The Constant Reader: 2016

constant-reader-2016-image

Reading in gloriously-written books about the people, places, or activities that interest me has always been among my chief pleasures, and knowing that I’ll not being able to read more than a few thousand books in my lifetime is one of my chief regrets.

One of the unexpected ironies of being a retiree for the past few years is that even though I now have more time to devote to reading, my being a relatively older reader has resulted in my spending considerably less time reading during any single sitting! In my younger days years I could read for hours at a stretch; these days I generally find myself nodding off after a single hour.

Be that as it may, my enthusiasm for reading has never waned.  And probably never will wane, judging from the length of the ever-growing list of books I hope to read.

Below are brief comments on the the 43 books I finished this past year. Not mentioned are a half-dozen other titles that I started but didn’t, for a variety of reasons, finish. Because I borrow most of the books I read from libraries, and because I’m usually reading several titles simultaneously, some books I never finish merely because I need to return them before I get around to finishing them.

Each title mentioned is listed in the order that roughly reflects how much I enjoyed it relative to the others listed within its category. Anyone who’s glanced at my earlier annual lists will note that there are no new categories: apparently I am obsessed with a very small number of intense interests, at least when it comes to book selecting!

Despite the relative narrowness of my reading (nonfiction) interests, and the decreased time I can spend reading at any single sitting, I regard myself as a very fortunate and contented reader. After decades of reading, I continue to stumble across a lot of really fascinating books (usually, via some footnote in a book I’ve previously read); I live only two miles from a nearby university library where (as an alumni) I have borrowing privileges; my local public libraries – often via Interlibrary Loan, one of the most amazing of the many services that U.S. public libraries provide – allows me to get hold of, free of charge, virtually any book I might want to read. 

My only significant frustration in the Book Reading Department is my wishing that I had time, or would make time, to read more novels. I am mortified to report that this past year I only read two of them!

Architecture

body-memory-and-architecture-cover

Body, Memory and Architecture (1977)
by Kent Bloomer and Charles Moore

Excellent, clear, concise review of how and why our houses and buildings and public spaces would be more beautiful if architects and developers would acknowledge that pleasure and inhabitability result from more complex -mostly psychological – factors than from merely visual or efficiency considerations.

Gardening & Gardeners

further-afield-cover

in-a-green-shade

Farther Afield: A Gardener’s Excursions (1986) by Allen Lacy
                                                         
In a Green Shade: Writings from ‘Homeground’ (2014) by Allen Lacy

These are the second and third collections of writings by Allen Lacy that I’ve read (the other is Home Ground: A Gardener’s Miscellany, which I read back in 2012). I had long thought that Henry Mitchell was my favorite garden writer, but I’ve decided Lacy now holds that title. I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment of one of his reviewers: “Lacy’s a thoughtful, clever man, no doubt a man it would be a pleasure to know….I, for one, would be delighted to buy anything entitled Another Book by Allen Lacy.” He writes with humor and humility; his engaging prose is the opposite of stuffy or scholarly, even though Lacy is a professor of philosophy (and translator of Unamuno – something that will definitely lead to my eventually reading his introduction to that philosopher’s work). As I love garden writing even more than I love gardening, I hope Lacy never stops publishing his commentaries on our shared hobby.  Ÿ

in-my-gardenIn My Garden: The Garden Diaries of Great Dixter
(1994) by Christopher Lloyd

This book contains the unedited versions of a very small selection of hundreds of essays first published in the British magazine Country Life. Lloyd is a well-known gardener whose books (including either of his two previously-published collections) I somehow had never gotten around to reading; from now on I won’t hesitate to pick one up should I spot it in a book sale. Lloyd’s exquisitely-phrased sentences, his obviously deep (but humbly presented) knowledge of gardening, and his unflagging humility and sense of humor combine to make for almost effortless and extremely enjoyable reading. Ronan’s introduction is one of the best in any book on any subject I have ever read.          Ÿ

french-dirt-cover

French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France (1991) by Richard Goodman

A very short book with very short sentences and whose 27 chapter titles are one word – usually one syllable – long. Despite the fact that I kept wondering if the author was trying to imitate Hemingway’s writing style, his enthusiasm for growing vegetables during the one precious year he and his wife spent in Provence was obvious and, considering his lack of experience, admirable. His tale certainly fed my perennial fantasy of spending a year in Provence – or, say, Tuscany or Greece.      Ÿ

sissinghurst

 

Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden (2016) by Vita Sackville-West & Sarah Raven

Everything you ever might have wanted to know about this famous garden – not only how Vita and Harold came to own Sissinghurst and make its garden, but also Vita’s published commentary (from the gardening column she wrote for many years) about individual plants. Includes lots of photos. I am hoping to visit this garden one day, and having read this book (although skimming through the descriptions of individual plants) will certainly enhance the enjoyment I expect to find there. Ÿ

 

gardening-for-a-lifetime

 

Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older (2010) by Sydney Eddison

It was wonderful to find that someone had written an entire book devoted to the obstinately unacknowledged fact that gardeners must change their ways (and their gardens) as they grow older. Each chapter tackles its subject area in a very personal, informal style, and is then followed by a bullet-pointed summary of the main practical points made. This deliberate redundancy was surprisingly useful.       Ÿ

the-writer-in-the-garden

 

The Writer in the Garden (1999)
edited by Jane Garmey

As I’ve confessed more than once, I’d rather read about gardening than do any actual garden chores, but it was being distracted by other books rather than gardening that prolonged the length of time it took me to finish this anthology. The best thing about it (besides its wonderful cover and the fact that I found it on sale at a thrift store) is that its entries are very brief, which allowed the book’s editor to include snippets from 57 different writers from different eras and countries, all of them excellent, some of them my favorite garden commentators, many of them not best known primarily for their comments on gardens, and some of them poets. The editor also includes a wide variety of subjects: practical and even about particular plants, as well as the expected – and welcome – philosophical comments on the joys of gardening.

