Archives for category: Books

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”
― Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

I saw this quote yesterday and it echoes the thoughts I have often now that there are more days behind me than in front of me in this life of mine.  I’m fascinated with the things we remember in a lifetime.  There are a lot of things I can’t believe I don’t remember in detail and wish I did.  There are things that I remember vividly and wish I didn’t.  Maybe this is why I like photos so much – they trigger memories of all kinds in this cluttered brain of mine.

I recently read that old people don’t think slower, they just have more stored in their brains to sort through, like a giant file cabinet filled to overflowing that you have to search methodically for the information you need.  That’s a pretty old school analogy, hunh?  At least that’s comforting – to think you’re not losing it, you just have too much of it.

The other thing that I wonder about is the way people remember the same thing.  I’ve talked with friends about the way members of a family see an event differently, based on their age, family position, personality, etc.  Sometimes a small moment can make a lasting impact on a person’s life while a potentially life-changing occurrence is put in perspective and has little importance in the long run.

Perspective on the memories we have is something that takes some conscious effort most of the time.  We can make choices about how we absorb a memory and it can also change as the years go on and we learn more about why it happened or how others perceived it.  Perspective is what keeps us going through life’s unexpectedness.  If we get locked in on the single impression as only seen by us, we may lose the ability to see it from other views, other people’s perspectives.  I’ve found that we’re healthiest when we learn to look at an event from many sides, to let it grow or shrink in importance to find its proper place in the timeline of our lives.

We all have memories and they can sustain us or crush us.  It’s all about working to put them in place.  It would be nice if we only had happy ones, but that rarely happens.  Memories make us who we are.  For better or worse.  When you lose your memory, you lose a lot of yourself, as seen in Alzheimer’s patients.

Enough of that – may all your memories be put in their place and may they mostly make you smile!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA




OK – I can’t be the only person who brings home a carload of souvenirs from a road trip…can I? It’s not like I can’t remember the place or person, but I do tend to forget after a time and the things I pick up along the trails of my life make me smile as I walk by them or dust them and shake up a memory from a wonderful experience. My home is packed with such memories and I’m old enough to know I’ll never be a minimalist in any way. So, here’s what I brought home from my travels through the South this past two weeks…think what you will.

First are the general, sometimes tacky, souvenirs: hats, t-shirts, magnets, lapel/hat pins and a few books, including a Cajun Little Red Riding Hood, “Petite Rouge,” because I have other Cajun children’s stories and love to read them out loud. You can’t help but sound a little Cajun…DSC_1059


I’ve collected the pins since I was in Vienna way back in the 1970s and saw a man with pins on his hat in European fashion. I used to be somewhat casual about it, but ended up with quite a few and now always look for them. I have them on a little bulletin board in my laundry room that I pass by every day.DSC_0001


The refrigerator magnets are a new deal and I have to promise to stop…DSC_0002


I just bought a hat and t-shirt in the town where my father was born because that’s all they had. I bought a ball cap in Savannah to wear out on the water and a cute painted t-shirt in Charleston because I liked the artist.

Then there’s the food category, which really can get out of hand in the South…


After all, I can’t get boiled peanuts and okra chips at home and who could pass up the Peach or Cherry cider and the Sweet Potato anything? And I wanted to see what was in red rice, so I bought a package, and then we went to Avery Island where they make Tabasco sauce and had to buy some of the new flavors. This is nothing compared to the souvenirs that didn’t make it home because they were eaten along the way…another blog. I did buy a cookbook from one restaurant to get the recipe for the best sweet potato soufflé I’ve ever eaten.

And we had to have things from the nature part of the trip, so I have seashells from the Katrina-wrecked beaches of the Gulf and puppets of animals from the National Parks we visited, Mammoth Cave and the Great Smokey Mountains.DSC_1067


Finally, there were the antiques and art I had to have. I’ve always liked to support local artists, especially when they have pieces that represent what I’ve come to love in their home. So that is why I came home with a ceramic mug and platter from potters in Fairhope, Alabama, a painting from the streets of the French Quarter in New Orleans, and antique tobacco basket from Thomasville, Georgia (what am I going to do with this huge piece even though I love it and got quite a deal on it) and an antique framed book plate by a well known artist of the Charleston Renaissance period (I learned about that). Each piece of art came with a story to make it even more special.DSC_1068


Maybe because I’ve owned a gift shop and know what it’s like to have people wander in and not buy anything, maybe because I’ve worked with artists for years and want them to be appreciated, maybe it’s the things my mother taught me, but I never, NEVER come home empty handed. The end result is that my home is a warehouse for some pretty exciting travels that I love to remember. I can only hope my children will smile and laugh a bit when they have to clean this stuff out when I’m gone! I can feel their eyes rolling…

These quiet winter months have given me a chance to read more and I’ve met some interesting people between the pages – including electronic as well as paper pages.  I’ve been reading biographies the last few weeks and, as always happens in my case, I start looking for more information on the subjects I’ve met.  By coincidence, I’ve been reading about men and found that the women who shared their lives are every bit as fascinating, maybe more so.  You hear about the women behind the men, but I’ve learned that these women almost always are right there beside them, often through thick or thin in the every interpretation of that phrase from their wedding vows.

