I should have been a grasshopper…

I have discovered the three secrets of life and I did it over coffee.  

Last Monday morning, Mr. Smith and I sat savoring our steamy, fragrant morning lattes.  I don’t remember exactly how we got on the topic, but we started discussing “if I knew then what I know now.”  We talked about lessons we had learned over the years that we wished we could pass on to our grandchildren.  Perhaps a top ten list of grandparents’ golden nuggets of wisdom.  We realize they probably wouldn’t really listen any more than we listened to our elders back in the day.  But that didn’t stop us from thinking about it.

 At the ripe old age of 65, I am grateful to have let go of some of the ropes that held me back in the past.  I worried way too much about what other people thought, when in reality, they weren’t really thinking all that much about me.  And for the most part, I have stopped comparing my life to others’ and try to operate on the premise that everybody is just doing the best they can. I do fear my grandchildren getting caught up in the social media world where everyone else’s life can look perfect in an Instagram post.  I want them to understand it is often smoke and mirrors and things are frequently not as they appear.

Mr. Smith is not one to ruminate about the past.  He focuses more on what he has learned through all his life choices.  But if he could pass on any wisdom to his grandchildren, he would make them aware of the reality of the class system and that they should not be intimidated by it.  Your class does not define the type of person you are or how you live your life.  His only true regret is that he didn’t take his education more seriously earlier in his life.  But through discipline and perseverance, he managed to graduate from college before his sons did!

Our discussion started me thinking about others in my life, people who had made an impact on me.  I proceeded to text a couple of bosses I had in the past to seek out their thoughts on the subject.  I wasn’t sure they would have any regrets but wondered if they had any sage advice for the younger generation.  

I was a fledgling paralegal when I was hired by Brian and his lessons were invaluable to me.  I saw him as a preeminent family law attorney in our community and a wonderful mentor.  As he begins to think about retirement and what is next for him, he shared his thoughts with me.  “When I graduated from high school, I had a choice of attending my local college or going on campus to Indiana University.”  He stayed at home with his family and while it did save his family tens of thousands of dollars, in retrospect, he thinks the compelling reason was to stay in town with his then girlfriend!  “In hindsight, it was a mistake to not attend at least one year on the Bloomington campus.  I think of everything that I missed including, but not limited to, the college culture, lifestyle, people I could have met (from all over the world), and the temptations that all students on campus experience.”   Like Brian, I also regret not taking a bigger leap out of the nest when I was younger, but luckily we have both found our wings.  

Years later, when we moved to Pennsylvania, I took a position at a personal injury firm. Jim was often viewed as the office curmudgeon, but I was able to see the kind heart just below the surface which he tried to keep hidden.  His response made me a little misty eyed.  “I should have taken more chances…I was the ant who slowly and methodically worked to accomplish.  I should have been a grasshopper.”   A grasshopper symbolizes courage, resourcefulness and creativity.  I see all those qualities in you, Jim, and think your grasshopper days are right in front of you.

Tenzin Kiyosaki, a former Buddhist nun who now works as in interfaith hospice chaplain for Torrance Memorial Medical Center in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, spends her days listening to the concerns of the dying.  She found the top three to be:  1) I did not live my life of dreams; 2) I did not share my love; and 3) I did not forgive.  She wants us to remember that death doesn’t only come to the old, and urges us to resolve or prevent any regrets now.  And that is what I want to do.

So, over morning coffee, I believe I discovered that the three secrets of life – and a peaceful death – for me are courage, kindness and discipline.  And using these tools to follow your heart. Be the grasshopper. 

C’est la vie.

Midweek Mélange…

Good morning and welcome to this week’s Midweek Mélange, a random assortment of things that have caught my eye.   This list may give new meaning to the word random, but I hope you find something that piques your curiosity.  And I hope you are also seeing some signs of spring and hope wherever you are.

Nomadland

Have you seen this 2021 Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture – Drama?  Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, Mr. Smith and I recently spent a Sunday afternoon with popcorn and the incomparable Frances McDormand.  

