January Reflections

January is one of my favorite months. I love new beginnings and the New Year. It’s my birthday month, my brother’s birthday month, my nephew’s birthday month, and my blogging anniversary month. Lots of happy things! Lots of celebrating!

I started the month by setting a new reading goal for myself on Goodreads, and lowered the goal number from last year’s 75 books to 52 books. A lower number because I have some long books, or series of books, I want to read, so I’m giving myself extra time for them. I want to read slowly and get lost in some good long stories. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of the chunksters I would like to read this year and some of the series that I’d like to read or that are already keeping me busy.

January turned out to be a good reading month for me and was a real pleasure! I finished 10 books in all, and I’m also continuing on with my very enjoyable rereading of the Harry Potter series. My favorite book read in January was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning! It certainly inspired some ongoing cleaning up here at home! I’m trying hard to keep that momentum going!

Two books this month had a tremendous emotional impact on me and I am still processing them. A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir, was beautifully written and touched me very deeply. My review is here.  Also, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I Am No Longer Talking to White People About Race, is a powerful must-read book. I’ve decided that I will need to reread it because there is so much in it to think about and question oneself about…I need to revisit it soon as part of my processing!

One January read that I thought I would love, but didn’t, was The Alchemist. I had heard so many people tell me it was their favorite book, and I think it could have been a favorite of mine if I had read it when I was young. But although I’m  glad I read it, I just didn’t love it.

The end of January was filled with family time — birthday celebrations, news from the Seattle part of our family that a new baby girl had arrived, and a short medical crisis here at home with my husband fighting a kidney stone (he’s doing well now.). So I’m happy to welcome February and have actually managed to finish one book so far.

January reads:

Virginia Woolf: They Have Loved Reading

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Today we celebrate Virginia Woolf who was born on this day in 1882.

A Special Visit

A panorama of the view from our hotel…

This week, Hubby and I are vacationing on the Oregon coast to celebrate my upcoming birthday. It’s been a nice trip although January weather on the coast has been gray, rainy and windy. That’s okay with us, though, because it is just so beautiful here!

But the best thing about this trip happened this morning when we visited my long-time blogging friend, Les (@Coastal Horizons) and her husband, Rod, and her mother, Andrea. It’s an amazing experience to finally meet in person someone you’ve gotten to know quite well online over a 10-year period of time! It was a very special visit for me!

A wonderful dream: I would just love to travel the world to meet all of my book blogging friends!

A Sad Loss

The world has lost a wonderful author today. I was saddened to hear the news of Ursula le Guin’s passing. I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, and I was so happy, when I was teaching second grade, to introduce my young students to her wonderful imagination by reading them the Catwings series. They loved those books, class after class, for many years! I’m sure a number of those former students are Ursula le Guin fans today and are also saddened by our loss.

Read Eloquently

Painting by LaShun Beal…

If you don’t like the book, you do not have to read it. Put it aside and read something you do like, because there is no reason at all why you should read what bores you during your serious reading time. You have to read enough boring stuff in the ordinary way of life without extending the borders of ennui. But if you do like the book, if it engages you seriously, do not rush at it. Read it at the pace when you can pronounce and hear every word in your own head. Read eloquently.

~ Robertson Davies

A Very Easy Death

A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.

A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir, is a beautifully written, powerfully emotional account of her mother’s death and her own emotional journey through her mother’s illness and death.

At age 78, her mother fell and broke the top part of her femur. She was hospitalized and during examination, the doctors found that she had cancer. It was a highly aggressive sarcoma, and her illness and decline were rapid. Simone and her sister, Poupette, spent most of their time at the hospital with their mother throughout that time, and Poupette was there the night she died.

This is a story that so many of us have gone through with a parent or loved one. Because the journey through illness and decline is a familiar one, I was acutely aware and appreciative of the honesty with which de Beauvoir shared their story — the story of two daughters in the process of losing their mother, and of their mother’s struggle to LIVE while dying.

Before reading the book, I thought that the term “an easy death” meant that the person didn’t have to suffer very much before dying. My family used that term about my father’s passing. He didn’t suffer long with his illness, and we were so grateful for that. But that is not what de Beauvoir meant by “an easy death.”  On the contrary, her mother suffered terribly before she died, but she had her daughters with her throughout the decline, and they helped her, advocated for her, and shared courage together in facing the inevitable. That was a luxury that de Beauvoir felt many people don’t have at the end of their lives.

With regard to Maman we were above all guilty, these last years, of carelessness, omission and abstention. We felt that we atoned for this by the days that we gave up to her, by the peace that our being there gave her, and by the victories gained over fear and pain. Without our obstinate watchfulness she would have suffered far more.

She and her sister were with her mother constantly during her illness, so de Beauvoir also describes the very painful reality a loved one faces in going through the agony of cancer.

…In this race between pain and death we most earnestly hoped that death would come first.

…Friday passed uneventfully. On Saturday Maman slept all the time. ‘That’s splendid,’ said Poupette to her. ‘You have rested.’ ‘Today I have not lived,’ sighed Maman.

…Nothing on earth could possibly justify these moments of pointless torment.

