February 28, 2007

How to Live in the Heartland

How to Live in the Heartland by Twyla Hansen
Finished 2/22/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)

Poet and horticulturist Twyla Hansen was raised in Northeast Nebraska on land her grandparents farmed in the late 1880's as immigrants from Denmark. Her writing is included in the anthologies Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace, Woven on the Wind, and A Contemporary Reader for Creative Writing, among others. Her Bachelor of Science degree is from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Twyla works and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, where her wooded acre is maintained as an urban wildlife habitat, winning the Mayor's Landscape Conservation Award in 1994. Her poetry has been printed numerous literary journals. (Amazon.com)

I’ve read through this collection of poems (45 in all) twice in the past ten years. There are a couple that resonate with me, but overall I’m pretty ambivalent about the book.

Here’s an example of one I do like:

Chances Are

In the fireplace, early Sunday evening,
new logs hiss and smoke, catch fire –
oak and locust reducing to ash that
later we’ll spread in the garden.

You are drinking cabernet, its aged
burnt-oak tannins sliding downward, I’m
sipping brandy, working its concentrate
and vapors into my bloodstream, we are
floating into the realm of possibility.

Chances are we’ll say very little
to each other tonight, dinner guests gone,
our only child now on his own. All day
your hands have been cutting and fitting
and doweling lovely-grained hardwoods
into the shapes of furniture – quarter-sawn
and walnut – I’ve seen your eyes light
at the very mention of it.

Soon I’ll rise
to soak in bath oils, smooth myself over
sheets fresh off the clothesline, scent of
woodsmoke and moist earth. The room
fuzzes around us, overhead fans spin slow,
cats sprawl sleepy over chairs. Outside –
a clear, navy sky above the city.

So this is where good trees go when they die,
up in flame and ember. Chances are, I’ll say
Come join my hands. Let’s grow old, go out
in style together.

Here’s another that I found from her new book,
Potato Soup. This poem’s for you, Nan!


In the early years she helped her mother plant peels,
carry the dishpan out to the garden, digging holes.
What you eat is what you plant, her mother always said,
that edible tuber common as dirt, a near-daily staple.
One grandmother left potato country long ago for this one,
another immigrated for the promise of more potato land.
As she learned to cook, she began peeling alone at the sink,
sticking a spare slice on her tongue, smell of starch
lingering on her fingers. Mashed, fried, baked on Sundays
for hours, regular as pulsating winds over the plains.
Soon graduating to French fries in sizzling grease, to fermented
spirits of the potato. Beginning with a certain look in an eye,
relying on folklore, that time of the month safe if planted
at night under the expansive and unblinking moon. Grabbling
into the soil around roots to steal an eager potato or two.
She's fond of the skin color, the flesh, textures, exotic flavors.
Moving on to potato-salad years, quick-boiled varieties
from the hot tub. Decades here and gone; potato-love constant.
By now she's concluded it's best on gradual simmer, consolation
accompanying maturity. In the afternoon she saut├ęs onion
and butter, stirs in flour and milk, chops celery, carrot, adds
chicken stock. She thinks of the hour when they'll be eating,
into twilight, of the long night ahead in front of the fire.
Should she throw in something extra, for tang, for play--
a measure of chardonnay? All her life, she thinks, it has come
down to this, bringing the bottle up slow to meet her lips.

February 25, 2007


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 2/16/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Chunkster Challenge #2

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, “Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.

My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I’m a former field hockey goalie, long-standing member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox liturgy, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then another. I’ve been ridiculed by classmates,, guinea-pigged by doctors, palpated by specialists, and researched by the March of Dimes. A redheaded girl from Grosse Point fell in love with me, not knowing what I was. (Her brother liked me, too.) An army tank led me into urban battle once; a swimming pool turned me into myth; I’ve left my body in order to occupy others – and all this happened before I turned sixteen.

And so begins Jeffrey Eugenides’ epic saga (and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize).

