What I’ve Been Reading Lately: November, December

 

I’ve done a lot of reading in the last five months even if I haven’t done much writing about it here. Time for a catch-up because I am JACKED to tell you about them all and in particular the five I particularly loved–two of which make their move to my all-time faves list. There’s a lot to share after all this time, so I’ll add January and February in the next post.

Here goes!

NOVEMBER:
The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers

I loved this book for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is it is a beautifully executed version of all the things I love most in a novel: interesting history, colorful characters, a moving story, gorgeous writing. The publisher says this: When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away?
I loved, loved, loved this novel!

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman
I may well be the last person on earth to get around to this book. Chapman maintains you and your significant other probably express love in a very different ways and that recognizing these differing “love languages,” and honoring them, is the secret to intimacy and lasting love. While a bit of an unintentional caricature of the self help novel (it was written 25 years ago although it has been updated), I did find the insights really helpful and I still think about them on a daily basis. Very worth the read if you are into this kind of thing–which I am.

Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny, by Tony Robbins
I love Katie Couric’s podcast and really enjoyed her interview with Tony Robbins. That prompted a visit to the library and a download of this audiobook, which Tim and I listened to on a road trip to Florida. I am fascinated by Tony Robbins–let me say that–but this particular book didn’t really speak to me. Although to be fair, I must say I am sure it is a matter of my life stage. (I think my giant is fully awake and focused on some other things right now.)

DECEMBER:
The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Now on my All Time Favorites List, The Snow Child was Day Five of my 30 Days of Joy series here on The Daily Grace in December. Gorgeous, quiet, heartbreaking, beautiful–I love everything about this novel. Jack and Mabel are a childless couple homesteading in Alaska in 1920. It is a brutal life for them both, until one day they build a girl out of snow. The next day the snow child is gone but they see a young blonde girl running through the trees. This is Fiona, and her magical existence changes everything about their lives. I started this book on Kindle but loved it so much I ordered my own copy. You will want the paperback, I promise.

Before the Fall, by Noah Wiley
Another road trip pick, I got this award-winner on audio from the library. The publisher writes: On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are the painter Scott Burroughs and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family. The novel goes on to deconstruct the days and moments leading to the disaster as officials try to determine if this is a case of mechanical failure or if something more sinister is at work. I love the premise of this book but it didn’t quite land for me (so to speak). Still it has been heralded by critics and decorated with lots of “thriller” honors, so if you love the genre it might be right up your alley.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
Doesn’t need much explanation since the title is aptly descriptive. I enjoyed this read and pulled some valuable nuggets. A topic I am very interested in, and if you feel the same, this is a worthy read. NOTE: I read this on Kindle but suggest the paperback. There will be sections you will want to underline and refer back to.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
I admire Hillary Clinton for her smarts and her moxie, and I was most interested to hear her side of the story of the election of 2016. This book did not disappoint. While no doubt written with an eye toward legacy (who wouldn’t?) I nevertheless felt the deconstruction of the “mistakes” she believes she made, along with the immense heartbreak of the loss and the dealing-with-it days that followed was both genuine and heartfelt. No matter how you feel about Hillary, a fascinating glimpse into the historical significance of a female’s run for president.

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie
I’ve never read Agatha Christie but this title (“the most widely read mystery of all time”) seemed like a great place to start. Plus Agatha Christie was one of my grandmother’s favorite authors. Plus the movie was coming out so the title was getting a lot of buzz. Plus we were headed on YET ANOTHER  road trip, this time to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and the library delivered the audiobook just in time. (There was quite a wait list so this was rather miraculous.) We really enjoyed it and MARVELED at the audiobook narration which I didn’t discover until we had finished–Dan Stevens–AKA Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey! Worth a listen just for his A-MA-ZING character voices. So good!

 

Next up: What I’ve Been Reading Lately: January and February
(There are some great ones!)

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Fear and No Loathing

I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE what a scaredy cat I am, a situation that seems to be getting worse with age. This is not categorical fear–just to be clear–but rather a defined, easy-to-spot, anxiety-producing one that seems to center rather neatly around things and situations that have inherent potential for bodily harm.

To demonstrate.

Start a new business? I’m your girl.

Speak or read or sing in public? Count on me.

Try something new that I am sure to be terrible doing? I am all in.

Zipline in a jungle? Kayak in a shark-filled ocean? Go for a hike where there are Black Bears* and Rattlesnakes** and Long Dark We’re Lost Nights***? I will respond, categorically: Yeah thanks, but no.

(*seen em **read about em ***had nightmares about em)

I write it off to rational thinking, you bet I do, a realistic approach for someone who Loves Life and who wants to hold on to as much of it as possible.

Still.

It is a rather limiting approach, as a rule.

 

AND SO I HAVE BEEN WORKING on some of these fears, a little at a time, working my own plan in baby steps. (I will not bore you with the litany of things like that night I walked in the dark from the studio to the house, or the three times I took the dog out at 3 am by myself. THERE ARE COYOTES IN ADDITION TO THE BEARS, YOU GUYS.

