Thursday, November 28, 2013


All holidays make me a little homesick, but for some reason, Thanksgiving triggers that feeling the most.  The first time I spent Thanksgiving away from my family of origin was when I was studying abroad in England.  I was attending a university center in London, run by Brits and attended exclusively by Americans.  The school very kindly hosted a lovely Thanksgiving party for us.  It was an effort to entertain us on what they knew to be a day of homesickness for us all.  The party was in a large banquet hall with a dance floor.  Everyone was dressed up and tried to enjoy the party atmosphere.  My flatmates and I sat at a large round table and choked down a meal that was tasty, but a poor imitation of the Thanksgiving spread we had expected.  It was clearly English food.  It was good (don’t believe everything you hear about English cuisine), but it was not the sumptuous American feast to which we are accustomed.  It only served to aggravate our longing to be home with family.  We sulked back to our flat to feel sorry for ourselves.

I moved from home (California) twenty years ago, so Illinois is home now.  I have a dear, precious family here, and I’m looking forward to a traditional holiday meal with my husband’s relatives later today.  Still, I’m thinking of home.  It’s not fair to compare holiday celebrations since every family has its own traditions and expectations.  But I can’t help it.  I love my family back home, and I miss them.  The food will be wonderful, and the decorations will be beautiful and inviting. 

Even as I muse on what I’m missing, I expose how blessed I am.  I am so very thankful to have come from a family that knows how to celebrate.  There’s always stimulating conversation and lots of laughter over a spectacular meal.  Sure, we have our faults, but it’s a good family, and I’m grateful to have that in my background.  And I’m thankful for the reasons I am away from them.  I have home and family here that bring me daily joy. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Clean This Room, part 2: Casualties of Housekeeping

A couple of weeks ago, I told a story from my childhood about cleaning my room.  You’ll remember that my mother had sent me to my room with the command to remain in there until I had cleaned it to her satisfaction.  Here is another such story.

I was tidying the room as instructed. I was organizing the shoes in my closet when I realized that one pair of shoes was not there.  I had left them in a room on the other end of our house.  This placed me on the horns of a dilemma.  Kid logic told me that I had to have those shoes if I were truly to organize my belongings, but I wasn’t allowed to leave my room.  What to do!  I decided I had to have those shoes.  I poked my head out the door to see where my mother was.  No sign of her.  So I tiptoed down the hall, through the living room, and into the other wing of the house (someday, I’ll have to explain this rather odd and large house—that’s a story for another day).  No one had seen me!  Whew!  Relieved, I put the shoes on my feet (the easiest way to transport them) and hurried back to my room.  This time, I abandoned stealth in favor of speed, tearing down the hall and into the living room.  As I rounded a bend, my ankle twisted on the wedged heel of shoe and I fell head first into a sofa.  I did not hit the soft cushioned side of the sofa.  No, my forehead collided with the corner on the back of it.  No longer afraid of being discovered, I screamed.  My mother and sister came running.  My mother knelt beside me and took my head in her hands.  My sister, who hadn’t had a good look, said, “Oh, she just bumped her head.”

But my mother pushed my bangs off my forehead and said, “No, she’s got a really big bump here!” She gently led me to the kitchen where she set me up with an ice pack.

It turned out to be one of the more significant injuries of my childhood.  A large lump with two purple gashes across it rose over my right eye.  Soon the eye had a bit of blood in the outer corner and a blackened bruise developed under the eye.  I brought it to show-and-tell at school.  I remember my delight as my classmates in third grade recoiled and shuddered when I lifted my bangs to reveal the gruesome injury.  It. Was. Awesome. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Autographed Books

I'm so grateful for the many visitors who stopped by my blog last Wednesday and for the kind comments you left. There was a lot of interest in my bookcase of autographed books, so for you, I'm posting a follow up. Readers who aren't interested might want to skip this one (it's long) and come back next time. Only really do come back, because I'll miss you if you're gone too long.

Some readers wanted to see more of my autographed books, and I will include some pictures later in this post. First, though, I thought I'd tell you more about how Paul and I built this collection with hints as to how you might start one of your own.

As I pointed out in my last post, I check the newspaper each week to see who might be coming to town. I'm lucky to live near a big city that attracts a lot of authors. The Chicago Tribune has a literary events page every Saturday. Your newspaper might have a similar offering. Our food section sometimes prints notices of cookbook writers' events, too. 

That's the primary way we find out about author visits, but I have two other ways as well. First, once you get to know which venues host great events, you can get on their mailing lists or you can make a habit of visiting their websites. Over time, you will learn who hosts great events and who typically botches the job. One of my very favorite venues is the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. They post their events clearly on their website, and I love their events.  

Finally, you can keep track of your favorite authors' book tours. For example, I can see that one of my favorites, Bill Bryson, will not be in the United States at all for the rest of the year. Boo. I also follow some of my favorite authors on Facebook.  

Once you've decided to attend an event, read the details closely. Some venues have certain restrictions such as no photographs or autographs only on the book being promoted. It's nice to know these ahead of time so that you're not disappointed. You should also note if the venue plans to give guests numbered tickets for a place in line. I always appreciate the venues that do this, because then I know my place in line is secure, and because I don't actually have to stand in line the whole time--they usually call us up in groups of twenty. Here again, it's good to know if they have any restrictions on the number of guests that will get autographs. Sometimes they say only the first 300 people will get books signed. If you're going to see someone very popular or very famous, you'll want to get there early. When I went to see Rachael Ray, the store was giving out wristbands as soon as the store opened even though the event wasn't until that afternoon. My husband got in line for me about an hour and a half before the store opened. Twenty minutes after opening, the wristbands were gone. Thanks, honey, for sparing me disappointment!

