Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Sunday Salon: Mother's Day Edition

Another Sunday, and another week of staying at home. Most of Florida is gradually coming back to life, but we have elected to wait a bit longer. Many restaurants have reopened with limitations... but we were disappointed to learn that the staff at one our favorites is not wearing masks. Hair and nail salons are reopening tomorrow. I desperately need the services of both, but will wait a few more weeks to see what happens.

Social distancing doesn't seem to be working very well on the beaches either. After reopening recently, the City of Naples closed their beaches again indefinitely when swarms of people descended upon them yesterday. Our public beach parking lots are still closed and the city has an emergency meeting Tuesday to determine their fate. Beach access brings out strong feelings... we'll see what happens.

Finally, today is Mother's Day. I had planned to fly to NY to surprise my mother and am disappointed that couldn't happen. On the plus side, all three of my adult daughters are here to help me celebrate. I couldn't tell you the last time that happened. We had cinnamon rolls this morning, I read a delightful little book this afternoon, and look forward to curbside take-out from a local restaurant for dinner. Good things can happen even during a pandemic.

Finished this week//

by Anne Tyler

Over the years I've read many Any Tyler's novels and they've come to feel like comfort reads. What better time for a comfort read than during these crazy times? Fans of Tyler will appreciate the familiar setting and characters. This isn't one of her best, but it is 192 pages of pleasant, cozy escapism.

by Michael Gustafson

I just learned about this book yesterday on Kathy's Week in Review post. What's not to love about an indie bookstore, a public typewriter, and the way patrons express themselves? The book wasn't available in either of my libraries, but I found the ebook for just $1.99 and read it in two short sittings today. Best two dollars I've spent in ages!!

Current reading//

by Margaret Atwood

My reread was solely audio this week and, since I had company on about half of my walks, progress was limited. I'm at 65% now and still enjoying the book, but think I must have been a more patient reader in my earlier years. I'll return to the read/listen combo this week to finish it up.

The week ahead//
I'm not sure why I continue to include this section. How much longer until I can type something other than "more of the same?"

How are you all holding up? Are restrictions easing in your area? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Sunday Salon: May is Here

And now it's May. Strange to say, but this new normal is starting to seem  normal. I hardly remember my last meal in a restaurant, pedicure, carefree shopping trip, or neighborhood gathering. My greying roots, however, tell me exactly how long it's been since my last visit to the hair salon!

Oddly enough, it has been a good couple of weeks. I've managed to carve out at least an hour of reading time every afternoon (thanks for the inspiration, Judith!), tried quite a few new recipes, walked on the beach at least once every day, and even scored some toilet paper at the pharmacy. Most importantly, we all remain healthy.

Recent reading//

by Barbara Kingsolver, narrated by the author

Our library book club was supposed to read Animal Dreams last month but, obviously there was no April meeting. Rather than rereading an older title, I opted for one of Kingsolver's more recent books instead. I've read and enjoyed most of her novels over the years and have come to expect themes of environmentalism, feminism, and social justice. While present here, the novel did not feel especially heavy-handed.

Unsheltered, published in 2018 and set in Vineland, NJ, features dual timelines, over a hundred years apart, centered around the same house. This format doesn't always work for me. One story often grabs my attention while the other seems to drag. The modern story here was slightly more appealing, but I loved how Kingsolver included historical figures (Charles Darwin, Mary Treat) and events in the older timeline. Of particular note, these two narratives fit together better than any dual-narrative novel I can recall.

This was a read/listen combination for me. Kingsolver narrated the audio version herself and, as with Flight Behavior, I increased the speed slightly but thoroughly enjoyed her performance.

by Anne Tyler

There is something comforting and familiar about an Anne Tyler novel. I fell into her world -  with slightly off-beat characters, set mostly in Baltimore - and my world melted away. Nothing too heavy or too taxing, I breezed through this book in a couple of days, enjoying every moment.

Current reading//

by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Kimberly Farr

Judy's recent review of The Robber Bride  inspired me to revisit a favorite Margaret Atwood novel. I loved both The Robber Bride  and Cat's Eye  back in the 90s and let library availability determined my ultimate selection. This started a read/listen combination, but I'm mostly listening now as other ebook library holds have arrived.

I'm a third of the way through and still love the book... despite experiencing feelings of dread and anxiety along with the main character as she "reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal."

by Anne Tyler 

I wasn't expecting to read another Anne Tyler novel so soon, but my library hold of her latest arrived Friday. This one is very short (under 200 pages) and also features unusual characters in Baltimore.

