WHISKEY WHEN WE’RE DRY by John Larison

UH-OH!! I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I just finished reading Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison and it might be the best book I read in 2020 – and it’s only January 13!

This book was storytelling at its lyrical best. WHISKEY was a gripping read – Midwestern true grit with a southern lit style prose. Each description, painted magnificently on the big, open skies of the 1800’s Plains.⠀

Orphaned in 1885, Jessilyn finds herself alone. Having learned sharpshooting from her father on their cattle farm, she sets out to find the only other family member she knows, her older brother, Noah, who left home years before and was now an outlaw on the run. Knowing the limitations and boundaries she would encounter as a female, Jess cut her hair, bound her body and rode into the outside world under the guise of a young man.⠀

The adventures and circumstances that ensue develop Jess’s strong character and resolve but do very little to answer the questions about her past. Her mother died during Jessilyn’s birth and her stoic father died suddenly, just as she was becoming a young woman.

“What started the war, pa?”⠀
“Stories, Jess. Stories. We tell ourselves the wrong stories.”

It was not difficult to make the parallel to much of what we listen to on the nightly news. Or experience in our own relationships. What wrong stories are we repeating? What wrong stories are being passed down, generation to generation? Culture to culture?

Her father taught her many things during her young life, not the least of which was to shoot a gun with precision. There was no way of knowing how well that would serve her in the years to come.

For many years Jess maintained her male identity. She developed friendships with other guys but never revealed her true story. Confiding only one time to an old lady her true past: “It was such a relief to hear this in the air outside, rather than echoing endlessly within.”

This is a coming of age story as well as a story of familial reflection and connection common to us all. Thank you, Anne Bogel, for your recommendation. This expansively beautiful story will ride with me for a while.

Artifact Uprising

Now that Christmas is over and all the gifts have been given, I wanted to share with you some albums I passed out as gifts this year.

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In May my extended family visited us in California. (Everyone except my daughter who was in the busiest time at work and couldn’t get off.) Scott and I showed them all around Northern California: San Francisco Bay, The Redwood Trees, Carmel-at-the-Sea, Napa Valley etc. A million pictures were taken that week and I wanted to capture the memories in a single, condensed form.

I’ve ordered pictures from Artifact Uprising many times in the past and am always overwhelmed with their quality. They take your pictures and create magazine-worthy products. Their signature matte finish brings it all together beautifully. So of course I went to them to create my trip keepsake.

After receiving my 50-page book in the mail I quickly realized I wanted to buy one for each family unit who came to visit us. I tweaked each book to have more pictures of their individual families in their unique book.

The books are clearly titled on the cover. I’m envisioning a shelf with many similar books lined up from other special daytrips we’ve taken in the years to come. I’m so excited about the possibilities!

Then in the fall, my daughter came out for a visit. Her trip was a completely different season and therefore a different experience. We visited Yosemite National Park – a first for us all – as well as the other special areas of northern California. Her photo book was very different than theirs – although I added some group shots in hers so we all had pictures of the family together.

The reaction to the books was more than I could have expected. Each family ooo’d and ahh’d over their photo books as they opened them at the same time.

I am so thankful for Artifact Uprising’s commitment to excellent work and timely delivery. I am a true fan (and not being paid in any way for this post.)  One of the best parts of the process is that the album can easily be put together from your phone on their app.

I’ve already started working on a daytrip Scott and I took to Bodega Bay recently. Here’s a look at it from their app…. looks like a good one, doesn’t it?! I’m so excited to get it finished and ordered and placed right next to my other photo book. May they increase in volume as we continue to travel and learn about our new home state of California.

Thank you again, Artifact Uprising! Please go check out their website. They offer many types of gifts as well as just photo prints, if you’d like. They make great gifts – even to oneself!

Low-key Organization

Okay, so California Closets it’s not. It’s not even a cool, interlinking IKEA closet. But for me, it’s exactly what I needed.

Not to be a pollyanna, but buying this many plastic tubs made me a little sick. And yes I know…your organization isn’t the problem, your STUFF is. Yes, yes. Joy sparked, etc. etc.

