Happy Trails

One of my favorite fantasies is that I pack one suitcase and throw it into the back seat of my vintage Cadillac convertible with the top down and I drive off into the sunset. On a more practical version, I am driving my small five- door hatchback, formerly known as a station wagon, so I have more room. It has been interesting to sort out exactly what I value enough to take with me. What I have learned about myself is that I must love chairs because they are taking center stage on my list. A further look around my house totally confirms this discovery. My furniture purchases over the past two years have been the addition of four wooden chairs. However, these new acquisitions do not make it into the car. Number one on my list of chairs to take is my “youth chair.” It is meant to bridge the gap between using a high chair and using a regular chair. I used it when I was young and so did my children. I can clearly remember eating supper in the summer and a couple of neighborhood kids came to the door to see if my sister and I could come out to play. Through the screen door they made some comment about my “high chair.” I was furious that I was being teased and I indignantly stood up and set them straight about the nature of a “youth chair.” My next chair is an oak mission-style chair that belonged to my Mom and Dad. The last chair is what I call a “legal” chair that I purchased at a garage sale. Now it’s time to fill in the nooks and crannies of my car with the following: photographs, framed pictures, my children’s art work from when they were small, one suitcase, my Fiestaware and about ten books from my bookshelf. Peter Walsh, the clean-up guru would be so proud of me. His books include:

Lighten up: love what you have, have what you need, be happier with less.
Enough already!: clearing mental clutter to become the best you can be.
Does this clutter make my butt look fat?: an easy plan for consuming less and living more.

Author Randy O. Frost:
Stuff: compulsive hoarding and the meaning of things.

Author Robin Zasio:
The hoarder in you: how to live a happier, healthier uncluttered life.


Pedal pushers and Clam Diggers and Capris, oh my!

My upbringing took place in Southwestern Ohio. I grew up in a town where Mabley and Carew, Shillito’s, and Pogue’s were my choice of department stores. My college education brought me up to Northern Ohio. I was surprised that different cities had different department stores. What is Halle’s? Who is Higbee’s? Having settled in Northern Ohio some of my expressions continue to surprise my friends. In Northern Ohio people who live back in the hills are called hillbillies. In my hometown hillbillies were referred to as “brier hoppers”, “hill jacks” or “ridge runners.” One of the most talked about terms as an adult has been the name for the strip of grass and trees between the sidewalk and curb. In Northern Ohio “tree lawn” is what I hear the most. The term in SW Ohio is “park strip.” Akron, Ohio refers to that space as a “devil strip.” There is a wonderful reference work that is called The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). The dictionary is based on face-to-face interviews with 2,777 people between 1960 and 1970 and a collection of print and electronic materials. The questionnaires are not designed to record standard American English. Instead the focus is on regional vocabulary that varies from one part of the country to another. Each volume of the dictionary has been published, not on a schedule but when it has been ready: Volume I (1985), Volume II (1991), Volume III (1996), Volume IV (2002), and Volume V (2012). The sixth volume will appear in early 2013, with an electronic edition following in the fall, and I can’t wait to see what other colloquialisms appear!

If somebody gives you a very sharp scolding you might say, “I certainly got a donkey barbecue for that.” (Volume 2)

Drag a lot of water means you are a person of consequence or importance. (Volume 2)

Fuddle-britches – a wisecracker or a smart aleck or a practical joker. (Volume 2)

The volumes of this dictionary are fascinating and a lot of fun. When I start looking at them the time flies. Hopefully you will “give them a whirl.”


Calendar Girls

As a girl I was given a “February Angel” for my birthday, which has traveled with me through the decades. I also remember my sister’s “November Angel.” It was lost and later replaced. In the early 1980’s I began going to garage sales. One day I found a girl angel for October and a boy angel for July. With that discovery I was off and running, looking for other figurines. Two different companies NAPCO and LEFTON produced their own version of inexpensive, ceramic figurines. Both of these companies created more than one line of figurines and pretty soon I was collecting them all. Over the years I have passed on individual angels to friends and family. I did decide to keep building one set that I felt would keep me looking for a while. The description will sound a little strange but they are very cute. The “flower” girls are each portrayed with a single bloom hat. The type of flower is matched with the month that girl is representing. The hem of their skirt is decorated with blooms sitting next to each other. Each girl is holding a white sign that has the name of their month written in cursive. Each one is posed a little differently but November and December have the cutest poses of them all. I found the first one of this series in a nearby antique shop. She is the month of March and she is portrayed with daffodils. I was immediately hooked. My collecting frenzy sent me to the nearest library to look for books that would show what each company had produced. Lefton China Company has a couple of books by Loretta DeLozier . NAPCO (originally a Cleveland Company) did not have a book at the time but eventually one was published by Kathleen Deel. These books can still be found in the nonfiction collection of some libraries. I found them very helpful. Over the years I found 10 of the flower girls. I was missing November (my sister’s month) and June (my Mom’s month). Somewhere along the way I found November. Last Saturday I went into a small store in Lakewood and I found June. I am delighted and I just had to share.


