My bookshelf…

This past Sunday’s New York Times included a fun article, The Evolution of the Book Review. I appreciated reading about how it developed and changed through the years. For 125 years, it has been a celebration of literary journalism.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, A Memoir by Anonymous

My sister sent me this book several months ago, but it kept going to the bottom of my pile while I plowed through library books that I wanted to get returned on time.  Luckily, I finally picked up Becoming Duchess Goldblatt.  The book is two stories.  One of a real-life author who is suffering through a life crisis.  Her husband has left, she loses her job and is in a custody battle over her son.  The second story introduces us to the fictious but fabulous Duchess Goldblatt, a Twitter persona, who dispenses worldly wisdom in 280 characters or less.

“Are children still taught to diagram sentences?  Are sentences allowed in schools, or is it all smiley faces and snuffling about for treats?”

                                                            or

“What’s that beautiful Japanese word that means both “regretting your lost youth and beauty” and “too hungover to make coffee”?

This is not a self-help book, but the story of how the author heals herself through the process of creating Duchess Goldblatt, her alter ego who is more forthright in her commentary than her, and gathers a community of loyal readers that includes her secret crush, Lyle Lovett.  It may sound a bit confusing, but I assure you it is a splendid book.  I found it magical and enchanting and I highly recommend it.  

My personal favorite Duchess wisdom:

Sometimes I tie your words in linen with a little lavender and mint and use them as a poultice for my weary old heart.”

AN ENTHUSIASTIC FIVE GRANDMAS:  

The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd

When I asked my friend Cindy if she had read anything lately that she would recommend, she quickly responded with this title.  The Indigo Girl is historical fiction based on the life of Liza Lucas.  During the mid-1700’s, she was a key contributor to the development of indigo crops in the American south.  

In 1739, 16-year-old Eliza is left in charge of the family’s three plantations in South Carolina while her father goes off to pursue his military ambitions while he bleeds the estate dry in the process.  Meanwhile, her brothers are being schooled in England and it is assumed that they will eventually take over as women aren’t allowed own land.  

Knowing how much the French pay for indigo dye, Eliza realizes that growing indigo and producing dye is a way to save her family.  I found it fascinating how a teenage girl produced indigo dye, which became one of the largest exports out of South Carolina and laid the foundation for the incredible wealth of several Southern families, but not for the slaves who did the manual labor.  This is the struggle for me.  I greatly admire the 16-year-old who had the vision and fortitude to follow through on her dream, but I also know she wouldn’t have succeeded without a reliance on the labor of enslaved people, a historical example of white privilege.    

The book is well researched and uses excerpts from Eliza’s own letters, The Letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pickney.  In an Afterword and A Note from the Author, Natasha Boyd shares what is fictional in the book and what she found through her research.  

It introduced me to a part of history I wasn’t aware of and made me think a lot about the institution of slavery.  While Eliza is portrayed as a kind person with strong opinions against slavery, there can never be such a thing as a benevolent slaveowner.  For making me think, it receives four grandmas.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANOUNCEMENT!

The CNN Original Series “The People V. The Klan” from Blumhouse Television, premieres Sunday, April 11 at 9pm ET.  The four-part miniseries tells the story of Beulah Mae Donald, the Black mother in Alabama who took down the Klan, featured in my blog.  I’ll be watching…

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.

My bookshelf…

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Mr. Smith discovered this title on The New York Time’s list 20 Books We’re Watching for in 2020.  He requested it from our library, quickly devoured it, leaving time for me to read it before it was due back. It is the story of Italy’s haves and have-nots told through the eyes of a young girl. Giovanna is a meek, obedient, 12-year-old girl growing up in a middle-class part of Naples.  She overhears her father comparing her to his sister Vittoria who her parents have always described as someone in whom “…ugliness and nastiness were perfectly matched.”  From that point on, Giovanna begins a journey through the Hell that is puberty with her father’s words in her head.  There is chaos, deception and infidelity on the part of the adults in her life.   The book opened up a window for me into the Naples culture, allowing me a look into a very different world than the one I grew up in. It wasn’t my favorite read of the month, but I’m glad I stuck with it and appreciate that it expanded my horizons.  Elena Ferrante is a pseudonymous Italian novelist who also wrote My Brilliant Friend.

