When I think of all the books still left to read, I am certain of future happiness. Jules Renard

It seems there is a national day for everything.  Some seem a bit silly to me.  Do cold cuts and tater tots really merit a day honoring them each year?  There must be some people who think so. But today is National Book Lover’s Day and that is a holiday I absolutely fully embrace.  Bibliophiles can celebrate reading and literature to their heart’s content.  It is especially awesome that it falls on a Sunday this year, allowing the bookworm in me to indulge in some quality reading time.

While the benefits of reading are well documented, my six-year old self had no idea of any statistics supporting my favorite activity.  Our rural school district didn’t have a kindergarten in 1960, so I had to wait until first grade to start my school career.  I remember sitting in reading circle at the back of the classroom, eagerly awaiting my turn.  We would take turns reading aloud, able to advance in the circle if we knew a word the student in front of us didn’t know.  The person who was at the head of the circle at the end of reading time was rewarded with a tootsie roll!  Although today’s teachers might look askance at this teaching method, I enjoyed many a tootsie roll that year. Despite later being “denounced as dull”, I loved Dick, Jane and Sally.  I was surprised to learn in this 2015 article, 15 Fun Facts about Dick and Jane, that the concept for Dick and Jane books came from a school teacher in LaPorte, Indiana. I spent the first 18 years of my life living within a few miles of LaPorte!

I have from time to time wondered where my love of reading came from.  Was I just too lazy to spend my afternoon riding my bike or practicing piano instead of reading?  I’ve decided it wasn’t laziness, but the wonderful example set by the two people in my young world who loved me best. My father didn’t own a “Book Lover” mug or an independent bookstore tote bag, but my strongest childhood memory of him is seeing him stretched out on the couch in the evening, devouring paperback after paperback.  The other person was my Aunt Ruby. My dad and my beloved Aunt Ruby would exchange grocery bags full of “pocket books”, bought at yard sales or thrift shops.  In fact, my name came from a book Dad was reading when my mother was pregnant with me – A Woman Named Storm.  I wish he had held on to the book for me.  While he didn’t save that book, he did pass on to me a love of reading.

I read because it gives me pleasure.  I even find the touch and smell of books satisfying.   Reading expands my world, pushing me to go outside myself and experience other times, places and events.  As a grandma, I now have the joy of watching my grandchildren become readers.  They all end their day with some form of family reading time.  Today is day five of my ten day project reading via Facetime to my three grandsons in Maryland.  Their dad hands out the “snack of the day” I have provided and I spend the next half hour reading Mañanaland by Pam Munoz Ryan aloud to them.  So far so good and I’m eager to repeat the experience with my granddaughters.

Reading with the boys!

One of my personal heroines, Nora Ephron, said “Reading is everything.  Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, become a better person…Reading is bliss.”  I do feel accomplished when I finish a book, albeit a little sad, like I have lost a friend.  But luckily, there are many novels still to be read, so my future looks blissfully bookish!

C’est la vie.

There is little but the sublime to help us through the ordinary in life. Alain (Emile Auguste Chartier)

midweek musings…

Reading my sister’s post on Sunday, The Days of Wine and Covid, led me to thinking about my own “list habit”.  I do love a list.  A to-do list, a list of my favorite quotes, books I’ve read, books I want to read, movies to see, ideas for blog posts.  Many people now keep their lists digitally, but I am old school and prefer an actual notebook.  My family must be aware of my preference because for my birthday this year I received a lovely new journal from my youngest son.  It was handcrafted in Sri Lanka from a mixture of elephant waste (poo!) and post-consumer paper that was pulped to perfection by the elephants and I love it!  Thanks, Adam.

I’m not sure if it was Jeanne’s post or my own stream-of-consciousness thinking, but when I was having a conversation with my oldest granddaughter over the weekend and she started telling me her list of favorite animals, favorite books, etc., a lightbulb went off.  Right then I decided to send her a notebook so that she could record her lists.  It delights my grandma heart to imagine her developing her own notebook habit and tucking them away when they are full to revisit decades later.  The notebook is on its way, Olivia!

And all the talk about notebooks reminded me of a book I recently read, The Red Notebook by French writer Antoine Laurain.  Laurent Letellier, a lonely bookseller, comes across an abandoned handbag on a Parisian street with nothing to indicate the owner.  Laurent tries to figure out who the owner might be from the remaining contents of the bag, including a red moleskin notebook containing the unknown owner’s own intriguing lists.  

