Read With Us: Sorrow and Bliss


Often, when I'm writing what Bonny and Carole and I call our "promotional posts" (to try to entice you to Read With Us), I haven't read our selection yet. But this time, I have!


I think Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason is a terrific Read With Us choice. Although the subject matter (mental illness) is dark, the book is nothing like our last selection (Young Mungo), which was really, really dark. So if you've been holding back on picking up Sorrow and Bliss because you just don't want to be emotionally beat up by a book again, well. You can breathe a little easier with this one.

That said, this novel pulls no punches when it comes to the heartbreak that comes from mental illness! Sorrow and Bliss is a searingly honest look at a woman trying to navigate life and relationships with a misdiagnosed mental illness, and it also explores the impact her illness has on family members and loved ones. The novel is sad and heartbreaking, yet it’s also charming, witty, and funny. The characters are authentic, the dialogue is fresh, and the entire storyline moves along at an easy pace.

What was really interesting to me about this book is the author’s refreshing take on not “labeling” the main character’s particular mental illness. In fact, the mental illness featured in the book is completely made up! Without a label, we readers can remain open to what’s actually happening to her, rather than filling in the blanks from our own experience or assumptions.

I'm sure there will be much to discuss when we get together to talk about the book in September!

If you’re wanting more insight into the book, Bonny shared Meg Mason's (she's the author of Sorrow and Bliss) inspiring bulletin board with us last week. And two weeks ago, Carole shared several interviews with Meg Mason (including a fascinating video interview). If you're looking for a good review of the book, here's one from The Guardian.

I do hope you'll pick up a copy and Read With Us.

The book is currently available on Amazon in hardback ($16.69), paperback ($13.09), Kindle ($6.99) or Audible versions (1 credit). Check your local bookstores for a copy, too! The book should also be available at most libraries, without too long a wait. 

Our Read With Us book discussion day will be coming up on Tuesday, September 13. Bonny, Carole, and I will each post discussion questions on our blogs that day, and then - later in the evening (7:00 pm Eastern time zone) - we'll be hosting a live book discussion/meet-up on Zoom.

C'mon along! 
Read With Us!


This or That: Summer Reading Edition

How it's already gotten to be the last week of July . . . is beyond me. Really. Time has been flying! Anyway. I've been thinking a lot about summer reading lately, and to celebrate this week's Booker Prize long list announcement (Tuesday), I thought it might be fun to wrap up the month with . . . 


Reading a book-book . . . OR . . . Reading on an e-reader

Listening to an audiobook . . . OR . . . I can't concentrate when I listen to a book

Feel like I must finish what I start . . . OR . . . Life is too short to read books I'm not enjoying

Library . . . OR . . . Bookstore

Sometimes I read the ending first . . . OR . . . I wouldn't dream of peeking at the ending

Book club . . . OR . . . No group reads for me

Multiple books at once . . . OR . . . One book at a time

Read in bed . . . OR . . . Too tired to concentrate on a book at bedtime

Follow book awards . . . OR . . . Book awards? What book awards?

Sometimes I re-read books . . . OR . . . Not interested in reading something again

Always have a book with me . . . OR . . . Always have my knitting with me


To answer, just copy the the list above, paste it into the comment field, and indicate your answers.

This . . . or . . . That? 
I can't wait to see what you choose.

(As for me? Check the comments to find out!)

Get Strong: Your Monthly Fitness Challenge July 2022

Several months ago, I introduced my monthly fitness challenge, explaining my "inspiration" and why I think it's so important to do strength work ESPECIALLY as we age. (You can read all about that here.)


How are you doing? By now, I hope you're having some success with my challenges. Keep up the good work. Every day! (And if you haven't started yet? Well. You can begin today!)


Here's this month's fitness challenge:

Challenge #10 -- Create a 2-minute Every Damn Day routine for yourself. And then do it . . . every damn day.

When it comes to improving our strength, consistency is key. This month, I'm challenging you to create a 2-minute routine that you can build into your day, every day. What you put in your 2-minute routine is completely up to you, based on what you want to work on regularly. 

Here's my 2-minute Every Damn Day routine: (Start your stop watch!)

