Monday, December 28, 2020

Walkin' and . . . Listenin'

We received a Christmas letter from a friend who read 133 books this year -- 133! I checked (thank you, goodreads), and I've read a lowly 84 (well, so far . . . )

When the pandemic hit, I had a stack of books at the ready (thank you, New London and Waterford Public Libraries) so I was set for a solid few weeks.

In the meantime, some of my favorite reading friends have listened to books in addition to -- or in lieu of -- reading hard copies for years, and I was audible-curious, so I decided to give it a go.

In the case of every book I listened to during 2020 (thank you, Libby; thank you, scribd; thank you, audible), I also read a hard copy -- I went back and forth between listening while I was walking or doing Field Work or doing a project -- and reading when I was on my couch or on my Field chair or in my bed. Right where I belong.

And . . . I love it.

Not every listen was stellar -- the narrator makes all the difference -- but so many were. I was thinking about it and wondering just how many I listened to -- in the spirit of All-Things-End-Of-Year-List . . . and, well, here I am.

First up, my man Trevor Noah.

Okay, I'm now remembering my first audio book of the year was not my first-ever foray into audiobooks (I'm looking at you, Alan Cumming), but Born A Crime was a great one. Trevor Noah narrates his memoir and t's hilarious, poignant, smart, funny, honest . . . and his delivery and impressions and pacing are brilliant. I just loved it . . . 

. . . and then I listened to my best friend Michelle Obama and I realized, "hey, I am on to something here." It was brilliant and lovely and wonderful and I never wanted it to end. The hard copy has photos which I stared at forever, plus it was a great read-read too, but this one was a to-be-listened to, for sure.

And then back-to-back Sedaris which made me laugh out loud while I was walking. Actually, I don't think I read the hard copy of either of these, so never mind what I said earlier. But he's an all-time favorite of mine, and his delivery is perfection. The piece about his sister Tiffany, and how perplexing it was to him to understand that she would not want to be a part of the club that is the Sedaris family, is heart-wrenching.

Thinking about these audiobooks makes me think about summer. 

Sigh. Summer!

I listened to and read The Bees while working in the NE corner of the Field -- it's so visceral, listening to books (or podcasts, or music) whenst doing a task, don't you think? I always remember exactly where I was.

I know that this book is not for everyone but I loved it. And now I know everything about bees. Ask me anything. Really, ask. (And thanks, MBF).

The Orphan Train was good-not-great, but I loved the accent of the woman who was the trapeze artist, and how she pronounced trapeze as tra-PEZE. I was working in the raspberry patch.

I seem to have read a lot of books about bees this past summer. The Murmur of Bees was a magic realism-style novel and lovely -- super-long but I was committed. (Thanks, Kerry.)

Mom and I re-read one of my all-time faves at the same time and I loved The Poisonwood Bible just as much this time around. I love this novel. I actually don't even remember that I listened to (part of) it until I was trying to remember whose cracker character's voice I was hearing in my head and figured it had to have been the oldest sister Rachel (I just looked that up.) The narrator gave that character so much more than I had ever read into her -- she was great. I was still working in the raspberry patch (the raspberry patch needed a lot of work).

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Juliet Stevenson. I mean, of course, Ladies and Gentlemen . . . the late great Jane Austen. But. Juliet Stevenson is a brilliant reader, a brilliant actor (I saw her. On stage. In London. I did.) (And if you've never watched the movie Truly Madly Deeply, please do), and just all-around brilliant. It was wonderful to revisit this fabulous novel with my book club.

Plus? Juliet Stevenson.

Odd book, good reader. High school angst + debate club. 
(I'm obviously a terrible book reviewer but this is not a book review blog post so sorry, Ben Lerner.)

I do not know what took me so long to read Jacqueline Woodson, but I'm so glad she's on my radar now because she is amazing, and so is this book. I finished listening to it in the car on the way to my Mom's, before heading back home for zoom book club that night. Gorgeous read/listen. (Thanks, Dawnie.)

And next . . .  

Wait, do I really need to fast-forward five months until my next audio book? Huh. Either this drought perfectly reflects a specific progression of covid, or I was just really into podcasts instead of audiobooks on my walks between June and November. Because I read some downright amazing books in those intervening months -- I mean, some of my year's favorites. Which I may or may not post about some day.

BUT. I will say. Malcolm Gladwell's podcast led me to this:

Which led me to this:

And yes, I did not listen to them.  And yes, I am cheating. But yes, I am also making up the rules here. And I adored them both with all my heart and soul because books about grammar? Bring it.


To late Autumn and the return of . . .

. . . Juliet Stevenson. And a really lovely book.

I listened to parts of Girl Woman Other, but I kept returning to the hard copy because it's written almost-in-verse and it was just so cool and different. So, a read-not-listen one. (Thanks, MBC.)

My friend Julie said Michael Boatman's narration of this book is the best narration of any audio books she's ever read . . . er . . . listened to. And she speaks the truth. Nutso book, cuckoo characters, great narrator. (Thanks, Julie.)

Excellent memoir -- harrowing and honest and difficult and redemptive -- and excellent narration by the author. And now I'm a fan of the band The Airborne Toxic Event which I had never heard of, of course, since I live not under a rock, per se, but in my Field.

And finally . . .  

. . . my current read/listen. I'm not yet halfway through, so I can't yet pontificate, but so far it's excellent. And it's very much multi-media, which works gorgeously in the audio medium. I'm in.

And that's it!

In my mind I listened to a ton of books this year, but it looks like it was only 15 or so. As usual, I've got it all upside down and backwards. And I'm okay with that.

Happy Reading, my friends. And Happy Listening, And Happy New Year, and see you in 2021.