It tells the story of post-recession contemporary nomads who have taken to the road, living in their vans or cars.  From a sugar beet harvesting plant to an Amazon fulfillment center, they move from place to place seeking seasonal work, generally with low wages.  

While Ms. McDormand’s character Fern is fictional, the director, Chloé Zhao, cast several non-professional actors, the real-life nomads, to play versions of themselves, including Swankie, Linda May and Bob Wells.  Bob Wells has been a full-time camper for over 12 years and is not only the founder of the website Cheap RV Living, he has his own Youtube channel with more than 400,000 subscribers.

Mr. Smith and I were both blown away by this fictional account of a fascinating woman and the reminder that there are so many people out there with fascinating stories to share.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” McDormand says. “It is not a romantic idea. You have to plan, and you have to be very confident that you can be alone. Like Swankie says to Fern,’You can die out there.” I love to camp and I’ve been on the road many times since we made the movie. But I am definitely a dabbler.”

Though you may not relate directly to the struggle, you hopefully will see the beauty in the simple things – a dip in the river, a kind gesture from a stranger, or a spa treatment while sitting in your folding chair in the middle of nowhere.  I found the movie to be both tender and starkly realistic and well worth my time.

Aleksander Doba

When Mr. Smith came across Aleksander Doba’s obituary in the New York Times earlier this month, he said it was like “…reading the final chapter of a book you hadn’t finished and being blown away by the ending.”  Mr. Doba died on February 22 on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 74.

Mr. Smith first became aware of Aleksander Doba as the Polish Pensioner Adventurer who crossed the Atlantic in a specially built kayak three times, the first two times in his 60s and the third time when he was 70.  Having gotten into kayaking relatively late in life, age 34, he went on to become Poland’s “pensioner adventurer.”  His custom kayak when fully equipped weighed more than 1,500 pounds.  While difficult to maneuver in high winds and heavy surf, it was built to handle the challenges of an open ocean crossing and equipped with emergency beacons, radios and navigational gear.  Along with jars of his wife’s plum jam, he subsisted on freeze-dried goulash and porridge, chocolate bars and homemade wine.  When his salt-water drenched clothes became too irritating, he stripped down and navigated the rest of his trip buck naked.

Having crossed the Atlantic three times, Mr. Doba began preparing to knock another item off his bucket list, he wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  For training, he jogged up and down the stairs of a high-rise building with a heavy backpack and took long daily hikes.

On the morning of February 22, he reached Kilimanjaro’s summit with two guides.  He took in the view, sat down on a rock to rest, and died.  His son shared, “He said many times that he didn’t want to die in his bed.”  He got his wish.

I have often wondered where my “golden years” will take me, how my story is going to end.  Mr. Doba’s tale certainly reminds me that we have a shelf life and inspires me to get about planning my final chapters.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

After many long winter months of indulging Mr. Smith by watching Nordic noir, I decided it was time for something completely different!  I felt behind the times in that I had never watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel so I put it at the top of our queue.  If like me you haven’t found time to watch this hilarious and heartfelt series, I highly recommend it.  It truly is a love letter to the 1950s.  

Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a content wife and mother whose perfect life takes a sudden turn when she discovers 1) her husband’s infidelity, and 2) she has an unknown talent.  I delighted in this romanticized cultural tour of the 50s and 60s from the viewpoint of a privileged, upper west side, Jewish family’s viewpoint and am thrilled to know Season 4 is currently being filmed.  And then there’s my favorite part – the fashion!  It may not have been a comfortable era to dress in – girdles and high heels – but I loved seeing the many people dressed up just for every day.  No one was wearing jammie pants to the store.  Midge has no problem with dressing in a way that says, “Here I am world!” and inspires me to try and live in technicolor.

C’est la vie.

It is Spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart. Rainer Maria Rilke

Happy Sunday! Please enjoy this guest post by my always poetically prolific sister.

Photo Credit: Mr. Smith

Secret signs of Spring

How do we say goodbye to this long cold sad winter and discover the small signs of the anticipated return of warmer days? It has been a particularly gloomy winter of illness, death, isolation and depression. We long for a change.