It’s a clever, funny book.   Laurent’s trepidation of going through a woman’s purse – a transgression a man should never commit – reminded me of how my father felt about my mother’s purse!  It’s was a quick and satisfying pandemic read, part detective story and part romance.  If like me, you occasionally find yourself in need of a sliver of the sublime these days, give it a try.

C’est la vie.

The days of wine and covid…

Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy this guest post from my sister, Jeanne.

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Another day when if I have to know the day or time, I look at my phone. Forget dates, no idea if it’s the 7th, the 15th, or whether we are into the 20s by now. Some days I forget the month.

Each day slides quietly into the next. Where my old life was divided into appointments, meetings and occasional daylong shopping excursions, this quarantined life is dictated by my lists. It consists of itemized reminders of the tasks and projects I hope to accomplish each day. Some entries require immediate attention: no milk, go to the store, put the trash out, stick a chicken in the oven for dinner.  Some may take a few days – garden planting, sewing projects, painting the garage door. Some are simply aspirational like learn Italian or lose 10 pounds, read Moby Dick. The aspirational may never happen but on the rare chance we experience a pandemic, they could be worth tackling.

Well as it just so happens, quarantine 2020 is the answer to all those delayed projects and tasks you have pushed aside as too time-consuming or requiring too much focus. But I must finally admit that many of those lofty enterprises that I had placed on my long-term goal list really are just simply things I admire in other people but am too lazy to actually accomplish myself. I would love to be multilingual, to fit into much slimmer styles, as well as read all the great novels of the last 100 years. But none of that is likely to happen. Sadly COVID 19 has made me more pragmatic, henceforth, the list must change. Only goals that can be accomplished within one to three days will be included on my daily list. No more frustration with uncrossed out entries. To remedy the still daydreamer in me, I have also started a second list in a small purple notebook. It contains only aspirational entries, things the young self who resides inside my old tired body still secretly yearns to accomplish. It’s tucked away so not to embarrass my youthful survivors, yet close enough to remind my heart of chances.

I write lists because my memory and my memories grow less reliable. I want to remember, so my lists are as helpful as a kind assistant.  Some desk drawers are filled with old lists, most tasks accomplished, I hope. I leave them to remind me of things I have done. Silly, but when you are old you can do silly things.  My tabletops are often stacked with paperwork for chapters of books I am writing, memos, reports, letters and cards to finish as well as the ubiquitous lists that are so much a part of my life.  The luxury of living alone is no one complains, “not even the chair”.

Thank you Neil Diamond.

jgk

It’s all fun and games until the bobbin runs out…

Perhaps it’s that people have more time at home these days or perhaps it’s the necessity to wear a mask, but it seems people are not only returning to the art of sewing but new seamstresses are inspired each day to visit a fabric store and try their hands at a new skill. People all around the country are sewing masks and donating them to hospitals, nursing homes and others in need. They are also tapping into their creative side and returning to the art of designing home accessories and wardrobe additions. Once considered a basic, practical skill, sewing began to fall out of fashion. For many baby boomers, sewing skills were dim memories when they began to have their own children. These days, if you have a sewing challenge, there’s a You Tube video to help you solve it!

I did a fair amount of sewing when my sons were young. Baby gowns, night shirts and Halloween costumes were my specialties. But the boys grew older, I was busy and my sewing fell by the wayside. Sewing quarantine masks for Mr. Smith and me whetted my appetite to return to my old habit. When I mentioned this to my sister, she looked through her supply of patterns. I don’t want to call her a hoarder, but she passed onto me a little girl nightgown pattern that someone had gifted her back in the swinging 60s! The price of the pattern was 35 cents!

It was refreshing to peruse the fabric store in search of something other than mask fabric. I didn’t find anything that inspired me for nightgowns for my granddaughters, but I did find a dress pattern and fabric that I think will look amazing on them.

Whether it’s the pandemic or left-over inspiration from Project Runway, I’m having a fine time cutting, sewing and imaging what my girls will look like in their new dresses. And these days, I’ll take all the fun I can get.

C’est la vie.

Live long and prosper…

Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of my birth!