  • First, I do 10 push-ups. (Why? Because I want to focus on strengthening my upper body and core, and push-ups are a great way for me to do that.)
  • Next, I do 5 pilates roll-ups. (Why? Because I want to maintain my core strength, stability, and flexibility. And I hate core work, so 5 is enough.)
  • Then, I do a yogic squat. (Why? Because it's good for my hips, my knees, my legs, and my ankles. It keeps me flexible, and it translates into a functional movement I can incorporate into my life -- squatting down in the garden, or when I'm doing housework, etc.)
  • From the yogic squat, I move back onto my butt and roll back into a plow pose. (Why? Flexibility and mobility, mostly -- but it also keeps my spine supple . . . and it feels really good, too.)
  • Then I roll out of that and into another yogic squat.
  • From there, I stand up (no hands!), and do my hands-free sit-on-the-ground/stand-back-up practice. (Why? So I can keep getting up and down from the floor. Fighting gravity is a good thing to do every day.)

Done! (Hit your stopwatch again; It should be . . . just a couple of seconds over 2 minutes.)

I do this every day, usually after my meditation time, but sometimes I tack it on at the end of a yoga practice or other, regular workout. If I'm having a busy day and won't have time for my regular workout, I do it just after I brush my teeth in the morning. It's quick. It's easy to do. It's become a habit.  

As you create your own 2-minute routine, the most important thing is to keep it short, simple, and filled with do-able elements that YOU need. You don't need to sweat. You don't need to suffer. You don't need to change clothes, even. You just need to do it every day.

So. What are you going to include in your 2-minute routine? That's up to you! Consider what you want to work on, and what will help you get stronger. Some elements you might consider:  

  • 5 jumping jacks
  • 5 crunches
  • 10 reps of shoulder presses with a light weight
  • a 30-second forward fold
  • quad stretches
  • skipping down the hall and back
  • holding a plank for 30 seconds
  • standing on one leg for 15 seconds
  • (and then the other!)
  • 5 cat-cow cycles
  • 5 leg lifts
  • 10 kegels
  • 3 bridge poses
  • a downward dog or two

The possibilities are endless!

Find a routine that works for YOU, and make it a habit -- every damn day.

Try it.
See what happens.


Previous Get Strong Monthly Fitness Challenges:

Challenge #9 -- Try this 10 minute beginners yoga once a week for a month.

Challenge #8 -- Give yourself a couple of hugs (every day).

Challenge #7 -- Pay attention to how you walk. (With every step.)

Challenge #6 -- Get your feet off the ground! (And make it an everyday practice.)

Challenge #5: Get down on the floor. And then get back up again! (And make it an everyday practice.)

Challenge #4: Identify your core, learn how to engage it, and . . . do your Kegel exercises every day!

Challenge #3: Increase your physical activity every day.

Challenge #2: Stretch your hamstrings, activate those glutes . . . and spare your back just by changing the way you bend over.

Challenge #1: Strengthen Your Lower Body by Doing Body Weight Squats . . . All Day Long


Tales From the Garden

Reality bites. 

I'm thrilled that my exterior house "makeover" project is well-underway (at last!), but my-oh-my . . . my garden is taking a serious hit! I knew this would happen. Once you bring in a paint crew and some carpenters and ladders and more ladders and long hoses and power washers and . . . well. Plants are bound to be trampled. Whole hunks of container plants (which I thought had been moved out of the way, but not enough) are gonna break off. I hold my breath and try not to look. . . 

(Also, I just want to say that our painting company? They are the most aware, cautious, and respectful-of-our property painting company I've ever seen. They are absolutely doing the best they can, and I'm pleased with the respect they're giving my garden. Still. Ladders. Lots of ladders.)

So. I'll not share any garden photos with you today.
Let's talk . . . garden fashion instead.


Ever since I completed my 2021 Quest for the Perfect Green Overalls (which I ended up sewing for myself), I have discovered that the VERY BEST thing to wear while gardening . . . is overalls. Comfort. Practicality. Pockets. Seriously, you can't beat 'em. And while I was thinking about making another pair -- hacking them into shorts overalls this time, I found the perfect, ready-made version . . . thanks to my (highly annoying but surprisingly right on the money) Instagram feed. 

These overalls (the ones I'm wearing in my photo) are from Duluth Trading Company (here's a link, and they're on sale right now . . . just sayin). They're lightweight. They have The Best Pockets. The shoulder straps are elastic. And I don't have to unbutton everything (just one shoulder strap) when I need to use the bathroom.


Besides . . . what gardener doesn't want overalls with little gnomes on them, huh?

(And for those of you who don't share my love of quirky gardening gear -- like gnome overalls or "chicken boots" -- they do come in solid colors, too.)


And that's my tale from the garden this week!