Wow. What an extraordinary book. I was captivated from the opening pages and hated when it came to an end. This is a coming-of-age story like nothing you've ever read. Vividly composed of multiple storylines with numerous characters, seamlessly crafted and narrated in an incredibly plausible manner, I continually stopped and wondered how much could be autobiographical; it reads like a beautiful memoir.

I’m not sure what I expected when I began reading, but I do know I was surprised it was so entertaining and mesmerizing. I loved the back-story centered around Calliope’s grandparents and how they met and came to immigrate to America. I loved all the historical details sprinkled throughout the narrative: silk farming, the Greco-Turkish War, the burning of Smyrna in 1922, Detroit during Prohibition, the Nation of Islam and W.D. Fard, and the Detroit Riots in 1967. I found this particular passage quite provocative and wondered if Eugenides had experienced it first-hand (he, too, was born in 1960 and grew up in Detroit):

To live in America, until recently, meant to be far from war. Wars happened in Southeast Asian jungles. They happened in Middle Eastern deserts. They happened, as the old song has it, over there. But then why, peeking out the dormer window, did I see, on the morning after our second night in the attic, a tank rolling by our front lawn? A green army tank, all alone in the long shadows of the morning, its enormous treads clanking against the asphalt. An armor-plated military vehicle encountering no greater obstacle than a lost roller skate. The tank rolled past the affluent homes, the gables and turrets, the porte cocheres. It stopped briefly at the stop sign. The gun turret looked both ways, like a driver’s ed student, and then the tank went on its way.

Another passage that helped set the scene of that particular period in history:

Of all my childhood memories, none has the magic, the pure dreaminess, of the night we heard a honk outside our house and looked out the window to see that a spaceship had landed in our driveway.

It had set down noiselessly next to my mother’s station wagon. The front lights flashed. The back end gave off a red glow. For thirty seconds nothing more happened. But then finally the window of the spaceship slowly retracted to reveal, instead of a Martian inside, Milton. He had shaved off his beard.

‘Get your mother,’ he called, smiling. ‘We’re going for a little ride.’

Not a spaceship then, but close: a 1967 Cadillac Fleetwood, as intergalactic a car as Detroit ever produced. (The moon shot was only a year away.) …

There has been lively discussion among fellow lit-bloggers regarding the merit of overzealous hype (deserved or undeserved) of recent book releases, leading me to consider my response to Jeffrey Eugenides' second novel. I knew absolutely nothing about Middlesex or its author prior to picking up the book early this month. I can’t even remember what prompted me to purchase it, but I’m sure it was based on someone’s glowing review (most likely a friend’s, since I rarely read book reviews prior to reading the book). I’m only vaguely familiar with Eugenides’ debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, but haven’t gotten around to reading it, nor have I seen the movie. (You can be sure I’ll do both now.) Middlesex was published in 2002, so whatever rave reviews followed its initial release slipped under my radar. Perhaps that's a good thing. Would I have found more enjoyment in The Thirteenth Tale had I waited until 2011 to read it? Perhaps. On the other hand, what about The Book Thief? Disregarding the hype, would I have simply forgotten to buy a copy and missed out on one of the best books ever? I’d like to believe that the quality of a great book lies simply in the author’s ability to educate and entertain. Whatever the case may be, I’m thrilled to have finally read Middlesex, as it did just that. This is so much more than a novel about genetic mutation. It's a marvelous, epic tale that shouldn't be missed.


The More It Snows by A.A. Milne

The more it snows ~~
tiddely pom,
The more it goes ~~
tiddely pom,
The more it goes ~~
tiddely pom
On snowing ~~

And nobody knows~~
tiddely pom ,
How cold my toes ~~
tiddely pom,
Are growing.

Yep, we got more snow yesterday. It started falling around 6 pm and was absolutely gorgeous. Huge, heavy wet flakes. As we were standing in the kitchen getting things ready for dinner, we heard a long, low rumbling. Thundersnow! Poor Frankie didn't know what to make of that. He's never heard thunder until now.

It's still cloudy and very windy this morning, but the trees look absolutely gorgeous draped in their long white snowy robes. I doubt we got more than 3-4" (so much for the blizzard warning), but it rained all day before the snow arrived, so I suspect the roads are treacherous. We'll stay inside where it's cozy and, yes, I'll get those book reviews written that I promised last week.

