Monday, June 19, 2017

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love

Eight years ago today, an essay I wrote was published in the Charleston newspaper. It's not that I remembered that specifically, but thanks to the wonders of social media, I received a reminder this morning and a link to the essay. Only, when I followed the link, the article was gone. Apparently, the Charleston Post Courier thought it too hard, in this digital age, to maintain all those digital files, so retired some, including this particular article, about my mother. Luckily, I still have a copy of it, and dug it up to re-read. Their title was Memories of a Life Still Lived.

Courage, Caring, Laughter, Love: A Remarkable Journey
Amy Nadel Romanczuk

I am a stowaway on a remarkable journey. The main traveller is my mother, Ruthe Nadel, born 87 years ago on New York's East Side. In her four score and seven years, she has done both remarkable and ordinary things. But she did them all with true joy and immersed in love for the world. Whether it was being teaching assistant to Abraham Maslow (yep, the fellow of the Hierarchy of Needs theory in Psych 101) or discussing Jane Austen, she has a style all her own. She’s loved one man, raised 3 children (10 dogs, 5 birds, a few dozen guinea pigs and a assorted other critters), adored her grandchildren and great-grands. She has won hearts around the world with her spirit, courage and humor. She did all this while almost completely deaf from young adulthood, and while living with Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 50 years. For the past year, breast cancer has also been in the health mix.

Our "Bumma" (the nickname given to her by our son) sailed through initial treatment and surgery under the wonderful care of MUSC’s Breast Cancer team. In March, Bumma had a sudden, vicious recurrence. Because of the extensive scope of the disease, she opted for palliative treatment. She told me she'd had a good life, but that she had only one regret: “When the inevitable comes, I am sorry I will not be around to read the letters people send you about me.”

I looked at this tiny woman with the enormous heart, and thought “I can do that for you. And you don't have to be gone for me to do it. It can happen now.” With the help of my brothers, we have reached out to people she has known over her lifetime, inviting them to send a thought, wish, memory or whatever, to her now, before she's gone from us. What started out as a whim has turned into a life affirming, joyful celebration for and of our mother.

Emails started coming in immediately, followed by cards and letters. Friends worldwide sent care packages, stuffed animals, handmade gifts, photographs, drawings, poems, musical recordings. She received a beautiful comfort afghan from the nonprofit HeartMade Blessings. There is even a site online where a candle can be lit for her. As people shared their hearts with her, she shared their responses with us.

Our childhood friends recalled coming to our house just to look at her, because she was both beautiful and she talked to them, never down to them. Or how she demonstrated making a french twist, then shook her hair down like the proverbial librarian throwing off her bun and glasses and letting her inner tigress loose.

She showed one child to do wheelies in his wheelchair by demonstrating in hers. A busy executive remembered she helped him learn to take time from his urgent work priorities to cherish the here and now. Jazz greats at the Stanford Jazz Workshop would tumble like puppies in their eagerness to be in her company. The image of her zipping around on her mobile scooter, orange flag waving on the back, is a memory for many.

She has a huge following of people online, especially at www.bookcrossing.com, a book-lover's website she joined at the young age of 82. Her candor and unique style are adored around the world. She is a sweetheart: strong willed, outspoken, loving and generous. A true “oner”.

Our family is a family of storytellers. We thought we knew our history pretty well, but have been astonished to find so many acts of kindness attributed to Bumma. This experience has opened avenues to explore and learn, new stories for the grandchildren to pass on to their children, someday, about a remarkable woman. Our days are extra poignant as we learn more about this woman we love through the lives she's touched. And it has meant an enormous amount to her, to see that she has indeed helped lives and made a difference in this world. She and I made a pact in March: we would face this with Courage, Caring, Laughter and Love. She's kept her part of the bargain. I’m trying but am sometimes blinded by bittersweet tears.

I encourage others to do this same project with your own loved one, should the opportunity arise. Help show the wonder of how they have made a difference on this planet. One need not be famous to be extraordinary. I have learned that, and so much more, from one little woman I am honored to have as my mother.
Ruthe Nadel,on the way back from first Radiation Therapy 2009


Amy Romanczuk is a retired pediatric nurse, active BookCrosser , blogger and pysanky artist here in Charleston, SC. She, her husband and son, have shared a home with their beloved Bumma for the past 20 years.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

An Artist's View

The following post was prepared at the request of the JordanCon Blog before this year's Art Show. It will be shared at some point to the JordanCon family via the blog, but I thought maybe it should be shared more generally as well, particularly after several recent discussions on art, folk art, and inspirations.

Art and music, color and sound, have been a huge part in my life since childhood. I have a bit of synesthesia, where one sense triggers a response in another. For me, colors and patterns trigger music and vice versa. A print of Van Gogh's Starry Night hung in my childhood bedroom, and I used to stare at it, transfixed by the sounds that the colors and brush strokes created in my head. It wasn't until years later, singing in a choir, that I realized, to me, Starry Night looks the way Mozart's Ave Verum sounds. Patterns and repetition, colors and sound all work through me when I create. I have found inspiration in the patterns around me, both in nature and in human creations. For as long as I can remember, I've had a physical need to find a way to express the designs that filter through my brain, and have done so using a multitude of mediums over the years.


