Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Vacation Reading List

"Vacation reading list" usually refers to the books I pack to read in the car, on the plane,in a motel room or on the beach.  But this time, I came home from vacation with a list of "must reads".

I took a cruise with Amelia River Cruises on the rivers surrounding Amelia Island, Florida.  If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend it. The Captain of our sight-seeing boat told a string of fascinating stories about each sight that we passed.  I was so curious about the mysterious Cumberland Island, that I ordered this book as soon as I returned to our hotel room:

Cumberland Island: Strong Women, Wild Horses by Charles Seabrook.

For centuries, Cumberland Island, which is located off the southeastern Georgia coast, has captured the imagination of visitors and inhabitants. In this book, Charles Seabrook uses circling narratives about generations of strong women who have called Cumberland Island their home to explain why this island seems to invoke strong emotions in all who come here.
From the days of Caty Greene, the widow of Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Green, to Zabette, the slave mistress of Cumberland's largest landholder before the Civil War, to Lucy Carnegie, the widow of Thomas Carnegie (Andrew's younger brother), to Carol Ruckdeschel, a naturalist once profiled in the New Yorker, and Janet "Gogo" Ferguson, who played an integral role in the planning of Carolyn Bessette and John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s secret wedding on the island, we watch as these women strive to protect the island they love.
Our cruise was delayed due to foggy weather and then delayed a second time due to a mechanical problem.  While we waited, a slightly eccentric employee of the cruise entertained us with stories - some believable and some not.  One of the more believable (and fascinating) was about the people of his homeland - Newfoundland.  That led to book number 2 on my Barnes and Noble order:  The Day the World Came to Town

When thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land in Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001, due to the closing of United States airspace, the citizens of this small community were called upon to come to the aid of more than six thousand displaced travelers.
For the better part of a week, nearly every man, woman, and child in Gander and the surrounding smaller towns stopped what they were doing so they could help. They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed."
The Day the World Came to Town is a positively heartwarming account of the citizens of Gander and its surrounding communities and the unexpected guests who were welcomed with exemplary kindness.

While visiting Fernandina Beach, the town near our resort, I stopped in a book store to look for a book on the history of Amelia Island.  The clerk said that Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach by Roger Moore and Ron Kurtz, is their best seller.  So, I picked up an autographed copy.

I struck up a conversation with a lady browsing the table of new best sellers.  She recommended "The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins - "Once you start it you won't put it down until you're done."  Of course I had to buy it after that endorsement. 

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
 And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?  Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.
I also picked up a copy of Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell, for Dave.  
This richly detailed and meticulously researched historical novel continues the story she began in Doc, following Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to Tombstone, Arizona, and to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Now all I need is another vacation so I have time to  read them all.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Our accommodations on this trip are about 80 yards from the ocean.  Down the hall, through the lobby, past the pools  and along the boardwalk - - - there it is.  Since we are so close, one of my goals is to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic.  The first morning was overcast, but I sat on the beach and watched the gray sky lighten as the sun came up behind the clouds.  

On day two, I checked the weather before heading to the beach:
  • Weather for Jacksonville, Florida at 7:00 a.m.:  Dense fog advisory, 87% humidity, 68 degrees.
  • Weather for Salem, Nebraska at 7:00 a.m.:  Dense fog advisory, 91% humidity, 24 degrees.
All things considered, Florida was the winner - but I still didn't get to watch the sunrise. Instead, I sat by the fire pit on the patio, sheltered from the drizzling mist and again watched the black sky fade to gray and listened to the waves crashing on the shore.

Day 3:  The conference we are attending hosted "beach Olympics" Saturday morning, starting just after sunrise.  We went down a little early to check the sunrise status. As you can tell from the picture of Dave trying to save my pitiful attempts at Bocce ball and keep us in the tournament, it was still foggy and overcast.  No problem - 2 more chances.

Day 4:  Dave had an 8:00 reservation to go hang gliding, so we called a cab for 7:20.  While Dave waited for the cab, I faithfully made my morning trek to the beach, even though I knew I wasn't going to see the sunrise through the clouds.  At least I could say I tried.  Sure enough - no visibility.  In fact, Dave's hang gliding ride was postponed for an hour while we waited in the pilot's office, listening to the airport station announce the latest visibility and weather information.  When the clouds parted, they took off.  The ride was cut a few minutes short because the clouds and fog began to close in again.

Powered hang gliding with Hang Glide USA
Tomorrow is Day 5 - my final chance to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic - at least for this trip.  The weather forecast says cloudy and rainy, so I'm not optimistic, but these quiet mornings on the beach, or by the fire in view of the beach, have been a blessing.  There is much to be learned by taking time to be still and listen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Beach Baby Takes A Ferry

Thursday night was the highlight of the trip - and I say this with confidence even though it was only the second day of six day trip.  My uncle and his family have lived in Jacksonville for more than sixty years and I have never been to visit them.  The rest of my dad's family remained in Kansas so it has always been easier for the Florida branch to come north and see everyone at once.  It was fun to turn the tables and visit their home turf.  

