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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

This is one of the best books I have read, I was sad when it ended and kept reaching for the book only to have to tell myself I had finished it, there was no more to read.

Although this book was written in 1958, it seems timeless, it is a study of people and their motivations. The story is set at a private house that has a cloistered Benedictine convent on the property. The main house is in the fledgling stages of becoming a lay community to be a buffer between the convent and the outside world. The lay community is evolving slowly, it is led by Michael, he owns the house and property and had aspirations to become a priest. Mr. and Mrs. Mark are a middle aged couple who had some marital issues before arriving, but are now assisting with the day to day running of the community, he does the accounting and she organizes the day to day activities. Catherine, a young woman, is living with the lay community but is planning soon to become a cloistered nun at the monastery, her very troubled twin brother is staying in the lodge house temporarily, the community do not know how to deal with him. Then there is Dora, a main character, who is in an unsuitable, abusive marriage with Paul, a man much older than her and a scholar. Paul is not part of the community, he is simply staying at the house while he studies historic manuscripts at the convent. Dora joins him at the house at his request after a brief separation due to an affair. Two other visitors arrive, a very nice man James Tayper-Pace, and he brings along a student Toby who has interest in visiting the community. And the last character, Sister Clare, who resides at the convent and dispenses wise counsel, although she appears in the story here and there, her influence on the community is always in the present.

The story begins, the characters are introduced, and the scene set. Lots of little things happen, we slowly discover the back ground of each person, and begin to understand their motivations and responses to situations that arise. The novel is philosophical, it is a study in human nature, in morals, in the perception of right and wrong, love and control. Slowly things reach a crescendo that affects all of the characters, and with that I will reveal no more so as not to spoil the reading of the book.

There are a lot of Latin quotations in the book, be sure to google them and get a definition, understanding them helps in understanding the narrative of the book. And you will learn the definition of Toby's favorite word, rebarbative.

I borrowed this book from the library, but have since ordered a used copy from Amazon, as I know it a book I will read again. The descriptions of location and characters brought the story alive. The human emotions and behaviors were realistically depicted, we are all fallible, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish, and often driven by motivations we don't always  acknowledge.

If you are looking for a philosophical character study with an excellent plot this book is for you.

Peace be with you,


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Books I Read Last Year That I Will Definitely Read Again

The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux
An excellent book, thought provoking, disturbing, a study of a mad man, very well written, very believable. I was led to reading this book after reading:

The Dolphin People by Torsten Krol
Who is Torsten Krol - no one knows, well I assume perhaps his publisher knows the true identity of the author, but no one else apparently does. This too is a study of a mad man, it is disturbing, thought provoking, well written and it led me to read:

Callisto by Torsten Krol
What a wacky, fast moving, disturbing book, so much happens, it is craziness yet it makes sense, and it really makes you think about the insanity of our government, homeland security, police policies etc. A good story.

Hidden Lives by Margaret Forster
A memoir, and a delightful book, the very first part was a bit hagiographic, about the great grandma who not much is known about, but then the book moves into it's own as the grandma's life is unfolded, and then the mother's life, and finally the authors life. The story had some parallels to my own mothers life and I purchased a copy for my Mom and she really enjoyed the book. Margaret Forster was a prolific writer, she wrote Georgie Girl, which is perhaps one of her more well known books as it was made into a rather good movie in the 60's. After Hidden Lives I was led to reading this book:

Diary Of An Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster
This moving book is a diary of woman from the age of nine to close to her death in her 80's. The diary moves through the early 1900's, WW1, the interim years, WW2, recovery after the war, the changes in British life through the 50's, 60's, 70's etc. It is excellent, when I finished the book I grieved for the diary writer, Millicent King, she was a good woman who lived through difficult situations and was always strong and capable. The book is written as if the Diary was real, the premise is that Margaret Forster the author was asked to take a strangers diary and publish it, it is actually a work of fiction, but it could be the record of any woman's life growing up and living through the years that Millicent did.

Margaret Forster wrote many, many books, and I will be reading more of her books this year and know I will not by disappointed by them.

Peace be with you,


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Dreams - What Does This One Mean

I am writing this to simply make a record of a very vivid dream I had last night.

In the dream I am in a kitchen/diner type room with very modern stream line cabinets, utilitarian looking, in a dark brown finish, on the counter there is a lot of prepared food, a bit like a pot luck. In the eating area sits my mother-in-law (she died in 2002), my husbands grandmother, Nellie, (she died in 1993), my father-in-law, my husband, a few other people, and my husbands youngest brother.

