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Need Entertainment? Inspiration? Enlightenment?

Need Entertainment? Inspiration? Enlightenment?

 

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines

what you will be when you can’t help it.” —Osacr Wilde

From the “Must Read” section on the blog, you will see that I gravitate to books written by women. This is purposeful and not-so-much. Purposeful, because female writers have struggled historically, unable to even write under their own names. I think of Jane Austen and the difficulty she had “living by her pen” as she said it. She was not respected as male writers were, hardly eked out a living. Yes, I want to support female writers as I can. It is not-so-much purposeful because my books just appear, chosen for me in serendipitous ways.

I could fill pages with reviews of books I love and will never post a review of a book I have not read. I am usually listening to one audiobook and have two more books on my coffee table that I am reading. In this period of COVID isolation, I am overwhelmed with books I want to read or read again. I am so grateful to writers for their willingness to put their work out in the world so I can hear their voices, their stories. It takes uncommon courage and unique vulnerability to write a book and then struggle to get it published.  It requires tremendous effort, skill, and persistence.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Lisa See 

Most of you know I have written repeatedly about Chinese history and culture; I am powerfully drawn to it.  So, it was natural for me to gravitate to the writing of Lisa See, who writes historical fiction about the lives of women in China. In this one, Lilly and her laotong, Snow Flower, her sworn-sister, were examples of women who wrote in a secret nineteenth-century language, Nu Shu, created by Chinese women who were subjugated by men for financial gain. This is the story of deep, enduring friendship, from having their feet bound at six years through old age. The author’s use of cultural and social description is always so powerful that I become a sworn sister each time I open her books. (Historical fiction)

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah 

Not that many years ago, I read my first book about the effect of WWII on the European population. Raised by an American WWII veteran, I understood how our citizens were impacted but had no realistic notion of what our friends across the big pond suffered. I read this book in record time; just drank it in without stopping, so eye-opening was its message. Years later, I think of it and those French women who risked everything, sacrificed everything, to aid American and English troops and saved the lives of countless Jewish children. This is the story of courageous sisters surviving in wartime under horrendous circumstances, and of the resilient female spirit. You won’t put this one down until you finish. Then you will cry. (Historical fiction, inspired by the life of a Belgian woman, Andree de Jongh)

Educated, Tara Westover 

This memoir impacted me in a way no other book has. I find the story of her life incredulous, so raucous, mind-twisting, conflicted and angering, yet inspiring and courageous. It is difficult even for me to speak of it. She recalls each incident with clarity and vivid description. This is a woman of exceptional intelligence and courage; in no other way could she have accomplished what she has, in no other way could she have survived.

Although my parents were loving and protecting of me, I find an odd kinship with Tara Westover.  Children love their parents, their siblings, yearn for their approval and validation, and cling to them from the very core of their being no matter what happens within the family.  Read this book, just read it. (Autobiography)

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

Outlander is part of a soon to be nine-book series by the same name. My friend Cheryl sent the original volume to me and insisted that I read it. So grateful she did. Besides, she knows way too much about me to chance her retaliation should I be non-compliant! These books of historical fiction have given me more delight than anything I’ve read. They also schooled me about the lives of my ancestors in England, Scotland, and here in the colonies. Spanning the entire series is an epic love story. These page-turners include romance, familial constancy, high adventure, eighteenth-century medicine, time travel, and spirituality.

The author was a professor of environmental studies at Arizona State University and has three sons. I have no idea how she found time to teach, care for her family, and write these big nine-hundred-page books that required extensive research. This series is rich in Scottish, English, and early American history; I learned so much, and it was wild fun!! She wrote the first one as an experiment to see if she could write a novel. . .Lordy, can she ever. (Historical fiction)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain 

Quiet came to me about the same time I was writing about my life as an introvert. I was drawn to it like I am drawn to the restroom at a business party full of people I don’t know and don’t care to. A superbly-researched book, it explores the science behind what causes us to be extroverted or introverted or varying degrees of both. She argues that introverts have been historically undervalued, particularly in this country, and recounts stories of introverts who have learned to tap into their own unique power. What drains you? What energizes you? Practical advice for parents, teachers, and those who would like to deepen self-knowledge and friendships. (Non-fiction)

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate 

The young lives portrayed in this story were so different from my own, yet its background is Memphis, Tennessee, where I lived, so I feel the heartbreak of this story a little more than most. The book is based on the true-life scandal of children who were kidnapped from poor families who lived along the Mississippi River in the nineteen-forties and sold to wealthy families, by Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and a woman named Georgia Tann. The young protagonist, Rill, and her siblings were wise beyond their years, yet powerless over their kidnappers, as were their poor parents. These were innocent kids whose lives were literally taken or changed so drastically, so tragically. Wingate is a great storyteller, I’ve read several of her books. She writes the pain of gut-wrenching decisions and the heartbreak of losing family like one who has lived it. (Historical fiction)