The first biography I finished was Steve Jobs.  Using his incredible creations made me more interested in the man with all the quirkiness and brilliance we have heard about.  I didn’t even know he was married, which was my ignorance but also due to his desire to keep his personal life private.  Laurene Powell Jobs is a remarkable woman who totally understood her husband.  He must have been hell to live with, but she accepted all sides of who he was and together they raised a lovely family.  She was also the philanthropic member of the family, giving her time and resources to educational interests of hers.  No matter what conclusion I had come to about them as a couple, the most touching thing I read was a description of the last meeting of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, when Jobs knew he was dying.  One of their topics was how lucky they both were to find wives that understood them so well.  Thanks that they recognize it!  I don’t think there are biographies of Laurene, but all who marvel over Jobs and his Apple products in our lives should also be thanking the stars for this beautiful, strong woman who stood right beside him.  They were a unique and modern love story.


The second biography I read was The Hearsts, which I had purchased right after visiting Hearst Castle last summer.  While touring that incredible home, I was as intrigued by William Randolph Hearst’s parents as I was by him.  George Hearst was an uneducated genius at mining who lived in the right time and was in the right place – much as Steve Jobs was.  He became one of the richest men in the world through common sense and hard work.  One of his greatest decisions, at the age of 41, was to return to his hometown in Missouri to find a wife and come back with 19 year old Phoebe Apperson, a girl of some education and some teaching background.  Maybe his skills at mining taught him to spot something valuable in this young girl or maybe he just got lucky.  Her accomplishments influence us today as much as either her husband or her only son and her influence on both of them made them the men they became.  She did it all through the ups and downs of health and wealth.  We should all know her story without thinking as she helped bring us kindergartens and the PTA.  She was instrumental in helping the University of California develop and grow, and marched for women’s votes when she was seventy.  Essentially also a private person, she lived a large public life in a marriage that was based on love and respect, if not too many shared interests.  Who would have ever suspected all that this midwestern girl would become?  Another unconventional love story for the ages.


The next book I read was The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  I’ve read many of Anne’s books and diaries and consider A Gift from the Sea to be a must read for all women.  Once again, the husband was a man larger than life and the wife was a young girl who loved her privacy.  If we think that the media hounds political or other public celebrities today, we have to look at the horror that was the life of Charles Lindbergh and his family as they dodged the press.  The handsome aviator was a rigid, demanding man who could not be wrong and that is the worst to live with.  Fortunately, Anne also loved him and was willing to meet the challenging demands he made of her.  She became the first woman to receive a first class glider pilot’s license and learned to navigate for her husband on their world wide flights.  Nobody could imagine what the kidnapping and murder of their first child would do to the world’s most glamorous couple.  It contributed to making him colder and more withdrawn and her stronger, for sure.  They persevered and held together, with Anne truly into her own when she wrote A Gift from the Sea and became a recognized author, all while raising their five children.  This was not an easy man to be married to, but Anne stood beside him to the end, becoming truer to her own dreams.  I’m not sure his star would still have shined as brightly to the end, even with his accomplishments, without her.  Even with his hidden families, I do believe he knew she was always there.


After reading these books, I was also remembering Mary Montgomery Borglum, the wife of Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mt. Rushmore.  I saw a horrible show on him on the History Channel this week which only skimmed the information I had learned from a stack of books I read about them after visiting Mt. Rushmore.  Once again, this quiet wife stood beside this giant genius man and kept life sane in his larger than life quest for his art.  There are days I’m very glad I wasn’t married to a creative genius!  Hugs to these women who stick with that life.


There are so many of these women, some standing beside men who wish they would step back, while others were proud to have them there.  The message of the stories of the famous should be to look around us at the women we know who do the same.  I know women have come a long way, but most of us still take our responsibilities as wives and mothers seriously.  Most of us give little thought to prioritizing our lives with family first.  What I’ve found, like the women in these stories, is that having that as a priority often brings us knowledge and opportunities that we use to become even stronger women than we would have without that husband and children.

The joy of discovery is that one inquisitive thought leads to a discovery that uncovers new information which leads to new insights.  Thank you to all the women I continually discover who have inspired me throughout my life.  Today, I salute Laurene, Phoebe, Anne and Mary!  There are so many more…

One of the books I got from my mother was her 1946 book of household information.  My mother threw herself into being a housewife when she got married in 1945.  When I open this book, I like to think of her reading it intently and picking the hints she would use.