History, Sociology, & Politics

from-dawn-to-decadence-cover

From Dawn to Decadence:
1500 to the Present: 500 Years of
Western Cultural Life
(2000)
by Jacques Barzun

If there were a single book one was allowed to take to a desert island for reading material, this one would be my choice. It took me almost a year to read this 800+-page masterpiece, but it’s certainly one of the very best books I’ve ever read. Barzun is an excellent writer, and his survey and analysis of the highlights (and byways) of Western culture puts far less emphasis than expected on wars and political figures and more emphasis on art (all of them) and on popular movements, especially those that have tended to repeat themselves. Soon I will begin reading this remarkable book again, this time with yellow highlighter in hand, hunting down the dozens and dozens of obscure-to-me authors and books Barzun mentions. And I will defintely continue my project of reading more of Barzun’s almost four dozen (!) books.           Ÿ

lafayette-in-the-somewhat-united-states-cover

Lafayette in The Somewhat United States (2015) by Sarah Vowell

Vowell has one of the most distinctive writing styles I’ve come across, and she sustains her quirky voice throughout this fascinating tale of Lafayette’s journey to the colonies to help with their glorious revolt. This book was so entertaining and informative that I finished it in two or three days. Vowell’s research was extensive, and she uncovered a lot of fascinating tidbits about the behind-the-scenes personality conflicts that were going on among the leaders of the American Revolutionary period. I also enjoyed the way Vowell relates the conflicts and tensions of that era to today’s  conflicts and tensions in the United States.  Ÿ

city-life-cover

 

City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World (1995)
by Witold Rybczynski

Having read two previous books by W.R. (Home: A Short History of an Idea and The Most Beautiful House in the World), I reckoned this one would also be wonderful, and it was – just as chock-full of surprising historical and statistical facts as his other books, and just as down-to-earth, personal, and engaging too. The answers to the question this book addresses – why do U.S. cities and suburbs look and feel so different than the cities and suburbs of Europe? – are more complex – and more interesting, than you’d imagine. A great read, despite the fact that his analysis is now already twenty years old.

and-yet-cover

And Yet… Essays (2015)
by Christopher Hitchens

A collection of previously uncollected articles (mostly book reviews, mostly from Vanity Fair or The Atlantic), these writings reaffirmed my opinion of Hitchens as one of the most readable polemicists of our time – and one of the most erudite as well. His premature death in 2011 was a great loss for truth-loving literate people everywhere. Fortunately, Hitchens was prolific (there are five previous collections of his essays alone, and this one has forty-eight of them), so there are many reading pleasures ahead of me as I gradually work my way through all of Hitchens’ writings. Among the unexpected excellencies of this collection is an essay about Clive James (whose own essays I’ve recently read two collections of) and a masterful discussion of George Orwell and G.K. Chesterton, two other British-born essayists whose work I worship.

junk

Junk: Digging Through America’s Love Affair with Stuff (2016)
by Alison Stewart

An unexpectedly lively book, especially since it covers so much ground: interrviews with people who capitalized on the U.S. craze for buying stuff and not knowing how (or being unwilling) to get rid of it. Stewart’s interviews reveal the fascinating experiences and reflections of junk haul-awayers, owners of storage facilities, thrift store operators, participants in “the 100-mile garage sale,” pawn brokers, container store establishers, etc. – all leavened with non-preachy but sobering statistics and the interesting commentary of psychologists.          Ÿ

 

hidden-rhythms-cover

 

Hidden Rhythms: Schedules and Calendars in Social Life (1981)
by Eviatar Zerubavel

The psychological aspects of time have long been a recurring topic in my reading choices, but this sociological analysis of the way time is used to regulate human activities and accessibility was very interesting. (Probably especially so from the viewpoint of a reader who has recently retired from The World of Rigid Schedules.) Especially informative: the author’s sections on the invention and ramifications (for Orthodox Jews and others) of the invention of the Sabbath, the role of Christian monasteries in spreading the advantages of clock time, the French Revolutionaries’ attempt to reform the Gregorian calendar, and the invention of the notion (in the West) of “private time.” Unfortunately – because perhaps the author’s native language may not be English? – the author’s writing style is maddeningly repetitive (wish I had a nickel for every “in other words” he uses, either explicity or otherwise), frequently marred by tautological logic, and full of cliches (more wished-for nickels for every annoying instance of the phrase “within this context”). Still, I will never think about time and the pros and cons of schedules the same way again after reading this book.

Psychology & Philosophy

travels-with-epicurus-cover

Travels with Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life (2012)
by Daniel Klein

A writer in his late seventies returns to the Greek island of Hydra to clarify his ideas of how best to grow old. Written in an almost diary-like format, the writing style is Informal, humble, courageous, and personal writing style. The book is a short one (only 150 pages); and it is studded with some never-seen-before quotations from some of my favorite philosophers and psychologists (Kierkegaard, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Sartre, Camus, Bertrand Russell, William James, Eric Erikson). A real pleasure to read, and it touches on many of my own preoccupations, including how we experience time and what the wise men and women of the past have to say about the nature and pursuit of happiness.   Ÿ

the-meaning-of-human-existence-cover

The Meaning of Human Existence (2014) 
by Edward O. Wilson

I picked up this book because Wilson (winner of two Pulitzer Prizes) once wrote one of the most memorable sentences I’ve ever read. This book was interesting enough to finish, but I think I expected too much, given the title. I found Wilson’s chapter on religion the most interesting (although the least surprising), and his chapter on pheromones the next most interesting (and information totally new to me). Ÿ

 

 

 

on-poetic-imagination-and-reverie

 

On Poetic Imagination and Reverie: Selections from Gaston Bachelard  (1987) translated from the French (with a preface and introduction) by Colette Gaudin

Because I loved Bachelard’s Poetics of Space so much (enough to buy me and my friend Harvey copies to keep), I was really looking forward to this selection from his other writings. Alas, Monsieur Bachelard is rough going – too often so abstract (in that idiosyncratically French sort of way) – that I had to skip whole sections of this book. He was obviously a genius, but I found the translator’s introduction a lot easier to understand than Bachelard himself. But The Poetics of Space I will continue to treasure, and will re-read some day.    Ÿ

practicing-death

Practicing Death (2016) by Dennis Van Avery

Reflections on, among other things, the importance of finding community, of enjoying life’s minor ephiphanies and joys, and non-attachment. This 60-page book was self-published shortly before Dennis’s death this summer. Dennis was a recent acquaintance and his book reminds me of his gentle demeanor and wisdom.         Ÿ

 

 

 

how-to-talk-about-places-youve-never-been

 

 

How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been (2016) by Pierre Bayard

I fought my way through this book, hoping that Bayard would eventually have something interesting to say, but that never happened – and I don’t think it was due to the book’s being translated from its original French version. I felt the same way about a previous book Bayard wrote about a similar theme (How to Talk About the Books You Haven’t Read). I won’t be reading any more of Bayard’s books.

