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April Surprises

April 2, 2015

IMG_1303 (2)It’s been dreary and raining off and on all day. The forecast was for thunderstorms this afternoon, but the storms didn’t materialize. Instead, the sun broke through the clouds and steam began to rise from the streets and sidewalks. Warmth returned to the day, and I ventured outside to see what the sunshine had brought. I didn’t expect to see much more than mud, but our morning shower and afternoon sun have brought a sudden eruption of yellow surprises. Jonquils and daffodils are blooming amid a scatter of tiny blue flowers in the leaf litter of my little woodland garden. Welcome, Spring.

After Boot Camp

March 30, 2015

I participated in a ten-week writing bootcamp recently, and came away with the habit of writing at least 300 words a day. Or so I’d hoped. The truth is that, without those daily prompts in my inbox every morning, I quickly fell out of the habit. Clearly, I needed a good kick in the pants to make me keep going. Enter WordPress and their Daily Post’s Ebook with its year’s worth of prompts. I like the little book so much that I thought I’d share it with my fellow writers. Some days we all need a little boost to get us writing in the morning.

Ebook: 365 Writing Prompts.

Night Lights

November 15, 2014

nightlightLately, I’ve been in the mood to read at night. The sun sets early now, and lounging on the back porch sipping gin and tonics or mai tai cocktails has lost its appeal. It’s hot toddy season – perfect for curling up in a comfy chair, dressed in flannel pj’s, reading a cozy mystery.

Two problems have arisen, however, and I must solve them before I can sink into a toddy-induced fantasy of nighttime reading: first, I need a book with a good story, and, second,  I need a lamp with good lighting. Finding the book should not be too difficult, but a good reading lamp is proving hard to come by.

Said lamp must be tall enough to cast light over the book in my lap. It must cast a soothing, warm glow without shadow or heat. I dislike roasting while reading. It must blend in with the decor – that is, my husband must not notice its addition to the furnishings (he is picky about lamps, which means he usually sits in the dark). Finding a lamp that blends in with the decor and avoids spousal detection is more difficult than it sounds. Lamps fashioned in the Arts and Crafts style of our living room furniture tend to feature stained-glass or hammered copper shades – they are decorative, but cast only small pools of light on tabletop or floor. They are much too weak to  brighten a room, let alone illumine something as small as a book. In short, an Arts and Crafts lamp is not much use for reading, unless one is a bat.

If a proper reading lamp cannot be found soon, I may have to resort to using a miner’s lamp. Surely I am not the only reader who has yielded to the peculiar-looking but serviceable hardhat with lantern fastened to its front. Its only drawback is that my husband just might notice it.


October 16, 2010


It’s been a problem for some time, this collecting of books. Bookshelves line the walls in nearly every room of my house, and each shelf is full to bursting. Stacks of books surround my desk and totter near the shelves in my study, and boxes from Amazon arrive on my doorstep with disturbing regularity. When my husband asks, “where did you spend all that money?” I just shrug, and tilt my head toward the bookshelves.

From my library

None of the books I own are particularly special. There are just a lot of them. Most are paperbacks. Many are marked up, dog-eared, and crumbling. None is worth the price I paid for it, which is saying a lot — the lowest priced book on my shelf is labeled fifty cents.

I know there are collectors who lust after first editions, rare manuscripts, and incunabula. Some collect miniatures – I’ve seen one Bible printed in a book no bigger than my thumbnail. Such books are valuable beyond imagining, but price isn’t everything. To me, what happens to the collections is what matters.

I think, for example, of Sir Robert Cotton (1571-1631). Did he worry about money when he acquired the Beowulf manuscript? Did he fuss over the prices he paid for his ancient and medieval manuscripts? Did he worry about the cost of housing his massive collection? Surely not. Bibliophiles scoff at price tags, however high. But to my mind, the true value of a bibliophile’s collection lies not in what lines the bookshelves, but in what he or she leaves behind. For example, Cotton’s library – what is left of it (there was a fire, alas) – is now in the hands and on the shelves of the British Museum. As rare as its contents are, one can still visit bits of even its rarest manuscripts. Visit, but not touch.

