Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Is In The Books

I feel I owe a big debt of gratitude to my sister-in-law, Janet Beasley.  Last year at this time she was posting about how she was furiously reading to hit a specific milestone number of books for the year that she had set as a personal goal.  That got me to thinking.  I’m an avid reader, but I had never been particularly intentional about it.  I couldn’t have told you how many books I read in a year.  I mainly just went to the library each weekend and took out whatever caught my eye.

Her enthusiasm intrigued me, though.  So I decided that in 2017, I would keep a record of what I read.  Not only that, I also decided I would try to break out of my rut a bit.  If I had to hazard a guess, I’d bet 90% or more of what I read the previous year would have been classified as either a cozy mystery or a procedural.  Some were more literary than others, some perhaps more humorous, but in general mysteries are my favorite books, and I tend to gravitate to those two types. 

Thus inspired, I started a spreadsheet and recorded every book I read in 2017.  And while I still read plenty of mysteries, especially cozies and procedurals, I made it a point to read other types of books, too.  I started literally keeping a “to-be-read” list, fed by reviews I read in the New York Times Review of Books, NPR, recommendations from friends and from the Jungle Reds authors’ blog (which I HIGHLY recommend!), and other random sources.   

All of this definitely led me to up my reading game!  I have about 170 pages left to finish my last book of the year, and I am absolutely confident I will make it.  When I finish that one (and I’ll stay up late on the 30th if need be to ensure I do) I will have read 60 books this year.  I’m not sure if that’s more than the year before, but I am sure the variety was greater and that I challenged myself more.

Drumroll, please: here’s the tally. This year I completed 15 procedural mysteries, 14 cozy mysteries, 11 contemporary novels, five spy novels, three historical novels, three religious books, three short story collections, three thrillers, two memoirs, and one business book. I enjoyed all of them really. Still, a few that I probably would never have read had I not decided to be more intentional, yet that stand out in my memory, are Bel Canto, The Hearts of Men, A Man Called Ove, and A Gentleman in Moscow. I recommend them!

So I end where I began, thanking my sister-in-law for drawing my focus to my reading. I plan to continue tracking what I read.  And while I will never lose my love of mysteries, I hope to also expand my reading variety even more in 2018. In fact, it is one of the things that makes me feel really hopeful about the New Year!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

How may roles can I play in one day?

Today was an interesting day.  First I went to a testing center and took an exam.  It was for a professional certification – something I’ve worked toward for a long time.  It was a 200 question exam that took about 2 ½ hours, and it was the culmination of a long, difficult climb.  It means a lot to me professionally.

My husband was at an all-day training event today, so when I passed it, all I could do was text him the good news.  I also let my boss know and called my son. Then I was pretty much out of celebration opportunities.

So I scrubbed my kitchen floor, cleaned our master bath, and cleaned some spots on my dining room floor and a bar stool, all in preparation for having family to my house for Thanksgiving. After that I made a grocery list and went grocery shopping. Then it was time to meet Bob at a Scout-related dinner.  It was a pleasant enough affair, with lots of great people at it, but I was pleasantly surprised when Bob suggested we leave at the earliest polite opportunity.

Since then, we’ve been relaxing at home with a plate of cheese and crackers, him enjoying a beer, me a glass of wine.  We’ve watched a couple of our favorite shows from Acorn TV. It’s not necessarily the celebration I would have chosen, but it’s been nice. 

But I can’t help but reflect on what an odd day it has been!  From professional heights to scullery maid to dutiful wife to comfortable old married couple. Wow! 

Monday, January 09, 2017

What a long, strange trip it's been

I just came across this post that I had started and abandoned in June.  Even though the triggering event is less timely now, it still feels worth finishing and posting.

A few days ago I went to the memorial service for a woman I had known most of my life.  Except, as so often happens, it turns out that I had known only one little portion of her.  Grayce was the mother of a childhood friend, and though I had always been aware that she was an accomplished woman, I had never grasped the extent of her accomplishments, nor the complexity of her life.  It was very moving, and it triggered waves of introspection.

One of the things I had been unaware of was her difficult childhood.  Grayce's mother had died before she was 3, and her father left her and her siblings with relatives and went off to make money to support them.  They were raised by various relatives, and I gather they did not have an easy way of it either emotionally or financially.  I had experienced Grayce as an extremely generous person, and suddenly it all made sense:  someone who knew what it was like to do without would be likely to watch out for others and try to prevent anyone else from having that experience.

There's a lot more I could write about Grayce, but since I was really friends with her daughter and only tangentially with her, I don't feel that her story is mine to share. But it did really make me think about some of life's big questions. The main thought I had as I left the memorial was, "If someone came to a service and heard my life summarized, what would suddenly be explained?"

For my early childhood, my family was kind of nomadic. After years of my mom and siblings living in one place while my dad traveled through the week to earn a living, my parents decided to try moving all of us to follow his work. I'm kind of a second family for my parents, so when we started moving --just as I was starting school -- my brothers were already out of the house and my sister was in high school. Then she graduated and moved on, too. But the whole business of following Dad's work never really worked -- we were perpetually one move behind, so he was still away throughout the work week for most of my life, with us living someplace where we had no family or old friends.  I wonder what parts of my character is explained by that narrative -- the constant uprooting, always being the new kid in school, spending so much time with just my mom.  Hard to say. I'm sure it contributed to my love of books, as they were faithful friends.  And my ability to strike up a conversation with almost anyone.  I wonder what else.

