Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In Which Belle Goes to Hospital

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Uh-oh. Looks like my Wabi-Sabi age has caught up with me. I am scheduled to have knee surgery on Wednesday, April 4. I will be taking short break from Belle, Book, and Candle until I recover enough to be able to think and type!

See you soon.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly

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I read somewhere recently that American mystery writer Elizabeth Daly was one of Agatha Christie's favorites. Ms. Daly published sixteen books starring amateur sleuth Henry Gamadge between 1940 and 1951.

What makes Henry Gamadge such an attractive character is that he is an expert in rare books and manuscripts. He lives in a multi-storied house in New York City, has a cook and a butler, and is helped in his investigations by his shy assistant. Gamadge is in his mid-30s and has Old World sensibilities. I liked him.

Murders in Volume 2 was my introduction to him. Because I have never been good at reading between the lines, I must admit I had a little trouble following some of the dialogue - which may have been due to birthday cake overdose - but by the end I felt that it was a good solid story. The plot has to do with a family inheritance, a missing volume of Lord Byron's poetry, spiritualists, theater folk, an impostor, and murder. 

Of course, murder.

Because I am a sucker for descriptions of desks and workspaces, this passage caught my eye:

This seemed to be Miss Vauregard's workroom. A small, curly desk which Gamadge thought must be the first and only one she had ever had was littered with bills, address books, laundry lists and canceled checks. There was a little ancient typewriter on a table in front of a window, with telephone directories piled on the floor beside it. 

And these lines, describing a friend of Gamadge's, made me laugh out loud:

The young man seemed more disheveled than he actually was. He was a type whose lumbering bigness requires continual valeting.

This was the third book in the series. I like to read a series in order to watch the characters develop, but this was the first one that was available in my library's ebook collection. Based on this example, I think there will be more Henry Gamadge mysteries in my future.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Aging Happens

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I will be celebrating my birthday in a few days. It is yet another one that ends in Zero. I am entering the Wabi Sabi phase of life. You know — the Japanese idea that having a few years and a few imperfections only adds to my beauty!

In keeping with that, I picked up a book at the library by Thomas Moore titled Ageless Soul. The flyleaf promises a "fresh, optimistic, and rewarding path toward aging, a journey that need not be feared, but rather should be embraced and cherished."

I haven't begun reading this one yet, but having read other books by Mr. Moore, I am sure to glean some wisdom on celebrating another birthday with grace and good spirits.

Cake will help.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Time Management Tips with Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam

You would think that at this stage of my life I would have figured out how to manage my time. On most days I do a good job - although I must admit that Procrastination can be my superpower.

Just like books and articles and tips on decluttering and simplifying, I love reading how to manage time efficiently and am always looking for ways to save time. 

I know I am not alone in this pursuit. On Monday, I attended a full-house presentation by Laura Vanderkam put on by a local healthcare group. I have attended and written about a couple of these seminars starring Peter Walsh, Gretchen Rubin, and others.

Ms. Vanderkam is an author and time management expert. She took the stage and I could tell right away she was going to give a terrific talk. She was all smiles and energy. She has studied the schedules of successful people and her presentation covered her seven favorite strategies for managing the 168 hours a week we all have to spend.

Now, I am going to briefly share them with you.

1. Mind your hours - Look at where your time is going. She keeps a written spreadsheet schedule set up in 30 minute increments, but she says there are also computer/phone apps that will help with this. She suggests doing this for work hours and leisure hours. Once you see where you are spending your time, you can begin to determine what you like most about your schedule, what you want to do more of, and what you want to get off your plate. 

2. Look forward - We build the lives we want and then time saves itself, she says. Her suggestion is to list anything you want to spend time doing and goals you want to achieve both personally and professionally this year. Then pretend it is the end of 2018 and give yourself a performance review. What three amazing things came about in your personal life? In your professional life? These are your top priorities for the year. Post the list prominently where you will see it every day. This list will inform your choices.

3. First things first - Fill your life with things that deserve to be there. Time will stretch to accommodate what you choose to put into it. We live our lives in weeks, not days, she says. Take Friday afternoon and think through the coming week. List the top three priorities in your career, your personal life, and your own self care. Get as many of them scheduled at the first of the week as you can because stuff will come up to throw your week into a tailspin.