The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

Another book about WWII, this story is based in Germany in a village outside of Munich. I suspect many of you saw the movie by the same name years ago as I did. I loved the movie, but it was a tamed version of the original book. Mr. Zusak does not spare us the horrors of Nazi-occupied Germany, and the narrator is masterfully written as the reaper of souls. The story unfolds through the eyes of the children navigating life as Hitler reeks devastation upon Europe. Although both the story and the narrator are grim forces, there is an underlying tenderness, poetic verbiage, and humor that make it endearing. I liked the protagonist, Liesel Meminger, straightaway as she too is a lover of words, of books. Liesel’s story will hurt you, it should. It will also remind you of your own resilient spirit and of the beauty in sadness and the wonder of humanity at its best and worst. Perfect, if colorful language, for teens and older.(Historical fiction)

Harry Potter series, JK Rowling 

Rowling took events from her own life to conjure these superbly told tales. As I traveled across four states during my career in sales, I listened to every book. More often than not, when I arrived at my destination, I did not want to get out of the car. Why you ask, were so many adults drawn to these children’s books? Because the minute the story begins, Rowling magically apparates you back in time. Poof! You are eight-years-old, chubby, with long hair in ringlets, wide-eyed, transfixed on the event at hand, and eager to mount your broom!  I heard a conservative evangelical preacher on the radio one day denounce the Harry Potter books as “a cult-like path to all things demonic,” to which I say “bull shit!” If he had read even ONE of the books, he’d have known that Harry Potter makes conscious benevolent choices, almost always. And, if you have not read or listened to these books, WHAT IN THE NAME OF PROFESSOR ALBUS DUMBLEDORE ARE YOU WAITING FOR???

 

 

You Gotta Get on the Bus

You Gotta Get on the Bus

Please welcome a new Guest Contributor. . .

 

He couldn’t have weighed much more than his new raincoat.  It was so new, in fact, it wouldn’t let his arms hang the way that they should.  They hung out at his sides at an odd angle, and he could no more scratch his nose than he could turn his head strapped firmly in the hood.  He stood stiff beside the road, and he watched me coming for a long way.

As I passed by him, he looked at me in the strangest way.  His lower lip was curled under his front teeth in fear.  In that passing moment, I wanted to stop and comfort him, but it was called off by the rest of his expression.  When I found him again in my rearview mirror, I saw that it wasn’t me that he had been looking at, at all, but that big yellow school bus that was behind me.  “Oh, that’s right,” I thought, the first day of school.  His eyes were fixed on the bus in such a determined way that I knew he didn’t need any counsel.  Brave as any soldier, he was going to get on that bus for the very first time.

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Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dog and man.” –Mark Twain

 

Didn’t get out much did you, Mr. Twain? Recently I risked life and limb rescuing the tiniest Dachshund from traffic during rush hour, no small feat. After, the little ingrate thanked me by biting me on the leg harder than I thought possible, despite his owner’s protests that “He never acts like that.” Critters can be persnickety.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Birds had it out for me from the get-go. Mom had two black swans, Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar had no use for me, and with a wingspan of six feet, he was intimidating. He charged me routinely, enormous wings spread, serrated beak wide open, lunging for my bottom as I hightailed it toward the fence. The only human Caesar showed a modicum of respect for was my little niece Katy, who sort of scared us all back then.

We lived in the country with dogs, cats, cattle, horses, catfish, turtles, swans, ducks, and for a time, an alligator and one tiny fawn. Our place was also residence to coyotes, skunks, feral cats, Blue Herron, various reptiles, rabbits, squirrels, possums, and the occasional goose. I adore animals of most species, and we had some doozies.

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Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home

Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

Excerpt from Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins

Originally published in 2014

Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill, I look over the tops of the trees struggling to show some early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck, reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell,” it will be.

The pond at our ranch home growing up.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I was a small town girl, but I really grew up out in the country. Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country, and a piece of my soul lingers there still.

Walking down a country road.

The solace the country offers is inclusive, there for anyone who takes the time. Its gifts are the healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles underfoot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay, the whinny of horses, and the feel of a warm, humid breeze on your face.  Nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M & K Cattle Company.”  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K & M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

Blossoms from Mom’s peach tree in my folk’s backyard.

In the country, folks just drop in when ”Y’all come round” is extended, and you better have coffee and pie ready too; they never turn it down. They just sit and talk mostly. Some walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.  Or, go out to feed the horses some hay and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond, and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

A painting in my home by Steve Hanks.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can. The absolute wonder, stillness, beauty, and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures, and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, the anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

Dad’s beloved horse, Copper.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  — The Task, William Cowper

When Music Held Me

When Music Held Me

“Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eyes. “A magic beyond all we do here!”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

A yearning has settled over me the past few years as if some unnamed loss has occurred. Did I leave something behind? A recall of current events points to change as the culprit, inexorable change.

We just learned that Neil Diamond, Elton John, and Barbara Streisand have ended their touring days; soon Eric Clapton and Paul Simon will. Aretha Franklin gave it up a while back. This is life. We age, develop health issues, or priorities change, and we make difficult choices. Life must become simpler. I get it, it happened to me early, at thirty-eight.