In the kitchen//

As I've mentioned before, my kitchen has been extremely busy during this pandemic. My challenge is to prepare three meals per day for five adults, with limited availability of certain ingredients and infrequent trips to the grocery store. Here are some new favorites:

I've been looking for the perfect bolognese recipe for years. The updated Weeknight Bolognese vfrom Barefoot Contessa is the best one yet. Next time I'll dial back the black pepper, maybe by a third.

Dinner doesn't get much quicker or easier than this Taco Salad Casserole from Taste of Home. I made it twice last month to rave reviews all around.

If I can get a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store, this Asian Chicken Rice Bowl (also from Taste of Home) will be on the menu again this week. My husband mostly tolerated it, but all three girls loved it!

Ground turkey has been plentiful. Tonight we're having Turkey Black Bean Enchiladas from Diethood for the second time. Easy to make and so good!

I'm also baking more than normal (so happy to find a bag of flour last week!) and usually make soup a couple times each week, too. Nothing I'm preparing has been especially fancy or involved... we're mostly craving comfort food these days.

The week ahead//

More of the same for us. The state of Florida is moving ahead with phase one reopening, but I'm happy our island/city decided to extend the ban on rental accommodations and keep beach public parking lots closed until May 15. Restaurants will reopen tomorrow at 25% capacity indoors and outdoor seating with appropriate social distancing. I will not be among their first customers... and am worried about a spike in two or three weeks.

How are you holding up? Is your state opening up again? What have you been cooking and reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Pandemic Update #3: April 19, 2020

Here we are with another pandemic edition of  the Sunday Salon. It's still eerily quiet on our southwest Florida barrier island. The rental accommodation ban is still in effect, county beaches are still closed, our city beach and public parking lots are also closed. Some restaurants are open for takeout or delivery only, and nonessential businesses remain closed. Our last grocery delivery was over a week ago and I'm planning a quick trip out for essential food items tomorrow. After receiving expired dairy products and nearly expired meat and produce in deliveries, I've decided to go out every couple of weeks for these things myself.

We finally have a more established pandemic routine. Our daughters' work schedules are set (so strange that they're working and we are not!) For me much remains the same, except the new routine includes more cooking and less print reading time. I still get my morning walk with an audiobook, and am working on ways to spend more time with my print and ebooks throughout the day.

With sunsets getting later, an evening walk is once again part of our routine... and has become my favorite part of the day. I always have company, so the earbuds stay home.

Finished this week//

by Sheryl Sandberg, Adam M. Grant
narrated by Elisa Donovan

I listened to the first few hours on audio but then wanted to reread certain quotes. I borrowed the ebook from the library and ended up finishing it in print. This book really spoke to Les (her review) and I can understand why.  It was probably not the best choice of pandemic reading material for me, but still a worthwhile read. I will revisit the audio when this current situation resolves. Thanks for the recommendation, Les!

Current reading//

by Barbara Kingsolver
narrated by the author

I generally enjoy Barbara Kingsolver's novels and so far I really like this one, too. As usual, I have both the ebook and the audio. At nearly 30%, both stories of the dual narrative (set in the same house, approximately a century apart) are equally appealing. That rarely happens, so I hope it continues!

Renovation update//

Work on the house continues. Painting, tile installation, and framing in the lower level was happening last week. Tile work continues this week and I'm hopeful the kitchen cabinets will arrive. It looks like the new front door will be going in, too. I was disappointed to learn the wood flooring shipment has been delayed due to the pandemic. The new projected arrival date is May 20... so that pushes our move into June. Sigh.

The week ahead//

Should be more of the same, but hopefully with more reading.

How are you holding up? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Sunday Salon: A Cloudy Day

Hello from cloudy southwest Florida, where we're all still healthy, staying at home and practicing social distancing as best as we can. The governor (at long last) issued a "safer at home" order a few days ago... though we haven't see too much change as our island seemed to be ahead of the curve. Our days have finally settled into more of a routine and I've been able to carve out time to relax with a book most afternoons. Limiting television news has helped, too.

Finished this week//

by Alison Weir, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I don't read much historical fiction, but Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens  series seems to be just what I need right now. This fictionalized biography swept me away to another time and place. It portrays Anne, full of intelligence and ambition, through her early life, rise to power, and eventual downfall. The end, especially, is chronicled in excruciating detail... I could not put it down.

