February 28, 2019

Called It Quits

All four of these novels came highly recommended by several respected bloggers. I was thrilled to find them at the library earlier in the month and was eager to settle in for some great reading. Sadly, each and every one of these books failed to capture my attention. I even set one aside to try again later, but once I resumed reading it a week later, it continued to disappoint. Back to the library they went. On the plus side, I didn't waste any money. #lovemylibrary

February 27, 2019

Coming Soon - The Starless Sea

I listened to The Night Circus in 2012 (reviewed here) and thought it was a beautifully crafted and imaginative tale about love and illusions. As it often happens, I forgot all about the author until I recently read a glowing review of Morgenstern's debut novel, which got me to wondering if she had written any other books. Lo and behold, I stumbled on this article from Entertainment Weekly:

Erin Morgenstern is finally ready for her encore.

The best-selling author of The Night Circus will next publish The Starless Sea, a sweeping new novel interweaving romantic and fantastical elements, in late 2019, EW can announce exclusively. The book is Morgenstern’s first in seven years, and publisher Doubleday is planning an ambitious rollout, with a first printing of 500,000 copies.

The Night Circus, a fantasy told in nonlinear form from multiple viewpoints, marked a smash debut for Morgenstern, going on to award-winning acclaim and drawing the immediate interest of Hollywood. The book has sold 3 million copies since its 2011 publication and has been translated into 37 languages; in addition, both film and stages adaptations are in development.

Here’s the official synopsis for The Starless Sea: “Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a strange book hidden in the library stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

“What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians — it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction. Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose — in both the mysterious book and in his own life.”

Several years in the making, The Starless Sea is a much-anticipated second novel from Morgenstern. “When I started working on my new novel, I thought I was writing a book about books, but as it turns out I was writing a book about stories,” the author said in a statement. “Stories and choices and change and also time and fate and video games. It took quite a while to get it all to fit in a single book, even down to the bees.”

The Starless Sea will publish Nov. 5, 2019.

I don't know about you, but I plan to read this as soon as it hits the shelves. Read or listen, a book about books (or stories) is bound to be a winner!

February 26, 2019

Looking Back - Tuesdays with Morrie


Finished on February 17, 2019

New Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

After posting this "Looking Back" entry, I decided it was finally time to re-read Albom's book. I began reading and was quickly drawn into the narrative, remembering bits and pieces, but not so much that I was bored or impatient with the writing. It was as fresh and inspiring as the first time I read it in 1998. It's a quick read, easily finished in a day, but I took my time, both savoring Morrie's aphorisms and Mitch's thoughts and reactions to his friend's decline.
The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience.
No grades were given, but there were oral exams each week. You were expected to respond to questions, and you were expected to pose questions of your own. You were also required to perform physical tasks now and then, such as lifting the professor's head to a comfortable spot on the pillow or placing his glasses on the bridge of his nose. Kissing him good-bye earned you extra credit. 
No books were required, yet many topics were covered, including love, work, community, family, aging, forgiveness, and, finally, death. The last lecture was brief, only a few words.
On Death & Dying:
How can you ever be prepared to die?
"Do what the Buddhists do. Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks, 'Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be?'"
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience of re-reading Mitch Albom's book. I did find that I was preparing myself for the heartbreaking finale and was surprised that I didn't shed a single tear. Since reading this back in 1998, I have lost three very close family members, so maybe I am now better equipped to handle the tragic details of death and dying. Or maybe knowing the outcome softened the blow.

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man and Life's Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom
1997 Doubleday
Finished in March 1998
Rating: 5/5 (Excellent)

Publisher's Blurb:

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, and gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. 

For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.

Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger? 

Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final 'class': lessons in how to live.

Tuesdays with Morrie is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie's last gift with the world. 

My Original Notes (1998):

Awesome book. Moving without being maudlin. Introspective. Wonderful words of wisdom from a tremendously brave old man. Courageous. Inspirational. A great gift book. I cried like a baby when I finished. Sobbed! 

My Current Thoughts:

I remember when I read this book and how the ending gutted me. I've had it on my shelf for over 20 years and have never read it a second time. I did later read Albom's popular novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and didn't care for it at all, so I wonder if I'll still like this biography about Morrie. Guess it's worth a try.

February 25, 2019


Becoming by Michelle Obama
2018 Random House Audio
Finished on February 15, 2019
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)

My first 5/5 for 2019!

Publisher's Blurb:

An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.

In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

I not only got to see Barack Obama speak at a rally in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008, but I was also able to attend an event at the Lied Center in Lincoln, when Michelle Obama spoke about her husband and his run for the White House. It goes without saying that Obama is a great speaker and he had the entire crowd cheering and eager to get to the polls to elect him as the 44th President of the United States. But it was Michelle's speech that truly inspired me. She spoke with great eloquence and conviction and I walked out of that venue feeling hopeful and proud of my country. And now a decade later... well, I won't go there.

It's been over a week since I finished listening to this remarkable memoir and I'm still sorting out my thoughts and feelings, so bear with me. I began listening to the book on New Year's Eve day and it took me over six weeks to complete, not because it was slow and plodding, but mainly because I didn't spend as much time outside walking, which is when I typically listen to audio books. I was not aware of the length of the print copy (426 pages) when I downloaded the audio and since I rarely look to see how that translates to listening hours, I was surprised to see that it is a 19 hour audio. (To give you a point of reference, the audio of A Gentleman in Moscow is almost 18 hours.) Anyhow, it's a long book, but well worth every minute! And, my goodness, does Michelle nail the audio! Her clear enunciation, as well as the emotion and passion behind her words, makes for a marvelous listening experience. She is articulate and intelligent and has experienced an extraordinary life that most of us will never know, and yet, she sounds no different than any mom, wife or daughter, sharing the same concerns, fears and frustrations that most of us have. I loved learning about her childhood just as much as her life in the White House. I enjoyed hearing about her relationship with her daughters and Barack (and all its challenges) equally as much as her achievements as First Lady. I was moved to tears when she spoke of her father's final moments, as well as the intense emotion of election night (2008) and her last day in the White House. She is one classy, witty and kind woman and someone whom I would love to have as a friend.

Favorite Quotes:
For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.
For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.
It hurts to live after someone has died. It just does. It can hurt to walk down a hallway or open the fridge. It hurts to put on a pair of socks, to brush your teeth. Food tastes like nothing. Colors go flat. Music hurts, and so do memories. You look at something you’d otherwise find beautiful—a purple sky at sunset or a playground full of kids—and it only somehow deepens the loss. Grief is so lonely this way.
I can't recommend this heartfelt and honest memoir any more highly and while I plan to buy a copy of the book for a future re-read, I absolutely loved the audio and am glad I listened to it first. Oh, how I wish I could once again see Michelle Obama at one of her speaking engagements. I would give her a standing ovation. This woman has my utmost respect. Bravo!

February 24, 2019

Ravioli Lasagna

I love Italian food and have a couple of delicious recipes for lasagna and baked ziti, but they are both fairly involved, so I rarely take the time to make them. After reading Candace's post with her modifications for Food & Wine's Vegetable and Ravioli Lasagna, I knew I had to give it a try. This one's a winner and couldn't be any easier! I've fixed it so many times, I can do it in my sleep. Seriously, I'm pretty sure I've made it at least a half dozen times since I first read about it on Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking. My family, friends and neighbors all thank you, Candace!

Ravioli Lasagna
(Photo Credit: Food & Wine)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 mild Italian pork sausages (6 ounces), casing removed
1 (24-ounce) jar marinara sauce, or vegetable pasta sauce
1/2 cup water
2 (14-ounce) packages fresh cheese ravioli
1 (14-ounce) package fresh spinach-and-cheese ravioli
12 ounces (3 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (3-quart baking dish).

In a large flying pan, cook sausage over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Drain the accumulated fat and add the marinara sauce and the water, simmering for 5 minutes.

Add all the ravioli to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the ravioli and return them to the pot. Add the sausage marinara mixture and toss gently to coat the ravioli.

Spoon one-third of the ravioli and sauce into the baking dish. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan. Repeat two more times (to make three layers in total).

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Remove the foil and bake 25 minutes until browned and bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

My Notes:

Any type of ravioli works well for this recipe. I even found some with Italian sausage, which saved me a step and ingredients. I have used cheese tortellini instead of one of the packages of ravioli, as well. If the leftovers are a little dry, just heat some marinara and spoon over each serving.

Adapted from Food & Wine (found on Beth Fish Reads)

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February 23, 2019

Albuquerque & Fort Sumner, NM

Sunday, September 23, 2018
Albuquerque to Fort Sumner, New Mexico
Distance: 171 miles
Sumner Lake State Park
Cost: $18 per night
Weather: Hot and sunny

We were up and on the road by 9:00. The sun was out and it was already getting hot. Rather than jump on I-40, I voted we take Route 66 the entire way out of town, which wasn't terribly slow since it was Sunday morning. There wasn't anything remarkable to see along the way, but when we reached Santa Rosa, we decided to stop in at the Route 66 Auto Museum. For $5 apiece, we could wander around this small museum and check out over two dozen restored cars. Some were very beautiful, but it was more interesting for Rod than for me.

We arrived at our campsite in Sumner Lake State Park and it too was unremarkable. None of the sites have direct access to the lake, although there is a boat ramp within the park. We could see the lake, but it was pretty far off in the distance and the flies were so nasty and it was very hot, so I didn't spend any time outside. The three-sided covered patio and picnic table are situated on the left-hand side of the RV pad, which isn't at all convenient, even if the fly situation weren't an issue. On the plus side, there were only a few other campers, so at least it was peaceful.

 Not much of a view.

 Terrible design!

 The restrooms & showers were up the hill.

No. We won't return to this campground, that's for certain.

February 22, 2019

Looking Back - Housekeeping

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
1981 Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Finished in April 1998
Rating: 1/5 (Poor)

Publisher's Blurb:

A modern classic, Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother. The family house is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in the Far West, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized landscape and extravagant weather, and chastened again by an awareness that the whole of human history had occurred elsewhere." Ruth and Lucille's struggle toward adulthood beautifully illuminates the price of loss and survival, and the dangerous and deep undertow of transcience.

My Original Notes (1998):

Boring! I don't know why I forced myself to read this book. Very little action and very little dialogue. 

My Current Thoughts:

I don't remember much about this novel other than the fact that it was terribly dull and very bleak. Looking at the reviews on Goodreads, I'm definitely in the minority!

February 17, 2019

Whiskey When We're Dry

Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison
2018 Viking
Finished on February 11, 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

In the spring of 1885, seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Harney finds herself orphaned and alone on her family's homestead. Desperate to fend off starvation and predatory neighbors, she cuts off her hair, binds her chest, saddles her beloved mare, and sets off across the mountains to find her outlaw brother Noah and bring him home. A talented sharpshooter herself, Jess's quest lands her in the employ of the territory's violent, capricious Governor, whose militia is also hunting Noah--dead or alive.

Wrestling with her brother's outlaw identity, and haunted by questions about her own, Jess must outmaneuver those who underestimate her, ultimately rising to become a hero in her own right.

Told in Jess's wholly original and unforgettable voice, Whiskey When We're Dry is a stunning achievement, an epic as expansive as America itself--and a reckoning with the myths that are entwined with our history.

Whiskey When We're Dry was selected by my book club for this month's read. It is also the Newport Reads choice for 2019 and the author will be speaking at the Newport Performing Arts Center on April 11th. Westerns have never been my book of choice and none of my blogging friends have mentioned this book or author, so had my group not chosen to read this, I probably would have passed it over without a second glance. That would have been a terrible shame, as this will more than likely be one of my favorite reads of the 2019!

John Larison is a wonderful storyteller and his engaging dialogue and great sense of place pulled me in from the get-go. The pages flew and I kept looking ahead to see how many pages remained, not because I was eager to finish, but because I didn't want to reach the end. The characters are full of life, particularly Jess, Greenie and Annette and I was sad to see them go when I turned that final page. As one would expect from the genre and time period, there is quite a bit of violence, and yet I wasn't bothered by the gritty details of the gun fights.

My only quibble is that the book is divided into five parts, but lacks chapters, which I dislike greatly. I rely on chapter breaks to provide a stopping point, especially with a lengthy book such as this, which comes in just under 400 pages. But as I said, it's a minor quibble and was easily overlooked given Larison's beautiful prose.
Our kin homesteaded where desert met lake. The hills in the near distance wore blankets of pine. Patterns of aspen marked the water. Beyond them the mountains stood blue on clear days and devoured the sun long before it left this world. From the home Pa built us we couldn’t see the lake but we could see the willows along its edge and we could hear the wingbeats of doves.
Whiskey When We're Dry is a beautifully written tale, which will appeal to a broad range of readers, but most especially to fans of All the Pretty Horses (McCarthy), These Is My Words (Turner) and News of the World (Jiles). Maybe now it's finally time for me to give Lonesome Dove a chance.

A thunderclap of originality, here is a fresh voice and fresh take on one of the oldest stories we tell about ourselves as Americans and Westerners. It's riveting in all the right ways -- a damn good read that stayed with me long after closing the covers. – Timothy Egan, New York Time bestselling author of THE WORST HARD TIME

An orphan girl straight out of a Gillian Welch song, betrayed in every way imaginable by the brutality that 'won the West,' is left no way to hew a family or honor but to become a virtuoso cross-dressed killer of Manifest Destiny's men. As Jessilyn Harney takes on the great lies and liars with lyrical violence, her voice takes flight, becoming a sustained, forlornly beautiful, mind-bending aria for our age. – David James Duncan, author of The River Why

February 15, 2019

Looking Back - All New People

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

All New People by Anne Lamott
1989 North Point Press
Finished in March 19998
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