 

a-calendar-of-wisdom-cover

 

A Calendar of Wisdom: Daily Thoughts …Written and Selected from the World’s Sacred Texts (3rd ed., 1910; 1997 ed. translated by Peter Sekirin) by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s final book, and the one he (in my opinion, mistakenly) considered his most important. I did glean a couple dozen quotations from the wrtitings of the sages of the past that Tolstoy includes in his collection, but Tolstoy’s commentary (and his own pearls of wisdom) are excessively Christianity-centered (so many Gospel verses!) and didactic. Disappointing.

 

Religion & Anti-Religion

how-jesus-became-god-cover

 

How Jesus Became God:
The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee
(2014)
by Bart D. Ehrman

Although the author’s tone is engaging instead of scholarly, this is not Ehrman’s most readable book – for one thing, his others are far less repetitious. Still, this one may be the most single most important/profound of the many books Ehrman’s published – and I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all. A necessary (if rather belabored) documentation of the (rocky) history of the basically incomprehensible Christian notion of the Trinity.

 

skeptics-annotated-bible

 

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible (2013) annotated by Steve Wells

I wish this book had been published – and that I had been allowed to read it – back in the early 1960s, when I was a teenager forced to listen to Bible-quoting (and Bible-censoring) preachers until I left for college in 1966. I didn’t actually read the 1,600+-page Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, as that project would require reading every verse of the King James Bible plus Wells’ sidebar annotations – a project that would take years to accomplish, and more stamina for Biblical nonsense than I possess. What I think is probably more valuable for anyone who can’t bear the thought of plowing through the KJV again (or even for the first time) is reading Wells’ short introductions to each Bible book plus skimming his two appendices: a 31-page list of 471 Biblical contradictions and a 135-item list of citations of verses describing “God’s Killings in the Bible.” For me, the biggest irony in my getting hold of Wells’ book is realizing how much those Baptist preachers in my past left out of their weekly Bible-quoting. The descriptions of favorably-presented cruelty, misogeny, homophobia, logical absurdities and scientific blunders that those preachers left out of their somber readings or shrill rantings of Holy Scripture are more numerous and more damning than I had imagined. I wish a copy of Wells’ book were deposited alongside all those Gideon Bibles one still finds in hotel rooms, and was given to each church-going teenager before she is brow-beaten into A.C.A.H.P.S. (Accepting Christ As Her Personal Savior). A lot of confusing nonsense and harm-producing Bibliolatry might be averted thereby. In the meantime, every thinking human of any age would benefit from even a highly selective reading of the “revelations” Wells’ annotations provide. Incidentally (and astonishingly), the entire text of the $36 printed version The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible, is available for free on the Internet!

Literature, Literary Criticism & Other Bookish Delights

alphabetical

 

Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story (2015)
by Michael Rosen

Possibly the most all-around enjoyable book I’ve read this year. Definitely one of the most carefully researched – but buoyantly written – books I’ve read this year. This aside-filled romp through the history of the English alphabet is every calligrapher’s, Scrabble-player’s, and word-lover’s dream book. The fact that I discovered it while idly browsing the shelves of the newest bookstore in my city is a bit unnerving, but I am not complaining. I just wish Rosen had more than 26 symbols to write about in his diverting and informative way; I especially enjoyed the way he was able to tie so many stories about the history of letters to his personal reading experiences as a child. This book reinforces and to some extent explains how someone can actually come to love the alphabet and anything connected to it.

browsings-cover

Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, & Living with Books (2015)
by Michael Dirda

Dirda’s collection of fifty columns originally published in The American Scholar is my favorite so far of Dirda’s many books. His enthusiasm for all things bookish is infectious, and his style is refreshingly non-scholarly and generous and hilariously self-deprecating. Dirda is also quite persuasive: I’ve garnered from Browsings seventeen (!) additional Dirda-recommended items for my list of Books Cal Wants to Read. Dirda’s musings on the life of a modern bibliophile were are a pure joy to read. (If Dirda wasn’t already married, I’d be tempted to propose that he marry me.)       Ÿ

the-year-of-reading-dangerouslyThe Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-so-Great Ones) Saved My Life (2014)
by Andy Miller

Better in its way than the equally wonderful Browsings by Michael Dirda, which I finished shortly before obtaining this book-about-books. Why better? Well, the Britishness of the author automatically makes his prose funnier. But the autobiographical content wedged into the descriptions of the books under discussion made the experience of reading Dangerously even more fund to read than Broswings more serious, less autobiographical treatment. If I could write like Miller, I would write books instead of (well, in addition to) reading them!

as-of-this-writing-cover latest-readings-cover

As of This Writing: The Essential Essays, 1968-2002 (2003) by Clive James
Latest Readings(2015) by Clive James

These two collections of literary criticism and book and film reviews are some of the best, and best-written, I’ve ever read. James is an Australian who lives in Britain. His witty (but not over-clever) conversational writing style and his generosity toward authors or works he finds flawed or otherwise unappealing is unusual and refreshing. For the sheer enjoyment of his down-to-earth, often humorous commentary, I will seek out any further books by James, and intend to read his other previous collections.Meanwhile, I am learning a lot about about Australian poets – a subject that I have zero interest in, but love reading about when it’s James writing about them. Ÿ

this-thing-we-call-literature

This Thing We Call Literature (2016)
by Arthur Krystal

After a lifetime of wondering myself about some of the questions addressed by Krystal, it was a revelation to read Krystal’s collection of essays, most of which originally appeared in either the Chronicle of Higher Education or the New Yorker, and most of which discuss (from various angles), the differences between good writing and great – i.e., enduring – writing. Krystal is an excellent stylist; his arguments are very persuasive to this reader, who hadn’t realized what a “traditionalist” reader I apparently am! Krystal’s essays make me unashamed of that fact. I learned so much from this book that I re-read much of it (including his excellent essay on good vs. great poetry) before returning my copy to the library.