Us Against You by Fredrik Backman

My fan-girl admiration of Fredrik Bachman continues this month with Us Against You.  Set in hockey obsessed Beartown and full of human drama, you don’t have to have an interest in hockey to love this book.  When the star of the hockey team is accused of rape, the town is divided and struggles with the aftermath. Even though I know Bachman is a Swedish writer and his novel is set in Sweden, I could easily imagine it being northern Wisconsin.  The Washington Post review states, “Us Against You takes a lyrical look at how a community heals, how families recover and how individuals grow.”  Not a quick read, but well worth it.

Atomic Love by Jennie Fields

Jennie Fields’s own mother worked as a University of Chicago-trained biochemist in the 1950s. Inspired by her mother’s work, Fields wrote Atomic Love set in Chicago.  During World War II, the protagonist, Rosalind Porter, was the only woman working on the Manhattan Project.  Five years after the war, she is 30 years old and selling jewelry at Marshall Field’s.  When she is contacted by a colleague she had a passionate love affair with while working on the Project before he abruptly broke up with her, she is also contacted by the FBI who wants her to spy on her old lover.  There is science, love and espionage.  One reader aptly described it as “atmospheric, historically interesting and escapism” and I agree.  It was a quick read and a nice distraction.

And a Valentine book craft!

I recently came across a Valentine craft I had saved from a few years back.  I decided this was the year I would finally make the upcycle book-page treat bags ala The Refab Diaries.  I made a pattern and since I didn’t have any books to upcycle, I cut out my hearts from some sheets of crafting papers I already had on hand, as well as using ribbon and card stock from my stash.  The only thing I purchased was the candy to tuck inside.  I used a 4” heart template which only held one Hershey Miniature.   

They were quick and easy, and I think turned out pretty darn cute!  For those of you who may not have a sewing machine, I hand stitched one heart with two strands of embroidery floss using a running stitch.  Let me know if you are inspired to create your own!

C’est la vie.

My bookshelf…

2020 was a banner reading year for me.  I recorded 47 titles in my book journal, although I’m sure I missed a couple along the way.  Thanks to Covid, our library is partially closed again.  Luckily you can still request books online and pick them up by appointment.  For this I am grateful. 

One of the books I requested this past December turned out to be my favorite book of 2020, although it could also be called, The Best Book I Almost Didn’t Read.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman, translated by Neil Smith

I like to be drawn into a book right away.  When the author told me on the first page that Anxious People is “about a lot of things, but mostly about idiots” my interest was piqued.   But then for the first couple of chapters, I had some difficulty getting into the book and almost put it aside.  That would have been a huge mistake.  As soon as I allowed myself to relax into Backman’s amazing storytelling, I didn’t want to stop reading.  

It’s almost New Year’s Eve in a small Swedish town.  A distraught parent short on rent money and afraid of losing custody of their child, makes a feeble attempt to rob a bank.  Unfortunately – or fortunately – for them, they chose a cashless bank.  From that failed bank robbery, the story quickly develops into a hostage situation in a most unlikely way.  Eight hostages, each with their own lifetime of grievances, hurts and secrets, who had simply gone to attend an apartment open house.

Backman’s ability to submarine your expectations of each hostage, slowly exposing their histories, finally getting to the root of their anxieties is ingenious.  A friend of mine who was also reading Anxious Peopleshared that she loved, “the ordinariness of the characters”.  

The relationship of the father-son police team was one of the many highlights of the book for me.  Trying to decide how to handle the matter at hand and Googling “hostage situation” is one of their finer moments.  When they started arguing over who should enter the building first, I choked up and had tears running down my face.

When reviewing books, I never want to give away too much and I particularly feel that way with this book.  I can share that I found it humorous, compassionate and wise.  And it is poignant.  In my old book group, The Book Babes, poignant became one of our signature words to describe books.  This book is Poignant with a capital P.

Fredrik Backman is a Swedish blogger turned superstar.  I searched for his blog and succeeded in finding an entry from July 2, 2018.  I have only read one other of his novels, A Man Called Ove, but have already requested My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry.

