Friday, October 19, 2018

Evergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners


 Evergreen Tidings from the BaumgartnersEvergreen Tidings From the Baumgartners
       I was all set to not like this book.  I thought it would be a quick read full of silly, but thought it was just what I needed after reading a serious book.  Oh, readers, this is full of surprises. Pleasant surprises. Good surprises. And I surprise myself by already passing on the recommendation to friends to read this one.
     Violet Baumgartner has written a Christmas Letter every year for thirty years, ever since she married Dear Ed and thought it was her duty as a new wife.  This immediately made me think of the Christmas Letters we’ve received over the years.  Letters filled with smiles and pats on the back for all good things that happened during the year.  Christmas Letters are the public face of a family, full of twinkly smiles. But for every public face there is a private face and the truth.
     Violet is determined to make her family, Dear Ed and daughter Cerise, shine to the outside world. There is nothing she can’t handle, nothing she won’t do, no committee she won’t chair to make her world and the people in it shine.
     When we meet Violet she is touting the party of all parties for Dear Ed’s retirement from, God love him, research to make colonoscopies more comfortable for us.  At the party Violet receives the news that is definitely going to tarnish the shine and can’t be denied. No smiley public face is going to fix this one. Nothing to do for it but own it. And in owning it Violet needs to discover if she is capable of letting go of some of her control.  Now, if you know a control freak, you know this is no easy thing.
     Violet’s world is inhabited with sometimes funny but very real people who very much really have to learn to navigate around, through or over her. I found myself laughing at Violet’s view of the world and being grateful I wasn’t in her galaxy.
     I absolutely loved this story.  I loved that it changed my mind about my preconceived idea that I would give it little of myself. I ended up really loving being a part of Violet’s world.  But I still don’t like Christmas Letters.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Library Book

The Library BookThe Library Book by Susan Orlean

      The Library Book by Susan Orlean is terrifying to anyone who loves books.  This is the true story of the fire on August 29, 1986 at the Los Angeles Public Library.  A fire that destroyed hundreds of thousands of books, documents, records, you name it, it was there and it was either destroyed or affected by a fire that blazed for seven hours. Fire, smoke, water, none of these things are good for books.

          While the author takes us there, introduces us to staff and even the main suspect, this isn’t a book so technical you don’t want to read it.  Just the opposite, it’s so completely scary, like any fire, you can’t take your eyes off it.
We are introduced to so much more about libraries, about the books, the system, the people, the history of libraries, if you are a book/library lover, you will plow through this book. I did. 
     I know I’m gushing, but this was fascinating. We meet the politicians, the architects, the patrons. We learn the story of libraries as the anchor to communities and of the lengths librarians around the world will go to bring books to people. We meet the early librarians, hear about the many programs begun for the patrons who are homeless and look to the library for warmth and acceptance and a free place to be.
     I loved the author's reflection at the end that you don’t have to take a book off a shelf to know that there is a voice inside that book waiting to speak to you.  And that behind that book there is someone who wrote it and who truly hopes someone will listen.  Her reflection reminded me of when I was working in a school library and read The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore to second graders and in the end one little boy, the one I would have least expected, said, "Oh, I get it!  Books don't come alive until someone reads them!"  That's what libraries are for.  To watch one burn is heart stopping.
    If you are a book person, you'll love this one.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Retreat, retreat, retreat!

 Recently we nine had our fall quilt retreat at the beautiful Inn at the Rustic Gate.  We love this place, the innkeepers, and getting together twice a year here to stitch, reconnect and share what we love. I can't imagine retreating with people other than these or anywhere but this Inn.
 This was our 10th anniversary and PH sent along two bottles of champagne to help us celebrate. In the fall we had five days here.  Five days of pampering, five days of unbelievable meals, five days of peace and quiet, five days of plush, oh, and five days of non-stop sewing if that is what you want.  This year Chef Sharon made a special anniversary meal for us on Saturday night:  beef tenderloin (it was so big I thought it was a brontosaurus tenderloin), mashed potatoes, squash, salad, rolls and a cake she makes for us every year that we adore.

We always hope in the fall that we will have weather that allows us to sit outdoors on the porch for awhile.  This year we had two afternoons where the skies cleared and the sun came out.  Not everyone brings hand work but those of us who covet nice weather in the fall and know the days are numbered do.

 And we all know that even if you wear two pairs of glasses
 you can still have those "dammit" moments.

After dinner on our last evening we have show and tell.  This year we had everything from reworked family heirloom quilts to challenges to door hangings to Christmas trees to rugs.  Me? During stitching time I sit in the corner in my chair with feet propped up hand quilting whatever quilt is currently waiting.  I am within one and a half squares of finishing the crow quilt that is hanging over the railing in the first picture. 