English actor, director and producer, Sir Patrick Stewart, also has a July birthday. During Quarantine, he has been reading a Shakespearean sonnet a day aloud on Instagram. On the eve of his 80th birthday, Sir Patrick celebrated by reading Sonnet 80. On the eve of my 65th, you can celebrate by clicking here and listening to Stewart read Shakespeare’s 65th Sonnet. Thank you Sir Patrick and thank you Shakespeare! May my love shine bright…

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea But sad mortality o’er-sways their power, How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, Whose action is no stronger than a flower? O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out Against the wrackful siege of batt’rling days, When rocks impregnable are not so stout, Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays? O fearful meditation! where, alack, Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid? Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back? Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid? O, none, unless this miracle have might, That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

Sonnet 65, William Shakespeare

C’est la vie.

I love the flower girl…

midweek musings…

Since my primary outing these Covid 19 days is to the grocery store, I am more appreciative than ever of the floral selection they offer.  Bringing flowers into our home adds a spark of life and boosts my mood.  It’s hard to be melancholy when there are perky little vases of budding beauties perched around our home.  I realize there are folks who don’t share my love of flowers.  More than once I’ve been asked, why put money into something that you are just going to toss in a week?  To each his/her own, but for my money, they can’t be beat.

Your grocery store can usually be relied upon to stock some standards like roses and carnations, but it’s the seasonal beauties that generally get my attention.  My heart skips a beat when I spot the first daffodils or tulips in spring and I’ve been known to do a happy dance when I happen upon my first peonies of the year.  Today’s trip yielded some beautiful summer sunflowers and a large bouquet of alstroemeria.

As lovely as they are, sunflowers can be a difficult flower to arrange.  You certainly have to have the right vessel, something that can handle their weight.  They aren’t a particularly “forgiving” flower for arranging, but they can certainly brighten up a corner.  One trick I’ve used many times is to scrunch up the cellophane wrapper they came in and shove it down inside the vase, helping keep the stems from being too floppy.

I certainly got my money’s worth from my $10 package of alstroemeria.  I broke it down into four separate little vases, one in our den, one on the entryway table, one in my bathroom and one beside my bed.  A bedside vase of fresh flowers has become my favorite pandemic luxury.  This is something anyone can do.  I change the water and recut the stems every other day and have often gotten two weeks of beauty from alstroemeria.  

When arranging your flowers, you should cut each stem at a 45-degree angle.  This allows them to soak up more water than if you cut them straight across.  You also want to remove any leaves from the stem that will be below the waterline.  Do you want a one-sided arrangement or something that will be seen from all around?  I usually prefer a monochromatic color scheme, but there are many color combinations that are gorgeous! Choose your vessel, fill it with water and start creating.  If I happen to be lucky enough to have some interesting greenery to work with, I often start with that, giving myself a base for the arrangement.  Next I would move to my largest blooms at the base, moving onto smaller blooms and filing in any holes with greenery.

There are some basic design rules.  If you’re using a tall vase, the entire arrangement from top to bottom should be two and half times the height of the vase.  So, if your vase is 10” tall, the height of your arrangement should be 25”.  When using a shorter vase, the rule of thumb is one and a half times the vase height and two times its width.  And if you are arranging flowers for a dinner party table, you want something that allows guests at a dinner table to easily see each other over the arrangement.  But in the end, I think it’s about making something that pleases you.  I hope you use the rules more as guidelines.  Case in point, it is generally considered best to work with an uneven number of flowers.  Tell that to the person who ordered a dozen roses for their beloved and receives eleven.  And if you have any blooms left over, feel free to pin one in your hair. Everybody loves a flower girl!

C’est la vie. 

It’s just an expression…

A word salad of excuses.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I read this line, but I do remember the expression.  My mind immediately saw a vivid picture of all sorts of red, green and gold excuses tumbling around in a beautiful bowl, just waiting for you to reach in with the salad tongs and pull one out.

Expressions are often part of our daily conversations.  Make a long story short; In the heat of the moment; A dime a dozen; Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  We may automatically know what the speaker/writer means when they use these old chestnuts, but it can make English a difficult language to learn and become prolific using.  Foreign students are routinely confused by idioms and expressions commonly used in everyday conversation.  Our language is figurative, chockful of metaphors, hyperbole and personification.  You literally cannot take it literally. 

