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Sleep on in Peace Now

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All now is in preparation for our 2nd annual Christmas party. Last year we invited friends near and dear to gather clad in Ugly Sweaters to add to the mirth.

This year the theme is “Fiscal Cliff Be Damned – Let’s Make Merry.”

It’s a fine excuse to whisk away the cobwebs, straighten up the nick-knacks, spiff up the pillows, shine the glass and basically not think about anything — I hope. My plan: “If I break this up room-by-room one each night this week, the place will be in fine shape by the weekend and food prep will rule party day.” The sweep-up keeps my body busy and my mind focused on trivial details before I attempt to sleep.

So I start with the master bedroom – shifting this and that, clearing the raft of clothes piled from the last laundry load, making order of the child-made craft collection we’ve accumulated through the years, adding a beloved photograph to the memory wall, tackling the bookshelf where some disorganized elf has come to play (uh, that’d me me), finally making my way to the reading corner and its comfy chair. Under the ottoman sat a mass of stuff I did not recognize: daughter Marjorie had evidently hefted some items in one night after school or confirmation, I know not which. There I found her Action Bible, some worksheets from a month ago, that library book we had looked for high and low and finally had paid for in desperation so she could attend the school dance. A few other books rounded out the lot, except for one more item — the treasured school photo compilation sheet from her Kindergarten year – 2004-05. I pause. The memento reminds me of what my invented busy-ness was set up to avoid.

Smiling back at me were her 24 classmates and six adults – the principal, two teachers, two aides and the school nurse. I know them all. Bright, fun, curious, serious, squirrely – The Mrs. L&D class had it all. There’s Abby who froze with stage fright during the nursery rhyme play; here’s Austin who farted on my leg while reading aloud one day; Rebecca shared Fruit Loops that one time; Alexia’s art was sublime; Gabby lived up to her name; garrulous Matt was just the same; Madison’s pig tails were her calling card while Reece looked like a boy honor guard. I love and cherish the memories all. Last girl on the keepsake photo montage was our little Mo – tiny in shape, big on personality, showing her 6-year-old shy grin. She’s the girl who continues to steal my heart, test my patience and dash me with her confidence. Eight years later we look at one another eye-to-eye.

fallen petalI think of her classmates growing up too, making their own way in life, gaining friends, learning more day after day, and all that is ahead for them. All week I’ve had the children of Newton, CT in my thoughts – the sadness there is beyond my comprehension. But seeing our daughter’s class brings the suffering closer. A leap of imagination and her class is theirs. My empathy for the people who loved those dear ones deepens. Oh! The children of Newton belong to me, too.

XXXIV

Sleep now, O sleep now,

O you unquiet heart!

A voice crying “Sleep now”

Is heard in my heart.

The voice of the winter

Is heard at the door.

O sleep, for the winter

Is crying “Sleep no more.”

My kiss will give peace now

And quiet to your heart—

Sleep on in peace now,

O you unquiet heart!

— James Joyce (Chamber Music)

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Fifty is Nifty in My Book (list)

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I’ve just rounded on the big 5-0. Sure feels good!

No, I’m not celebrating my  age – that’s a few years off – it’s my goal of reading 75 books in one year. In seven full months I’ve read 50 books and if all goes well I should clear my New Year’s goal and perhaps then some.

In looking at the list of books that I’ve thus far got under my belt – or at least filtered into my brain – it’s quite an eclectic list. But then it would be, considering that I was challenging myself to read the many books that I’ve got in bookcases around the house that I’ve been meaning to read. Along the way, though, I picked up a couple from the used bookstore, from the new books store, through my audio book collection and from friends who have kindly given me some of their favorites.

Here how the books stack up thus far:

30 fiction

20 non-fiction

Nine of the books deal with Nevada and the West because I am admittedly a genealogy nut and several of the books on hand are those that have been given to me or purchased by me to learn more about the land my two sets of great-great grandparents emigrated to in the 1860s. Those titles include:

Comstock Women: The Making of a Mining Community Edited by Ron James and Liz Raymond; Saucer Eyes by Eulah Croson Lauckes; The Deep Blue Memory by Monique Urza (Laxalt); The Money & the Power by Sally Denton & Roger Morris; The Mountains of California by John Muir; Where Are All the Magpies? By Patty A. Melton; William Morris Stewart (various authors- Nevada Historical Society); The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; Sun Mountain by Richard S. Wheeler.

Thirteen of the 50 I consider literary classics. Though an English major many moons ago in college, the emphasis was on writing, not literature, so these remained unread until this reading binge came on. In alpha order they are:

Candide (Voltaire)

Emma (Jane Austen)

Fairy Tales (Hans Christian Andersen)

O! Pioneers (Willa Cather)

One of Ours (Willa Cather)

Roughing It (Mark Twain)

Short Stories (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (unk)

The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)

The Legend of Sleepy Hallow (Washington Irving)

The Odyssey (Homer)

The Red Badge of Courage (Stephen Crane)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriett Beacher Stowe)

OK, I admit, I did read the Odyssey back in the day, but it is very much worth the re-read.

