Eight Out Of Nine Ain’t Bad

This is the year of the book in my world. At least, reading was a priority in January and I’m hoping to keep the momentum going.

January allowed me time to read a few books, some of them short and all in different topics. I found them all enjoyable save for one so that seems like a good record.

First, let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way. The one I hated:

Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

The story is told around one day in the life of a Maryland couple. We travel with them, meet friends and family, and learn their back history as they reminisce.

It’s tedious and feels too long. The characters all are annoying and not at all sympathetic. The main character views the world through her own special lens and her expectations are both unrealistic and cringe inducing.

The chapters are too long as well. I kept reading, thinking conditions would improve, only to find myself in so far I hated to cut bait at the three quarter mark. Learn from me. Save your time.

The Winter People by Jenifer McMahon

This work of fiction is intriguing. There’s history, relationships, a present day story, mystery and even a supernatural presence.

I like the way the story jumps around from long ago to the present day. There’s nothing predictable about this story and I enjoyed every minute of it. It takes place in January so winter is a great time to read it!

The Race For Paris by Meg Waite Clayton

You can’t go wrong with a book by this author. To be clear, this isn’t my favorite of hers but it was a great read and inspiring to boot. Strong female characters are a trademark of hers and this title was no exception.

A major theme here is how women journalists were slighted during World War II and how much harder they had to work than the men, only to still not earn respect from anyone in charge.

Sad but thought provoking and it makes you feel some gratitude for how far we’ve progressed.

Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator by Doris L. Rich

There have been just a handful of books written about Bessie Coleman, most with dubious reviews. However, this one sounded good and it’s published by Smithsonian Books, a trustworthy source.

I already wrote about Bessie so I don’t want to dwell here but would highly recommend the book. It’s hard to piece together a true biography about someone like Bessie Coleman. She lived in a spotlight but there are some inconsistencies in what was published about her during her lifetime. She left behind few letters, journals, etc. that might help to build a clear picture of this woman’s life. So this book is slender and much of it is about context – what was happening around her in terms of society and race.

I loved this book, am intrigued by the woman and would recommend it to anyone.

The Blood Of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson

This is another one that gives a lot of societal context. This is a huge help for those of us who didn’t live in this time period. This book is graphic, poignant and carefully crafted to tell a story that’s been told many times. This is done in a way that is fresh and relevant.

It’s tough to read and hard to put down – a sure sign that the author has done a good job telling a story that no one wants to think about but that desperately needs to be known. We aren’t that far removed from what happened to Emmett Till and there are lessons here for us all.

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani

This is the second book in her Big Stone Gap series. The series takes place in a very rural Virginia coal mining community called Big Stone Gap. The heroine was the self proclaimed town spinster until an exciting series of events occurred in the first book.

Bottom line- I adore these books but you have to start with Big Stone Gap. And really, you can’t go wrong with any book by this author. I have yet to find one I didn’t like.

Cat Stories by James Herriot

James Herriot had a successful veterinary career before putting pen to paper to write some classics about the animals and their owners he encountered in his small town practice in England. James Herriot died 25 years ago this month but his wisdom, humor and charm love in his short stories and books. Being partial to cats and beautifully illustrated books, this was a nice break from the racist south after reading about Emmett Till.

The Blue Day Book by Bradley Trevor Greive

This is a glorified picture book for adults to lift your spirits when you are down. All of the pictures are of animals! I pull it off the shelf occasionally and am pretty sure that many of us need something like it to brighten our day occasionally.

A Nation of Immigrants by John F. Kennedy

Another slender volume, it gives a short history of immigration to this country beginning with Colonial times through the early twentieth century.

It provides a good snapshot of where we all come from and a timely reminder that most of us aren’t really from here. Our people all came from someplace else and many of them were treated badly when they arrived. In other words, it’s still timely today even though it was published in 1964.

I don’t normally share about the books I read but there were so many good ones last month I thought you might enjoy a rundown.

Which leads to my next question. What are YOU reading? I’m always looking for recommendations!

No Spend January Is Here!

January is a No Spend Month for me. It’s a fun little game I’ve played for the last few years where I pay for what is needed but there’s no frivolous spending (unless pre-planned), no impulse buying and no shopping for entertainment. Goodbye, antique malls!

So bills are paid and groceries are purchased but I work on using some things from the freezer and pantry. Yesterday, I stopped at the store for about $10 worth of produce needed to create meals for the week using things I already have. If I stop for gas, my reusable water bottle had better be full because I’m not running inside for a drink. Not even for just a dollar.

There’s a gift to buy this month and a planned dinner and movie with a friend that was postponed from the holidays. That’s all the extracurricular spending that should happen.

This month, I will spend a lot of time at home, using what I own, looking for creative ways to entertain myself for free and simply appreciating the life that I have built and all that I already have. The Depression era mantra “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” comes to mind.

After all the excess and gluttony of the holidays, a spending fast is a welcome relief to the bank account but it’s also a welcome break from commercialism.

We spend a lot of time making money to survive and on spending money on stuff to fill our homes but we don’t always go home and just enjoy the life we have.

It’s is an exercise in gratitude as much as anything else.

I wrote a Winter Survival Guide last fall and it’s here in January that these techniques are truly put to work.

Here’s what’s happening in my world right now:

Books are a priority this year and I’m finding that the more I read, the more I want to read. The problem is that there’s a new one that I’m dying to tear into. I usually have three or four going at once but want to focus on one at a time this year. It can be next.

Cooking is more fun. I always enjoy playing in the kitchen but winter is a great time to experiment with new recipes. This year is especially fun as I’m looking for plant based recipes for my new lifestyle. This week I made a potato corn chowder that was divine and the lunch leftovers were a welcome treat! I also made a pumpkin cookie that was disgusting but we’ll just call that an experiment gone awry and move on.

