-favorite book club calls themselves Enzo's Girls, after the dog who narrated The Art of Racing in the Rain. It was the first book the club read as a group and they were so taken with Enzo's charm and simple wisdom, they decided to name their club after him. Enzo's Girls operate in a more traditional manner than my Bookworms Anonymous group, but their camaraderie and collective energy definitely rival ours. Witnessing this group's synergy was both interesting and exciting as I realized how invigorating a circle of friends can be, sparking ideas back and forth and cracking witty remarks.

The moment I enter the house, I feel welcome. Kathy is hosting this evening and she's standing watch near the door, ready to usher me to the seat of honor, pausing to allow each Girl to introduce herself. I strive to remember each woman's name, knowing it's impossible and knowing I will at least retain their faces.

Enzo's Girls have been meeting for thirteen months, and they are so excited about sharing their group with me, their voices clamor over one another like lively puppies when I ask a few questions. I briefly wish I could still recall the proper Gregg shorthand I learned in high school, then plunge ahead with my usual crippled abbreviations, hoping I can decipher the cryptic notes when I transcribe them later. The energy of the group is infectious and I laugh along with them as they poke fun at each other, gently chiding book choices and recalling the past year of meetings. Sometimes the laughter overpowers the words and if I close my eyes I might be sitting surrounded by my own book club members.

Most of the members work together and see each other frequently; some trade books aside from the monthly assignment. Like my own comfortable group, some members read more books than others, some have broader tastes than others, some read faster than others and some notice more details. There are two Kindle owners here, one who raves about the electronic reading device and one who's not yet ready to give up the printed page.

The club's rules emerge throughout the conversation. No children are allowed; no textbooks can be chosen (textbooks??? Someone tried to choose one once, they explain); no husbands are allowed (except that one time, but the husbands didn't all read the book). Each member must read the assigned book (it's okay to borrow it from another member or the library, though, which appeal to my frugal bookworm side) and must commit to attending the meetings, always held on the same day each month.

I was honored to witness a touching moment when the group presented one woman with a basket full of baby board books. "She's becoming a grandmother for the first time," one Girl explained. "And she's the first grandmother in our group," chimed in another.

I left the group armed with a reading list (to be posted in a day or two), some great ideas and a pot of daffodils! What a grand way to end the evening.

Thank you, Enzo's Girls, for welcoming me and helping to make my first book club appearance such a success. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and next time we meet hopefully I won't be on two kinds of cold medication and will be able to drink a glass of wine with you!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Can I Blame the Time Change?

Ever since we sprang forward last Sunday, the chaos factor in my life increased tenfold.

It all started with a phone call late in the evening from a close relative, freshly beaten and hiding in her yard, having been locked out of the house by her live-in boyfriend. My husband and I rushed to her aid, called the police, and spent the night sitting up talking, planning, reassuring the victim and keeping each other from returning to the house and retaliating on her behalf.

Monday I worked ten hours so I could leave work early on Tuesday to take my relative in to replace her driver's license, clothing and personal care items, and assuage her sense of despair.

By Wednesday my husband and I had conferred and agreed to use our recently received tax refund to give her a "do-over", and presented her with the option of travelling to Alaska (this isn't as random as it seems--we have all kinds of cousins, aunts and uncles there) and seeking a summer job.

On Thursday I made the travel arrangements: $1500 later, we have a concrete plan and an excited passenger, ready for take off next Thursday morning. Assuming she receives her photo ID in the mail by then, as she'll need it to board the plane...

Next week will be similarly hectic, as I have a speaking engagement Wednesday evening, an airport drop off at 5am Thursday morning, and I'm flying to Europe Friday afternoon!

I can't help but wonder if we didn't observe daylight savings time, maybe the whole world wouldn't have lost its balance.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Reviews and Book Shuffling

I recently read The Other by David Guterson, followed by Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Guterson's story takes place in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, a tale of two men and their lifelong friendship. One of the main characters is descended from bank founders and has a trust fund; he decides to live in the wilderness, shunning society and its trappings. His friend has no monetary wealth, choosing to marry a girl he meets backpacking in the Italian alps and pursuing the traditional married-with-children dream, teaching at a local university. On page three or four the reader discovers the first guy perishes in the forest and bequeaths 440 million dollars to his friend, the one person who maintained contact and helped support his cave-dwelling existence. Life choices, friendship and societal expectations are exposed and explored in this hard-to-put-down novel.

The same themes are contained in Last Night in Twisted River, a story about a father and son (Dominic and Danny) on the run after accidentally murdering the Dominic's girlfriend. This tome, the newest by John Irving, begins in New Hampshire where Dominc struggles to raise Danny as a single parent after his wife perishes in the river. The story follows Dominic and Danny's lives as they move from the tiny logging settlement to Boston, finding work there as a cook in an Italian restaurant. I don't want to give too much away here, but the characters are very well-developed and they tell a complicated tale spanning several decades and three lifetimes.