February 23, 2007

Tall Pine Polka

Tall Pine Polka by Lorna Landvik
Contemporary Fiction
Quit on 2/7/07
Rating: DNF
2007 TBR Challenge (incomplete)

Book Description

In the small town of Tall Pine, Minnesota, at the Cup O’Delight Cafe, the townsfolk gather for what they call the Tall Pine Polka, an event in which heavenly coffee, good food, and that feeling of being alive among friends inspires both body and soul to dance. There’s the cafe owner, the robust and beautiful Lee O’Leary, who escaped to the northwoods from an abusive husband; Miss Penk and Frau Katt, the town’s only lesbian couple (“Well, we’re za only ones who admit it.”); Pete, proprietor of the Shoe Shack, who spends nights crafting beautiful shoes to present to Lee, along with his declarations of love; Mary, whose bad poetry can clear out the cafe in seconds flat; and, most important of all, Lee’s best friend, Fenny Ness, a smart and sassy twenty-two-year-old going on eighty.

When Hollywood rolls into Tall Pine to shoot a movie, and a handsome musician known as Big Bill appears on the scene, Lee and Fenny find their friendship put to the test, as events push their hearts in unexplored directions—where endings can turn into new beginnings. . .

I suppose everyone's entitled to an off day. Or an off book. After struggling through 116 pages (out of 440), I decided to call it quits. I simply didn't care for the story, and none of the characters appealed to me. If anything, they annoyed me. Not to mention the unrealistic dialogue and ridiculous number of asides. (I know, I know. I'm guilty of that myself.)

I've enjoyed most of Landvik's novels and gave Oh My Stars a perfect A+ rating last spring. Patty Jane's House of Curl, Your Oasis on Flame Lake, and Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons are also some of my favorites (the latter of which made my Top Ten for 2004 with a perfect rating of 5/5). But still, I wasn't terribly eager to read this one since I'd heard several negative comments about it and it's been sitting in one of my bookcases for quite a while. When it came time to put together my list for the 2007 TBR Challenge, I thought it was high time to give Tall Pine Polka a chance. Oh, well. One more to take to the used book store next week.

February 22, 2007

A Stranger's House

A Stranger's House by Bret Lott
Contemporary Fiction
Quit on 2/17/07
Rating: DNF
2007 TBR Challenge (incomplete)

Book Description

For a long time, Claire and Tom Templeton have wished in vain for a child. What they have instead is a house, a charming old Cape that is their consolation. In the gray chill of a Massachusetts autumn, the Templetons and two local handymen, loners and eccentrics, work to rebuild the ramshackle home. As the house takes on a new life, Claire begins to understand its tangled history -- and to reconcile her own past and renew her hope for the future.

I really have nothing to say about this book. I didn't even make it to my 50-page cut off requirement, quitting after 42 pages. There is something very bleak and sinister about this novel. I enjoyed Jewel several years ago, but this book is heading off to the used book store. I think the evil rabbit was the final straw for this reader. Shudder.

Pulitzer Prize Winners

Several months ago I came across a list of the Pulitzer Prize winners and was shocked that I'd read so many of the winning novels. As luck would have it, I've read exactly 13 from the list.

1. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1921) - Loved it

2. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (1932) - Loved it

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1940) - Loved it

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1961) - Loved it

5. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (1973) - Ho-hum

6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1983) - Very good

7. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1988) - Very good

8. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1992) - Quite good

9. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1995) - OK

10. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1999) - Loved it

11. Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2002) - Very good

12. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (2003) - Loved it (review to follow)

13. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949) - (drama category) - OK

Anyone care to make any predictions for this year's winner (in fiction)?

From the official Pulitzer Prize website:

2007 Pulitzer Prizewinners and Nominated Finalists will be announced on Monday, April 16, 2007 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern daylight time. The announcement will be posted online at 3:15 p.m. Finalists are not announced in advance.