Celebrating a Small Win

This month, the prompt from the Ali Edwards OLW team is all about celebrating our small wins . . . which is a really great topic for any month, actually. (I highly recommend thinking about the little things you DID accomplish . . . rather than all the things you didn't get around to.)

Anyway, I thought I'd share one of my small wins with you today.


Last spring, I was experiencing a bit of a "breakthrough" with my painting. I could actually tell . . . that my paintings were improving; that all the lessons I'd been learning were coming together.

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I was finding the time (making the time) to do a little painting every day, and that regular practice was beginning to pay off for me.


I was challenging myself and trying new things . . . just going for it in ways I didn't before. I was becoming more confident -- and more comfortable about taking risks.

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But then . . . I needed to clear out my "studio" (I laugh when I call it that; it sounds so pretentious . . . and it's really just my desk in Brian's old room where I have my painting stuff permanently set up) so Erin could use it as her office during her month-long stay with us.

I packed up my painting stuff (and there is a lot of "stuff" involved), and moved it to a work table in the basement where I planned to continue painting every day. After all, I was on a roll! 

But you know what? I never touched the stuff again once I moved it down to that table. I didn't even arrange it so I COULD paint. It just sat there, making me feel bad every time I walked by. So that painting of the barn up there? The first painting in this post? It's the last thing I've painted since mid-May. Even after Erin left (a month ago now!), I just left all that painting stuff sitting in a sad heap on that work table.

But over the weekend, I decided enough was enough. I forced myself to clear off that work table in the basement, and drag all my painting stuff back up to my (ahem) "studio" and set things to rights again.


I haven't actually picked up my paintbrushes yet. But that's not really the point here. I took the first step. I put things back together, which paves the way for my being able to paint again.

And that, my friends, is a small win that I'm celebrating today.


How about you? What small win might you be celebrating this month?


Unpacking My Library

This summer, Carole is hosting a Summer Reading program . . . to bring back that read-what-you-love, childish-pleasure "thing" to our reading. There's no particular structure to Carole's program (which is perfect for my personal reading style), just plenty of thinking - and talking - about reading.

For me, Carole's focus on reading has got my own gears moving, considering what I like best about books. Carole has inspired me to . . . unpack my own library.


I'm not picky about the format of books I read. I like "book-books" (what I call traditional, turn-the-pages books), and I like books on a reader (I have an iPad Mini, so I generally use that), and I like listening to books, too. They all work for me! I usually pick up library books in book-book form. If I'm going to buy a book, I generally do that electronically (I have a lot of shelf space, sure, but I'm not interested in amassing a huge collection of fiction). I do have an Audible subscription, so I can keep those audiobooks coming (and Tom prefers audiobooks, so I look for books we can share).

When I do purchase a book to keep, it nearly always falls into one of four categories: gardening books, cookbooks, art books . . . and poetry. Those are the kinds of books I like to grab off the shelf now and then . . . and read in willy-nilly fashion: just picking it up, opening it, and reading a bit whereever I land. (I usually find the just-right passage when I do that. It's an amazing thing.)

I take notes while I read books, and - unless it's a library book - I have no problem underlining, highlighting, or jotting notes right on the pages. I have books just jammed with post-it-notes and torn-paper bits marking favorite passages or other things I want to find later, and I really love the electronic notetaking/highlighting options that come with e-readers. When I read library books, I mark them with post-it-notes as I read, and I jot down notes on my phone. When I finish a book, I compile my notes-and-quotes in Google docs before I write my reviews, which I share on Goodreads. (This helps me cement the books in my mind a little better, and gives me a place where I can easily go back and remind myself about what I liked. . . or didn't.) If that all sounds overly academic, rest assured . . . I don't take many notes on most books I read, but I do usually make a list of characters at the very least. My note-jotting is solely for my own purposes -- to help me remember the books I read (some books lend themselves to note-taking and quote-saving; some . . . do not).

Sometimes I think I like reading book-books so much because I enjoy a deep, visceral pleasure in turning pages and using bookmarks! I'm pretty sure that taps deeply into my childhood love of reading and books. While I will use pretty much anything within easy reach as a bookmark (torn paper, envelopes, napkins, other books. . . ), I much prefer actual, REAL bookmarks to mark my place. 

