Wednesday, January 24, 2024


Maybe because it is winter. Maybe because it is cold outside, and we stay inside more often. Maybe because January is a quiet month and a good time to read. I find myself reading more books in January. 
A long time ago, I started to keep a list of the books I read. I have filled several small volumes with titles, authors' names, and notes about the books. I didn't include the books we remember from childhood such as Nancy Drew, Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins, Tom Sawyer, and Huck Finn nor did I include books from college such as The Illiad and The Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, Beowulf (how I ever got through the old language of that book, I don't remember), and all the other world literature that was required reading at that time.
Looking back on my list, I realized that in the last few years, I have read my favorite book of the year in January. The titles include Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell, The Wild Places by Richard MacFarlane (the one book I needed a dictionary at my side as I read it), The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and last year, The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. This year, I think my favorite could be Word by Word: The Secret Live of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer, who is one of those people who decides which words will appear in a dictionary, defines the word and changes the description as the usage of the word evolves. She makes something that seems like an unexciting life into something magical and important.

  Two good reads

By fourth grade, my parents allowed me to check out books from the adult section of the library. My first choices included history books, especially about the White migration across the Plains in the 19th century and the effect on the Native Tribes already living there. The most recent book I read about this era, The Heart of Everything That Is, was another gut-wrenching, unmasking view of that time in our history.
I also discovered a love of mysteries. I remember reading my way through the Mr. and Mrs. North series written by Francis and Richard Lockridge about married sleuths who solved mysteries in the manner of Agatha Christie novels. I also powered through all of Christie's mysteries. Playing Clue with my sister increased my interest in solving "Who Dunnits." I enjoyed reading how an investigator explored the other characters who became prime suspects. I found good company in Presidents Kennedy and Obama who also liked this genre.
What kinds of books do you read? Mysteries or non-fiction? Sci-fi? Generational stories? History or Biographies? Romances? What piqued your interest in these genres or themes? Do you have a favorite from last year?


One of my favorite writers, Margaret Renkl, wrote three wonderful essays about winter in her state of Tennessee. You can read them in the New York Times here: 

Check out her website here:

Good book recommendations by friends:

Mary, Marcia, and Letty recommend:  Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

The Magnificent Lives of Margarie W Post by Allison Pataki

Bill recommends: The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James MacBride, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, and Democracy Awakening by Heather Cox Richardson

Christy recommends: Horse by Geraldine Brooks and Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Rose recommends: Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shaped Me

Marcia recommends: Horse by Geraldine Brooks, Demon Copperfield by Barbara Kingsolver, and Trust by Herman Diaz

Mary, Marcia, and I all recommend stories by Kate Quinn:  good reads

Check out this updated version of the 100 Must-Read Classics. How many have you read?

Friday, January 19, 2024


Photos for January from the Northeast Window

Not too early in the morning from the northeast bedroom window of our new apartment, I can watch the sun hit the windows of the apartment buildings across the channel. The sun touches a few of the windows with golden light. The seagulls circle and land on the still waters of the channel. I hear their off-key caw as they greet each other. I check the shoreline for the rocks that are hidden by high tide. Sometimes the water is as reflective as a mirror. Other times, the wind ruffles the water and the mirror disappears. 

I can see the giant electronic billboard at Oracle Park where the Giants baseball team plays. The billboard is on 24/7 and flashes enormous photos of ball players, Motocross riders, or the trendy entertainers who will come to the park in the future. I can see the towers of the Bay Bridge rise above the park and Yerba Buena Island in the distance.  I watch steam rising from pipes on several buildings and I have to remind myself that this isn't Tokyo or Paris. I am in San Francisco.

I see a chattering of sparrows fly to the edge of the roof below and line up like little soldiers. I watch walkers amble across the street to the channel parkway, many with dogs in tow. I hear the roar of freeway traffic which sounds more like a river than individual cars and trucks. I hear the occasional forceful commuter train whistle as the train surges towards the Fourth Street terminal. Sirens from ambulances and fire trucks screech as they race towards the hospital emergency rooms. Occasionally, I hear the alarm that signals one of the drawbridges across the channel is moving upwards as all traffic stops on the streets.

Channel Street

I am too far above the street to notice any odors or feel the street-side weather from the window. The northeast window looks out onto Mission Creek, which separates us from the rest of San Francisco. Bill and I moved to another apartment on the corner of the building in the same complex we had been living in since November. I like that there are more windows. Bill misses the sun from our old south-facing apartment. 