But the truth of the matter is that I have greatly culled my stuff. It’s an ongoing process (so don’t let anyone ever lead you to believe you’ll ‘get there’ someday.) But I am a creative being and with creativity comes stuff. Since moving to California in September 2018, I have had my creative life tucked into various closets and garage storage. I’ve been perfectly happy doing other things and keeping busy with all that life has been for us this past year. But for 2020 I have promised myself that I would get back to some artfully creative projects.

And thus – The Creative Closet Clean-up of 2020 (enter triumphant music.)

We dragged all the various boxes and bags out into the living room. I organized and threw away stuff while Scott built shelving in a back closet we aren’t usefully using.

I thought it would make me feel a little shameful – all the disparate supplies being left unused. But instead, it made me feel excited for 2020 and spending a little bit of time creating again.

All projects should include an old-school label maker. You can have the newly automated printing ones. A person’s hand should ache at the end of a labeling project. -hee

Yes, a box of broken dishes. As favorite dishes have broken over the years (…I swear it’s never my fault…), I have been tucking them away into a box for a mosaic piece someday.

Do you know how to mosaic??, you ask. Why no. No I don’t. But I’d really like to learn someday. And when I do, I’ll have some starter broken dishes with which to start!

I’ve used these IKEA storage tubs quite a bit in the past. I like that they’re modular and stack nicely. They’re very sturdy and easy to move around.

The fact that I put the label on the right side on my old bins and on the left side on my new bins is not something I’m ready to talk about yet.

(GULP! Why didn’t I double check?!)

Let it go… Let it go… (Someday I’ll re-label them on the same side. For now, I’m calling it done.)

Each bin is now labeled and containing alllll the creative things.

The shelves were built to accommodate two bins high plus the extra wiggle room to lift them. I have plenty of room on both sides of this closet for more goodies in the future.

(An interesting 21st century consideration: when we installed the lower shelf, I wanted to make sure the Roomba could get underneath it. -hahahaha!)

Sewing machine, odds and ends – it’s all now contained in one closet and easily marked so I can go straight to the project I’m looking for. Macrame’, weaving, painting, watercolors, yarn, cross-stitching, card-making…you name it. I’m ready for it!

(The IKEA containers also have the option of an insert that fits at the top. Very useful!)

This closet has ’70s-style sliding mirrored doors and I am so oooooookay with it.

Of course in the process of cleaning out one thing, six other clean-up projects pop up. It felt good to get rid of some things through donation or just plain ol’ trash. We’ve lived here a little over a year and it was time to clean out. I can’t imagine what living in one house for 50 years would be like. (aka: my parents!) There are a lot of ups and downs with moving – but gutting out unwanted/unused things is definitely a plus!

Hoping you are also nesting into 2020 in a big way.

My 2020 Unread Book Project

It seems every year I go through the same mental tennis match: ‘Do you REALLY want to set resolutions and goals for January 1? They’re always fraught with so much pressure.’ There is something about a goal set on a random Tuesday that holds more promise of completion for me.

That said, I have decided to participate in a bookstagram challenge for 2020. It’s simply to read more of the books you already have on hand.

While the premise of this challenge originally seemed like a very good idea, I began to see it as something a little more meaningful. As with each new year, I want to make strides in personal growth, namely by reducing the amount of things that activate my tendencies toward addictive behavior. As with many bookish people, it is hard to resist the newest, latest, greatest, trendiest new book on the market. I’m as bad as the next person about falling into that trap, thereby ignoring all of the wonderful books that are sitting right next to my reading chair, waiting to be picked up.

Of course this applies to many areas of my life. I thoroughly enjoy Instagram. The other bookish and plant-loving people I have connected with over there has meant a great deal to me. Some of them becoming authentic online friends. But Facebook? Not so much anymore. I often find myself frustrated and spending an endless amount of time scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through stuff I’m not even really paying attention to. And so for 2020, I am going to attempt to give up Facebook – an unnecessary amount of time that pulls at my addictive behavior.

Lord help me, I am certainly not saying social media is bad. I love it for its many little pleasures and inspiration. But my relationship with Facebook has changed drastically over the years and I think it’s time that we attempt to go our separate ways. The now trendy phrase, Does this bring me joy?, is something I’m asking myself about many of my habits as I head into a new year. A new decade!