This March morning, I am drawn to the soft yellow light streaming through the winter filmed window panes. The warmth pulls me closer reminding my tired old carcass of the approaching season. I so long to drop this winter cloak, so each recent bright green spike pushing up in the front door garden gladdens my fancy.  My wild birds are gorging themselves at the feeder then diving into the corner hedge to busily construct new nests. Early purple and white crocuses have emerged under the trees and pots of sunny jonquils appear near the apples at the market.  My old maple trees are covered in crimson leaf pods.  School bound teenagers are trading their overstuffed puffy coats to colorful thinner team jackets. Scarfs and mittens are tucked away until next fall.  One rugged townsman even arrived at the bank sporting his favorite plaid shorts.  I know it may snow again…spring is like that. It teases us before finally accepting our RSVP. 

But flirt that she is, I still love Spring, Primavera in Spain, Printemps in France, and Frühling in Germany.  Hope is the raison d’étre for spring, the anticipation of the new, the promise of a do over. This year I’ll finally get at that garden, I’ll paint that wall or have a long overdue purging of stuff. Garage sales will abound. We feel the constraints of the lockdown loosening and we can stretch out our arms and do. It helps to have received those long-awaited shots in the arm and a lowering infection rate. Sadly, the scourge of COVID continues but hopefully waning as we all yearn for signs of normalcy.  

Clearly this old woman is excited that April then May will arrive in weeks not months. I’m pumped.  I can hear my Irish grandmother in my head saying that if I start packing away the wool sweaters that will only invite old man winter to return with some late snowy prank. I know grandma, but I’m just eager to lay out the welcome mat for Lady Spring.

jgk

Women of Consequence – Elizebeth Smith Friedman

I have long acknowledged the importance of libraries in my life, but I doubt Elizebeth Smith was aware of the life-changing effect a trip to the Newberry Library in Chicago in 1916 would have on the course of her life and that of our nation’s history.

Born in Huntington, Indiana in 1892 to Quaker parents, Elizebeth was number ten of ten children.  Her mother was worn out, her father considered her a difficult child, and as a bookish child who wrote poetry, she always felt out of place.  After high school, she persevered and finally convinced her father to allow her to attend college, agreeing to pay him back every penny at 4% interest. Though she longed for an adventurous life, after college she accepted one of the only positions available to women in those days, that of an elementary school teacher.

Elizebeth taught for one year in a small Indiana school, but knew it wasn’t her calling.  She quit her job and moved back in with her parents.  She quickly remembered how challenging it was to live at home and in June of 1916 she forced herself to be brave and took the train to Chicago. Staying with a friend, she spent her days searching for a job, hopefully in literature or research.

After a week with no leads, no money and no connections, she begrudgingly agreed to return home, a promise she had negotiated with her father.  Before boarding the train, she decided to make a stop at the Newberry Library which owned a rare copy of the First Folio of William Shakespeare.  The book had intrigued her when she first learned of it during her college years because it was rumored to contain secret codes.  A young woman librarian noticed how enthralled Elizebeth was with the book and asked if she was interested in Shakespeare.  The two got to talking and realized they had much in common.  The librarian had grown up in Richmond, Indiana, not far from Elizebeth’s hometown.  The conversation was comfortable enough that Elizabeth mentioned she was looking for a job.  

Enter George Fabyan, a wealthy Chicago businessman who visited the library often to examine the First Folio.  The librarian was familiar with his obsession.  She also knew he was looking to hire an assistant.  She contacted Fabyan who came directly to the library where he stunned Elizebeth when he inquired, “Will you come to Riverbank and spend the night with me?”  Despite being taken aback by his question, she decided to trust this stranger.

Elizebeth did not use her return train ticket to Indiana.  Instead, she accompanied Fabyan to Riverbank Estate in Geneva, Illinois.  He had used his great wealth to create an eccentric kingdom, a playground for scientists.  At Riverbank, Elizebeth worked on a project involving looking for the secret messages supposedly hidden in the plays of Shakespeare, written in cipher.

