coffee pot posts, Reading

Saturday morning coffee pot post

I figure I will write until I am out of coffee, eat some oatmeal, then head to Chapel Hill for my monthly collage group meeting.

The coffee is a gift from my next-door neighbor, who will be a permanent resident soon. Right now he travels back and forth from Tanzania and Bangkok, where his wife teaches. The coffee is from Tanzania, grown on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. We think that they are going to be great neighbors.

Of course we are all starting to get sick…of the constant news about novel coronavirus. But it is important for us to be prepared, especially since I work at a university where a lot of students are coming back from spring break travel. I am an INTJ, which means my biggest talent is contingency planning. We had let our pantry supplies dwindle down as I was saving for Ireland, so we stocked up on a lot of soup and La Croix and V-8 and orange juice and chicken stock. I don’t consider this hoarding. We do this anyway – this was just a reminder that we had not replenished our stash. I still have lots of rice and pasta and canned and frozen food and tea so we will be fine in a quarantine. I gotta have my La Croix water. Will stock up the coffee this weekend, and I’ve decided not to buy beer for a while – try to lose some weight.

I have said that I am going to Ireland if I have to fucking swim there, and I am keeping that mindset because to lose this trip would be devastating to my mental health. I have travel insurance now. But it is happening. I am going to Ireland. Don’t tell me that I might not be able to go.

Our taxes are almost ready and we get the solar panel tax credit this year, which will go straight to the home equity loan. I’m going to focus on getting that paid off once all my travel expenses for the year are paid. I’ve paid for most of these in advance.

I haven’t been writing every day because this is the kind of stuff that I would write about. Boring and anxious crap. Repetitive noise in my head. I don’t want to write about politics because I am sick of it. I haven’t been doing art because I come home from work with a headache or depression and go to my bedroom and fall asleep early or read and play games on my Kindle. Not healthy, but it is what it is. Budget cuts loom at work, and the stock market is killing my retirement savings. I don’t want to think about it, but I knew all along that I probably would not be able to retire early.

Escapist reading: I laughed when I found a free copy of Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, remembering my glee in reading it during my high school years, and the torrid book covers of the 70s and 80s with Fabio. I even suggested the name to one of my friends when she got pregnant and she named her baby Amber! This copy was from the 60s, and it was written in 1944, one of the first so-called bodice rippers. I promptly tore off the cover and glued it down for a substrate for collage. Then I started reading it out of curiosity and got hooked on it. It is a fun adventure in Restoration England, the sex scenes are hardly there at all despite my memory, and takes my mind off my present reality.

I have been switching back and forth between this and The Milagro Beanfield War. As I get closer to my trip, I think that I will pick up another Tana French mystery. I have been reading Yeats off and on, but I need something a bit lighter.

When I’ve been on the computer, I have been moving my photos from my big travel posts from Flickr to WordPress and updating the links. I am working on the ones from our 2017 trip to England now. Some of these posts had an enormous amount of photos and so I split them into thirds. They still have a lot of photos and probably take forever to download, but I am generally the only person who reads them anyway. The Ireland posts are finished and I am so glad for these memories!

Once that huge blog project is done, I’ll be making some gallery pages.

Okay, done with coffee. Time to move on with my day!

Bagstories, coffee pot posts, crocheting, Reading

Sunday morning coffee pot post

Weather has always been fascinating to me. As the daughter of a farmer in a pre-Internet time and no-cable TV house, I was expected to watch the weather forecast on one of our three TV stations and report to him in the evening when he came in, since a farmer’s work generally lasts sunrise to sunset and the news only came on at 6 and 11.

Sometimes I wish that I had studied meteorology in college, but I would have had so much science catch up to do. The only science I had in high school was biology, since one of the coaches “taught” my chemistry class (we never once went into the lab and he never lectured about chemistry), and I was always an arts and lit student. I learned a little bit in a college freshman earth science class.

Anyway, crocheting this weather scarf is making me more aware of the comparative weather of our year. The photo above is of the first two months in 2018, when we started with a polar vortex week. Other than that, our weather is really wild during the winter/early spring. It often changes 30-40 degrees in a single day. I’m sure that these big swings will be more extreme as our climate continues to change and the Arctic ice and permafrost melts.

March and April are just as wild, with many more color changes from day to day. Then suddenly, May was different. During the entire month of May, the high temperatures stayed between 76-90 F, often within 5 degrees for days at a time. The summer of 2018 was surprising. We did not have a single day with a high over 95. Now, I guarantee you that the humidity made most of those days feel well over 100 degrees.

