Thursday, December 31, 2015

So Wags the World

     While we were eating a bite of breakfast along the wrinkled, rag-ends of this cold, old year, they were celebrating the imminent future in shirt-sleeves in Sydney.

So wags the world away.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Stack of Books

     After a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago this summer, my daughter and I ate lunch at a nearby Belgian café. We sat at our small, marble-topped bistro table in the front window of the café eating tartines and watching the passersby. When my daughter got up to look in the bakery case for something to sweeten her tea, I found myself looking at the young man seated alone at the table across from me. He was reading a book with an interesting title and cover art. People who read books in public are magnetic to me. When he looked up, he caught me watching him and smiled. It was the kind of smile that made me feel free to ask him what he was reading. He was happy to show me his book so I asked him if it was good.

     “It’s beautiful,” he said. The look on his face and the sound in his voice confirmed it. We chatted about the author for a couple of minutes before I returned to my tea.

     Later that summer my daughter and I were sitting in the car engrossed in our Flavia de Luce mystery novels while my husband ran in to the grocers to buy orange juice. It was a warm afternoon with the windows rolled down. A man in a truck parked next to us. “What are you reading?” he asked through the open windows as he stepped out of his truck. He had just finished reading Harper Lee’s recently published sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird and we spent a moment discussing it.

     I revel in the situations where complete strangers find an instant affinity through books. I have read many books I might never have found but for the recommendation of others.

     Last January, I took up the challenge from my bookstore to read 30 books this year. I have never counted the books I read so I didn’t know if it would be a stretch for me. As it turns out, 25 or 30 books a year is a comfortable fit. The real challenge for me came in reading more contemporary, non-fiction and mystery novels than I usually do. Perhaps those of you who also love to read might enjoy a glance at my list:

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (again)
Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle
The Famished Land; A Novel of the Irish Potato Famine by Elizabeth Byrd
Tales from a Troubled Land by Alan Paton
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making       of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (again)
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
A Good Year by Peter Mayle
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
Lords and Ladies by Terry Prachett
A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
London by Edward Rutherford
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
Sleeping Coconuts by John and Bonnie Nystrom
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad
The Color of Magic by Terry Prachet
I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
A Pebble in My Shoe by Katherine Hoeger Flotz
French Lessons by Peter Mayle
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (again and again)

     Of the first-time books I read this year, I enjoyed these two the most:

Wolf Hall

Going Postal

     What was your favorite read in 2015?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish
Straw, dirt floor, dull eyes,
Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls;
No bed to carry that pain
And then, the child--
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry
In a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said
"Yes, let the God of heaven and earth
Be born in this place?"
Who but the same God
Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms
Of our hearts
And says,
"Yes, let the God of heaven and earth
Be born in this place."

                                                             ~ Leslie Leyland Fields ~

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Singing in the Rain

     We drove past the marsh on the way home from church today. It was a wet, gray day with spitting rain. Beyond the marsh the street is lined with modest homes. Standing alone in the rain at the end of one driveway and facing the street, a young black boy in a hoodie was playing a junior sized guitar and singing his heart out. A few blocks later I asked my husband to turn the car around and go back. Something about that boy touched my heartstrings. When we reached the budding street musician we stopped and I rolled down my window.

     “Why are you singing in the rain?” I asked.

     “I got bored in the house,” the boy answered.

     I smiled at him. I have grandchildren his age who get bored in the house too. “What are you singing?”

     “Oh, just some random stuff.”

     “Would it be alright if I gave you a dollar?” I asked, realizing belatedly that most kids would have turned around and run away as they are often taught to do in school. But I have white hair and a Mrs. Claus face. The boy smiled back at me and approached the car.

     “Will it be okay with your parents if I give you this money?” I asked as I handed him the dollar.

     He nodded. “Yeah.”

     “You know, the people who play music on the streets in the City put out boxes or buckets for you to put money in.” His smile grew bigger and he nodded as though he had seen for himself what I was describing. “I was in the City yesterday, and I put money in the buckets of the musicians whose music I liked,” I explained. “You made me feel so happy as I drove by and saw you singing, that I wanted to give you something too.” He didn’t say thank-you, but he didn’t need to; his smile was speaking for him.

     “Merry Christmas,” I said as I rolled up my window and waved. He waved back and began singing again.

     I wish I had given him five dollars.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Toosies Fromsies

     Yes, it is that time of year again when I make my annual foray into crafting. This year I have used those odd bits that I have been collecting for a few years: Scrabble tiles, broken ornaments, wine foil caps, pebbles from the beach, leftover debris in the clearance bin...even a Converse tag that came in a shoe box. The urge to create suddenly came over me in the middle of wrapping gifts at midnight and I plugged in the glue gun to make my own toosies fromsies. I do so love a beautifully wrapped gift.

     I understand if you think I have wasted effort on something that will, most likely, end up in the rubbish heap. But you would be wrong in thinking so. You see, years ago when finances were tight, I couldn't justify buying the really nice gift tags just to throw them out when the gifts were unwrapped. So I began making tags and saving them along with the better store bought ones to reuse year after year. That was long before recycling was cool. Somewhere along the line it became a tradition. My girls look forward to seeing those now vintage tags with the Campbell's soup girl that have been appearing on their gifts since they were babies. My oldest daughter still keeps the tags from her family's gifts to return to me after Christmas.

     I am not a rampant recycler, although I try to do my bit. My primary motivation for this year's craft is my love of bricolage.

Merry Christmas to all of you lovely folks in blogland who come to visit me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


     I've got my green on slogging my way toward Christmas. And I have a lot on my mind. Most of the shopping is done. Cards are addressed and stamped. Apart from the tree which has yet to be purchased, the halls are decked. But there is still the wrapping and posting and baking and all of those dangling bits of fa la la...

     Sadly, the most essential part of the celebration gets elbowed aside by my resolve to get it all done. So, even though there are piles of laundry to be folded and dust balls collecting in the corner of the kitchen, I sat down with a cup of calm to ponder two of my favorite Christmas hymns: Of the Father's Love Begotten and Pie Jesu.

Pie Jesu
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem
Agnus Dei
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem
Sempiternam requiem

Merciful Jesus
Who takes away the sins of the world
Grant them rest
Lamb of God
Who takes away the sins of the world
Grant them rest
Everlasting rest

     I shall be doing something similar to this every day until the end of the year. It doesn't change the number of things that need to get done, but it puts a smile on my face and makes the load feel significantly lighter.