battle-of-the-books

The Battle of the Books: History and Literature
in the Augustan Age
(1991)
by Joseph M. Levine

The “battle” had to do with the question of whether or not the ancient Greek and Roman writers could be surpassed – in excellence of style and/or in wisdom – by any subsequent generations of poets, historians and dramatists. The various factions weighing in on this question felt at lot was at stake – for one thing, the answer would determine the curriculum of a college education, and could have a bearing on how statesmen and others in the aristocracy are trained; for another thing, the answer had ramifications for the writing and evaluation of all post-classical history, poetry, and drama -even determine beliefs about the limits of human nature and potential. I loved this book, although I can’t imagine who else might love it – its subject is just too arcane, the nuances of the obscure story are gone into in way too much detail,  and the level of meticulous scholarship is almost too much to endure – reading even half the authors’ hundreds of footnotes would take many, many, many hours of a reader’s precious time. But the writing is lively, and the pettiness and infighting among the uber-articulate, uber-privileged British scholarly elite that Levine recounts in his sprawling story – he takes in not only the British opinion on the main debate, but French and German opinion as well – is quite marvelous for a certain type of reader (like moi).

the-golden-thread

The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing (2013) by Ewan Clayton

Not a history for the faint of heart: there is so much detail, especially with regard to pre-modern eras, that I almost gave up on finishing it. Also, the author included far too few illustrations (only 64 of them throughout 358 pages of densely-written text and analysis of particular documents, and, too often, no illustrations when one would’ve really helped). But I’m glad I did finish this book, as the final fifth of it was so interesting and informative, and as the book’s last chapter (“The Material Artefact”) is – for this amateur calligrapher, anyway – so beautifully and so lyrically written. Clayton’s scholarship as reflected in his lengthy bibliography is astonishingly thorough, and the final section of his bibliography (“Current Practice in Handwriting, Calligraphy and Lettering”) would be very useful in an inventory of the library maintained by the local calligraphy I’m a member of.    Ÿ

samuel-johnson-and-the-life-of-reading

Samuel Johnson and The Life of Reading (1997) by Robert DeMaria, Jr.

DeMaria calls his book an “extended essay,” but the level of detail given to expounding DeMaria’s underlying premise (that there are four kinds of reading, and that Johnson practiced all four of them) made reading the book feel like reading a dissertation. I had to force myself to finish it. This despite the author’s obvious insights, erudition, humility, and sense of humor. If the subject had been anyone’s reading other than Johnson’s, I wouldn’t have even started it. But DeMaria’s book has re-confirmed my awe at Johnson’s intelligence, and reignited my resolve to read more of what Johnson himself wrote.

Biography & Memoir

meanwhile-there-are-letters-cover

Meanwhile, There are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald (2015)
edited by Suzanne Marrs &Tom Nolan

I continue to be enthralled with reading letters exchanged between writers, and this collection, which spans only a decade but contains hundreds of fascinating letters, is the saga of one of the most heartwarming literary friendships I’ve come across, as Welty and Macdonald were such amazing supports for each other’s writing. Based on what Macdonald has to say about it, I definitely now need to find some of Welty’s fiction – possibly starting with a re-reading of her story “Why I Live at the P.O.” but maybe trying out one of her novels as well.

the-invention-of-nature-cover

 

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World (2015) by Andrea Wulf

An incredibly interesting guy, this Alexander Humboldt. So I’m glad to have read about him and glad the author wrote this book about him. However, the last third of the book, devoted to Humboldt’s “successors” (like John Muir), I lost interest in reading about, so I did not finish this book. I understand that many individuals followed in Humboldt’s footsteps as ecology pioneers, but when Humboldt disappeared from the story, I instantly – and rather surprisingly – lost interest in it.

bettyville

 

Bettyville: A Memoir  (2014) by George Hodgman

ŸForty-something gay man leaves his editing job in New York City to take care of his ailing (and communication-challenged) mom in the tiny town in Missouri where he grew up. A well-told tale of caregiving in the teeth of the mother’s progressive dementia and her lifetime of denial of her only child’s being gay. Heartbreaking, poignant, funny, sobering, and full of loving, moving descriptions of a way of life that has largely vanished, but that formed the perspectives of both mother and son.

 

dreamthorp

Dreamthorp: A Book of Essays Written in the Country (1905) by Alexander Smith [1830-1867]

Seldom have I been more sorry to have finished a book – or been as glad that such a book exists! There are only twelve essays in this now-over-a-hundred-years-old book, but every one of the essays is as engagingly written as anything you’ll ever read. The titles of the essays are almost irrelevant; even the least interesting-sounding ones end up being glorious, as Smith – like his heroes Bacon and Montaigne – is likely to spend many pages meandering off his purported subject. The delight I found in this previously-unknown-to-me collection was great enough for me to resolve to buy myself a modern copy (my conscience won’t allow me to steal the library’s antique edition). And because it’s in the public domain, the text of Dreamthorp is available on the Internet, which made it much easier for me to copy-and-paste numerous passages into my Commonplace Book. Incidentally, Dreamthorp is Smith’s fictional name for the Scottish town of Linlithgow, which (along with Smith’s grave in a cemetery in nearby Edinburgh) is now on my list of Hoped-For Literary Pilgrimages.

distant-neighbors

Distant Neighbors: The Selected Letters of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder Ÿ(2014)

Most collections of letters I’ve read (and the letters of writers have long been one of my favorite types of books to read) are written by writers who’ve died (many of them British, rather than Americans). Not so with this collection, which spans a correspondence that began in 1973 and is doubtless still going on, with the latest letter reproduced here written in 2013. Each of these two articulate writers has lived an unusual and inspiring life; the topics they write to each other about (and sometimes disagree about) make me glad to be part of their generation. Now more than ever I am resolved to eventually track down and read every scrap of Berry’s nonfiction writing. It was a joy and privilege to read these letters: so much so that I started and finished this book in a matter of days. I hope there are many more letters between these two thoughtful, erudite, and humble homesteading writers, and that those letters will also one day be published. Snyder and Berry are national living treasures, each of them devoted to the very different regions of the planet they have cultivated through long and thoughtful lives.

a-heaven-of-words-cover

A Heaven of Words: Last Journals, 1956-1984 (2013) by Glenway Wescott

Another intriguing installment of the trove of biographical material produced by a circle of Manhattan-based American gay artists, writers, photographers, playwrights, etc. (and their Continental friends and lovers) that rivals the scope and interested of the biographical materials that the “Bloomsberries” generated from and about their nearly-contemporaneous lives in England. I will next need to track down Wescott’s earlier journals (Continual Lessons: 1937-1955) and Wescott’s novels. A “heaven of words” indeed.