And then last weekend Tim asked me to go with him on a real-live, on-a-trail, up-a-mountain hike. And I said yes, and I carried through, and I did it.

Swear.

“The mountain to the climber” and all that. We hiked the peak there, Big Butt.

 

the innocent looking trailhead

 

Up and up and up we climbed!

 

following the white diamonds

 

A selfie for Eliza! (She was duly impressed.)

 

view to the smoky mountains

 

back down again!

 

We went a mile up and a mile down, 1000 feet in altitude each way, and we experienced exactly ZERO bear sightings and ZERO snake encounters. Plus Big Butt was not nearly as scary up close as it is from a distance. (You may be thinking bears and snakes hibernate this time of year, and yes, yes they do, I’m no dummy.)

Still it was a big giant step for me. And it was a really fun one.

So now it’s got me wondering:

What

will

be

next?

 

XXOO

 

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Valentine gifts, broken hearts, and being a love distributor

These are words that arrived in my inbox from my girl crush, Jen Hatmaker, and even though I know I’m breaking at least a hundred million copyright and digital good manners rules I’m going to take them and share them right here right now.

(If Jen ever gets a hint of this I hope I get an “at a girl” and not a “cease and desist.” They are words the whole wide world needs to hear.)

Quick reminder to any of you that feel a little blah about Valentine’s Day: this is an invented day to sell chocolate. If you are single (or newly single) or struggling in your relationship or missing someone or married to someone who isn’t thoughtful or divorced or just in a sad place this year: don’t you dare let V Day get in your head. Be in charge of your own story. “A day for love” means you can love anything and anyone in any way you want. Call your BFF. Book a massage. Cook a killer dinner and invite some friends over. Grab your kids and watch a funny movie with pizza. Write some love notes to your mom and dad. Tackle five Random Acts of Kindness. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. You are loved and worthy of love and lovable and a love distributor. You own this day as much as anyone. 

 

VALENTINE’S DAY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A DUMPSTER FIRE.

 

(What. She. Says.)

 

So if you’re feeling a little down, or a lot filled up, celebrate V Day with a dose of Jen Hatmaker. Then go distribute some love!

 

Jen’s book Of Mess and Moxie
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Day 30: And I can’t think of a better one.

It took a while to get here, my January filled with so many good things I’ve barely time to note them here. Still this little gem came along and I knew it was the perfect wrap-up for 30 Days of Joy.

Meet Lucas Warren, a 1-year-old from Dalton, Georgia. He is the 2018 Gerber baby.

 

 

With all the bad news and distress that makes up our news feed these days, isn’t it wonderful this is also the world we live in?

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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Day 29: Spring. It’s Coming.

I’ve never been one to invest in mealworms for the bluebirds, something that seems a bit silly when the fact is they bring me a great deal of joy. Still we have a gigantic back yard. On a lake. Surely there are gracious plenty worms and creepy crawlies naturally occurring to keep everybody good and satisfied. I mean, they’re birds. Right?

Then last summer some things happened that had me rethink.

First, my beloved bluebird parents had not just one, not just two, but THREE successful nests in the span of five months. That’s a ton of insatiable bluebird babies who must be fed a thousand times a day, even after they leave the nest. You may remember this incredible discovery long about August when I realized it was a baby from an earlier brood actually helping with the feedings!

 

(How I love this little helper. How I felt for its exhausted mother!)

 

And so I hopped in my car and drove to the birdseed store to see if there was a reasonable way I could help out. And right there it was–a cylinder of seeds into which a mass of dried mealworms had been smashed.

No muss, no fuss, I’ll take it.

It was hardly any time at all until the woodpeckers and the titmice and the chickadees and the wrens made a feast of the new cylinder. I love them all, and I was pleased with their excitement, but I BOUGHT THE FRIGGIN’ MEALWORMS FOR THE BLUEBIRDS. Where were they? Since they don’t typically eat from a feeder, how would they ever even find it?

 

The downy woodpeckers love me now.

 

In just a couple of days, find it they did. And not just the Mama and Daddy, who seem to hang close all year round. But this time an entire collection of bluebird teenagers numbering at least five, maybe more. Lord those teenagers are fun to watch, they talk so big and still look so unsure.

See?

 

 

Oh, and there’s some other bluebird action going on around here long about now as dibs are being claimed on the parent’s bluebird house. (They start building in early March, so time is nigh.) I can’t exactly tell which ones are in and out of it every morning checking on things–but I will have more to share on that later.

For now, these sweeties are bringing me so much joy I thought I would share. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

Day 28: The Nest

Now I see it every time I pull in the driveway or walk up the stairs or step out our side porch door.

(AKA a hundred thousand times a day)

 

A sweet, empty bird nest, perched ever so perfectly on a long thin branch of our Japanese Maple. It lifts toward the sky, that branch, with a nice view of the lake–a lovely place to build a home and lay some eggs and raise some tiny baby birds.

 

location, location, location

 

And still there is another reason this little winter scene brings me so much joy.

 

perfection

 

I never knew it was there.