A few spiritual ones – or at least books that explore other religions — sped on my reading bender: Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, and Postville by Stephen Bloom. Bloom’s book is not actually spiritual, or religious, but is a study in Orthodox Jewish-Midwest Iowa relations. Still, educational in terms of orthodox beliefs. One other self-help book to add to the melting pot was The Majesty of Calmness by William George Jordan.

Biographies. Oh, I’ve read a few. Eight people who probably seldom if ever met – Steve Jobs (by Walter Issacson); Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Irene Gut); Then Again (by Diane Keaton); Chronicles I (by Bob Dylan); Killing Bono: I was Bonno’s Doppelgänger (Neil McCormick) and the three bios from my Nevada list. Now, tell me, should I have Walden by Henry David Thoreau in with biographies or under classics? Maybe that one can be termed classically autobiographical. But by that standard, so then would be Roughing It, by Mark Twain.

Along the way, I read a few “juvenile” books that our daughters have wanted me to check out. The Indian in the Cupboard (by Lynne Reid Banks), The Book Thief (by Marcus Zusek) and the Secret Dragon Society (by Adeline Yeri Mah).

I like my historical novels by the wheelbarrow load. So far, besides those mentioned above,  my list includes Brighton Beach Boys in the Radio Service about World War I, The Dovekeepers set in the first century in Israel, The Other Boleyn Girl occurring in 16th century England, Mary Barton set in 19th century England’s Industrial Age, and I Heard the Owl Call My Name about Canadian Native life. One further book that is actually non-fiction, but reads like a novel because it’s knitted together so well, was Manhunt, about the quest to track down John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

I threw in two Arthur Connan Doyle Sherlock Holmes books: A Study in Scarlett and The Hound of the Baskervilles. And one science fiction – the Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

Human beings need their comedy – though these are plainly outdated,  I do enjoy PG Wodehouse and therefore read My Man Jeeves and the Adventures of Sally.

Two disappointments (and this is why I avoid a lot of best sellers) were The Mermaid’s Chair by Sue Monk Kidd (so sad, because The Secret Life of Bees was exceptional) and Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Truly insipid.

Rounding the 50 out were two books on economics that I do so highly recommend: Boomerang by Michael Lewis and Nickeled and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Do I have a favorite? I cannot choose from one of my “children,” though a couple will be relegated to the attic and some of the others may get a further review on this blog. So far, it’s been a fun and rewarding book journey. I’m proud of myself for setting this goal for 2012 and honestly looking forward to augmenting this list with oodles of titles in the next five months of the year.

Chasing Dreams, Achieving a Life With Ingenuity

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Oh, I’ve done it; you’ve done it – admit it.

All the people I’ve come across at one time have done it.

We’ve said, “How come I never became a musician? “No? Maybe we asked, “Why wasn’t I an actor?” Still not it? Perhaps we asked “Why didn’t I … play sports/study for my masters/ take dance lessons/run for political office/start that baking business/Why didn’t I write that book?”

Getting closer?

Somewhere in your journey of life you came up short, despaired that you never excelled at that one thing that you enjoy or admire or maybe you did go after that dream or you didn’t break through to achieve eminence, fame, prosperity – whatever term fits the talent or industry to the road you didn’t take.

With the Olympics upon us, the questions may center on physical success. What of the many athletes who spend “their best years” trying out and not making the team? Or never gaining the sponsorships needed to just devote every waking second to come up to the quality needed to be on the world stage? 

Chances are, you’ve wondered, “Why didn’t it all come together for me?” Have you dared to ask aloud and heard the responses?

Let’s hum together. The airwaves are full of songs that exalt this theme: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (Rolling Stones), “You Got a Fast Car” (Tracy Chapman), “Glory Days” (Bruce Springsteen) and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U-2).

 Killing Bono: I was Bono’s Doppelganger by Neil McCormick is an autobiographical book based on the author’s efforts to break into pop music as the front man of several bands simultaneous to Bono and U-2’s ramp up to fame in the 1980s and ‘90s. McCormick details his unbridled passion for music, living on the brink of poverty in order to live the life, rehearse, perform, lay day demo tracks, get music into the hands of agents and recording companies all while schoolmates Paul Hewson (Bono), David Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr., became international rock stars.

McCormick’s treatise on fame, envy, insanity is at times painful and other times laugh-out-loud funny because of his downright honest take on his all-in lust for making it.  McCormick and brother Ivan’s bands included Frankie Corpse and the Undertakers, The Modulators, Yeah, Yeah!, and Shook Up! Frustratingly, he and his band mates falter because of bad luck or are always one step ahead or behind the industry. One mucky-muck insisted that it was Neil’s haircut that was hindering success.

