Category Archives: Reading

friday randomness

Sky - 9-2-2016Orange-pink puffs dotting the sky tonight, brighter and more vivid than my cell phone photo above.

It’s been a busy week — a big project at work that required much focus and attention to detail combined with a stress test — and now I’m more than ready for a three-day weekend. As usual, we don’t have much planned. The Husband has been getting into watching old movies and we just finished watching Bonnie and Clyde. Like most people, I knew the basic premise of the story but never saw the movie. (A bonus: the late Gene Wilder is in this one.)

What I am planning is as much reading as I can pack into these few days. I just received a review book for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A few more are on their way for another freelance assignment which I just landed this week and am thrilled about.

Also hoping to get at least one walk/run in. I’m attempting to do Couch to 5K, which deserves its own post.  I walked for a half hour on Thursday, including several very short (like 30 second) intervals of running.

One of my coworkers bought our entire office Chipotle for lunch today and I am now officially addicted to their burrito bowl and guacamole, which I’m sure I could live on for the rest of my life. Yes, I had never had Chipotle before today’s lunch. I live a very boring life.

Forget Donald Trump’s prognostication of taco trucks on every corner — just bring me Chipotle every single day.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #96 of 99 of my 99 Days of Summer Blogging posts. Almost there!





– I am hooked on The Piano Guys, whose music my cousin introduced to via Spotify. Most of my week at work was consumed by a pretty intense project and they were perfect

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sunday salon/ currently … the heat is on edition

Sunday Salon 4With apologies to the late Glenn Frey, the heat is definitely on — both on the street with temperatures well into the 90s for several days of a heatwave and in my head with a migraine that has been lingering for most of this weekend.  No doubt, one definitely has to do with the other.

I need to make today’s stop in the Salon on the short side, since we have once again gone over our allotted Internet data usage here on the home front. The price will be a surcharge for our data consumption, but to avoid that becoming too excessive, I’m going to need to curb my time here in cyberspace.

Reliance, IllinoisMore time for reading, I suppose.  Right now I’m in the midst of Reliance, Illinois, a historical fiction novel that I spotted on the new releases (May 2016) shelf at the library. I’m only 55 pages into this sophomore novel by author Mary Volmer (Crown of Dust, 2006) whose writing has really pulled me into this story about Madelyn Branch, a 13 year old with a port-wine birthmark on her face and down one side of her body.  Set in 1874, Madelyn and her mother Rebecca move to Reliance, Illinois after her mother answers an ad in the Matrimonial Times in hopes for a better life.

Rebecca purposefully declines to mention Madelyn in her response to Mr. Lymon Dryfus, her future husband, and instead passes Madelyn off as her sister. (“Mama decided. We both agreed. Better to make explanations as they became necessary.”) Although Madelyn agreed to this deception, that doesn’t lessen her hurt and betrayal, which is a main theme of the novel. From reading the Goodreads reviews, women’s rights (reproductive, suffrage, etc.) is a strong theme as well, which certainly makes it a fitting read these days.

I need to prep some make-ahead dinners for The Husband and The Boy this week. The kitchen is an area where the heat ISN’T on. Not only don’t I feel inclined to cook during this heatwave, but something is wrong with the oven.  It’s taking forever to pre-heat — like close to an hour — so my response is to ignore it and not use the oven at all, which is easy to do in this weather.  I suppose we need to get someone out here. Between the refrigerator, a part needing to be replaced on the air-conditioner, and now the oven, this has seriously become The Summer of Broken Shit.

It’s a busier than usual week ahead: The Girl is attending a painting camp this week at the library. On Tuesday evening, she and I have tickets for a young adult author event with local Pittsburgh authors Siobhan Vivian, Nick Courage, and Jonathan Auxier.  Then on Wednesday night, I’m hoping to catch another author event with Mary Louise Parker.  Dear Mr. You was one of my favorite books of 2015 and of course, she was part of the incredible miniseries “Angels in America” which is one of the most powerful productions of all time, in my view.