At night, the view from the northeast bedroom window is a different story.

Mission Creek at night by Bill Slavin

Friday, January 12, 2024


The tall handsome young man turned from the counter as a young woman walked through the cafe door. His eye lit up when he saw her, and they stared with delight into each other's eyes.

A soppy beginning to a romance novel? No, just an everyday occurrence at our local cafe. We live in a neighborhood full of young people, young families, medical students, and people from all over the world. We hear different languages spoken around us and listen to Happy Birthday songs sung in the children's park across the way. We see the beginnings of new love as the couples around us chat with enthusiasm about their daily lives and new-formed ideas. 

As the young couple greeted each other with sparkles in their eyes, two grey-haired couples walked behind them. They entered the cafe with the casual assurance of old relationships, aware of each other, one touching the elbow of the other, and knowing exactly what one or the other would order. The four elders sat down together in the back and talked amiably among themselves.

Someone asked my husband Bill what the secret to a long marriage was. His immediate answer was "Curiosity." I would agree, but I also would consider, "Commitment." And a sense of humor about each other's foibles. When we have the inevitable rough patches in our marriage, I lose my sense of humor and patience. When those important traits come back again, I know all is right with our world.

I think of other couples that I know. One couple's sense of humor fills their lives. They haven't lost the sparkle in their eyes when they look at each other and laugh with glee at either a witty or ironic phrase one of them utters. They chuckle at their comical facial expressions. They are both artists and some of their creativity seeps into their daily lives.

Another couple does almost everything together, checking with each other before making any commitment, and holding hands as they walk together. Another couple highlights the good in the other so that their friends know what the best part of their partner is. Two others give each other a kiss and say, "I love you," each time they go separate ways. Thinking of all of these couples, I do not think there is one answer to the question of what makes a marriage or a long relationship work. Maybe, a little bit of luck to have found someone with the right balance of acceptance, empathy, and willingness to work at staying together.


Wednesday, January 3, 2024


The Letter G, one of three completed pages from my newest ABCEDarian

"It's in the Bekins" has become a weekly phrase we utter when we can't find something. We hadn't planned to spend a year living in different places after we sold our home. We thought a few short months would give us ideas of places to live (and it helped us eliminate some) and a house to move into. We packed up most of our belongings into Bekins storage vaults.

Now that winter has set in with its chilly mornings and grey skies, we ask, "Where's that warm sweater? I only brought two shirts and a couple of pairs of pants. The rest is "in the Bekins."

"Mixing bowls, measuring cups, kitchen scissors, and knives? They're in the Bekins."

"Where are my rulers, stapler, photo storage and shredder, punches, and craft papers? In the Bekins," we both exclaim.

Tempting to buy new replacements, but then what would we do with the new ones when all the stuff "in the Bekins" is delivered to whatever place we find to live? Twice as much as before and we were trying to downsize? We have to laugh at ourselves, which is not "in the Bekins."

At the beginning of the year, many artists and writers put down their thoughts about the coming year. Some people pick a word to live by for the year, and others make resolutions. I've already added and canceled an exercise app realizing that I had little time to add other routines to my morning stretches in January (we are on the move from one apartment to another this month). The app suggested fasting to lose weight. I decided to postpone any changes till February and deleted the app after reading their food suggestions. At least the app made me think about my daily meals. I've decided that my word for 2024 is Unfinished.

For the last couple of weeks, I've returned to the ABCEDarian sketchbook that I started in a calligraphy class last February (full circle: maybe my year needs to start in February). The art journal is divided into two-page spreads for each letter of the alphabet. It is unfinished. I like to make alphabet books, but this book has taken more time because I have tried to stay with words that inspire me to make art. The letter J had me stumped. Journal is the obvious answer, but what after that? I wrote down J words: Jump, Japan, Jazzy, Joy, Jumpstart, and January. Phew, just a few. I thought of that process like bubbles rising from a bubble blower with some of the ideas growing, some of them popping as soon as released, others gathering together into clusters as they rise above me. I kept the pages for the letter J simple with copies of pages from other sketchbooks and an illustration of those bubbles rising. Now I can turn the page to start on another letter.

Unfinished still.


A good post to read to start your new year. Check out Literally Letty here: