Friday, July 21, 2017

Passing Strange

I admit it. The cover of this book is what drew me in. Little did I know it would play a pivotal role in the story. It is absolutely haunting, beautiful, and alluring. Kudos to Gregory Manchess for the art and Christine Foltzer for the design. I didn't realize, when I snapped it off the shelf that the book would take place in a city I love, nor that it was written by an author I've read, or published by one of my favorite houses. These surprises, plus learning that Klages has written before of a magic-infused San Francisco, and will seek out more on this.

But to the book: the story is primarily set in the 1940's, and is a beautiful love story. In today's world, San Francisco is a stronghold for the LGBTQ community. In that time, though, queer life was forced even more underground. (I'd never heard of the 3 piece rule, for instance, though the internet tells me it was still being used, even in this century.) The story, which involves everything from art, to cross dressed torch singers, to Chinatown, held my attention. That there was magic thrown in, also helped, but to be honest, the magic was more of a bookend plot device than a true element of the story. The real magic was the love these friends had for each other, lasting decades, and the love between an artist and a singer in a long ago San Francisco.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Woman in the Photo

When I was a kid, my dad was offered a position in Johnstown, but turned it down, despite a good salary, because, to him, Johnstown meant "flood". This was in the 1960's. The flood was May 1889, and though it was associated with heavy rains, the cause was completely man-made. Still, Daddy couldn't move past the cultural memory and turned the job down. 

I read this book simply to learn more about the flood. The story (or rather both stories, because there's a past and a present one) was incidental. I like the historical photographs that were included as well as refreshing myself on Clara Barton. What a fascinating image to think of the Johnstowners looking up into the mountain sky, and seeing sailboats there from the killer lake that rested behind the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Mission Walker: I was given three months to live by Edie Littlefield Sundby

It's a funny thing about courage-- it has a malleable nature, and can be applied equally to the mother who lifts a car off of her child or the soldier who who risks his life to save the rest of his unit from enemy fire. Courage is the woman who helped get 2500 Jewish children safe from Nazi-held Poland in WWII, or the 17 year old girl, lone survivor of a plane crash in the wilds of Peru, who followed creeks and rivers, past the piranhas and crocodiles, to get back to civilization. Courage is countless moments in human survival and endurance, against great odds, and incredible hardship. Courage is the fight against disease, and a terminal diagnosis to hold onto your life.  Courage is Edie Littlefield Sundby.

Imagine yourself a strong, vibrant, intelligent woman, physically fit, an avid walker, and practitioner of yoga. You are 55, and have just returned from volunteer work in India with one of your daughters. The abdominal difficulties you experienced while there could easily be attributed to the change in diet, but they persist at home. It is then you discover you have stage 4 cancer of the gall bladder. The prognosis is grim. But, you are Edie Littlefield Sundby, and you are determined to fight, determined to live.

The Mission Walker is Edie's story, told in her own focused voice. Edie guides the reader through the early days of her diagnosis, into the maze of medical treatment, in which, in her determination not to let cancer claim her quickly, she blazed new trails. She blazed past the predicted three month survival. She kept seeking new options, holding fast to her faith and to her family; through multiple chemotherapy rounds, surgeries, through fighting tumors in different parts of her body, and fighting the side effects of the treatments to save her. And then, in remission and in gratitude, she decided to try to walk the California Mission Trail, grateful, thankful to be alive, hoping to light a candle at each of the 21 missions along the way, and thanking God with every step. Edie recounts the amazing journey of following the bells, not knowing how far she would go, leaving that to God, but determined to try.

Yet there's more to The Mission Walker. Edie was determined to walk the portion of El Camino Real that stretched into Mexico, starting from its beginning in Loreto. The mission trail there was not maintained like the one in California; the journey would be very different and very difficult. As she made her plans for this trek, two years after the start of her first walk, her cancer came back. In a three month window between a repeat scan after radiation and  surgery, armed with all the information she could find, a well-crafted trail kit, determination, and faith, Edie began the walk that would complete her trek of the mission trail. It's an incredible story, an eye opening journey, also faith filled, but additionally a story of strength of every sort. It is just one more example of Edie's courage.

I have to add a disclaimer here: I know Edie. We met in 2012, and though we only spent one day together, it was a joyful one, celebrating the milestones of our children with our families. Edie and I didn't speak much that day. I knew a little of her story, but now realize where in that incredible fight she was. I was preoccupied, fighting my own medical diagnosis, focused more on the precautions I need to take daily to keep safe than on another's needs (which is a little embarrassing to admit, as I am a nurse, so my career has been focused on helping others with their health.) In the intervening years since we met, I followed her following the bells, but still didn't have a real grasp of the scope of her journey. It took this remarkable memoir to bring the journey, the strength of faith and character needed, into focus. Walk on, Edie. You walk strong. You walk with God. Thank you for letting us walk with you.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The meeting (redux)

I posted a picture of my mom and dad, the weekend they met 80 years ago next week, on this, the 8th remembrance of her passing. The picture seemed to have struck a cord with a lot of folks, so I am reposting (from my old blog) this account (approved by my mom when she read it) which was originally posted July 6 2005.

It was 1937.  July 4th weekend, Mount Freedom (New Jersey, I think). A resort of sorts. She was 16.  He was 18.

She was there with her brother and his friends as a thank-you for helping out in his office while his assistant was on vacation.

