Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Mindfulness ~ meditate

This is the best I can do today, on this day when we planned the memorial service for my friend Jane Yelliott, who died yesterday morning.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ books for Christmas

Books, books, always more books.  The nice thing about having a roomy is that I also get to read the books she gets, and she gets to read mine.  Here are the latest arrivals, as gifts and as book orders she or I placed.

The Dovekeepers ~ by Alice Hoffman, 2011, fiction (Israel)
Nearly two thousand years ago, nine hundred Jews held out for months against armies of Romans on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, two women and five children survived.  Based on this tragic and iconic event, Hoffman’s novel is a spellbinding tale of four extraordinarily bold, resourceful, and sensuous women, each of whom has come to Masada by a different path.  Yael’s mother died in childbirth, and her father, an expert assassin, never forgave her for that death.  Revka, a village baker’s wife, watched the murder of her daughter by Roman soldiers; she brings to Masada her young grandsons, rendered mute by what they have witnessed.  Aziza is a warrior’s daughter, raised as a boy, a fearless rider and expert marksman who finds passion with a fellow soldier.  Shirah, born in Alexandria, is wise in the ways of ancient magic and medicine, a woman with uncanny insight and power.  The lives of these four complex and fiercely independent women intersect in the desperate days of the siege.  All are dovekeepers, and all are also keeping secrets — about who they are, where they come from, who fathered them, and whom they love.
In the Country of the Young ~ by Lisa Carey, 2000, fiction (Maine)
On a stormy November night in 1848, a ship carrying more than a hundred Irish emigrants ran aground twenty miles off the coast of Maine.  Many were saved, but some were not — including a young girl who died crying out the name of her brother.  In the present day, the artist Oisin MacDara lives in self-imposed exile on Tiranogue — the small island where the shipwrecked Irish settled.  The past is Oisin's curse, as memories of the twin sister who died tragically when he was a boy haunt him still.  Then on a quiet All Hallows' Eve, a restless spirit is beckoned into his home by a candle flickering in the window:  the ghost of the girl whose brief life ended on Tiranogue's shore more than a century earlier.  In Oisin's house she seeks comfort and warmth, and a chance at the life that was denied her so long ago.   For a lonely man chained by painful memories, nothing will ever be the same again.
The Mermaids Singing ~ by Lisa Carey, 1998, fiction (Ireland)
Somewhere off the west coast of Ireland lies Inis Murúch — the Island of the Mermaids — a world where myth is more powerful that truth and where the sea sings with the healing and haunting voices of women.  Lisa Carey weaves together the voices and lives of three generations of Irish and Irish-American women.  Years ago, Clíona — strong, proud, and practical — sailed for Boston, determined to one day come home.  But when the time came to return to Inis Murúch, her daughter Grace — fierce, beautiful, and brazenly sexual — resented her mother's isolated, unfamiliar world.  Though entranced by the sea and its healing powers, Grace became desperate to escape the confines of the island, one day stealing away with her small daughter Graínne.  Now Graínne — motherless at fifteen after Grace's death — is about to be taken back across the ocean by Clíona, repeating the journey her mother was forced to make years before.  She goes to meet a father she has never known, her heart pulled between a life where she no longer belongs and a family she cannot remember.  On the rocky shore of Inis Murúch, she waits for her father and begins to discover her own sexual identity even as she struggles to understand the forces that have torn her family apart.
Leaving Home ~ by Anita Brookner, 2005, fiction (France)
