Friday, April 21, 2017

Let it Go by Peter Walsh

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Usually around the beginning of the year I like to read a de-cluttering book to inspire me to do a bit of weeding out. This year I did one better. On Monday night I attended a presentation by Peter Walsh, author of many books on organization and getting rid of stuff. He is also host of the television show Clean Sweep

With his soft Australian accent, I found him to be very engaging. He was energetic, had a great sense of humor, and was totally charming. He wandered from the stage to the audience and gave out hugs to some of the (mostly) women attending. I felt sort of like I was sitting in the audience of an Oprah show. 

I liked him.  

Here's the short version of his presentation. 

Basically there are two types of stuff we hold on to:

I-might-need-this-someday clutter - "There is nothing wrong with this 'thing' and I paid good money for it and it might come in handy one day."


Memory clutter - "If I let this go I am going to lose or dishonor the memory of the person, place, or achievement from the past that it represents."

I am guilty of both. 

It's with good reason, he says, that we use language such as drowning, suffocating, and can't breathe when we talk about the stuff cluttering our spaces. And our lives.

"It's not about the stuff," he says, "it's about the life you wish to live. So try this: when you leave here and arrive home, before you unlock the door to your house, think about what you want FROM your house. Use that list as the standard for your stuff. If it helps you create what you want from your space, keep it. If not, let it go."

I took his advice and when I got home I stopped for a few moments before I put my key in the lock. I thought about seven years ago when I completely changed every surface in my small house. The floors, the paint colors, the entire bathroom, knocked out a wall to connect two rooms, had a fireplace built, and designed storage. I got rid of unwanted furniture, books, lamps, wall art, etc., etc., etc. I dreamed of sleek and uncluttered and serene. I wanted a contemporary, curated haven. And I had it...then.

But, when I opened the door to my house Monday night, I saw piles of books with a few magazines thrown in for good measure; a desk with a clear work space the size of a handkerchief; an old laptop stored in the box that the new one came in; a tote bag full of receipts, brochures, maps, and other paper memorabilia from past travels (I swear I am going to put them in a scrapbook some day!); and three magazine holders storing past years' tax returns and backup information sitting on the floor in front of a bookcase. 

And that is just what I could see. I won't even go into what I knew was behind closed doors and stashed away in drawers. 

Besides being motivated to acknowledge how much is in my home that is not contributing to 'curated and uncluttered', I had this insight as to the tote bag full of 'memory clutter' from my travels: I keep it because it is evidence that I have (or eventually, had) a LIFE. Mr. Walsh would tell me I need to honor and respect those items. Either pull out the 'treasures' and preserve them in some way that honors them or throw the whole bag away. Clean sweep.

His latest book is Let It Go. He was signing copies after the presentation but I didn't buy it so as not to add to more book clutter. So I can't really recommend it although I am sure it is useful. My library does have one of his others - an ebook - which I now have on reserve. 

A few other points:

Find a charity, any charity, to donate to. Don't worry about finding the right one or a good home for the stuff you want to get rid of.

Find the treasures and treat them with honor and respect.

Set a limit on how much space you allow shoes, or kitchen implements, or hobby supplies to occupy. (I tried this with books and had settled on three well-curated bookcases. Now they are jammed full and books have taken over the tops of tables, my desk, and even a footstool.)

Stop using the word 'later' as in 'I will put it away later.' Don't put things down, put them away.

There are two times in life - Now and Too Late.

That last one might stop you in your tracks. It did me.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith

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I don't read much fiction but when I see that an author I am curious about has written a collection of essays, I like to give them a try. So I picked up Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith. She is a prize-winning writer of quite a few short stories, five novels, and a smattering of non-fiction pieces. 

I have not read any of her work, but I have seen the film adaption of her novel White Teeth. Although, now, I am not quite sure how I came to watch it. 

Ms. Smith writes in the forward to this book of essays, all of which appear to be quite long, that it is compiled of pieces written at particular times for different editors. So we have thoughts on Katherine Hepburn (an idol of Ms. Smith's), a look at George Eliot and Middlemarch, a recollection of Smith family Christmases, and her diary of a brief trip to Liberia. One called That Crafty Feeling contains her guidelines on the writing craft. (I might start with that one...)

The essays are broken into sections of Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering. I suppose just to give the disparate pieces some sort of structure at least.

I gleaned the above just by flipping through the book's pages and reading bits here and there. I got the book yesterday and haven't read even one of the pieces, so I hope I have a lot to look forward to.