February 19, 2007

Deep in the Green

Deep in the Green: An Exploration of Country Pleasures by Anne Raver
Finished on 2/13/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

The best way to get real enjoyment out of the garden is
to put on a wide straw hat, hold a little trowel in one hand
and a cool drink in the other, and tell the man where to dig.
Charles Barr

My name is Lesley and I’m a horticultural fraud. As much as I admire beautiful gardens, overflowing with colorful plants and decorative yard ornaments, I’ve come to realize that I don’t enjoy gardening nearly as much as cooking or reading. I don’t pore over seed catalogs during the dreary, dark, cold winter nights. I’ve never ordered ladybugs, praying mantis eggs, Japanese beetle traps, or cricket manure. (Cricket manure? Who knew?!) The closest I get to manure is when I come across a lovely little pile of poop left behind by a stray cat (or maybe it’s courtesy of the neighborhood possum). I don’t have a compost pile (shame on me) and I’ve only made one attempt (a complete failure) at germinating seeds. Other than an occasional effort to fertilize with a Miracle Grow canister attached to a garden hose, I’m really quite clueless when it comes to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Who can keep all those numbers straight? Was it 10-20-10 or 30-30-30? Oh, wait, isn’t that for motor oil? My garden philosophy is this: Dig a hole (or better yet, get strong, burly husband to dig a hole), dump some amended dirt from bag purchased from nursery (don't get me started on paying for dirt) in freshly dug hole, transplant healthy-looking plant, water, mulch. Open a cold beer (preferably a Shiner Bock) and hope for the best. If it doesn’t survive the elements (it gets very hot and windy here during the summer months) in spite of my watering and weeding regime, it simply wasn’t meant to be. I’m not going to spend a lot of time or energy (or money) on something that goes into seclusion for almost half the year.

All of that said, I was thrilled to receive Deep in the Green for my birthday this past year from a dear friend (and superb gardener). The cover is quite lovely, with a photograph of a rather fluffy feline perched on a stone wall. He looks rather regal, as though he’s admiring the beautiful perennial garden pictured.

From the author’s introduction:

This book isn’t so much about gardening as it is about making connections – to all the plants and creatures that populate the earth. It’s about noticing things, from the fish in a neighbor’s pond lying belly up after some pesticide truck sprayed the trees, to a line of lifeless sycamore on a street that was showered with salt to melt the ice of an endless winter.

It’s about the joy of obsession. Of gardeners who speak in loving tones to giant squashes and melons, and demand that their newspaper’s garden columnist ride from one end of the kingdom to the other to identify some mysterious weed. It’s about friends – who drive hundreds of miles to pull weeds and dig up bushes on the old family farm, and joyfully take over the kitchen to bake pies and make pesto and sit around the table drinking wine long after a proper farmer would be in bed.

And this is why I enjoyed the essays as much as I did. They aren’t all about gardening. Several are devoted to the author’s love and affection toward her father (Growing Old), her mother (One Life to Live), her dog, Molly (The Love of a Dog and My Old Dog), and her cat, Mr. Grey (Game for a Cat).

All 59 essays (each approximately four to five pages in length) were originally published in The New York Times and Newsday between 1985 and 1994. Rather than falling asleep mid-sentence while reading my current novel, I savored a few of Raver’s essays every night before turning out the light. I also enjoyed reading one or two before starting in on a new novel. A sort of palate cleanser, if you will.

A favorite passage:

It’s important to have a sense of place. To feel that you belong somewhere, to feel committed. For some people, place begins with another person and everything – from friends to the Japanese maple in the yard – grows from that. But sometimes, it works the other way. You find a place where you belong. And the people find you. Gathering mussels, picking beans, eating blackberry pie.

While not quite as good as Dominique Browning's Around the House and in the Garden, Deep in the Green is a delightful book that demands little from its reader and calls for future re-reads. Until such time, I’ll add it to the stack of reading material on our guest room nightstand. It’s perfect for a random perusal and I even have a fluffy feline to help set the mood.