At twenty-six, Emma Roberts comes to the painful realization that if she is ever to become truly independent, she must leave her comfortable London flat and venture into the wider world.  This entails not only breaking free from a claustrophobic relationship with her mother, but also shedding her inherited tendency toward melancholy.  Once settled in a small Paris hotel, Emma befriends Franoise Desnoyers, a vibrant young woman who offers Emma a glimpse into a turbulent life so different from her own.  In this exquisite new novel of self-discovery, Booker Prize-winner Anita Brookner addresses one of the great dramas of our lives:  growing up and leaving home.
The Septembers of Shiraz ~ by Dalia Sofer, 2007, fiction (Iran), 8/10
In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, rare-gem dealer Isaac Amin is arrested, wrongly accused of being a spy. Terrified by his disappearance, his family must reconcile a new world of cruelty and chaos with the collapse of everything they have known. As Isaac navigates the terrors of prison, and his wife feverishly searches for him, his children struggle with the realization that their family may soon be forced to embark on a journey of incalculable danger.
The First Phone Call from Heaven ~ by Mitch Albom, 2013, fiction (Michigan), 9/10
One morning in the small town of Coldwater, Michigan, the phones start ringing.  The voices say they are calling from heaven.  Is it the greatest miracle ever?  Or some cruel hoax?  As news of these strange calls spreads, outsiders flock to Coldwater to be a part of it.  At the same time, a disgraced pilot named Sully Harding returns to Coldwater from prison to discover his hometown gripped by "miracle fever."  Even his young son carries a toy phone, hoping to hear from his mother in heaven.  As the calls increase, and proof of an afterlife begins to surface, the town — and the world — transforms.  Only Sully, convinced there is nothing beyond this sad life, digs into the phenomenon, determined to disprove it for his child and his own broken heart.
The Case for God ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2009
Armstrong provides a balanced, nuanced understanding of the role religion plays in human life and the trajectory of faith in modern times.  Why has God become incredible?  Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?  Moving from the Paleolithic Age to the present, Armstrong details the lengths to which humankind has gone to experience a sacred reality that it called God, Brahman, Nirvana, Allah, or Dao.  She examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith.  With her trademark depth of knowledge and profound insight, Armstrong elucidates how the changing world has necessarily altered the importance of religion at both societal and individual levels.  And she makes a powerful, convincing argument for structuring a faith that speaks to the needs of our dangerously polarized age.
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life ~ by Karen Armstrong, 2010
In this important and thought-provoking work, Karen Armstrong — one of the most original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world — provides an impassioned and practical guide to helping us make the world a more compassionate place.  The twelve steps she suggests are listed below.  She shares concrete methods to help us cultivate and expand our capacity for compassion and provides a reading list to encourage us to “hear one another’s narratives.”  She teaches us that becoming a compassionate human being is a lifelong project and a journey filled with rewards.
The First Step: Learn About Compassion
The Second Step: Look at Your Own World
The Third Step: Compassion for Yourself
The Fourth Step: Empathy
The Fifth Step: Mindfulness
The Sixth Step: Action
The Seventh Step: How Little We Know
The Eighth Step: How Should We Speak to One Another?
The Ninth Step: Concern for Everybody
The Tenth Step: Knowledge
The Eleventh Step: Recognition
The Twelfth Step: Love Your Enemies
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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Caturday ~ Mr. Klaus is vanquished