Looking over my book journal, there were a couple of other titles I wanted to share with you.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe 

This is a memoir.  When Will Schwalbe’s mother, Mary Anne, is diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, the two of them spent hours sitting in waiting rooms.  He often sits with her during her chemotherapy treatments.  They pass the time talking about the books they are reading.  When by chance they read the same book at the same time, their book club of two is born.  Gracefully written, The End of Your Life Book Club is a beautiful testament to his mother.  

Monogamy by Sue Miller

This is the story of a marriage and what it means to be faithful over the course of a long marriage.  Annie, the wife, is shy and private.  The husband, Graham, is a gregarious Cambridge bookstore owner, a classic extrovert.  He dies early on in the book, but he is not gone.  Graham remains very vivid in the memory of his wife, his children and his first wife.   Annie loved her husband, but she is left wondering was he as good for her as she was for him.  A very interesting read. I wanted to give this 3-1/2 grandmas, but just couldn’t bring myself to chop a head in half!

C’est la vie.

Midweek musings…

On this chilly, late fall morning, what better subject could there be than books???  Here are the titles I read in October.  Again, I don’t want to give a fulI “book report”, just a brief overview. I hope you find something that piques your interest.  And if you have a title you would like to share, I’d love to hear!

The Jetsetters by Amanda Eyre Ward

I don’t remember where I came across this title. I am going to start keeping yet another list and when I do request a book from my library, I’m going to write it down and note where I found the recommendation.

The premise of the book did catch my attention.  Seventy-year-old Charlotte Perkins submits a sexy essay to the “Become a Jetsetter” contest in hopes of winning and taking her three estranged children on a ten-day cruise traveling from sun-drenched Athens, glorious Rome and onto Barcelona.  Charlotte, of course, wins and everyone packs their bags.

I did find humor, poignant moments and a little twist at the end I didn’t see coming.  But, and it’s a big but, much of the book was written too easy breezy for the underlying heaviness that triggers the family pain.  I did read the entire book, partially because I thought it was building to something that never materialized for me.  I’m giving it 3 grandmas out of 5.

A Bookshop in Berlin by Francoise Frenkel

Originally published in 1945 under the title No Place to Lay One’s Head, this memoir documents the fulfillment of a dream for Francoise Frenkel and her husband, opening La Maison du Livre, Berlin’s first French bookshop in 1921.  They are both Jewish.  Their dream is shattered on Kristallnacht in November 1938.  Though the shop is miraculously sparred, fear of prosecution forces her to flee, first to Paris, then to southern France.  Chronicled in her writings are the countless horrors she witnessed along the way. She survives the war at the courageous hands of strangers who risked their lives, secreting her away in safe houses.

Ms. Frenkel believed it was the duty of those who have survived to bear witness to ensure the dead are not forgotten.  She tells her story in gripping, compelling prose. I will not forget this book.  5 grandmas.

Paris, A Love Story by Kati Morton

I have mixed feelings about this book. Kati Marton is an award-winning journalist and distinguished author. After the sudden death in 2010 of her husband, American diplomat and author, Richard Holbrook, she retreats to Paris where she and Holbrooke had purchased a pied-a-terre in the Latin Quarter in 2005. The book jacket describes the book being “For anyone who has ever fallen in love in Paris, or with Paris.”

Born in Budapest, Hungary, the daughter of to reporters who spent two years in prison on false charges of espionage for the U.S., Kati and her older sister were placed in the care of strangers.  Following the revolution, her parents fled Hungary and settled in Chevy Chase, Maryland with Kati and her sister.  Kati eventually studied at the Sorbonne and the Institut Politiques in Paris where she began her love affair with Paris.  