My uncle, his son and son's wife picked us up at our hotel, drove us south along the coast, and we took a ferry across the St. John River, where we had a seafood feast at Singleton's Seafood Shack.  Look it up - it has been featured on The Food Network's Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives.  And a dive it is . . .  
Singleton's Seafood Shack
But it's hard to get fresher than having the fishing boats dock at the back door.

And the view's not bad.

Dave, Tami, Uncle Willis, Cousin Darrell and his wife, Bertha
I guess we should have snapped one less picture.  The ferry behind us in this shot is preparing to make the final crossing for the evening.  We arrived two minutes too late.  Our return to our motel required driving farther south to a bridge, going inland, then back north to our hotel.  Just between us, the longer drive gave us more time for conversation with family we rarely get to see, so I didn't mind.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Beach Baby . . .

For the next few days, I'll be blogging from Amelia Island, Florida, where we are taking a combination business trip/vacation.  Yesterday, we got up at 2:15 a.m. (that's in the morning!), left Green Acres at 3:15 (still a.m.!) and were on the plane at Kansas City International at 5:40 (still very a.m.).   Next time, I'm booking the flights.

In the twenty-four hours we have been here, I've learned this much:

  • My back problems are not caused (as I had thought) by our old mattress.  The deliciously comfy, king-sized bed here didn't help.
  • You can't watch the sun rise over the ocean when it's overcast - a thought I should probably have had before getting up, dressing and walking to the beach.
  • A gray ocean with violent waves, slowly lightening as the sun comes up behind the clouds, is still a beautiful sight.
  • A blazing fire pit on the hotel patio, which affords a view of the raging ocean, is the perfect spot for early morning coffee and devotions.
  • "Resort people" are not early risers.  I pretty much had the beach and patio to myself at that hour.
  • It's difficult to paint a gray ocean with whitecaps if your travel-size watercolor kit does not include black or white.
  • Resort prices are beyond ridiculous - $10 drinks, $20 hamburgers, and $165 sun dresses - and they don't accept cash.
  • And most importantly:  humidity-proof hair spray isn't.

This evening we are headed south along the coast for my most anticipated part of the trip.  My uncle and cousins, who have lived in Jacksonville for over 60 years, are taking us to Singleton's Seafood Shack - a local hot-spot for fresh seafood.  I'm told that the shrimp trawlers and fishing boats dock right at the restaurant to deliver the day's catch.  Doesn't get any fresher than that. Part of the drive will involve a ferry between islands - something a land-locked Kansas/Nebraska girl has never done.

Not the colorful sunrise I was expecting, but beautiful none the less.
The warmth of the fire against the chilly early-morning breeze was perfect.
 The ocean is just beyond the rock wall in the distance so,
though it doesn't show in the picture, I still had a great view.
The sun eventually peeked out from the clouds.
Maybe tomorrow I can see the sunrise.

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Literary Genealogy

I have my mother's hair and skin, my grandmother's figure, my father's affinity for doing my own thing.  On the other hand, I do no not have my mother's organization, my grandmother's gentleness or my father's singing voice.
I am a combination of my ancestors, with bits I have picked up from friends, teachers, pastors, co-workers, famous personalities and even . . . book characters?  

Surely I am not influenced by made-up stories or words written in a book  - fiction or non-.  Yet, in Audrey Niffenegger's graphic novel "The Night Bookmobile", the young lady wandering through the stacks realizes they are filled with the collection of books she has read throughout her life.  
"These shelves of books were a distillation of my life"
If there is such a connection between my life and what I read, there must also be a connection to the people who led me to those books.  They become ancestors, of sorts, who contribute to the DNA of my reading life.

My cousin, Arlene, introduced me to Agatha Christie and started a life-long love of mysteries.  My high school friend, Maureen, convinced me to try science fiction.  That idea didn't stick, but at least I have a general view of the genre.  Another high school friend, Ann, got me to read The Hobbit - which I loved at 17, but not when I reread it at 53.

As an adult, Nora widened my view of Christian fiction.  A lovely group of ladies in Sutherland, Nebraska taught me the joy of reading and sharing with a book club.  Mary taught me that friends can disagree on what to read, but still share a love of books.  Becoming a librarian (a title I wanted since grade school) pushed me into exploring authors and genres I had never considered - thanks to Joyce for hiring me and becoming a dear friend.  My sister, Teri, continues to challenge my reading through our personal book club.

Mrs. Jones not only taught me high school English, she also taught me that I didn't have to limit my reading to what was popular.  Dave's Aunt Ginger inspired a very young me to have a home filled with books.  Thirty five years later, she still inspires me.  My husband persuaded me to read and, I confess, enjoy Louis L'Amour's westerns.  Part of the reason my BFF, Wanda, became my BFF was that she shared my love of the "Cat Who..." series and the occasional "guilty pleasure" romance novel.