25 Books I have on My Bookshelf

Moving from one home to another is not much fun. It is probably the only time that I don’t like books. Somewhere in the past few years I purchased one freestanding vertical metal bookshelf for the next time that I move. A friend of mine had one and its unique style and simplicity appealed to me. It will fit in my downsized future abode. There will be only one bookshelf. What makes it onto the bookshelf has been edited over the years. The final edit will be just before I move. As of today its contents from top to bottom are; A vintage copy of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Robert Sabuda’s  pop-up book of Alice in Wonderland, a signed copy of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, an old book of campfire songs, Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon, Planet Janet by Dyan Sheldon, Papa’s Daughter, Mama’s Way, Papa’s Wife  and Dear Papa by Thyra Ferre’ Bjorn – a gift from a dear friend , A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, four of my childhood Dr. Seuss books, Edison iPod: Protect Your Ideas and Make Money by Frederick W. Mostert, Perfect Balance: Robert Greene’s Breakthrough Program for Finding the Lifelong Hormonal Health You Deserve, Folly by Laurie R. King, How Not To Get Taken Every Time by Remar Sutton – a car buying manual, The Glorious Indian Summer of 1995 by Russell Schneider, Being Genuine by Thomas D’Ansembourg, 5o Years From Today by Mike Wallace, a home owner’s record book, and last but not least – Mothers – a Loving Celebration.


Top Ten of 2011

Wow! What a year it has been. My daughter got married. I lost my VW Beetle in a car accident and I had to learn how to navigate with a broken foot. Below is the list of the books that became: a great escape, or felt like a visit from an old friend, or made me laugh, or taught me something.

Daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope

The Call by Yannick Murphy

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress

Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (my Young Adult book)

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

A Bad Day for Scandal by Sophie Littlefield


Random Favorites

After you read through the following list I hope it will give you a springboard to think of your own fiction titles and you own categories that you will share with a friend. There are so many ways to find books but I still find my best recommendations are “word of mouth.”

 Brave Irene by William Steig is my favorite children’s book.

My favorite teen book is Holes by Louis Sacher.

Fortunes Rocks  by Anita Shreve and A Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon are two of my favorite adult works of fiction.

It’s hard to believe that The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Help by Kathryn Stockett are debut novels.

Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King is my favorite war-related book.

A quirky book that is worth reading is The Girl I Used To Be by David Christofano.

The best book dealing with all sides of Teenage Pregnancy is Girls in Trouble by Caroline Leavit.

An author that I believe deserves a larger readership is Kaye Gibbons.

A strong work of historical fiction that was overlooked by readers is The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvavi.

Two books that had my undivided attention from the first page are – American, America by Ethan Canin and The Help by Kathryn Stockett.

The book I’ve been recommending lately is The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard.


The Tip of the Iceberg

Southern Fiction is big. It is longer, wider, and deeper than this blog posting. Recently, Vanity Fair magazine published a two-page photograph of some Southern women authors. They chose: Sheri Joseph, Susan Rebecca White, Karin Slaughter, Amanda Gable, Joshilyn Jackson, Natasha Trethewey, Emily Giffin, Jessica Handler and Kathryn Stockett. According to the magazine these women “write fearlessly about the region’s troubled legacies of race, class, gender and sexuality.”

From my experience as a reader, I have my own list of favorite Southern authors. Mark Childress is the author who reached out and grabbed me with Crazy in Alabama. I have also enjoyed One Mississippi and Georgia Bottoms, his newest book. Crazy in Alabama starts my imaginary shelf of must-read Southern fiction and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help finishes it. In between these two books are more titles that I would recommend: Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman, The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc by Loraine Despres, The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall, Miss Julia Speaks her Mind by Ann B. Ross, The Heaven of Mercury by Brad Watson, Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski, The Last Girls by Lee Smith, On Account of Conspicuous Women by Dawn Shamp, Whistlin’ Dixie in a Nor’easter: A Novel by Lisa Patton and most recently Sweet Jiminy by Kristin Gore. Enjoy!


Taking the Trash Out

Librarians love books and love reading. We also love to talk about books and give out recommendations. A few years ago I was standing next to one of our more exuberant librarians, when a patron approached and asked her “What are you reading?” I was interested in what she would say because “word of mouth” is sometimes the best source for discovering worthwhile books.  Her one word reply was “trash.” I was dumbfounded and yet I loved the answer. If Donna was able to claim her trash, anybody could, including me.

 Acceptable Risk by Robin Cook was a paperback I found in a rented beach house while on vacation. I decided to read it because I was on vacation and who would ever know? Published in 1994, the book was probably prompted by the popularity of Prozac. As a medical thriller, I knew something would have to go wrong and it did. However, I did not expect people to turn into something beastly at night and kill innocent bystanders as a side-effect of a new antidepressant. This book deserved to be put in the trash bin.