The means of creative expression I may be most known for comes from the folk art of pysanky, the intricately decorated eggs often displayed at Easter-time. Pysanky (a word derived from the Ukrainian word “to write”) are created using a wax-and-dye resist process similar to batik, though on eggshell instead of cloth. Though my family comes from Ukraine, writing pysanky was not part of my cultural heritage, although it was for my husband Alan's family. I had long loved the patterns and intricacy of the designs but figured I was incapable of creating such beauty. With encouragement from a Master pysanky artist, I picked up the kistka (the tool used to apply the wax) in my 40's, and have yet to stop. Writing pysanky is a form of meditation for me, the meanings behind the symbols and the music in my head becoming a sort of prayer as I work on each egg. Writing pysanky was a way for me to relieve stress after working long days with disabled children and their families as a clinical nurse specialist. And when I became ill myself, it was a huge part of my healing and acceptance of the changes one takes on with chronic illness. I only began to feel comfortable with the title “artist” after I had several of my pysanky accepted into the collection of the Kolomyia Museum in Ukraine. To this day, I am more likely to describe myself as a folk-artist.


Taking the pysanky art from eggshell to paper and ultimately to interactive art such as Patterns of the Wheel, a coloring book based on The Wheel of Time (Tor, 2016), is entirely due to the JordanCon family. Without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and a bit of nagging, I'd still be only working with eggshells. My art, in all its forms, reflects the wabi-sabi concept of Japanese art (before I became a nurse, I received a degree in history, anthropology, and Asian studies, and embraced some of the cultural ideas I encountered, particularly from the Far East). These ideas reinforce the folk vs formal aspect of my art. I also incorporate aspects from some of my favorite artists: the Impressionists, whose paintings color my memories from childhood visits to museums; Utagawa Hiroshige's marvelous prints and drawings; Warli, Kalamkari, Mehndi, miniatures, and even the painted trucks of India; indigenous creations from all over the world; street art, local works, and artistic friends. Lately, the art of Nigerian-born Victor Ekpuk, both for his designs, and for his exploration of nsibidi (a traditional pictorial writing of his homeland) has been calling me.  The similarities between two arts using pictorial language and a transient format (chalk/eggshell) is a thrilling find, as are his artistic talents.


Wheel of Time-inspired art ranges from elegant, elaborate fantasy creations to simple stick figures. Individual taste and perspective guide the way artists approach their craft and the way in which viewers assess the result. One can glory in the art of Michelangelo, whose realistic depictions of the human form captured every nuance precisely, yet also delight in Marc Chagall, whose folk-art style featured casually drawn people and cows seen floating in colorful skies. One artist was a genius whose technical skills were flawless; the other recreated the art of commoners for a totally different purpose and effect. Luckily for me, there is room among the extremely talented Official Wheel of Time artists for a folk artist to explore the world Robert Jordan created. One of my most treasured memories is talking about pysanky with Jim Rigney, and his fascination with the symbols and language of pysanky. His interest in both the history and the art-form, and Harriet's encouragement, is what led to my becoming one of the licensed Wheel of Time artists. I am still astonished and grateful that my folk-art is in the company of such amazing art and artists.
Pysanky and Pysanky-inspired designs artist Amy Romanczuk, with a guitar she hand-decorated.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Food52 Mighty Salads: 60 New Ways to Turn Salad Into Dinner--And Make-Ahead Lunches, Too by Editors of Food52

Who needs a book about salads? I do!
Salads have come a long way from that hunk of iceberg lettuce with mayonnaise (or, shudder, Miracle Whip Salad Dressing) of my childhood. And this is the perfect season to get some salad inspirations-- which is what this book is for me: inspiration. I look at the recipes and the ingredients, and it helps me regroup my mind to plan a meal. I can't say that I've followed a recipe exactly, but I've used them as launching points, substituting when I don't have something or someone is allergic to an item, skipping things neither of us enjoy, adding in some other favorites. This is a lovely collection of ideas for using leafy greens, fruits, veggies, proteins, grains, and more. These are salads with biceps (I'd say guts, but that implies heaviness and extras you don't want to carry) strength to carry a meal but also the ability to take a minor role in a different menu.

Bottom line, for me is this is good inspiration for when I can't think of what to do with what's on hand. Thank you Blogging for Books and the wonderful Food52 for sharing this with me. Happy table; happy tummies.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Because You're Mine by Colleen Coble

Oh please. Not only was this transparent from the get-go, but ridiculous in many aspects of premise. I read it only because it was supposedly set in Charleston and a nearby plantation. I'll give the author credit for getting Hibernian Hall as a conceivable location for an Irish performance, though it's not a theater, and she didn't have John Corless mentioned.  She also got that there can be blackwater within 20 miles of Charleston, but not much else realistic about the setting of the "decaying mansion" where Alanna and her new husband reside. My eyeballing was so evident as I was reading the book, that my husband, sitting across the room from me, thought I might be having seizures. I think I actually slammed the book shut when she had a characterstuff his face full of "bennes" (meaning benne cookies, or benne wafers) and come from the kitchen holding two more. The problem is "bennes" are sesame seeds and distinctly different from benne wafers. And let's not even get into some of the medical stuff that happens... full body burns healed completely, enough for final facial reconstruction with no scarring within 6 months? Knife wounds and other miraculous healings? Even a willing suspension of disbelief and a deep faith in powers beyond human couldn't sustain me.

I recognize that the author has many, many books to her credit, but now realize there's a decided difference between a USA Today best selling author and a New York Times bestselling author. 

PS Don't feed alligators marshmallows.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Beartown by Fredrick Backman

I've heard people say that this is a departure from Fredrik Backman's norm, but I disagree, somewhat. Sure it doesn't have the quirky humor of A Man Called Ove,  the magical realism of My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She's Sorry, the hope of Britt Marie was Here, but it has the depth, compassion, and the compelling story found in all his books. This, more than all his other novels (and the novella), pushes the setting into a character, for Beartown interacts with all the other characters in unique and memorable ways. If you're looking for Ove, this isn't the place, but if you want a really fine read, pick this up-- and remember, your actions, both good and wicked, created repercussions not just in your life but in the world.

From the Publisher:
People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Daddy Sandwich

My father was many things: brilliant scientist, gifted actor, always ready with a quip or pun, loving father, trusted husband. He was not, however, much of a cook. I remember he barbecued for a bit, on a grill that he imbedded in a cement wall (to keep his young children from running into the hot grill)... until the wall fell down one day, because apparently my father was not that gifted with cement. However, he would, upon occasion, make for us something he called Daddy Sandwich. It was a treat at the time, mostly because it was prepared by him, but also because it was tasty. He toasted whatever bread we had in the house at the time (white, pumpernickel, or rye were the most likely candidates) and then added a layer of cream cheese. On top of this, went a layer of canned salmon, carefully mashed. (Fresh was not easily available. For the first 10 years of my life I thought salmon came from a can, or from the deli as lox.) He trimmed the crusts off the open faced sandwich, then cut it on the diagonals to yield 4 triangles of deliciousness.

This morning, I made a Daddy sandwich. No matter that the bread was gluten free, since I've developed a wheat allergy, or that, thanks to my Ashkenazi heritage, I prefer to use lactose free cream cheese, and that the salmon, was leftover wild CoHo salmon I broiled last night, or that I left the crusts on, because, why not? It was a Daddy Sandwich, and I was so happy to share my breakfast with his memory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I've yet to read anything by this author which I have not been swept up into the story. I was not disappointed. In fact, this book grabbed my heart and didn't let go. I mean, the main character is a graphic novel artist/writer and hits the cons!

But Joshilyn Jackson has a way of writing about the South, and the many layers of life here that delve beyond sweet tea, manners, and magnolias. She gets that duality of two types of south that has troubled me for so long-- there's the south I love, with the beauty of the land, the traditions, and the close knit community, and then there's that dark underbelly that launched abominations into our world which still rear their ugly heads in ways such as the slayings at Mother Emanuel AME, racism, bigotry, and other ways of stamping out human hearts and lives.

Plus, there was real compassion in the way Jackson wrote of Birchie's decline and illness, and the love between Birchie and Wattie. I also was moved by the way Jackson explored Leia's path of understanding and willingness to share her pregnancy. (But Batman as baby-daddy? How cool is that???)

Joshilyn Jackson, thank you. You hit it out of the park, again. And thanks to LibraryThing early reviewers and the publisher for sending me this copy.

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyearly-review-librarythinggreat-titlemade-me-thinkplaces-i-have-beenreadset-in-the-southtaught-me-something

From the publisher:
With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality---the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs' weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She's having a baby boy--an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old's life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel's marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she's been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother's affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she's pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she's got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie's been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family's freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules by A.J. Mendez Brooks

The WWE world is not my usual habitat, but recently, a friend mentioned he used to work for WWE in Atlanta, and was amazed that no one in the group of friends gathered followed wrestling. This coincided with some good reviews of AJ Mendez Brooks' new release, so I decided to check it out myself. Glad I did. I found insight, humor, understanding, honesty, told by a very bright, and apparently vary talented/determined young woman. Fascinating read.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending along this copy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Firebrand (Alternative Detective #2) by A.J. Hartley

Dear Mr Hartley,
Please accept my humble apology. I am unable at this time to write a review of Firebrand, for reasons which are far too mundane to go into here (i.e. life gets complicated sometimes). I really wanted to have written a stellar one, since, in all likelihood, I'll be meeting you at JordanCon next week. (In theory I'd be the one wearing the sign that says "Sorry I didn't get to review your book before meeting you" --  though more likely I'll just be wearing a sheepish grin on my face.)

However, thank you for giving me the opportunity to grow out my nails, as I seemed to have bitten them down. In Ang, you have created a great character, and keep unfolding a world that fascinates me. My unease with some of the  political situations were because they rang a little truer than they might have when you were penning the story, but please don't mistake unease for complacency. Ang isn't the only female who can do some shit-kicking. Some of us have to do it land based or behind a computer, rather than from a rooftop or crane. And I know a cos-player or two who could use Madam Nahreem's guidance to help pull off a role realistically.

As to the question raised at the end of the book, unless Willinghouse really steps up his game, I hope it's Daria over her stuffed-shirt brother. I suspect life would be a lot more colorful, exciting, and passionate with that choice.

Many thanks to friends at Tor Books for sending me this ARC. My only complaint is that now I have to wait extra long for the next Alternative Detective book to make it into my hands.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Put a good face (or 3) with a Good Deed

Yesterday, I wrote a little story about Peter & Sons, a family business that as long as I have known them (which would be in 1981 when I came in to have the heel repaired my shoe that had broken while I was dancing at a friend's wedding. I had been a bridesmaid-- hated the dress, but loved the shoes I had gotten to wear with them. I flung the shoes into a corner to continue dancing, but the next morning, took them to a Peter & Sons, which had opened in the brief interim when I had left Charleston to pursue life in the frozen north.) The act of kindness bestowed has touched a lot of hearts. I printed off the blog post and took a copy to the shop this morning. I wanted to tell them in person how far their story had gone.