He was there with his buddies, Harold and Phil, part of an irrepressible boyhood trio that stayed friends to the end of their days.

She was watching some boys play ping-pong.  Her brother asked if she wanted to go along to watch some tennis.  "No", she said.  "I'm going to stay here and beat this boy at ping pong."

They played.  The ball bounced from side to side.  Quips and laughter also bounced between them.  The game ended.  I never learned who won.

She joined her brother for lunch.

He found his buddies.  Years later Harold told her that he pointed her out to his friends at lunch.  "Which one?", asked Harold.

"That one", he replied and pointed to her as she walked away with her brother.

"Ah," said Harold.  "The girl with the resonant buttocks."

It must have been quite a walk she had when she was young.

Later that day, she went swimming.  Suddenly, he popped up in front of her in the pool.  He'd done a stealth approach, swimming up underwater, to surprise her.  They spent the afternoon together, but he didn't show up at the dance that was held that night.  There is a picture of him with another girl he knew from that weekend.  Nearly 70 years later, she recalls that he never told her where he was that night and why he didn't come to the dance, but she suspects it had to do with the other girl.

The next morning she packed up to go home to Brighton Beach.  While her brother was checking out, she stood alone.  He came and joined her and asked if he could call her.  She gave him her phone number.  She was 16.  He was 18.  When he died, 44 years later, that scrap of paper with her phone number was still in his wallet.  "I still have it somewhere", she muses.

He did call.  And took the train forever and  a day from The Bronx to Brighton Beach.  They walked with friends along the boardwalk.  As they strolled, they met her father and uncle, coming back from their morning walk.  It was the only time he met her father.

He wrote her letters.  Beautiful letters.  A love poem that was a parody of The Raven.  She saved it for years, but then got mad at him one time and threw all his letters out.

"Are you sure you want to do that?", her younger brother asked.

"Yes!", she replied vehemently.

"You may marry him some day." her brother said.

"Never!" was her response.

Her brother retrieved the love letters from the trash and copied them in his own hand.  Sent them to the girl he would marry--who once confided to her that Her younger brother was such a good writer and a poet.  Did She know that  Her brother written a love poem based on The Raven?

She was furious.  "It was good stuff." her brother told Her.  "And you didn't want it.  Why should it go to waste?"

Their second date, they met at Cousin Ethel's house rather than him having to make the long train trip out.  And their third date, too.  After that, she knew him well enough to meet him in the city.  They dated on and off.  She went to College--Brooklyn College.  He took time off between college and starting Medical school to go to Albany.  He asked her to meet him at the train to see him off.  His whole family was there.  It was the only time she met his father.  "If I'd have known his family was going to be there, I wouldn't have gone!", she now confesses.

She was 16, he was 18.  They dated on and off, and she would get mad at him and tell him to go away.  He was too fresh.  But he always came back.  One night her aunt complained to her mother that she was sitting out on the stoop too late in the night with that boy.

"Mama," she said.  "Do you know what we were talking about?  We were discussing the dorsal dissection of a cat."

She'd send him packing.  He'd come back.  Other boys wooed her.  They didn't win her.  For, suddenly, one day, she realized she loved him dearly.  And couldn't live her life without him.  When he'd hear her tell the story, he'd smile.  He knew, you see.  He knew from that first day.  When she was 16 and he was 18.

Pictures from the Mt Freedom Weekend. She made the sundress she was wearing. He probably threw the game to talk to her some more













Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

Exquisitely written, but for me, exquisitely unsettling. Goodnight Boy is the story of JC, who was separated from his family at a young age, separated from life as he knew it when the earthquake shook his world in Haiti. He comes to the US as the adoptive (sort of) child of an American couple, whose own world was shook, and destroyed, not by an earthquake, but by the happenstances of life.

Told in flashbacks, and current musings, by JC to his Dog (named Boy) as they are locked together in a kennel by JC's adoptive father, the story unfolds in stops and starts, the writing varied on the pages.  It is haunting, it is heartbreaking, and in it's own way, it is beautiful.

Thank you to the publisher and to librarything for sending me this copy.

From the publisher:
A tale of two very different worlds, both shattered by the loss of loved ones. Tragic, comic and full of hope, thanks to a dog called Boy.
The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family, the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.
When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.

Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way It Was: An Oral History by Arlene Alda

My dad grew up in the Bronx, initially on Hoe Ave then later in Grand Ave. He was a child star on vaudeville, and later in the silent movies. Played stickball on the street, and broke his leg one day when he slipped because he was wearing new leather shoes. Went to Townsend, and graduated City College at the ripe old age of 14. In 1932, when he went for his interview for Medical School, he looked so young that the dean at Long Island School of Medicine told him to "come back when you're wearing long pants." He did. He also fell in love with a girl from another country, one called "Brooklyn".  He was afraid to tell his folks he was dating a girl from so far away, and when he got home late from seeing her safely home, would to tell them he'd fallen asleep on the subway, and missed is stop. Most of my memories from childhood visits to New York center on the more boisterous Brooklyn clan. My father's family was wounded, and we spent much less time there. I've been going through old papers of my dad's and wanted to find out more about his world, so picked up this book.

It's a good collection of oral histories, progressing from people born in my father's era to the 1990's. I was more drawn to the earlier ones, and wished my dad, who died in 1981, could have been around to contribute. I'd probably read anything that included excerpts from Carl Reiner, Mary Higgins Clark, Jules Feiffer, andNeil degrasse Tyson, though.