The basic Tunisian crochet class ended yesterday. Actually it was intended to be a one-day class but it was Hilary’s first time teaching and she had a couple of students who didn’t have any or much experience in regular crochet, which she didn’t expect. She was kind to extend the class to two more Saturday afternoons, and it was leisurely paced with plenty of chat. I walked away feeling part of a tribe and Amanda’s hugs were wonderful.

They are doing a “Sophie’s Universe” crochet-along (a crazy fabulous free pattern, google it) on Saturday mornings at Gate City Yarns and I am going to join it weekend after next. This is what I need, a small comfortable group I can create with on a regular basis. I miss having a studio mate, even though I didn’t want to collaborate and basically just wanted a quiet companion to share energy and space.

The lettuce and calendula and arnica seeds are coming up! I planted leeks, onions, chive, monarda, and coreopsis a few days ago. I still have them inside the house since the temps are supposed to plunge to about 20 degrees mid-week. The rains have stopped from time to time to give us a short break before beginning again. As they are supposed to do today. It is definitely affecting my mood.

Current book: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. I am really disappointed with this one because I looked forward to reading it for so long. It’s been a real slog to get this far (about 70%) and I’m glad I didn’t buy it. I don’t like the main character. She is whiny and it is hugely depressing. I am from that rural farming poverty stricken conservative world, and I should be able to relate to it, but I don’t because I have had a mind of my own since childhood. I think that a lot of it could have been edited down and it would have been a better book. However, I want to see how she ends it and I am not skipping to it because that is cheating in my reading world.

Anyway, I am wrapping this up and getting back to the loom. I’ve got three more feet to weave on the twill gamp curtain panels. Oh! Almost forgot – I crocheted a bag with those long thrums from this project. I cut off about 8-9 feet of warp and couldn’t bear to see it go to waste. Result is below.

This week is spring break for UNCG and Susanne and Sandy and I are headed to Topsail Beach next weekend for a book workshop with Leslie Marsh and Kim Beller, so more good things are coming.

Oh, and this blog turned 14 this week. How about that?

Back Forty, Reading

Winter Storm Diego

Click through if you’re interested in the video.

This is the quince tree in my next door neighbor’s yard. I’ve always gathered them, for the smell if nothing else, because nobody over there ever wanted them. I hope that will continue to be true once the new owners move in. Their contractor is talking about building an addition so it would be a shame if this old quince tree was cut down. It produced a bumper crop this year.

I’m going to make some quince chutney.

When I took this video an hour ago it had snowed eleven inches and it is still snowing, with wind. Icing on top expected tonight.

Finished “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty and starting on “Close Range” by Annie Proulx, one of my favorite writers. “What Alice Forgot” was pretty good. I was impatient with the first half. Everything came together and the characters became much more complex in the second half. I believe that was the point – how people see things differently from their own perspective, how people change in response to stress, how communication can break down when you’re too wrapped up in your own drama to understand that others are dealing with problems too. I’m childless by choice, so I didn’t relate to the whole infertility and busy soccer mom thing, but I did relate to how people deal with mental illness and grief on their own. I know how it is to lose a good friend. I know how it is to be dumped, or ignored because others are busy or don’t understand how to deal with you. I know how it is to be the person who dumps others because she can’t handle everything that is happening to herself and being with others is exhausting. So in the end, I recommend this book, even though I skipped parts of the first half.

Woodstove going, and we still have power.

coffee pot posts, depression/anxiety, fiber art, political activism, Quilting, Reading, Slow cloth, Upcycling

Sunday morning coffee pot post

Election Day has come and gone with results slightly better than I expected, so my PTSD from 2016 is somewhat abated. I didn’t have high expectations for North Carolina because we are so atrociously gerrymandered it is ridiculous. They even admit it. And they get away with it even though it keeps getting struck down. They just submit another that is slightly less egregious and then howl that it is too close to primary or election day to fix it.

I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with eleven Republicans and two Democrats.” ~ North Carolina GOP state representative David Lewis, News and Observer, June 25, 2018

I try not to get too political here on the blog because I use my personal Facebook page for that. But as a left wing independent I am tired of having no representation in the U.S. Congress. I live in a very blue county that has been divided into pieces and combined with very red counties, so that my “representative” is an extreme right wing gun store owner. And I’m tired of the two parties playing tit-for-tat.