Once again, when I walked in,  the store delighted me. I could see the top of Igor's head above the partition that delineates the line between customer space and workshop. I could hear the cadences of speech that reminded me of my mother's family, who also were Ukrainian Jews. The sons of Peter joshed with me as I told them I needed to talk to them, "Not me", said Igor as he pointed to his older brother. "He did it."
"I hear someone calling me in back", said Josif, pretending to walk away from me.
But the story got told, and I gave them the post.
And then I asked if I could take their picture. Daniel (Josif's son) joined us (and already knew the story of the guitar) and after a little discussion of where to take the photo, it was done.
Josif, Daniel, and Igor Tsveer

So why did the sons and grandson of Peter decide to take the picture in this spot? Over their shoulder is the one who made it all possible, the man who taught these men by example to be the men they are: Mr Peter. Yup, photobombed by the patriarch. It's a good thing.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Do a Mitzvah

Something nice happened.

A few months back, I realized I was not playing my guitar, a purchase that I saved nickels and pennies, and occasional dollars for in my college years. I'd spent high school diligently learning to play, mostly borrowing friends guitars, but longed for one of my own, one that I earned, one that chose me as I chose it. And in the early 1970's my guitar and I found each other. I had exactly enough coin to cover the cost, and once I passed it over, the Goya  dreadnought pattern guitar came home with me.

That guitar travelled with me: summers in the mountains of West Virginia where I played the folk tunes I'd learned, winters initially in Charleston, but later in the Finger Lakes region of New York, when I  went off to University, and then to St Louis, where I finished my undergraduate work. It came back to Charleston with me, where my roommate and I would sit on our porch, in the soft southern air, singing songs of the 60's. It travelled with me when I fell in love and married, though I rarely took it out of the case with all the added happenings of being one of two, and then of motherhood. When I did play, it was a solitary song, because by then, I'd forgotten many of the chords, and my transitions were no longer as smooth as I might hope.

In the continuing effort to downsize, and lighten the burden of sorting through decades of accumulations that my children will face when I pop off, I made the decision to sell my guitar. Since it had been a steady companion for over 40 years, I felt funny just putting it up on Craigslist, so instead, I inquired among my friends if anyone was interested. There were several nibbles, but before I could commit, another friend suggested that I might want to consider putting it up in an auction  which benefited charity we both were supported-- and maybe, if I were to try my hand at decorating it, it might raise even more. Somehow, that sounded really right. Really, really right.

So, I began planning. I made a template of the guitar face and worked on my design, while also talking to others who had decorated instruments, Tate Nation, a wonderful artist and friend here in Charleston and Maggie Stiefvater, an author and artist I know through her YA books, and her very entertaining twitter feed (and who I briefly met when we both were guests at YallFest 2016) being two of the most helpful. 

It was a pleasure to try such a different venue for my folk art pysanky-inspired style of drawing. With a constant cheering section from the folks in a JordanCon Group*, the design grew, til all it needed were new strings (which are being donated by Ross Newberry) and initials of the final buyer to be put into the design by yours truly.

JordanCon is next week. It was time to give the case a cleaning and make sure all was ready for it to travel to the auction. As I took the case out of storage, the handle came away in my hand. This has been an exceptionally odd year for me with art accidents, so somehow, I wasn't surprised. But, I knew I had to get it fixed, and somewhat speedily, too.

Peter and Sons in South Windermere has helped my family out many a time: from the snapped strap on a shoulder bag, to the torn zipper on a suitcase (Peter has long since retired, but his sons, and grandsons continue to run the business.) My favorite visit to the shop was when I brought my son's size 14 Italian red leather shoes (made by the same craftsman who made Pope Benedict XVI's red shoes) to get stains and creases out of them after some travel abuse, so he could wear them for a wedding. "They look a little big for you," quipped the son behind the counter, "but I'll see what I can do." He worked magic. They looked great.

Hugging the guitar case in my arms, I entered the shop. I love the mix inside: luggage and cases, jumbled together with various styles shoes, hand written signs, bumper stickers from long ago campaigns, and various other items, all surrounded by the essence of leather and shoe polish. Add the two brothers, the sons of Peter, with their warm humor, quick wit, and the accents of their Ukrainian heritage, and it's a heady mix. Today, it was the brother who has lost 50 pounds (he'll tell you the story, and show you the original hole on his belt which was his "before" weight) who helped me. I figured I'd drop the case off today, and come back in a day or two, so told him I just needed it back so I could to get it to the auction on time. "No, no, no", he said. "Just have a seat." he told me as he wandered into the back.

When he returned, the handle was fixed.  The rivet may not match exactly, but it's sturdy. When I asked how much I owed, the cost was nothing. "You give; I give. That makes me feel rich here", he said, pointing to his heart. "Better than money."

And that, my friends, is the mensch who did a mitzvah.

*JordanCon  is a yearly gathering of fans of Robert Jordan and his Wheel of Time series, as well as fans of fantasy in general. James Rigney, best known to his fans around the world as "Robert Jordan," succumbed to  cardiac amyloidosis in 2007. since it's inception in 2008, JordanCon has raised more than  $9,000 for Amyloidosis research fund at the Mayo Clinic through its charity events at the annual gathering.
SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gather Her Round (Tufa #5) by Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe got me hook line and sinker with his first novel of the Tufa The Hum and the Shiver. With each subsequent Tufa tale, he reels me in further. There are so many elements about the series which keep me reading: the backstory, the setting, the depth of the characters, not to mention the incredible story arcs that weave and wander between the books creating a tapestry that delights, surprises, and satisfies. When I read a Tufa novel, the plots of each book engage me, but the writing-- oh, the writing! In a seemingly effortless, unpretentious, uncluttered way, Bledsoe brings the sounds, smells, and sights of Cloud County to vivid reality in my own imagination. I am transported to walk among the characters he has created, a silent observer, watching the good, the evil, and the in-between create the paths of their lives. These are stories that ring with song, those rich ballads from ages ago, and new ones filled with love, longing, and a touch of magic.

Kera Rogers set out one afternoon to practice her music at a favorite spot in the woods.  A text conversation with her boyfriend abruptly cuts off and Kera is believed to have fallen victim to the wild hogs, led by a monstrous, seemingly supernatural one. When the young man she was seeing behind her boyfriend's back is the next to die, the plot, as they say, thickens. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this tale was the telling: the split format of an adult Janet at the Smoky Mountain storytelling festival, relating the tale while intertwining her music and the basic narrative unwinding the memory of a happening in her girlhood.

If you've read any of the Tufa series, you may see characters you've met in other books, but if you've never come to Cloud County in your reading before, this, as with any of the books in the series, gives an easy glide in, without a preponderance of fill-in to catch you up.

Bottom line: thank you Alex Bledsoe. You keep writing; I'll keep reading.

Thank you to Tor Books for this copy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip by Hitha Palepu

My business travel days are over, but that of my children is just beginning. I figured this book might be good for the latter for business, and maybe help me pare down for my few travels. There are some good suggestions, but it is very female oriented (makeup, cosmetics, heels vs flats, types of bras, etc). I was also struck by the use of "hair ties" to hold rolled clothes and for another use or two, assuming everyone would have them on hand and need to be travelling with them. I liked the illustrations from an artistic point of view, but they aren't as helpful, for me as photos or more detailed drawings from a packing and finding new assistive point of view. I have an important trip next month, and will put these suggestions to the test to see if it helps.

Thanks to Blogging for books and the publisher for sending me my copy.
SaveSave

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Frog Who Was Blue by Faiz Kermani

This lovely little book was written to support the World Medical Fund (WMF), a medical charity working in Africa, which focuses on the regions most vulnerable children. It is a simple story of Malawi, who comes from Lake Ticklewater, deep in the heart of Africa. All the frogs there, including Malawi are blue (which, of course, got "I'm in Love With a Big Blue Frog" running nonstop through my brain). However, when Malawi gets accepted to Croak College, he finds out that no other students are blue, just him. The green frogs tease him and shun him, and poor Malawi is broken hearted. But things happen, as they often do in stories like this, giving children a chance to be exposed to the message that being different is not necessarily a bad thing.

As a retired pediatric nurse, who worked with disabled children, this was a common occurrence for the children and families to get through. Kids who look different, have equipment to help them walk, talk, breathe, pee, eat, write, talk, can all be treated like blue frogs. It's not always an easy fix, and though this book is a nice beginning, I found myself remembering Digby Wolfe's poem, Kids who are Different.

Here’s to kids who are different,
Kids who don’t always get A's,
Kids who have ears
Twice the size of their peers,
And noses that go on for days.

Here’s to the kids who are different,
Kids they call crazy or dumb,
Kids who don’t fit,
With the guts and the grit,
Who dance to a different drum.

Here’s to the kids who are different,
Kids with a mischievous streak,
For when they have grown,
As history has shown,
It’s their difference that makes them unique.


Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the author for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Pysanky

Some of the pysanky I have available still are listed here. If interested or desiring more information, please contact me (picture row and position of pysanka from the left would help). Thank you.

Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Picture 4

Picture 5

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Rejoice the Ides of March or The Bard Can be Wrong

Long story short, today is our wedding anniversary. Javaczuk and I were married 33 years ago, on the eastern shore of Maryland. We also were married 33 years, 4 days ago in Washington, DC. And if you want to get technical, we also were married 20 years ago in Charleston.  I told you, it's a long story.

The first was the family wedding, but for those long-story-short reasons, suffice it to say we needed to be married again to make it legal. So we were. On our honeymoon. 33 years ago today. With my mother and siblings present.

The third was actually in the Catholic Church-- the sacrament of marriage, 13 years after the original ceremony. Our son and my mother were our picks for best man and matron of honor, but since one was 7 and the other not a Christian, our pastor asked us to pick witnesses who were both adult and Catholic. So we did, but in my heart, I treasure my mother standing (well, sitting in her wheelchair) for me, and our son by his dad's side, as I wed my sweetheart, once again, though this time with the Church's blessing.

We were telling the story of our weddings to our daughter, and she decided we needed to renew our vows. After all, it had been over 20 years since we did so. It would be easy, she told us. She could perform the ceremony herself, since she is a Notary Public. So, with our daughter as officiant, and granddaughters as maid of honor and best girl, with me clutching my iPhone with a picture of flowers I'd drawn, with the man I gave my heart to all those years ago, she said the words, and we replied "sure, why not?" and "you bettcha". We sealed the deal, once again. He's stuck for good.

Life is nothing if not contradictory. The Ides of March isn't always a date to beware. And the Bard can be wrong. The course of True Love sometimes does run smooth, 33 years and counting.


Pictures below:

March 11, 1984 At the Calvert Collection, in Washington DC, because if you can get married in an antiques and art gallery, why wouldn't you? (We call this our fake-aversary, because the marriage wasn't legal)

March 15, 1984, St. Michael's, Maryland, by the courthouse, where we'd just gotten hitched by a judge. (That's my kin gathered round us.) This is the one we recognize as our true marriage date.

March 15, 1997 Cathedral of St John the Baptist, 2 pictures

March 11, 2017 South Carolina Lowcountry






Sunday, March 12, 2017

One Pan & Done: Hassle-Free Meals from the Oven to Your Table by Molly Gilbert

Two years ago, we moved into a new home where 3 out of 4 burners on our stove were kaput, and our oven unreliable. Though we're in the process of renovations now, I became an expert on one pot cooking, since essentially, I only had one working element with which to cook. This is a nice collection of full cooking, from breakfast through all mealtimes and on to dessert. The few recipes I've tried so far have been tasty, though some were a little bland for our tastes, but I'll follow my instincts when cooking them next to add some of our favorite spices to kick flavors up. All in all, a fine addition to the shelf.

Thank you to Blogging for books and to the publishers for sending me my copy.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

Warning: If you are approaching your "golden years", and/or you've lost someone you love who was elderly and had memory problems, and/or two of your biggest fears are that memory loss/illness will take your beloved before your or that you will lose all you love along with your own cognition/memory, don't read this book. Cathleen Schine is a skilled, fabulous writer, and she paints a picture that will rip across your heart, reviving all of your deepest fears, reawakening all of your darkest moments. This is not a book for the lighthearted. I can imagine that for those still in the light of health, having never lost someone they love, this could be the "hilarious novel" written about on the back cover. For me, all it made me want to do is curl up and cry. I can't rate it because I can't separate the excellent writing from the black despair of the emotions it evoked.

From the publisher:
From one of America’s greatest comic novelists, a hilarious new novel about aging, family, loneliness, and love

The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don’t just grow, they grow old, and the clan’s matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy’s beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. And they didn’t count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

The New York Times–bestselling author Cathleen Schine has been called “full of invention, wit, and wisdom that can bear comparison to [ Jane] Austen’s own” (The New York Review of Books), and she is at her best in this intensely human, profound, and honest novel about the intrusion of old age into the relationships of one loving but complicated family. They May Not Mean To, But They Do is a radiantly compassionate look at three generations, all coming of age together. (less)

Tags: 2017-read, an-author-i-read, at-least-the-writing-was-good, don-t-want-to-rate, everyone-else-liked-it, good-but-made-me-sad, great-title, made-me-sad, made-me-uncomfortable, places-i-have-been, read, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Friday, February 17, 2017

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Allegory, fairy tale, magical realism, historical novel-- Anna and the Swallow Man has a bit of it all. It certainly has the characters of an old European folk tale, not just simple good guys and bad guys but demons and shape changers. There's even the lovable fool. The story, set primarily in Poland in WWII, centers on Anna, a child of 7, whose father is taken away one day and never comes back. Though circumstance, Anna begins to travel with a person she names the Swallow Man. Their journey is one of survival, uncovering truths and illusions, falsehoods and fantasies. It is written in elegant, evocative prose, which leaves many aspects of the tale for the reader to imagine, but also filled a place in my reading heart I hadn't realized was vacant. Also notable are the wonderful chapter illustrations and cover art, done by Laura Carlin.
To be honest, I am not sure I was able to absorb all the author packed away in the pages, but this novel is one I am pretty sure I could again and find something new each time.

tags: 2017-read, awardwinner, first-novel-or-book, great-cover, magical-realism, read, still-trying-to-figure-this-one-ou, thank-you-charleston-county-library, translated, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, ya-lit

From the publisher: Kraków, 1939. A million marching soldiers and a thousand barking dogs. This is no place to grow up. Anna Łania is just seven years old when the Germans take her father, a linguistics professor, during their purge of intellectuals in Poland. She’s alone.

And then Anna meets the Swallow Man. He is a mystery, strange and tall, a skilled deceiver with more than a little magic up his sleeve. And when the soldiers in the streets look at him, they see what he wants them to see.

The Swallow Man is not Anna’s father—she knows that very well—but she also knows that, like her father, he’s in danger of being taken, and like her father, he has a gift for languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, even Bird. When he summons a bright, beautiful swallow down to his hand to stop her from crying, Anna is entranced. She follows him into the wilderness.

Over the course of their travels together, Anna and the Swallow Man will dodge bombs, tame soldiers, and even, despite their better judgment, make a friend. But in a world gone mad, everything can prove dangerous. Even the Swallow Man.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 16, 2017 A Day Without Immigrants

The Family of Abraham and Ida Galler circa 1926
My grandparents each fled their homeland in a time of persecution. In America, they not only found a haven and new home, they found each other. Hardworking and with few means, but a lot of drive, they started an egg cart on the East Side of NYC (which is especially ironic since one of their granddaughters is a pysanky/egg artist) that they gave up in the summer of 1929 to move their growing family to the country in Brooklyn and live off the income of the stocks they'd invested in with their profits. Their timing might not have been good, and even though wealth alluded them, their goodness and generosity touched many souls. At my grandfather's funeral, the funeral of a simple shopkeeper and resale man, over 1,000 people came to pay respects. They gave thanks to his widow and children, telling of the many kindnesses he had done them in a time of need, a helping hand, a few dollars here, a meal there. His family was astonished at the number of people he'd helped in his short life. The story is that my grandmother finally got exasperated, exclaiming to her eldest daughter "A nickel here, a dollar there, a bowl of soup there, and all the time his children had to wear second hand clothes and have fried bread for breakfast! Could a little of that generosity have been spent at home instead of giving to others? Did he have to help everyone who asked?" To which her daughter replied, "But Mama, that's what you do. If anyone needs help, they come to you!"

From humble beginnings, they raised a family. Their descendants are dentists, scientists, businesswomen, real estate agents, entrepreneurs, podiatrists, chefs, physical therapists, builders, philanthropists, volunteer workers, scholars, renaissance men, musicians, educators, professors, nurses, researchers, artists, writers, homemakers, teachers, CPAs, administrators, lawyers, doctors, veterinarians, parents, grandparents, and citizens. (And that's only through their children and grandchildren. Great grands and great great grands are still finding their passions, and seeing where their talents take them.)