I thought the book was going to be about the death of her third husband, Richard Holbrooke, and how she recovered from this loss.  What I found was story of her three marriages.  The first short one barely mentioned, her second marriage to Peter Jennings and her third to Ambassador Holbrooke. Perhaps it is because we live in such different worlds, the book felt obsessed with glitterati and name dropping.  While she certainly has led an interesting life, I never felt engaged with her thoughts or emotions.  Maybe I read it at the wrong time.  Sometimes I reread a book and wonder why I didn’t like it the first time through. If someone else has read it and found it engaging, please let me know.  Back in my Kendallville book group, other readers insights often helped me see things differently.  But for me, it gets 3 grandmas.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

Spoiler alert, this book gets 5 grandmas out of 5.  It follows the story of Noriko, a young half African American, Half Japanese girl as she grows up in post-WWII Japan.  Abandoned by her mother, 8-year old Noriko is locked in the attic by her grandparents. Noriko’s isolation and suffering are palpable and I was rooting for her the entire book. It is not until her half-brother, Aira, enters her life that she seems to have any chance of happiness. In her debut novel, Asha Lemmie tells a story I had never heard before and tells it in a compelling and compassionate way.  I didn’t want to put it down, reading it in two days. 

C’est la vie.

The Art of Growing Old…

I’m too old to be young and too young to be old.  This quote from Evelyn in Fried Green Tomatoes sums up what I’m feeling these days.  I’m not ready to start polishing up my obituary, but I recognize I am entering my third act.

When I contemplate the remaining chapter of my life, I know I want to be the author.  When you are a child, your parents write your script.  On my own from 18-23, I had no clear direction. I know there are individuals who in young adulthood take control and endeavor to forge their own paths, but I think they are few and far between. I did make the choice to marry at 23, but in retrospect I think that decision was largely driven by social expectations and limited exposure to our wondrous world. Luckily, I chose a mate well.  Then we had our sons and when you are raising a family, they become your focus and direction. But now, pushing 65, life has grown simpler.  I am lucky to be basically healthy, all our children and grandchildren are healthy, and Mr. Smith still loves me. I’m not naïve enough to think my remaining years will be all champagne and beach sunsets, but I hope to direct them as much as possible.  In looking for guidance, I went to the place I always go.  Books.  

The Art of Growing Old, Aging with Grace by Marie de Hennzel was referenced in several articles I read about aging, so I decided it was time to check it out.  Marie de Hennzel is a French clinical therapist, largely focusing on the art of aging well.  She is also the recipient of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honorary decoration. I found her book to be positive and heartfelt, drawing from many of her life challenges and personal experiences.

There is no doubt that we live is a society obsessed with youth.  If you feel you have an issue with your appearance, there is more than likely a cosmetic surgery procedure you can undergo.  But Dr. Hennzel believes that in order to age gracefully, we need to dwell less on the physical aspects of aging and focus on the positive emotional changes.  Accepting that we may be slowing down and acknowledging that this slower pace will allow you new observations and insights is just one of the positive aspects of aging.  She doesn’t ignore our inevitable physical deterioration and provides practical life plans for dealing with the fears of becoming a burden on our families, illness and isolation.  

I do think my time spent reading this book was time well spent.  I will share that for me, it read a bit like a research paper full of academic references and studies. What I was really seeking in a book about aging, was something with a more conversational tone.   Like sharing a cup of tea with my beloved Aunt Ruby while she shared her best wisdom for growing older and remaining so loving and kind.  I’ll take inspiration from both.

C’est la vie

Who doesn’t love a list?

In July of 2013, I began keeping a written record of the books I read. I no longer remember the catalyst for this list keeping and I’m sure I’ve neglected to record a few along the way, but when I look it over, I see a roadmap of my life.  It reflects my interests, conflicts, and challenges through the years. Where some titles are like running into a familiar old friend, some I barely remember.

Last Saturday I was recording my last read in January when I noticed it had been a banner month.  I normally average three books a month, but in January I had read seven!  Mr. Smith did have a two-week cold in January which resulted in us spending more time than normal at home. I obviously put those hours to good use.