Sandy and I went to the rally to “protect Mueller” in downtown Greensboro on Thursday evening, but by the time we could get there it was winding down. I snagged a “Country Over Party” sign and put it in the front window of the house.

Okay, moving on. How about this sewing machine? It belonged to my mother and she sewed many of our clothes on it. She was an accomplished seamstress and also made some quilted patchwork, although her main artistic pursuit was watercolor.

It also bears the last lingering mark of my first large artistic installation. At the age of three, I rose before everyone else, gleefully grabbed a black felt tip marker from the table where my mother was working on a project, and drew a line around the entire inside of our house. The line went over walls, furniture, and curtains. I started early, folks.

Anyway, I finally got frustrated enough with the Brother’s tension problems that I moved around some stuff and released Old Faithful into the world again. It doesn’t like the quilted panels, and the stitch lever won’t go lower than 9, but the tension is so much better and it is all mechanical so I could actually get it fixed more easily and manually stitch with it if necessary. I have the manual and all the parts and brushes and oil so I need to get that out and study it. I was pleased that I could figure out how to thread it and wind a bobbin after all these years. It does just fine with sewing two normal pieces of fabric together, and that’s all I need.

With the quilted panels, at this point I’m just trying to get the layers basted together on the machine. This means that the quilting looks like a terrible mess, but honestly, this is a t-shirt quilt. I’m planning to cuddle up in it, not hang it in a show. There is a lot of freedom in that. And I can just about guarantee that I won’t be making another one.

Sewing is good therapy for me, and I wish I could do more hand sewing, but I’ve pretty much accepted that isn’t an option for very long. My hand goes numb after about five minutes. I’ll stitch on this quilt once it is together and take my time with it.

I’m still seeing an actual therapist, and it seems to be helping. She is very high on anti-inflammation, and so I have started taking fish oil again. Can’t hurt, I certainly have plenty of inflammation. Also working on getting my mind on a more positive outlook. I still just want to play games and sleep and read at the end of the day, and I sleep a lot on the weekend. She calls it hypersomnia. It is a hell of a lot better than insomnia, but I’d like to find a balance. I run out of spoons early in the day.

Positive developments: working on the t-shirt quilt and I got my flu shot. I went to the dentist and my teeth are fine. Now I need to go to the doctor to get my blood panel and see if there is something else responsible for my constant fatigue. I drove to Raleigh two weeks ago and got together with members of Triangle Book Arts. I haven’t managed to get to Gate City Yarns for their stitch and bitch night because Friday nights, oof. That’s a tough one for me even though it is close by. I had brunch with some friends at Lucky 32 last Sunday and that was good. I often feel quite lonely for friends, especially now that the Fabulous Zha K has fled North Carolina, and good for her, I have to say. I plan to do so at age 62, not even five years away. We might even end up in the same state again. However, much of my loneliness is chosen. I feel a strong urge to be alone most of the time. People exhaust me, even people I love.

I have a stack of books that was turning out to be quite depressing. So Little Bee went back into the stack and I’m reading The Risk Pool by Richard Russo. I just finished The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman, Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I miss my Poldark saga!

The electrician did a site visit and we have rolled the electrical work needed into the solar panel financing. Hopefully by this time next year we will get most of, if not all of, our electricity from the sun and just pay Duke Energy the meter fee. It’s kind of crazy since I am now fixated on leaving North Carolina, but it is a good investment for the house and my soul.

Now planning a trip to northern New Mexico in May with the Sandman, where we could possibly be joined by my cousin and her husband. We’ll scope it out to see if that might be a good place for retirement for us. I love planning trips!

Back Forty, coffee pot posts, critters, fiber art, Quilting, Reading

Say goodbye to vineland

2018-10-21_11-20-36

I got a lot accomplished on the t-shirt quilt yesterday despite not being able to get the tension adjusted just right on my sewing machine. I complain about this machine, but the truth is it has done a lot of very heavy duty work that it was not built to do, so I should probably show it some gratitude considering all the denim it sewed a couple of years ago. One thing is for sure – I am not going to attempt a project this large again unless I have the workspace and machine for it. Getting down and crawling around on the floor is not a great activity for my joints.

However, all the pieces are joined and I have one panel that I need to put the batting between, another that needs quilting (I’m just doing vertical lines) and the bindings and strips between the panels put in place. At this pace, Diego will be throwing up on this quilt on the bed by Christmas.