This was a read/listen combination for me. The audio version is just under 20 hours, so I listened on my morning walks and read the ebook (borrowed from the library) later in the day. I plan to start book three, Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen, as soon as my library hold arrives.

by Kevin Wilson, narrated by Marin Ireland

Perfect pandemic reading! I raced through this book in just a couple of days. The novel features a set of ten-year-old twins who spontaneously combust. Yes, truly ridiculous, but I found the book utterly delightful. Read it for yourself and see. Better yet, listen. Marin Ireland won the 2020 Audie Award for best female narrator.

Tried but set aside//

by Malcolm Gladwell, narrated by the author

I listened to the first hour of this book on my walk, but it just didn't hold my interest. I've enjoyed listening to Gladwell's previous books, but this one seemed more like a podcast.

In the kitchen//

It's been several years, maybe a decade, since I regularly cooked for five people. At that time I had a large, well-stocked kitchen with double ovens and a dedicated pantry. Now I've got a tiny kitchen, one oven, one food cupboard, uncertain availability of staples, and my favorite pans, tools, and cookbooks are still in storage. While this presents a challenge, it also provides an opportunity to be creative. (We're still hoping to move into our house late next month.)

I felt like baking several days this week. A Blueberry Cornmeal Shortbread Tart from the New York Times  was our favorite. If you want the recipe and can't access the link, let me know. I will copy and email to you. We also loved these Blondies from Simply Recipes, which I made with mini chocolate chips and walnuts. I used the last of my brown sugar to make them... hope I can find more at Publix this week.

The week ahead//

More of the same, I imagine. I'll leave you with a photo of a perfect tulip I found a few days ago. Hope you are all safe and healthy.

How are you holding up? What are you reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Sunday Salon: A Covid-19 Update

Hello, friends. What a month! March has obviously not gone as planned for any of us...

Our lives on the island have changed dramatically. As most of you know, two of our daughters live and work in Manhattan. As retired health care professionals, we grew concerned about the situation in the city early on and urged them to come to Florida. Eventually they agreed and have been here since the 12th... both working remotely. It's a tight fit with five adults in our small condo, but I am so thankful they're here.

We stayed home for two weeks following their arrival and still continue to do so. Groceries are delivered and it seems like I am cooking constantly... good therapy, actually. There must be material for a Weekend Cooking post or two with all the planning and new recipes. We'll see if the spirit move me.

Life on the island has become eerily quiet. Restaurants and bars have been closed for what feels like ages, though some continue to have take-out available. Public beach access and parking closed earlier last week. A few days later all public parking lots were barricaded... I assume to prevent people from coming over and riding their bikes on the paths. Yesterday the city suspended all rental accommodations for 28 days. The birds seem to like this arrangement... they have the beach mostly to themselves and are coming out in even greater numbers. 

Unfortunately, reading has become a distant memory. I'm still listening to audiobooks on my now twice daily beach walks, but that's about it. I've discovered Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queens historical fiction series and love how they take me away to another time and place. This is not one of my usual reading genres, but I've long been fascinated by Tudor England. Weir is primarily known for her nonfiction and I think she has a knack for fiction as well. Katherine of Arag√≥n: The True Queen was wonderfully entertaining and now I'm over halfway through Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession.

Blog reading has also fallen by the wayside, but I continue to think about my blogging friends and hope you are all safe and well.  As I settle into this new normal, my reading and blogging will pick up again...maybe as soon as this week. 

How are you all holding up? Are you still reading?

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Hello, March!

March... really?  February was a blur around here. I've come to the realization that this is simply a fact of life in southwest Florida - and I mean that in the best possible way. "Season" is here and activities abound. We had houseguests for nearly two weeks, spent time with several sets of old friends, enjoyed multiple gatherings with new friends, and attended fundraisers for local organizations. I've learned more about native birds, plants, and shells, participated in a couple of book club discussions, and walked the beach nearly every day. We're still in the midst of renovations on our new house... it's coming along slowly, but I'm happy with things so far.

You won't be surprised to see that February wasn't a great reading month... I finished only three books! This morning I decided to take a look back at my February reading over the past four or five years... since we have been "wintering" in Florida. There wasn't much to see. It seems I've averaged only three books in February since 2015 and have yet to read anything that ended up on my favorites list! It's been an average month after all...