Ÿtime-enough-cover

Time Enough (1974)
by Emily Kimbrough

I re-read this hilarious account of a group of friends’ boat trip down Ireland’s Shannon River in preparation for an almost identical trip I’m planning with several of my own friends for later this year. What a treat, re-reading this book! Kimbrough is skillful at vividly capturing the telling detail that make each of her characters (i.e., her friends and their respective foibles, as well as her own), as well as their harmless but charming adventures, come alive. You feel like you’re right there with them on their rented (and fully – and interestingly – staffed) boat, and happy to be there. Anyone reading Kimbrough’s account will risk feeling compelled to book a boat in Ireland. It was my first reading of this book that triggered my own subsequent quest to successfully enlist some of my own friends to float down the waterways of three different countries (England, France, and – finally – Ireland).

the-pursuit-of-reason-cover

 

The Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson (1987)
by Noble Cunningham, Jr.

ŸA competent, one-volume biography – and a perfect review of any other biographies one might have read before but (like I had) forgotten the details of. One of the most astonishing parts, especially during this rancorous election year, was rediscovering how early on the vicious factionalism in U.S. politics began.

fifty-days-of-solitude

 

 

Fifty Days of Solitude (1994) by Doris Grumbach

I wanted this to be better than it was. There are some lovely reflections (such as the one on the different varieties of silence), but this book seemed too often like a writing excercise or a set of miscellaneous remarks than a significant contribution to the literature of solitude.

 

 

a-year-by-the-sea-coverA Year by the Sea:
  Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman
(1999)
by Joan Anderson

ŸHaving read Anderson’s second book several years ago without realizing she’d already written this one, I’m glad I ran across this copy in a thrift store yesterday. (Yes, dear reader, I read this book in a single day.) I think it’s better than her second book – another memoir mining the same period of her life on Cape Cod. Anderson compellingly sets down in non-self-congratulatory prose the emotional roller-coaster ride of her Year of Living Solo. Similar in its pur-pose to two books by Alice Koeller that I read years ago – An Unknown Woman: A Journey to Self-Discovery (1981) and The Stations of Solitude (1990), which Iiked better than either of Anderson’s books.

Fiction

 

the-picture-of-dorian-gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde

Despite all the books about Oscar Wilde I’ve read over the years, I’d never gotten around to reading his novel. Several years ago at OutWrite Bookstore’s closing sale, I bought Nicholas Frankel’s illustrated, annotated, uncensored (and coffee-table-size) edition, and this week I finally read it. Reading It took a while, as the numerous footnotes amount to an additional book themselves. Mostly, I am amazed at how absurdly repressed and class-conscious Wilde’s Victorian contemporaries were, which resulted in – among other things, including Wilde’s arrest, trial, and imprisonment – so much “coding” of sexual matters into the text of Dorian. I was also surprised at how many of Oscar’s famous maxims derive from (or were imported into) his novel. Frankel’s delineation through his footnotes of the underpinnings of the novel’s plot and characters to Wilde’s life and world (as well as his meticulous history of the novel’s career) was, for me, far more interesting than the novel’s rather florid story, characters, and writing style.

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-cover

All the Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr

I became a fan of Doerr’s when, a few years ago, I read his memoir Four Seasons in Rome. Although I’ve not read his previous novels, All the Light is indisputably a memorable book, even a page turner. As I usually do with novels that jump back-and-forth between different time periods and alternate between different characters’ points of view, I found this structure to be somewhat annoying, but I can see why Doerr took this route to tell this particular story. The cruelties and violence and desolation of war (specifically, World War II) that Doerr describes were certainly vivid, and, as intended, very distressing. (This book could should earn a spot on anyone’s list of anti-war novels.) Doerr’s imagery is often arresting, which helped pull met through the author’s portrayals of his characters’ anxiety and deprivation and the backdrop of ubiquitous, arbitrary deaths that more than once tempted me to put aside this heartbreaking novel. I’m in a book club that’s discussing this novel soon, and look forward to how other readers responded to this absorbing book.

Magazine Subscriptions

I would be remiss if I were not to insert here an enthusiastic recommendation of the two magazines whose every issue I’ve  eagerly devoured for the zillionth consecutive year. They are the world’s two best – although very, very different – magazines, deserving of a subscription of your own if you happen to be in the market for guaranteed excellence:

  • The Sun
  • The New Yorker

If any of my reading-loving acquaintances out there have kept track of what you’ve read this past year, I would love to see your list! Feel free to email it to me at calgough@bellsouth.net 

photos-uploaded-april-26-2016-091

Year-End Holiday Chores and Rituals

december-2009-022

As we head into another round of year-end holidays, my daily routine is gradually becoming monopolized by the seasonal tasks and activities I undertake at this time of year with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I’ve always loved celebrating these holidays, trepidation because I sometimes get a bit carried away and there are moments when I notice I’m feeling more exhausted than festive!

Back in 2001 when, finding myself again in the throes of trying to get a handle on how to minimize the stress of preparing for the holidays, I created two checklists to help me more efficiently navigate what amounts to the entire month of December. I tried to identify all my self-imposed annual holiday chores, plus a separate list of holiday rituals that I particularly enjoy. I had to use a really tiny font to get those two checklists onto a single page, but I managed! Recently I unearthed a copy of this document and thought it would be interesting to post them here as a sort of index to the way I typically  go about celebrating the holiday season.

Two things have changed in my life since I created those checklists fifteen years ago  – two things, I mean, in addition to the still-rather-recent but clearly relevant fact that as a retiree I have so much more time for everything, including the past four annual cycles of holiday-related chores and pleasures!

