Falling down rabbit holes — for fun!

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I love jumping into puddles, sneaking into wardrobes and tugging on just the right candlestick to open the secret door behind the book case. Like a detective, I enjoy discovering clues. I never wanted to be Hansel or Gretel; I wanted to follow their breadcrumbs, find them inside the witch’s house and save the day before she baked ’em into pie.

Such portholes of adventure can be found in the most ordinary of places: in a library, in an old cemetery, in the classifieds, on the internet. You visit these spots, stumble upon a fact or feeling, then see where it leads you.

Here’s a trip I recently took. First, I went to the library and picked up the book, “Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks” by Annie Spence. I’ve always had a passion for books about books, libraries, bookstores, authors and the love of reading, and this one featured the intriguing tagline: “A librarian’s love letters and breakup notes to the books in her life.”

Yep, I was sold. And so it went into my bag and eventually to the checkout counter.

rabbit hole

When I returned home, I removed all my new library treasures from the bag and began stacking the books in the order I planned to read them. This arrangement can change, and often does, but I generally tend to organize my future reads by instinct. Once this book reached the top of my “To Be Read” pile, I decided it would be more enjoyable if I re-read “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury first. So back to the library I went.

Something many people don’t know about me is that I like book dedications. For years I’ve I collected ’em. Friends and acquaintances e-mail dedications to me. And while the dedication in “Fahrenheit 451” seemed a bit ordinary, I was still intrigued: “This one, with gratitude, is for Don Congdon.”

Now who the hell was Don Congdon? And what did he do to deserve the immortal gratitude of Ray Bradbury, one of the most warm and wonderful American writers of all time?

I must know. To the internet!

Of course, the first thing I found was an obituary. Turns out Congdon, who died in 2009, was the literary agent who spotted Bradbury’s talent early in both their careers.

“I married Don Congdon the same month I married my wife,” Bradbury said in a speech to the National Book Foundation in 2000. “So I had 53 years of being spoiled by my wife and by Don Congdon. We’ve never had a fight or an argument during that time because he’s always been out on the road ahead of me clearing away the dragons and the monsters and the fakes.”

Congdon also repped many other celebrated authors, including William Styron, Jack Finney, Evan S. Connell, William L. Shirer and David Sedaris. I recognized all of those names, except Evan S. Connell. Who the heck was that?

More research led me to this article by Meg Wolitzer, which oddly enough, appeared just last week in The New York Times. Wolitzer praised Connell’s writing, in particular his 1959 novel, “Mrs. Bridge,” a book I had never heard of. Reading this essay, I learned why Wolitzer loved it so. Yet it was the intro to her essay that stuck with me:

When my older son started kindergarten, his teacher asked the class how many of them knew how to read. A few kids raised their hands, and Miss D said, “Oh, that’s wonderful!” Then she asked how many of them couldn’t read, and the rest raised their hands. “Oh,” she said, “that’s wonderful too. Because now you will get to learn how to read with Miss D.”

This story reminded me of Mrs. Jarrett, my mean kindergarten teacher. Mrs. Jarrett couldn’t stand me because I was apparently one of the only kids in class who already knew how to read. Most of the other 4- and 5-year-old students hadn’t even learned the alphabet yet and she resented the fact that I did know it, along with how to write my name, how to count and how to identify shapes and colors. Needless to say, I was incredibly bored by her lessons — and had no problem saying so.

Since she had nothing new to teach me, I talked. This disrupted the class and prompted her to send me to the bad-kid’s desk. It was like any other desk, except the sides and front were walled in by cardboard blocks designed to look like red bricks. Such isolation simply made me want to read even more.

Whatever happened to mean old Mrs. Jarrett? Well, I had no luck finding out, mostly because I couldn’t recall her first name. What I did remember, though, was going home halfway through the day and hoping against hope that when I arrived, there would be a “special” peanut butter and jelly sandwich waiting for me.

What made it so special? Well, back in the late 1970s, there was this product*** that combined peanut butter and grape jelly in the same jar! They weren’t mixed together — oh no, that would’ve been gross — they were striped inside the container so the design looked like harlequin pants. What the heck was it called? And do they still make it? I must know!

So down the next rabbit hole I go.

***It’s called Goober, and based on the reviews, I’m not the only one who fondly remembers it.)

The story of a culinary creation

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Kneading Dough

Right after Christmas, I created my first sourdough starter. I named it Blunderbore and vowed to help it grow.

Like other deities of creation, I bestowed gifts upon young Blunderbore: filtered water, wheat and all-purpose flour and, of course, my undivided attention.

All was well for many days.

This week, Blunderbore begat. And I named this new creature: Sourdough Bread.

When my now-mature starter offered Sourdough as a sacrifice, to thank me for all the blessings I had given and to request good fortune in the future, I gratefully accepted.