My mother-in-law looked radiant as did Nellie, my father-in-law who suffers from mild dementia, was very lucid, he said he was taking a new medicine and he also looked about twenty years younger than he does in real life, he is 88. My brother-in-law, who we rarely see was being very friendly and sociable. Everyone started singing, kind of folk type music, someone was playing an instrument but I couldn't tell you what kind, everyone was smiling, glowing, the music was wonderful, it was a scene of joy and happiness, then in the dream I needed to use the bathroom. For some reason I had to leave the room, or apartment to locate a bathroom. I went down a hallway, took an elevator down a floor and finally located the bathroom. The bathroom was old fashioned, the tank was high up and had a pull chain, when done I flushed and left the bathroom. When I returned to the hallway I had no idea how to get back, I went up a flight of stairs as I couldn't find the elevator, I entered a hallway with lots and lots of doors all with numbers on them, I had no idea which door was the right door to go to, I just wanted to return to the group, to the music, the singing, the togetherness and I had no idea how to get there.

Then I woke up.

So what was that all about? I have no idea! It was so vivid, and it brought such a feeling of peace while I was in the room, and such a feeling of agitation when I couldn't find my way back to the room. It did not seem my usual sort of dream at all.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Reading, Reading, Reading

I have enjoyed a fair number of good books this year, I just finished O Pioneers! by Willa Cather - excellent, excellent, excellent. I was introduced to Willa Cather a few years ago when I was in a book club and someone selected Death Comes to the Arch Bishop, it was a very good story. Not high adventure, no dramatic plot twists, just a simple story about a simple man who simply lived his life. It really was a life well lived, and nicely told. And, then the historical look at the western US and how it changed as the white settlers and missionaries arrived. After reading Death Comes to the Arch Bishop I purchased O Pioneers by Willa Cather, it then sat on the bookshelf forgotten for the past two years. Last week I finished The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald and  was waiting for a book to come in at the library, and wondered what to read while I waited, so I perused my bookshelf and was happy to find O Pioneers! 

O Pioneers! was written in 1912, and is the story of Norwegian immigrants settling in Nebraska, it is interesting from a historical perspective, and the story is good, it rings true, it could have happened. The main character is Alexandra, she is the oldest sister, the wise person in the family, she with her pragmatic guidance brings about stability and wealth for her family but at a cost to herself. Willa Cather herself lived in Nebraska, her family relocated there from Virginia in 1883 when she was nine, so she knows the hardship, the country, the people, most from Norway, Sweden, France, and Russia (the Bohemians), and the life they led honoring the past yet creating a future. Cather's books really, really give you a feel for the daring, hard grit determination of the immigrant families who left the stability of the known, their homeland, to venture on a long journey to the "new world" and then venture into the "wild west" to create a new homeland. If you have not read Willa Cather, do yourself a favor and read something of hers, it will stay with you.

I have just started a biography of Agatha Christie written by Laura Thompson, it has decent reviews, and I have always enjoyed AG books, and tv/film productions of her works. And in the wings waiting to be read I have Cider with Rosie, by Laurie Lee and A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark. 
I must say Muriel Spark is in my top five list of favorite authors, I have enjoyed everything I have read of hers. Barbara Pym is one of my most favorite authors, I recently re-read the book A Few Green Leaves, she has a gentle humor as gives an observation of life in a small community rather than a plot driven story, nothing really happens yet there is always an undercurrent that something might happen, but probably won't because people are so stuck to the way they are supposed to behave.  The Book Shop by Penelope Fitzgerald is good, the first book I have read by this author who started her writing career at the age of 59, this is one of her early books and it was shortlisted for the Booker award. PF's writing is a bit like Barbara Pym's, it is an observation of life in a small town, but there is much more of a plot, it is a humorous story, really a cautionary tale, but it is also so very, very sad, it is well worth reading. Only 10 chapters, so a very quick read, but a story that will remain in your thoughts.

What are you reading, or have recently read?


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Happy Birthday

This past weekend my family celebrated my birthday with me, it was a totally awesome day, a day of crazy, chaotic fun with my favorite peoples!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

High School Reunion Experience

Well lets just say it was odd and a bit nerve wracking. I had no desire to attend any high school reunions, as I had a rather miserable time of it in high school, and lost touch with friends very quickly.

In 1978 we moved to the US from England, a week later I started my Freshman year of high school. It was all a bit of a culture shock, I went from the familiarity of Thurston Upper School in Thurston, England, and students I had attended school with for years, to Homestead High School in a suburb of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Homestead had many more students, and it was so different in so many ways. Just one example would be sports, we played netball, rounders, soccer, and cricket in England, in the US its basketball, football, baseball, and softball, similar games in some ways and yet very different in other ways. Sports has been, and continues to be, a VERY important part of high school life in the US, schools have their own stadiums, sell tickets for games, it is a big business for the school, and a good team brings good recognition too, this goes into hyper mode in the university world. Most students in the US have cars, and since a drivers license is allowed at sixteen, most drive to school. Everything seemed to be in overdrive compared to my English school, probably because there was a lot more money available to fund things like, marching band, concert band, show choir, madrigal choir, fall plays and spring musicals. The prom was a massive to do, the money spent, insane, the dresses beautiful, the venues glamorous, it was unbelievable. No school uniform, so name brand clothing easily determined who had money, who didn't. Everything was different, and it was overwhelming. And then to be a foreigner with an English accent, oh boy, as a shy person it was killing me, always being asked to read things out, can I teach how to speak with an English accent, etc. etc. it was patronizing and embarrassing.