Recent reading//

Ties by Domenico Starnone 

A few years ago, I listened to The Days of Abandonment  by Elena Ferrante (my thoughts).  While reading Ties, also a story of an unhappy marriage, the feeling of deja vu was overwhelming. This book is written by Ferrante's husband and beautifully translated by Jhumpa Lahiri. Did husband and wife write the same novel?

The writing, narrative voice, and structure are all striking in Ties. Book One is told by the wife, in letters to her estranged husband. This section is most reminiscent of The Days of Abandonment. Book Two is the husband's story and Book Three is from the point of view of their two adult children.

I appreciated this novel very much, especially Starnone's prose...yet it's hard to say it was an enjoyable read.

Red At the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The audio production of this much-anticipated novel, narrated by Jacqueline Woodson, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin, is fabulous! However, my initial reaction to the novel itself was one of slight disappointment... especially after loving  Woodson's earlier book, Brown Girl Dreaming. My initial rating was 3.5 stars but, over the past few weeks, I've found my thoughts returning to the story. It's grown on me, so I'm raising my rating to 4 stars.

by Anne de Courcy

This book was already on my wish list but after reading Jane's review, I decided to move it up. Amazon obliged with a perfectly-timed kindle deal and my library came through with an audio edition via hoopla. As you know, I prefer a read/listen combination for nonfiction.

The Husband Hunters offers a fascinating look at high society in New York City and Newport during The Gilded Age, and the barriers it erected to exclude the nouveau riche. It also outlines financial woes plaguing members of the British aristocracy, and explains why many viewed marriage to a new American heiress as the perfect solution for all. But was it really?

This is exactly the background material I wanted prior to reading The Buccaneers  by Edith Wharton, which I plan to do later this year.

Current reading//

by Alison Weir, narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but am fascinated by the Tudors. Noted historian Alison Weir is in the process of writing a series of novels about the wives of Henry VIII and I've finally decided to jump on board. This is a long book (625 pages and 22+hours on audio) so I've made it a read/listen combination. I'm at 35% now... it's very good!

Up next//

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon 

This is the March selection of our library book club, so it's time to get started. I'm not familiar with this book, but the description sounds a little strange. It was published in 2018... have you read it?

Looking ahead//

More visitors, more renovation, a spring training game (Yankees vs Twins) or two, and time with books, the beach, and my bicycle. March should look a lot like February.

How was your month? What have you been reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Sunday Salon: Groundhog's Day

Happy Groundhog's Day! This morning Punxsutawney Phil made his prediction for an early spring... and my family and friends in central New York sure hope he's right. Here in southwest Florida winter has become my favorite season, so I'd be perfectly happy if it hangs on a little longer!

We've had another busy week. A highlight came on my Friday morning beach walk when I spotted this banded Royal Tern. Since last week's lecture I've been paying even closer attention to snowy plovers and red knots in hopes of spotting a band, but didn't expect to see one lone banded tern in a flock of hundreds. The Shorebird Biologist at SCCF figured out that it was banded through Virginia Tech's program. She forwarded them my email/photo so, hopefully, we'll learn more about this particular bird soon.

Update 2/3/20: I heard back from Virginia Tech... this particular bird was banded as a chick in a colony near Chincoteague, VA on July 17, 2019 by Virginia Tech researchers.

Finished this week//

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope 

It took nearly an entire month, but I finally finished my first book for the Back to the Classics Challenge and my thirteenth Trollope novel! I will devote an entire post to my thoughts and favorite quotes later this week. In the meantime, here is my one-sentence goodreads review:
Truly something for everyone in this sprawling 19th century novel... no wonder it is considered Trollope's masterpiece!

Current reading//

Ties by Domenico Starnone

After an 800-plus page read, I was craving something very short and completely different. This novel, translated from Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri, is short (only 150 pages), beautifully written, and on the dark side. I breezed through the first half yesterday afternoon and hope to read the rest of it today or tomorrow.

Listening to//

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

I loved Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming  and had this book on my wish list, but hadn't considered listening to it until I read Lisa's review. The multi-narrator cast (Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Peter Francis James, Shayna Small, Bahni Turpin) is excellent and their character's stories pulled me in immediately. Another plus is that the production short - under hour hours long. After Trollope, I'm definitely in the mood for shorter books! I'll finish within the next couple of days.

The week ahead//
Our oldest daughter is coming to visit this week! She'll fly down Tuesday after work and stay until next Sunday. We have all sorts of activities planned... including her birthday celebration. I can't wait!

That covers my week... how was yours? What are you reading?

The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.
It's Monday... What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.


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