 The book’s consistent theme centers on our constant compulsion to compare ourselves to others – a seductive, yet destructive way to live. It doesn’t help that frequently Neil and Ivan cross paths with the U-2 gang and the futileness of their musical mission is palpable.

Like a bear getting stung while licking trace honey from the beehive, repeatedly stung, but going back for more, McCormick takes any glimmers of faint praise to fuel his blind sojourn into pop music.

Ultimately, the on-and-off day job that helped pay for this hobby – writing – brought him recognition, fame, a lifestyle that still allows him to dabble in music. Today he is the London Telegraph’s chief rock and pop music critic. He seems to revel in his life of rubbing shoulders with musicians and writing about music from a knowledgeable point of view. Is he satisfied? Not quite. But he seems to have reconciled himself to a life that places him achingly close to that dream.

So many of us struggle with the tension between what we’re drawn to and what we’re good at that reading this book is a refreshing peek into a life of chasing dreams and then finding new ones that position us where our true talents lie.

Hello world!

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Welcome to Playful Meanderings, a new WordPress blog to chat about life, books, travel, recreation and whatever else may come up.

Ok, blogging itself has been a longtime coming — but what inspires me to push away from the shore and wade into the blogging surf is that I’m at the halfway point of the year and I’m checking in on my New Year’s Resolution. Year 2012:  read 75 books in one year. Why did I make this goal? Well, after so many years of saying I’d get in shape, lose some lbs and trim back the calories, I thought to myself “You aren’t making the most of your mind.”

It’s so true. I live in this body and I need to take care of it — all of it. My mind needed stimulation outside of the routine. It needed refreshment and the exposure to new ideas, old ideas, points of view and everything that books bring to the reader. Invigorating the sponge upstairs to learn — or re-learn — history, discover the power of deeper thinking, and reshaping my spirit by diving into the written word were among the positive points to taking on this project.

Why 75? The seed got planted by an article a friend sent to me in which the author was expounding on the number of books he had read the previous year. I mistakenly thought my friend had written the article, not just forwarded it to me, and I thought, “He is challenging me! If he can read 75, then I can read 75!”  I made my resolution (and I had to come up with a plan to accomplish this ambitious number) and embarked on the project.

Funny thing is, I brought up his momentous reading to this same friend two months back, and he really didn’t know what I was talking about: “75 books. No,”  he replied. “I’m lucky to read 15.” Turns out I failed to note the author — something I’m bound to do again in this life. But what the heck, that mistake got me to get on with my journey into books.

So, 75 books.

Number one: Sounds expensive. Not so much. Turns out I have at least that many that I’ve never read around my house that I’ve been meaning to read. Also, I have a library card — fancy that —  and the library near my house has many, many more than 75 books that I’ve never read and been meaning to. Speaking of my library, they have a club,  friends of the library, that sells books twice a year- Lots of great books that I’ve been meaning to read. You get the picture. Then there’s this: when I said that I was going to read 75 books —  and only to a few people because what if I don’t do it? — they gave me some books. Folks, I am swimming in books right now!

Number two: Time. I don’t know about you, but I always think of myself as busy. Much too busy to read. Turns out I can bring a book to wherever I am waiting. Yes, I do a fair amount of that, for I am a mother, a worker, a consumer, a patient and a person. I wait for daughters at piano, at guitar, at church, at sporting events. I go to the dentist ( more than I would like) or doctor or places where you wait in line and I get out my book. I just have made it part of the routine to bring the book I’m skipping (or plowing) through currently. Ok, and I’ve given up most of my television watching. That alone created several hours in the week. I also cheat. What? Yes, a few people have called it that, and judge me if you will, but about 1/3 of the books I have read are during my commute. I am read to through the free audiobooks app. They are (http://librivox.org/ ) all books are in the public domain and read by volunteers into my car stereo. More about all of this in a later post, but I don’t call it cheating. I listen, learn and put the time into hearing these “books on tape” just as I would if holding a book in my hand and taking in the words on the printed page. And final note about time. — the more I read, the more I want to read. I’ve been known to read a little later into the night, forgo the morning paper in favor of my book, shoot out the garden door and read my book in the backyard instead of cleaning my house. Oh the joys of reading!

So where am I now on the delicious journey? Books #42 and #43. What? Yes, because I have the power of the app on audiobooks (which is free, by the way) I am always reading two books at once. No, the two books don’t always mesh together, but what the heck, I read two and three books at once when I was in college and I’m an American multitasker at heart.

No, this blog won’t be solely dedicated to books and the goal of reading 75 in one year, but the next few posts will certainly be about  the topic. I welcome your comments, suggestions and humorous stories about your own goals — be they new years resolutions or some other scheme to change your own life in a positive way.