Summer Reading

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One of summer’s sweetest delights is catching up on my reading list.  I start the summer off with a visit to a used bookstore and glean all the titles and authors I can find that are on the list I’ve kept all year.  This summer I also treated myself to a Barnes and Noble splurge for my birthday in June.

Since I am a used book store junkie, you’ll find that many of my titles are not new. There are newer books on my reading list, but my finds are generally at least a couple of years old.  While I am reading this stock of books, a newer inventory will come into the store and I will search them out later.  This system works well to join my love of reading with my budget.

Here are a few of my favorites from what I’ve read so far this summer:

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai.  This is the autobiography of the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for being vocal in her support of education for girls.  She survived and continues to address women’s education issues around the world.  She is 19 years old now.

The appeal of this book for me was not so much the writing style, but the fact that Malala was only 15 years old when she became famous for surviving such terror.  She is clearly an adolescent, talking about fights with her brother, clothing styles and blushing about boys. Yet she shifts into a mature persona when discussing her work and speaking engagements.  Her story inspires me and makes me hope that I would be able to stand  up for my own beliefs if the day ever comes when I need to.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  This novel spans several generations.  It tells of the lives of three women, each from a different era, and intertwines their stories.  I suggest reading this in book format, rather than digital, as you may have to flip back and forth to follow the dates in each woman’s tale as time moves back and forth.  The author cleverly creates a cameo appearance by Frances Hodgson Burnett and suggests that perhaps her classic story, The Secret Garden, was born from her visit to the enchanting garden that is central to this novel.

Though long, this was an easy summer read.  I was mildly puzzled by what seemed like a change in one of the main character’s voice about two-thirds of the way through, as well as an important piece of information that seemed thrown in at the last minute.  It is possible that I was distracted for a transitional page.  Either way, I made the adjustment and was compelled to keep turning pages until I reached the conclusion.  I liked this well enough that at some point I will read Morton’s newer novel, The Lake House.

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay.  This is a work of fiction which takes place during the modernization of Paris in the 1860’s.  It is told through a series of letters written by a 60-year-old woman as she hides in her house, which is slated to be demolished along with the rest of her neighborhood.  Her letters are to her deceased husband and express what their home has meant to them over the years.  The house and the woman are symbolic of each other as both embrace and protect their family at any cost.

I found this book to be heart-wrenchingly beautiful.  The letter format (epistolary, as de Rosnay says)  is a unique style and makes the telling much more intimate.   It should be read for its own merits and not compared to de Rosnay’s earlier best-selling novel, Sarah’s Key, which I also would recommend.

Some of the books still piled on my queue are:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I know nothing about this book, but keep hearing how much everyone else has enjoyed it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I’m probably the last person on earth to read this story, but better late than never.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  I also want to read Circling the Sun by the same author.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  I was looking for her novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton, but found this older one instead.  Strout is a new author for me.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr.  I was enthralled by All the Light We Cannot See by Doerr, so I am going back and reading his first novel published.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  This title was thoughtfully recommended in a comment left by another blogger on a previous post.

As you can see, I will run out of summer before I run out of books to read.

So, what are you reading?  Please leave recommendations in the comments section, and note titles to add to your own reading list.

Indecision

“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision”   -Maimonides

I just finished a mini-makeover for my hall bathroom-new flooring, baseboards and toilet. The labor took little more than a day.  Selecting the flooring took several weeks.  In the end, I chose the pattern I preferred on day one. Thank goodness I had the deadline of impending company forcing me to make up my mind.  If not, I might still be comparing floor samples.

I don’t think of myself as indecisive, but as I chide myself for wasting weeks choosing the flooring, I have to be honest.  When buying my house, I gave myself two years to research.  After a year and a half of looking at houses, my husband had had enough. Within a week we bought a house we’d seen on the first day of looking.  It has truly become home.

When I was ready to get rid of my minivan, I waffled for seven years because nothing stood out as the one car that was right for me.  I finally went to an end-of-year sale at a local dealership and bought the best deal I could find.  I’m still glad I did.

Friday is my favorite day to dress for work. On the other weekdays, I choose a blouse and pair of pants and hope that it passes as professional attire.  But on Friday it’s spirit day and everyone wears the school shirt.  No decision to make!

“Once I make up my mind, I’m full of indecision.”                                             -Oscar Levant

So it seems that indecision comes from fear of choosing the wrong option.  I want all the information before I make a final commitment, but how will I know when I have it all? What if I decide and then find out that I’m wrong?  Perhaps waiting a little longer will uncover a better choice.  At what point does weighing options give way to over-thinking the issue?  Such are my thoughts when trying to decide.

I’ve had no trouble telling others, especially my children, how to make decisions:

  1. Do whatever research you can.
  2. Weigh the pros and cons.
  3. Pray.
  4. Decide and be ready to live with the consequences of the choice.
  5. Nothing is set in stone however, so make changes as you go along.

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”                                -Nelson Mandela

Of course, these simplified steps do not take into consideration other factors that muddy the waters of clear decision-making.

While long delays are undesirable, decisions can definitely be made too quickly.  We’ve all watched people, young or old,  charge into an impulsive endeavor and cringed while we waited for them to come to their senses.  Sometimes it was a relationship; other times it was a get-rich-quick scheme.  In any case, it sounded too good to be true and was.