This project is being spearheaded by Whitney of The Unread Shelf. She has challenged us to take a good look at our unread books on our own bookshelves and select specific ones that we would like to read in the upcoming year. These won’t necessarily be the only books we read in 2020, but they are books on which we’ve put a higher priority.

I felt a connection with this unread project and asked myself why does this excite me? Why does this make sense to me? I think it’s because using what I already have and what I already own seems to be stepping away from the addiction of needing to have the very latest thing people are talking about. I have a wealth of depth sitting untapped in my very own space. So I think the challenge to read my own unread books will serve a dual purpose. If not more.

What I am not committing to, however, is not buying any books in 2020. (I’m not a masochist. -ha!) But I am going to set some personal goals of reading a certain number of unread books before I can even think about buying a new book (or even reserving books at the library – a.k.a.: new-to-me books.)

In many areas of my life, I am looking forward to discovering what I already have.

I selected each of these books for a particular reason:

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female With the Mass Media by Susan J. Douglas
Truth: (gulp) I was one of those obnoxious people who, while in grad school…back in the room where the textbooks are…picked up this book and added it to my class textbooks even though it wasn’t on the list or even from a class I was taking. (aaaack!) I know, I know. Every professor hates it when students do this. They’ve ordered the correct amount of books needed for their class and suddenly they don’t have enough books to go around. It was me! I’m willing to come out about it now. (But can you blame me?!) Doesn’t the tagline sound fascinating?? How has the trajectory of women’s lives been affected by what we see in movies, tv or (and especially) in commercials? This book has been on my bookshelf for FAR too long.

…And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
Oh my word…I am completely intimidated by this book. I need to overcome my fear of its size.

One of my best and dearest friends, Jenny, threw her very book-loving daughter, Katie, a book party when she turned 16 years old. It was the greatest idea. Each attendee (adults and kids) brought a book that has been significant to them as a gift for Katie. Can you even imagine?! At the end of the party she had a huge pile of books. (Can I get a party like that at my age??)

Anyway, this was one of the books. Here’s a section from the Amazon description of it: about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a woman’s literary club, which evolves through the years into a significant community service organization in the town. The novel, which looks at the club as it changes throughout the years, spans decades in the lives of the women involved in the club, between 1868 and 1932.

I mean. It sounds fantastic, right? I need to conquer it. Maybe I’ll break it up over the course of the year. Hmmm…

Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I very much enjoy early American history. I am a bit jealous of well-known author, Goodwin, for her concentrated expertise on Abraham Lincoln. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be an expert about one particular subject?

One of the monthly challenges that Whitney has laid out for us is to read an unread book we own that was gifted to us by someone. This book fits that bill. My father went to see Goodwin last year and sent me a signed copy of this book. So this year it goes into my must-reads for the year.

Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts
Again, early American history and also – it’s Cokie Roberts.

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn
This book represents a specific challenge for me. When I was a teenage reader, I loved to read scary books. Amityville Horror and Flowers in the Attic for example. But then adulthood and parenthood TOTALLY changed that and I became a bigtime chicken! -ha. And yet, every time I pick up a ‘scary’ (to me) book like The Girl in the Train – I absolutely love it! I flip the pages faster and faster and love the raised heartbeat of a (somewhat) scary novel. I need to force myself to read them more often. So this Book of the Month novel I’ve had for almost a year needs to be tackled in 2020! You can do scary things, Greta!!

Mariana by Monica Dickens
I have a number of Persephone Classics books on my shelves and yes, mostly, because they have absolutely beautiful covers! Maybe I ought to give them a try as an actual book???

From the Amazon blurb: Monica Dickens, the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, published Mariana in 1940 when she was only twenty-four years old. A bestseller in its time, Mariana is the often-comical story of a typical English girl growing up in the 1930s.

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois
Again, this has been on my shelves since grad school (but yes, this was an actual required book for one of my classes.) As with many required reading books, you quickly blow through them, looking for whatever you need to accomplish for the class assignment. I’d like to go back and actually read this classic.