I love these old books for their everyday wisdom, the simple illustrations, and to see how far we’ve come.  I also learn a lot of useful tips even for today.

Obviously, this book will be used in other blogs because it’s too funny and interesting not to share.  Today, I picked two tips that stood out.

The first is timely since we are still in cold and flu season.  I absolutely never thought of making pockets for my sheets.  Maybe because I hate to sew and don’t have scraps of old sheets around to use like my grandmother did.  I don’t feel guilty because I do send my old sheets to Goodwill where they probably ship them off to Africa for re-use there.  Also, I don’t sleep as neatly as this person must have.


The second tip is for sleeve protectors when you are doing housework.  This one blows me away.  Obviously, these women were dressed in long sleeved blouses or dresses, but couldn’t they just push up the sleeves?  The “gay sleeve protector” is made from colorful fabric, once again found around the house, with snaps sewn on so you could wind it around your arm.  This was the fancy version.  I’m trying to envision this one and the trouble they went to making it work.


When I’m trying to explain to my kids that I ran a house without an answering machine, computer, or cell phone, I have to remember that I grew up in a time when we didn’t have clothes dryers, barely a washing machine (my grandmother had a wringer washer), dishwashers, electric vacuums, much less television.  By the time I was married, we had all of those things.

My huge respect for the women in my family who preceded me continues to grow.  I remember hanging out the clothes with my mother and grandmother, using the push sweeper, and washing the dishes (which I’m actually doing now since my dishwasher isn’t working).  None of those things was horrible, looking back.  But, we love our progress that lets us spend less time cleaning and more time….doing what?  I think we trade one set of chores for another as women.

I watched the movie, “Lincoln,” for the second time last night.  I’m not much of a movie reviewer, but I’ll recommend this one as a must see for thinking people or fans who appreciate good film making.

I grew up with actors like Raymond Massey and Henry Fonda playing Lincoln…they didn’t even come close to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.  It’s a fact of Hollywood that they love English actors and it’s too bad that there isn’t an American actor who can play an American, but that’s a pet peeve since I learned that it used to be or may still be that  American actors can’t play a character in England if there is an English actor available and it seems like every character I see in America turns out to be English, Canadian, Australian or not American, although they play us well.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter in this case, because Day-Lewis is one of the great actors of our time and nobody else could have or would have gone to the depths of learning and becoming Lincoln as he has.  I looked up Lincoln’s walk and voice and read descriptions by the people who met and knew him.  Day-Lewis just morphs into a living Lincoln.

When I watch a movie at home, I have my iPad in my lap looking up questions I have about production, plot, actors, directors, or historical facts.  I can excuse some distortion or interpretation of facts for art’s sake, but not all.  It’s good when a film makes you want to know more.  That’s also what’s nice about having DVDs and DVRs so that you can stop and answer your question right when it hits you, if you want to.  I think this one is pretty close to accurate, at least on the questions I had.  Tad really did run rampant in the White House and Thaddeus Stevens really did have a relationship with his housekeeper, although there are different stories on that.

A funny side note was that I read a review of the movie where the reviewer said he was surprised at Lincoln’s humor.  I guess I thought everyone knew what a renowned storyteller Abe Lincoln was.  I grew up with a book that belonged to my great-grandmother, “Abe Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories,” published in 1901.  The copy we have is missing all the even numbered pages so she must have gotten a deal on a printer mess-up.  You still get some of the stories, the funny drawings and photos of all of the people who were around Lincoln.  And I learned at a young age what a beloved and complex person he was.


Anyway, this is just a great film.  The performances are terrific, especially Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook…and the list goes on.  I should look up every name to give them all credit.  And the direction by Steven Spielberg, the cinematography, lighting, costumes…just the best.

You really feel like you are in that time and place, you feel like you are watching history unfold.  It’s entertaining, but, mostly, it’s enlightening.  Not fast paced action…just a disclaimer if that’s what you want to see.  Besides, you already know the ending…or should.

As movie reviews go, this was just my thoughts after being wowed by this film for the second time.  I can’t use stars or thumbs up since I’m not really a reviewer, so I’ll just give it a standing ovation!  Bravo!

Watching the world on a 24/7 news cycle, reality shows and documentaries and the internet sprinkled into the mix, we have a unique view of the behavior of people around the world.  You begin to search for the nice stories, the feel-good realities that restore your hope for mankind.  Otherwise, it’s pretty horrifying to watch what people say to each other, do to each other.

Listening to people justify guns and violence, hate and hurt, I have to go back to the most basic lesson of all…the Golden Rule.  It’s so simple and so basic that we tend to forget its power.

A couple of years ago, I found this little book…


It contains versions of the Golden Rule from all religions and cultures, going back thousands of years.  It’s so simple that every group of people on the planet has it in their beliefs or literature.  There are versions from Confucius, Native Americans, African tribes, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Torah, Babylonia, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Muhammad, Martin Luther, Matthew, Luke and others.  Pick your prophet or your spokesman – they all have the same message.