There’s more I could say, but since I can practically hear the Internet ticking, probably best to sign off for now.

Hope your Sunday is going well.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #56 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.




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sequel (47/99)

“When you were 15, what did you think you’d be doing now?”

We were at lunch and my co-worker had posed the question as part of a conversation we were having about the pressure to go immediately to a four year college, rather than saving a significant amount of money by taking basic classes elsewhere (such as at a community college) or by pursuing a trade.

I knew my answer immediately.

“I was going to be living in New York City, writing my latest bestselling novel (the first bestseller having been published by the time I was 18, of course) and having a fabulous career.”

(If those words sound familiar, you either knew me when I was 15 or you’ve watched at least the first 15 seconds of my Listen to Your Mother video.)

At 47, the closest I am to living in the Big Apple is the fact that we have an apple tree in our backyard.  In Pittsburgh.  And yes, I have a career, the same one for the past 25 years now and one that I generally like and (in my opinion) am pretty good at.  And I am indeed writing a novel (or a memoir, or a collection of linked stories) — the same one I’ve been writing on and off for years, and which probably won’t be a bestseller because my last name isn’t Kardashian.

Several times this week my younger years have crept into my present. They’re always there, of course — they’re not called one’s formative years for nothing.  I’m sure that has to do with the release of my Listen to Your Mother video since my piece focuses on my teenage years in a significant way. I also spent Tuesday evening in the company of the one and only Judy Blume, who wrote the script for my adolescence and every else’s in the sold out crowd.  (I know, I promised you a post. I’m working on it.)

My girl and I got to the Judy Blume lecture more than 90 minutes early, snagging a good spot in line and seats in the third row. While we waited, I started re-reading Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret on my Kindle. As I posted on Facebook, there’s only one book to read while waiting for Judy Blume.

Are You There God

(Incidentally, did you know that Judy Blume wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret in approximately six weeks?!  It’s true; she told us so herself on Tuesday night.)

So I sat there reading and being transported back in time to my pre-teen self. My girl’s main reason for coming was to “see an icon” (clearly, I’ve taught her well) and to get an autographed copy of Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret for HER best friend, who lives in Texas and who she had plans with for today.

Those plans changed due to a death in their family, but we still managed to get the girls together for a quick breakfast at Panera this morning. While the girls sat inside laughing and talking for an hour and catching up, I sat outside on the patio, finishing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and keeping an eye on the girls without being intrusive on their conversation.

It felt somewhat surreal, watching the bond between my girl and her BFF and reading this pivotal book from when I was almost their age.  I believe books (even ones we’ve read previously) have a way of finding us when we need them most, not unlike how a good friend shows up when we’re struggling.

The themes within Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret of changing bodies, friendships, and questioning the beliefs handed down from one’s parents seem especially resonant for both me and my girl right now.  We’re both dealing with changing dynamics within friendships and while neither real-life story is one that can be told in this space, suffice it to say both have been difficult and painful journeys.

On Tuesday night, I was trying to think of a question for Judy Blume that wasn’t the usual stuff of author Q & A (“how do you get your ideas?”  “what advice do you have for aspiring writers?”). This morning, it occurred to me that I would love to know what Margaret Simon, Nancy Wheeler, Gretchen Potter, and Janie Loomis are up to now at 58 years old. Did Margaret ever find religion or is she still searching?

Sitting at the Panera reading Judy Blume, I was mentally kicking myself for not asking her if she had ever considered writing a sequel of sorts to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

While seeing life come full circle by watching my girl and her friend, I realized that perhaps we didn’t need a sequel to know how their lives turned out.