Even with my focus on filling the feeders and cleaning the birdbath (for which I had to pass right under this branch), and even for my obsessive monitoring of the bluebird box outside my big studio window, and even with the excitement of chickadee babies this year, I spent the entire spring/summer season not knowing this little beauty was there.

 

 

Oh, the gifts of winter, when the leaves drop and gorgeous secrets are revealed!

 

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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BECAUSE I OVERDO EVERYTHING.

Case in point, how I paint.

It’s something I love and don’t take too seriously (let’s call that a WIN) because I paint primarily to stretch my brain. And because this is primarily my life philosophy:

pretty much

 

So I signed up for Mary Gilkerson’s Art+Life+Painting 5 Day Painting Challenge. I started with these difficult but ultimately liberating constraints:

  1. Limited paint palette.
  2. 4 x 6 gesso board, a new (crazy slick) surface for me.
  3. Palette knives (which my husband calls “spatula painting”) instead of brushes.
  4. Single theme: all are from photos of our beloved Black Mountains view.
  5. Finish in 20 minutes.
  6. Share the work, via Mary’s encouragement, on her wonderful blog. Pay attention to the paintings of other participants. Enjoy them! Learn from them! Cheer them on! YAY!

Everything about this challenge is difficult and scary. (See headline.) Thus, all the more reason to TAKE IT ON.

(Even so the world will never see my horrendous Day 1 painting.)

Here is Day 2. Better than the first but still seriously overworked.

 

That’s a lot of strokes and a lot of color for the goal to be SIMPLIFY.

 

Thank you, Mary Gilkerson, for the challenge and your fantastic instruction.

Thanks, Lila Anna Sauls, for being my accountability partner!

 

XXOO

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Day 26: For Love of The Crown

It has become the topic about which we talk, text and email most often, we dear friends, coworkers, digital contacts, casual acquaintances, people thrown together in the Publix checkout line. It’s rather a phenomenon, I would say, this coming together in light of deep division in our country. (So many opinions. So many binge-worthy options.) It’s nothing we planned or decided or even discussed up front, yet here we all are, parked in front of our televisions, the obsession having taken root so fastidiously it is impossible not to watch.

(This thing is so good we knitters put down our needles and Sit Up And Pay Attention, not wanting to miss a single smirk, or side glance, or eyebrow raise. And that, my friends, is saying something.)

Of course it’s The Crown I’m talking about, the little Netflix gem that’s taking the world (or U.S. and Great Britain) by storm and which is considered by many to be just about the finest television drama ever.

IT’S SO GOOD!!!

 

 

For starters, it’s the most expensive television series ever made, and this uncompromising commitment shows. Every scene comes to life in way that feels both remarkable and authentic. (I know that seems like a contradiction but I promise you it’s not.) You are in the midst of it whether in Buckingham Palace, Scotland’s Castle Mey, or the wilds of Kenya (cue the elephants!).

 

(I can’t help but think about washing all that crystal.)

 

There’s Clare Foy, the actress who plays Queen Elizabeth with such elegance and restraint you not only see the monarchy’s weight as it sits on her perfectly squared shoulders, you feel it heavy on your own. Oh the painful, gut-wrenching (not that she’d use that phrase) decisions that woman must make in the best interest of her country! And that’s not even considering her responsibilities (and forced loyalties) as head of the Church of England.

 

The Queen. And the Crown.

 

And those clothes. Oh, the clothes! Particularly Princess Margaret, who is without a doubt the most beautifully dressed woman in television history. (Vanessa Kirby sure does wear them well.)

There are a billion other reasons to covet this show. Can I really not mention:

  • John Lithgow as is Winston Churchill
  • The understated yet scene-stealing performance of Will Keen as the Queen’s dull but stuck-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place private secretary, Michael Adeane (Tim’s favorite character)
  • Season Two’s brilliant, transcendent Episode 4, “Beryl”
  • Foy’s performance opposite Lord Altrincham in Episode 5, “Marionettes” !!!!!

It is all so fascinating, so rich, so delicious.

And it’s the perfect, perfect binge for this glorious, cozy, joy-filled month of January.

(I am one happy girl.)

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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Day 25: the most civilized month of the year

How I love January.

I love it all, from the clean, frigid air, to the chance for fresh starts, to the soft blues and grays of the winter landscape.

I love bare trees, branches exposed, naked arms twisting, turning, reaching for light.

I love the chance for snow, and giggles when it flurries, and the crunch underfoot, and red noses and mittens and wet dripping boots.

I love the sparkling icicles that hang from big rocks and house eaves.

I love firewood stacked, and big stone hearths, and the dance of fire, full burn.
And I love that smell. Oh I love the smoke of the winter fire smell.

I love thick books and warm fuzzy socks and good healthy pours of red wine.

I love hot soup–bubbling on the stove, steaming in a mug, dipped from  a bowl with a big giant spoon.

Flannel sheets, extra blankets, snuggly pajamas.

Down coats, fur hoods, thick knitted scarves.

Fat winter birds.

And I love the quiet. Of all the deep joy this civilized month brings, it is the quiet I cherish the most. It settles my soul, calms my heart, brings me back to me.

I love January.

 

30 Days of Joy

 

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