At most book signings, you can expect the author to read a selection from the book. He or she will take questions from the audience. Then he or she will sit at a table with a water bottle and a handful of Sharpie markers. You'll get in line as instructed by the venue host and wait. Eventually, you'll get up to the table where the author will sign the book--sometimes with just a signature, sometimes with personalization. If you're like me, you'll try to think of something clever to say to the author, but you'll just say something dumb like, "How do you like Chicago?" I'm such a dweeb.   

Some events include a lecture or an interview. I love these events. Some events are nothing but a signing. These are still enjoyable but not as much.

It is good form to buy the book that the author is promoting, but you can usually have other items signed as well. Rachael Ray was willing to sign ANYTHING including what she calls "spoonulas."  

Should you bring your children? Well, you know what your kids can manage, but you should be prepared for them to be bored out of their minds. Bring something for them to do. Sometimes, when you're going to see a children's book author, the venue will make it child-friendly with an activity sheet or a snack or something. Alton Brown insists that families with young children cut to the front of the line so that they can get their youngsters to bed. So thoughtful! I took Caroline to her first book signing when she was six weeks old. She cried every time I tried to sit down so I had to stand in back and do the mama sway. Eight years later, she didn't cry at all at this event:

She is getting My Beloved World signed by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Pretty cool, huh?

I have one last point before I show you some of the books on the shelf. My husband sometimes sends books to authors by mail and asks for autographs. I never do this, because the event is more important to me than the signature. Some authors never tour, however, and this is how Paul gets their autographs. This strategy doesn't always work (J.D. Salinger unsurprisingly returned Paul's package unopened; Harper Lee's arthritis was too severe for her to write her name), but sometimes it does work. He got an autograph from the late Robert Byrd (the longest-serving U.S. senator).

Now, on to the shelf itself . . .

Here are a few more signatures . . .

Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison 

Here's one that Paul sent to the author--Sandra Day O'Connor

Salman Rushdie (HUGE crowd--we had to sit in an overflow room) and Peter Mayle (he brought French bread and wine)

If you ever have a chance to see Mo Willems, GO!  He's a great presenter and makes it really fun for children.

The late Roger Ebert whose thoughtful essays about films have thankfully influenced many critics after him--he is missed.

I could be mistaken, but I think this is the one that started it all.  The first book signing I attended was H. Jackson Brown for Wit and Wisdom From the Peanut Butter Gang (he's better known for Life's Little Instruction Book).

Okay.  That's enough for now.  Thanks for your interest!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Other People's Bookshelves

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

Recently, over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, blogger Anne Bogel confessed that she can't resist inspecting the bookshelves of anyone she visits.  The comments revealed that not only do lots of other people do the same, but also that many of us love to show off and discuss the books on our shelves.  Common ground is found, conversations are launched, and new ideas are discovered.  

Anne invited her readers to join the discussion and post pictures of their bookshelves.  So here's my contribution . . .

This bin sits in our living room. It's where we keep books that we've borrowed from the library. We also keep library books in the sofa cushions, under the children's beds, and on the floor of the minivan.  As you can see, my children are on a My Weird School kick these days.  Regular readers of Modern Mrs. Darcy may also notice one of Anne's recommendations.

I also keep library books in a pile beside my bed.  These are generally parenting and housekeeping books.  That is, books that make me feel like a bad parent and a bad housekeeper.

Most of our books live in the basement:

I can't show them all to you.  There are far too many since my husband and I are literary pack rats.

Here is a collection of Bibles in various languages and versions:

We have to double-shelve some of our books.  Here is a collection of books that I only bring out at Christmas.  The rest of the year, they hide behind Christian living books:

  We usually don't bring guests to the basement, though.  The books we like to show friends are in the living room.  Here are some very old books including several that my grandmother used when she was a girl in school:

Finally, here is our collection of signed books.  Every Saturday, we check the literary events page of the newspaper to see who is coming to town promoting their books.  Sometimes we go on our own, and sometimes we drag our daughters along so that they can experience real boredom by standing in long lines.  

Here's a sample of just one of our autographed books.  This is Susan Cain's Quiet:

Thank you for indulging me, dear readers!  This has been fun!  Be sure to check out the other bloggers participating in this link-up!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Clean this Room!!!

Last evening, as I helped Juliet organize her closet, I told her the following story. . .

I wasn’t a tidy child.  That probably doesn’t surprise you, given what an abysmal housekeeper I am today. My room was always a mess. Gramma, as you know, is a scrupulous housekeeper, so she was understandably frustrated by the perpetual chaos that was my bedroom.  From time to time, she could endure it no longer and announced, “This room is a pigsty!  You go in there and don’t come out until it is clean.”

I wondered what I would do if I needed to go to the bathroom.

Another child would have set to work and steadily put the place in order.  I was not that child.  For me, cleaning my room was like an archaeological dig with new discoveries under each layer of debris.  “Oooh,” I would say as I pulled artifacts from under the bed, “my Barbie carrying case!  I haven’t seen this in weeks!”  Then I would become reacquainted with the toy by playing with it for a while.  This was the pattern for the day: unearthing treasures, playing, sighing, returning to my project, repeating until suppertime.

It took most of the day. 

I looked at my daughter. She was dressing Polly Pocket who had been lost in the depths of the closet for weeks.  I put on my pith helmet, grabbed my shovel and brush, and returned to the dig.