Early in January, I wrote about a couple of the titles I read, Rules for Visiting and How Reading Changed My Life.  Of the remaining five books I read in January, one that I won’t soon forget is The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky.  Born in Kiev, Ukraine, Ms. Nemirovsky was of Ukrainian-Jewish origin. She lived more than half her life in France, but was denied French citizenship.  By the 1930s, Nemirovsky had become a hugely popular and critically acclaimed writer. Then came the war and the Vichy government’s anti-Jewish laws. Nemirovsky was dropped by the literary establishment and was no longer able to publish under her own name.  She was arrested as a Jew during German occupation and died at Auschwitz at the age of 39.   Her husband, Michel Epstein, was arrested shortly thereafter and also died in Auschwitz.  Their two daughters, Denise and Elisabeth, survived the war due to the kindness of neighbors who hid them from the Vichy Government. The girls did not know the fate of their parents until after the war ended.  Miraculously, a suitcase containing some of Nemirovsky’s writings survived the war.  In the suitcase were family photographs, diaries and other writings, including the manuscript for Suite Francaise, first published in the United States in 2006.  

The Fires of Autumn is considered its prequel.  Set in France, it revolves around a group of friends and neighbors from the beginning of World War I through the early years of World War II.  The main character is Bernard, a naïve young man still in short pants who wants to fight for the honor of France.  Witnessing the realities of war, he quickly loses his idealism and becomes cynical.  He returns home from World War I addicted to obtaining wealth and success. His doting mother feels she no longer knows him.  His lover eventually leaves him. And then comes World War II. The book does start out a little slowly, or that may be just me.  I’m always a little impatient with “setting the scene”, I want to get right to the point.  I stuck with it and my reward was a satisfying read that taught me a lot and made me think.  What more can you ask of a book?

 A difficult read, but one that I didn’t want to put down, was JoAnna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls.  At one level it’s an age-old story.  Young girl gets pregnant, parents reject the boyfriend and force the girl to give the baby up for adoption.  The baby, Elodie, is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system run by the Catholic church. On a deeper level, it tells the story of a dark time in Quebec’s history.  Elodie’s life takes an even more tragic turn when, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, she is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages.  Not only are the orphans declared mentally ill, these young children are forced to be caretakers of the truly mentally ill, feeding and bathing them, all while trying to avoid the wrath of the nuns. There were moments while reading I had to remind myself that this horrendous offense against thousands of orphans truly occurred as it is hard to understand such greed.  But the Duplessis Orphans scandal, orchestrated by Premier Maurice Duplessis, a staunch Catholic, was real and took place in the 1940s and 1950s.  Duplessis’s time as Premier is now referred to as “The Great Darkness”.  This book is going to haunt me for some time.

I am considering making other book lists.  One would be Books That I’m Searching For.  A small notebook kept in my purse that I would have when I happen upon an extraordinary used bookstore would be just the place to record these titles.  I may also start a list of books I’d like to purchase for my grandchildren, sharing some of the books I loved growing up as well as more current fare.  After all, who doesn’t love a  book list?

C’est la vie.

This is the gift of the grandchildren…

As a grandmother of seven and a prolific reader, the title Unconditional Love, A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today by Jane Isay grabbed my attention. Ms. Isay is a former editor of Yale University Press and this is her fourth book. The book is well researched and draws heavily from Ms. Isay’s own experience, as well as from the hundreds of interviews she conducted with grandparents.

The book is written as a guide to help grandparents navigate their new role in a manner which keeps family conflicts to a minimum and strives for harmony. When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure it was for me. The beginning focused on “grandparent prep” with suggestions on how to get up-to-date on the mores of today. Since I no longer have any infant grandchildren, I have no reason to check out Websites and blogs discussing the pros and cons of babies sleeping with parents. Then I got to the section where the reader was asked to close their eyes and take themselves back in time to the months when their child was first born. The frustration of not knowing how to calm your baby, the panic when a feeding didn’t go right, no shower, no sleep and no end in sight. Even though it’s been decades, I could still feel the fatigue and isolation. And even though the baby days are long behind my daughters-in-law, I wanted to go hug them all and take them out for a cocktail. And while they are hopefully all getting to sleep through the night at this point, the challenges of parenting continue. No matter how many books or internet articles you read, parenting is still on the job training.

Ms. Isay acknowledges that when our children take on the responsibilities of parenthood, they also take on new power. They get to set the rules! With a grandparent’s years of experience and perspective of time, some of these rules may seem silly, but they are to be respected. And who doesn’t want respect?