There are expressions I associate with specific people. When I hear ‘little black dress’, I think Coco Channel.  And I never hear ‘Is the Pope Catholic?’ without thinking of Mr. Smith.  And apparently, there are those that associate certain sayings with moi.  A few years ago, I spent some time being grandmére aupair to my three frisky grandsons. It was an awesome experience, even if they did try my patience at times.  They must also try their mother’s patience at times.  One afternoon that proved to be particularly exasperating, she threw up her hands and said, “What would grandma Stormy say?”  They looked at each other and said, “Good night nurse!”  That is way better than some expressions they could have picked up from me!

Expressions, sayings, idioms – they are all brilliant parts of our English language.  I love our American English language, particularly how it is a melting pot of different cultures.  While French was one of the main influences, Latin, Spanish, Greek, and Hebrew along with others, have had an influence.  We can thank the French for the word Lingerie and the Italians for Piano.  Another strong influence comes to us by way of our southern brothers and sisters.  Some of the great sayings include:  Flashy as a rat with a gold tooth; All hat and no cattle; Heavier than a dead preacher; and She’s so tall she could hunt geese with a rake.

I have long kept a list of favorite words.  Diaphanous, talisman, insouciance, and dalliance are just a few that always fill my head with rich images.  I receive a daily email from Word Genius.  While some Words of the Day won’t be part of my working vocabulary any time soon, I have found some keepers that I am endeavoring to add to my inventory.  When I do discover a new word I want to incorporate into my glossary of favorites, I am grateful for the “pronunciation” button provided.  Had I had that button back in 1975, I perhaps could have avoided an embarrassing moment.  I was out for a get-to-know-Stormy lunch with some officemates, when I mispronounced a word, adding an “m” to voluptuous, making it volumptuous! One of my lunch buddies decided it wasn’t stressful enough to just be the new girl, that I needed to be publicly humiliated for my faux pas. At that moment, I knew two things.  I would never mispronounce that word again and I would remember that kindness is more important than wisdom.

There are over one million words in the English language and it continues to grow.  New ones are added each year.  Some have simple definitions; some have beautifully precise meanings.  These words are stitched together to make sentences, paragraphs, and expressions that result in great novels, remarkable poetry, our daily newspapers, steamy rom-com beach reads, and your children’s first books.  And that is a homerun.

C’est la vie.

I’m walking on sunshine, whoa…

midweek musings…

I may not be walking on sunshine, but I am walking.  In an effort to shake my COVID-19 blues, I’ve added a morning walk with Mr. Smith to my routine, dragging myself out of bed each morning a touch earlier than I would like.  We were out for our daily constitutional on Sunday when I asked him what he had planned for the day.  He thought for a moment and then said, “I thought I’d spend the day with you!”  We both started laughing.  We are definitely pandemic pals, spending even more time together than we did pre-COVID.  Good thing we can find something to laugh about during this time or it would not bode well for our retirement years!

This week my trip to the grocery brought a smile as I scored some beautiful peonies.  I decided this is another sign life is going to be all right.

I’ve started working in earnest on the Christmas ornaments for my grandchildren.  I’m very happy with my charming little stockings and mittens. 

My goal is to have them finished by the end of the month so I can get started on my next needlework project.  I have ordered some hot iron embroidery transfers and vintage pillowcases and I’m going to embroider pillowcases for my granddaughters.  

Like so many grandparents, I have been missing my grandchildren and looking for ways to stay connected.  My sister shared with me a book she had sent to her 10-year old grandson out in California. She spotted Mañanaland in The New York Times.  It received rave reviews from The Times and her grandson, so I thought it might also appeal to my boys.  Rather than send them copies to read on their own, I have ordered one copy for me.  What I will send them is a box with ten numbered treat bags, one to be opened each FaceTime reading session with grandma.  I will read, they will listen and munch.  

To avoid any scheduling stress for the parents and grandma, I’ll read with my granddaughters separately and I’m still thinking about that book choice.  I’m considering a childhood favorite of mine, Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. Originally published in the 1940s, the series was rereleased for its 60th anniversary.  I squealed out loud when I stumbled on my old friends in a bookstore and have been purchasing the series to share with my girls and I can’t think of a better way to shake off the pandemic blues.  

C’est la vie.

Most days…

Most days I am able to see growing older as a gift.  In the past, I wasted way too much energy worrying about things I couldn’t control.  Worrying about what others thought of me – bosses, co-workers, contemporaries, even complete strangers!  It is the crowning reward of becoming a true grownup to gain the perspective on life that only time and experience can bring.  Most days I wear my crown with pleasure and no longer obsess over what others may or may not think of me or second guess myself.

