A Grateful Heart of Thanksgiving

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for the day begun sharing homemade cranberry scones with my parents…

for a day off work and the time to prepare an orange and walnut salad, braised red cabbage, fresh green beans, a twelve pound turkey basted with lemon butter and an apple pie…

for books and eyes to read them…

for a humble home with a spectacular view of the river…

for twenty-five beautiful children eager to learn what I want to teach them…

for a husband faithful and true…

for a son finding his way…

for fellow readers who are patient with my blog’s changes, intermittent comments, and erratic reading habits…

for the Lord above all, who keeps us and protects us…

I send thanks from the bottom of my grateful heart.

May you have a blessed Thanksgiving with many reasons to offer thanks of your own.

Mailbox Monday: A Few Books I’m Looking Forward To

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can an epic adventure succeed without a hero? andra watkins needed a wingman to help her become the first living person to walk the historic 444-mile natchez trace as the pioneers did. she planned to walk fifteen miles a day. for thirty-four days.

after striking out with everyone in her life, she was left with her disinterested eighty-year-old father. and his gas. the sleep apnea machine and self-scratching. sharing a bathroom with a man whose gut obliterated his aim.

~not without my father by Andra Watkins

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In the tradition of Alan Furst, the #1 international bestselling author delivers his first stand-alone novel, a psychological thriller set in World War II Nazi Germany and 1970s England.

~The Alphabet House by Jussi Adler-Olsen

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An irresistible debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens when no one else is looking.

~lost & found by Brooke Davis

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You and One Plus One, in an earlier work available in the U.S. for the first time, a surprising and moving romance set in an old-fashioned seaside town on the verge of unwelcome change.

~Silver Bay by JoJo Moyes

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From the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You and One Plus One, in an earlier work available in the U.S. for the first time, a post-WWII story of the war brides who crossed the seas by the thousands to face their unknown futures.

1946. World War II has ended and all over the world, young women are beginning to fulfill the promises made to the men they wed in wartime.

~The Ship of Brides by JoJo Moyes

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A prince with a quest, a beautiful commoner with mysterious powers, and dragons who demand to be freed—at any cost.

Filled with the potent mix of the supernatural and romance that made A Discovery of Witches a runaway success, Moth and Spark introduces readers to a vibrant world—and a love story they won’t soon forget.

~Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard

(Find more Mailbox Monday entries here.)

An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris

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There is no such thing as a secret–not really, not in the modern world, not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses. The old days of an inner circle of like-minded souls communicating with parchment and quill pens are gone. Sooner or later most things will be revealed.

While Claude DeBussy was composing Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune, and Emile Zola was writing highly anticipated novels, Georges Picquard began investigating the case of Alfred Dreyfus. Accused of being a traitor against the French, and already half-condemned because of being a Jew, Dreyfus had been sent to Devil’s Island where he was isolated and tortured for allegedly giving secret information to the Germans.

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However, the deeper Major Picquard looks into the case, the more he is certain that the wrong man is being punished. When he comes to the generals above him with near irrefutable proof that they have convicted an innocent man, Picquard is the one who finds himself in a similar situation: being hounded and scorned by military powers who will not accept that they were wrong. On pride alone, they refuse to set the innocent free.

I was absolutely riveted to this novel. How it is that I have not read anything written by Robert Harris before I do not know, but he has quickly leapt to a “must read” author for me, one whose books I am eager to go through from the very beginning. He masterfully tells the tale, with details exquisitely recorded, in such a way that before I know it I have read fifty pages.

I highly recommend this book based on the true story of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris during the 1890’s.

German Lit Month: Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

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How stange that I should close a book of 731 pages, a book which was largely responsible for earning its 25 year old  author the Nobel prize, and wonder exactly what I ought to say about it. The scope of the novel is very large, and its themes are very big, such that it’s difficult to narrow down a review to fit into one post.

I was entranced with Antonie, eldest daughter of the Buddenbrooks family. I admired her spunk, her devotion to her father, even her tantrums which freely displayed emotion rather than tucking it away somewhere as a responsible adult would.

My sympathies lay deep with Thomas, eldest son of the Buddenbrooks family. I understood his devotion to the family business, his determination to make it all come out right, his frustration with those in the family whose primary skills were incompetence and foolishness.

My heart went out to little Johann, Hanno as he was called, because his gentle, artistic side showed a tremendous passion for music, but alienated him from his father and caused him to be tormented at school.

Of course there are countless other characters, including the rapscallion brother ironically named Christian, who exhibited behavior that was everything but that. There are countless themes including an exploration of the relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, sister and brother, homeowner and servant, to the examination of faith, education, and business.

As Buddenbrooks is the tale of the decline of a family, which is said to closely approximate that of the author’s own life, Mann has quite a bit to say about business. These are the types of quotes I found myself highlighting again and again, because they illuminate truths applicable to the 21st century as readily as they did to the setting in the late 1880s.

One quote in particular had me imagining Ayn Rand rising out of her seat in vehement protest. It comes from a discussion between the two Buddenbrooks brothers, where the eldest is chastising the youngest for something he said.

There you are surrounded by both business and professional men, where everyone can hear you, and you say, ‘Seen in the light of day, actually, every businessman is a swindler’–you, who are a businessman yourself, a part of a firm that strives with might and main for absolute integrity, for a spotless reputation.” p. 314

Why is it, then, that a firm so intent on integrity eventually flounders to the point where it is utterly dissolved? Perhaps  the company fails due to a change in economic times, or a change in leadership as the sons endeavor to maintain what their father left to them. But, I suspect it lies more in the fact that they do not adhere to the same moral principals that the consul Johann Buddenbrooks and his wife adhered to. Christianity is not something that Thomas, now responsible for the family grain company, can easily accept. He cannot rely on faith even when his own old age approaches.

Dogmatic faith in a fanatical biblical Christianity, which his father had been able to couple with a very practical eye for business and which his mother had then adopted later as well, had always been alien to him…But now, as he gazed into the piercing eye of approaching death, it was apparent that such a view fell away to nothing, was incapable off providing him even an hour of calm or anything like readiness for death.” p. 631

Whatever reason most attributes to the fall of the Buddenbrooks from the highest aristocracy to a significantly more  humble and lonely existence, I find this sentence to be the overarching theme of all the book:

Life has taught many people that riches do not always make for happiness.

It is as deceptively simple as Tolstoy’s famous first line in Anna Karenina that all happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

(I read this book for German Lit Month, as well as one of my selections for the Classics Club.)

Farewell, Dear Henry

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It’s not a very good picture, this one above, but it does show the relationship between a boy and his dog. There is a certain tenderness that almost makes me weep when I look at it, as I wander through the house trying not to look for Henry.

He was a good dog, one we rescued from a shelter almost twelve years ago. His nose was a bit crooked as he’d been let out on the highway by someone, and he snored rather loudly.

Our mail woman looked at him through the screen when she came to the door once and said, “He’s kind of cute for an ugly dog.”

But ugly lies in the eyes of the beholder.

To us, he was perfect.

He was strange when I came home from teaching on Wednesday night. He stood with his eyes closed, and his head down, in the middle of the living room. He wouldn’t look at me, or anyone, and I knew something was dreadfully wrong.

On Thursday night we took him to the vet knowing that it would be his last ride in the car. It’s a sorrowful journey, that final one, even if it’s “only” for a dog.

I assume he’s playing with Winston, that the two of them are having a happy frolic somewhere in the tall grass.

I thank him for the joy he gave us, the unconditional love I try to emulate in my own life.

Farewell, Henry James. We loved you very much, little one.

Eat To Live

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My husband and I have changed the way we eat. Where once my typical day’s meals included cereal, a sandwich and pasta, it now consists of fruit…

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and vegetables. Which I don’t even like that much.

Except now, the way I physically feel is convincing me that this is how I should eat. Where once I felt lethargic to the point of wanting a nap every afternoon, I now have much more energy. I’m not hungry.  And, the carnivore which once raged inside me is slowly slinking away.

The precipitating cause for this radical change was the promise that Dr. Furhman makes for a healthy life in his book, Eat to Live. Cholesterol, which is my problem, and inflammatory disease, which is my husband’s problem, are two of the many diseases addressed by this way of eating.

The plan is simple, really. Each day, the goal is to eat:

  • four fresh fruits
  • unlimited green salads
  • cooked vegetables
  • beans
  • raw nuts (a handful)
  • ground flax seed (a tablespoon)

No where in the plan is fettucine and gelato. But, no where in the plan is heart disease, inflammation, diabetes, and a myriad of other illnesses.