Diego was sick last night and kept me up for most of it, because he most wants to cuddle when he feels bad. He has a cranky stomach and I’ve switched them to grain-free food, which helped a lot. He and Pablocito both have a demented taste for plastic and who knows what leaf blown onto the porch he may have decided to munch on. Pablocito likes to eat spider webs but he is never sick. Diego was playing with Pablocito last night before he started puking and he seems better this morning so I don’t think I’ll need to take him to the vet. The two of them playing nicely is unusual too. Why do cats always get sick on weekends?

I am pretty sure that this is coincidence, but Diego smelled SO BAD last night. Like death, rot, shit, swamp, and skunk rolled together. Seriously the worst funk ever. This is not the first time he has smelled this way and when I mentioned it to the vet the last time I took him in she agreed that it was probably him expressing his anal glands. I had to take Theo to the vet twice a year for them to do his. To my huge surprise, this morning he does not smell at all. The pillowcase and pillow where he slept smells a little so I know it was not my imagination.

So I took the pillows off the bed except for mine and the one Pablocito was sleeping on last night. I woke up with Diego on Pablocito’s pillow and Pablocito sleeping on my pillow above my head. This drove me crazy when Theo did it but Pablocito is so still and quiet that it was pleasant to find him there. He likes to be close but he is definitely not a lap cat. In this sense he is more like Guido than any other cat that I’ve had, even though Diego looks like Guido. Right now he is winding around my legs meowing, marking every corner with the side of his head, and occasionally having to be yelled at for scratching on the t-shirt quilt. I have the panels draped over the loom and he has claimed that space for one of his many hidey-holes.

Reading “The Probable Future” by Alice Hoffman right now. I love Alice Hoffman, but I space her books out enough that I haven’t kept up with her writing, unlike some other authors I follow. This one has given me some bad dreams, but that seems to be the case with almost anything I read or watch these days.

I’ve asked Sandy not to watch TV or movies with a lot of screaming, explosions, and gunfire after I’ve gone to bed. He loves his horror, blood and gore. He was into zombies before zombies were a big fad.

Today I want to watch the season finale of “Better Call Saul,” which is my current favorite show. We are watching “3rd Rock From the Sun” again from the beginning – it is such a hoot. I’m a big fan of slapstick silly, which you may have guessed from the name of this blog.

It is very windy and chilly outside so I guess today is really the first day of autumn. We were planning to clean up the Back Forty this weekend but I doubt that will happen now. The cheese pumpkin and tromboncino squash vines nearly covered the whole back yard! Can you imagine what it might have been like if they had been fertilized? Well, my plan for this winter is to get the garden properly fertilized with compost and organic fertilizer for the spring. So all this mess, except for the perennial herbs and flowers, will come out soon. There will be many foxgloves and I will move the rest of the mint back here; anything that I’ve noticed that the groundhogs don’t like to eat. I hope that I will get enough sun in the afternoon to plant another bed in the area where the maple tree had cast shade.

Back Forty, bloggy stuff, coffee pot posts, depression/anxiety, Food activism, Local food, Reading, Slow Food, voluntary simplicity

Sunday morning coffee pot post

I can’t upload to Flickr right now and I’ve been worried for a while about the change in ownership of the platform. I have so many photos on it – over 10K – and over the years I have linked here to my photos stored there. I would be wrecked if the platform changed its code or went bankrupt and dumped my photos. Anyway, I’ll just move along and deal with it later, since it is much too beautiful outside to fart around on the computer. I am writing this on the front porch on my laptop, but I will lose power soon.

One thing that I am trying to be more conscious about these days is my use of plastic. Once you start paying attention, it is stunning how much plastic is in almost everything we use. I don’t have time to avoid it completely. That would require me to commit to buying almost all my food directly from the farmer, and only certain ones at that. I’d almost certainly have to stop buying dairy and meat products. There are some packaged foods that don’t use plastic, but you kind of have to figure it out by buying them and keeping it in your head. Sandy and I decided to start eating vegetarian at home a couple of weeks ago once I cook what’s left in our freezer. However, I don’t think his resolve will last long. He’ll go out and buy something to eat if he doesn’t feel the urge to eat what I’ve cooked.