Today, February 16, 2017, is a day where many have encouraged immigrants, "foreign-born people nationwide, regardless of legal status, not to go to work or go shopping in a demonstration of the importance of their labor and consumer spending to the United States’ economy."*   This granddaughter of immigrants stands with immigrants.



*Rogers, Katie 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

During Y'allFest 2016, I had the opportunity to meet Nicola Yoon (not that she'd remember me, she undoubtedly made a bigger impression on me than I did on her.) Shortly thereafter, I was able to snag a ebbed copy of her TheSun is Also a Star from my fabulous Charleston County Public Library, and fell into that segment of the world that loved the book, enough so that when Blogging for Books offered it, I said yes. I rarely reread books within in a year, let alone within months of the initial cracking of covers, but this is one case, perhaps the only, where I reread it within months. My first read was one of those wild "I can't put this book down and need to see what happens" gallops, so my second was a more leisurely revisit, a wandering through the remarkable prose and the New York Day of Natasha and Daniel.

The publisher's blurb actually didn't win me. It was hearing the attendees at Y'allFest that got me to pick the book up. I was intrigued to see how Yoon handled the concept: Two teenagers, with nothing in common except the city they live meet and fall in love on the day one of them is being deported back to Jamaica. Told from alternating viewpoints, the story is endearing, thoughtful, informative, and a very special gift to readers.

I also am fascinated by the cover, so did a bit of research on it. The jacket art is by Dominique Falla, design by Elaine C Damasco. As anyone who has ever done this type of art knows, this in an amazing work and I remain in awe of Dominique Falla's skill as a tactile typographer and string artist. Even had I not felt the way I do about the book, as a lover of art, the book would have grabbed the art lover in me.

Thank you to Blogging for Books, Delacorte Press, Random House Books, Dominique Falla, and of course Nicola Yoon, for bringing this book to me.

SaveSaveSaveSave

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Love, not hate, makes America great

I was born the year after Rosa Parks took her bus seat in history. My first birthday came just a week or so after Little Rock Central High School was desegregated. Nonviolent protest was a common topic among my parents and their friends. At the Ethical Society, where my family went for Sunday discussions with like minded individuals, we children learned a hymn to humanism, which included a paraphrase of Felix Adler's words: "This place we meet to seek the highest is holy ground." Before I turned three, as the Civil Rights Movement gained strength, I have a clear memory of asking my father what race were we. My father paused from his reading, and pondered a moment. My dad, who had eyebrows that rivaled John L. Lewis, ran his fingers through that forest as he did when he was in deep thought. He sighed, and then nodded his head, signifying agreement to some unspoken idea. Then he told me I was of the Human Race and to never forget that. The Human Race. Others might try and break that down, try to belittle one part of the Human Race or another based on beliefs, or color, or sex, or ability, but that was a ploy to something unworthy. We are all part of the same thing.

That was the lesson seared into my soul. I grew up in times of turbulence, but diversity was always championed. When the riots broke out after Martin Luther King's assassination, an African American friend came to our home just over the DC line, to check on my mother (who was experiencing the first debilitating and disorientating symptoms of what was later diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis). She knew my mother usually went grocery shopping on that day, and didn't want Mama to have to be out in the uncertainty that was our city. I asked our friend why people were being violent, because hadn't Dr King believed in nonviolence? "Violence begets violence; hatred begets hatred", she said. "But kindness begets kindness. Your mama and daddy did me kindness at the darkest time of my life. We are all family."

The mothers and grandmothers in my neighborhood all were early activists in the Women's Rights Movement. Many remembered when women got the right to vote (my mother was born the year after, but told me how her own mother would tell of her first time voting as an American, and how my grandmother never missed a chance to vote until the year she died, and only then because she died before the election.) Family  appointments and community happenings were written onto the  League of Women's Voters calendars that adorned every home in the neighborhood. And as I grew from girlhood into my late teens and twenties, Women's Rights and Women's Health became the causes I, too, fought for (though, in fairness, my first protest was against the Vietnam War in the 60's, and I remain  peace advocate. To this day, I respect and honor our military for their service, but pray for the end of the wars and fighting that plague our world.)

Yesterday, the most extraordinary thing happened. People all over the world, on all continents, got together and raised their voices in unity with those who joined the Women's March on Washington.  Though the agenda varied somewhat from activist to activist, all had something to say. I spoke for Human Rights, and for Kindness, for those early lessons run deep. I felt strongly I wanted to stand for something rather than against something.  Yes, there are many things in this world that make me angry, negative, upset, or fearful, but I choose hope. I choose kindness. I believe in the goodness of Humankind. And while technically, because of my health, I could not march,  the Charleston Women's March went right by my window I could watch, wave the signs I'd hand lettered, and give my support. I could rejoice that family, both far flung and near, were able to join in as they chose and speak to support what they hold to be inalienable rights; to breathe life into liberty and equality, with dignity, nonviolence, humor, passion, and yes, kindness.

I've thought about this a great deal, because there are people whose friendships I cherish that didn't see the purpose of yesterday's activism. One person even told me that she could make her own choices about her life, her health, her body, so she didn't see why she should march, or why others even needed to. But she also is too young to remember the days when women's bodies were not our own, when we couldn't choose for ourselves about ourselves,  choose who to love, or any one of a myriad of other issues.