In a bit of kismet, William Friedman, a Jewish geneticist from Pittsburgh, worked with Elizebeth on the project.  They married within a year, forming a strong life-long bond.  Quite simply, throughout their life together everyone thought they were made for each other.  

It didn’t take the couple long to figure out that Fabyan’s theory that Sir Francis Bacon had actually written Shakespeare’s plays was crazy and that Fabyan was crazy too.  But their work would become invaluable. Computers hadn’t been invented yet but working with graph paper and pencils and drawing on each other’s strengths, they discovered methods that became the basis for modern cryptanalysis and none too soon.  

When America went to war in 1917, there was no intelligence community and very few people in the entire nation knew anything about code breaking.  Elizebeth and William were two of them.  George Fabyan saw an opportunity and offered their services to the U. S. government.  William eventually served in France, but Elizebeth spent the war years at Riverbank, providing invaluable service solving messages that had been intercepted from Germany and Mexico.

After World War I, the Friedmans, weary of Fabyan and the oddities his vast wealth allowed him to indulge, left for Washington D.C.   There William went to work for the government while Elizebeth stayed home, raising their two children and thinking about writing children’s books.  That is, until government agents began showing up on her doorstep asking her to break codes, refusing to take no for an answer.  She eventually launched and headed a new code breaking unit within the Coast Guard, initially trying to enforce Prohibition.  Liquor smugglers may have been gangsters, but they were smart gangsters.  They used sophisticated codes and ciphers to hide their operations, until Elizebeth broke these codes.  She subsequently testified in court cases against gangsters, including three Al Capone lieutenants.  During the trial, she grew impatient with the attacks on the validity of her science, requested a black board for the courtroom and clearly and expertly demonstrated the code breaking system.  Through all this, she was mostly unaware of the squad of plain clothes agents deployed to protect her.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Elizebeth left the Coast Guard to work for the U.S. Navy Department.  Due to the misogyny rampant at that time and despite her vastly superior skills and experience, she was assigned to work under an inferior uniformed male officer.  Elizebeth did not allow it to deter her.

Her target now became the Nazi spy network in South America, where a large influx of German immigrants supported fascist regimes who were working to open a new front in the war.  In one instance, Elizebeth’s code breaking saved the Queen Mary ocean liner and the 8,000 men on board.  Due to her perseverance in unlocking the Nazi transmissions, the captain was able to maneuver the ship out of the path of German U-boats.  Recognized as the FBI’s secret weapon, she was pushed aside by its egotistical director, J. Edgar Hoover, who stole full credit for all the work done by Elizebeth and her team.  He further designated all the decrypts the property of the FBI, effectively erasing her and her team from the official record.  Her records were stamped “TOP SECRET ULTRA” and classified for 50 years.  Elizebeth, like so many of her female counterparts, was told that as a patriot, she should go home and keep her lips zipped or face perdition.

After all that the Friedmans had sacrificed for their country over the decades, the government did little to reward their dedication.  The forced secrecy was hard on their marriage and William suffered from chronic, long term, serious depression.  Although William was closely involved in the early days of the National Security Agency, when he began to question that perhaps it was becoming a bit too secretive, the agency turned on him.  In 1958 they sent agents to the Friedmans’ home on Capitol Hill and confiscated dozens of papers from their library, some so old they went back to World War I, leaving them angry and humiliated that the government would treat them as security risks after they had spent their careers serving their country.

Elizebeth died in 1980 at age 88.  Her files were not declassified until 2008, requiring her to honor her Navy oath and take her secret life to her grave.  In 1999, she was inducted into the National Security Agency’s Cryptologic Hall of Honor, as “a pioneer in code breaking.” 

Just as she belongs in that Hall of Honor, she belongs of my Women of Consequence list.  I marvel at how from a young age Elizebeth, a young Quaker girl from small town Indiana, found the courage within herself to expand her horizons. Without higher math training or the assistance of technology, she helped win both world wars by breaking enemy codes, while laying the foundation of American cryptanalysis and raising two children. She was certainly a Woman of Consequence for William, caring for him through years of mental distress until his death in 1969. 