I really loved the look of Leslie Marsh’s studio when I went there for a book workshop earlier this summer, and my friend the fabulous Zha K was getting rid of most of her possessions to sell her house and get the hell out of North Carolina, so she gave me a lot of baskets and cigar and wine boxes and candy tins. I’ve slowly been transitioning my studio storage over to these boxes and baskets and, most importantly LABELING THEM, and I’ll give the plastic bins to Goodwill or Salvation Army or wherever. This is mostly an aesthetic feel-good action, but I’ll take my feel-good where I can get it these days.

My depression has lifted, THANK GOD, and I hope that I won’t see it again for a while. Or forever, but I’m pretty realistic about the fact that it’s probably something that I have to deal with for life. That’s not to say that there has been an absence of stress or sadness in my life, but depression is not about that. I can cope with stress and sadness when I am not depressed. People who have depression will understand this.

I’m going to work on my tapestry diary this afternoon on the porch. I finally came up with a simple design for June and July that reflected my main focus, although looking at it now makes me realize that I need to reduce the size. Otherwise it will overpower the rest of it. We removed the swing from the porch to make it less crowded. A front porch swing is lovely in concept, but we seldom used it and it divided the space. Now there will be more room for company on the rare occasion that we have more than one visitor.

The groundhogs are back now that the tree removal is over. I’m still getting plenty of tomatoes, especially the ones inside the wire cages. Figs are ripening on the tree, but the few that have ripened so far have been nabbed by the birds. Reflective tape and all. I’ve been buying bicolor corn from Rudd Farms every weekend, enough to eat some and freeze some. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, and some eggplants have gone in the dehydrator. The squash overtaking the back forty turned out to be tromboncino. I’ve got to start putting markers in the garden. These photos are from a week ago so the tromboncino is in the tomatoes now. I should pick the flowers and try cooking them. I’ve never done it.

Soon we will hear if our solar panel installation will be approved by the Historic District Commission. I will be surprised if it is not, but usually there is some caveat that is expensive to add. For example, we have wanted to replace our front door for a long time and our certificate of appropriateness for that has expired because we haven’t been able to find a door that fits and satisfies both of us and the city staff that we can afford. So we still have this wretched hollow 50s ranch-style door.

If and when we get that approval, it will be hooked into the meter so that it should provide all our electricity and we will only have to pay a meter fee to Duke Energy. The cost is not much more that our current electric bill (we pay an average amount monthly on a budget plan). In a few years, if the price goes down for whole house batteries, I’d love to go off-grid totally.

I finished reading Salvage the Bones this weekend. A very difficult book, but I persevered through the uncomfortable content and was swept up in the story. At one point I did not think I would be able to finish it. I’m glad that I did because it is brilliantly written. I found her afterword about her experiences growing up and her experience going through Katrina to be helpful in my understanding of the culture and why she chose Medea of Greek mythology to be a touchstone throughout the book. It also reminded me a little bit of my childhood growing up in rural N.C. even though my black friends were not so poor, my best friend’s father was an alcoholic that raised his family in a falling down house with junk cars and stray dogs all over the yard. The black family I tried to hang out with (the parents on both sides were not pleased) had a Skeeter, and I was reminded of the disconnect between our cultures.

This was an accidental photo but I like it anyway.

Okay, time to cook and freeze corn and weave tapestry on the porch.

Back Forty, coffee pot posts, fiber art, Lake Waccamaw, Reading, Slow cloth

Sunday morning coffee pot post

We’ve been home from the lake a week now, and it was a good time. I finished my stitchery for the Gardens of the Heart project at last. We ate a lot of good food and enjoyed good company. I ate at Dale’s three times!


It was fun sitting on the pier and watching this heavy rain storm come through. Most of the time it was perfect weather. It was a bit humid but stayed in the 70s/80s. We turned off the air conditioning for most of the week.

Yesterday I bought the pieces and joints for my new pipe loom. It will add a steampunk flair to the studio. Putting it together is the next thing on my agenda for today.

We went to Ed McKays used book store and I don’t know what happened there but it was a very good thing. Lots of new old books, some that I would have grabbed in hardback if I was still collecting certain authors. Prices were lower…the bargain shelves had much lower prices for better selection of books. We bought a copy of The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon for $1.50, now the biggest cookbook on my shelf. HUGE, and don’t you love her name! Also two prequels to the Mists of Avalon, a quarter each. And The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich. Yes, I know I swore off buying books this year. Some others will go to the little free library to make room.

Finished Four Souls and found that it wasn’t depressing as I feared it might be. It was actually very funny in parts. I don’t think I’ve ever not enjoyed a book by Louise Erdrich.