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This is just a small smattering of bookmarks I regularly use. There are promotional booksmarks from local bookstores (I have tons of these), but some are more special; usually bookmarks I've received from friends. The cross-stitch bookmark in the first photo? Dee sent me that one, and it's my go-to bookmark right now. (Thanks again, Dee!) And that "collection" photo above? The Buddha is from Margene, the flowers are from Sarah, and the lovely watercolor is from Vicki (it's from her husband's New Island collection). It's like . . . reading with friends . . . whenever I mark my pages with these bookmarks.

Just for fun, here's a favorite classic bookmark . . . 

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Apparently, that is me . . . preserved forever on a pre-school Mother's Day gift from Erin in 1993. I smile every time I use it in one of my books.

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Sometimes I like bookmarks-as-inspiration. Like this one . . . that I'm currently using in my planner to mark my week. I like the message, and find it to be a good reminder for myself several times a day, whenever I check in with my daily to-do list.

How about YOU?

What are your reading preferences when it comes to books? How do you remember what you read -- or is that not really important to you at all? And . . . bookmarks? Yes or no!





Out My Window

Sometimes on Mondays I share a view out my window.
Well. Today, I've got this view . . . 


Technically, that's the view from my open garage door, not a window. But. There you have it. A big old clunky construction trailer in my driveway.

And that means . . . 

Our exterior house update project (in the making for 3 years now; pre-pandemic even) is finally underway! This really has been a lengthy, frustrating, and laughable experience -- and like Tom said yesterday, I won't really breathe easy until the painters show up. We have had the new doors installed (they were lost at sea in various container ships last summer). And on Friday the carpenters showed up to replace various sections of our cedar siding ahead of the painters (and to prepare the way for new light fixtures . . . the ones that have been sitting in my garage for about 18 months). So I'm feeling . . . hopeful . . . that the project is really going to happen. Finally.

Sometimes the view out my window doesn't have to be lovely . . . to be welcome!


Here's to a good week with the best views to all of you.


Edited to add . . . 

A new view from this morning. And, yeah. The gang's all here!!!



Maybe it IS the News???

It feels so hard these days, but here I am, committed to continue . . . 


Tom and I have an ongoing discussion about the news, trying to figure out if it's us, or if it's the news. Because things just seem so much more dire than they ever have before, everywhere in the world. And the news is just . . . bad, constant, relentless, never-ending, All.The.Time.

And then, last week, this opinion piece from The Washington Post came out and kind of validated our discussion. (Go ahead, click in. Even if you aren't a subscriber. I "gifted" it to you all, so the link should work. It's worth reading!) The piece was written by Amanda Ripley (journalist, writer, and podcast host) after she realized many of her journalist colleagues were, like her, avoiding the news because they found themselves so devastated, drained, and unmotivated when they consumed it. Yes. Journalists . . . are destroyed by the news, too!

Ms. Ripley divulges that 42% of Americans regularly or often avoid the news. That's the highest percentage of news-avoiders in the world! Why are we avoiding the news? Because it's repetitive and dispiriting, we often doubt it's credibility, and it makes us feel powerless. Studies (you can find links in Ripley's article) show that the more news we consume the worse we feel. The article even mentions a specific psychological syndrome people suffer from these days: Headline Stress Disorder.

In the article, Ms. Ripley goes on to suggest that . . . yes, indeed, it IS the news. She explains that while some people blame bias in journalism and others blame the "business model" (negativity brings clicks), she feels the fault lies in the lack of the human factor in the news. She posits that even high quality print news is not designed for humans, and includes this quote from Krista Tippett, host of OnBeing . . .

“I don’t actually think we are equipped, physiologically or mentally, to be delivered catastrophic and confusing news and pictures, 24/7. We are analog creatures in a digital world.”
                ---Krista Tippett

Ms. Ripley then describes the three simple ingredients missing from the news as it's currently reported:

  • Hope (we need something to believe it; we need to believe there are possibilities for the future)
  • Agency (we need to feel like we can do something - even small things - to make a difference)
  • Dignity (we need to feel like we matter -- and that journalists are listening to us)

She makes a few interesting conclusions, and shares that she has taken to reading The Christian Science Monitor because they DO add those three ingredients - hope, agency, and dignity - to their reporting and news coverage.

Go ahead, read the article!

And then think about your own news consumption . . . and how it makes you feel. I struggle with figuring out how to balance my desire to "stay informed" with my need to "stay sane." When I take news out of the picture for a few days, I really DO feel better. But I also don't think it's good to go through life . . . uninformed.

