Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Favorite Things of 2018

This list is shorter than last year's, because I just couldn't think of a lot of things. That makes me sound ungrateful (or boring), but there weren't as many stand-outs. But here are seven, in no particular order.

1. going out for breakfast on Saturday mornings
I think it started when I went out to a local family-owned restaurant earlier this year with my mother, and then my husband felt bad that I'd gone without him, so I took him there for breakfast, too. And now we go several Saturdays each month--enough so that the owner recognizes us. I usually have the country skillet (hash browns topped with ham, onions, green peppers, and two eggs over-easy. And then I don't eat until nighttime.

2. my Mother's Day card
Mother's Day can be a hard day for stepmoms, let me tell you. But my (step)son actually remembered this year, and the card and message he wrote was a sweet one. I cherish those cards.

3. my grandson's band concerts
Is there anything neater than a middle-school band concert? Where they're all squeaky and breathless and gawky. The concerts are blessedly short, because I think I'm as nervous as Bo is. Bo took up clarinet in the sixth grade, and this year (seventh grade), he's trying other instruments and is has been chosen to be a part of the honors band at the university playing bass clarinet.

Image result for pork and string beans

4. trying a new Chinese delivery
I'd always ordered my Chinese food from the Fortune Cookie, but that place will often close for a month with no warning, leaving me out of luck on Chinese ordering night. So I tried a local buffet place that we've gone to for years but never used for delivery. And it was delicious. My favorite dish is the pork and string beans.

5. Felicity Vuolo
You all know my longtime love the Duggar family. Now that the older kids are married and having lots of babies, I find myself keeping up with lots of Duggar offshoot families. This year I've loved Jinger (Duggar) Vuolo's Instagram feed where she shares photos of her baby girl, Felicity. I've fallen in love with the baby and the name.

Image result for george h w bush funeral service

6. President George H. W. Bush's funerals
I'm a huge George H. W. Bush fan, and the news of his passing made me so sad. I did a lot of prayerwork this fall to know that the qualities he held in abundance and that I loved so much about him--his integrity, his humor, and his modesty, especially--do not leave the world with his passing. Those qualities of God are ever present. Also, I'd like to have Jon Meacham speak about me and Reba McEntire sing for me some day.

7. jigsaw puzzles
I may have used this one in the past, but I don't remember. I set up the card table in the spare bedroom again this winter, and I've already completed this one and this one. Next up is this one. Sunday afternoon, after all my chores are done, I spend a couple of hours listening to Christmas movies and puzzling.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What I'm reading this week (12/10/18)

Last week I finished:

I always have trouble reviewing the "it" books, especially while they're still hugely popular, so we'll see if it gets easier as I go along. Months and months ago, Michelle Obama's Becoming landed on my radar, and I immediately added it to my TBR. I never had very good feelings about the Obama presidency, because my beliefs and priorities are about 180 degrees different from his, but that doesn't mean one can't read what Mrs. Obama has to say with an open mind. I feel very strongly that political disagreement need not be a closed door. I was eager for the book, because I do love presidential and first lady memoirs, but I was also apprehensive about what I'd find inside. I'm happy to report that I was rather blown away by the book. It's thoughtful, informative, very honest, and it's so well-written. Mrs. Obama divides her memoir into three sections: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. In the first, she talks about her childhood, her tightknit family, and schooling in the South Side of Chicago, at a time in history where it was just starting its decline into the pitiful crime-ridden place it is now. In the second section, she talks about meeting Barack Obama at the Chicago law firm they both end up at, about becoming a wife and mother (I didn't know that she battled infertility), and about her husband's short climb to the presidency. In the final section, she talks about being First Lady, living in the White House, and her platforms promoting healthy eating habits as well as several others. I think the most powerful parts of the book are when she talks about how painful the elections could be at times, how attacked and misunderstood she often felt, and when she talked about how hard she fought to give her daughters Malia and Sasha a normal childhood in spite of living in the public eye. Michelle Obama was a reluctant political wife and first lady, and she's not shy about making that clear. She was fierce about keeping her identity in the face of losing many of her freedoms and most of her privacy for eight years. She talks about race and gender, and I found those parts difficult and poignant. She also makes very clear her abhorrence of President Trump and her disappointment in women for not voting for Hillary Clinton in larger numbers. She wrote, "And I will always wonder about what led so many women in particular, to reject an exceptionally qualified female candidate, and instead choose a misogynist as their president." Well, I could give her a list of reasons why this woman did not vote for Hillary Clinton, and most of them come down to the fact that the words "exceptionally qualified" and "misogynist" are opinions, and I had different ones. Mrs. Clinton's priorities were not my priorities. Mrs. Clinton supports abortion rights. Mrs. Clinton called me "deplorable" (and how is that worse than anything President Trump called anyone during the campaign?) The events in Benghazi troubled me a great deal, and I simply did not trust Mrs. Clinton. And while I did not appreciate much of what President Trump has done and said, I trusted that he could follow through on his campaign promises (which he has). But the important thing to address here is that I didn't not vote for Mrs. Clinton because she was a woman, just like I didn't not vote for Barack Obama because he as a black man. I did not vote for President Obama and Mrs. Clinton because they did not have the same priorities for the country that I did. What I'd most like to tell Michelle Obama is that people can disagree with someone and dislike someone's politics or agendas without hating them--and especially without hating them because they are black or female. It makes me so sad to think that she thinks people didn't vote for her husband or Hillary Clinton because they hate black people or women. Let's teach our children better. The thing I was hoping Mrs. Obama would explain in her memoir was her comment "for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country." She repeated that statement in speech after speech, it was planned, written, not off-the-cuff. And it hurt the feelings of a lot of people, myself included. She addressed that issue in the book, and while she said it was taken out of context, and she provided the full comment in context, I honestly did not feel she resolved the issue. To this day I don't believe she knows why that comment caused so much problem and turned so many away from her. It was an ugly thing to say--an ugly thing to believe--and it would seem that she stands by it today. It did show me that we all have very different experiences in this country of ours, and we have work to do to remedy that. We agree on that. To bring this to a close, though, I very highly recommend this memoir to everyone, whether an Obama supporter or not. It's a clear-eyed and honest view of a remarkable woman, who should not be seen simply in the context of her powerful and successful husband, and I'm so glad I read it. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

I've been working my way through a backlist of books that were well-received--what I like to call modern classics--this year, and I finally got to Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead on audio this week. The book is a long letter from an old, dying preacher to his young son. He became a father late in life, and he anticipates not being able to watch the boy grow up, so he sits down to write a letter full of family history, his life as a preacher, his faith, and what he wants to boy to know about him and life. It's a wonderful book, plot light, but full of beauty and depth. I recommend this one to anyone looking for a quiet, contemplative book. It's beautifully written. My rating: 4 stars.

I though December might be the perfect month to read The Little Book of Hygge. I'd bought a copy for my Kindle awhile ago, and I decided to read it that way. There are many illustrations and charts, and although I don't know how they appear in the book, they seemed to have converted well to Kindle. Hygge (pronounced "hoo-gah"), is the Danish term best translated as coziness or hominess. It involves low light, rich food, sweets, fireplaces, wool socks, sweaters, favorite movies, small groups, and other things that score high on the happiness-inducing chart. I take issue with the studies that show socialist Scandinavian countries as the happiest, because I think it all boils down to your frame of reference, the questions you ask, and the mind frames of those who develop the questions. The author indicates that the greatest reason why Denmark is rated the happiest country is the welfare state. I almost swallowed my tongue. To each his own, but socialism is one thing that would make this blue-blooded American very, very, profoundly unhappy. And one of things that makes me happiest is that my country makes major contributions to the global economy, world culture, etc. The Danes gave us Lego, but, to be honest, not a lot else. I guess I got a little confused as to whether we were talking about individual happiness or the happiness of the whole. I see a distinction. So, I was kind of unmoved by this book. What the Danes call hygge, we call "Saturday night in." Afterwards, I kind of shrugged my shoulders and moved on. I liked the peek into another culture, but I wasn't impressed enough to go out and buy a ton of candles and eschew my American lighting. My rating: 3 stars.

