When I began writing this blog, I expected it to be about the need to create some structure in retired life. Over time, however, blogging about the stage of my life and career —I am “demi” retired—became less interesting than writing about the pleasures and occasional frustrations of everyday life in general. Another way of putting this is that while time marches on, life around you, if you allow it to, also becomes more interesting, more stimulating, and even a tad freer… and age, in fact, matters less and less.
I hit the ground running early this morning when inspiration struck. Move the love seat from the den back to the living room, and move the wingback to the den.
There is nothing unusual about this urge, as most women know. When the kids were itty bitty, I was always moving furniture around. In those days, though, upholstered furniture was big and heavy and hulking. Like that little engine that could, I would push and pull and edge until the room had yet another new look—not always, I fully admit, a better one.
Whenever those very same itty bitty ones would lock horns over nothing, this only child, who had always longed for a sibling, would cry out in exasperation, “Why on earth would you fight over that? You should love each other. Why would you fight at all?” Once, in response, my daughter, who was seven or eight at the time, looked up at me and said simply, “Because it’s not boring.”
Which is precisely why we rearrange the furniture.
Today, I knew I had to break this news to Hubby, who, like every other husband on the planet, doesn’t get it. I did so gently, but this time I added, “Every woman likes to rearrange the furniture. It’s just what we do.” Remarkably, he agreed. I was stunned. Not one to push my luck, I decided to tell him about the new pillow plan–for color, of course—some other time.
A few hours later, he advised me to check the “to do” list on the counter. This is what I found:
Move TV room furniture.
Move 2nd floor to 1st floor in June.
Move basement to 1st floor.
I’m not sure what happens to the first or second floor in this scenario. Oh well. Neither is he.
Whereas buying a book now and then requires minimal space—I can always accommodate another book on my nightstand or the coffee table if need be—the haul from the thrice yearly book sales is another matter.
To be sure that I have sufficient space for half a dozen or so treasures, I’ve adopted the ritual of deep-cleaning and “editing” the bookcase before each sale, in February, June, and October. It works out rather nicely. The books I’m ready to part with go into the donate bag, those I want to share go to family, friends, or neighbors, and those I keep are lovingly dusted and restored to their home on my shelves.
I know people who never hold on to books. I know people who only buy used books. I know people who don’t buy them at all. Either they’ve gone totally electronic, or they rely on the library. Which is fine. But I still buy “real” books, and I still keep them. Among them are a few childhood favorites, my Rockwell Kent-illustrated Shakespeare, and two of my mother’s treasures—a gilt-edged edition of Webster’s and a Metropolitan Opera Guide from many, many moons ago. The only college text I’ve held on to is the expansive English Romantic Writers. What can I say? Every now and then, I need a dose of Wordsworth.
There are several reasons why I continue to buy “real” books. One is the pure joy of browsing through a bookstore. We don’t have any really good “indies” around here, but when we travel north or south, bookstores are always on the agenda. At home, I rely on Amazon and our local Barnes & Noble. Another is that a book you love becomes part of you in ways that only a committed reader can understand. A third is that I like to support the writers I love, the writers who consistently show up in my pre-release queue. They represent a mix of genres, for sure: Andrea Camelleri, Louise Penny, Richard Russo, Donna Leon, Alan Furst, David McCullough, Monica Wood, Frances Mayes, Gail Godwin, MFK Fisher, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pat Conroy, and, of course, the inimitable Adriana Trigiani.
If you’re a reader, chances are, like me, you check out the bookshelves when you visit a home for the first time. “You love Paris, too! Who knew?” Our book choices, at least the ones we choose to display, are revealing in so many ways. For instance, have a look at some of my keepers:
Yesterday I found myself cleaning out what I referred to in one of my early posts as “the graveyard under the sink”—that Netherland in the vanity where all of the once-tried and subsequently rejected hair care products, body lotions, nail polish, and so forth find their home.