February 16, 2007

We Will Remember You

In the rising of the sun and in its going down,
we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength,
we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart,
we remember them.
When we have joys we yearn to share,
we remember them.
So long as we live, they too shall live,
for they are now a part of us, as
we remember them.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,
we remember them.
In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring,
we remember them.
In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer,
we remember them.
In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn,
we remember them.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends,
we remember them.
From the Rabbi's Manual

And on her 26th birthday,
we remember her.

Rachel Elizabeth Scher
February 17, 1981 - May 28, 2005

February 13, 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. I can't believe how quickly the time has flown since I first posted my review for Barbara Kingsolver's Small Wonder.

It's been quite a year of emotional healing. I owe a lot to all my new friends who share my joy of reading (and kitties, inclement weather, cooking, gardening and random musings). I love reading all your comments and visiting your blogs.

I'm thankful for the warmth of friendship I've discovered within the blogging community and treasure each and every one of you. I look forward to many more years of writing and fellowship.


February 12, 2007


Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Young Adult Fiction
Finished on 2/1/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Gr. 9-12. In the tradition of Anne Rice and YA titles such as Annette Curtis Klause's The Silver Kiss (1999) comes this heady romance that intertwines Bella Swan's life with that of Edward, an alluring and tormented vampire. Bella's life changes when she moves to perpetually rain-soaked Forks, Washington. She is instantly drawn to a fellow student, Edward Cullen, beautiful beyond belief and angrily aloof. Bella senses there is more behind Edward's hostility, and in a plot that slowly and frighteningly unfolds, she learns that Edward and his family are vampires--though they do not hunt humans. Yet Edward cannot promise that his powerful attraction to Bella won't put in her in danger, or worse. Recklessly in love, Bella wants only to be with Edward, but when a vicious, blood-lusting predator complicates her world, Bella's peril is brutally revealed. This is a book of the senses: Edward is first attracted by Bella's scent; ironically, Bella is repelled when she sees blood. Their love is palpable, heightened by their touches, and teens will respond viscerally. There are some flaws here--a plot that could have been tightened, an overreliance [sic] on adjectives and adverbs to bolster dialogue--but this dark romance seeps into the soul.

In the past few years or so, I’ve come across some exceptional books written for young adults: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and, of course, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. All of these novels are thought-provoking, imaginative, and filled with beautiful and memorable prose. Their endearing characters, smooth dialogue and suspenseful plots lead to an enjoyable reading experience for all readers, young and old alike.

While I don’t generally read a lot of Young Adult fiction, it’s not a genre I’m adverse to, either. That said, I can’t think of the last time I perused the shelves in the teen section of a bookstore or library. Now that I no longer work in a bookstore, I’ve come to rely on my fellow booklovers to pique my interest and lead me to the gems of the genre. Twilight probably would have slipped under my radar had it not been for the glowing reviews by Heather, Andi, Sassymonkey, Stephanie, and Sheri. (Forgive me if I’ve forgotten someone.) I was a little worried about all the hype, especially after my disappointment in The Thirteenth Tale, but The Book Thief had considerable hype and it wound up being my number one read for 2006.

In spite of its 498 pages (albeit in a large font, resulting in fewer lines of text per page than a similar-sized adult book), I zipped through Twilight fairly quickly. I suspect it can be read over a weekend, if not a single day, but I wanted to savor the story and forced myself to make it last a bit longer. This was quite an entertaining debut novel and I was spellbound from the get-go. However, I do have a couple of quibbles. Typical of many teen novels, Meyer utilizes the “new kid in school” device to set the stage and present a conflict between the various characters. I didn’t mind this so much, but I did feel as if she allowed the initial build-up between Edward and Bella to go on a bit longer than necessary. Perhaps the long drawn-out tension works well with a young audience, but I found it a bit tiresome (almost to the point of annoyance) and felt it hindered the momentum of the action. Not necessarily plodding, but just enough to make me mutter, “Alright, already. Get on with it!” Once a declaration of true feelings was expressed by the main characters, my interest resumed, most notably with a fascination for the imaginative details described within the narrative. I ceased to suspend disbelief and quite honestly began to believe (in a remote manner, if that makes any sense at all) that vampires can exist, living in the overcast, rainy environment of northern Washington state, attending high school, practicing medicine and enjoying the all-American favorite pastime of baseball. Hey, why not? Ok, so I really don’t believe in vampires (or invisibility cloaks, for that matter), but Meyer draws her reader in to a world where it’s easy to believe in the unbelievable. Surprisingly, I had more trouble believing a high school student could be such a klutz than I did in buying into the likelihood of vampires. The constant reminder of Bella’s clumsiness was another distraction to my reading pleasure. Petty? Perhaps. But when I start to notice this sort of thing and it disrupts the flow of the narrative, I latch on to it like a dog with a bone and just can’t let it go. It just bugs me, and it makes that "willing suspension of disbelief" more difficult.