When we finished errands yesterday I sat down with my t-shirt scraps and worked on the t-shirt blanket. Or I should really say played, because I got into it so much that I lost all track of time and didn’t want to stop! I finished putting together one of the panels for the back side – it will be reversible, but I think of this as the back side. And played with sewing all these little scraps together. So much fun, and I made myself throw away the teeniest scraps instead of hoarding them for paper or whatever. There was a while when my intention was to use up every bit of everything. Nice concept, crappy reality in a small house. I don’t think that I will put a batten between the two layers. I’m going to just sew the layers together in a grid.


Groundhogs have started eating the tomatoes, even the plants, that are not in cages. Okra is gone. I’m amazed that they haven’t gone after the ground cherries or the huge candy roaster squash vines, but I probably shouldn’t have written that. Tempting fate. I still have lots of cherry tomatoes and the Roma tomatoes under the wire cages. The fig bush is loaded with fruit. With all the rain, everything looks lush but the skeeters have come out.

The silver maple is scheduled to come down this Friday. Mixed feelings. I love trees, but not necessarily this one. There will be more sun for gardening and for solar panels. It will be safer and a good thing, eventually.

coffee pot posts, Lake Waccamaw, Reading

Another Week at the Lake

Of course, I mean Lake Waccamaw. I might not be here now. This could have been written one week ago and scheduled to post this week. Ya never know with me. I like monkeying around with dates and times. Wish I could do that on Facebook!

We rolled in mid afternoon yesterday. I meant to leave earlier but I’m having serious insomnia problems. Hopefully that will be corrected down here but not yet. At least I will be able to take a nap whenever I need it.

Today will be a quiet day. I brought down projects. I’m missing some key components, though, so I’m happy I brought more than one. Dyepots, indigo kit, madder, cochineal, watercolor paper, iron, little loom, alchemist’s apron, pockets and trinkets, check.

Reading: “Girl Waits With Gun” by Amy Stewart. A historical female crime fightin’ novel from an author that I began following online a long time ago. I love books set in the early 20th century and this one hooked me from the first page.

Next on deck: “Four Souls” by Louise Erdrich, another favorite writer.

Finishing up: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” I think that I will put a folding chair in the water and read this one. I always bring one small paperback that I’m willing to sacrifice to the Wave Goddess if she demands it. This has been a deeply satisfying re-read.

“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.”

Love it.

Family rolling in tomorrow and maybe today. A few friends dropping in later this week. One of them is only a week out from a family tragedy so I hope this place will be healing for her too.

The house has air conditioning now but we turned it off and opened the windows. So far the weather forecast is great, but we know by experience that the lake creates its own weather.

My old Kindle is not playing nice with Flickr right now so more photos will be added later.

More tomorrow. Or was it last week? Ah, a mystery!

Reading, Wonderfulness

Favorite Books: Adult Fiction

I had to break this down between adult and children’s/YA fiction because it was too hard to come up with a combined list that was short enough for a blog post.

“Lonesome Dove”
Larry McMurtry, 1985

It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.”

“A man who wouldn’t cheat for a poke don’t want one bad enough.”

“Pea Eye loped up and unfolded himself in the direction of the ground. ‘Your getting off a horse reminds me of an old crane landing in a mud puddle,’ Augustus said.

I almost hate to recommend this one, because it spoiled me for so many books afterwards. This book was so great that Sandy and I competed for reading it, so one of us bought a second copy. So funny, so sad, so thrilling, so horrific, so romantic. It’s got it all. I wish I had not read it so that I could read it again for the first time.

In general, I weathered even the worst sermons pretty well. They had the great virtue of causing my mind to wander. Some of the best things I have ever thought of I have thought of during bad sermons. Or I would look out the windows. In winter, when the windows were closed, the church seemed to admit the light strictly on its own terms, as if uneasy about the frank sunshine of this benighted world. In summer, when the sashes were raised, I watched with a great, eager pleasure the town and the fields beyond, the clouds, the trees, the movements of the air—but then the sermons would seem more improbable. I have always loved a window, especially an open one.

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite fiction writers and poets. He writes a lot of nonfiction as well, but I relate better to his ideas through his fiction and poetry. I read all of the Port William books with love, but Jayber Crow is probably my favorite. A minor character in the other novels and stories, the barber of Port William tells his own story and the stories of other beloved characters in the community. The Mad Farmer Poems is my favorite collection of his poetry.