I purge the vanity every three months or so, when the impulse strikes, even if it happens to be midnight. If I don’t act then, the job won’t get done till the next wave of motivation hits. I pitch the expired product samples, wash and repack the bin that contains my travel-size stash, and drain any expired bottles of hair product that hadn’t lived up to my expectations.
Just as I had when I cleaned out the pantry after Christmas, I felt virtuous. Such “cleansing” chores that make sense when the sky is gray and the wind is howling. Who wants to clean out a cabinet when the air is balmy, the sky is bright blue, and the daffodils are poking through the mulch? Which, now that it’s February, is not really that far away.
By the way, last year around this time, I wrote a post that I called “Drug Store Skin Care.” I’ve been with the L’Oréal products since then and have to say that I find them every bit as good as all of the significantly higher priced brands I’ve tried. I used the Revitalift line first, then switched to Age Perfect. I confess that I can’t see a huge difference in effectiveness between the two. My face feels soft and supple, and my daughter, who can always be counted on for directness in matters of hair, make-up, and apparel (“Don’t get too matchy-matchy!”), has said several times that my skin looks great. Perhaps the greatest advantage, though, is the economy of these products. I usually buy cosmetics at Ulta* and often find that both of these lines are full-price for the first item and 50% off the second. Since the line’s top price point is around $25, that’s a steal any way you look at it. Compare that to Philosophy or Lançome (which, incidentally, is owned by L’Oréal) or Clarins. I’ve also bought the products at the drug store and the grocery store—if I see a deep discount, I take advantage of it.
This sounds like a commercial endorsement, which it really isn’t. I’d heard so many friends complaining about the price of high-end skin care that I thought I’d experiment myself and share the results. So far, so good.
*One GREAT thing about Ulta… if you buy something, try it, and don’t like it, you can return it within 60 days—opened and used—without a fuss. I don’t do so often but always appreciate the fact that I can if I want to. The last thing I returned was a green (yes, green) tube of Lipstick Queen that was supposed to become that elusive perfect shade once applied. It was awful, but thanks to Ulta’s policy, it cost me nothing. Sephora has a similar policy.
Continuing an earlier theme that amounts, basically, to “sunshine on a cloudy day,” on this snowy afternoon I invite you to enjoy a petit gout of Carolina blue… North Carolina’s signature blue sky.
We had a house in North Carolina for a very short time, in an almost too well planned community between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro—a study in contrasts if ever there was one. Chapel Hill, home of UNC, is cool and sophisticated and well-groomed. Pittsboro, on the other hand, is an old-fashioned Southern small town, complete with a Piggly Wiggly and friendly as all get-out.
We thought we would eventually retire there, but, in the end, it didn’t take. In defense of the area, we didn’t fully commit. We weren’t ready to retire, not by a long shot; and we were constantly running back and forth to Pennsylvania—which is one thing if the drive is two hours and entirely another if it’s eight.
While our decision to give up the idea had more to do with loved ones and work, there were some—shall we say—cultural issues that helped it along. The de rigueur coffees with the neighbor ladies felt forced, and I was downright allergic to the subtle expectation that anyone who lived there would naturally have the same opinions about everything from restaurants to books to the quest for world peace. Kind of like seventh grade all over again.
At least for me—Hubby loves hot weather—the summer heat was almost as unbearable as this morning’s 17° wind chill. Plus—and this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back—there was no escarole in the grocery store.
But more important, there was the lingering feeling that if we did retire there, new acquaintances, no matter how friendly and welcoming, would be no substitute for the kids and grands and family we weren’t seeing enough of, or the friends of a lifetime we would have left behind.
And so, we sold the house. On many of our coldest days here in the Mid-Atlantic, Hubby wistfully recalls the balmy North Carolina winter and those spindly southern pines swaying against a stunning blue sky. I get it. It’s a beautiful place.