While not a work of great literature (and not one in which I found a single passage to quote!), Twilight is an entertaining read and I look forward to more in the series (New Moon is currently available and Eclipse won’t be far behind). Movie rights have been optioned and the author has a great list of her favorite actors for the various roles (not that she gets to choose, of course, but it’s fun to look at the possibilities). While trolling the Internet for information on the book, I was astounded by the plethora of fan sites and merchandise related to the series. It appears to have quite a following and I suspect the word-of-mouth endorsements (in both secondary schools and colleges) isn’t hurting any, either.

February 11, 2007

My Desk (Part II)

Remember this nice neat desk from Monday's post?

Well... this...

is how it usually looks during the week! I try to tidy it up on the weekend so I can write without any distractions. If I have too much junk on my desk, I can't concentrate. So, time to clean up. I have a couple of non-book-related things I want to blog about (in addition to an over-due book review).

But first I need to sample a piece of Lemon Chocolate Cake that I just took out of the oven (recipe courtesy of Cornflower)!

February 8, 2007

Big M, Little M, What Begins With M?

The lovely Bellezza tagged me for this meme almost a month ago! I didn't actually forget about it (no, really!), but wanted to use it for a Thursday Thirteen (even though the official meme only requires ten items). Today is the first opportunity I've had to put together my list. Sorry for the delay, Bellezza!

The idea is pretty simple. I'm supposed to list ten things I like that start with my assigned letter (M). I've been jotting down ideas over the past few weeks, hoping to keep the list book-related. No such luck. So, this will be a "getting to know me" meme.

1. Music: I love music! I usually listen to cds in my car, as I really dislike the radio with all its DJ chit-chat and silly morning shows. I listen to my iPod when I go for walks on the bike trail (weather permitting!) and when I'm puttering around in my kitchen, fixing a meal or cleaning up. The only time I don't care to listen to music is while I'm reading (unless it's Classical music; anything with lyrics is too distracting). I enjoy pretty much any type of music, with the exception of rap and heavy metal. I currently have 3,528 songs on my iPod. I guess that tells you something! Some favorite artists are John Hiatt, Van Morrison, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lyle Lovett, Neil Young, Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Michelle Shocked, Pablo Casals, Trisha Yearwood, Frank Sinatra, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, James Taylor... and on and on I could go!

2. Mahjong: No, not the computer version, but the real deal. My grandparents used to play and I think I learned (along with my cousins) one summer while visiting their beach house in Leucadia, California. I'm not sure how old I was, maybe seven or eight. I remember sitting in the living room at one of two card tables, learning all the terminology (pung, chow, kong, going to the wall, etc.). I loved the feel of the smooth tiles in my hand and the clacking sound they made as we built a new wall.

My grandfather was a pilot for Pan American Airlines, but he spent a lot of his free time working in his wood shop, carving or building beautiful pieces of furniture. In addition to my parents' Mahjong set, I also own the four beautiful wood racks my grandfather made to hold each player's set of tiles. Unfortunately, I don't get to play this lively game very often. I get together to play with a few friends a couple of times a year, but since it's not one of my husband's most favorite games, we don't play with our regular dinner guests (although, sometimes the promise of one of his favorite desserts will tempt him enough to play two or three hands).