“Cloud Atlas”
David Mitchell, 2004

…Only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!’ Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

“So do not fritter away your days. Sooner than you fear, you will stand before a mirror in a care home, look at your body, and think, E.T., locked in a ruddy cupboard for a fortnight.”

“Nothing is more tiresome than being told what to admire, and having things pointed at with a stick.

The best way to describe this book is taken from a review I read somewhere – the structure is like a set of Russian dolls. Once you understand that, it’s easier to follow. Many people give up on this one after the second story begins. Please give it a try – they do get some closure. The time frame goes from 1850 to far into the future and then back again in descending order, and the stories range from adventure to murder mystery to humor to sci-fi/fantasy, all linked together by one birthmark in the shape of a comet. I was stunned that they even attempted to make a movie from this book. Considering the challenges, the movie wasn’t bad. I have since read everything Mitchell has published, and this remains my favorite.

“Fair and Tender Ladies”
Lee Smith, 1988

Oh, I was young then, and I walked in my body like a Queen.”

“Then I started crying for it seemed to me then that life is nothing but people leaving.”

“I will remane forever your devoted Ivy Rowe.

Lee Smith is one of my favorite novelists and this is my favorite book by her. Just looking up the quotes for this post made my heart begin to swell for the love of Ivy Rowe. I have an autographed copy and it is one of my most precious possessions.

The Poldark series
Winston Graham, 1945-2002

He thought: if we could only stop here. Not when we get home, not leaving Trenwith, but here, here reaching the top of the hill out of Sawle, dusk wiping out the edges of the land and Demelza walking and humming at my side.”

“Hers would be the perpetual ache of loss and loneliness, slowly dulled with time until it became a part of her character, a faint sourness tinged with withered pride.”

“‘Tedn’t law. Tedn’t right. Tedn’t just. Tedn’t sense. Tedn’t friendly.’

Sadly, I am on the twelfth and last book of the Poldark series, Bella Poldark. I’m going to take my sweet time reading it, too. A lovely Cornish soap opera, this is, but well-written. I stopped watching the newest Poldark series after season one and began reading the books, because I like to form my own vision of the book before seeing a movie or series based on it. Needless to say, I have no problem visualizing Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, though:

So, on to the next bodice-ripping series,

The Outlander series
Diana Gabaldon, 1991-

Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.

Yes, I know it’s trash. It’s delicious time-traveling trash, though. I stopped reading after the fourth book, “The Drums of Autumn.” That was years ago. These books are so huge that I wanted to read something else in my lifetime. Maybe I wanted you to know that I don’t just read philosophy and self-help books! One day I’ll watch the series, probably.

On the same theme:

“The Time Traveler’s Wife”

Maybe I’m dreaming you. Maybe you’re dreaming me; maybe we only exist in each other’s dreams and every morning when we wake up we forget all about each other.

Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

Betcha didn’t think that I was such a romantic, huh?

The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan, 1989

So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back, my golden side, my black side. I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter’s tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is a way a mother loves her daughter.

And everything else by Amy Tan, but I suppose this was my favorite.

The Plague of Doves
Louise Erdrich, 2008

The music was more than music- at least what we are used to hearing. The music was feeling itself. The sound connected instantly with something deep and joyous. Those powerful moments of true knowledge that we have to paper over with daily life. The music tapped the back of our terrors, too. Things we’d lived through and didn’t want to ever repeat. Shredded imaginings, unadmitted longings, fear and also surprisingly pleasures. No, we can’t live at that pitch. But every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. And this realization was in the music, somehow, or in the way Shamengwa played it.

One of the most wonderful things about Louise Erdrich is that she has written a constant stream of related books and I haven’t read them all yet. This was the last one I read so I picked it.

Oh, I could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here. I’m sure there is someone fabulous that I missed. The list will never be complete – at least I hope not.

Reading, Wonderfulness

Favorite Books: Nonfiction

“Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”
Robert Pirsig, 1974

‘What’s new?’ is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question ‘What is best?,’ a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.”

“Author’s note: What follows…should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.

The first philosophical book that punctured my mind’s shell and led me to think seriously about the cultural American norms of quantity over quality, and fall in love with the foundations of logic. I was assigned this book in Governor’s School in philosophy class but I only skimmed it then. I was 17, in the English concentration, so I had a lot of other reading to do. I came back to it a few years later, a much better age to read this book. It needs to be read thoroughly and slowly. I am re-reading it now.

