On Being Ridiculous


In sniffing around for a binder, I dis-covered this gem on my bookshelf. Hmmm. ONLINE FINDS.

I opened it up and gave way to guffaws.  Seriously, Carol?

Evidently, twelve years ago, I believed I could organize the universe (well, my universe, at least) by printing everything I thought was important, labeling the pages with a general category at the top, slipping them into page protectors and gathering them into a binder.

(under her breath) (…and leaving the binder on the bookshelf a dozen years…)

We didn’t know back then, did we, the transitory nature of the interwebs?

Or, perhaps I didn’t understand search engines?

And, since I’m in the posture of confession, I might as well tell you.  I do not have the capability within me to pitch the whole thing. No. I need to know what was important to me twelve years back. I’m going to set a timer. And be prepared to giggle.





Reading Evening


It was a weekend of colossal snowflakes. Twirling, swirling, pirouetting, waving-to-the-audience snowflakes. So cute, you can’t stop staring snowflakes. Snow that puts the world on mute. Snow that drapes over every horizontal surface and beautifies barbed wire. Snow that provokes stillness. We stoked the fire and settled into a reading evening.

We submerged into our book(s) and sat in companionable silence. We forgot all screens and beeps malfunctioning computers. After an hour of pure silence, I put on a CD (remember those?). This set of four CDs has been one of the soundtracks of my life for the last twenty years. (A great score!)

Furiously reading Martin Gilbert’s Churchill, A Life, trying to finish the 1K book before the inter-library loan ends (this is how I do marathons), the mounting crisis of Hitler’s threatened evasion of Czechoslovakia was creating inner tension.

Slowly I became aware that the music playing was such a befitting accompaniment to the words I was reading. Minor key, evocative, simply sad music. Naturally, it was Chopin. Recorded by the Slovak National Orchestra.


To Serve Music


Q. What is it that drives you at this point?

A. The experience of making music — really, the joy of making music is what I was put here for, I believe.

And I kind of knew — I knew right away once I’d started to kind of get it right, in my teens — once I’d started to experience the joy of getting a result from practice — that this was my destiny, I suppose.

And I always thank God [I] intuitively knew that music was the most important part of it. It wasn’t what I could get from music, it was what I could give to it.

When you asked me the question ‘What is it like?’ — well, I wish people could experience what it’s like to be really focused on doing something musical and have it work and be in tune and harmony.  And that can only come, I believe, if I am serving music, rather than trying to manipulate it to my ends, you know.

Eric Clapton
August 14, 2004
Transcribed from the DVD “Sessions for Robert J”

Joining the Club


I’ve never been a big Book Club participant. Because, well, I could be reading instead of listening to Mary Lou talk about her aunt’s friend’s next-door neighbor who published a tantalizing article on loofahs in a women’s magazine.

But, last year, I joined a Facebook Group called Shakespeare in a Year, and read the bard with a few friends and a few strangers. The group still exists, a fitting repository for links and comments and excursions. The participants are erudite, witty, and well-read. I feel smarter just sitting in the proximity of their thoughts.

Then a friend opened the door to Close Reads. A podcast on reading literature? Yes, please! I listened to the original three podcasts (Flannery O’Connor, Macbeth, and P.G. Wodehouse) and said  out loud, I’ve found my tribe. These are my people!

Wendell Berry, Tolstoy, Kenneth Grahame, Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers. Joy, joy, joy! Currently I’m listening to podcasts on E.M. Forster’s Howards End.

When Jan Karon said her last book was the final chapter of Mitford, I was ready to start at book one for a thorough re-read for one of my ultimate comfort reads. Behold! the Mitford Book Club, yet another group on FB, is reading four chapters a week. I am savoring this slow read.

I want to read through the written works of C.S. Lewis, but decided against cramming them into one year. I started The C.S. Lewis Reading Project on Facebook. We are in the middle of the Space Trilogy, reading ~ fifty pages a week. I’m a silent curator, but it has been a pleasant journey. You are welcome to join!

Meanwhile, in real life…

Some friends at our new church want to start a group that reads the classics. I’m in!

And I’m considering participating in our local communal reading (NEA Big Read) of Station Eleven. My druthers are to be a silent lurker, but I’m trying to stretch myself. I like that it’s a short-term commitment.

How about you? What is your Book Club experience? Fantastic? Meh?



The Year in Books

DSC_0543My makeshift stand-up desk for sustained reading

It was a year of Will and Winston. A year of drama, poetry, and history. A year of reading from my shelves, a year of reading aloud until I was hoarse, a year of reading with friends. A year of book podcasts. It was a good year for books.

Disclosure: I turned sixty (the letters aren’t as neon as the numbers). How did that happen? I’m happy to be old, really. But I push myself to get all I can from my remaining years. If I live four more years, I and my siblings will have outlived my folks. (My sister died at 67.) It would be helpful (so I imagine) to know how much time I have left. When will closure come?

How does this affect my reading? I toggle between two options.

1) Reading books to release them from my shelf. These are bookshelves groaning with books I own but haven’t yet read. Not many are books I need to keep. But I can’t let them go unread. I don’t want my books to be a burden on those who survive me.