I gave a copy of this book to my eight grandchildren for Christmas one year.  It’s small enough to carry with them through life.

The way things are going, I’m going to order some more copies and send to some of our leaders.  Please…it’s so simple.

My guess is that my first acknowledgement of the Dust Bowl was seeing the painting, Mother Earth Laid Bare, by Alexandre Hogue at Philbrook when  I was very young.  It moved me.  It has always been my favorite painting at the museum, maybe because it tells a story in such a graphic image.  I am an Oklahoman, so I know about the Dust Bowl.  Sort of.  I knew Okie wasn’t a term we liked until Governor Bartlett used it as a tool to boost the state’s image.  I used to take Okie pins with me to Europe to give the people I met.  I’d read The Grapes of Wrath and seen the movie, although that story wasn’t really about the Dust Bowl itself.

A few years ago, I read Timothy Egan’s book, The Worst Hard Time, a brilliant accounting of the Dust Bowl that made me really want to understand what happened.  I’ve travelled through the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, driving through Boise City, OK and Dalhart, TX, two of the worst hit places.  I’ve been through eastern New Mexico, eastern Colorado, western Kansas and western Nebraska, seeing those great plains.  I’ve driven through the tall grass prairie to see what the land was like before the ravaging of the plains through greed and ignorance of what we can do to the land.  I watched a documentary called , Black Blizzards, which featured Tim Egan and visualized much of what he had written.  I’ve studied Woody Guthrie and his music which captured the times so brilliantly.  Ken Burn’s recent series, The Dust Bowl, incorporated all of this information and introduced me to Caroline Henderson, a college educated homesteader, who stuck it out, never gave up, and left us her letters and articles about her life.

I’ve always been interested in the women of the west.  Many of them were perfectly happy where they were, close to family and friends, but went along to share the adventures with husbands following a dream.  Some wanted adventure, some had dreams of their own, some wanted to escape lives in the east.  I think the fascination is in imagining what I would have done if I were in that place and time.  A friend of mine says she knows she never would have gotten past St. Louis.  The people who settled in the Dust Bowl area wanted their own piece of land, an independent sort who didn’t want the confines of the city and loved the wide open spaces they found.  The dreams became reality and times were good and then they went bad, really bad, for a decade.  Ten years of a combination of the Depression, drought, and floods of dust, year after year after year.

What would I have done?  Would I have left right off the bat, walked away from the home I built with my own hands, the land I’d tilled myself?  What would I do when my children were coughing up dust and there was no milk or food or crops?  What would I do when I’d waited so long that there was nowhere to go…no jobs, no money for gas to leave, nothing left to sell and nobody to buy it if there was anything.  What would I do?  Would I be stubborn, full of hope, or let it get me down?  How much courage did it take to leave?  How much courage did it take to stay?

Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done.  I guess all we can do while looking back is learn from the stories and hope that we would have the courage they had to keep on living in desperate times.  And I can be extra thankful and appreciative of all that I have today.

When I was a little girl, I read all the time.  I read stacks of books from the library…fairy tales, mythology, mysteries, the OZ books (yes, there is an entire series).   If you’re old enough to remember the little orange bound biographies for kids in the library, you’ll remember checking those out to read the stories of Davy Crockett, George Washington, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, et al.  We had the My Book House set, and I read those over and over and over.  I lived in a magical world of make-believe.

Among my favorites were the Mary Poppins books.  The Disney movie was released when I was in high school and I absolutely adored it.  Last night, I took my 11 year old granddaughter, Caroline, to see the musical based on the book and the movie.  It was charming, but it made me think.  I related to the story from the books and then the movie.  My granddaughter had only seen the movie.  I’m going to get her the books because she needs to know those stories, but what a difference in our lives and our reading.

When I was doing all my reading as a child, we had movies and very little television at first.  Today’s kids have so many ways to get a story with 24/7 television, 3D movies, iPads and, yes, books, electronic and paper.  I’m not against the new ways, I love my iBooks, but there is something so innocent about children with books.  Actually, I guess that Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series aren’t any more frightening than the things I read, especially with the other things kids see on the news.  I’d like to think it would be nicer if we didn’t have to subject them to the real world at such early ages, but I’m not sure it did us much good to be so protected.

Life is life and we are all nostalgic for what we think was the innocence of our childhood.  Actually, there were bad things happening back then, too.  We try to shelter our children as much as we can from the harsher aspects of life, but there will always be ugliness and evil as long as there are people.  Reading is one way to escape and/or prepare yourself for dealing with the dragons and ogres in the real world.

But, oh my, wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a Mary Poppins to come bring order to our lives?  Spit, spot!