Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Counting My Blessings

I was thinking last night that I actually have blessings to count.  Everybody does, even those who are eternal pessimists.  So I thought I'd list a few here.

1.  I have an education.  I was fortunate enough to have parents who believed in education, despite the fact that neither finished high school.  Or maybe it was because they didn't finish high school that they believed that education was a necessity.  My father never made it past eighth grade but he made a deal with both my sister and me:  Go to college and graduate and he would foot the bill entirely; fail to graduate and we'd have to pay him back every penny.  We both graduated, I from the College of Charleston and Carla from Clemson.  Neither of us finished in the usual four years.  Carla had to go part-time as she was a young newly-wed and mother (her daughter once asked her, "How come you get to go to school when you're just a mommy?").  I, on the other hand, took six years to graduate because I changed my major twice and (gulp!) flunked out once.  I had to lay out a semester to get my shit feces together.  I finally settled on fine arts as a major and my GPA shot up.  When I graduated, my mother gave me a card that said, "Graduating already?"  She did have a sense of humor.  My parents also helped me out when I went to graduate school, although I didn't ask them to pay for it, and now I also have a master's degree.



2.  My sister.  We haven't always gotten along.  She's older than I am and she used to have a mean streak a mile wide.  When we were kids, she would pinch me and beat on me and just generally be disagreeable.  Then when I was 12 I had had enough.  She slapped me and I hauled off and hit her back.  Then I sat down and cried.  She never touched me again after that, at least not in a mean way.  Maybe she was just trying to toughen me up, I don't know (never thought to ask).  Now that we're a tiny way past middle age, we get along fine.  She's one of my favorite people.  We don't see each other very often but every few months one of us will call the other and we'll talk for an hour or more.  The last time I saw her we went out to dinner and she apologized for having been so mean.  When she was about fifteen, a neighbor who was my age but bigger than Carla, dared to touch her breast and she bloodied his nose.  His mother stormed over to our house and demanded that my father punish Carla, and Daddy told her just where she could go and why.  Carla was feisty.  Now she's mellowed and quite philosophical, just my kind of person.  She's also very good-hearted and I love her.



3.  The family I married into.  I couldn't ask for better in-laws.  At my father-in-law's funeral recently, Richard's sister's husband and I agreed that we had the best father-in-law ever, and we did.  My sister-in-law (Beverly) is another of my favorite people, as is Paul, her husband, and Katie and Alex, their daughters.  And I love my mother -in-law.  Not everybody can say that.



4.  I have a job.  In the current economic situation, this is truly a blessing.   Although I am looking forward to retirement, I'm glad I have a job.  They don't pay me diddly-squat, but I have a job.



5. Sunrises and sunsets.  So far in my life they have come around like clockwork, beginning and ending each day, and I'm grateful for every one of them.  I would love to live somewhere that regularly has beautiful sunrises and sunsets and to live in a house that has views to both the east and west.  I love seeing them over water, especially at the beach.



6.  I live in a democracy.  Our democracy is struggling right now, what with all the partisan politics (we need statesmen, not career politicians), but I wouldn't live anywhere else.  Well, maybe Canada except that I would freeze to death the first winter.  I imagine the founding fathers are all spinning in their graves at this time.  But the good old U.S. of A. is home.



7.  I live in the American South.  It's warm down here.  The winters are not harsh.  We have good people.  We have good food.  I once had a t-shirt bearing a description of the South.  I don't remember the exact wording, but it mentioned magnolias, peaches, front porches, cool breezes, and fried chicken.  The South is like anywhere else in the country, except that we all talk funny.  Some people not of the South think we're all racists down here, but we're still no different than the rest of the country.  (Racism is ugly, no matter where it is, from D.C. all the way to the tiniest rural hamlet in northern Minnesota.)


8.  Indoor plumbing.  When I was under the age of six, we lived in a house out in the country with four rooms and a path.  The path led down toward the woods to an outhouse.  It was a two holer.  We had electricity, but not running water.  I don't know how my parents managed, but they did.  We had a well out by the back porch (the kind with a pulley and a bucket).  I remember one summer when my aunt and her kids were staying with us that Mama and my aunt would fill up two #2 galvanized washtubs with water and take turns bathing us kids; one washed and one rinsed.  Thank God for indoor toilets and showers! 


9.  Cats and dogs.  Animals add so much to our lives.  You love an animal, it loves you back.  They know.  People with animals around them have lower blood pressure.  And the little critters have such personality!