Just as much of parenting is learn as you go, so is grandparenting. Isay doesn’t provide you with a definitive list of things to do to be the perfect grandparent. But she does provide oodles of real life experiences. I was inspired by stories from the different grandparents who were interviewed for the book. Many found grandparenting to be a second chance, an opportunity to provide grandchildren with the time and attention they couldn’t afford their own children. My grandchildren consist of a single child, a set a three brothers and a set of three sisters. It is normally quite hectic when we are visiting one of the sets of three. This book reminded me of the importance of carving out some time alone with each child, even if it’s simply a walk around the block. The benefits of a grandparents individual attention are priceless.

The book also addresses the issues of grandparents who become caregivers when their children are incapable of parenting, long-distance grandparenting and fairness with time, money and resources in a straight forward manner. Unconditional Love was worth my time. I picked up a few thoughts on how to maintain close relationships with my grandchildren as they grow older. What I most appreciated was the reassurance that grandparents can be a powerful influence on how grandchildren show up in the world and that our time and conversations with them will exist as “tiny shards of color in the great mosaic of understanding.”

I want my grandchildren to feel unconditionally loved. I grew up without grandparents, but I was extremely lucky to have my beloved Aunt Ruby who exemplified unconditional love. I can only remember one occasion when she even came close to being short with me. I was nine years old and my younger brother and I had been spending a week with her and my uncle during our summer vacation from school. We had cousins who lived in the same town and we spent hours playing together, running in and out of Aunt Ruby’s house. On the day my parents were coming to pick us up, she was busy cleaning house and preparing food for their arrival. We must have run into the house once too often. She told us to go outside and stay outside and not come back in unless the house was on fire. We did as we were told and were well rewarded. A neighbor started a fire in a burn barrel, an ember blew over into the yard and started a grass fire. We were full of smug self-righteousness as we marched back into the house to announce the yard was on fire! But being Aunt Ruby, she simply came out into the yard, put out the minor grass fire and went back to work. I am lucky she is a part of the mosaic of my life.

C’est la vie.

Sundays with Stormy…

The calendar says it’s the first Sunday in November and as Mr. Smith and I drive I-80 across Pennsylvania and Ohio, the fall foliage agrees.  We’re on a mini-vacation which includes visits with all our grandchildren.  Mr. Smith is doing the vast majority of driving, so I am free to admire the fading fall colors and let my mind wander.  As well as thinking about some plans for the approaching holiday season, I reflected on the past couple of months and decided I wanted to provide a recap of my life in the not so fast lane!

Books

I just finished reading The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman.  It takes place in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944. Following the lives of three young women and their struggle to survive, the main theme for me was the strength of a mother’s love.  The book weaves history and myth. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it since myth and folklore aren’t genres I normally gravitate towards.  Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful I was able to suspend my belief system and accept the premise of the story.  I believe it is well worth your time to read.

Next up for me is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.   I read it many years ago with my book group back in Indiana and now I’ll be reading is with My Three Son’s Book Group.   It will be a fine read from my perch up in my nest, while watching for the first snowflakes to fall.

Movies

Recently on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, Mr. Smith and I decided we needed to blow the stink off and get out of the apartment.  We grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to the movie theater to see Downton Abbey.  We had enjoyed the series and decided an afternoon our old friends Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and all the others would be as comforting as a cup of tea and a biscuit.  While it had its moments, I agree with Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times, “Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories.”  My favorite scene is near the end and involves the Dowager Countess played by the marvelous Maggie Smith.  For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll leave it at that.

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Smith and I were faced with another rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon.  But this time we were happy to stay in, pop some popcorn and watch On the Basis of Sex.  We’re a little behind on our movie watching as this movie came out last year but I’m so glad we’re catching up!  If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend it.  The movie is based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career and her fight against sex discrimination.  Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote the script.  Some reviewers thought the movie didn’t do justice to Justice Ginsburg, but I thought it was fascinating to see her start her journey towards being the notorious RBG! By the way, RBG has seen the movie three times.  I might do that also.