If you have any thoughts on Ms. Smith and her work, I would be happy to hear them. 


In other news:
I don't usually provide links to online stories but there were two this week that I thought might interest you.

One concerns a daring $2.5 million rare book heist near Heathrow Airport that took place in January (but I am just now discovering it) and what impact it might have. The disturbing speculation is that the antiquarian books will be cut up for their maps, illustrations, and engravings as the books themselves would be difficult for the thieves to sell. Horrors!

Here: Book Heist

The other is a fascinating piece by Icelandic author Ragan Jonasson on translating Agatha Christie. Over the years he has translated 14 of her mysteries and become a mystery writer himself in the process. I really must look up the two-word clue mentioned in Lord Edgeware Dies. Mr. Jonasson states in the article that it took him ten years to settle on a suitable translation of it. 

Here: Agatha Christie

Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman


I love a scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, I have only ever been on one. It was for adults. We divided into teams and were provided with a list of objects to find in the neighborhood. There were no clues or puzzles - just a straight up list (although there also may have been a glass or two of wine involved). 

Anyway, it was great fun which is why Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman immediately appealed to me. I am only a couple of chapters into the story of Emily and her friend James who become caught up in a mystery of puzzles and clues and books. 

What's not to like?

Emily's family has just moved to San Francisco -- her parents have set out on a mission to live in all 50 states. She has never lived in one place long enough to develop any deep friendships and has sought solace in books. Book Scavenger, an online site, connects people and books. Books are hidden and clues are posted on the site. Emily has been participating for years - hiding books, finding books, and earning points. Oh, and reading along the way.

It turns out that the very day the family arrives in San Francisco, the creator of Book Scavenger, Garrison Griswold, is on his way to an event to announce an exciting new game when he is attacked and ends up in the hospital in a coma. 

Emily, who is 12 and was hoping to meet Mr. Griswold, is heartbroken, afraid there will be no more Book Scavenger hunts. But things begin to look up when she makes the acquaintance of James who lives in her building and who also loves ciphers and secret codes. Emily introduces James to the online adventure and the chase is on.

Not only is this a tale about books and friendship, the reader also gets a guided tour of San Francisco and learns a bit of literary history. Emily's father is a fan of the Beat Generation authors and there is a visit to City Lights bookstore. Edgar Allan Poe's The Gold-Bug plays a prominent part in the story as well.

As it turns out, there is actually a Book Scavenger website and books are hidden and found and recorded on the site just like in the book. There is a listing for one hidden here in Louisville, but it is dated from last August so I am not sure that it will still be around. I have solved the clue and will check out the location and report back if I find it.

The game is afoot.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Brief Book Roundup

Here is a brief roundup of what I have been reading.

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My current read
The Second Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
     I was just recently introduced to private detective Tenzing Norbu. In this second mystery (I wrote about the first one here), Ten investigates the death of a controversial Hollywood producer - because, of course, this is California. I like Ten and his efforts to balance his profession with his upbringing in a Tibetan monastery.

My last read
Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens
     The action in this young adult mystery takes place at a British boarding school in 1934. The two protagonists, Daisy Wells from England and Hazel Wong from Hong Kong, form a detective agency and collect clues and sort through motives after the death of a teacher in the school. Nothing here to make one cringe - except for the discovery of the dead body, of course. A fun read.

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A quick one in between
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James
     Short stories of murder and mayhem from a favorite author. Two of them feature a young Adam Dalgleish and all are elegantly written. My only regret is that there were only four in this collection.

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The one before that
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin
     This is the introduction to Inspector John Rebus, Edinburgh's (literally) tortured detective. He is on the hunt for a killer who leaves clues that John can't quite understand. But when he catches on, there is hell to pay. Not sure I want to be John's friend, but may try book number two in this popular series. 

Latest purchase
Fierce Pajamas: An Anthology of Humor Writing from The New Yorker
     In a continued effort to keep my spirits up, I couldn't resist this find at a local used book store. One glance at the table of contents and I spotted the names E.B. White, James Thurber, Robert Benchley, and Dorothy Parker. Oh, and Groucho Marx. Groucho Marx?!

Had to have it. A volume to dip into when spirits dip.

What books are in your round up?

Friday, March 24, 2017

Fare thee well, Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I was quite saddened to learn the other day of the death of Amy Krouse Rosenthal on March 13. She was 51. Amy was a writer of children's books, a maker of videos, a presenter of Ted Talks, and a Beckoner of the Lovely. 