My collection, on the other hand, is entirely touchable. Every book has been touched, and more than a few have touched me. Some, I like to read over and over again. B.J. Chute’s Greenwillow is one such book, one I save for late winter, when the light is cold, and kindness seems in short supply. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (like Beowulf, a one-of-a-kind rarity from Cotton’s library) is another — I revel in its eeriness in the dark days between Christmas and the New Year.

The value of my books lies mainly in my memory of having read them. I like to let my eyes wander over the titles as I remember where and when the books and I first met. I remember classrooms, park benches, childhood nights beneath the covers with a flashlight and a Nancy Drew. I remember reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land when I was in love with Billy Holbrook. I remember Kazantzakis from an ill-advised affair with a Greek fellow who was all looks and no character.

Now, I think, it is time to let go. It’s time to give someone else the joy of discovering my books. And so, I empty my shelves and carry my books — box by box and bag by bag — up the sweeping steps and through the doors of our community college library. It’s time to settle my books on a new set of shelves to enter the memories of someone new. It may not be Cotton’s donation to the British Museum, but it’s all the richer for that.

Blind Love

October 1, 2010

MyPhone Spr10 045

What does one do with a blind cat? We’ve been pondering that question quite a lot lately. Our elderly cat, who had one eye removed several years ago, has lost sight in the remaining eye.

The Princess gets lost now and then but doesn’t seem particularly distraught when it happens. She finds her litter box, knows where her food and water bowls are, and manages to find her favorite nap locations. She never was much interested in going outdoors, so she does not feel deprived of her freedom. Or so we hope.

Freedom is a fragile thing, however. We have had to become careful of our surroundings. A water bowl placed only a few inches off its usual spot is missing, Princess believes. A rug near the fireplace confuses her because it feels like the rug at the front door. Stairs have no beginning, but they do have an abrupt end. The litter box must remain precisely where it has always been – in the laundry room in the basement near the door. We added a second litter box to her favorite room upstairs so she wouldn’t have to find her way down to the basement. She does not know the new box is there, yet we hesitate to introduce her to it. We worry that she will become confused and think she is in the basement, with her usual box.

Are Princess’s losses frightening to her? It doesn’t seem so, but then again cats tend to hold their own counsel. Are her losses frightening to us? Most certainly.

So what does one do with a blind cat? There is only one thing to do: love her.

Facing the Canon

September 18, 2010

This summer, I told myself that a total immersion in the literary canon was in order. It was time to tackle Eliot, time to brave Balzac, and time to face down Proust. Well, okay. Proust is not exactly in the canon as taught in survey courses, but the idea of actually having read all seven volumes of his infamous oevre would incite jealousy among people who have not read Proust, or at least not all of him.

How did I fare? What did I really end up reading this summer? Here is a partial list, in no particular order.

  • — David Grann’s nonfiction adventure tale, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.
  • — A few of Michael Koryta’s mystery and suspense novels.
  • — Changes: the most recent of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels (featuring Harry Dresden, a wizard who lists himself in the Chicago Yellow Pages).
  • — Joanne Harris’s Gentlemen and Players.
  • — David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet.
  • — Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.
  • — Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red and This Body of Death
  • — The City of Ember, and The People of Sparks, two YA (young adult) novels by Jeanne Duprau
  • — Death Angels by Ake Edwardson
  • — Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear
  • — The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel, by David Wroblewski
  • — Gayle Trent’s Murder Takes the Cake (I am especially embarrassed by that one. It is truly awful).

As for the classics, I did read Pere Goriot (Balzac), and I did finish Eliot’s Middlemarch. I did not, however, venture within twenty miles of Proust. The prospect was just too daunting. Maybe next summer.

Auditioning Windows Live Writer

July 31, 2010

Because Word Press themes do not allow for font resizing, I have decided to explore Windows Live Writer. Writer is a WYSIWYG program that allows you to create blog posts offline. Its features include font variety, formatting freedom, and photo depression glass chicken dish editing. This is my very first Writer post!

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