4. Move time around - Perhaps you can schedule a split shift which means you work in the morning, go to your kid's soccer game in the afternoon, and then do work in the evening. This doesn't have to happen every day, but if you have the flexibility to do this once or twice a week, take advantage of work/life integration. Same goes for exercise or reading - the time is there. Stop looking for the perfect time each day to go to the gym or play in your sketchbook. Things don't have to happen daily or at the same time. Look at your week and choose. View time more holistically.

5. Build in space - Leaving space in your week invites opportunity in a way a cluttered calendar can't. Be careful with the word 'yes'. Do a calendar triage. What's already on your calendar? What do you really not want to do? What can you minimize - have shorter meetings? Make a phone call instead of holding a meeting? What can you outsource?

6. Monitor your energy - Make time, not just take time, to exercise and sleep. Your brain needs breaks. Falling down the internet rabbit hole is a fake break. What can you put into your workdays and weekends that will add to your energy level and rejuvenate you? Be productive about scheduling leisure time. Think about it intentionally.

7. Use bits of time - Five minutes here, ten minutes there add up. Take these bits of time to do something that adds joy to your day: read a few pages in a book or magazine, step outside and breathe, talk to someone face-to-face, look at the clouds.

I admit I have over the years incorporated many of these suggestions, I just didn't have a name for them. As a freelance writer I have to pay attention to how I schedule my time. But as someone who works from home, a lot of my time gets frittered away. Actually, I am OK with that. My brain breaks include staring out the window, having a cup of tea and a cookie, or maybe a short phone conversation. Oh, and naps are a top priority!

One suggestion that she gave to a recently retired woman during the Q&A time that I found especially helpful was to compress what you have to do in a chunk of time (e.g., run all your errands on Tuesday morning) and schedule what you want to do during the rest of the week. I have a tendency to do chores and run errands willy-nilly when I think of them. It feels as if I am always doing maintenance tasks so I am going to pay special attention to this tip.

There you go. No more excuses. Pick one of her suggestions to start with and see how it works for you. Then you can try another one. I bet they will make your life more blessed and less stressed!

Off The Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done

Ms. Vanderkam has several books out including I Know How She Does It - How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time; and 168 Hours - You Have More Time Than You Think. Her latest, to be published in May, is Off the Clock - Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.

If you are interested in seeing Ms. Vanderkam in action, here is a link to one of her TED Talks.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer

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All of a sudden, my library added all twelve of Georgette Heyer's mysteries to its ebook collection. I started my own collection of the paperback editions with their delightful covers a few years ago and currently have six. I have read several of them and was happy to be able to download one I didn't have - Death in the Stocks. 

This is the first in a series of mysteries, set in the 1930s, starring Superintendent Hannasyde from New Scotland Yard. He has his work cut out for him. The suspects don't appear to want to help prove their innocence, but rather add to the confusion by coming up with their own motives and guilty parties or fudging on their own alibis. 

After the dead body of Arnold Vereker is found imprisoned in the stocks on Ashleigh Green with a knife in his back, suspects abound. There is Kenneth who stands to inherit his half-brother's fortune. Kenneth's fiancĂ©e, Violet, is a bit of a gold-digger so she certainly had motive. Or perhaps the murderer is Kenneth's sister Antonia who was in the village the night of the murder and had a bone to pick with Arnold. Another suspect is Antonia's fiancĂ© Rudolph Mesurier who was chief accountant for the dead man's firm and was caught 'borrowing' funds. 

But then again, one can't discount Arnold's brother Roger who was presumed dead but shows up just in time to collect his inheritance thereby shoving aside Kenneth who was first in line for the loot. 

After a second murder (I love a second murder - it sweetens the pot!), the truth comes out and the case ends up being solved by Giles Carrington, solicitor for the dead man. Giles is in love with Antonia so he has a vested interest in keeping her out of jail and helping to find the real murderer.

One really can't go wrong with Georgette Heyer mysteries. The stories are deftly plotted, the characters are amusing, and the conversations sparkle. Plus, the book covers are gorgeous.

Perfect bedtime reading.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

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Because I am such a fan of Bill Bryson, I have no idea why it took me so long to set about reading The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. This is an affectionate memoir of the author's childhood in the 1950s and '60s in Des Moines, Iowa. Both his parents worked for the newspaper there - his dad was a sports writer and his mom wrote a lifestyle column - so writing is in his genes.