I’m convinced this is the way to live.

As 1859 drew to a close, something dreadful happened. ~ Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann

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Part 6, Chapter 8, comes to a close with the sentence of this post’s title. What could possibly happen that is more dreadful than what has already occurred? As Tony tells us herself, in a letter home:

“Oh, Mother,” she wrote, “everything happens to me! First Grunlich and then bankruptcy and then Permaneder’s retirement and now this dead child. What have I done to deserve such misfortune?”

Poor Tony. My heart quite goes out to her, as her accumulated misfortunes are amounting to a rather large pile.

This Veteran’s Day, a day off from school, I am spending in my wingback chair, thoroughly immersed in the drama of the Buddenbrooks family. It is a novel I most heartily recommend, German Literature Month or not.

Sunday Salon

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A long week of seemingly endless parent-teacher conferences was forgotten with the joy of seeing my son before the Marine ball last night.

I’ve harbored many anxieties about him, yet here he is a Marine Reservist, as well as a barista for Starbucks, in training to be a supervisor. The fact that he didn’t go to college seems less important now as he finds his own way. Not my way. I guess we’re both growing up.

And reading Buddenbrooks is so much fun. I never dreamed I’d feel this much excitement for German Literature Month, now usurping the reading I had planned for my own Japanese Literature Challenge. (There’s always December to pick it up again.)

After the novels by Thomas Mann, I’ll read some Stefan Zweig, and this week Tom of Wuthering Expectations brought up the wonders of Essie Briest. Loved Anna Karenina, loved Madame Bovary, now I’m curious to see what the Germans have to say about a woman involved in an illicit love affair.

Meanwhile, I’m listening to Remembrance of Things Past, specifically The Guermantes Way, as a ‘read-along’ with Arti and Stephanie. They are probably farther along than I, but how lovely it is to hear Proust read aloud to me as I drive to work each morning. The time he takes to illuminate a single moment gives me pause to slow down and remember my own past, as I dwell in the recollections of his.

January brings us to Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote, a shared read with Richard and Amanda, taken at a leisurely, comfortable pace. As reading ought to be.

So there you have it, a recap of the week that was and a glimpse into the weeks to come. Oh, and I hear Christmas bells approaching with the arrival of Penguin’s Christmas Classics: image

Such beautiful books for reading and giving.

No, Tony, No! Don’t Marry Herr Grunlich!

But, it’s too late.

After his unannounced visit to the harbor pilot’s home, where Tony has fallen in love with the harbor pilot’s son, the adults have intervened. Both Tony’s father, and her young love’s father, have declared their romance foolishness, and tomfoolery, and Tony is brought home where she consoles herself by agreeing to marry Herr Grunlich.

I don’t trust Herr Grunlich. His speech is as gilded as his curled mutton chop whiskers. He reeks of falseness, and worse, deceit. He has tricked his way into the family, and his bride into obeying her father, and even the bride’s mother knows that future happiness is nebulous.

“Do you think she’ll be happy with him?” (she asks her husband as the nuptial carriage drives away.)

“Ah, Bethsy, she is at peace with herself, and that is the most solid kind of happiness we can achieve on earth.” (Part 3, Chapter 14)

Hmmm…sometimes, I think peace is overrated. I have sought it often in my life, and it has been a worthy goal. But, it is not without sacrifice. Peace brings with it a quiet blanket to wrap oneself in. Yet one is at the same time shrouded from excitement.

I fear Tony’s sacrifice will be worse than that. I fear her future is doomed.

(I am reading Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann for German Lit Month. It is a wonderful way to spend November nights.)

Waking of a Morning…Buddenbrooks’ Style

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Say what you like, there is something pleasant about waking of a morning in a large bedroom with lovely, cheerful wallpaper and finding that the first thing you touch is a heavy satin quilt; and it is exceptional to have an early breakfast in a room opening onto a terrace, with the fresh morning air drifting in from the front garden through an open glass door, and to be served neither coffee, nor tea, but a cup of chocolate–yes, every morning, a cup of birthday chocolate, with a thick moist piece of pound cake. Part 2, Chapter 2

I’m enjoying the beginning of Buddenbrooks immensely, although it’s not a picture of my typical morning…