And she is certainly a Woman of Consequence for the 8,000-member crew of the Queen Mary and their descendants.  Her amazing story makes me wonder – how many other extraordinary female heroes have been buried by secrecy and sexism.  Hers is a story I will share with my granddaughters, including my granddaughter who shares her name – Elizabeth Smith.  I want them to know her story because while things are better for women than they have been historically, women have yet to achieve true equality and our world suffers for it.  I hope when (and if) my granddaughters have granddaughters, this will no longer be true.

If you want to know more about this fascinating woman, you can check out The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone or tune into the amazing PBS, American Experience, The Codebreaker.

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. George Harrison

It has been a big week here at in the love nest.  On Monday, I received the first of my Covid vaccine shots.  A snowstorm the week before caused appointment cancellations, resulting in twice the number of people for each time slot on my appointed day.  When I arrived there were clusters of seniors, waiting to enter the building when their time slot was called.  Once you were inside, the process went extremely smoothly and in no time I had my shot, was scheduled for the second, and headed out the door.  The trials and tribulations of scoring a coveted spot on the list will become one of the shared stories years from now when we talk about the lost year, the Pandemic, and when we were vaccinated.

Another spot of excitement in my week is that I purchased a new shiny pink ride!  It has a basket, a bell, a cup holder and I love it!  I see myself tooling around town – off to the library, the French bakery or just enjoying the sunshine.

One thing it didn’t come with is a lock.  I need to hurry and pick one up because my precious pink bike was nearly stolen by a sexy Frenchman!

The week’s highlight, however, was seeing our energetic, creative granddaughter, Eleanor, for the first time in months.

Eleanor’s mother started the long journey to citizenship nearly five years ago.  On Friday while Eleanor stayed with Mr. Smith and me, her parents went to Philadelphia for Hsin Yi to complete her interview and citizenship test.  She passed!  They return in a couple weeks for her official swearing in ceremony.

Grandpa and I had a great day with Eleanor.  We sculpted with Play Doh, painted colorful pictures, baked and decorated cookies, went for a walk over our favorite bridge and took a relaxing bubble bath.  Eleanor did a fine job of making sure her grandparents were ready for a good night’s sleep.

So as the long winter begins to wear me down and I start to wonder if we will ever have fun again, here comes the sun and I say it’s all right!

C’est la vie.

A Congenial Table.

As we inch toward normalcy, the first thing on my ‘can’t wait to-do it list’ is visiting all our children and grandchildren.  After that, I am eagerly looking forward to the day I can call up friends and say, “Come for cocktails!”  I long to plan a party, dress up and raise a glass with my favorite people.

As I started to dream of my next social gathering, I wondered who the first person was to wake up one morning and think – I’ll just dig out the martini glasses, whip up some canapes, purchase copious amounts of ice and have the gang over for drinks.  One story is it all started with eggnog.

According to the Huffington Post, “The principal antecedent for the cocktail party comes from September 1890 when Mrs. Richard S. Dana introduced the concept of an ‘eggnog party’ in the society resort of Lenox, Mass., parties she would throw every autumn for years, when the goldenrod was in blossom.  Following the lead of the Lenox “cottagers,” it became the height of the Gilded Age fashion to host a party around a bowl of eggnog.”  

As much as I admire a beautiful punch bowl, I don’t think I would enjoy an entire evening consuming a dairy-oriented drink.  Luckily, apparently neither did Clara Walsh of St. Louis, Missouri.  In 1917, Clara gave a highly publicized party that captured the curiosity of the public.  She hosted a “Baby Party” during which adults drank booze from baby bottles.  Inviting over 50 of her closest friends for a one-hour party of drinking and merriment, she termed it a Cocktail Party.  There were Bronx cocktails (gin, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth and orange juice), Clover Leafs (gin, grenadine, lime juice and egg white, garnished with a mint leaf), highballs, gin fizzes, martinis and Manhattans.  I am curious how much staff she had for the occasion. The local newspapers showered her with praise and her inspiration spread quickly throughout the city. 