My Best Friend

I thought you might enjoy a little update on my best friend!  Rest easy that we are still as close as ever.  Mr. Smith and I needed to deliver a tub of building blocks to our granddaughter Eleanor on our road trip.  With rain forecasted for the day we were going to leave, I wanted to get them loaded into the car the night before.  With Mr. Smith at work, I again called on my friend and she came through for me.  The tub was too heavy for me to lift, so I simply loaded the majority of blocks into a bag in the cart and then we were off to the elevator.  I think it’s time that I take my loyal friend out for a pedicure.

If you check back on Wednesday, I’ll tell you about my favorite November 2019 issue magazine!

C’est la vie.

My Phantom Daughter…

In the spring of 1986, I was the stay-at-home mom of three little boys, all under six.  It was an active, noisy household to say the least! My daily routine consisted of picking up, laundry, cooking, cleaning and MORE picking up all while negotiating peace in the valley. My sister-in-law, Patrice (also a member of the mother of three boys club), provided some welcome distraction from the everyday minutia of family life one day that spring when she sent me the best kind of card – a card for no reason.  Tucked inside my card was a newspaper article she had clipped from The New York Times, My Phantom Daughter.  The author of the article had named her first child a somewhat androgynous first name.  The wife of one of her husband’s law partners concluded from that name that the baby must be a girl and sent a gift of a pretty little pink dress.  The new mother whose new baby was a boy, ended up keeping the dress which was eventually joined by a pink cardigan and other “girly” items.  She kept these items tucked away in a bottom drawer for reasons of her own.  For reasons of my own, the article truly resonated with me.  Even though I was perfectly happy being the mother of my three sons, I had my own “pink box” tucked away.  I read and reread the column a few times and then tucked it away with some other keepsakes.

Over a decade later I pulled that column back out.  I wanted to use it and other writings I had saved through the years as party favors for my book group.  Back in 1986 the author’s name hadn’t meant anything to me.  In 1999, I was astonished to see it was written by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen! In the intervening years, I had devoured her novels Object LessonsOne True Thing and Black and Blue. When she wrote the column I had squirreled away so many years ago, she was spending several weeks writing the Hers column for The New York Times.  This was a forum for writing by women featuring a different author every few weeks. I no longer have the column my sister-in-law had so kindly snipped for me, but thanks to the digital age we currently live in, I was able to find it in a New York minute on the internet. My Phantom Daughter.

Ms. Quindlen went on to have three children – two boys and a girl.  In 2016, she joined me in the grandmother club which led her to write her delightful book, Nanaville.  As always, she writes from her heart, with a combination of humor and intelligence.  

Nanaville is filled with the author’s wit and wisdom about grandparenting, along with vignettes of moments with her grandson Arthur. Most grandmothers will relate to many of the moments she shares and identify with the extraordinary relationship.  I knew exactly what she was feeling when she wrote “Sometimes Arthur sees me and yells “Nana!” in the way some people might say “ice cream” or “shoe sale!”  No one has been that happy to see me in many, many years.”  Those words are very similar to some I have shared with Mr. Smith in the past when talking about my own grandchildren and how it feels when they call your name and greet you with a full body hug.

A pesky challenge in grandparenting – one that challenges the best intentioned of us – is how and when to give our progeny the benefit of all our hard-earned parental knowledge. Ms. Quindlen was relating to her good friend what had transpired between her and her son when she ventured to give her opinion on sending her new grandson to preschool.  Her son pushed back hard, politely, but hard.  The friend just looked at Anna and said, “Did they ask you?”  And therein lies the lesson of this book.  “Where once I led, I have to learn to follow.”

It is obvious from the book that Ms. Quindlen treasures her new role as Nana, even as she endeavors to find her exact role and where the boundaries are.  But isn’t that pretty much every relationship in life?

I no longer have my pink box, nor do I have any need for it.  Life has gifted me with three beautiful daughters-in-law who have welcomed me into their lives, starting even before Emily married Emmet when she invited me to go wedding dress shopping with her and her mother.  

And I am now grandmother of four fabulous granddaughters.  Four little firecrackers who bring a whole new dimension to Mr. Smith and my lives.  They are more likely to choose “rainbow” as their favorite color than pink and believe me, they all think outside the (pink) box.  

C’est la vie.