Monday Musings: Running

Today’s topic is running. Last week I wrote about being a shitty meditator; I’m also a shitty runner. But I’m doing it – slowly and painfully – and getting it done.

Every Thanksgiving, there’s a four-mile Race for the Pies in a neighboring community, and my dad and sister run it. I ran it in 2010, during the peak of my CrossFit years when I didn’t have to train at all. This year, one of my daughters wanted to try it, so I signed up with her. I haven’t run since 2011, primarily due to a nasty case of shin splints I developed while overtraining. I found a training program online (Hal Higdon has quite a few) and started running. Slowly. Oh, so slowly. I started at the beginning of September, and while I can now run 3-miles without stopping, I can’t go much faster than 12-minute miles. That’s a far cry from the 9-minute miles I used to run. Again, I remind myself that I’m just getting back into it, that I was never a fast runner to begin with, that I’m doing this race to be with family and not to set some amazing record (or even get a pie). Like meditation and other morning practices, running is a journey, a practice, a habit. Some days, I cruise along, and others I have to walk frequently.

To remain focused, I signed up for a 5-K race supporting the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County. It’ll be my first 5-K since 2011, and I’m excited to get back out there and see how it feels. My goal is to complete it in under 36:00. I may be the last to cross the finish line, but I will keep running. Slowly, steadily, painfully. I will keep running. Like with any journey, you have to keep on going.

Some running resources:

No Meat Athlete podcast – Whether you’re a vegetarian or not, these guys offer good tips on distance running and proper nutrition. Plus, they’re funny and charming.

RunKeeper app – I use the free version to track my runs, and it works great.

FitBit – I love my FitBit. If you’re data-driven, this is a must-have. I track exercise, steps, and sleep on mine.

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What I’m Reading and Listening to This Week

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira imagines the relationship between painters Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. I’ve had to put it down temporarily to focus on some teaching prep, but so far, it’s a lovely novel that evokes the beauty and creativity flourishing among artists living in 19th-century Paris.

I’m revisiting one of my favorite novels, Beloved by Toni Morrison. I started teaching a 1:1 U.S. History/English course, and I’m beginning the class with the factors leading up to the Civil War. Rather than try to teach two separate classes within the span of 1.5 hours, I’m integrating the study of literature with that of history. If this is the only novel the student reads this year, she will have read an amazing work packed with so much beauty and sorrow and horror.

Lastly, I started Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I had no idea who Brown was until I heard her on Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, but now I seem to read and hear about her on many different sources. I love a good self-help book, and this one seems promising.

Despite my resolve to listen to all downloaded podcasts before finding more, I couldn’t help myself when I discovered this gem of a show. I read about Lizzie and Kat’s The Blaze podcast in the comments section of a Vulture article and am addicted. Each show is devoted to an episode of my favorite guilty pleasure, Beverly Hills 90210. Lizzie, Kat, and their guests discuss the plot, analyze the fashions, and gossip about the show’s cast. They are hilarious, and in addition to all things 90210, their show is laced with tons of pop culture references from the ‘80s to today. (Confession: I’m totally old and don’t get the newer stuff…but there’s plenty for those of us who graduated in the early ‘90s.) The podcast started in December 2014 and is going show-by-show through each season of 90210. Currently, I’m listening to the first season, aka the first junior year.

I have to give a shout-out to my favorite podcast, The Walking Dead ‘Cast, which is dedicated to The Walking Dead series. Each week, Jason and Karen recap the latest episode, discuss what show elements did and did not work, and chat about all things zombie. They are funny and knowledgeable, and since discovering this show last fall, I haven’t missed an episode.

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Travel Tuesdays: The Philippines

In June 2015, we traveled to the Philippines. This trip was a long time in the making – hubby’s family lives over there and had been inviting us to visit for years. With kids, schedules, and expenses, it wasn’t a journey easily undertaken. For indeed, it was a journey: 40 hours door-to-door of travel, including 4 flights and one ferry ride. And that was just one way! It was exhausting yet worthwhile.

While in the Philippines, we visited three provinces: Cebu, Leyte, and Biliran. Cebu City (where we flew in and out of) is modern and cosmopolitan. Leyte, where our family lives, is more laid-back, with smaller towns and cities. Biliran was pristine and my favorite province of the three.