With generosity, humor, and pathos, Anne Lamott takes on the barrage of dislocating changes that shook the Sixties. Leading us through the wake of these changes is Nanny Goodman, one small girl living in Marin County, California. A half-adult child among often childish adults, Nanny grows up with two spectacularly odd parents: a writer father and a mother who is a constant source of material. As Nanny moves into her adolescence, so, it seems, does America. While grappling with her own coming-of-age, Nanny witnesses an entire culture's descent into drugs, the mass exodus of fathers from her town, and rapid real-estate and technological development that foreshadow a drastically different future. In All New People, Anne Lamott works a special magic, transforming failure into forgiveness and illuminating the power of love to redeem us.

My Original Notes (1998):

Fair to good. I finished it, so it wasn't that bad. It just wasn't very interesting. I only just finished it last night, but can barely remember the names of the characters. Basically, a story about a young girl (Nanny Goodman) and her life as a child. The struggles between her parents. Her uncle's illegitimate daughter. Divorce. Drugs. Puberty. Centered in Marin County, California. Almost on the verge of being boring.

My Current Thoughts:

Prior to reading All New People, I had only read one other book by Anne Lamott, (Bird by Bird) which I wrote about here. I have since read Traveling Mercies and Operating Instructions, which along with Bird by Bird are both nonfiction. I have mixed feelings about Lamott's abrasive tone, but am drawn to her books and her self-deprecating sense of humor. Perhaps this early novel would have been more satisfying as a work of nonfiction rather than a thinly veiled autobiography.

February 13, 2019


These anniversaries seem to come much more quickly than in years past! Time flies even when you're retired.

2006 seems like a lifetime ago, doesn't it? When I began this blog, I never would've imagined I'd still be sharing my thoughts and photos with all of you for 13 years, but here I am! Now that we're settled into our retired life and daily routines, I have found my blogging groove and am enjoying it more than ever. My book reviews aren't nearly as detailed as in the early days, but I still like keeping track of what I've read and sharing my reactions to those books with anyone who's interested. I also enjoy blogging about new recipes that I've discovered either on the Internet or from the dozens of cookbooks I've accumulated over the years. I think one of the most fun things for me now, though, is posting all sorts of photo essays from our adventures in our RV. We have such fun exploring this country in our home on wheels. I've already met up with three blogmates since our move to Oregon and I hope to meet more of you in future travels. Thank you all for your continued readership, but most importantly I wish to thank you for your friendship and the conversations we share here in this little part of the blogosphere. I appreciate each and every one of you who stop by, whether you leave a comment or simply take the time to read my words.

For previous Blogiversary posts, click here

February 11, 2019

Albuquerque, NM

Saturday, September 22, 2018
Enchanted Trails RV Park
Albuquerque, New Mexico

We love our non-travel days! Back-to-back days on the road don't give us much of a chance to relax and enjoy our time at a campground or RV park. A non-travel day allows us to sleep late, enjoy our morning coffee, catch up on laundry, pick up some groceries (and maybe a DVD at Redbox) and, if time permits, do a little exploring. In a perfect world, we would stay at most of our sites for at least 3 or 4 nights, but with several destinations scheduled for this particular trip, we don't always have that luxury. Today we did.

Enchanted Trails RV Park has a large, clean laundry room, so I was able to get a couple of loads washed before we headed out to run our errands. Albuquerque is a very large city, with two major freeway systems (I-40 and I-25) and very busy surface streets. Remember, we used to live in Lincoln, Nebraska and rarely had to get on the interstate. We now live on the Oregon coast and rarely get on any freeways, unless we have to travel in and about Portland. This country mouse isn't as comfortable on freeways as she once used to be in San Diego and especially not in a 26 foot RV. So, suffice it to say our "quick" trip to the grocery store was somewhat terrifying, especially when we had to merge on I-25 from I-40. Surface streets are the way to go!

After our errands, we headed to Old Town and found a large parking lot with plenty of space for the RV. Always on the lookout for a good Mexican restaurant, we were happy to find Church Street Cafe, which had come recommended by my dad and stepmom. We had a delicious lunch and would definitely go back, if ever in the area again.

Church Street Cafe


It was a long day and we were anxious to get back to the RV park and relax for a while before watching our movie. We took a walk around the park and checked out the vintage trailers (and cars), which are available to rent.

With our Passport America discount, we paid $18 per night, which is quite a bargain. The RV park isn't fancy, but it has a clean pool, laundry, showers and full hookups. There was a lot of road noise from I-40, but with the windows closed and our fan running, it's was just white noise. This was our first visit to Albuquerque and I'd love to go back and spend more time exploring the area.