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures ~ by Kate DiCamillo, 2013, children's chapter book, 7/10
It begins, as the best superhero stories do, with a tragic accident that has unexpected consequences.   The squirrel never saw the vacuum cleaner coming, but self-described cynic Flora Belle Buckman, who has read every issue of the comic book Terrible Things Can Happen to You!, is the just the right person to step in and save him.   What neither can predict is that Ulysses (the squirrel) has been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry — and that Flora will be changed too, as she discovers the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart.   From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters and featuring an exciting new format — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black-and-white by up-and-coming artist K. G. Campbell.
First, I must say there really is a cat involved.  Second, I admit the cat does not have top billing.  And third, I confess that I'm only mentioning the cat because it's Saturday — I mean, Caturday.  Why?  Because Mr. Klaus, the cat, is one of the bad guys (though not the arch-nemesis).  When Mr. Klaus landed atop the head of Flora's dad (pp. 132-133), Ulysses the superhero squirrel saves the day by vanquishing him (the cat, that is).

The tiny squirrel lifts the roly-poly cat over his head and slings him to the other end of the long hallway.  Anyone laughing out loud would have to be the "young readers" for whom the book is intended.  In other words, not me.

The cat is not all that important to the story, which is about Flora and her parents — and how that squirrel because a superhero.  Oh, and did I mention the newly created superhero squirrel could fly?  I rate the book 7 of 10, a good book.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Beginning ~ with a phone call

The First Phone Call from Heaven ~ by Mitch Albom, 2013, fiction (Michigan)
On  the day the world received its first phone call from heaven, Tess Rafferty was unwrapping a box of tea bags.
This book was a Christnas gift from one of my daughters to Donna, my roommate.  Donna has already finished the novel, and I am now on the third chapter.  All I had intended to do was skim the beginning to see what the book was about, and before I knew it, I was well into the story.

Gilion at Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays.  Click here for today's Mister Linky.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Mindfulness ~ love and be loved

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return."
— Eden Ahbez, "Nature Boy" (1947 song)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ new baby, quilt, and books

Now I have a photo of Shelby, my newest great-granddaughter, who was born December 13th.  I told you about her last week in my double birthday post.

And her big brother Jaxon, age three, is ready for Christmas.

Raegan, my four-year-old great-granddaughter, was in a children's Christmas program this week.  She's third from the right, the one in pink.  (Click to enlarge any of these photos.)


I already got a Christmas gift.  On Wednesday evening, my daughter Sandra made potato soup for us and gave me something very special.  Here I am holding it.

In the second photo, I'm showing the backing with the label Sandra added:
"Coming Full Circle"
Made for my mom, Bonnie Jacobs,
while remembering the quilt she gave to me
at my high school graduation in 1978,
by Sandra H____
Merry Christmas 2013

The quilt I gave her 35 years ago is still on her bed, still being used.


I've completed one book for my reading challenge:  Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions is a memoir by Rachel Held Evans (2010).  I rate it 9 of 10, an excellent book.  You can see the thoughts my online book club has had about the book, as we discussed it during November and December.

Currently reading:  Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary by Frederick Buechner (1993).

Today is my maternal grandmother's birthday.  Inez Geneva Underwood Reynolds (1880-1943) was born 133 years ago on this day.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Twinkle tree

This is a mystery worthy of a Christmas book or something.  Yesterday, Helen @ Helen's Book Blog posted about the holiday things she's doing and included this photo of their tree.  It twinkles!  She has no idea why, so I decided to try it myself.  Yup, it is still twinkling, even after its virtual trip through the ether from California to Tennessee.  Christmas is a magical time of year.  Enjoy Helen's tree, and notice the reflection is also twinkling.

Speaking of Christmas — am I reading a Christmas book?  No, are you?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Mindfulness ~ breathe in, breathe out

When we take the time to pay attention to our breath, we are alive in the moment.  So take a deep breath, and begin.
exhale ~ worry
inhale ~ peace
exhale ~ release tension
inhale ~ accept tranquility
exhale ~ fear
inhale ~ courage
exhale ~ anger
inhale ~ love
exhale ~ sadness
inhale ~ joy
Now think of exhaling as releasing negative things, and inhaling as receiving and accepting positive things.  Take in the good, and release what harms you.  Goodbye ... worry, tension, fear, anger, sadness.  Hello ... peace, tranquility, courage, love, joy.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ double birthday edition


Friday the 13th was my great-grandson Jaxon's third birthday, and his folks had a party scheduled for him at 5:00 pm.   Early in the day, his mom suggested they party NOW.  Good idea, since Jaxon's baby sister was born at 4:41 pm, weighing in at 6 pounds and 18.5 inches long.  The siblings now share a birthday.  This is the only photo I have, so far, of Shelby Leonora.  It was taken four months ago.  Can you tell that I'm grinning?


Book I want to buy
What Changes Everything ~ by Masha Hamilton, 2013, fiction (Afghanistan)

A Brooklyn street artist, an Ohio bookstore owner, a Houston nurse, a New York scholar:  Masha Hamilton braids together stories of Americans far from the front line whose lives are irretrievably changed by our country’s longest-running conflict and explores the grace of human connections in a world often too harsh and dangerous to face alone.
Just finished
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls ~ by Anton Disclafani, 2013, fiction (North Carolina), 6/10
"Just a girl on a horse, like so many other girls" (p. 388, closing lines).
Reading challenge
I chose seven books to read by January 31st when I joined the New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge 2014.  See the list of books here.
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Friday, December 13, 2013

New Year's Resolution Reading Challenge 2014

Joy Weese Moll @ Joy's Book Blog has a new reading challenge.