My dad died when I was 13, and it's a little easier to see the marks that left on me.  My mom had been a housewife, very good at keeping a house and raising children, but totally dependent on my dad financially.  She didn't even really know what bills there were.  She just knew he paid them, and gave her an allowance to run the house on.  So when he died, she went through a very rough time. I took on a lot of adult responsibilities and tried to take care of her as much as she took care of me -- to shield her from things that would upset her.  Even I can see how that made me a little crazy over being in control of my own life and feeling unduly responsible for everyone and everything. I'm sure there's other residue as well.

And that just covers the first 16 years or so of my life!  There have been so many chapters since then, so many different kinds of experiences that have left such a variety of marks on me.  College. My six-year first marriage. Graduate school. My successful almost-30-year marriage. The twists and turns of my career. Twenty-three years of child rearing.  In the immortal words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been!"

Guess I'll leave it there for today.  I am dead-set that I WILL post this time.  But I feel like there is fodder there for further thought.  Perhaps some of it will make its way to publication later.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Having long had a motto that "I'd rather burn out than rust out," I sometimes run into real danger of doing just that -- burning out. I've always felt like there was just so much good stuff out there to do, and I want to do it all!

But occasionally, it feels good to pause a moment and catch my breath.  This is one of those times.  Sam left for college last night, and Bob is fully booked with activities today. Warren will be around once he wakes up, but for the moment, I have a little quiet time to myself. Even after that, the whole weekend is pretty much unscheduled and stress free. And I want to really relish it, because after this weekend, my calendar sends me off and running again pretty much nonstop until the second week of November.

Bob and I have been talking a lot lately about how we're right on the brink of a new life phase.  This is Sam's senior year of college and though he does need three semesters yet to finish, he has made it clear that he is unlikely to live here next summer.  So barring the always possible change of plans, he has effectively lived here for the last time.  His future presence will be just visits, which I suspect are different in nature.

Warren is moving out in just over a month.  He has finally gotten his act together and worked steadily for the last six months, saved money, and reached a point where I think he stands a fighting chance of making it as a self-supporting adult.  Now he just needs to spread his wings and fly.

So soon, Bob and I will be empty nesters.  We're really looking forward to it at this point.  We envision it as being almost a return to the early years of marriage, where we could follow our own whims and schedules without really having to worry about anyone else's needs.  Of course, it won't be exactly like that.  These two young men aren't going to just disappear and never show up with needs.  And we each have an aging mother who wasn't a concern back in the newlywed years.  The two of us are blessed with excellent health, but even at that, our bodies certainly let us know we aren't the same kids we were then. So we know it won't really be the same -- but it's the closest analogy we have.

We're also at an age where people get serious about their retirement plans and decisions.  We have been working with some professionals to consider those options, and have decided we prefer to stay in the workforce for another ten years or so, given the choice.  (I know all too well that often, those decisions become not a matter of choice. But we plan for what we can control, and deal with what we can't control if and when it comes along.)

So realistically, we're probably about to embark on a ten-year new phase in the journey of our life -- the empty-nest, pre-retirement phase.  I don't really know what to expect, but I am confident of two things:  I have the best possible traveling companion, and it will never be boring!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Those Were the Days, My Friend

Tonight I am feeling old, in a way I have never experienced.

It all started yesterday morning, when I learned that a high school classmate of mine had been killed in a tragic bicycle accident. He and his wife were just out for a bike ride when a drunk driver crested a hill left of center and mowed him down.  His wife saw it all happen – in fact, she had to take evasive action to keep from being hit herself.

Now, this classmate was someone I don’t think I had communicated with since our 10th high school reunion, so I certainly couldn’t say we were close.  And even back in school, we weren’t super close.  But I knew him reasonably well, and he was a very likable guy.  One of those all around good guys that everyone likes because he really didn’t give them a reason not to. I remember that the first boy-girl party I went to was at his house. His parents let him hire the garage band of a mutual friend for it, making him the coolest guy in the 8th grade, for a while.

Maybe all that’s why it hit me so hard.  I feel true grief over this loss.  The loss of someone I haven’t spoken to in over 25 years. 

Because of this grief, I became nostalgic and pulled out my high school yearbook.  I graduated in a class of something like 435 or so, but of course I didn’t really know all those people.  My guess was that I really knew about a quarter of them.  So I went through my senior yearbook and sure enough, that was about right. The ones I really remembered, could recall some personal item about, added up to about 125.  But as I wandered through the pictures, reminiscing about the people I was looking at and the occasions where the pictures were taken, I was overwhelmed by how many of those faces are already gone. 

My alumni page on Facebook lists 27 known deceased members of my class, and an even dozen of those are from that subset that I really knew. I can’t really say why Kelly’s death hit me so hard.  I’m sure it was partly the immediacy of it. This time I knew within hours.  And the tragic nature of the accident makes it unspeakably worse. 

All I know is, tonight it seems I am feeling this loss and all the others. Looking back at high school pictures brings moments of joy interspersed with moments of great sadness at the faces I can never see again. And it makes me feel old, down deep in my soul.