She also wrote two of my favorite books: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I so admired her generous spirit. I was inspired by her creativity and kindness. I am glad I got to know her through her words and actions and ideas. I feel as if I have lost a good friend.

Here is what I wrote in May 2015 upon my introduction to Amy.

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I admit that I am as enthralled with the idea behind Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book as I am with the book itself.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is her memoir, of sorts, presented in the form of an encyclopedia...A-Z. So we have entries such as Answering Machines; Anxious, things that make me; Monopoly (like me, she hates the game); the relief of a Rainy Day; memories of a Red Gingham Tablecloth; and Writing Tools - hand, typewriter, computer - and what influence they may have on a writer's style.  

There are plenty of entries detailing some of her quirks that I can identify with:

**She fantasizes about getting rid of everything in her closet except for an outfit or two.

**She not only eats when she is hungry, but also if she is worried that she will be hungry. For instance, if she determines she will be in the middle of watching a film at dinnertime, she grabs a sandwich before she goes to the theater, even though she is not yet hungry, to eliminate any future hunger discomfort.

**She returns again and again to the photo/bio of the author on the flap of a book she is enjoying.

I have done all those things. 

The entries are almost all short which appeals to my diminishing attention span. I swear, I found myself laughing out loud at an entry, nodding my head in agreement at another, and getting misty-eyed at the next one.

It seems I am always on the quest for a way to record my life, 
(see this post) and looking at it in the form of an encyclopedia certainly has its appeal.

Perhaps my first entry could be:

Encyclopedia - A word I learned to spell from a little ditty that was sung on Mickey Mouse Club. Jiminy Cricket taught us to chirp EN CY C LO PEDIA. To this day, I have to sing the letters to myself whenever I write or type the word.

And although Ms. Rosenthal didn't make an entry for Z, I would have to write:

Zero tolerance - for barking dogs, cigarette smoke, heat and humidity, rude service people, radio and television commercials, and magazine advertisements.   

Anyway, I adored this book. And as I sometimes do, I fell in love with Amy (which is why I now feel obliged to call her by her first name).  She would make a wonderful best friend! I found out more about her via a couple of her Ted Talks and her short films on YouTube. 

She loves a bit of wordplay, watches out for synchronicity everywhere, and wants to save the world by Beckoning the Lovely. 

She also has created a journal just for us - An Encyclopedia of Me: My Life from A to Z - so we can write our own record of an ordinary life.

Amy - woman to thank.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

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I wouldn't dare tell you too much about this book lest I spoil any of your fun in reading it. I will only say it may already be my favorite book of 2017. And I don't just mean my favorite in the first three months of this year, but for the entire year. 

Fifty Acres and a Poodle recounts the true adventures of author Jeanne Marie Laskas's first year owning Sweetwater Farm in Pennsylvania. (Cue fifty acres.) If, like Ms. Laskas, you have ever wanted to shake the city sidewalk dust off your shoes and move to the country, this is the book for you. Even if you already live in the country, this is the book for you. If you love animals, of any sort, this is the book for you. (Cue the poodle.)

I laughed. I wept. I sighed. I simply adored this book.

As one who carries a bit of a romantic notion about living on a farm (see my post on sheep shopping), this tale struck an even funnier chord in me as I certainly identified with what she calls 2-D notions of the Green Acres life.

She writes:

We bought scenery. We bought a postcard. We bought green hills and a pond blooming with lilies a la Monet. We bought a creaky old barn leaning in the wind a la Wyeth. We bought the most beautiful picture we could possibly find.

We bought 2-D. Not 3-D. It did not enter my consciousness that the three-dimensional version of this thing was included with the package. Because how could it be in my consciousness? When would it have had the opportunity to get in? Chaos never announces itself, never advertises. Who would buy chaos?

And therein lies the tale. Her attempts to make friends with the chaos. 

Adding to the mix are Alex her partner, Bob the cat, Betty the dog that looks like a movie star, Marley the prone-to-car sickness Standard Poodle, plus sheep, groundhogs, deer and other creatures of the forest. But, I have already told you too much.

Ms. Laskas has a writing style that tickled my fancy. She writes not only about what is happening but her thoughts on what is happening and her thoughts on those thoughts. I found her to be a most witty storyteller.

There are two more books about her life on Sweetwater Farm and I can hardly wait to read what happens next.

Thanks to Kathy Johnson at Catching Happiness for introducing me to Jeanne Marie Laskas and her world. This book certainly lifted my spirits.

What about you? Do you harbor secret dreams of living on a farm? Do you have a favorite 'life in the country' book?