Most days.  Most days I can go about my life, looking for adventures and creativity that are not defined by age.  Most days I can be my own cheerleader and focus and direct my energies into positive actions. Sadly, these are not most days.  Current world events weigh heavily on me.  The systemic racism in our country can no longer be denied.  People are dying daily from a health crisis that has been allowed to spin out of control.  At a time when I most want to gather my loved ones close, I need to stay away to keep them safe.  I am definitely in a COVID19-funk and know that life will never return to what I thought of as normal.  Perhaps that is why some of the tools I have used in the past to pull myself out of a bad mood aren’t working.  I knew I needed a shift in perspective, or it was going to be a very long summer.

This week, that perspective came from seeing myself through another’s eyes.  I received a pre-birthday letter of love from a niece.  In her eloquent writings, she shared her favorite memories of me through the years.  While reading, I was amazed at her litany of reminisces, including the story about me providing her with some sage advice at a time she really needed it.  And her memory of coming to visit with her mom and brother for the Christmas holidays when she was four or five years old and sleeping with me in my big bed, snuggled up and being allowed to cuddle my Raggedy Ann doll. Wow! I am beyond touched that with all she currently has on her own plate navigating her family through this pandemic, she reached out with such a kind heart.  People often have a hard time appreciating their own value, including me.  How helpful that every once in a while, we can have the privilege of seeing ourselves through someone else’s eyes. 

My niece, Beth, and me, circa 1970.

While it is often human nature to stay with what we know, the times they are a changing.  I am trying to use this time to reset my value system, figuring out where best to put my time and love.   And as I bob and weave my way through our new normal, I am grateful for people like my niece who help me keep things in perspective.

C’est la vie.  

The art of receiving…

Please enjoy this guest post on receiving by my sister, jgk!

Ah…that old bugaboo we learn as children that it is nobler to give than to receive, yet many adults find the act of receiving far more difficult. 

There are so many events in our lives that give us the opportunity to say thank you. Day-to-day living, doors held open, kind advice, acts of charity, and even compliments from friends and strangers. There are entire corporations which encourage even glorifying the act of giving. Large and small charities screen colorful, sympathetic commercials encouraging us to donate to their worthy causes. We are virtually patted on the back for our generous donations.  We feel positive and generous.   The holidays of Christmas, Passover and birthdays create opportunities of exuberant gift giving. It’s great fun to watch a six-year-old tear apart a colorful box to discover her new toy, but when Aunt Emma is then handed a ribbon festooned box there can be a very different reaction. She may seem embarrassed and insist you shouldn’t have. 

 Most Americans are raised in a culture that encourages humility and scorns entitlement and hubris.  We are instructed from childhood that we should appear thankful when we receive a gift even if it is not the shiny red firetruck we had our heart set on, or the Red Rider BB gun. Grandma’s gift of a new book and paper check for your college fund just doesn’t engender the same gratefulness as the latest Lego kit or sparkly stuffed unicorn, but its our job to pretend.

A number of psychologists suggest a more clinical view that one reason receiving is more difficult is because it denotes control. The giver is in control because they are the one to choose the gift, the price, the recipient. The receiver not so much. They are the passive party. While we feel positive about giving, to receive, we must open ourselves up to it, thus placed in a more vulnerable position. For example, how often do we hear someone respond to a compliment by brushing it aside, rejecting or deflecting it, often with a smile. We less often hear a sincere  thank you. This seemed especially true of females who have been historically groomed to appear demure, nonaggressive, ‘not too pushy’, ‘feminine’. Uuuggh!  

I have another position. I was raised by a parent who rarely said thank you. I realize now in my old age that she was a product of her upbringing. The father was a tyrant and her mother had died when she was only three years old. As a young mother herself, she was ill-equipped to raise children with healthy egos. Luckily the younger of the seven children seem to have fared better perhaps because she mellowed but also because of a wonderful stepfather who was kind generous and thoughtful. As my mother’s second child I have absorbed many of her irritating issues, yet my wonderful sister, the sixth child, has always been quite different and quick to acknowledge thoughtfulness. Perhaps for the next generation it will be easier to say thanks. As women’s grow into their voices and recognize their power and worth, we will all come to realize how liberating and comfortable it is to simply say Thanks.

jgk