What do you want to accomplish in the New Year?  Will reading a book help you reach your goal, keep your resolution, or complete your project?  The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge starts now and goes through the end of January.  Start the year off right by reading books that support your goals, resolutions, and projects.

Whether you want to write a novel, start a new career, or be happier, there are books to aid you in your quest.  The New Year’s Resolution Reading Challenge is to read one to four books that will stimulate action on your goals.  Here are the levels:
Resolved:  1 book
Determined:  2 books
Committed:  3 books
Passionate:  4 books
The books can all support the same resolution — you could read four books on getting organized, for example.  Or, read four books to help with four different projects — one book on moving to a foreign country, one book on health and fitness, one book on small business, and one book on knitting (on your way to becoming a healthy expat entrepreneur with great scarves). Stay tuned for information on upcoming Twitter chats and our New Year Read-Along book. This link is for sign-ups only.  Each Wednesday through January, there will be a link list for posts about your New Year Reading and your book reviews.


This year, I'm working on several things, so I have lots of books that would fit this challenge.  Between now and the end of January, there are exactly seven weeks.  So my goal is to go beyond resolved, determined, committed, and passionate, all the way to "ridiculously addicted."  I want to read five to seven books, seven being — of course — the number I hope to achieve.  Here are my book choices (which may change) and the resolution each supports.  When I finish a book, I'll come back here and link the title to my review on this blog.

Resolved:  1st book (Dec. 14-20)
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth ~ by Reza Aslan, 2013, biography.

Why?  Because I'll be teaching a class that's studying this book, I need to read it.  This is probably the book I'll start with.
Determined:  2nd book (Dec. 21-27)
Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death ~ by Katy Butler, 2013, memoir, 9/10

Why?  One of my dearest friends is dying.  She is not expected to live to the end of this month.  I'm reading this one for me, as I sort out feelings about death and dying.
Committed:  3rd book (Dec. 28-Jan. 3)
Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions ~ by Rachel Held Evans, 2010, memoir, 9/10

Why?  I'm hosting an online book club at Book Buddies, and this is the book we are currently discussing.
Passionate:  4th book (Jan. 4-10)
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers ~ by Anne Lamott, 2012, religion.

Why?  I'm writing a book on prayer, and I want to see what Anne Lamott considers the three essential prayers.
Ardent:  5th book (Jan. 11-17)
Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter's Dictionary ~ by Frederick Buechner, 1993, religion, 8/10

Why?  I have a word blog, and this is a different kind of dictionary.  I expect to find words that are interesting enough to write about.  One word I noticed is "funeral," which is on my mind right now (see 2nd book).
Fervent:  6th book (Jan. 18-24)
America's Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines ~ by Gail Collins, 2003, history.

Why?  I'm also writing a book about Women Unbound, and this book covers 400 years in America.
Ridiculously addicted:  7th book  (Jan. 25-31)
Embracing the Human Jesus: A Wisdom Path for Contemporary Christianity ~ by David Galston, 2012, religion.

Why?  This is the book my face-to-face group will be studying next.  There are so few of us that each of us must read and take notes to keep our discussion going.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Consider this ~ meditate on it

"My finger points to the moon,
but my finger is not the moon."
— the Buddha

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Library Loot ~ December 4-10