3. Massage: I absolutely love getting a massage. I've only had maybe two dozen or so, but could easily go for one once a month, if not once a week! Too bad they're so expensive. I just can't bring myself to splurge on $60 (plus tip) for one hour of relaxation.

4. Mexican food: I never get tired of enchiladas, taquitos, carne asada burritos, nachos, rice & beans, guacamole and, of course, Margaritas. Yum!

5. Manners: Call me old-fashioned, but good manners are very important to me. I don't understand why it's so difficult for people to remember to say "please" and "thank you." I also don't know why "you're welcome" has vanished from common usage. It seems like whenever I say "thanks," all I hear is "mm-hmm." I suppose that little acknowledgment is better than nothing. Don't even get me started on thank you notes (or the lack thereof!).

6. Mail: Speaking of thank you notes, there is nothing more uplifting than peeking in our mailbox to discover a hand-addressed envelope from a friend or relative. You've got mail! As addicted as I am to email and blog comments, I love getting a real letter. One of my best friends and I used to write long, long chatty letters every 3-6 months and it was so wonderful to curl up on the couch with a cup of hot tea (in a pretty china cup, of course) and catch up on her life. My mom and I also used to write to each other this way (as did my grandmother and I), but now we either send emails or talk on the phone. I have to admit, I do like the immediacy of that form of communication, but I still like the surprise of a note with magazine and newspaper clippings that she has so thoughtfully sent off to me. I also enjoy receiving pretty note cards from friends thanking me for a dinner party, book, birthday gift or simply to say hello.

7. Maker's Mark: My husband introduced me to bourbon several years ago and my favorite cocktail is a Whiskey Sour.

8. MINICooper: I bought my red Mini three years ago this month. I love it as much now as the day I drove it home. It gets great gas mileage (30 in town, 40+ on the Interstate), is easy to wash, gets around just fine in the snow and has more interior space than you'd think. I wanted to get the Canadian Flag emblem on the roof, but I would've had to give up the sunroof and I wasn't about to do that!

9. Maple Trees: I love autumn. Crisp, cool nights. Flannel shirts. Hot chocolate. Soups and stew. Blankets piled high on the bed. But most of all, I love to see the leaves turn, especially those of the Sugar Maple. To me, that's what fall is all about, the falling leaves.

10. Movies: We never watch regular television, but we do rent a lot of movies (and TV series) from Netflix. Some favorites are: Band of Brothers, Lord of the Rings, You've Got Mail, Fargo, Almost Famous, Amelie, Minority Report, The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, Howard's End, Cold Mountain, Spanglish, Frida, and Heat. As with music and books, this list could go on forever!

11. Mixer: I love my KitchenAid mixer. Next to reading, I love to cook. I can't imagine using a hand mixer (or even a different brand stand mixer). I've had my almond-cream colored Classic model since 1981 and it still works just as well as it did 25 years ago! Every year I think it'd be nice to get a new one, maybe for my birthday or Christmas, but it seems kind of silly to ask for something that expensive simply because I want a pretty new one in a different color (probably Hunter Green).

12. Motherhood: I gave birth to my beautiful daughter when I was fairly young. She was born three days before my 22nd birthday. A few months after her birth, I became a single parent (after two-and-a-half years of marriage to her father). It was a rough time for me, but I had a life to live and a daughter to raise. I couldn't wallow in self-pity for too long. I have so many wonderful memories of the past 23 years as a mother, but I think those are private and not something I want to share in this blog. Suffice it to say I love my daughter and couldn't be more proud of the lovely young woman she's become.

13. Mawidge: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. I feel very fortunate to not only be married to my best friend, but to be married to such a good man. He is truly my better half. He's one of the most intelligent people I know (although I have beat him at Trivial Pursuit and chess a couple of times!). He's got a great (dry) sense of humor, loves animals, is patient and forgiving, is a true and reliable friend, and is well-liked by all who know him. Like me, he's a voracious reader and doesn't mind living in a house surrounded by stack and stacks of books. He's a quiet, gentle soul and the love of my life.

So there you have it. Now back to books!