I’ve traveled extensively in North America and Europe, but this was my first trip to Asia. I experienced culture shock and moments when I desperately missed home, even though we were only gone for two weeks. Yet, I met amazing, kind, and generous people; ate delicious food; and witnessed a unique culture, unlike anything I’ve seen in my Western-oriented travels. This journey was remarkable and unforgettable.

Goodbye, Ft. Lauderdale! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Goodbye, Ft. Lauderdale! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View of Mt. Fuji approaching Narita Airport (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View of Mt. Fuji approaching Narita Airport (Katherine Hart, 2015)

San Pedro Fort, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

San Pedro Fort, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from family's home, Baybay, Leyte (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from family’s home, Baybay, Leyte (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Fresh coconut water (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Fresh coconut water (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from mountain top outside Baybay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from mountain top outside Baybay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

OMJ! Fun in local supermarket (Katherine Hart 2015)

OMJ! Fun in local supermarket (Katherine Hart 2015)

View from the beach outside of Baybay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from the beach outside of Baybay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Our daily breakfast. Ensaimadas in foreground; pandesal in the back (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Our daily breakfast. Ensaimadas in foreground; pandesal in the back (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Central Plaza, Baybay (Katherine Hart 2015)

Central Plaza, Baybay (Katherine Hart 2015)

Snorkeling in Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Snorkeling in Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

A typical dinner. Yum! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

A typical dinner. Yum! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Looking towards Agta Beach, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Looking towards Agta Beach, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Sunset, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Sunset, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

(Katherine Hart, 2015)

(Katherine Hart, 2015)

Waterfall, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Waterfall, Biliran (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Leah Temple, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Leah Temple, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Dragon Sculpture at Taoist Temple, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Dragon Sculpture at Taoist Temple, Cebu City (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Enjoying the last evening in the Philippines (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Enjoying the last evening in the Philippines (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Final meal in the Philippines - not typical, but very tasty (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Final meal in the Philippines – not typical, but very tasty (Katherine Hart, 2015)

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Monday Musings: Morning rituals

I’ve been doing some sort of morning ritual off and on since 2007, when I first started Morning Pages. While completing my master’s, I designed a course that included daily meditation and free-writing every morning. Once I went back to work, I neglected that sacred morning time because, quite simply, I lacked time. I needed to figure out how to balance work, family, and life. A morning ritual seemed superfluous, something I could only do as a stay-at-home parent.

But we all have time. Really, we do. I first heard about Hal Elrod’s take on morning practices while listening to one of many health-oriented podcasts. It seemed like a good thing to try – I didn’t have too many hours in my work schedule and therefore had time to devote to some type of morning practice. And it worked. I liked it. I liked creating a space (usually no more than a half-hour) where I can reflect and focus. I don’t believe my life has dramatically changed for it, and I don’t do it every day (or I’ll do an abbreviated version on weekends), but I appreciate the sense of peace and purpose it has brought to my life.

Here’s my approach: I wake up usually between 5:00 and 5:15 on weekdays. I go downstairs and make a cup of coffee, and once that’s ready, I’ll go to a quiet spot and do five to ten minutes of meditation while my coffee cools. I’m a shitty meditator – my mind never quiets but wanders and wanders – but I try. I alternate using two apps (Calm and Russell Simmons’ Meditation Made Simple). When I finish, I say a few prayers, and then open up my Mac to my affirmations. Recite those, and then I write my morning pages (typed in a Word doc I’ve kept since 2012). I’ve tried some other practices like visualization and yoga during this time but never really connected with those. At about this point, I can hear my daughter’s alarm going off – the day has begun. I finish up writing, drink my coffee, and go make lunches.

That’s it. Pretty simple and straightforward. Do you have a morning practice? What does yours look like?

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What I’m Reading and Listening To This Week

This week, I’m catching up on my podcasts. I’ve changed my subscribe setting to unsubscribe for all of them, and I’m going through my list and listening to each episode. Here are a few I’m looking forward to hearing:

The Strangers episode from 10/9/15 is titled “My Father’s Bones.” This promises to be an intriguing and moving story – as they always are. Lea Thau does an amazing job finding personal stories that are unusual yet at the same time universally relatable.