The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
It’s a weird subject but one I’ve found interesting in the past. The basis of the book is that the practice of ‘calling out witches’ during the Salem Witch Trials (and so many more!) in many ways defined how it is we see women in society. Subjugated and easily manipulated. How much of a deficit did this cause in the fight for women’s rights?

The last block of books are some of the best books written about Writing and Creativity. I look at them and wonder how much I could learn from these great masters of storytelling and prose:

Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield
Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr
On Writing by Stephen King

I’m not going to lie, it seems like a daunting task. But it’s daunting because these books are so important to me. I will count this reading year successful if I can incorporate these Unreads into the other books that come my way in 2020. As always, the biggest goal: to read more, expand my mind, increase my vocabulary and always, always have a little more fun in the towns and situations I’ll find myself in through the pages of a well-crafted book.

A FINE ROMANCE by Candice Bergen

This has been one of my favorite memoirs to read.

The original Murphy Brown TV show came out when I was in the throws of motherhood. I loved watching her show (from a VCR!) The writing was funny and her character helped me feel more secure in my own evolution as a woman. All things seemed possible.

My mistake, however, was subconsciously assuming the character Murphy Brown was, in fact, Candice Bergen. Bergen historically plays strong, independent, female roles. I have also loved her roles in the tv show, Boston Legal, Sweet Home Alabama, Sex and the City, Book Club, etc. All unflappable characters.

Reading her memoir, A Fine Romance, changed many of my misconceptions of her and broadened my respect for Candice Bergen as Candice Bergen.

Candice walks her readers through her early career, her marriage to French director, Louis Malle and their daughter, Chloe. We caught a glimpse of Candice Bergen as a mother and wife which was a complete thrill. She is warm and gracious and her love for their daughter was – to be honest – somewhat convicting. She was a truly incredible and nurturing mother.

Bergen spends time on the Murphy Brown years – which I particularly enjoyed. She spoke of her relationship with the other cast members – and humor, always humor. She talks of her current husband, Marshall Rose. I related to the struggle she went through after her divorce and before remarrying again many years later and her adjustment to another person being in her life. She was honest and transparent about her two marriages.

The biggest thing I enjoyed was her openness about aging. It is tough, this getting older business. I laughed often and appreciatively.

Thank God for my friends. Mothers in their 50’s – running to beefy now, the traditional thickening through the middle. We clumpt together in our middle-age camouflage – black pants, long sleeves, more make-up than in years past – compensating with wit, attention, intelligence, experience. Bringing to bear, not the extra 15, 20 pounds we all seemed to be packing, but our confidence in who we were. The sizeable weight and force of our personalities.

I was initially interested to read this memoir about a woman who shaped many of my generation’s views on feminism. I was pleasantly surprised to find a woman who is all I expected – independent and strong – but also so many other layers of depth were revealed. She is a wonderfully loving woman who seems to have the gift of giving small tokens of love to those she holds dear. She was always, always, always gracious to the subjects about which she wrote.

Unflappable, yes. But moreso – cultured, loyal, well-traveled and fluent in French. An affectionate mother and friend. She seems to possess that powerful concoction of femininity + strength. An ever-evolving and relevant woman even now.

WILL MY CAT EAT MY EYEBALLS by Caitlin Doughty

I can NOT stop reading this book, you guys!! Like driving by a car wreck, I keep flipping to the next page after page. It’s so interesting! (Although I’m a big chicken so I can’t read it before bed.)

WOULD a cat eat you if you died and weren’t found for a long time and the cat was hungry? The answer’s yes – but she would start with something soft like your lips or eyelids. (Blech!) Thing is, it’s your DOG that would really go after you. There are homicide officers that after arriving at the death scene, originally thought it was a brutal murder when it turns out – it was man’s best friend!

😳

What happens to a body if it dies in space?

What would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before you died and were cremated? Do bodies in the cemetery make our drinking water taste bad?

Best-selling author and real-live funeral director, Caitlin Doughty, receives many questions about death. The best (and most curious) are from children. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs answers many of the questions we’ve privately wondered about (and many we’ve never even thought of yet!) With wit and humor (and a great deal of inside information), Doughty lays out chapter after chapter of scientifically-based and humor-filled answers.