10.  Good food.  I love to eat.  I love to go out to dinner.  And I love to cruise recipe websites.  I love parties, family gatherings, pizza, creme brulee, corn, bread, cheesecake, pie, carrots, etc.  I could go on.  I just wish that plant breeders would breed for flavor and not shelf life.  There's nothing like a good tomato sandwich in the summer.  Or peach pie.  Yummmm!


Take care, y'all.  Tell me about your blessings.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Book Review... of Sorts

The Bitch-Proof Suit by De-ann Black.  "The Bitch-Proof Suit is a sparkling and exciting novel, brimming with romance, humor, friendship, rivalry, Irish cocktails and scandalous behavior. When Blue (Bluebell) Byrne is up against the odds in the world of New York fashion marketing, she needs the ultimate in accessories - a bitch-proof suit. Her marketing experience has helped her create the perfect suit. She had it made by bespoke tailors, cut with twice the precision at half the price. No labels, no trends, just sheer cutting edge class. The story starts in Manhattan. Blue is about to put her suit to the ultimate test when she vies against a boardroom full of conniving business rivals to win the top job assignment - to work in the company's office in Dublin, Ireland, and settle a few scores at the same time. The suit, her negotiating skills, and gutsy determination help Blue win the job. Within hours she sets off for Dublin. It's the one place she swore she'd never go back to. Six years ago she'd left that city behind, along with Morgan Daire, the man who broke her heart, sure she'd never return. It had almost destroyed her once, but hell...she loves a challenge! She'll be working with the unspeakably glamorous and influential Verde Valmont, and Verde's Irish assistant, Emer. Blue will also be facing up to the formidable Dubliner, Morgan Daire, the man whose past is inexorably linked with hers. Then there's her friend, Dublin designer, Murphy, an incorrigible rogue whose flirting causes jealousy and all sorts of trouble. She also encounters the sexy and handsome Sears Pearson, a New York coolhunter. The Bitch-Proof Suit did actually exist. The author, De-ann Black, designed and wore it several years ago when living and working in Dublin, and it served its purpose brilliantly."  I lifted this "product description" straight from Amazon.  The book was a 99-cent Kindle download and it was quite readable, well-written, and with a good story to it.  I enjoyed it very much.  Murphy was a hoot.

Spun by Sorcery by Barbara Bretton.  "While Chloe Hobbs, a half-human sorceress-in-training who owns the popular yarn shop, Sticks and Strings, and the love of her life, the all-too-human chief of police, Luke MacKenzie, are off fighting the forces of evil to protect his daughter’s soul, the unthinkable happens. The town of Sugar Maple, Vermont, disappears—animals, people, buildings, roads: everything. Not only do Chloe and Luke have to figure out how this could be. They also have to engage in another battle to the death with supernatural forces. And they have to face all of this when they haven’t even begun to recover from the previous clash. The third book, following Casting Spells (2008) and Laced with Magic (2009), in Bretton’s decidedly dark saga of Sugar Maple, a place where vampires, trolls, shapeshifters, and werewolves live in peace, is an exciting conclusion to her very clever trilogy. Readers will be on the edge of their seats as Chloe and Luke risk everything to protect the little town they love." --Shelley Mosley (Booklist review).  I am a little disappointed that this is the final book in a trilogy.  I'm hoping that Bretton will have a change of heart and write more sequels.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these books.  I know Barbara Bretton writes other novels, so I'll just have to enjoy some of them, too.  Well, I just checked Amazon and a new Sugar Maple/Chloe Hobbs book will be coming out in December.  YAY!! 

Strange Bedpersons by Jennifer Crusie.  Crusie is one of my new favorite authors.  She writes so well and tells such a good story that you can't help but like the books.  She writes such good, snappy dialogue.  In this novel, "Tess Newhart knows her ex-boyfriend Nick Jamieson isn't the right guy for her. He's caviar and champagne; she's take-out Chinese pot stickers. He's an uptight Republican lawyer; she was raised in a commune and thinks Cinderella is politically incorrect. He wants to get ahead in business; she just wants …him—only not the social-climbing Nick, but the sweet, caring, unbuttoned-down Nick.  And Nick wants her, too, but there's no way Tess is about to play second fiddle to his obsession to make partner.  Yet somehow she finds herself agreeing to play his fiancee for a weekend business trip that could make or break Nick's career. And while he's wrapped up in convincing Tess that he needs her in his respectable world, Tess is doing her best to keep her left-wing opinions to herself and her hands off Nick."  This one was up to Crusie's best standards.  The scene in the restaurant near the end is just priceless -- laugh out loud funny.  

Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews. 
"Sometimes, when you need a change in your life, the tide just happens to pull you in the right direction….  Ellis, Julia, and Dorie. Best friends since Catholic grade school, they now find themselves, in their mid-thirties, at the crossroads of life and love. Ellis, recently fired from a job she gave everything to, is rudderless and now beginning to question the choices she's made over the past decade of her life. Julia—whose caustic wit covers up her wounds--has a man who loves her and is offering her the world, but she can't hide from how deeply insecure she feels about her looks, her brains, her life.  And Dorie has just been shockingly betrayed by the man she loved and trusted the most in the world…though this is just the tip of the iceberg of her problems and secrets. A month in North Carolina's Outer Banks is just what they each of them needs.  Ty Bazemore is their landlord, though he's hanging on to the rambling old beach house by a thin thread. After an inauspicious first meeting with Ellis, the two find themselves disturbingly attracted to one another, even as Ty is about to lose everything he's ever cared about. Maryn Shackleford is a stranger, and a woman on the run. Maryn needs just a few things in life: no questions, a good hiding place, and a new identity.  Ellis, Julia, and Dorie can provide what Maryn wants; can they also provide what she needs? 
Five people questioning everything they ever thought they knew about life. Five people on a journey that will uncover their secrets and point them on the path to forgiveness.  Five people who each need a sea change, and one month in a summer rental that might just give it to them."  If I didn't wait so long to do my book reviews, I could write them better myself, but when you read one book right after another, things get a little blurry around the edges.  Andrews is a very good writer (I know I say that about every writer I read).  When I listed all the books I read last year, she left a comment on my blog thanking me for including her in my reading list.  That's a nice and rewarding thing to happen.

This Matter of Marriage by Debbie Macomber.  Giving herself a year to meet Mr. Right, thirty-year-old Hallie shudders over her disastrous dates and sets her sights on handsome neighbor Steve Marris, who is trying to win back his ex-wife.  Steve finally wises up to something that his children already know: that Hallie is the perfect woman for him.  The kids are a little sad that their parents won't be getting back together, but they love Hallie.  She and Steve become very good friends, but his habit of running off to his ex-wife any time she whimpers kinds of gets under Hallie's skin.  She moves to another location, but they can't stop thinking of each other.  Steve finally sees the ex as the needy manipulator that she is.

One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  "Adjusting to civilian life after a tour in Iraq proves difficult for Rev. Clare Fergusson in Spencer-Fleming's resonant and timely seventh mystery featuring Clare and her not-so-secret lover, police chief Russ Van Alstyne (after 2008's I Shall Not Want). On returning to Millers Kill, N.Y., Clare jumps right back into her duties as priest of St. Alban's Episcopalian Church. But her 18 months flying helicopters in Iraq aren't entirely in the past: she's drinking more and relying on a mix of leftover pills from her Army medical kit. Along with several other returning service members, Clare joins a community support group for veterans. When a member of the group, Tally McNab, apparently shoots herself in the mouth and falls dead into her swimming pool, Clare spearheads an investigation, hounding Russ to consider homicide. Clare and Russ's relationship deepens, while the focus on the struggles of veterans supplies another strong emotional thread."  (Publishers Weekly).  Spencer-Fleming waited quite a while to get this book out, but I think it must have been harder to write than the previous novels in the series.  It was worth the wait.  Now I wonder how long I have to wait until the next one.

Hannah's List by Debbie Macomber. This is a sweet novel.  Michael's wife Hannah dies of cancer.  Michael knew that she was his soul mate and he is devastated.  On the anniversary of Hannah's death, Michael's brother-in-law gives him a letter from Hannah.  In it, she requests that he get married again and suggests three friends of hers as possibilities.  Michael can't imagine loving anyone other than Hannah, so he only halfheartedly approaches these women in turn.  His dates with the first two women are lukewarm at best, but when he meets Macy, he detests her immediately.  She is so different from Hannah.  Hannah was very organized and efficient in everything she did, but Macy seems to be incredibly ditzy.  You can probably imagine where the story goes from here.  The more he sees of Macy, the more she drives him crazy with her flower-child demeanor but, of course, he begins to realize that she is really the woman for him. 