These musicians sang my life, all against the backdrop of the Vietnam War. It was the seventies, the rise of feminism, environmentalism, technology, the questioning of-everything. A new normal. No wonder my passion for music is so acutely attuned.   Read the rest of this entry

One More Midnight Confession

One More Midnight Confession

Sometimes I miss the younger woman I was. I do not look back and wish I had done this or that; I did most of it. What I do look back at with longing is the untamed spirit I had. The years have refined me, smoothed out my uncultivated surfaces, and tamed me.

Something as simple as driving, I saw as an adventure. I have collected more miles than average on my vehicles and it has not always been smooth cruising, or parking for that matter.

After overspending at the mall, I returned to my Jeep to find a policeman waiting for me. “Mam, your vehicle has been involved in a hit-and-run” he announced.

I told him I did not have a self-driving vehicle, so that was just not possible. He ushered me to the side of my car which revealed the entire side smashed as if I’d been in a significant accident.

A very-sturdy looking soldier approached, telling us he had “seen the whole thing.” We inquired how my car got smashed with no driver. He replied, “See that big green truck parked five spaces down?” We did see it. “He missed the space beside you and hit your car, got out, surveyed the damage, then moved his truck down a few spaces.” When the young driver returned to his green truck, he had quite the greeting party.  Read the rest of this entry

If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

If It Has Tires or Testicles. . .

“The warnings grew worse, depending on the danger at hand. Sex education, for example, consisted of the following advice: ‘Don’t ever let boy kiss you. You do, you can’t stop. Then you have baby. You put baby in garbage can. Police find you, put you in jail, then you life over, better just kill youself.” ― Amy TanThe Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life

 

The rare advice my Mom gave did come from left field, but thank God it was not as daunting as the warnings issued by Amy Tan’s Mom. Moms will dish out advice, generally unsolicited. My Mom was a different bird; she had a unique way of seeing the world and responding to it.

Mom shared her opinions frequently but seldom words of advice. She was terribly in love with her kids and guided us the best she knew how. I found her funny and intimidating in equal measure. Some of her words of wisdom still make me howl with laughter.

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Searching for Our Better Selves

Searching for Our Better Selves

For those who lost their lives,

those who suffered unspeakable loss,

and those who were forever changed.

 

In this sacred garden, I walk among the pines, saplings not long ago. I look toward the Journal Record building and realize it was long ago, twenty-one years ago. For residents of central Oklahoma however, the memory is still fresh. Those who stood exactly where I am standing on April 19th at 9:01 that morning back in 1995 cannot walk among the pines.

Pool

I had been on vacation and was on my way back home to Oklahoma City. It was a romantic getaway to Key West Florida at a picturesque bed and breakfast, with peaceful beaches, fresh seafood, fancy concoctions of dark rum, pineapple, and coconut, and badly needed relaxation. Read the rest of this entry

A Valentine to My Younger Self

A Valentine to My Younger Self

“God asks us to jump from our secure perches, to stop calculating the risks. Jesus bids us, “Take up your cross, follow me. . . . Don’t insist on knowing exactly what comes next but trust that you are in the hand of God, who will guide your life.”  Henri Nouwen —Turn My Mourning into Dancing

 My niece Jessica turned thirty recently; seems like she should still be my little four year old shadow. Her birthday takes me back to the thirty-year-old I was. Sometimes I think about that naive girl and wish I could tell her what only time and maturity can.

I found a worn photo from my thirtieth birthday; I worked for KATT radio in Oklahoma City then. I was holding my birthday cake with a sleepy KATT mascot iced onto it. The clock above her head read 8:15; I was supposed to be at work by 8:00. Still don’t like that morning thing.

30 B-Day Cake (3)

My expression in this photo clearly says “bite me”. I was newly divorced, on my own for the first time, and had just begun a new commission based sales job. I was poor, persnickety, and pale. Also a smidge insecure and overwhelmed.

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Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Have You Seen a Snow Goddess?

Wakonda high school, hats off to thee.

And our colors, true to thee we’ll ever be.

Firm and strong united are we!

Hoorah rah rah, Hoorah for Wakonda high school!

 

When I was a kid we lived in the Tundra for eight years. The incessant cold all but atrophied my grey matter; the above is what is left in the memory bank of our school song, a cloudy memory from the second grade. This Christmas season brings back memories of that time, and my parents, whom I miss more than I can say. This was a divine time in our lives, a time of innocence and possibility.

Our first years as a family were fairly idyllic in small town South Dakota, Wakonda, population 405. Wakonda is an Osage Indian word meaning “Great Creator”, an abstract, omnipresent spirit. Curious that my awareness and seeking of God began when we lived in Wakonda.

SD House Sized (2)

My folk’s first home was actually their dream home; they paid less for it than you would a used car now.  It was on a corner two acre lot with cherry trees, apple trees and crab-apple trees. This place was an absolute marvel for a kid!

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