I have two Dear Sugar Radio shows to listen to. One is about a husband’s pot habit, and the other is about a variety of topics, including incriminating texts and a relationship conundrum.

I love traveling, but time and money make it an infrequent event. For my armchair voyages, I rely on Travel with Rick Steves. I have four episodes in my queue, and I’ll start with the 10/4/15 episode about Spanish music and life in the International Space Station.

Reading-wise, I’m flipping through two books: Plant-Based Diet for Dummies and Dark Side of the Universe. I’m reading the latter for research for a short story. As far as the diet book goes, I’m looking for new recipes and am always looking to increase my plant consumption.

What are you reading and listening to this week?

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Monday Musings: Living a stress-managed life

I’ve taken time away from blogging for a variety reasons, some personal and some professional. This time of year is always busy as I settle into the groove of another school year – new students, new schedules, new routines. Life is hectic, but it is around this time of year, when the Florida summer finally melds into the beginnings of the milder dry season, that I get my energy back for other things. Like writing and blogging. Additionally, my personal life has taken some interesting turns – some positive and others more challenging. I’ve been journaling more during this time and avoiding most things social (media and real life).

Either way, the point of returning to this blog is not to dwell upon the challenging or tumultuous but rather to examine what I’ve learned and what I’ve been passionate about over the past few months, and to share this information with you, dear readers, whoever you are. Today’s post is focusing on self-growth and finding balance despite a busy life.

I love podcasts, and when I started listening to them a few years ago, I mostly selected those with a focus on Paleo (like Everyday Paleo and Balanced Bites). It was a new-ish way of eating for me, and I found many of these programs fascinating and rife with helpful information. These days, I don’t necessarily adhere strictly to that diet, but I’m still interested in health and wellness. That passion led me to discover other podcasters who teach about well-being but who aren’t necessarily committed to one particular philosophy. One of those shows I discovered is The Chalene Show, and over the past few months, I’ve immersed myself in all things Chalene Johnson.

Currently, I’m working my way through Chalene’s 30-day goal-setting program. Each day, I receive a link to a video that focuses on some small task or challenge designed to help you overcome whatever obstacles stand in your way of achieving your goals. Things like making a to-do list or learning how to coach yourself – seemingly simple tasks but powerful in their simplicity. I also download her podcast, which is also filled with motivational tips and actionable items. In addition to Chalene, I’ve been listening regularly to Hal Elrod’s podcast, as well as Shawn Stevenson‘s. Both also offer good advice on how to achieve goals and live a balanced life.

So, what is the secret to a stress-free life? A balanced life? A meaningful one? I don’t have the answers yet :), but I think it has a lot to do with living a stress-managed life. Life is life. Stress is stress. Shit hits the fan, and you’re left dealing with the mess. It happens, over and over. It has always been hard for me to accept that fact because I’ve always sought a stress-free life, always thought that if I had enough money, time, smarts, etc., I could engineer the perfectly balanced life, with little to no worries. Ha. Of course, I’ve known that was impossible in reality, but I always thought it a worthy goal, that maybe someday…. Nope. Stress and life go together. However, there is a realistic expectation that stress can be managed, that it doesn’t have to control my daily activities. And that’s what I’m working on now.

Here’s what I’ve found helps, so far. First, getting more sleep. My goal is eight hours, but I typically get between six and seven. I’m trying to turn out the lights earlier and limit my screen time. Even if I don’t sleep for as long as I’d like, the quality of my sleep has improved. Exercise is another good stress reliever. I recently started training for a four-mile race, and I’m up to running three miles, three days a week. Working through the goal-setting course has been also been beneficial, as I’m holding myself accountable to getting things done. Shorter list = less worry. I would like to meditate more and so am adding a five-minute afternoon session, just to see if it will help.

If you made it this far, thanks! I’ll be posting more about my wellness journey along with travel tales and book and listening recommendations. See you soon!

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#TeachersWrite 2015

In an effort to jump start my writing, I’m participating in Teachers Write this summer. It’s an online writing camp for teachers, librarians, etc., who wish to take advantage of the free time summer provides and write. And write some more! Although I tend not to share my raw, unpolished writing, I may post a few snippets here and there, with links back to prompts and other good stuff.