Finding Positano by William James.  "Three years ago Jack Campbell separated from his wife. His daughter, Maggie, wrote him a letter expressing her anger and disappointment. She was 27 then, a finance professional, and maybe should have known better than to take sides in such a private matter, maybe not. Either way, they hadn’t spoken since, and her letter lay there beneath their relationship.  Now, three years later, with the stress of work and difficulties in her personal relationships, Maggie Campbell goes in search of her father, a search that takes her to Positano on the romantic Italian Amalfi Coast, a picturesque town where anything can happen.  What she finds in Positano might just change her life if she doesn’t leave it all behind to return to the comfortable safety of the life she already knows, fearful of the changes that can come from chance decisions.  Finding Positano is a charming story of love, reconciliation and possibility."  I thought James did a good job writing from a woman's point of view.  If his descriptions of Positano are true-to-life, I want to go there.  It sounds like a wonderful place.  There wasn't a great deal of conflict in this story, and you know conflict is plot, but I still enjoyed reading the book.  It was pleasant and refreshing.

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins.  This is the first Higgins novel that I read and, for me, it ranks right up there with Jennifer Crusie's novels for sheer writing quality.  I will read more.  Chastity O'Neill, the only girl in her family, has four older brothers, all either firefighters or other emergency workers.  She's always been just one of the guys, but at 31 she's getting tired of it.  She wants to fall in love and have a family of her own, but in her small hometown in upstate New York, nobody thinks of her as anything but one of the guys.  Most of her life she's been in love with Trevor, honorary family member, friend of her brothers, another firefighter, but he treats her like a sister.  She meets a handsome surgeon and they develop a relationship, but he's not Trevor.  Does she find true love or will she remain one of the guys?  There are plot twists aplenty in this novel and if you like romance, I'd highly recommend this book.

French Fried; One Man's Move to France with his Wife, Too Many Animals, and an Identity Thief by Chris Dolley.  Chris and Shelagh sell their small farm in England and move with their animals to the south of France.  Chris Dolley writes with great good humor using that dry English wit to describe the most absurd events in their colorful life.  To most of us, these events would be terribly disheartening, but Dolley doesn't wallow in self-pity.  He takes the situation and deals with it, showing us all the way to do it.  France seems to have lots of rules and regulations for foreigners moving there and the Dolleys run into miles of French red tape while trying to do the simplest things, like buying a car.  It's rather hilarious.  Most of the book is taken up with the fight to nail their identity thief.  It gets very complicated as they try to solve the mystery, but they do it, all still with Dolley's characteristic humor.  Unfortunately, I got a little tired of the quest for the identity thief, and thought he spent too much of the book on it, but it was well-written and otherwise I enjoyed it.

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie.  "Thirty-three-year-old Minerva Dobbs is annoyed when her current boyfriend dumps her three weeks before her sisters' wedding. But she's downright furious a few moments later when she overhears her now "ex" boyfriend bet hunky Calvin Morrisey that he can't take her home and bed her. In fact, she's so angry at them both that she lets Cal take her to dinner and decides to string him along until after her sisters' wedding. Minerva pegs Cal as a handsome "used car salesman of seducers." Cal thinks Minerva is a "cranky, starving, risk-averse statistician." But Minerva's hormones keep whispering "this one," although she knows the gorgeous Cal isn't the man for her practical, white-cotton-bra, several-pounds-over-thin, self. And Cal is blindsided by the lust he feels for the voluptuous, sensual woman he glimpses behind Min's actuary exterior. While Cal and Min struggle to deal with their mutual distrust and attraction, their friends and families try their best to interfere and direct the progression of the unlikely romantic connection."  Such a fun read!  One of the sub-plots in this novel is that of Min's ex getting together with Cal's ex to try to win them back.  Cal's ex is a psychologist who thinks she has the stages of love down to a science and feels certain that Cal and Min will get over their "infatuation" and all will be back to "normal."  HA!

Rescue Me by Sydney Allan.  This is the first and last Sydney Allen novel I will read.  Her writing is just not that good and it interfered with my enjoyment of a pretty good story.  I don't care if she has published 40+ books, she can't write.  The story was good, but the storytelling wasn't.  There were some downright melodramatic scenes in the book but they would have been improved with better crafting.  "She's used to doing all the rescuing. But love has a way of changing everything.  Hailey Jensen is in the rescue business--animal rescue--and more than willing to risk life and limb for fowl or fauna. Just when life couldn't get better, her world crumbles. Her identical twin has cancer, and her marine rescue is failing before it even gets started. Lacking coping skills, she takes refuge behind sarcasm and solitude.  But, thanks to Dr. Rainer Hartmann, her sister's friend and a man who mistakes overbearing control for helping, she finds herself on the opposite end of the control stick. A wildly independent woman, Hailey fights with the determination of a bulldog as Rainer struggles to drag her out of despair...and into his arms."  Sounds good, doesn't it, but don't waste your time.  I'm glad it only cost me 99 cents.