Peace out.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Solstice Wishes

Here's what I wish for all the lovelies I know.


And a really lovely and beautiful Christmas. Full of peace.

It's not an easy time of year for everybody -- so many people are missing their loves and just trying to get through . . . 

But! Today's the Winter Solstice -- it's the start of Winter, but the days will start to get longer, and as ol' Alexander Pope memorably said, Hope Springs Eternal.

So. A deep breath, a glass of wine or a cup of tea, some lovely food, maybe some Druid Dancing, and a toast to the universe that those of us who are still here, are still here.

Merry Christmas week, my darling friends.

Happy Solstice.

Monday, December 14, 2020


It's time to bring out the lights.

Here on the eastern edge of the eastern time zone, it gets dark at like noon * . . . 

* okay, four, but still . . . 

. . . so we do the things we always do this time of year . . . 

We put up lights inside . . . 

. . .  we put up lights outside . . . 

. . . we put on heat outside . . .

. . . and we surround ourselves with flowers.

Things get hard. So we do what we can to counteract.

We light the place up.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Two Years

This week marks two years since we've lost Jacquie's boy. 

Two years.

We think about you every day, James, and are grateful for the all-too-abbreviated time we had with you.

We miss you, kiddo, and trust you are resting easy. 💜


Young James, The Westy Years

In our years traveling in the Westy, Mistah and I spent a lot of time in San Diego. Jacquie and her family tolerated us parked in their driveway and sleeping in their "play loom" because, well, I don't know. We were Fun? And semi-helpful? I helped with dinner and baths and diapers and hair. And Mistah did da flo on command.

We were part of everyday life. We had dinner together every night, we played High Point Low Point, we were ubiquitous.

We got to know those kids.

Jimmy wasn't always that excited about the arrangement; he didn't always love sharing his mom and dad with us, and one of our favorite quotes from those years was, "Fly AWAY Aunt Ellie!"

I did not fly away.

Not even close.

Since we lost James last week we've all been struggling through the haze of grief to find something that makes sense. I dove into the Westy photo albums. They represent just a small slice of life -- just eight short years of a way-too-short life. But they're pretty great.

What I love our about years-on-the-road Westy photo albums is just how full of San Diego they are.

We were there a lot.

But it wasn't just us, I swear.

The whole family came out in 'ought-one or so.

The grumpy faces fill my heart with love.

Christmas in San Diego. Red thermal undie pjs from Auntie Ellie and Uncle Bill for both kids. They sagged but man, they were cute.

Jimmy with Big and Little. Both were crucially important.

The thing about San Diego and kids? Beach babies.

Jimmy got used to having us around and even grew to love our excursions . . .

. . . see?

His kid sister loved us too, even though she looks like she's in a line up.

Seriously . . . 

Jimmy loved the Westy, Aunt Ellie & Uncle Bill, Clara, sure. But really, it's all about the doggies for that kid. Always. 

This is my favorite photo of all time.

NO wait, this one is.

Or this one?

We were all about the Westy pancake parties.

Plus the leg!

Our Westy photo albums flow chronologically. Which is no big surprise since it's me.

And so . . . . another year goes by . . . 

. . . and we return to a Boy and His Dog. This is my favorite photo of all time. For real this time.

And then Phelps!

Look at that Mom and Dad of ours . . .

. . . and look at those munchkins.

His godmother loves him.

And the next year? Of course we were back in San Diego. 

Beach kids abound.

The hair.

Not a lot of people know this, but the kid was a masterful sidewalk artist. This is the Statue of Liberty. Obviously.

Unfortunately we don't have a photo of James' rendition of the guy Hanging Down. Jimmy loved to hang down.

Help me Bruddah
Long live the King

Running the bases with their Uncle Bill. 
Photography by the blurry wonder.

This is captioned, "The World's Second Best Ice Cream Man"

Oh yes.

This one is my real favorite . . .

. . . no, this is. That face!

And this is the rarest photo of all time -- San Diego babies in the snow.

But seriously, this is the best quintet, possibly forever:


God, how this mom loved this boy. His champion, his advocate, his biggest supporter.

God, how we all loved him.

Okay, back to San Diego for another turn of events.


The thing about these kids from Southern California . . . 

. . . is the light is always good. And they were little so we got to boss them around and make them come outside with us. And therefore get great photos.

. . . how many favorites can I have?

. . . because I have a lot. The Hair Years.

And this series:


And then . . .  getting ready to go camping at San Elijo, Uncle Bill and the kids wrote a song . . . 

We're going camping on Saturday night . . .
We're gonna have so much fun . . .
Everybody's gonna be there . . .

Including . . .

Quinault the Camping Bear!

San Elijo . . .  

. . . forever the Happy Place. 

And, of course, I've written about The Quest . . . 

. . . but I just love this one.


Tide Pool Explorers

And then, after all those years, we stepped out of the Westy and made New London home. 

And they came to Connecticut to visit us.

They could not stay away.

Why would they?

We have some pretty iconic shots from New London, too . . . 

. . . and we also have Quests here.

And all of a sudden we had gigantic kids in the Westy . . . 

. . . kids who were growing up in front of our eyes.

We've lived just as long in New London as we did in the Westy -- nay, longer -- and that seems absurd because we feel like we can almost touch those years.

But they're years away now.

There is no way to parse losing Jimmy, losing that Young James of ours. The pain in my heart is one millionth of one fraction of the pain in Jacquie's heart. All we want to do is to make sense of it, to find something to hang onto. And one thing we have -- one tiny morsel -- is one fleeting chunk of time. The Westy San Diego Years.

We're grateful. 

We love you, kid.