For more info about this wonderful project, here’s a link to Kate Messner’s blog. Thanks to these amazing writers and teachers who have put this together. You are wonderful.

Happy summer writing!

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Sonoma Sister Weekend, Part 2

In the Benziger vineyards (Katherine Hart, 2015)

In the Benziger vineyards (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Friday afternoon

Following our spa morning, we began our afternoon at Merry Edwards Winery, just around the corner from our house. It was here that we learned about the Russian River valley, its wines (primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), and more about the history of winemaking in this region. All of this was fascinating, but how were the wines? At ME, we tasted several Pinot Noirs, a couple Chardonnays, and a Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t have the best palate; it’s hard for me to pick up specific notes and nuances of wine. But I know what I like. These wines were refined and elegant, all of them drinkable. We all made purchases. I took home a bottle of Pinot, which is set aside for Thanksgiving.

We drove southeast through rolling hills and farmlands to the Glen Ellen region. One of my sisters was interested in seeing the Benziger Winery, a family-run winery that grows many of its grapes using biodynamic practices, which are even stricter than organic standards.

Barrels in the Benziger caves

Barrels in the Benziger caves (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View of Sonoma Mountain from the vineyards (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View of Sonoma Mountain from the vineyards (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We hopped on a tractor and took a tour of the Benziger estate, learning so much about the wine-making process from vines to bottling. The tour was capped off with an extensive tasting, and this time, I took home two bottles.

We finished off the afternoon at the Mayo Family Winery, which was fun. One of the Mayos poured our wine, and she taught us how to properly taste wine – how to swish the initial sip around our mouths first, how to “feel” the different tastes and textures of each wine.

In the Mayo tasting room (Katherine Hart, 2015)

In the Mayo tasting room (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Most wineries close between 4:30 and 5:00; Mayo remains open until 6:30 PM. Following our tasting, we drove back to Sebastopol and enjoyed a delicious meal at the French Garden restaurant.

Saturday

We anticipated more crowds on the weekend, and indeed, we saw more people out and about. Our plan was to start in the Armstrong Woods, about a half hour north of Sebastopol, then continue northeast towards Healdsburg. Our guide at Benziger had recommended both a winery and a good place for lunch, and we were eager to try both. But first, some redwoods.

#itsaredwood (Katherine Hart, 2015)

#itsaredwood (Katherine Hart, 2015)

IMG_3479

Cross-section of a fallen redwood (Katherine Hart, 2015)

 

These trees were amazing. The forest was simply beautiful – dark, ancient, cedar-scented. If you’re in Sonoma, don’t bother with Muir Woods. Head to Armstrong. Even though the parking lot was about half full when we arrived, there were times when we were the only people on the trail. It was awesome.

Wine, wine, and more wine! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Wine, wine, and more wine! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We continued the day trying wines in the Healdsburg area (Russian River, Dry Creek, and Chalk Hill). Rather than try to describe each winery individually, I’ll list them here, along with a few notes or impressions. We ended up going to five wineries that day – probably a few too many, but we had a great afternoon.

  • Mill Creek Vineyards & Winery: Our Benziger guide recommended we stop here. Some lovely wines, including some sweeter white wines, and a cozy tasting room.
  • La Crema: Known for their Chardonnays. They have a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.
  • Rodney Strong Vineyards: A little bit more commercial than places like Mill Creek or Merry Edwards, but still a great tasting with a friendly and knowledgeable wine pourer. I took home a Sauvignon Blanc.
  • J Vineyards & Winery: Conveniently sharing a parking lot with Rodney Strong, we stopped in to J following our RS tasting. It was busy with end-of-the-day visitors. My sister and I shared a tasting, including one of delicious sparkling wine.
  • Deux Amis Winery/Mutt Lynch: Both wines can be tasted at the Tasting Room on the Green in downtown Windsor. This was a fun way to finish off the day! We had the tasting room to ourselves, and our host was witty and knowledgeable about both wines and Sonoma in general. She even recommended another good day spa for a future visit.
Healdsburg's central plaza (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Healdsburg’s central plaza (Katherine Hart, 2015)

A little peek of downtown Windsor (Katherine Hart, 2015)

A little peek of downtown Windsor (Katherine Hart, 2015)

The Tasting Room on the Green (Katherine Hart, 2015)

The Tasting Room on the Green (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We had lunch at Campo Fina and ice cream at Noble Folk, both in downtown Healdsburg. Dinner was at Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol.