The gatherings I see in my mind’s eye harken back to the 50s and 60s.  Following World War II and the mass exodus to the newly sprouting suburbs, people were removed from the cities and bars and found ways to entertain their nearby neighbors and friends in their home.  

Entertaining at home became almost an obsession for some.  They perfected the art of the cocktail.  Out came the bowls of olives and nuts.  The party dress was renamed the cocktail dress and shelled peanuts were no longer simply peanuts, but cocktail peanuts.  Checking out the array of finger foods, you could pretty much count on the ubiquitous silver chafing dish brimming with warm cocktail weenies swimming in questionable red sauce!

As much as I love a dinner party, cocktail parties are much more hassle free to plan.  They don’t have my biggest dinner party stress of trying to schedule the dishes so they are ready at the right time.  Canapes can be made well ahead of time, giving me time to slip into something more festive plus no worries that the souffle will flop! It gives me an opportunity to use the sparkly stemware I have collected over the decades.  Some vintage, some not, I have been known as the woman with a glass for everything, a title I am happy to bear!  

So someday soon I will be gathering my favorite appetizer recipes, polishing up my stemware collection, and sending you a proper invite, even if the goldenrod is not in blossom.  Now I just need to find the perfect hostess apron…

C’est la vie.

#Choose to Challenge

National Women’s History Month began with a single day.  Every year on March 8 more than 100 countries celebrate International Women’s Day.  But why March 8?

In 1909, the Socialist Party of America organized a Women’s Day in New York City.  The next year, German delegates at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference proposed that “a special Women’s Day” be organized yearly.  But it was Russia who unwittingly established March 8 as the official date. On that day in 1917, tens of thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding change.  Their unified cry for rights was instrumental in paving the way for Russian women to finally win the vote.  

Women’s Day was primarily celebrated by the Socialist Movement and communist countries, it was adopted by the Feminist Movement around 1967.  The United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1975.  In some countries it is now a public holiday, in others it is largely ignored.  In some places it is a day of protest, in others it celebrates womanhood.  In Portugal where my sister lived, women gathered for lunch and drinks to celebrate the day and each other.

I knew nothing about International Women’s Day in the summer of 1974 when I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Summerfest.   This festival, held along the shores of Lake Michigan each summer, now features over 1,000 performances on 12 stages.  In 1974, I think there were two stages.  I was in the audience at one of those stages and with hundreds of other women, sang my heart out along with Helen Reddy when she performed “I Am Woman.”  Unfortunately, in those days my naïve idea of woman power meant burning your bra and using Ms. instead of Miss.

Too many important issues were not yet on my radar, gender parity in the workplace, reproductive rights, domestic abuse, navigating career and motherhood, lack of respect for caregiving.   I was raised to be a “nice” girl, to stay in my lane, not be “difficult.”  Thankfully over the next decades my inner feminist blossomed, my journey being more of a marathon than a sprint.   And I’m ok with that.  I haven’t shattered any glass ceilings, but I have given the world three amazing men who know that women are their equal.  

I admire the trailblazers and intrepid women who have done so much to bring about change, but this morning I am also thinking about all the women for whom tomorrow is just another day.  Another day to try and keep their kids safe, to put food on the table and roof over their head, no time off for a special celebration.    

In 1996, The United Nations began adopting annual themes for International Women’s Day.  This year’s theme is Choose to Challenge.  I have stood up for women – co-workers, friends, family, sometimes strangers.  But I have also sometimes failed to speak up.  I will always be me.  I am more traditionalist than radical, but this year I challenge myself to be more aware of gender bias and inequality and find ways to Choose to Challenge.  After all, I have four granddaughters who have a right to grow up in a fairer, more just world.

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Having happily devoured several of Curtis Sittenfeld’s previous novels, I was eager to read Rodham.  This is the story of what might have happened had Hillary not married Bill.  As in real life, she graduates from Wellesley and attends law school at Yale where she meets Bill.  After graduation, they head for Arkansas so Bill can start his political climb.  He proposes several times until Hillary finals accepts.  In the novel, when she discovers he has been unfaithful, she endures a painful breakup and leaves Arkansas to blaze her own trail, eventually becoming the first woman president of the United States.