I'm sorry I relied so much on Amazon reviews, but things have been a little different lately.  However, I also apologize for the sucky reviews I wrote myself.  Maybe I should buy a book on writing reviews.  Maybe I should write the review right after I read the book.  OK, done with the disclaimers.  Try the Crusies and Kristan Higgins.  They're both really good writers.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Sadness and Some Random

I'll take care of the sadness part first:  Richard's father passed away on Sunday.  He was a retired university professor of microbiology, an avid sailor, a former Marine, and a Braves fan.  He had a great sense of humor, was very generous, and enjoyed writing historical fiction.  He did something when he retired that I'm going to do: he took off his watch and thereafter ignored the fact that he owned one.  I loved that.  And I love him.  I'm so glad that I married into that family.  The funeral will be on Thursday in north Georgia.

The cats are fine, but they're not getting along fine.  Bagheera has some of the devil in her.  She's found out that Lila will hiss if she gets too close, so now she takes every opportunity to make Lila hiss and then they have a little swatting fight.  It's a little disconcerting if we're trying to go to sleep and both cats happen to get on the bed at the same time.  I think Bagheera has found most of Lila's sleeping spots and, though not always, will go and disturb her.  The little devil!  At least nobody is peeing on the furniture. 

We have a little fishpond just off the back of the house.  On Sunday I happened to look out and I saw a golden retriever sitting IN the pool, lapping up water.  I guess he/she was hot and just wanted to cool off a bit.  I had never seen that particular dog in the neighborhood before.  I wanted a picture but I was sure he/she would bolt if I went outside with my camera.

I had breakfast for dinner last night, two eggs (fried in PAM) on lightly-buttered whole-wheat toast.  As I was munching on my meal I was thinking how it was just the thing and how it really hit the spot.  When I was living/working in Charleston, we had a little breakfast/lunch room on the premises.  I frequently would get the nice lady who ran the place to make me a toasted egg-bacon-and-cheese sandwich for my breakfast.  For a while there I quit buying cereal and milk at the grocery store.  Of course I gained numerous pounds, some of which I'm still carrying.  My drink of choice for that meal was a Diet Coke, like that was going to do any good.  HA! 

I'm embracing healthier eating habits now, like eating more fresh fruits and veggies, whole wheat breads, less fat, and more lean protein.  I'm rather fortunate that my protein of choice is shrimp and other seafood, which has way fewer calories than red meat or pork.  I'll let you know if I manage to do something really strange, like losing weight.  (I imagine that if I do lose weight, I'll be crowing about it -- loudly!)

For those knitters among you, have you found Patternfish.com?  It's a wonderful resource for knitting and crochet patterns.  I have a wish list on the site, just waiting until we win the lottery so that I can purchase and download them all.  Every once in a while I feel like doing a little shopping, so I usually buy a few patterns, a little yarn (from my other favorite knitting site, WEBS (www.yarn.com)), and maybe a few books for my Kindle. 

Another favorite website is ePlans.com.  I like looking at house plans, because eventually we'll both be retired and moving to some location above the gnat line (the gnats down here are tres annoying).  I came across a plan a couple of months ago that Richard and I both agree is damn near the perfect house plan.  I have a group of saved plans on that website and this one is listed as the Dream House (my wording).  It's slightly larger than the house we own now and it's in our price range to build.  It has an open floor plan, two guest rooms, a library/study, and a nice master suite.

I watch The Barefoot Contessa on a semi-regular basis, and I'm jealous of some of the kitchen gadgets she owns.  She has a square fluted cutter that she uses when she make scones (she cuts out the squares then cuts them diagonally), and I stumbled across the website where that particular item is sold, Cassandra's Kitchen.  This site has quite a few of the things Ina uses in her kitchen.  Surfing the Internet pays off.

Writing this particular post has briefly taken my mind off our recent loss.  We are glad that daddy-in-law didn't linger and suffer; he went rather quickly and peacefully.  I hope when my time comes I'm half that fortunate. 

Take care, everybody.  Hug your loved ones.