Favorite quote: This is my life. Art chooses you. You don't choose art. You become possessed. This is my commitment and I've never deviated from that. Milton Glaser in "Just Kids from the Bronx: Telling It the Way it Was, An Oral History: By Arlene Alda

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1) by Rachel Caine

Oh joy! A new series that, if it continues in the vein of the first book, may be fun to read.  Set in an alternative history of our world, Ink and Bone depicts a world where there is a central library (with satellite sister libraries all over the world.) It is there where all the books are housed. Forget your home libraries, the joy of browsing a musty bookshop, or running your hands along the spines of a collection of your favorite tomes. Possession of a book outside the library is illegal. However, the Great Library, through harnessed magic, has been able to create codexes (think e-readers with the ability to connect to any book, anywhere, which is what folks use for reading. Personal journals are allowed, but at the death of the writer, they are swallowed into the collection of the library. There are those that oppose the Library's power, and those that believe books can and should be shared with the people. Both, the Great Library views as heretical and must be stopped at all costs.

Our hero, Jess, is the son of a book smuggler. It's been his family's trade for generations. He loves books, but not the stealing, hiding, illegal aspects of the family business. Jess is able to win a coveted spot to become a candidate for a spot in the library's service. Though his family views this as a unique opportunity to have a spy and book thief within the system, Jess finds he is pulled many ways, both by his family and by the friends he makes. My writeup sounds boring, but the book has many tangled loyalties and situations, moving things along.

I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series, as I digest the reverse debate of our own world-- where books could destroy a system of the equivalent of ebooks rather than debating if  ebooks destroying books.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books, and to the publisher, for sending along a copy to me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love

Eight years ago today, an essay I wrote was published in the Charleston newspaper. It's not that I remembered that specifically, but thanks to the wonders of social media, I received a reminder this morning and a link to the essay. Only, when I followed the link, the article was gone. Apparently, the Charleston Post Courier thought it too hard, in this digital age, to maintain all those digital files, so retired some, including this particular article, about my mother. Luckily, I still have a copy of it, and dug it up to re-read. Their title was Memories of a Life Still Lived.

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love: A Remarkable Journey
Amy Nadel Romanczuk

I am a stowaway on a remarkable journey. The main traveller is my mother, Ruthe Nadel, born 87 years ago on New York's East Side. In her four score and seven years, she has done both remarkable and ordinary things. But she did them all with true joy and immersed in love for the world. Whether it was being teaching assistant to Abraham Maslow (yep, the fellow of the Hierarchy of Needs theory in Psych 101) or discussing Jane Austen, she has a style all her own. She’s loved one man, raised 3 children (10 dogs, 5 birds, a few dozen guinea pigs and a assorted other critters), adored her grandchildren and great-grands. She has won hearts around the world with her spirit, courage and humor. She did all this while almost completely deaf from young adulthood, and while living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 50 years. For the past year, breast cancer has also been in the health mix.

Our "Bumma" (the nickname given to her by our son) sailed through initial treatment and surgery under the wonderful care of MUSC’s Breast Cancer team. In March, Bumma had a sudden, vicious recurrence. Because of the extensive scope of the disease, she opted for palliative treatment. She told me she'd had a good life, but that she had only one regret: “When the inevitable comes, I am sorry I will not be around to read the letters people send you about me.”

I looked at this tiny woman with the enormous heart, and thought “I can do that for you. And you don't have to be gone for me to do it. It can happen now.” With the help of my brothers, we have reached out to people she has known over her lifetime, inviting them to send a thought, wish, memory or whatever, to her now, before she's gone from us. What started out as a whim has turned into a life affirming, joyful celebration for and of our mother.

Emails started coming in immediately, followed by cards and letters. Friends worldwide sent care packages, stuffed animals, handmade gifts, photographs, drawings, poems, musical recordings. She received a beautiful comfort afghan from the nonprofit HeartMade Blessings. There is even a site online where a candle can be lit for her. As people shared their hearts with her, she shared their responses with us.

Our childhood friends recalled coming to our house just to look at her, because she was both beautiful and she talked to them, never down to them. Or how she demonstrated making a french twist, then shook her hair down like the proverbial librarian throwing off her bun and glasses and letting her inner tigress loose.

She showed one child to do wheelies in his wheelchair by demonstrating in hers. A busy executive remembered she helped him learn to take time from his urgent work priorities to cherish the here and now. Jazz greats at the Stanford Jazz Workshop would tumble like puppies in their eagerness to be in her company. The image of her zipping around on her mobile scooter, orange flag waving on the back, is a memory for many.

She has a huge following of people online, especially at www.bookcrossing.com, a book-lover's website she joined at the young age of 82. Her candor and unique style are adored around the world. She is a sweetheart: strong willed, outspoken, loving and generous. A true “oner”.

Our family is a family of storytellers. We thought we knew our history pretty well, but have been astonished to find so many acts of kindness attributed to Bumma. This experience has opened avenues to explore and learn, new stories for the grandchildren to pass on to their children, someday, about a remarkable woman. Our days are extra poignant as we learn more about this woman we love through the lives she's touched. And it has meant an enormous amount to her, to see that she has indeed helped lives and made a difference in this world. She and I made a pact in March: we would face this with Courage, Caring, Laughter and Love. She's kept her part of the bargain. I’m trying but am sometimes blinded by bittersweet tears.