For a first-born bread, Sourdough was delicious.

sourdough bread

Quote of the week

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“I don’t believe that books — even bad books — corrupt us. Instead, I believe books challenge and interrogate. They give us windows into the lives of others and give us mirrors so that we can better see ourselves. And ultimately, if you have a world view that can be undone by a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.” —John Green

In 2018, I resolve…

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While the timing may be arbitrary, making resolutions is a lovely practice. Doing so encourages self-reflection, a belief that one can change for the better and a desire to try new things. Sure, such goals may end unsuccessfully a day or month later, but giving resolutions “the old college try” could lead to promising results.

This year, I resolve:

To experience at least seven hours of sleep a night. As a lifelong workaholic and occasional insomniac, I rarely sleep enough. When I was 20, sleeplessness was not a big deal. In my mid-40s, my body and mind demand a recharge and I shall no longer feel ashamed by this need.

Read at least 50 books by Dec. 31. I generally do so anyway, but last year, I was just a bit short. Reading is one of my greatest pleasures. Why should I deprive myself?

Write more — and revel in make-believe. For nearly three decades, I’ve written and edited nonfiction for a living. Although my journalism career thrived, my imagination atrophied and now writing fiction and poetry is much more difficult. This year, I will dedicate more time and energy to exercising this muscle.

Practice hygge. According to Meik Wiking, author of “The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets To Happy Living” and the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is all about appreciating the simple pleasures in life. It is a lifestyle that revolves around coziness, community, contentment and reveling in quiet comforts. Some of the hyggeligt things that already bring me happiness include:

* Spending time with my husband and pets

* Sharing meals and/or playing games with friends

* Reading

* Cooking and baking, particularly from scratch

* Hot beverages (coffee, tea, cocoa)

* Silent Book Club meetings

* Soft and warm lighting

* Sitting in a comfortable chair and reading or watching TV/movies

* Warm sweaters, wool socks, scarves

* Flannel sheets and heavy, soft blankets

* Fire from candles or fireplaces

* Appreciating natural beauty by watching snow fall, listening to thunderstorms, staring at ocean waves or smelling fresh flowers

* Indulging in desserts

* Dwelling in darkness

Due to some of the stressful elements in my life (I’m looking at you, 24-hour news cycle), happiness can sometimes feel fleeting. Yet I am fairly healthy. I’m loved by family, friends and animals. And I have a beautiful home that’s located in a part of the world with fresh air and four distinct seasons. I simply need to keep the more negative aspects of my career from weighing down my spirit. In short, I’m going to embrace hygge.

What do you resolve to change in 2018?

In Memoriam: A Look Back At Many Of The People We Lost in 2017

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hourglass.jpgSome people view obituaries as morbid stories, but in truth only one line of an obit deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people led.

In 2017, these 15 obituaries featured people whose lives — and deaths — most affected me:

* Stuart McLean, storyteller and broadcaster

* Sue Grafton, mystery novelist

* Robert Guillaume, actor

* Bill Paxton, actor

* Mary Tyler Moore, actress

* Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, political dissident

* Chris Cornell, singer/songwriter

* Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author

* Paddles, First Cat of New Zealand/social media star

* Charles Manson, cult leader

* Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy

* Bernie Wrightson, illustrator/artist

* John B. Anderson, congressman

* Bruce McCandless II, astronaut

* Lillian Ross, journalist

Other people we lost this year who won’t be forgotten:

* Roger Ailes, Fox News co-creator

* Chuck Barris, game show host

* Chuck Berry, singer/guitarist

* William Peter Blatty, author

* Simeon Booker, journalist

* Jimmy Breslin, columnist

* Glen Campbell, Rhinestone cowboy/singer

* David Cassidy, pop star

* Alan Colmes, political commentator

* Jonathan Demme, director

* Fats Domino, singer/songwriter, pianist

* Gord Downie, singer/songwriter

* Dick Enberg, sportscaster

* Dick Gregory, comedian, civil rights activist

* Monty Hall, game show host/producer

* John Hillerman, actor

* Al Jarreau, singer

* Jake LaMotta, boxer

* Martin Landau, actor

* Cardinal Bernard Law, religious leader

* Jerry Lewis, comedian

* Rose Marie, actor

* Roger Moore, James Bond

* Erin Moran, actress

* Jim Nabors, actor/singer

* Masaya Nakamura, “father” of Pac-Man

* Manuel Noriega, Panamanian dictator

* Tom Petty, singer/songwriter, guitarist

* Robert M. Pirsig, author

* George Romero, director

* Sam Shepard, actor/playwright

* Liz Smith, gossip columnist

* Harry Dean Stanton, actor

* Don Rickles, comedian

* Jay Thomas, comedian

* Robert James Waller, author

* Judge Joseph Wapner, TV jurist

* Adam West, Batman

* Edith Windsor, LGBT rights activist

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