The mistake I made was reading these two exceptional books back to back, when proper book shuffling could have enhanced the second one immensely. Both volumes share too many characteristics to be properly enjoyed consecutively: they are both densely written, about men and their friendships, and both take place in the north (one in the northwest and one in the northeast, but I could feel the chill in both stories).

Book shuffling refers to the practice of strategically ranking books in the order to be read so a light, fluffy book is sandwiched between two heavy, thought-provoking tomes. For more information on book shuffling and how it can enhance your enjoyment of reading, please refer to my book: Bookworms Anonymous (

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Aging (Slowly and Bravely)

My 40th birthday was nearly three months ago, and I'm adapting to my image in the mirror. I've also adapted my morning routine to include make-up every day (it's no longer optional, and neither is the under-eye wrinkle eraser) and a flat-iron styling (actually adds some waves to my dull, drab, lifeless hair). I notice a more insistent hunger, distracting and seemingly insatiable, and a nearly constant tired feeling invading my body.

I've also noticed I care a lot less about hurting others' feelings. I don't purposely set out to ruin someone's day, but if I occasionally ignore my diplomatic tendency and speak my mind I no longer lose sleep over it. In fact, sometimes I speak my mind on purpose, and wish I'd started this practice two decades ago.

So, on my birthday I received a new bike from my daughters and my mom: a cruiser-style bike with ten speeds and a wicker basket. I first told my daughter I coveted this model a few years ago when I spied a friend riding one through our Village, mentioning "I want a bike just like that, but I have to wait until I'm 40 to pull it off". My daughter remembered this and orchestrated the purchase of a gorgeous black bicycle with hot pink details, ready to ride to work and help me slough off the 6 pounds haunting me since last fall.

I know, fewer pounds translates to more wrinkles, but at this point I'd rather trade the weight for more energy even if it means staring at the aging woman in the mirror, wondering who she is. I'm not afraid of aging, as long as I can maintain my pace: slowly and bravely, slowly and bravely.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Baby's Driving!

My youngest child just received her driver's license. She passed the driving test with flying colors despite her inherent anxiety (yes, she takes after me) and she's piloting our old Toyota Tundra around the Village, displaying the company name and hopefully drawing some business. Who wouldn't want to hire a construction company with such a cute advertiser?

There are a few other benefits to leaving the company name plastered on our daughter's truck: she can never say "it wasn't me" when someone spies her truck at a party or friend's house; the police or any other concerned citizen can easily dial her mom to report her driving habits, since the phone number is prominently displayed on three sides; and the truck is noticeable even to those half-asleep, allowing ease in tracking her progress around town. In a town this size people will call me to report my children's driving transgressions anyway, but with our blatantly labeled truck, my youngest daughter can't drive around the block without someone calling to let me know who she's with, which way they were headed, and if she used her turn signals (she always does). Just another way living in a small town provides peace of mind for parents of teenagers (this position is preferable, by the way, to being a teenaged parent), ensuring we don't go insane too quickly.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reading Groups & Public Speaking

A semi-local (25 miles away) reading group asked me to speak at one of their upcoming meetings. Does this constitute public speaking? Because public speaking is one of my irrational fears, along with mice, small spaces with only one exit and flying, all of which produce enough anxiety to cause a quavery voice, shaking hands and a sweaty upper lip.

I experience the cliche author anxiety directly linked to defending my writing to those who either disagree with it or don't understand it, and I fear sounding foolish. Always able to imagine what I should have said in a given situation hours after it ends, I'm never able to produce a suitable response during a debate or confrontation. Oh, the frustration! If only I could 'speak' via hand written or typed letters, mailed back and forth, so each response would allow at least a day's rumination.

So, my fear of public speaking must be analyzed, addressed and hopefully dismissed. What is the worst case scenario? Has anyone ever died of public speaking (assuming they weren't shot)? No. The internal angst alone has yet to kill anyone. I can safely enter any public speaking situation with the knowledge that it will not kill me. (This is how I survived childbirth--I told myself people don't die from it in this day and age. I knew this was false, but I managed to convince myself it was true.)

With death removed as a possible outcome, appearing foolish or unprepared are the only remaining possibilities and they are much less dire.

So, I will dress the part and practice a five-minute speech (like high school Speech class--remember that? Five minutes was an eternity back then) and I'll field the questions. Maybe I'd better practice stall tactics to give myself time to ruminate and increase the odds of producing an intelligent answer...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thanklessly Thankful

Sometimes it's difficult to remember how grateful I am to live in a small town, geographically sequestered as we are from civilization, culture and shopping malls. It's easy to take certain things for granted here, such as the crime rate (zero) and the way we leave our keys in our trucks and never lock our houses (I think I have a key...somewhere). When Mother Nature is burying us in snow or breathing her icy breath down our backs, when I drive to work on unplowed roads without passing another soul, when the latest rumor only needs fifteen minutes to be twisted and communicated to everyone from the mayor to the one homeless person, it's hard to remember why I like living here.