Sunday

It was time for me to return to Florida, but my sisters had one more night in California, which they spent in San Francisco. We departed Sebastopol around 5:00 AM, and I was soon on my way back home. My bottles of wine survived the trip, and it was back to work on Monday.

Final Thoughts, Etc.

It had been years since I was in California, and I had never visited Sonoma before – and I was honestly concerned that five days (travel included) would be not enough time to really savor the experience. It ended up being the perfect get-away, and such a great way to relax with my sisters and also able to do something we all love (eat amazing food and drink good wine). I was surprised by how many wineries there are – I could have spent five weeks exploring our little corner of Sonoma, never mind getting over to nearby Napa. There are a lot of recognizable wineries on the wine trail, but there are so many smaller places whose names you won’t see in your local wine shop. Try those first.

 

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Sonoma Sister Weekend, Part 1

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday (yay, 4-0!), and my two sisters and I decided to meet up on the West Coast for a little relaxation and fun. Good food, good wine, springtime weather – Sonoma seemed like the perfect destination. We departed our East Coast cities (Boston, Washington D.C., and West Palm Beach) on a Wednesday and spent several lovely days in wine country.

Wednesday

I love to travel, but hate the process. Airports, security lines, flying…all of these make me wish for teleportation. Until humans can travel that way, there’s in-flight wine and lots of podcasts. To be honest, my flights from Florida to New York then out to San Francisco were on-time and smooth. The three of us landed within an hour of each other, took an Uber car into the city, and checked into the Marriott Marquis for the night. We had a late dinner across the street at Annabelle’s Bar & Bistro and were soon tucked into bed after some planning for the following day.

Thursday

Good morning, SFO! View from our hotel room. (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Good morning, SFO! View from our hotel room. (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We awoke early and were downstairs by 8:00 AM to enjoy breakfast in the Concierge lounge. Eggs, bacon, fruit, coffee, tea – everything was delicious. We weren’t scheduled to pick up our rental car until after 10:00, so we strolled around the gorgeous Yerba Buena Gardens, just across the street from the hotel. It was a sunny, mild day; flowers bloomed, and we weren’t the only early morning strollers.

We departed the hotel and drove out of the city towards Sonoma. Traffic was light, and we reached Sebastopol within 1.5 hours. We had rented a cottage for our stay via Airbnb, but we couldn’t check in until later that afternoon. After a quick stop to grab some snacks. we continued our drive along the hilly highway to Bodega Bay.

View from Lucas Wharf  Restaurant and Bar at Bodega Bay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

View from Lucas Wharf Restaurant and Bar at Bodega Bay (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at Lucas Wharf, took a few pictures, and drove back towards Sebastopol. On our way into town, we stopped at our first winery of the weekend.

Joseph Phelps in Freestone (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Joseph Phelps in Freestone (Katherine Hart, 2015)

At Joseph Phelps, we tasted several Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs and learned a little more about the Sonoma Coast wine region. This part of California is known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, as well as for some other varietals (throughout the weekend, we tasted some lovely Sauvignon Blancs, Cabernets, and even some Zinfandels and Malbecs). Most of the wineries we went to fell into the Russian River designation (called an AVA), and we learned about how the different regional microclimates influenced the production of the wines we tried.

Following our tasting, we headed back into town (one of us – not me! – was the designated driver at all times) and stopped at the Community Market to pick up food for the house. This is a wonderful independent grocery store carrying all sorts of local items: yogurt, bacon, fruit, cheese, and cider. There was also a Whole Foods in downtown Sebastopol, so plenty of opportunities to eat healthy.

Our little cottage was adorable! Two bedrooms, one bath, a fully-equipped kitchen, plenty of living space, and lovely gardens. Our host made us feel very welcome. Indeed, by Saturday, the place truly felt like home.

Living room in our cottage (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Living room in our cottage (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Christmas tree farm across the road (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Christmas tree farm across the road (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Backyard garden (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Backyard garden (Katherine Hart, 2015)

We finished off our first full day in Sonoma with an excellent dinner at the Underwood, about a 10-minute walk from our house.