I grabbed this on impulse at my library and haven’t been able to put it down since. I’m telling you – it sounds crazy, but you’ll be hooked too!

Putting extra food in Haddie’s bowl tonight……

A CHRISTMAS MEMORY by Truman Capote

Illustrator Beth Peck elegantly illuminates the words of Truman Capote as he tells the story of the uniquely loving relationship between seven-year-old, Buddy, and his ‘sixty-something’-year-old distant cousin, living in the same house. ‘We are each other’s best friend.’⠀

They make cakes together every year as the weather turns cold and fly homemade kites when the weather begins to warm. They dance together around the house, laughing and enthralled in all that is happy in life, not like the other more burdened members of their family. She relies on his youth, he on her zest for life. “When you’re grown up, will we still be friends?” I say always.⠀

‘“Buddy, the wind is blowing” and nothing will do till we’ve run to a pasture below the house, plunging through the waist-high grass, we unreel our kites, feel the twitching at the string like a sky fish as they swim into the wind.’⠀

Satisfied and sun-warmed they lie in the grass, happy and filled with adventure. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery, and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are…” – her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass – “…just what they’ve always seen, was seeing him. As for me, I could leave the world, with today in my eyes.”

HARRY’S TREES by Jon Cohen

What a fantastic book. It hooked me quickly and kept me on the line the whole way through. What a beautiful celebration of books and nature and great love. ⠀

⠀”To every story we bring the story of ourselves.”⠀

This book celebrated the freedom of forgiveness. The adventure of reading. The beauty of nature. The cost of holding on to self-perpetuated ‘truths’. The ripples of redemption. And as with every good story, it contained an enchanting touch of magic.⠀

“Get a book. Reading solves most things or at least assuages the heart.”⠀

I would highly recommend Harry’s Trees.

LET’S JUST SAY IT WASN’T PRETTY by Diane Keaton⠀ ⠀

I listened to this book on Audible and now I can’t imagine reading it in its physical form. Diane Keaton’s narration made it all the more wonderful.⠀

Let’s Just Say…, Keaton candidly discusses non-conventional beauty, aging gracefully (and not-so-gracefully at times) and embracing the person you truly are. She offers encouragement and support for women who want to push back against the normative definitions of beauty.⠀

Diane also dishes about her complicated relationships with men like Jack Nicholson (hint: he’s still a very dear friend), Warren Beatty and Al Pacino to name a few.⠀

With wry wit and self-deprecating humor, Keaton reminds us that the best beauty tip we can embrace is to enjoy a life well-lived.⠀ I highly recommend this book for all of us that have a wonky sense of style, desperately desire to wear amazing wide-brimmed hats and have settled into a comfortable place of beauty as defined by our own standards. This will be a book I return to often for encouragement and gutsiness.

Semi-Stay-Vacation

Scott took a week of vacation this month and instead of packing it with the many activities we’ve done on vacations so far this year, we decided to have a more ‘quiet’ vacation week this time.

We decided to travel the breadth of Northern California. We live in the middle of this area, so we are spending a day on the west coast side, coming home, regrouping, then spending a couple of days exploring around Lake Tahoe on the east side – completely new territory for us! We’re very excited to make our Trial Run trip to Tahoe. It will be our first pancake. Our trial-and-error adventure so that next time, we’ll be even more prepared to know what to do and what not to do. We’re staying at an Airbnb in Carnelian Bay at the northwestern edge of the lake. I can’t wait to share it with you all!

But for today, some Pacific Ocean wandering along the Bay then over to Berkeley to reconnect with our hippie vibe. We love hanging out in Berkeley! I have a quick hook-up with an online friend in Oakland and then we’ll head back home – undoubtedly filled with more information about the Bay Area then what we’ve learned so far. In our other trips into San Francisco we’ve concentrated on all the touristy things to see. This time we hope to hit some more out-of-the-way places to experience the area in a whole different way.

It will be a fun adventure together. No pressures. No timelines. Just plenty of pictures and plenty of reconnection. We’ve needed the time together and are looking forward to being away from all the normal routines for rebooting and revamping our ways of communication and connection.

I hope you’ll enjoy discovering things along with us! Many more pictures to come, I’m sure…