Also, back in my brief middle management days, I insisted on hiring a manager based almost solely on her answer to my question “What is your favorite book?” The woman who conducted the interview with me thought I was nuts, but the applicant’s answer of the above book got her the job with no management experience and she was fabulous at it.

“The Four Agreements”
Miguel Ruiz, 1997

Be impeccable with your word
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don’t take anything personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Don’t make assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always do your best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

This is a life-changing book, a small, powerful book that helped me break my social phobias. I was assigned this book in a graduate class around 2005. I keep a copy of the summary of the Four Agreements above on my office wall where I can refer to them often. These agreements seem simple, but they are difficult in practice. Don’t let the cultish sounding “Toltec wisdom” and some of the more new-agey prose put you off. Give it a chance.

“Up in the Old Hotel”
Joseph Mitchell, 1992

The best talk is artless, the talk of people trying to reassure or comfort themselves, women in the sun, grouped around baby carriages, talking about their weeks in the hospital or the way meat has gone up, or men in saloons, talking to combat the loneliness everyone feels.”

“You can hate a place with all your heart and soul and still be homesick for it.

It would be natural to assume that I love this book because Joseph Mitchell is from my hometown and he was my grandfather’s cousin. I didn’t know about him, however, until after he died in 1996, which kills me because I think that he and I would have had some great conversations. For years all I knew about “Cousin Joe,” as my family referred to him, was that he “wrote for some magazine up north.” It wasn’t until I googled him that I learned that magazine was the New Yorker, and that he was internationally famous! He was another fish out of water in Robeson County, North Carolina, but he also could not put his hometown away. I could write a whole post about Joseph Mitchell, but I won’t. Arguably, this book should be on my fiction page. He is known as a news reporter and essayist, so I’m putting it here. This anthology contains pretty much everything he wrote. Read it. It’s fascinating.

“The Botany of Desire”
Michael Pollan, 2001.

When I first heard Michael Pollan interviewed about this book on NPR, I knew that I wanted to read it, but I had no idea how much it would change my ideas not only about agriculture and plants, but the entire relationship of humans with nature. In a nutshell, we have co-evolved with plants.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard, 1974

Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. I have since only very rarely seen the tree with lights in it. The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.

Another book for my re-read list. After I first read it, I pronounced it my desert island book. That was a long time ago and I need to see if it is still true. I suspect that it might be.

“Peace is Every Step”
Thich Nhat Hanh, 1990

We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.

A book that helped me get through my undiagnosed panic attacks in the 90s. I learned to love washing the dishes, and I stopped to breathe when the phone rang. A sweet, simple guide about mindfulness.

“Bird by Bird”
Anne Lamott, 1994

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.

This book is about so much more than writing. After I read it, I went on a tear of reading Lamott’s fiction, and bought several of her other non-fiction books. Sadly, I’m not as crazy about the others. But her writing about writing? Wonderful stuff. I know professors who regularly assign the chapter about shitty first drafts.

The Snow Leopard
Peter Matthiessen, 1978

The sun is roaring, it fills to bursting each crystal of snow. I flush with feeling, moved beyond my comprehension, and once again, the warm tears freeze upon my face. These rocks and mountains, all this matter, the snow itself, the air – the earth is ringing. All is moving, full of power, full of light.”

“Have you seen the snow leopard? No! Isn’t that wonderful?

When I was working for minimum wage in a small bookstore, I could not imagine that I would ever have enough money or time off to travel beyond the occasional weekend camping trip nearby. I sank into travel literature like it was manna from heaven. This book did double-duty by feeding my anxious heart with the teachings of Buddhism as well as transporting me to the land of Nepal.

Outside Lies Magic
John Stilgoe, 1998

In the first two decades of the twentieth century, experts advised men to have their kitchens painted apple-green. The experts believed that apple-green quieted nervous people, and especially wives beginning to think of suffrage, of careers beyond the home. Today the explorer of color schemes finds in old houses and apartments the apple-green paint still gracing the inside of the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and the hallways of old police stations and insane asylums.

This small volume took me back to a free-range childhood in which I was a fearless bicycling explorer of the woods, crumbling old buildings, and back roads of my rural hometown. That child still exists within me, and she still has questions about light poles and doorknobs. Full of surprising microhistory that you probably never considered, reading this book will make you look at the ordinary world in a different way. It is a favorite of public historians for good reason.

To be continued…