Perhaps my delays are simply over-the-top attempts to be sure I am making wise, thought out conclusions. As Elvis sang, “only fools rush in.”  I don’t want to make uninformed decisions or pick an option for the wrong reasons.

There is not always one singular correct choice.  In many instances there are several viable options.  Any number of cars, houses, or appliances would fit into my lifestyle. Even where to live or what career path to follow may have a variety of answers.  Decision is really just committing to one path and following through.

I have also come to understand that not every decision needs to be made.  I’ve accepted that some issues are larger than me or are not for me to determine. Can we really be sure about controversial theologies?  Do we ever know exactly what is in another’s heart?  I do not always have a knowledge base large enough to come to a wise conclusion;  and I’ve given myself permission to abstain from deciding in such cases.

So I leave you, dear reader, with advice that I hope I heed. When faced with a decision that must be made: weigh your options, say a prayer and take the plunge.

“Indecision is often worse than wrong action.”  -Henry Ford

How did we do it?

 

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During recent travels, as my family’s designated navigator,  I relied heavily on my phone’s mapping app and its GPS capability .  At one point I was navigating using both the paper print out of a map that I’d been given and my GPS.  I’d already exclaimed to my husband, “How did we ever travel without a GPS?”  Now the conversation turned to a thorough comparison of paper maps versus GPS, along with memories of past journeys.

My husband and I have only discovered the joy of GPS in that past few years.  It gives us the visual map that we are used to but with the voice (we call her Lola) who gives all the directions and even changes course as necessary due to traffic and road conditions.  I know there are many who will laugh at me at this point for my amazement at something so commonplace, but I am truly thrilled with this travel technology.  It gives me peace of mind that we will not get lost and allows me to see the sights out the window more than I used to when I had to navigate using a paper map; but truth be told, I often just sit and watch Lola doing my job!  She tells my husband exactly when and where to turn, with advance warning, even if a road sign is missing.

In the days of paper maps, we explored a lot more of the area surrounding our destinations. That’s because many times we would overshoot an exit or miss a turn.  So we’d meander through city streets or desolate country roads trying to recognize something that was represented on our map.  The names of roads would pass by more quickly than I could scan the map. Then there were the classic arguments over whether or not we needed to stop and ask someone for directions.  We always did in the end, and so we also got an idea of what the local people were like.

I remember when my husband and I had been married for just a year.  On our first anniversary we moved from New York to California.  We packed a 26 foot U-haul truck with all of our belongings and drove the whole way with our German Shepherd lounging across two thirds of the cab’s bench seat.  My husband drove and I navigated. We’d bought a spiral bound Rand McNally book of maps.  It was quite large and devoted a page or two to the roads and highways of each state.  After we navigated through the whole state of Pennsylvania, my husband shocked me. In a giddy moment,  he ripped the Pennsylvania pages out of the book and tossed them out the window.  (Side note:  This is the only time he has ever littered!)  His act of finality showed the victory he felt: we’d made it through our first whole state, and it was a long one too!  However for me it symbolized that there was now, for sure, no going back; our directions were gone!

Soon after that we began to travel with small children in tow.  “How much longer?” and “Are we there yet?” were questions that were hard to answer with a paper map. They were not satisfied with an answer such as, “in about an inch!” I am sure paper maps are why the cliche answer “we’ll get there when we get there” originated in many frazzled families. Now, with a GPS, I am able to periodically announce to those in the car exactly how long it will be until we get there: “an hour and 17 minutes until we’re there!”   However, my remaining teenager does not even hear me through his earbuds.

Over the years, we’ve had a habit of saving maps, directions, books and brochures from special trips that we’ve taken.  I never did find a neat, comprehensive system for storing all those papers.  Some landed on the bookshelves.  Others were stowed in drawers, cabinets and closets.  Traveling was causing clutter in my home, especially the individual maps of specific areas.  Once opened up they were larger than me and never folded neatly back into their original shape.  Now,  with the addition of our GPS, which stores my favorite destinations, I have been able to toss many piles of loose maps and other travel papers into the recycling bin.  I even have a few empty shelves in one of my cabinets as we speak!

In just the short time I’ve been using a GPS, I can’t imagine traveling without it.  Although my husband and I predate the digital age, we think we have adapted well. He was one of the first to own a personal computer in the eighties and computerized any job he ever had. Though I prefer paper books to digital, I could no longer run my household without my laptop.  It may have taken us a little longer than some to discover the GPS, but now we are happy to add this to our must-have list of technological tools.  How did we ever live without it?

 

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Zen Garden

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“If we could just bottle this cool, sea air and bring it home with us!” This has seemed to be a mantra for my family lately. While I haven’t yet figured out how to do that, I have thought of a way to, perhaps, persuade my senses to recall the calm, cool feelings brought on by coastal breezes.

With several weeks of traveling to different beaches now behind me, I have built a small zen garden in an attempt to capture the spirit of the beach.  It is tiny, only 5 by 5 inches, holding the smallest of my beach finds: shells, pebbles, both polished and gritty, sand dollars and star fish. It is my hope that as I look at and touch these small artifacts I will trick my other senses to awaken, that the power of suggestion will cause me to breath deeply, hear the rhythmic crash of waves and think that I feel the sensation of a cool breeze against my body.

Now I have returned to the oppressive heat of my high desert home.  As the normal stresses of everyday life rise like mercury in a thermometer, I will be able to take a cooling, mini vacation just by running my fingers through my tiny zen garden.