In 2016, I read the first Tarzan book, Tarzan of the Apes (review here), but for some reason, I never made book two in the series a priority. I finally decided to try it on audio, as I was longing for a little adventure. And boy did I get it! I'd forgotten just how much adventure Edgar Rice Burroughs writes into these books. In this installment, Tarzan, rather gentrified but still carrying around a bit of ape in him, makes his way to France, gets caught up in Russian aristocracy and card sharks, avoids a shipwreck that nearly claims his beloved Jane, is shot twice in a duel, makes his way to Africa to hunt a big cat (I forget which kind) and has many scrapes with death. It's almost too much to keep track of, but it's fun nonetheless. It's too bad these books aren't really popular anymore, because I could see boys loving these books. My rating: 3 stars.

I'm currently reading:

This is a nice, fast read, and I'm enjoying it.

This week I'll begin:

I just hope it's not too sad. My pre-holiday mind is a bit frazzled.

My evening reads:

I have four books going for my nightly reading, and it's a bit much. I've basically put the Joanna Gaines book on hold until I finish the A.J. Jacobs book and get a little further on the others. But I'm enjoying everything here.

My audiobook:

This has been on my TBR for ages. I'm glad to finally knock it off!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Top 5 Poetry Books of 2018

I made a goal this year of reading 1,000 poems, and I ended the year having read at least double that many. Almost all of them, this year, came from collections and anthologies. I read poetry by Jill Bialosky, Billy Collins, Robert Hass, Bob Hicok, Tony Hoagland, Laura Kasischke, Jane Kenyon (all of Jane Kenyon's work), Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Li-Young Lee, Mary Oliver, Linda Pastan, Pablo Neruda (in fact, all 225 of his odes), Joyce Sutphen, and Kevin Young. I chose my top five (not including re-reads) to share with you here. Only one was published in 2018, but a couple others were from 2017.


Picnic Lightning, Billy Collins

This one felt like a re-read because so many of my favorite Collins poems come from this collection. If you want to try a Billy Collins collection, start with this one.

Devotions, Mary Oliver

This is a thick book of selected poems of one of the most prolific poets writing today. It's a wonderful collection, most of the poems centering on the natural world.

Collected Poems, Jane Kenyon

Kenyon is a wonderful poet who did not get to write for enough years. Her poems are heavy on domestic scenes and the love of her husband, poet Donald Hall.

Kindest Regards, Ted Kooser

Kooser's poems are unassuming and simple, perhaps deceptively so. They are enormously comfortable poems.

All the Odes, Pablo Neruda

I complained about the size of this one (800+ pages, if I recall), but the experience was one I'll remember for quite some time. There are many poems in the collection I just loved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

December 2018 reading list

I always have the hardest time putting together my December reading lists. It's the end of the year, so there are books I feel pressured to read (or to save for the new year); I'm off for half of the month, so I want engaging stories that I can lose myself in for hours at a time; I never know quite how much I'll get read while I'm off work; I don't want to read anything that will alter my carefully created end of year best of lists; and I'm also just kind of tired and want a certain kind of book--probably one that doesn't exist. So, it's hard to choose my books for the month. Taking all that into account, I've put together a list I'm happy with, though I'm leaving one wildcard spot open for an as-the-mood-strikes choice.

A couple of thick memoirs:

A couple of novels I've wanted to read:

A couple of adventure stories:

A couple of nonfiction titles that have nothing in common:

A couple of cozy winter home books:

A couple of cozy family books:

And, a couple of poetry books:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

November 2018 wrap-up

November seemed to last longer than any month this year, perhaps because winter set in very early here in Wisconsin. It feels like January already, and I'm already layered in flannel, fleece, corduroy, and wool. It's going to be a long winter, but that will make for good reading. This month I read a couple of really good books and a bunch of mediocre ones. I went out on limb on a couple and found my reading sweet spot with others. It was a good month. One-word reviews below are linked to full reviews.

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3.5 stars