The two changes since I first compiled my checklists:

  • I’ve re-framed (for myself, anyway) what I’m celebrating. After gradually realizing I prefer to celebrate the annual change of seasons rather than the birthday of someone who many revere as the Savior of Mankind, I have tried to deliberately de-Christianize the objects I use to decorate my house for these holidays. I also have made progress on trying to de-commercialize my holiday festoonery, getting rid of most of the Santy Clausey ornaments, etc. (I have hung onto a few non-Americanized “Father Christmas” things.) These two decisions resulted in my jettisoning several bins worth of decorations I’d hauled down from my attic every year for decades to mark the season, while preserving (and seeking out additional) images and symbols that are more evocative of references to the Winter Solstice. For example, I still love the idea of bringing a tree into the house, and I like using lots of candlelight the final week of December.
  • I have tried to simplify my year-end house decorating, food preparing, and gift-giving activities. I like to think that one day I’ll be content with merely setting out a few bowls full of ornaments and serving my visitors only cheese and crackers along with their cups of tea every December – but as anyone who knows me well could tell you, I’m not quite there yet.

Aside from my determination to de-commercialize, de-Christianize, and de-complicate my celebration of the end of the year, there are many things I love about the way most of my friends and family celebrate the year-end holidays:

  • the more-festive-than-usual gatherings of families, friends, and neighbors – although, for me, the smaller those gatherings, the more I tend to enjoy them.
  • the seasonal decorations (especially the ones that aren’t religion-themed).
  • the exchanging of greeting cards and/or gifts and the bonds and the acknowledgement of fondness and gratitude that these rituals represent.
  • most of the traditional foods and beverages.
  • some of the traditional seasonal music. Not the inane stuff that relentlessly assault the ears of the hapless customers of most retail establishments, mind you, but a handful of the traditional carols (especially Celtic-inflected instrumental versions) and the classical pieces.

Despite my ongoing efforts to simplify the hoopla I put myself through to make December more visibly festive than other months of the year, I was surprised to notice that I continue to look forward to undertaking many of the tasks and activities appearing on my fifteen year old holiday checklists. I probably shouldn’t be surprised: even though I’ve morphed and tweaked my holiday routines to make them more consistent with my beliefs and less stressful to carry out, I’ve always liked the notion of seasonal festivals, and I am notoriously sentimental.

At any rate, I’m reproducing here updated versions of the aforementioned year-end seasonal checklists partly as an acknowledgement of how enthusiastically I immerse myself in the seasonal madness (or what I consider to be its most positive aspects), partly out of curiosity at how many of the items on these lists will disappear from the lists over the next fifteen years, and partly in case the checklists might be useful to someone else who finds checklists immensely useful in minimizing stressful undertakings!

The photos of some of my holiday house decorations that I’m including below were taken at various different Christmases/Solstices Past – some of them in houses or apartments where I lived before moving to McLendon Avenue in 1993.

Checklist #1: Cal’s Year-End Holiday Chores

Decorating

 bring down from the attic the dozen bins of holiday festoonery

 sort through each bin to decide what to use this year (and what to discard)

 return the dozen empty bins to the attic until after the holidays

various-subjects-mostly-2016-060

 buy    set up    decorate the tree

tree-in-house-on-washita-avenue12082016_0000

tree-in-house-on-hardendorf12082016_0000

cal_christmas_2013_tree_1_sm

download-of-camera-photos-feb-20-20216-003

 arrange presents, extra ornaments, fruit, etc. under the tree

new-york-trip-077

under-the-tree12082016_0000

 obtain evergreens to use throughout the house

 buy a sufficient supply of votive and pillar candles to minimize the need for electric       lights when visitors come to call during the holidays

 buy poinsettias and/or amaryllis and/or Christmas cacti and/or rosemary topiaries

 decorate the mantel

mantel-early-on-on-mclendon-212082016_0000

mostly-christmas-2014-052

solstice-2015-028

 install outdoor decorations:
 front porch & railings    front door     front windows      mailbox

front-door-at-mclendon12082016_0000

 wash and iron the dining room tablecloth

d%e2%80%8cining-room-table12082016_0000

dining-room-table12082016_0000

download-of-camera-photos-feb-20-20216-007

 make centerpieces for   the dining room table   coffee table

mostly-christmas-2014-058

 decorate living room

tree-in-house-early-on-on-mclendon12082016_0000

christmases-past-unlabelled-photos-002

cal_christmas_2013_solt_sm

reindeer-and-red-cloth12082016_0000

mostly-christmas-2014-054

new-york-trip-081

living-room-table12082016_0000

mostly-christmas-2014-057

download-of-camera-photos-feb-20-20216-021

mostly-christmas-2014-050

mostly-christmas-2014-060

 decorate the dining room

december-2009-006

download-of-camera-photos-feb-20-20216-008

cal_christmas_2013_poster_sm

download-of-camera-photos-feb-20-20216-017

mostly-christmas-2014-049

december-2009-007

mostly-christmas-2014-046

mostly-christmas-2014-041

 decorate the kitchen

photos-uploaded-april-26-2016-011

mostly-christmas-2014-042

 decorate the alcove in the hallway

new-york-trip-086

 decorate the study

new-york-trip-085

reindeer-in-bedroom12082016_0000

 decorate the bathroom

new-york-trip-091

 return to the attic all the now-empty bins

 buy     bring inside a sufficient supply of firewood

Greeting Cards

 pick out and purchase a sufficient supply of this year’s cards

 buy a sufficient number of commemorative stamps

 assemble holiday rubber stamps, stamp pads, seals, sealing wax, inks, etc.

 create    type    print annual holiday newsletter and reading list

 prepare a digital version of my newsletter and reading list to post to my blog

 update addresses on my holiday card list

 fold and insert the printed newsletter into each card

 address the cards

 take to the post office the finished cards with newsletter enclosure
and mail to  in-town friends & family    out-of-town friends & family