Life has already written it for us.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #47 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 


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She Knew What We Did Those Summers: Remembering Lois Duncan (1934-2016)

I Know What You Did Last SummerKilling Mr. Griffin

My teenage summers were spent poolside at the Valley Club,  sharing secrets with my best friends over orders of French fries blanketed in Cheez-Wiz.  We lounged on beach towels with our Sony Walkmans blasting ’80s pop music loud enough to drown out our immature siblings’ screeches of “Marco! Polo!” in the deep end of the pool. We doused ourselves with enough Hawaiian Tropic oil that made us as bronzed as an Olympic medal.

When we weren’t in the pool or discussing Luke and Laura on “General Hospital,” we were reading anything we could get our hands on.

Maybe it was characteristic of my group of friends at the time or the pre-Internet/pre-smartphone era, but we read A LOT. Like everything and anything.

All the time.

And perhaps it was because of our rather uneventful, vanilla, goody-two-shoes suburban middle-class upbringing (and attending school with peers whose families were in much, much higher economic echelons), but we seemed drawn to darker stories with just enough thrill factor to keep us turning the pages.

Aside from Judy Blume writing about our deepest insecurities and rites of passages and V.C. Andrews’ creepy as all freaking hell Flowers in the Attic series,  young adult author Lois Duncan’s teen suspense novels are the ones that are seared into my memory from those years.

Thrillers about a car accident involving well-off teens that resulted in murder (I Know What You Did Last Summer, 1973); sinister cousins (Summer of Fear, 1976) and a high school prank intended to scare a mean teacher that goes horribly wrong (Killing Mr. Griffin, 1978) were stories as drop-dead real as anything we saw on the evening broadcast of Action News. (These were the years when people still watched the news.  And when the world had to be ending for the news to be considered “breaking.”)

Lois Duncan’s fiction was chilling and terrifying and made those of us who led a relatively sheltered and privileged life wonder if such horrendous things could really happen. Through her groundbreaking writing for teens, Lois Duncan showed us that, at least in fiction, they could. As we got older, real life would have no shortage of atrocities — one only needs to look at the past week for proof of that.

Sadly, Lois Duncan herself experienced personal tragedy in 1989 when her daughter Kaitlyn was murdered — ironically, just a month after the publication of one of Duncan’s novels with a similar plot. For years, she devoted her life to writing about her daughter’s still unsolved murder and supporting others whose loved ones were homicide victims.

Lois Duncan died on Wednesday, June 15 at age 82, leaving a rich literary legacy of children’s books, young adult novels, short stories, magazine articles, and nonfiction. Those of us who grew up in the late ’70s through the mid-80s enjoyed what I believe was a golden age of young adult literature by writers who bravely took chances with their work and were trailblazers for many of today’s equally outspoken and daring young adult authors.

Until I read her obituary in Publisher’s Weekly, I had no idea that Lois Duncan Steinmetz was a Philadelphia native, which endears her to me even more. (Her family moved to Florida when she was young. Still, in my mind she’s a Philly girl like me, making my days of reading her novels while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs especially nostalgic.)

I think the hallmark of a great writer is someone whose books are remembered decades after reading them. Even if some details of the plots have faded, we can immediately recall how books like Killing Mr. Griffin and I Know What You Did Last Summer always made us feel.

Deliciously chilled to the bone, even on the hottest of summer days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #19 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 





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sunday salon/currently … 6/5/2016 (7/99)

Sunday Salon banner

A quick stop in the Salon this morning, as I’m headed out to work for a few hours. It’s raining, which certainly will put a damper on the outdoor festival that we have planned, but it could be worse: my job at today’s work event is simply to promote reading. This I can do in any kind of weather. The Girl is coming to volunteer with me and then we’ll hopefully have a chance to grab lunch from one of the food trucks scheduled to be at the reading celebration.


LaRoseSin in the Second CityShades of Blue

Still working my way through LaRose by Louise Erdrich, listening to Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott, and on my Kindle I’ve downloaded the anthology (edited by the brilliant Amy Ferris) Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide and Feeling Blue.  Also reading the May 16 edition of The New Yorker.