And she poignantly details the final aloneness of death.

…The misfortune is that although everyone must come to this, each experiences the adventure in solitude. We never left Maman during those last days which she confused with convalescence and yet we were profoundly separated from her.

All the way through this book, I thought of my own mother.  Simone de Beauvoir’s mother was 78 when she died, which seems so young to me from my vantage point now. I am incredibly fortunate to still have my mother who is 98 years old and still very much alive and well! But she and I are also very aware that time is getting short, which gives a special aura to every conversation, every visit, every moment we share. She and I talk about the end quite often, and our shared hope is that it is quick and painless. I live 800 miles away from my mother, so I know it is possible I won’t be with her when that time comes, to help ease her final journey, and that is hard for me.

Nothing prepares any of us for death. Even if fighting a terminal illness, Simone de Beauvoir said: “A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.” Her mother clung tenaciously to life:

What touched our hearts that day was the way she noticed the slightest agreeable sensation: it was as though, at the age of seventy-eight, she were waking afresh to the miracle of living.

And on the finality of death itself, de Beauvoir said:

There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.

Simone de Beauvoir was a gifted author and influential existential philosopher. This was the first book I read by her, but I am very anxious now to read more of her work. I was so impressed with the beauty of her writing and with her deeply thoughtful honesty. With this book, she has touched my heart and mind like no other author has done in a long time.

Simone de Beauvoir with mother and sister…

This was a book that was on my list of 50 books to read for The Classics Club, and was also on my TBR Pile Challenge list.

That’s Evolution!

The kite-eating tree!

Last weekend, our son and grandson were flying their new drone when it got stuck in one of our 100-foot tall oak trees. No way we can reach it even with a ladder! No way we can even throw a rock high enough to dislodge it.  So we’ve watched it all week, hoping the wind will do its work, but the breezes haven’t blown it down yet. So this weekend, we sent up a “rescue” drone to try to knock it from its position in the branches. The second drone, after hitting it once, (we were so hopeful!) also got stuck in a second tall oak!

“That’s evolution!” my neighbor pronounced. “They used to be kite-eating trees [a la Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang], but now they have progressed to eating drones!”

Our drone in the tall oak tree…

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Grandson and Grandma Play Minecraft

In the last few weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time with our 11-year-old grandson. Those hours spent with him are precious times!  On the days that we have him all day long, we have a fun routine. We start the day at the breakfast table making a list of all the things we want to do during the day, including what we’ll have for lunch and dinner, errands and tasks. Time outdoors is included as well as the indoor games and activities. We revisit the list at the end of the day and mark off the things we’ve actually done. It’s a fun way to realize that there are endless things we can do and never get bored while spending the day (or days) with grandparents!

One thing that is always on the list is some time for one of his favorite computer games, Minecraft. Last year, he showed me how to start a game myself, and I was hooked! He showed great patience in helping me learn how to build things and navigate the environment. He showed me that I could choose a “peaceful” game without monsters attacking me and blowing up my buildings, and that I also had a choice of “survival” or “creative” modes. In survival mode, I have to find all my own supplies and materials. In creative mode, they are already there for me. I find this game fun and relaxing and play it quite often, building houses, villages, and cities, and exploring many different biomes.

But now there is a computer version in the house that can be hooked to the TV and is controlled by a joystick. Although I do well on the touchscreen version of the game on my iPad, this old grandma has a great deal of trouble with using a joystick to navigate the computer version! Grandson has once again shown great patience in trying to help me learn how to use it because he would dearly love to play a two-person version of the game. If I could just manage to work that joystick really well, we could build things together in one game! But the manual dexterity skills that seem to come so naturally to young people these days are very difficult for me to manage, so I mostly end up watching him create his Minecraft worlds. I’m practicing my joystick skills, but it’s slow learning for me.

This sweet Grandboy hasn’t given up on me. He enjoys visiting my current game on my iPad, and likes to add his own touches to what I have been building. And he continues to educate me about the endless possibilities of this amazing game. He’s a wonderful teacher! This week, he loaned me three books to read on the subject (knowing I love to learn by reading). I know I am loved when he loans me his hardback Minecraft books!

Wise Words from Harry Truman

…photo from The Truman Library.

Wise words from Harry Truman as reported by biographer, David McCullough:

Harry Truman was a reader. He was a lifelong reader. I asked Margaret one day, “What would be your father’s idea of heaven?” She said, “Oh, that’s easy. It would be a good comfortable armchair and a good reading lamp and a stack of new history and biography that he wanted to read.” He once said that all readers can’t be leaders, but all leaders must be readers.

This seems particularly important and relevant today!

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Simone de Beauvoir

Today is Simone de Beauvoir‘s birthday. She is an author I have long been interested in but have not read any of her work, although I have two of her books on my shelf — The Second Sex, her great feminist manifesto, and A Very Easy Death, the story of her mother’s death. Both books have traveled with me through a number of moves because I really do want to read them.

When I signed up for Adam’s (@roofbeamreader.com) Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, I put A Very Easy Death on my list. I intend to start it soon. Today, on her birthday, would be perfect!