Gift-Giving

 locate and purchase this year’s supply of gift wrapping

 compile   create   duplicate   type & print playlist   wrap    deliver or mail multiple copies of holiday music recordings as gifts

 buy   wrap annual jigsaw puzzle & chocolate cherries for Mom’s stocking

 buy my copy of   wrap Flanders’s copy of the annual teapot calendar

 buy    wrap gifts or stocking presents  for in-town   friends   family

 buy   wrap    mail gifts for out-of-town   friends   family

 buy & wrap all stocking gifts for    friends    family

Food

 prepare contributions to holiday potlucks

 buy ingredients for   prepare   package   deliver
whatever homemade treat I’m making for friends (cranberry compote? chocolate bark? rum balls?)

 buy sufficient quantities of    eggnog    tea    sparkling cider

 make a trip to Farmer’s Market to buy abundant supplies of fresh fruit (and, less abundantly, fresh flowers) to display on the mantel and in assorted baskets

Visitor Prep

 schedule holiday season visits  with   in-town friends     out-of-town friends

 email invitations to the three Solstice Teas I host in my living room

 clean the house for the scheduled (and any impromptu) tea parties

 change linens for any overnight guests visiting during the holidays

Checklist #2: Cal’s Annual Holiday Rituals

 Reflect on my ongoing ambivalence about what celebrating Christmas and/or the Winter Solstice currently means to me

 Transform the house with seasonal festoonery (ideally, a bit differently than in previous years and minimizing the purchasing of additional decorations)

 Decide what I’m going to mention in my annual holiday newsletter

 Consider fooling around with some old-fashioned (i.e., snailmail-related) materials like colored inks, sealing wax, and commemorative postage stamps)when sending out Solstice cards (and newsletter)

 Unearth the presents I’ve bought throughout the year for specific people, and wrapping them

 Formulate a series of shopping trips, preferably to non-chain stores, for purchasing as-yet-unpurchased gifts; time those trips to minimize exposure to traffic or parking nightmares and to blaring Xmas carols

 Take time while I’m wrapping each gift to think about the person whose gift I’m wrapping

 Schedule a visit with my friend Kris to the cabin in North Georgia to address our holiday cards and consider doing some holiday baking

 Eagerly anticipate the ritual of receiving, opening, reading, and displaying the holiday cards people mail to me

 Sift through and re-enjoying holiday cards (and annual newsletters) from Holidays Past

 Make time to sit down in front of the fireplace and enjoy a mindful cup of tea, hot cider, or hot chocolate

 Enjoy the annual round of visits with friends and family

 Temporarily abandon moderation in consuming artery-clogging, yummy holiday treats like eggnog, homemade baked goodies, chocolate fudge, etc.

 Listen to each of the holiday music recordings I’ve made over the past fifteen years as gifts for friends and family

 Participate in at least one year-end public festivity—a candlelit tour of homes, the Botanical Garden’s Xmas Stroll, the Historical Society candlelight tour, a holiday choral concert, etc.

 Create and enjoy holiday smells: evergreen boughs, bayberry candle wax, simmering cider, baking cookie dough, etc.

 Reflect on my gratitude for relationships past and present with friends and family alive and not alive

 Invite my friends to the house (individually or in groups) for a candlelit tea-drinking salute to the Winter Solstice

 Listen by candlelight to a recording of poet Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales or re-watching John Huston’s movie version of James Joyce’s short story The Dead (set at Christmas in Dublin in the early 1900s)

 Be startled by walking into a room with a tree in it

 Gaze at the indoor tree and enjoy the resulting trance state

 Set aside at least one evening in late December for driving through nearby neighborhoods looking at outdoor decorations

 Try to finishing all my holiday chores – including all giftwrapping – early enough to relax and enjoy a completely chore-free evening on December 24th

 Join the other Goughs (and assorted others) for the family’s Xmas Morning traditions: being together, munching down on mom’s sausage balls before opening the presents, emptying out our Xmas stockings, savoring the mincemeat pie, etc.

 Escape the city to spend an exquisitely calm New Year’s Eve in a cozy cabin in the middle of the woods in the mountains of North Georgia

If you happen to enjoy certain holiday rituals or seasonal pleasures that aren’t mentioned in Checklist #2, please consider mentioning them in a comment to this blogpost. I’m always hoping to incorporate additional ways to enjoy the holidays, and you might have found some I haven’t discovered yet!

various-subjects-mostly-2016-065

In Praise of The New Yorker

new-yorker-cover

Two of the most enduring Excellent Things in my life are subscriptions to magazines that the postal service has been regularly depositing in my mailbox for almost thirty years. One of those subscriptions is for The New Yorker. (I will valorize  the other excellent magazine I subscribe to, The Sun, another time.)

Like many Americans who don’t happen to live in New York City, I have fantasized at one time or another about moving there – for all the obvious reasons that people who choose to live there are living there. I count myself fortunate to have lived there briefly – for the entire, magical summer of 1968 – and to have returned there since then for numerous always-too-brief visits. (It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since my most recent trip there.  Yikes! That’s partly because I no longer have any close friends living there; when Corky was alive and living in Manhattan, I visited a lot more often.)

Although the thought hadn’t occurred to me until recently, I’m think my longtime subscription to The New Yorker has been, among other things, a way of pretending that I have an ongoing – if merely an imaginative – connection with that amazing metropolis. (With other beloved cities – London, Paris, San Francisco – it’s mostly remembered experiences there, in addition to my reading, that keep alive my affection or nostalgia for them.) That said, the reasons I still look forward to every issue’s arrival have little to do with the magazine’s commentary on the city’s current cultural happenings.