The first third of the book was borderline creepy with much too much information on the sexual antics of the couple for my taste.  It became much more interesting after the breakup.  I learned some things about how politics work.  Even though I already knew money influences politics, this book – even if it wasn’t the intent – certainly makes the case for campaign finance reform.  

I have mixed feelings about the book.  On one hand, it is the perfect revenge story for a woman who gave up her dreams to follow those of her husband.  On the other hand, I had to remind myself while I was reading that it is FICTION.  I wonder what Hillary thinks.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig  

British author Matt Haig gives us the story of a woman on the verge of ending her life.  She has lost her job, her life is falling apart and her cat is dead.  So, Nora overdoses on pills. When she wakes up, she is not in heaven, hell or purgatory, but in a library.  Nora is filled with regrets about decisions she has made in her life. The Midnight Library is a place where people can go when they are between life and death, not entirely sure which way to go.  It is filled with endless books to choose from, allowing you to try on another life you could have lived.  Author Jodi Picoult described it as “…an It’s a Wonderful Life for the modern age…”

While not life changing, I did like the book.  I loved that Nora’s school librarian, Mrs. Elm, who was a great comfort to Nora growing up, runs The Midnight Library.  And while I was pretty certain I knew where the story would end up, it was still a satisfactory read.  By age 65, I have certainly wondered what life would have been like if I had made different choices.  What better place to work out those thoughts than in a library!

Touched by the Sun, My Friendship with Jackie by Carly Simon

In early December, I received a text from my friend, Lou Anne, inquiring whether I had read Touched by the Sun. I had not and she proceeded to send me a copy as a Christmas gift, along with ordering a copy of her own. Around the end of January, we both found time to read it.

Carly lost me early on in the book when she went on and on about Jackie’s town car being so much better and cleaner than anyone else’s.  “…It was tempting to conjure up images of chambermaids licking every leathery square inch in one fast, last, lapping touch up…”  Really?  

In addition to thinking maybe Carly should stick to songwriting, I struggled with the privilege of it all.  Between the lingering lunches at all the best restaurants and parties on Martha’s Vineyard, I was getting annoyed with Carly, her drug use and whininess.

One aspect of being a part of a book group that I miss was that other people’s perspective sometimes made me re-evaluate my own.  Lou Anne and I “discussed” the book via text and her insights made me look a little into Carly’s background which made me feel a little kindlier towards her. I appreciate Lou Anne making me dig a little deeper, but I’ll never forgive Carly the chambermaid’s line.

The book is really more about Carly than Jackie, but Lou Anne and I both appreciated that she was respectful of Jackie’s privacy.  If you like Carly and admired Jackie, you will find the book interesting.  We both gave it three grandmas.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Paris, libraries, friendships and family.  This historical novel is a dual narrative, not usually a favorite format of mine, but this one works beautifully.  Odile is a young woman working at the American Library in Paris from 1939 to the liberation in 1944.  Lily is a young, lonely teenager, in small-town Montana from 1983 to 1988.

When Germany occupies Paris, libraries are targeted for banned books and given lists of to cull from their stacks.  Jews are not allowed in and some libraries are closed.  Based on the true World War II story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, I was drawn to book from the beginning.  Odile is part of a group of dedicated employees who keep the American Library in Paris open during the war.  When the war finally ends, there is a betrayal causing Odile to leave the library and volunteer at the American Hospital.  There she meets the American she will marry and move to Montana with.  

Lily has recently suffered the loss of her mother.  Grief-stricken and lonely, she befriends Odile, now widowed. Odile teaches her French and reveals secrets about her life in Paris.  They share a love of language and books and find that they have much in common.  Ms. Skeslien Charles stated, “My novel is a love letter to libraries and librarians, reminding us that in the digital age, our libraries – our third space, our sanctuary, our source of facts in a fake-news world – are more vital than ever.”   She also receives the coveted Five Grandmas!

C’est la vie.