Reading this opinion piece by Amanda Ripley in The Washington Post made me feel . . . strangely hopeful. I think it's because her article included those three simple ingredients: hope (something to believe in; possibilities), agency (that I might be able to do something), and dignity (that there is at least one news source that puts readers first). It also made me see that . . . I'm not the only one. Others - even journalists themselves - are struggling with a news-load that none of us is equipped to handle.

If you're seeking a way to balance the news and daily living, here's a little something I found on Instagram. (Although after reading Amanda Ripley's piece, I think I'd substitute The Christian Science Monitor in there for Jessica Yellin in that first bullet point.) (Even though I like Jessica Yellin. Just sayin.)



I wish you all a low-key, restful weekend with plenty of "delight hunting." See you Monday!

Tales From the Garden

I have a bottlebrush buckeye (a shrub) in my garden. I planted it several years ago; just two tiny twigs, probably about 8 inches tall. I wasn’t looking for this particular shrub for my garden when I brought it home, and I didn’t have a spot in mind for it either. I knew it would spread out, and I knew it preferred shade, so I stuck it in the “back woods” corner of my garden.

It didn’t do much for several years.

But. Look at it now! (Last year was the first year it bloomed.)
It seems quite happy!


It’s pretty spectacular, actually.
Yet, I have bittersweet feelings whenever I look at it.

My bottlebrush buckeye is a reminder of the final “garden adventure” I had with a special, long-time, gardening buddy. We each came home with small plantings of the shrub that day, inspired by one we saw in full bloom when we were visiting an out-of-town landscaping center near the lakeshore.

We used to do a lot of “garden adventures” together, my gardening buddy and I. Visiting special garden and landscape centers all over the state. Going on garden tours. Shopping the local cart sale. We were as familiar with each other’s gardens as we were with our own! We advised. We scouted. We shared. We bought plants for each other.

She was actually the first friend I made after chemo –  the first person I knew who hadn’t known me "before." We met at a Master Gardener event. She was very much an extrovert, and just . . . walked up and said, “Hey! I like your sweatshirt. Tell me about your garden.” And just like 6-year-olds at the playground, we became fast friends.


I haven’t seen her since just before the pandemic. We aren’t really . . . friends anymore. We didn’t have a falling out. We didn’t decide . . . not to be friends anymore. But, still, I lost her friendship. To dementia.

It happened gradually. Her personality changed. Never intimidated (she was an ultra-extrovert), her dementia loosened her up even more. She lost all her social filters. She said mean, judge-y things. To me, about me . . . but mostly to people around us. She acted inappropriately, embarrassingly in public. She knew we were friends, but she couldn’t remember how we were friends. She was always surprised when she found out I gardened, that - like her - I was a gardener, too. 

I wasn’t ready for this. I thought I was too young to lose friends to dementia! But . . . my gardening buddy was 12 years older than me. It happens.


Because of a number of . . . incidents . . . (and compounded by the pandemic) I decided it was in my best interest to step away from that friendship. I never imagined that I’d . . .  lose a friend that way. I’m still trying to process it all; trying to forgive myself for walking away from a person I didn’t recognize anymore, from someone who no longer recognized ME. 

So. My lovely bottlebrush buckeye? Anytime I look at it, I’m reminded of a beautiful gardening friendship full of fun memories. But it also . . . just makes me a little sad. 

Sometimes tales from the garden . . . are bittersweet.

(And if you’ve had an experience like mine - losing a friend to dementia - I’d love to hear how you managed.)

Garter Stitch is the Answer

There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, Bull Durham, when the Durham Bulls baseball team gathers together on the mound for a bit of a re-group during a game.


What's the problem? Well . . . Nuke's "old man" is in the stands, which makes him nervous. Jose's girlfriend put a curse on his glove and he needs a live chicken to take it off. And no one knows what to get Millie and Jimmy for their upcoming wedding. As Crash tells Manager Larry when he joins them on the mound  . . . "We're dealing with a lot of shit."

That's how I feel right now.
Like I'm dealing with a lot of shit.

Oh, it's nothing big or important or scary. It's just . . . a lot of little things that need dealing with or wrapping up or wrangling. My brain is going in a million directions all the time and I just need things to settle a bit. (And they will. Because Life.)

At times like these, I'm happy for a good old, garter stitch knitting project that doesn't take too much brain-space, y'know?


I'm just cranking out the squares for my Prodigal Son blanket project. (8.3 squares complete; 1.7 squares remaining.) It's nice to have a soothing something-to-work-on with my hands . . . while my brain sorts through the rest of the . . . shit I'm dealing with!


How about you? What are you making (or dealing with) these days?