I don't recall living anywhere else, which makes it difficult to imagine moving away and actually joining the daily commuters on a city train or wearing a suit to an office on the twenty-seventh floor (our tallest building here is three stories, but it's a B&B; we have no office buildings and I wear jeans to work!). City life looks and sounds glamorous until I consider the hordes of tourists, summer people and weekenders who drive for hours or days to enjoy a tiny slice of the good life, breathing our sweet, fresh air and walking down the middle of the street in celebration of our lack of traffic.

As for the weather, testing our strength of character today with icy winds straight off the water, at least it provides conversational fodder every day of the year. I've often wondered what people from temperate climates discuss when they meet on the street--do they comment on the temperature? ("Nice day again--70 degrees. I thought it was going to dip below 68 last night, but it held steady") Or do they even notice the weather at all? Maybe the weather fades right into the background until the one rainy day, every blue moon or so, when it's back in the spotlight until the sun emerges and life returns to normal. Our forecasters work hard here--the Great Lakes provide not only scenic beauty, shipping channels and water recreation venues, they also flummox weathermen with unpredictable wind patterns and temperature changes. The forecasters, then, are rarely correct in their predictions but they are followed by a loyal cadre of weather-obsessed people who plan their wardrobes and schedules around daily meteorological proclamations.

It seems I've digressed from my original topic, which was something about being thankful I live here in this desolate, beautiful, politically neglected place.

Here are some reasons I'm thankful:

scenery/fresh air
low crime rate
keys/locks unnecessary
low population
knowing everyone in town
no fast food restaurants
no traffic
my job--it's wonderful, an office job in an interesting field--which allows me to dress as I do every day, in jeans and a t-shirt (no kidding!)

Here are some things I'd like, but I know if they were improved the very character of the UP would be compromised and I might as well just live elsewhere because pretty soon everything will be the same anyway, so the following list should be given no weight whatsoever:

cheaper, fresher groceries
cheaper gas
more jobs (with higher pay)
more restaurants (but no fast food! Yuck)
more hotels
mall/shopping center
warmer climate (but still, no deadly snakes, bugs or spiders, and no life-threatening natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes or tornadoes)

Hhmmm. The more I think about it, the less attractive living elsewhere appears. I think I'll continue to live here, work two or three jobs (depends how you count them) and take vacations to civilization, staying just long enough to prove to myself once again that I would rather be here.

So, come on UP! On your next vacation hop in the car and drive north until you find us...sit in the bar, talk to some locals, stay a few days.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's For Dinner?

I stopped eating store-bought meat nearly four years ago, and have since lost the will to cook (is it really worth all the trouble to feed one or two?). The only time I enjoy cooking is when I'm preparing for an event such as a Bookworms Anonymous meeting, when I can make enough gourmet vegetarian fare to feed at least 7 and hopefully have some leftovers for lunch the next day. Choosing and preparing one meal for seven people once every six or eight months is so much easier than doing it for one or two people every night!

Tonight, though, we are having a family dinner together at home like 'regular people'. The menu? Venison, fried with onions, potatoes (also fried with onions), baked beans, and cherry crisp (I have fresh-frozen pitted cherries from last summer waiting in my freezer, each bag containing the proper amount for one cherry crisp recipe). We even have strawberry sorbet in case anyone wants their crisp served ala mode.

Just knowing what to prepare, and knowing we will sit down together and eat, motivates me to run home and start marinating the meat. A normal evening at our house finds me preparing a crazy pasta-vegetable-shrimp/soy meat dish while my husband cooks steak and potatoes for himself. My daughter then has her choice of menu, sometimes sampling both, but we rarely sit down together because nothing is ready at the same time.

If I believed in New Year's Resolutions, I suppose I could resolve to prepare a family meal every night, plan menus and shop accordingly for a month or so, then revert to the way I do it now. Luckily, I don't believe in NY Resolutions, so tonight's perfectly normal dinner will be viewed as a special occasion in our house. Maybe I'll even light a candle.

Venison Marinade:

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 TBLS ketchup
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder (I'll use freshly minced garlic)
1/2 tsp onion salt (I'll use shallot salt)

Put marinade ingredients in a plastic zipper bag; mix well and add meat. Let sit out on counter for twenty to thirty minutes, then cook meat in skillet at med-high heat. Serve with fried onions and potatoes.

Cherry Crisp Recipe:

4 cups pitted cherries
3/4 c sugar
4 TBLS flour

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup butter

Combing cherries, white sugar and 4 TBLS flour. Pour into 9"x13" baking dish. In bowl, combine topping ingredients, cutting in slightly softened butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over cherries.

Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 45 - 50 minutes. Topping should be golden brown.