Overall I do think that “trash” should be helpful. I find that after a day of work when I go home I need a simple distraction to unwind.  Sometimes I take home “those magazines” and read what truly is trash and I love every minute of it. Watching trash sometimes does the trick. Usually I watch an episode of Law & Order which I do not consider trash but last week it wasn’t really helping me relax so I decided to look for another program. The Real Housewives of Orange County was on! Perfect! After an hour of catching up with Vicki, Tamra, Alexis and Gretchen I felt so much better and I was able to have a productive evening.

You may not have crossed the line into the world of trash. I avoided it most of my life but now that I see its value, I laugh about my unexpected transformation.


The Name Game


Naming a child is serious business. You hope to pick a name that you will like and that they will like. It’s also good to think about the nicknames that could crop up.  Most importantly you hope that the name will stand the test of time. In the past six months three of my daughter’s friends have had daughters of their own. I love to hear what the parents have named their baby and yet, just before I find out,  I almost want to hold my breath. Naming children is not as predictable as it used to be. Their names are Avery, Phoebe and Shelby.

Naming a book is also serious business. A title can influence whether a book is read or purchased. In recent years The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows has been the best tongue twister we have heard requested in a long time. “Who is the author?” hasn’t been much help. I can see people saying “Oh, never mind!” if communicating becomes more difficult, which would be a shame because The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is a gem of a book. After reading the book you can’t imagine it having any other title,  just as I can’t imagine my children with any other names.

One-word titles have their place as well. Choke by Stuart Woods and Away by Amy Bloom are a couple of examples. I recently met a library patron who told me that “Duck”, “Dodge” and “Hide” were the names of her boys. Their given names are William, Robert and David. Using nicknames for them did simplify things when needed. Titles can show emotion and can pull the reader in as much as the cover of the book. My favorite example is The Grace That Keeps This World by Tom Bailey. I read this book because of the title. Sometimes humor will be used in a title. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan or My Sister From the Black Lagoon by Laurie Fox come to mind. Authors can sometimes come up with the wrong title. In 1999 I chose to read Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski. The two words were tall and covered the entire front cover. I could not convince anybody to read this book. Eddie’s Bastard was his first book,  and it is a very good book, definitely worth reading. I had no luck and I felt it was because this book had the wrong title.Now the book has a more welcoming cover, with the same title and it was published as a Nook choice in 2009. Some titles are just meant to capture your attention. Two of my favorites are Big Bad Wolf (perfection) by James Patterson and Tick Tock by James Patterson. Can’t you just see that crocodile waiting for his chance to grab Captain Hook? What are some of your favorite titles?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         — Janet

Teeeeeeeeeeeeerrific 10 of 2010

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman – In this debut novel twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is left to care for her mentally ill mother while her father escapes through his job as a traveling salesman. When CeeCee’s mother dies CeeCee is rescued by her Great Aunt Tootie and whisked away to Savannah, Georgia where the rest of her life begins.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson – Widower Major Ernest Pettigrew of Edgecombe St. Mary, England is living a quiet yet proper life six years after the loss of his wife. On the day the Major finds out that his brother Bertie has died, his chance encounter with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, sets the stage for this delightful story.

Fragile Beasts by Tawni O’Dell – From the bullfighting ring in Spain in the 1950’s to a coal mining town in Pennsylvania in the 2000s, this novel brings two fractured families together in an unlikely story of personal hardship and redemption.

Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff – A chance encounter leads to a passionate love affair between upper class Lily Davis Woodward and Italian immigrant Jake Russo.

The Red Thread by Ann Hood – Following the freak accident that kills her baby daughter, Maya Lange starts an adoption agency that brings together Chinese baby girls with American families.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult – Eighteen-year-old Jacob Hunt has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. He is highly intelligent but socially inept. His mother, Emma, spends most of her time as an advocate for Jacob. As a result, Theo, her youngest son, gets less attention. As the reader you will get to know and love this family, especially Jacob.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third and final book in the  fabulous, young adult  Hunger Games trilogy. It is a worthy conclusion. (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – In the futuristic Gulf Coast area of America, Nailer, a teenaged boy leads a day-to-day existence stripping copper from old, grounded oil tankers. After a hurricane Nailer discovers a wrecked clipper ship full of valuables and a beautiful young girl, which may lead Nailer to a better life. (young adult adventure)

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard – The Planks and the Dickersons are two families that are as different as night and day. They are united by the fact that their daughters were born on July 4th of the same year in the same hospital. This connection develops into an annual, uncomfortable tradition of the Planks visiting the Dickersons. The story ends with a stunning revelation that explains all that has gone before.

Nemesis  by Philip Roth – is the story of the polio epidemic as it invades Weequahic, New Jersey in the stifling hot summer of 1944 and how it affects both the healthy and the stricken throughout their lives. Memorable.