2) Reading the most excellent books I can in the time I have left. Hence: Shakespeare, Lewis, Chesterton, Burroughs, Trollope, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Undset, Wodehouse. I find that having a big goal prevents me from being sucked into books from Kindle First or Free Kindle books or any vehicle that feeds me mediocre reading.

Back to 2017.


The Literary Study Bible was my edition this year. Single columns, few cross-references made it a good one for reading.

I joined a group on Facebook group that read all of Shakespeare this year. I listened to Arkangel Audio productions as I read along. I treated this as if I were taking a class, planning three-five hours a week for unapologetic reading time. Daytime reading.  I discovered plays I’d never heard of (Coriolanus) and some I wish I’d never heard of (Titus Andronicus).  Marjorie Garber was a helpful guide. Overall it was a fantastic experience.

I’ve been trying to read from my shelf without being so squirrely that I make a silly vow to not buy a book this year. (ha ha!) One of my first rules for living is: Friends buy friend’s books.

I joined a Seasonal Reading Challenge. Each participant sculpts a list for intentional reading the next three months. In truth, this challenge usually adds more books to my TBR (to be read) list because I get so many enticing recommendations from friends.





See all those Hank the Cowdog books? I’m reading Harry (Potter) and Hank (the cowdog) and passing them off to eager grandsons.

The other piece is audio books. I looked for audio productions of books I owned but hadn’t read. I discovered the Last Lion trilogy on audio and my husband and I listened together. Fascinating stuff! Then, it turns out that in 2017 three full-length movies were released about Winston. Win!


As to podcasts, my affections have cooled for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s What Should I Read Next? Primarily because her recommendations don’t closely enough match my likes. There were a few episodes I loved. But, honestly, I’m tired of her pitching her own book.

I discovered Circe Institute’s podcast Close Reads where I have found my tribe. I started at the beginning and have listened to David, Tim, and Angelina discuss Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, Wodehouse, Kenneth Grahame, Austen, Marilynne Robinson, and Agatha Christie. I’ll be caught up soon; we start reading Howard’s End in January.

For the two people still reading this crazy long post, here is a link to my Goodreads list which includes fabulous food writing, new fiction, mystery, memoirs, and books on architecture, cultural studies, sailing, shepherding, and art.

The Night My Dad Died


My Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer Christmas Eve 1986; he had less than eight weeks left. I got the call, “Come.” I flew out the next day, met my brother Jim and my uncle Bob at Midway airport and drove to Dubuque. My dad was still breathing, six siblings gathered and we sang hymns and watched. A night and day and night and day passed.

Although he was in a coma, Dad hung on, waiting for my brother Dan. When Dan and Val came, we sang, talked to my dad, and took turns napping, no longer able to hold our heads up.

When the nurse told us the end was imminent, Mary Ann (my stepmother), my siblings, and I  stood around his bed. We just had time to say ‘I love you’ when he exhaled his last breath. It was around two in the morning.

We collected our coats and scarves and trooped over to my dad’s house. Witnessing his death was profound; we needed time to process. So we lingered in the living room and told stories. All I remember about the next hour was how loud we guffawed. Every story ended in raucous laughter followed by awkward silence. Nothing was that funny…but laughter was a way to exhale pent-up emotion.

Eventually our need for sleep superseded all others. Down in the basement we lined up borrowed sleeping bags like cord wood: seven siblings and two spouses. Lights went out, we whispered good-nights, and rhythmic breathing began.

Not for me.

All I could think of was that Mary Ann was sleeping alone. We weren’t especially close; our relationship was more wary than warm. But that empty place in the bed beside her became the overarching tragedy in my sleep-deprived mind.

This impulse came to me. You should go sleep next to her.  I didn’t want to. I just wanted this episode over. You should at least offer.

I argued with myself. I might step on my brothers and sisters; the basement was pitch black. Just go and check on her.  I don’t want to!  Go!  No!

Finally, I picked up my pillow and tiptoed across the basement, trod with care up the steps, opened the door, took a breath, and faltered down the hall.

I tapped on her bedroom door and whispered, Mary Ann! Nothing. I took to hissing. Mary Ann! I rapped a little louder, but still no response. In my misguided trajectory, I had to make sure she wasn’t afflicted with insomnia.

I turned the doorknob centimeter by centimeter and bent down by her ear. Mary Ann, do you want me to sleep with you?

Huh? growled a male voice roused awake. He sat up. Yikes! My dad’s bedroom was occupied by Mary Ann’s sister and brother-in-law.  Sorry! I sputtered.

Heart exploding, I skedaddled across the house, danced down the steps, tripped across the room and dove into my sleeping bag, all thoughts of being helpful dissolved.



Tired and Worried


I was new at this [National Geographic journalist], this was my big chance, and I knew I was going to mess up. So, every night, tired and worried, I would climb into my sleeping bag, under my mosquito net, and I would read from my book. And, instantly, I would be in another world, a world in which, whatever happened, it wasn’t my fault.

— Candice Millard, National Book Festival Gala, September 23, 2016

The full context of her remarks