He tells the tale with much humor - and I suspect just a touch or maybe a wallop of exaggeration - about his boyhood escapades and adventures - many of which did not resonate with me. For example, unlike him, I did not spend three summers wanting to go to the live strip show at the state fair. Nor did I ever imagine myself as coming from another planet. Nor did I have friends who experimented with gunpowder and homemade cannons.

What did resonate were his descriptions of what was going on in those decades and the amount of rapid change that was seen in America: color television; the Red Scare and the McCarthy hearings; learning to read with Dick and Jane books; morning and afternoon editions of the local newspaper; Sputnik and the space race; the polio epidemic; the Cuban missile crisis; major league baseball games played in the afternoon; and, of course, the threat of nuclear war.

He also recounts with sadness the eventual loss of downtown department stores, locally owned businesses and restaurants, small family farms, glorious movie theaters with bigger-than-life screens, and small amusement parks.

I have seen many of those same changes in my own hometown. His description of one of Des Moines's great 'ocean liner of a department store' brought to mind visits with my mother to Stewart's Department Store in downtown Louisville. In those days, we always dressed up to go shopping downtown. Stewart's boasted The Orchid Room, a restaurant on the sixth floor where we would enjoy a lunch of fresh fruit salad accompanied by little finger sandwiches of date-nut bread and cream cheese. 

One of the spectacular features of the store was that every spring shoppers were greeted by a woman in a swing that hung from the tall ceiling right as they entered through the revolving glass door. Flowers twined around the ropes of the swing and the young woman always wore a pastel pink or blue or green full-skirted dress. Believe me, the sight was a marvel to behold. 

You won't find such elegance in Target or Walmart!


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After reading Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic, I rented the movie to see just how Hollywood handled the story. The film starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the sisters Sally and Gillian did manage to hit most of the highlights of the novel. My favorite characters were The Aunts played by Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest. Both woman had the most enchanting outfits (well, they were witches after all) and terrific hats. And as often happens, the movie's ending was very different from the book's. All in all, though, it was pleasant to watch.

What have you been reading or watching this week?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

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I like a bit of magic. Not hardcore magic of boiled lizard tongues and scavenged feathers of a raven, but the gentle magic of scented herbs to keep away misfortune or the use of crystals to bring good luck.

There is some of both in Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. It is the story of the Owens sisters Sally and Gillian. They come from a long line of women with special powers. Men fall in love with their beauty in a heartbeat.  Fortune and misfortune follow them.

The two young sisters go to live with The Aunts after their parents die. The sisters are about as opposite as can be. Sally the older one is dark-haired and sensible and conscientious. Gillian is blonde and rebellious and idle.

The Aunts call them Night and Day.

The story follows the sisters growing up, finding love, and losing love. Then, after 18 years apart, when Gillian shows up on Sally's doorstep with a desperate secret, it becomes the story of how the sisters come together to handle the consequences.

But more than the spellbinding story is the language Ms. Hoffman uses to tell that story.  It is hypnotic. The images are dreamy. Full of sudden storms and slick toads in the garden and a lilac bush that blooms all year round. Twilight becomes the hour of sorrow. Lightning strikes bring grief and heartbreak. 


Be forewarned: In contrast to the rhythmic language, there are rough words and episodes of violence which I found to be quite jarring. Perhaps that was the point.

I have a vague memory of reading this book when it first was published in 1995, and I recall seeing the 1998 movie with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I have rented the DVD and am ready to watch it again now that I have finished the book.

I wanted to reread Practical Magic upon hearing that Rules of Magic was published last October. It is Ms. Hoffman's story of The Aunts, their mother Susannah, and how they came into their powers. I have now moved up to #8 on the library's reserve list for the book. I will eventually write about it here.

In the meantime, here is a sample of gentle counsel from Practical Magic:

If a woman is in trouble, she should always wear blue for protection. Blue shoes or a blue dress. A sweater the color of a robin's egg or a scarf the shade of heaven. A thin satin ribbon, carefully threaded through the white lace hem of a slip. Any of these will do. But if a candle burns blue, that is something else entirely, that's no luck at all, for it means there's a spirit in your house. And if the flame should flicker, then grow stronger each time the candle is lit, the spirit is settling in. Its essence is wrapping around the furniture and the floorboards, it's claiming the cabinets and the closets and will soon be rattling windows and doors.