I encourage others to do this same project with your own loved one, should the opportunity arise. Help show the wonder of how they have made a difference on this planet. One need not be famous to be extraordinary. I have learned that, and so much more, from one little woman I am honored to have as my mother.
Ruthe Nadel,on the way back from first Radiation Therapy 2009


Amy Romanczuk is a retired pediatric nurse, active BookCrosser , blogger and pysanky artist here in Charleston, SC. She, her husband and son, have shared a home with their beloved Bumma for the past 20 years.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

An Artist's View

The following post was prepared at the request of the JordanCon Blog before this year's Art Show. It will be shared at some point to the JordanCon family via the blog, but I thought maybe it should be shared more generally as well, particularly after several recent discussions on art, folk art, and inspirations.

Art and music, color and sound, have been a huge part in my life since childhood. I have a bit of synesthesia, where one sense triggers a response in another. For me, colors and patterns trigger music and vice versa. A print of Van Gogh's Starry Night hung in my childhood bedroom, and I used to stare at it, transfixed by the sounds that the colors and brush strokes created in my head. It wasn't until years later, singing in a choir, that I realized, to me, Starry Night looks the way Mozart's Ave Verum sounds. Patterns and repetition, colors and sound all work through me when I create. I have found inspiration in the patterns around me, both in nature and in human creations. For as long as I can remember, I've had a physical need to find a way to express the designs that filter through my brain, and have done so using a multitude of mediums over the years.


The means of creative expression I may be most known for comes from the folk art of pysanky, the intricately decorated eggs often displayed at Easter-time. Pysanky (a word derived from the Ukrainian word “to write”) are created using a wax-and-dye resist process similar to batik, though on eggshell instead of cloth. Though my family comes from Ukraine, writing pysanky was not part of my cultural heritage, although it was for my husband Alan's family. I had long loved the patterns and intricacy of the designs but figured I was incapable of creating such beauty. With encouragement from a Master pysanky artist, I picked up the kistka (the tool used to apply the wax) in my 40's, and have yet to stop. Writing pysanky is a form of meditation for me, the meanings behind the symbols and the music in my head becoming a sort of prayer as I work on each egg. Writing pysanky was a way for me to relieve stress after working long days with disabled children and their families as a clinical nurse specialist. And when I became ill myself, it was a huge part of my healing and acceptance of the changes one takes on with chronic illness. I only began to feel comfortable with the title “artist” after I had several of my pysanky accepted into the collection of the Kolomyia Museum in Ukraine. To this day, I am more likely to describe myself as a folk-artist.


Taking the pysanky art from eggshell to paper and ultimately to interactive art such as Patterns of the Wheel, a coloring book based on The Wheel of Time (Tor, 2016), is entirely due to the JordanCon family. Without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and a bit of nagging, I'd still be only working with eggshells. My art, in all its forms, reflects the wabi-sabi concept of Japanese art (before I became a nurse, I received a degree in history, anthropology, and Asian studies, and embraced some of the cultural ideas I encountered, particularly from the Far East). These ideas reinforce the folk vs formal aspect of my art. I also incorporate aspects from some of my favorite artists: the Impressionists, whose paintings color my memories from childhood visits to museums; Utagawa Hiroshige's marvelous prints and drawings; Warli, Kalamkari, Mehndi, miniatures, and even the painted trucks of India; indigenous creations from all over the world; street art, local works, and artistic friends. Lately, the art of Nigerian-born Victor Ekpuk, both for his designs, and for his exploration of nsibidi (a traditional pictorial writing of his homeland) has been calling me.  The similarities between two arts using pictorial language and a transient format (chalk/eggshell) is a thrilling find, as are his artistic talents.


Wheel of Time-inspired art ranges from elegant, elaborate fantasy creations to simple stick figures. Individual taste and perspective guide the way artists approach their craft and the way in which viewers assess the result. One can glory in the art of Michelangelo, whose realistic depictions of the human form captured every nuance precisely, yet also delight in Marc Chagall, whose folk-art style featured casually drawn people and cows seen floating in colorful skies. One artist was a genius whose technical skills were flawless; the other recreated the art of commoners for a totally different purpose and effect. Luckily for me, there is room among the extremely talented Official Wheel of Time artists for a folk artist to explore the world Robert Jordan created. One of my most treasured memories is talking about pysanky with Jim Rigney, and his fascination with the symbols and language of pysanky. His interest in both the history and the art-form, and Harriet's encouragement, is what led to my becoming one of the licensed Wheel of Time artists. I am still astonished and grateful that my folk-art is in the company of such amazing art and artists.
Pysanky and Pysanky-inspired designs artist Amy Romanczuk, with a guitar she hand-decorated.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Food52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner--And Make-Ahead Lunches, Too by Editors of Food52

Who needs a book about salads? I do!
Salads have come a long way from that hunk of iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise (or, shudder, Miracle Whip Salad Dressing) of my childhood. And this is the perfect season to get some salad inspirations-- which is what this book is for me: inspiration. I look at the recipes and the ingredients, and it helps me regroup my mind to plan a meal. I can't say that I've followed a recipe exactly, but I've used them as launching points, substituting when I don't have something or someone is allergic to an item, skipping things neither of us enjoy, adding in some other favorites. This is a lovely collection of ideas for using leafy greens, fruits, veggies, proteins, grains, and more. These are salads with biceps (I'd say guts, but that implies heaviness and extras you don't want to carry) strength to carry a meal but also the ability to take a minor role in a different menu.