In more recent years, I have discovered the on-line reading community through blogs, Twitter and the semi-annual "Dewey's 24-hour Readathon" - two of my favorite days of the year.

Most importantly, 20+ years ago, a pastor's wife named Marilyn overheard a conversation that brought us together, and she taught me to really read my Bible.

Who has influenced what and how you read?  

“I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, March 6, 2015

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

It's October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree... and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.
When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.
Lose yourself in Sarah Addison Allen's enchanting world and fall for her charmed characters in this captivating story that proves that a happily-ever-after is never the real ending to a story. It's where the real story begins.

For fear of sounding like a broken record, I went back and re-read my review of Sarah Addison Allen's previous books.  I have adored all her books and wrote rave reviews of them, and finding new words is a challenge.  So, I'm not even going to try.  I'll borrow words from the books own blurb -  magic, mysterious, enchanting, charmed, captivating.

In my own words - it's a really good book.  Read it!

I'm such a big fan of Ms. Allen's books that I pre-ordered it the minute I heard it was coming out.  And when publication date arrived . . . I bought it again.  (Soon I'll be hiding my own Easter eggs.)  Since I now have two copies, I'll share the wealth.  Just leave a comment and you'll be entered to win my spare copy.  If I actually get more than one comment, I'll draw the winner on Tuesday morning.

If you are unfamiliar with her books, I recommend that you read Garden Spells first, since they contain the same characters.  It helps to be familiar with the characters and their history.  And while you're at the library, pick up Sugar Queen, which is her best book yet.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Coffee, Tea or . . . ?

My sister asked me the other day if Trish was going to be hosting a Pin It/Do It Challenge in the near future.  I got all excited at the prospect of participating again . . . But then I realized that my life has pretty much become a Pinterest Challenge.  I am constantly spotting something that I just have to try.  Here is the latest:

The Butterfly Mug Bag from Red Brolly. The intent is to have a safe way to transport your favorite coffee/tea mug.  The bag consists of a padded pouch for the mug and a pocket for tea bags or condiments.

It did occur to me that I have never had the urge to carry my mug around with me, but sometimes pretty outweighs practicality.  Here is my finished bag:  (It's really not as lopsided as it looks - that's mostly bad photography)

I'm very happy with the results, but there's one hitch.  Here is the original Mug Bag as shown on Red Brolly:
Note how well the mug fits into the padded bag.

And here is my version with mug:

I made the bag with the dimensions in the tutorial.  Even the narrowest mug in my cupboard barely fits in the bag and the flap will not close with the mug in place.   Are Australian mugs considerably smaller than American mugs?  

Considering the fit issue and the fact that I had no use for a mug bag to start with, I am searching for an alternate use.  It could hold the supplies to make hexies - fabric, needle, thread and pattern - to work on when traveling.  It could hold a pen, note pad and post-it notes, for taking notes and flagging passages as I read.  It could hold . . .   Help me out and leave your ideas in the comments.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My Retreat

Dave was away from home for four days last week.  I'm not sure I've been home alone for that long in the last thirty-two years.  It was the perfect kick-off to that "independent" life I blogged about.  I had to work the first couple days, of course, but I had the evenings to fill, plus forty-eight weekend hours.  

With the exception of the hour I spent de-skunking two dogs, I really enjoyed myself.  I mixed some long-overdue household chores in with my favorite hobbies, so it wasn't a totally self-indulgent retreat, but I moved at my own pace, slept erratically, sewed in the wee hours and generally "did my own thing".

In addition to the Japanese Knot Bags and the Bunny Bag, I made a demo crazy-quilt bib using a variety of fabrics from my scrap pile. Maybe with more baby-friendly fabrics, I would like it better, but I'm not sure it's worth the work.  I think I'll try again with just one cute print.  I also made myself a mug rug - just for fun.

I decorated two journals because I saw cute ideas on Pinterest that I wanted to try.  They are both made from standard composition notebooks.  The small one is covered in a scrap of scrapbooking paper and embellished with ribbon and a pocket inside the front flap.  I covered the larger notebook by weaving strips of paper, then added a bit of ribbon and a luggage tag, for space to label the contents.  Since I haven't decided what to use it for, the tag is still blank. I'm sure inspiration will strike one of these days.

I also worked on my painting.  I have been trying to learn to paint with watercolors - guided by books from the library, YouTube videos and a lot of trial and error.  It may be the most relaxing thing I have ever done.  I can focus on the mixture of colors to the exclusion of all else.  

Reading and a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring the covers of bestselling books rounded out my retreat.  But the true benefit wasn't in the fun of crafting or in the freedom to ignore the clock.  The solitude allowed time for reflection on relationships - with God, with family, with co-workers . . . Or the lack of relationships with friends and the wall I have built to discourage friendships . . . and the changes that need to be made in all of them to allow me to "live abundantly" in my Life Under Construction.  The biggest creative project I'm working on is me