Organization and purging are another priority. I have a list of areas to hit – from the pantry to the sock drawer to the nightstand and all points in between. It’s shocking how much stuff accumulates over time even when you try to be tidy. The goal is to do one thing from the list every day. The purging extends into intangible areas too. One evening was spent purging emails while watching the Closer on TV. Brenda Lee Johnson caught the bad guys and I unsubscribed and deleted thousands of old marketing emails. The above picture represents a new set of Christmas dishes that need to be put away after some rearranging in the china cabinet.

Movie time! I can’t go to the movies but that doesn’t matter because there’s a stack of movies waiting for my viewing pleasure. One day I’ll make some homemade potato chips and hit the couch for a little movie marathon.

Self care is a priority. Outdoor activity is less common because it’s dark at quitting time but I am trying to prioritize some kind of exercise every day. Rest is also important. My philosophy for most of the year is that you can sleep when you’re dead. During winter, these cold, dark nights call for a warm blanket and an earlier bedtime.

Being happy with the Now is a common theme and resisting the urge to adventure plan involves daily internal negotiations. It’s much harder than it should be. However, the theme of this stage of the year is being satisfied with the abundance of everyday life. Adventure planning can wait a bit. I have started a list of day trip ideas based on suggestions from friends but that’s more about being forgetful than about planning. Being present in this moment rather than dream of the next adventure is a real challenge.

For me, a No Spend Month is an opportunity to get myself together for another year, to set new goals and intentions, to stop buying stuff I don’t need, to nourish my mind and body, and to practice gratitude for what I have.

It gets easier every year and, this will sound sound nuts, but I’ve been looking forward to January for weeks.

Want to do your own no spend challenge? You can set your own rules and make it what you want it to be! You might be surprised at how much money and time you save!

Happiness Is….

Happiness is a stack of books that you’re excited to read and a weekend plan to make reading a priority. My reading list is a mile long but I’m determined to make a dent in it this winter.

What’s on your reading list?

My Guide To Surviving Winter

It’s still fall but we are flirting with winter weather here in southern Ohio. Please don’t stop reading when I say this but winter makes my heart happy.

Here’s why.

Winter feels like Nature’s way of telling me to slow down, to rest and to appreciate the small joys of my home. I’ve been unwittingly practicing the Norwegian art of Hygge for years!

For the other three seasons, if the weather is tolerable I feel compelled to be active from dawn to dusk. Whether it be on a hike or an adventure or just an errand, it feels like time spent at home could be better used.

Since the time change, I’ve begun to nest here in my house on the ridge. It started as decluttering, finally taking cardboard and plastic to recycling and then taking quick glances around each room for unneeded things.

The next thing I knew, each kitchen cabinet was being emptied and boxes and bags filled up to give away. Coats for a drive at work, tops my mother might like, dvds and a big meat cleaver for my dad (it seemed a bit much for the vegetable eater here)

Now attention has turned to making things cozy. First I dropped new wax melts into all my scent burners. Winter means a mix of cinnamon, citrus and pine. Then I began putting out heavier throws for winter couch cuddling and the flannel sheets were washed and put on the bed.

Winter means more movies on the couch and books in bed so I’ve begun a new stack of books I really want to read this winter. I also pulled out some new jigsaw puzzles. There’s nothing better than sitting by the window on a snowy day to work on a puzzle. Although Scout likely won’t allow this to happen this year. Kittens have other uses for small items like puzzle pieces.

There will still be adventures on weekends when weather permits. There’s nothing better than a fast hike in the cold unless it’s a slow hike in the snow where you can look for animal tracks and enjoy the shimmering beauty of a world blanketed in snow.

There will be more time spent in local antique malls. Winter is when I allow myself to shop for records so I’ll rush home to clean and listen to my treasures. Maybe this is the year I’ll find that mid century console record player I’ve been looking for. It has to work and has to have great mid century lines. I’ll find the one someday.

This winter I’m planning a jaunt to Cincinnati to the Freedom Center and maybe another to Dayton for the Packard Museum. There are some terrific antique malls in both cities as well as other museums to make me wonder if I shouldn’t make these overnights rather than a quick out and back. I will appreciate these adventures more because they will be less common and will prevent cabin fever from setting in.

While there will still be adventures this winter, the focus will be at home. I want to find a vegan hot chocolate recipe and work on some soups. I want to curl up with my cat to watch a movie or catch up on my magazine reading. I want to take hot baths and listen to good music.

For me, winter is about being cozy and making things beautiful. Since I live in the country, it’s also about making do and being happy with what you have, an exercise in gratitude if I’ve ever heard of one.

I am grateful for this period of rest and quiet. It’s what I need to recharge from months of busyness and to prepare me for months more of adventure and exploration.

So while everyone is miserable because of the cold, snow and dark, I will be as happy as if it were 75 degrees and sunny. And I think that’s petty cool.

I Miss Those Days

college days

I commuted to Ohio University and often found myself with time to kill between classes. If the weather was good, this is where you could find me. Countless hours were spent sitting on this sunny hillside plowing through centuries of good books as I pursued my degree in English.

I miss those days. 

It was wonderful having nowhere to be but right here, sitting in the grass with a book in my hands. It was here that I read my first Ian Fleming book as part of a film noir class. It was here that I developed an appreciation for Indian literature and it was here that Jane Austin came to life.

I suppose I could go sit there with a book someday but I’m guessing you really can’t go home again. I don’t belong there anymore. But the memory – ah, the memory of the smell of fresh cut grass, the sun beating down, the feel of a book in my hands –  it’s the best memory of my college career.