Well, I left school 6 months early as a January graduate and never looked back. I married at nineteen and our first baby was born, we are still married 34 years later, and now have adult children and nine grandchildren, this I would never have imagined in high school. I was busy with my family and life, I had no interest in the five year, ten year reunion, and in fact was not even aware they even took place I had no contact with anyone I went to high school with. My "friends" all felt sorry for me when I got married and had a baby, it wouldn't last, I was throwing my life away, it was so sad, they pitched in a bought a high chair as a baby gift and that was last I heard of them in years. Over the past few years with Face Book I "found" and was "found" by people I knew in high school, we caught up quickly, essentially, are you married or single, have children or childless, working or not working, and after that there was nothing to relate to with each other and the initial excitement of discovering a high school pal dies a quick death. But during this time I was added to a FB group for our 35th high school reunion and after a bit of thought decided to attend.

Dave and I arrived at the venue for the reunion, a large bar, it was very crowded and very noisy. We walked around and could not tell if the reunion was going on or not, there was one group of people standing around and it was possible they were my former classmates, but I wasn't sure. We sat at the bar and ordered a glass of wine, a group of people came in the door and started hugging and doing the long time no see stuff, I thought one or two looked familiar, and about my age, so watched to see where they were headed to, they went to the group of people we noticed initially. Dave and I finished our wine and walked over to the group, I didn't really recognize anyone, and they didn't recognize me. I introduced myself to a couple of people, and they turned out not to be classmates at all, but spouses of classmates. I talked to a few people who I vaguely remembered but never hung out with. Then one of the "popular" girls from high school came over and asked me who I was, I gave my name and she had no idea who I was, and asked if I even went to Homestead, it was very strange. We stayed for about half an hour, my curiosity was satisfied, and I realized that for a reunion to work for a person they actually need to know and stay in touch with the people they are reuniting with, otherwise it is just an odd experience.

I can't say it was a bad experience, I can't imagine going to another reunion because I have no connections with any of the people I happened to go to high school with, but for others their friendships remain strong, they stay in touch, maybe had a much more positive high school experience, and it is an enjoyable time to get together to catch up and reminisce.   I would say if you have an opportunity to attend a high school reunion you should do so, it wasn't a bad time, it was just weird to think that I once went to high school with all these old people!

Peace be with you,


Friday, February 16, 2018

A Vegan Bowl Of Goodness and a Good Read

Each week I take time to cut up my veggies, this makes meal preparation a snap for the rest of the week. I bag all the chopped veggies up and keep them in the fridge. Once the bag is empty I clean it out and then keep it in the bottom of the fridge drawer so I can refill it at my cut up session.

For lunch and dinner most days I eat my Vegan Bowl of Goodness, sometimes known as a Buddha Bowl, or as my mother calls it, my bowl of weeds!

A pot of green tea and a VBG!

I steam my veggies, I will always have a couple of servings of greens, collard or kale, red cabbage, diced tomatoes, nutritional yeast, mushrooms and Brussel sprouts, the other veggies are added as the mood strikes me. I like sweet potato, rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrots, beets. 

Brussel sprouts and sweet potato
Collard greens, purple cabbage and mushrooms

The veggies go in the steamer first, then I dump in the greens and cabbage and top it all off with some sliced mushrooms. I put some diced tomatoes and lentils in a bowl and heat them in the microwave, and then add a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast (nooch). 
Once my veggies are ready, ten minutes at the very most, I simply dump them on top of my lentil, tomato, nooch mixture and ENJOY!

For dessert I enjoy a half a cup of frozen blueberries.
Lentils and diced tomato
Nooch added to my lentil, tomato mix

My most favorite Vegan Bowl of Goodness is my morning bowl of oatmeal with a couple tablespoons of ground flax seed mixed in, it is sooooo yummy and I just absolutely love it. I often have a second bowl of oats in the afternoon for a snack, really I could live only on oatmeal and be quite happy.

Ahhh, me lovely oats!

I am so enjoying my "more reading" for 2018. I am devouring books and all have been good so far. Earlier this week I whipped through Symposium by Muriel Spark, it was excellent. It is a well written story, a wealthy London couple host a dinner party for ten, some of the guests know each other, and some know of, but don't know each other. There is a bit of mystery, a lot of comedy, a fabulous plot, no one is as they seem, and it is very enjoyable. Highly recommend it.

The second book I started this week is by Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City. This book is an absolute kitchy riot! It is laugh out loud funny, as it depicts life in the mid seventies in San Francisco, the gay scene, the drug scene, the one night stand scene, the restless, bored, never satisfied uber wealthy people and their scene. Lives intersect, part, regroup, in a constant changing scene of depravity, it is great stuff. And the kitchy part, OMG, the descriptions, from the milk crate book shelves, the macramé plant hangers, shag carpeting, hang in there baby cat posters, you can just picture it all! Highly recommend this book too.

Well good people that is all I have today, I've gotta get back to my Tales in the City babies!

Peace be with you,