Friday

Everything, including spa day, is better with bacon! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Everything, including spa day, is better with bacon! (Katherine Hart, 2015)

There’s something about the Sonoma coast, whether it’s the fresh air, the spring sunshine, the grassy hills, or the natural beauty in general, that makes you want to take care of you, to eat well, to walk a little more, to treat yourself much more nicely. To help with the pampering part of our weekend away, we booked massages and facials at Bliss Organic Day Spa in downtown Sebastopol. I enjoyed a Blueberry Bliss Anti-Aging Facial (I am 40, after all), while my sisters enjoyed massages. We began our treatment relaxing with a cup of organic peppermint tea, enjoyed an hour of relaxation, then met up again in the waiting area. Following our spa morning, we wandered the downtown area. We didn’t linger too long because we had wine tasting plans.

Vineyards at Merry Edwards winery (Katherine Hart, 2015)

Vineyards at Merry Edwards winery (Katherine Hart, 2015)

To be continued in Part 2… (more wine tasting, ice cream sampling, and fine dining)

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Worth Reading #6: Catching Up!

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Worth Reading post. I have been reading, but not as much as I would like to be. Some good books found their way into my collection over the past few months, however, and here are a few I recommend:

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters  It has been a long time since I’ve stayed up late to read a novel, a long time since I plopped down on the sofa after work and read for several hours straight. This amazing novel drew me in immediately with its gorgeous language and rich descriptions, and it was hard to put down. Set in post-WWI London, The Paying Guests explores a developing romance between two young women, one a spinster seemingly resigned to her fate of living with her mother in a formerly elegant home,  and the other a married woman boarding with the mother and daughter. The build up to the romance is deliciously paced, and just when it appears that the lovers have found happiness, there’s a shocking twist, a crime and its ramifications, that disrupts this sacred, private world that the women have created. Waters upsets the reader’s expectations with this twist, but takes the novel to a new and thrilling place. It’s a must read!

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter Ah, France. Ah, youthful, passionate love. In this novel, published in 1967, Salter captures a love affair between the young American Phillip Dean and the French woman Anne-Marie. The author plays with point-of-view throughout the story: sometimes we see scenes from Dean’s perspective, and other times we realize that we are seeing things (perhaps events that didn’t even happen) from an unnamed, older American narrator’s viewpoint (a fellow visitor to provincial France). The descriptions of the French countryside are marvelous, and Salter writes with a certain Hemingway-esque flair. The novel’s frank sex scenes were considered fairly shocking upon publication, but modern readers would find little surprising, other than that there is a lot of sex, as one would expect from two young people in love/lust. And without giving away too much, it is a tale of love without the happily-ever-after, which I eminently prefer.

The Martian by Andy Weir  The Wall Street Journal listed this book on their Best of 2014 compilation, and the story of this novel is compelling: a self-published author, loyal readers, and a forthcoming movie directed by Ridley Scott. Pretty terrific and inspiring! (Here is an interview with Weir, which tells more of his story.) The technical details in this novel are amazing. Weir crafts a believable tale of an astronaut struggling to survive after being accidentally left behind on Mars. Our hero Mark Watney documents his experiences, and these parts of the novel are fascinating. What I didn’t care for were the scenes off-Mars involving various NASA personnel endeavoring to bring Mark home. The writing at times was clunky, and the dialogue…writers, this is NOT how you write dialogue. That said, this is a compelling story, both on- and off-page, and it’s a fun, quick read.

The Lover by Margeurite Duras  The movie version of this novel caused a buzz back in the 1990s with its torrid and graphic portrayal of a forbidden romance between a young girl and an older man. The novel itself is a languid prose poem that weaves itself through the narrator’s memory of her relationship with a Chinese man in French Indochina (Vietnam) during the 1950s. Sometimes, the narrator returns again and again to a moment in time–she is standing on the boat, wearing a fedora, when her lover first sees her. Other times, the story takes a leap forward–the lovers reconnect, years later. There is so much packed into this slim volume: Western colonization and de-colonization, race, class, abuse, mental illness. Don’t expect a straight-forward, linearly-told romance, but take some time to enjoy the beauty of the prose and imagery.

 

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