Bottom line, for me is this is good inspiration for when I can't think of what to do with what's on hand. Thank you Blogging for Books and the wonderful Food52 for sharing this with me. Happy table; happy tummies.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble

Oh please. Not only was this transparent from the get-go, but ridiculous in many aspects of premise. I read it only because it was supposedly set in Charleston and a nearby plantation. I'll give the author credit for getting Hibernian Hall as a conceivable location for an Irish performance, though it's not a theater, and she didn't have John Corless mentioned.  She also got that there can be blackwater within 20 miles of Charleston, but not much else realistic about the setting of the "decaying mansion" where Alanna and her new husband reside. My eyeballing was so evident as I was reading the book, that my husband, sitting across the room from me, thought I might be having seizures. I think I actually slammed the book shut when she had a characterstuff his face full of "bennes" (meaning benne cookies, or benne wafers) and come from the kitchen holding two more. The problem is "bennes" are sesame seeds and distinctly different from benne wafers. And let's not even get into some of the medical stuff that happens... full body burns healed completely, enough for final facial reconstruction with no scarring within 6 months? Knife wounds and other miraculous healings? Even a willing suspension of disbelief and a deep faith in powers beyond human couldn't sustain me.

I recognize that the author has many, many books to her credit, but now realize there's a decided difference between a USA Today best selling author and a New York Times bestselling author. 

PS Don't feed alligators marshmallows.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

I've heard people say that this is a departure from Fredrik Backman's norm, but I disagree, somewhat. Sure it doesn't have the quirky humor of A Man Called Ove,  the magical realism of My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry, the hope of Britt Marie was Here, but it has the depth, compassion, and the compelling story found in all his books. This, more than all his other novels (and the novella), pushes the setting into a character, for Beartown interacts with all the other characters in unique and memorable ways. If you're looking for Ove, this isn't the place, but if you want a really fine read, pick this up-- and remember, your actions, both good and wicked, created repercussions not just in your life but in the world.

From the Publisher:
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daddy Sandwich

My father was many things: brilliant scientist, gifted actor, always ready with a quip or pun, loving father, trusted husband. He was not, however, much of a cook. I remember he barbecued for a bit, on a grill that he imbedded in a cement wall (to keep his young children from running into the hot grill)... until the wall fell down one day, because apparently my father was not that gifted with cement. However, he would, upon occasion, make for us something he called Daddy Sandwich. It was a treat at the time, mostly because it was prepared by him, but also because it was tasty. He toasted whatever bread we had in the house at the time (white, pumpernickel, or rye were the most likely candidates) and then added a layer of cream cheese. On top of this, went a layer of canned salmon, carefully mashed. (Fresh was not easily available. For the first 10 years of my life I thought salmon came from a can, or from the deli as lox.) He trimmed the crusts off the open faced sandwich, then cut it on the diagonals to yield 4 triangles of deliciousness.

This morning, I made a Daddy sandwich. No matter that the bread was gluten free, since I've developed a wheat allergy, or that, thanks to my Ashkenazi heritage, I prefer to use lactose free cream cheese, and that the salmon, was leftover wild CoHo salmon I broiled last night, or that I left the crusts on, because, why not? It was a Daddy Sandwich, and I was so happy to share my breakfast with his memory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I've yet to read anything by this author which I have not been swept up into the story. I was not disappointed. In fact, this book grabbed my heart and didn't let go. I mean, the main character is a graphic novel artist/writer and hits the cons!

But Joshilyn Jackson has a way of writing about the South, and the many layers of life here that delve beyond sweet tea, manners, and magnolias. She gets that duality of two types of south that has troubled me for so long-- there's the south I love, with the beauty of the land, the traditions, and the close knit community, and then there's that dark underbelly that launched abominations into our world which still rear their ugly heads in ways such as the slayings at Mother Emanuel AME, racism, bigotry, and other ways of stamping out human hearts and lives.

Plus, there was real compassion in the way Jackson wrote of Birchie's decline and illness, and the love between Birchie and Wattie. I also was moved by the way Jackson explored Leia's path of understanding and willingness to share her pregnancy. (But Batman as baby-daddy? How cool is that???)

Joshilyn Jackson, thank you. You hit it out of the park, again. And thanks to LibraryThing early reviewers and the publisher for sending me this copy.

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyearly-review-librarythinggreat-titlemade-me-thinkplaces-i-have-beenreadset-in-the-southtaught-me-something

From the publisher:
With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality---the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs' weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She's having a baby boy--an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old's life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel's marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she's been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother's affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she's pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she's got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie's been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family's freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules by A.J. Mendez Brooks

The WWE world is not my usual habitat, but recently, a friend mentioned he used to work for WWE in Atlanta, and was amazed that no one in the group of friends gathered followed wrestling. This coincided with some good reviews of AJ Mendez Brooks' new release, so I decided to check it out myself. Glad I did. I found insight, humor, understanding, honesty, told by a very bright, and apparently vary talented/determined young woman. Fascinating read.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending along this copy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Firebrand (Alternative Detective #2) by A.J. Hartley

Dear Mr Hartley,
Please accept my humble apology. I am unable at this time to write a review of Firebrand, for reasons which are far too mundane to go into here (i.e. life gets complicated sometimes). I really wanted to have written a stellar one, since, in all likelihood, I'll be meeting you at JordanCon next week. (In theory I'd be the one wearing the sign that says "Sorry I didn't get to review your book before meeting you" --  though more likely I'll just be wearing a sheepish grin on my face.)

However, thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow out my nails, as I seemed to have bitten them down. In Ang, you have created a great character, and keep unfolding a world that fascinates me. My unease with some of the  political situations were because they rang a little truer than they might have when you were penning the story, but please don't mistake unease for complacency. Ang isn't the only female who can do some shit-kicking. Some of us have to do it land based or behind a computer, rather than from a rooftop or crane. And I know a cos-player or two who could use Madam Nahreem's guidance to help pull off a role realistically.

As to the question raised at the end of the book, unless Willinghouse really steps up his game, I hope it's Daria over her stuffed-shirt brother. I suspect life would be a lot more colorful, exciting, and passionate with that choice.

Many thanks to friends at Tor Books for sending me this ARC. My only complaint is that now I have to wait extra long for the next Alternative Detective book to make it into my hands.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Put a good face (or 3) with a Good Deed

Yesterday, I wrote a little story about Peter & Sons, a family business that as long as I have known them (which would be in 1981 when I came in to have the heel repaired my shoe that had broken while I was dancing at a friend's wedding. I had been a bridesmaid-- hated the dress, but loved the shoes I had gotten to wear with them. I flung the shoes into a corner to continue dancing, but the next morning, took them to a Peter & Sons, which had opened in the brief interim when I had left Charleston to pursue life in the frozen north.) The act of kindness bestowed has touched a lot of hearts. I printed off the blog post and took a copy to the shop this morning. I wanted to tell them in person how far their story had gone.

Once again, when I walked in,  the store delighted me. I could see the top of Igor's head above the partition that delineates the line between customer space and workshop. I could hear the cadences of speech that reminded me of my mother's family, who also were Ukrainian Jews. The sons of Peter joshed with me as I told them I needed to talk to them, "Not me", said Igor as he pointed to his older brother. "He did it."
"I hear someone calling me in back", said Josif, pretending to walk away from me.
But the story got told, and I gave them the post.
And then I asked if I could take their picture. Daniel (Josif's son) joined us (and already knew the story of the guitar) and after a little discussion of where to take the photo, it was done.
Josif, Daniel, and Igor Tsveer

So why did the sons and grandson of Peter decide to take the picture in this spot? Over their shoulder is the one who made it all possible, the man who taught these men by example to be the men they are: Mr Peter. Yup, photobombed by the patriarch. It's a good thing.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Do a Mitzvah

Something nice happened.

A few months back, I realized I was not playing my guitar, a purchase that I saved nickels and pennies, and occasional dollars for in my college years. I'd spent high school diligently learning to play, mostly borrowing friends guitars, but longed for one of my own, one that I earned, one that chose me as I chose it. And in the early 1970's my guitar and I found each other. I had exactly enough coin to cover the cost, and once I passed it over, the Goya  dreadnought pattern guitar came home with me.

That guitar travelled with me: summers in the mountains of West Virginia where I played the folk tunes I'd learned, winters initially in Charleston, but later in the Finger Lakes region of New York, when I  went off to University, and then to St Louis, where I finished my undergraduate work. It came back to Charleston with me, where my roommate and I would sit on our porch, in the soft southern air, singing songs of the 60's. It travelled with me when I fell in love and married, though I rarely took it out of the case with all the added happenings of being one of two, and then of motherhood. When I did play, it was a solitary song, because by then, I'd forgotten many of the chords, and my transitions were no longer as smooth as I might hope.

In the continuing effort to downsize, and lighten the burden of sorting through decades of accumulations that my children will face when I pop off, I made the decision to sell my guitar. Since it had been a steady companion for over 40 years, I felt funny just putting it up on Craigslist, so instead, I inquired among my friends if anyone was interested. There were several nibbles, but before I could commit, another friend suggested that I might want to consider putting it up in an auction  which benefited charity we both were supported-- and maybe, if I were to try my hand at decorating it, it might raise even more. Somehow, that sounded really right. Really, really right.

So, I began planning. I made a template of the guitar face and worked on my design, while also talking to others who had decorated instruments, Tate Nation, a wonderful artist and friend here in Charleston and Maggie Stiefvater, an author and artist I know through her YA books, and her very entertaining twitter feed (and who I briefly met when we both were guests at YallFest 2016) being two of the most helpful. 

It was a pleasure to try such a different venue for my folk art pysanky-inspired style of drawing. With a constant cheering section from the folks in a JordanCon Group*, the design grew, til all it needed were new strings (which are being donated by Ross Newberry) and initials of the final buyer to be put into the design by yours truly.

JordanCon is next week. It was time to give the case a cleaning and make sure all was ready for it to travel to the auction. As I took the case out of storage, the handle came away in my hand. This has been an exceptionally odd year for me with art accidents, so somehow, I wasn't surprised. But, I knew I had to get it fixed, and somewhat speedily, too.