I realized that those who marched, marched for our own beliefs and also for those who disagreed with the protest. We marched to uphold our rights and also their rights, their choice, their expression of belief, even if it contradicted our own.  We marched from all segments of society, the rich, the famous, the just plain regular folks, and those less fortunate. We marched, different colors, genders, education, occupation. We marched to uphold Human Rights. And for the ability to do that, I give thanks. The cadence of yesterday's marchers will ring in my heart and in my head. The words shared I believe, from those early days where I learned the value of kindness, through the dark days after the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME, where l saw the visible demonstration of the strength of love here in my town. Love, not hate, makes America great.
Flow Chart I made to help get it all straight in my head

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Action Plan for today

I need to slip away to my Happy Place. ("Happy Place"; Folly Beach view of Morris Island light house. Mixed Media. 2016)





Sunday, January 15, 2017

But what happened to The Chair

I tend to cross-post to various blogs. as was the case with Resting in the Arms of Love. I've since been asked by several people "what happened to the original Chair"?

The Chair eventually went to chair heaven, but not before every spring was sprung, upholstery (second time round) completely worn, strange lumps that conformed to no one's body developed, and the recliner function became useless for even the most stout-hearted. Bumma replaced it with a white recliner, scaled once again for diminutive folks. After she went on to that comfy reading chair in the sky, our daughter got it, where it was promptly claimed by her then (now ex) husband who dragged it to his man shack in the back yard. It turned dark gray from the smoke and general grime. When they split, it was too filthy to reclaim so it remained with him. I still feel guilty I let it go to such a fate.

My mother in her throne, the last month of her life.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Resting in the arms of Love

My father used to say he was a trendsetter. After all, he'd called people meatheads for years before Archie Bunker nicknamed his son-in-law that on  All in the Family. He also had a chair, a throne, that no one else was supposed to sit in besides him. One of the first purchases he and my mother made in 1968, when the family finally moved out of the little house that had been our home for 17 years, was a recliner just for him. I remember sitting on the arm of the chair, or on the floor near by, talking with Daddy about his life as a child actor, and growing up in the Bronx.  But to sit in it, myself? Never! (except if he wasn't home and I wouldn't get caught!)

An aside: My favorite story was when he was cast as "the pest" in a silent movie called Womanhandled, and the cast had to go on a road trip to Texas to film scenes where Richard Dix was pretending to be a cowboy. My father was a little kid, maybe 6 or 7 (though he was diminutive, as I am) and was playing the part of a 4 year old brat. Regardless, he couldn't travel alone, so my grandmother accompanied him. She, however, kept strict kosher, and refused to let him eat what the rest of the cast did. She bought food and prepared meals for the two of them. And when there was a barbecue in the cast's honor, she held fast and refused to let him eat all that wonderful food-- which was why my little Jewish grandmother and her son were the only two people in the entire production that did not come down with food poisoning afterwards. Sometimes religious dietary laws really come in handy.

By the time I'd gone off to college, the rules had relaxed. We all knew, though, that once my father got home from work, The Chair was his, and we had to park our bottoms elsewhere. He even co-opted  a hand signal that was actually a punchline to a joke -- a hand signal in the joke that meant "enough of that shit". 


(Left: that's me, in 1977, with our mutt Patonka and my flute, and some very stylish glasses, in The Chair. It's hard to describe the fabric. A modern weave that was kinda scratchy, enough so that you never wanted to sit in it in shorts. )

That chair traveled with the family from St Louis to Charleston, back to St Louis. After my dad died, the chair became my mother's throne. It travelled with her one more time, back to Charleston when we joined households. By this time, it was a bit tattered, so she had it reupholstered. Javaczuk marveled that she was able to find another fabric just as scratchy. 


At some point, my mother decided that though she loved The Chair, it was becoming hard for her to get in and out,  or to push it back to recline in, so she got another chair. The Other Chair wasn't allowed in the living room, because The Chair ruled there. But later, when we'd shifted to the house on the lake, the Other Chair, emerged and became part of the room we all spent the most time. I remember my nephew, who now is in high school, crawling all over it when he was under two, and delighting that he could make the seat of Other Chair shift into a reclining mode. After a bit, Other Chair, shifted again up to the cabin, so my mother could have a comfy spot there. Most of the pictures I have of her in it are really terrible, but I like this one,  because I love how she's bundled up inside the cabin, during winter (yes there was a fire going, maybe 5 feet away from her). As one who also is always cold, it makes me realize I come by my tendencies honestly.
The other picture, which I also love,  though it is not of my mother, was taken in 2006 or 2007. (The dating of it comes from the knowledge that we changed the curtains in 2007 and painted the door, but it was in the fall and this visit was spring.) Heatherico came up to the cabin with me for a visit. You can see who claimed the green chair in a characteristic arms over head pose.

We are now talking about selling the cabin, moving into yet another new phase of life. Some of the furniture will convey, some we'll sell, and some we'll keep. When the fires threatened the area, it was a lesson in "what would I miss the most? " There aren't that many things I really want to keep:  a painting or two, a gift from Heatherico I treasure, a picture, some things Javaczuk wants, and, the chair. But I was resigned that it might not be a possibility. Luckily, the forest fires, though they were close, didn't directly threaten our little haven. And when my sweetheart went up to winterize the place (there still was too much smoke in the area for me to safely go), he came back with what he could fit in the car from our list, including the chair.

We have it set up in our room, where Javaczuk has a reading nook in one corner and I now have one in the opposite corner. I started meditating in an effort to help improve my breathing and health, and the chair is my place of choice. I delight in curling up in it to read, or to have my tea. It's comfy, designed for diminuitve folks, and is stuffed full of memories. And every time I sink into it, I feel I am resting in the loving arms of dear ones now gone.
SaveSave