This year we are trying something a little different for a sharing project.  We were to bring a piece of pottery, a dish, a cup, a whatever that means something to us.  We put it in a brown paper bag and sealed it.  Then we chose a bag and revealed the piece within and read the note that we included telling why the piece meant something to us or why we chose it.  
 I picked Vicky's bag and this little red truck was inside.  Vicky collects Christmas village scenes and this truck was the first that she bought because it reminded her of her dad.  By next fall I will have made something that reflects the truck, and in Vicky's case, Christmas.  It has to be no more than 72 inches in perimeter.  If I make a square that's 18 inches square but it can be smaller.  Or rectangle. Or circular. 

So now we keep in touch and about four weeks before our spring retreat we will start getting and sending emails that say simply: "Retreat, retreat, retreat!"

Friday, October 12, 2018


Shell: A NovelShell by Kristina Olsson

     I don’t think there is an iconic image that identifies a place more than the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia.  It wasn’t always so, it wasn’t always accepted.  There was a time when it was just being built and public opinion wasn’t so positive.
     In the mid 1960’s everything was changing. There was a war in Vietnam and Australia was adopting a draft system that, understandably so, was not well received.  Pearl was a reporter embracing the change and protesting in the streets to defend her right to do that, putting her career at risk.  She had a vested interest in not wanting the draft.  Her younger brothers were just the age that would be sent to war.  She hasn’t seen either of them in many years because they ran away from the boarding school they were sent to when their mother died.  Pearl’s guilt in not trying harder for them is making her desperate to do this one thing she feels she CAN do. 
     Axel Lindquist is newly arrived from Sweden and specifically charged with the artistic glass work for the Sydney Opera House. He is under the charge of the architect Jorn Utzon but Utzon hasn’t been seen in awhile.   Axel left Sweden and the shadow of World War II’s effect on the country and Axel and his mother. He is hoping this new country will renew him and his art.
Casting off the shadow of the old giving way to the new, the changing times, the war just ended and the new one gaining strength and a foothold, the new and ultra modern opera house, it can be hard to find your place. 
      The author says that she didn’t write because she knows something, she writes because she doesn’t know and with Shell, she taught me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Clockmaker's Daughter


The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

     There are just a few authors whose work will make me pace in anticipation of an upcoming book.  Kate Morton is one of them so I was thrilled and considered myself very lucky to receive an advance copy of The Clockmaker’s Daughter.  My enthusiasm for Morton's books is a bit like a forgone conclusion that I’ll like it. They are long, detailed, layered through time and characters, and slowly unfold.  The Clockmaker’s Daughter didn’t disappoint me

     Birchwood Manor is a house both unsettling and comforting to whoever possesses it.  Walking in the front door is like being wrapped in a warm blanket and given a comfortable chair, safe from whatever is out there. It happens to everyone but when it happened to Edward Radcliffe in the mid 1800’s he couldn’t forget that feeling and so he bought the house. Through time and now, there is someone watching the house and its visitors. There is a feeling of being talked to by the house, guided somehow.  And there’s the feeling of having been there before.
     Though it could be considered one of the characters in the story this isn’t a story of a house.  It’s the story of Edward Radcliffe, an artist, and Lily Millington, a trained pickpocket, of Lucy Radcliffe, Edward’s youngest sister, and his friends. In the summer of 1862 Edward invites his friends, Lucy and Lily to Birchwood Manor for a month of rest, inspiration and creativity.  Before the month is out there is a murder, Lily disappears and is blamed for all time for stealing a family heirloom belonging to the Radcliffe family.  Edward is inconsolable and thus begins his downfall.
     Through time there have been myths about the house, temporary occupants who also couldn’t shake the feeling of having the house possess their thoughts (in a good way) and who left their stories behind. And now, Elodie, a young archivist discovers a long forgotten photograph and a sketchbook.  She, too, feels the pull of the house and begins searching for the connection between her two finds.    The mystery that travelled through time and waits to be solved isn’t necessarily the one being investigated.
     The presence people feel in the house is the voice that travels through a hundred years and more and tells part of the story, “My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows.”  Edward, Lily, Lucy, the house, and everyone else’s part in the story unfolds like an opening flower - slowly, with purpose and in the end we can sit back with a sigh and enjoy the finish.
     The travel through time might encourage a few “ah ha!” moments but don’t spend your time trying to figure it all out.  Let the story unfold over itself and just enjoy the ride.