Almost finished with the second season of Parks & Recreation.  Everyone in our family enjoys this one — a rarity!

Friday was the kids’ last day of 8th grade.  I can’t believe middle school is over and that they’ll be high school students next year.  Well, technically “intermediate high school,” which is how our district defines 9th and 10th grade (and I am in full support with the separation from the upperclassmen) but still. High school.

Some downtime this week, thanks to a few vacation days from work. I have a new book to review for the Post-Gazette and I’m hoping to clear the decks of the others I’m in progress with so I can focus on this one.

99 Days of Summer BloggingBlogging
99 Days of Summer Blogging is going strong. This is Post #7.  A few bloggers are playing along, which is great.

’till tomorrow!



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let’s try this again: first book of the year, take two

First Book 2016

Apparently, I’m allergic to Virginia Woolf.

Or, at least my copy of A Room of One’s Own.

As I wrote in my previous post, my First Book of the Year selection was to be Woolf’s longform essay on women and writing. Perfect for the beginning of this year, for several reasons.

But as soon as I opened it, I started sneezing.

And sneezing.

And sneezing.

An hour of this. Remnants of the sinus/migraine nonsense from earlier?  Some reaction to the chamomile and mint tea?

“I wonder if this book was in someone’s attic,” I wondered between sneezes.  I’d purchased it a few weeks ago at Half Price Books.

“Get rid of it,” The Husband said. “It’s killing you.”

“But it’s my First Book of the Year.”

I sneezed again.

“You’re not going to make it to your second book of the year if you keep reading that book.”

I checked the library’s website to see if the e-book was available.  (It’s checked out; I put a hold on it.) I checked another library’s catalog.  They don’t own it.

I answered with a sneeze.

The Husband stared at me.

“Get. Rid. Of. It.”

“We’ll sell it — ACHOO! — back,” I said, taking it down to the garage.

In a matter of minutes, my sneezing stopped.

So, we change direction. Pick something else.  Go with Plan B, the book I was planning to read after Virginia Woolf.

Boys in the Trees

Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon.

Now if only I could get the lyrics of “Coming Around Again” out of my head.

Baby sneezes
Mommy pleases
Daddy breezes in
So good on paper 
So romantic 
But so bewildering …. 

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welcoming 2016 with the first book of the year

Happy New Year! I hope that your New Year’s celebrations were enjoyable ones and that this first day of 2016 is going well.

We had a quiet New Year’s Eve at home; I made gluten-free lasagna for dinner, read some poetry and essay collections (Spot the Terrorist by Lori Jakiela; Looking for The Gulf Motel by Richard Blanco, and Remains of Passion by Sarah Einstein) to reach my goal of reading 52 books in 2015. We watched the now-insufferable Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, made it to midnight, and tumbled into bed shortly thereafter.

My head was pounding when I woke up this morning; this would be understandable if I’d had wine with dinner, but I didn’t because all we have in the house is red wine. Ironically, that’s usually a surefire migraine trigger for me.  I wound up going back to bed for a few hours and now, with the assistance of my friend Maxalt and some chamomile tea, am feeling much more like myself.

Which is good, because I had big plans for today.

First Book 2016

I’m thrilled that Sheila from Book Journey is hosting her annual First Book of the Year event. I love this event because I’ve always given a considerable amount of thought to which book will be the first that I read in any given year. I place a great deal of importance on selecting the book that I do, because I feel that the first book can set the tone for a year, whether it is to inspire change or growth or … whatever.

A Room of One's Own

For 2016, I chose A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf as my First Book of the Year. It’s one that I’ve been wanting to read for a long time now, it is my selection for The Classics Club’s current spin as well as The Classic Club’s Women’s Classic Literature Event, and since I own this one, it allows me to Read at Least One of My Own Damn Books. (I say it every year, but reading my own damn books is going to be a focus area for me this year. Really.)

I’m excited about this one.  I’ll let you know if it lives up to my expectations.

(The year and the book.)

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