I teared up, almost as if I’d lost a friend, when I saw that Peter Mayle had passed. After all, he had given me Provence—first on the printed pages of his charming, insightful trilogy—A Year in Provence, Encore Provence, Toujours Provence—and thereafter the engaging, lighthearted novels he set there, irresistible confections all. Hotel Pastis and A Good Year were my personal favorites.
When we traveled in Provence, I confess to looking for Peter Mayle on the cobbled streets of Menerbes and Lourmarin and Gordes. There were no sightings, but I have seen many online comments from folks who did run into him there, and found him ever gracious and engaging. I hoped they thanked him for all the pleasure his pen provided; I surely would have.
If you haven’t read A Year in Provence, please do, then watch the British TV adaptation with the great John Thaw, whom you might know as the original Inspector Morse, as Peter, and Lindsay Duncan as his wife.
January is that metaphorical new broom that sweeps clean. I like to start out the new year re-establishing routines, tackling those niggling little tasks that typically fall by the wayside, and trying to get back to my happy places, chief among them my reading time. After what I like to refer to as my “medical adventure” in the fall, and the marathon of holiday preparation that came swiftly on its heels, I’d gotten out of the reading habit. Although most of us reach this point now and then, my barren period had passed the two-month mark and was really driving me crazy.
I thought I’d have plenty of time for recuperative reading and had a stack of books at the ready. Best-laid plans. While I managed work responsibilities without a problem, I just couldn’t read for pleasure. Meanwhile, those books on the nightstand sat there, glowering at me. Even worse, I’d failed my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge after overachieving the year before. In retrospect, I fully acknowledge how silly and self-absorbed it was to even think that my Goodsreads 2017 Reading Challenge mattered. Still, like book club (at which I fail repeatedly because I’m usually too stubborn to abandon my queue for the monthly selection), it was a motivator.
My neighbor, thank goodness, hauled me back from the abyss with a Christmas goodie bag containing a hardbound copy of Fredrik Backman’s illustrated short story, “The Deal of a Lifetime.” I read it start-to-finish on New Year’s Day, which admittedly took only about 20 minutes, and thus started 2018 off in the right direction, the nasty dry spell broken.
Triumphant, I attacked the stack on the nightstand, barreling first through Glass Houses, Louise Penny’s latest installment in the Inspector Gamache series. If you love mysteries with a sense of place and can tolerate more than a little of the “dark side,” try this series set in the quirky village of Three Pines, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships outside of Montreal.
Next on my list, a gift from my BFF, was David Lebovitz’s L’Appart, a nearly unbelievable (but how could he possibly have made it up?) recounting of his experience buying and renovating a Paris apartment. Although not without its funny moments, it’s one of those “welcome to my nightmare” stories that makes any other renovation project seem like a walk in the Parc Monceau. It’s also full of fascinating perceptions of life, language, and culture in the City of Light. Lebovitz, who has a popular blog, has penned several cookbooks and was once a pastry chef at Alice Waters’ Chef Pannise. Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen, another wonderful gift from my BFF, has taken on a whole new meaning since I found out how much he suffered to get that kitchen.
Then I picked up Elizabeth Strout’s magnificent My Name is Lucy Barton. Oh, how I loved it! Spare, honest, poetic, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize—I could go on and on and on. A perfect rendering of a mother-daughter relationship and all of the complexities contained therein. Read entirely in one sitting, early last Saturday morning. Note: Ugly cry guaranteed.
It’s now January 15, I’m four books up on my reading challenge, and well into my fifth—Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns’ 1984 novel about a family in a rural Georgia town in the first decades of the 20th Century. It was a thoughtful gift from my cousin Dorothy, who loves it and wants me to love it, too. So far, so good.
What is everyone else reading to start the New Year???
This morning, our low here broke a 100-year record. Thus, I’ve decided that my blogging anniversary week will be dedicated simply to — in the immortal words of the Temptations — “…sunshine on a cloudy day.”
This particular sunny light is Italian… in Monterosso al Mare, in the Cinque Terre.