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion ~ by Fannie Flagg, 2013, fiction (Alabama, Wisconsin), 9/10
Mrs. Sookie Poole of Point Clear, Alabama, has just married off the last of her daughters and is looking forward to relaxing and perhaps traveling with her husband, Earle.  The only thing left to contend with is her mother, the formidable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry.  Lenore may be a lot of fun for other people, but is, for the most part, an overbearing presence for her daughter.  Then one day, quite by accident, Sookie discovers a secret about her mother’s past that knocks her for a loop and suddenly calls into question everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her family, and her future.  Sookie begins a search for answers that takes her to California, the Midwest, and back in time, to the 1940s, when an irrepressible woman named Fritzi takes on the job of running her family’s filling station.  Soon truck drivers are changing their routes to fill up at the All-Girl Filling Station.  Then, Fritzi sees an opportunity for an even more groundbreaking adventure.  As Sookie learns about the adventures of the girls at the All-Girl Filling Station, she finds herself with new inspiration for her own life.  I read this New York Times bestseller straight through and returned it to the library the next day.  I rate it 9 of 10.
One Grain of Rice: A Mathematical Folktale ~ by Demi, 1997, children's (India), 7/10
A village girl outsmarts a selfish king by asking him to double a portion of rice every day for 30 days in order to feed the hungry.  Long ago in India, there lived a raja who believed that he was wise and fair.  But every year he kept nearly all the people's rice for himself.  Then a village girl named Rani devises a clever plan, using the surprising power of doubling to win more than one billion grains of rice from the raja.  The artwork is inspired by traditional Indian miniature paintings.  I rate it 7 of 10, a good book.
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls ~ by Anton Disclafani, 2013, fiction (North Carolina)
It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression.  After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes.  High in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm — a world now partially shattered.  As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.  The narrative unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future.
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers ~ by Anne Lamott, 2012, religion
Anne Lamott is known for her perceptive and funny writings about spirituality.  Readers of all ages have followed her faith journey through decades of trial and error (sometimes more error than Annie wanted), and in her new book, she has coalesced all she knows about prayer to three essentials:  Help, Thanks, and Wow.  It is these three prayers — asking for assistance from a higher power, appreciating all that we have and all that is good, and feeling awe at the beauty of the world around us — that can get us through the day and can show us the way forward.  In Help, Thanks, Wow, Lamott recounts how she came to these insights, explains what they mean to her and how they have helped, and explores how others have embraced these same ideas.  In July, Jonna Jensen wrote a beautiful meditation on this book, which you should read.
Northgate Branch of the Chattanooga library system, or "my library"
Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Marg @ The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages us to share titles of books we’ve checked out of the library.  Add your link any time during the week, and see what others got this week.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Word for today ~ librocubicularist

Ha!  I don't have insomnia?  No, never had that problem.  But I am definitely a librocubicularist.  What a great word.
A librocubicularist is person who reads in bed.
This succinct definition comes from an apparently extinct blog called Obsolete Word of the Day.  And I cross-posted this on my word blog.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sunday Salon ~ funny faces and a happy face

My great-granddaughter Raegan is paired up with her mom (my granddaughter), making funny faces.

And here's one where Raegan is in disguise as a man with a handlebar mustache.  Yeah, right!  So convincing, that dark mustache with the long blonde hair.  Do you think she's having fun?

Jaxon's got a happy face, as his mother reads to him on Thanksgiving Day.  My great-grandson, who will be three in a few days, loves books.

Here he is, nearly two years ago, surrounded by books and reading one I gave him.  Can you tell we're a bookish family?


Tao Teh Ching ~ by Lao Tzu, translated by John C. H. Wu, 1961
Written more than two thousand years ago, the Tao Teh Ching — or "The Classic of the Way and Its Virtue" — has probably had a greater influence on Asian thought that any other single book.  It is also one of the true classics of world literature.  Traditionally attributed to the near-legendary Old Master, Lao Tzu, the Tao Teh Ching teaches that the qualities of the enlightened sage or ideal ruler are identical with those of the perfected individual.  Lao Tzu's words are useful in developing a sense of balance and harmony in everyday life.  To follow the Tao or Way of all things and realize their true nature is to embody humility, spontaneity, and generosity.
I took various translations of this book to class when my Religions of the World class studied Taoism.  There are only 81 "verses" or sayings, and number 11 is probably my favorite.  I gave you Ursula K. Le Guin's version of verse 11 back in March.  Here's the translation by John C. H. Wu, from this newest version.
Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.
We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.
We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is  these empty spaces that make the room livable.
Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.
So which of these two translations most appeals to you? I think I prefer Ursula K. Le Guin's version. As you can tell from the title of her version's post, I like the phrase "where the pot's not."

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