Peter and Sons in South Windermere has helped my family out many a time: from the snapped strap on a shoulder bag, to the torn zipper on a suitcase (Peter has long since retired, but his sons, and grandsons continue to run the business.) My favorite visit to the shop was when I brought my son's size 14 Italian red leather shoes (made by the same craftsman who made Pope Benedict XVI's red shoes) to get stains and creases out of them after some travel abuse, so he could wear them for a wedding. "They look a little big for you," quipped the son behind the counter, "but I'll see what I can do." He worked magic. They looked great.

Hugging the guitar case in my arms, I entered the shop. I love the mix inside: luggage and cases, jumbled together with various styles shoes, hand written signs, bumper stickers from long ago campaigns, and various other items, all surrounded by the essence of leather and shoe polish. Add the two brothers, the sons of Peter, with their warm humor, quick wit, and the accents of their Ukrainian heritage, and it's a heady mix. Today, it was the brother who has lost 50 pounds (he'll tell you the story, and show you the original hole on his belt which was his "before" weight) who helped me. I figured I'd drop the case off today, and come back in a day or two, so told him I just needed it back so I could to get it to the auction on time. "No, no, no", he said. "Just have a seat." he told me as he wandered into the back.

When he returned, the handle was fixed.  The rivet may not match exactly, but it's sturdy. When I asked how much I owed, the cost was nothing. "You give; I give. That makes me feel rich here", he said, pointing to his heart. "Better than money."

And that, my friends, is the mensch who did a mitzvah.

*JordanCon  is a yearly gathering of fans of Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series, as well as fans of fantasy in general. James Rigney, best known to his fans around the world as "Robert Jordan," succumbed to  cardiac amyloidosis in 2007. since it's inception in 2008, JordanCon has raised more than  $9,000 for Amyloidosis research fund at the Mayo Clinic through its charity events at the annual gathering.
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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gather Her Round (Tufa #5) by Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe got me hook line and sinker with his first novel of the Tufa The Hum and the Shiver. With each subsequent Tufa tale, he reels me in further. There are so many elements about the series which keep me reading: the backstory, the setting, the depth of the characters, not to mention the incredible story arcs that weave and wander between the books creating a tapestry that delights, surprises, and satisfies. When I read a Tufa novel, the plots of each book engage me, but the writing-- oh, the writing! In a seemingly effortless, unpretentious, uncluttered way, Bledsoe brings the sounds, smells, and sights of Cloud County to vivid reality in my own imagination. I am transported to walk among the characters he has created, a silent observer, watching the good, the evil, and the in-between create the paths of their lives. These are stories that ring with song, those rich ballads from ages ago, and new ones filled with love, longing, and a touch of magic.

Kera Rogers set out one afternoon to practice her music at a favorite spot in the woods.  A text conversation with her boyfriend abruptly cuts off and Kera is believed to have fallen victim to the wild hogs, led by a monstrous, seemingly supernatural one. When the young man she was seeing behind her boyfriend's back is the next to die, the plot, as they say, thickens. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this tale was the telling: the split format of an adult Janet at the Smoky Mountain storytelling festival, relating the tale while intertwining her music and the basic narrative unwinding the memory of a happening in her girlhood.

If you've read any of the Tufa series, you may see characters you've met in other books, but if you've never come to Cloud County in your reading before, this, as with any of the books in the series, gives an easy glide in, without a preponderance of fill-in to catch you up.

Bottom line: thank you Alex Bledsoe. You keep writing; I'll keep reading.

Thank you to Tor Books for this copy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip by Hitha Palepu

My business travel days are over, but that of my children is just beginning. I figured this book might be good for the latter for business, and maybe help me pare down for my few travels. There are some good suggestions, but it is very female oriented (makeup, cosmetics, heels vs flats, types of bras, etc). I was also struck by the use of "hair ties" to hold rolled clothes and for another use or two, assuming everyone would have them on hand and need to be travelling with them. I liked the illustrations from an artistic point of view, but they aren't as helpful, for me as photos or more detailed drawings from a packing and finding new assistive point of view. I have an important trip next month, and will put these suggestions to the test to see if it helps.

Thanks to Blogging for books and the publisher for sending me my copy.
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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Frog Who Was Blue by Faiz Kermani

This lovely little book was written to support the World Medical Fund (WMF), a medical charity working in Africa, which focuses on the regions most vulnerable children. It is a simple story of Malawi, who comes from Lake Ticklewater, deep in the heart of Africa. All the frogs there, including Malawi are blue (which, of course, got "I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog" running nonstop through my brain). However, when Malawi gets accepted to Croak College, he finds out that no other students are blue, just him. The green frogs tease him and shun him, and poor Malawi is broken hearted. But things happen, as they often do in stories like this, giving children a chance to be exposed to the message that being different is not necessarily a bad thing.

As a retired pediatric nurse, who worked with disabled children, this was a common occurrence for the children and families to get through. Kids who look different, have equipment to help them walk, talk, breathe, pee, eat, write, talk, can all be treated like blue frogs. It's not always an easy fix, and though this book is a nice beginning, I found myself remembering Digby Wolfe's poem, Kids who are Different.

Here’s to kids who are different,
Kids who don’t always get A's,
Kids who have ears
Twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days.

Here’s to the kids who are different,
Kids they call crazy or dumb,
Kids who don’t fit,
With the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum.

Here’s to the kids who are different,
Kids with a mischievous streak,
For when they have grown,
As history has shown,
It’s their difference that makes them unique.


Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the author for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pysanky

Some of the pysanky I have available still are listed here. If interested or desiring more information, please contact me (picture row and position of pysanka from the left would help). Thank you.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rejoice the Ides of March or The Bard Can be Wrong

Long story short, today is our wedding anniversary. Javaczuk and I were married 33 years ago, on the eastern shore of Maryland. We also were married 33 years, 4 days ago in Washington, DC. And if you want to get technical, we also were married 20 years ago in Charleston.  I told you, it's a long story.

The first was the family wedding, but for those long-story-short reasons, suffice it to say we needed to be married again to make it legal. So we were. On our honeymoon. 33 years ago today. With my mother and siblings present.

The third was actually in the Catholic Church-- the sacrament of marriage, 13 years after the original ceremony. Our son and my mother were our picks for best man and matron of honor, but since one was 7 and the other not a Christian, our pastor asked us to pick witnesses who were both adult and Catholic. So we did, but in my heart, I treasure my mother standing (well, sitting in her wheelchair) for me, and our son by his dad's side, as I wed my sweetheart, once again, though this time with the Church's blessing.

We were telling the story of our weddings to our daughter, and she decided we needed to renew our vows. After all, it had been over 20 years since we did so. It would be easy, she told us. She could perform the ceremony herself, since she is a Notary Public. So, with our daughter as officiant, and granddaughters as maid of honor and best girl, with me clutching my iPhone with a picture of flowers I'd drawn, with the man I gave my heart to all those years ago, she said the words, and we replied "sure, why not?" and "you bettcha". We sealed the deal, once again. He's stuck for good.

Life is nothing if not contradictory. The Ides of March isn't always a date to beware. And the Bard can be wrong. The course of True Love sometimes does run smooth, 33 years and counting.


Pictures below:

March 11, 1984 At the Calvert Collection, in Washington DC, because if you can get married in an antiques and art gallery, why wouldn't you? (We call this our fake-aversary, because the marriage wasn't legal)

March 15, 1984, St. Michael's, Maryland, by the courthouse, where we'd just gotten hitched by a judge. (That's my kin gathered round us.) This is the one we recognize as our true marriage date.

March 15, 1997 Cathedral of St John the Baptist, 2 pictures

March 11, 2017 South Carolina Lowcountry






Sunday, March 12, 2017

One Pan & Done: Hassle-Free Meals from the Oven to Your Table by Molly Gilbert

Two years ago, we moved into a new home where 3 out of 4 burners on our stove were kaput, and our oven unreliable. Though we're in the process of renovations now, I became an expert on one pot cooking, since essentially, I only had one working element with which to cook. This is a nice collection of full cooking, from breakfast through all mealtimes and on to dessert. The few recipes I've tried so far have been tasty, though some were a little bland for our tastes, but I'll follow my instincts when cooking them next to add some of our favorite spices to kick flavors up. All in all, a fine addition to the shelf.

Thank you to Blogging for books and to the publishers for sending me my copy.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Warning: If you are approaching your "golden years", and/or you've lost someone you love who was elderly and had memory problems, and/or two of your biggest fears are that memory loss/illness will take your beloved before your or that you will lose all you love along with your own cognition/memory, don't read this book. Cathleen Schine is a skilled, fabulous writer, and she paints a picture that will rip across your heart, reviving all of your deepest fears, reawakening all of your darkest moments. This is not a book for the lighthearted. I can imagine that for those still in the light of health, having never lost someone they love, this could be the "hilarious novel" written about on the back cover. For me, all it made me want to do is curl up and cry. I can't rate it because I can't separate the excellent writing from the black despair of the emotions it evoked.

From the publisher:
From one of America’s greatest comic novelists, a hilarious new novel about aging, family, loneliness, and love

The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don’t just grow, they grow old, and the clan’s matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy’s beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. And they didn’t count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

The New York Times–bestselling author Cathleen Schine has been called “full of invention, wit, and wisdom that can bear comparison to [ Jane] Austen’s own” (The New York Review of Books), and she is at her best in this intensely human, profound, and honest novel about the intrusion of old age into the relationships of one loving but complicated family. They May Not Mean To, But They Do is a radiantly compassionate look at three generations, all coming of age together. (less)

Tags: 2017-read, an-author-i-read, at-least-the-writing-was-good, don-t-want-to-rate, everyone-else-liked-it, good-but-made-me-sad, great-title, made-me-sad, made-me-uncomfortable, places-i-have-been, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Friday, February 17, 2017

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Allegory, fairy tale, magical realism, historical novel-- Anna and the Swallow Man has a bit of it all. It certainly has the characters of an old European folk tale, not just simple good guys and bad guys but demons and shape changers. There's even the lovable fool. The story, set primarily in Poland in WWII, centers on Anna, a child of 7, whose father is taken away one day and never comes back. Though circumstance, Anna begins to travel with a person she names the Swallow Man. Their journey is one of survival, uncovering truths and illusions, falsehoods and fantasies. It is written in elegant, evocative prose, which leaves many aspects of the tale for the reader to imagine, but also filled a place in my reading heart I hadn't realized was vacant. Also notable are the wonderful chapter illustrations and cover art, done by Laura Carlin.
To be honest, I am not sure I was able to absorb all the author packed away in the pages, but this novel is one I am pretty sure I could again and find something new each time.

tags: 2017-read, awardwinner, first-novel-or-book, great-cover, magical-realism, read, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-ou, thank-you-charleston-county-library, translated, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, ya-lit

From the publisher: Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.