Some of those reasons for my loving this remarkable magazine:

  • It provides a substantial weekly dose of what I regard as my continual (if informal and self-selected) education. It’s impossible to sit down with an issue of this magazine without learning something fascinating or deeply interesting – possibly learning something about a subject I didn’t know I cared a hoot about. Until, that is, I waded into one of the magazine’s famously lengthy articles and found myself (because of the excellent writing or the impressively- and engagingly-marshalled research) gradually more and more intrigued and, ultimately, enlightened.
  • The sheer scope of the subjects The New Yorker addresses is astonishing – and satisfying. Not at all confining itself to things of interest primarily to New York residents, everything, large and small, enduring or ephemeral, is fair game for The New Yorker. Where else would one stumble upon an essay (by the always excellent Ian Frazier) about the Statue of Liberty – or, rather, of the particular familiar color of that statue, and its intriguing history?
  • The magazines editors employ a mixture of different presentations: thoughtful editorial commentary on national as well as local events and personalities; essays on everything under the sun; interviews with or profiles of famous people – and of people whose adventures or accomplishments or predicaments should have made them more famous than they are; reviews of books on subjects or written by authors (many of them no longer living) that I happen to be particularly and permanently obsessed with; startling photographs.
  • Most of the magazine’s essays and profiles feature a recurring pattern. Almost always, you know the writer is going to draw you into his/her subject in an engaging, often witty, way, and then, usually about midway through, the writer is going to back up and give you a mini-history of whatever – or whoever – he or she is writing about before resuming his/her analysis of why this person, place, thing, event, trend, creative work or artist, or area of scientific or sociological research matters. New Yorker writers seem to be expected to give the reader background, a context, to better appreciate what he/she is writing about. I love this reliable feature of New Yorker articles. Some of which, by the way, are so much longer than what Americans are used to reading, but so much better than if they’d been edited to a shorter length.
  • It provides a weekly sampling of some of the best nonfiction writing, and some of the best researched journalism, and some of the most impressive criticism being published. Well, in the English language, anyway. (The magazine also famously produces some of the planet’s best-written fiction; although there are undoubtedly people who subscribe to the magazine precisely because of the excellence of its fiction, I am ashamed to admit that I seldom reads The New Yorker fiction myself, having long, long ago – and somewhat mysteriously – become a reader who continually chooses to focus his reading energies on nonfiction. I can report, however, that I have never regretted a single decision of mine to read one of the fiction entries.)
  • Some of my favorite essayists regularly contribute to (or are one the staff of) the magazine. I am always to happy whenever I open up an issue and find another amazingly-written screed by Adam Gopnik or Louis Menand or Ian Frazier or Jeffrey Toobin or Jill Lapore or Roger Angell or Thomas Mallon or Calvin Trillin or David Remnick.
  • The critical essays alone are worth the subscription price. The swoon-worthy literary essays of James Woods and Daniel Mendelsohn (to mention a mere two of the magazine’s frequently-appearing literary critics) are not to be missed. I’m too young to have enjoyed the movie reviews by the renowned Paulene Kael, but I hope her successor at The New Yorker, Anthony Lane, outlives me, so that I’ll never be deprived of his amazingly insightful (and witty) movie reviews, or Hilton Als’s theater reviews, Alex Ross’s music reviews,  Peter Schjeldahl’s art and architecture reviews. I haven’t owned a functioning television set since the late 1980s, but sometimes the incredibly insightful (and witty) television show reviews of Emily Nussbaum make me wonder if I shouldn’t start (selectively) watching tv again.
  • Reading The New Yorker feeds my respect for and gradually increasing knowledge about a whole train of writers whose work the magazine published in previous eras: not only certain beloved poets (although far too many of the poems published over the past thirty years have left me unmoved if not downright annoyed), but revered essayists like E.B. White and George Steiner, not to mention the humorists of the Algonquin Round Table. It was The New Yorker who first or eventually introduced me to some of the most brilliant prose stylists of all time, including personal favorites like William Maxwell,  Jacques Barzun and Gore Vidal. I can’t begin to list the number of writers of enduring importance to me whose work I first read (or read about) in The New Yorker. In other words, this magazine is largely responsible for keeping alive my feeling of kinship with  (and certainly my admiration for) the Life of the Mind in general, the Life of the Arts in particular, and even more particularly, connected in a virtual sort of way with the mostly-American and British literary writers that the magazine has published or covered (or both).
  • The cartoons! Does any magazine, anywhere, publish such excellent cartoons?

new-yorker-cartoon-example11032016_0000

Not to mention the satirical prose gems that regularly appear in the magazine’s “Shouts & Murmurs” feature, which regularly features such fiendishly hilarious writers as David Sedaris, Woody Allen, and Paul Rudnick.

  • The covers! Not only are they usually wonderful, but every time I see one (and often when I’m about to discard an issue), I’m reminded of something someone I knew back in the early 1980s did with her subscription to The New Yorker: she papered the walls of her very large bathroom, from top to bottom, with hundreds of old New Yorker covers! It looked great!

The fascinating history of this magazine, all by itself, is almost enough to make one want to subscribe!

Incidentally, just as I prefer to read printed (vs. screen-requiring) books, I love getting the print version of the magazine. Subscribers have free access to the magazine’s online version, which contains even more examples of good writing than the printed version has room for, but unfortunately I never developed the habit of visiting the website to discover these extra morsels of wonderfulness.

A final note. Because the magazine is published every week, and aside from the fact that with some issues I’m able to immediately sit down and devour in their entirety in a single sitting, I am usually several weeks, if not several months, behind in my getting around to reading them. But I know better than to throw out any of the not-quite-finished older issues, as there’s bound to be something in each of them – and probably more than a single thing in each of them – that I’d be sorry to have missed. So there are usually multiple partially or completely un-read issues stacked on my coffee table at home. There are just as many piled on my bedside table at the cabin. In my view, this procrastination-created predicament is A Good Problem to Have.

It is difficult to gauge the full extent to which The New Yorker enlivens my interior life, but it’s significant enough to have made it easy for me to decide, decades ago, that I would continue subscribing to The New Yorker for the rest of my (or its) life. Though certain issues pack a bigger punch that certain other ones, there’s never, in thirty years, been a dud issue, which is why my enthusiasm for this magazine and its incredible writers and editors has never flagged. My subscriptions to other magazines – The Atlantic, Harper’s, Mother Jones, The Smithsonian, Mother Earth News – have come and gone, but I couldn’t do without The New Yorker.

Or, for that matter, without The Sun, whose virtues –  so different from The New Yorker’s – I shall get around to extolling in due course.

Farewell to Cloverhurst Drive

cloverhurst-drive-2

For several years, my four siblings and I had been trying to convince my 89-year-old mom that it was no longer safe for her to continue living in the house she’s lived in for the past 59 years – and, once we had grown up and gotten our own houses and after she and my dad divorced, where my mom has been living alone.

Marge’s children’s collective concern about her unwillingness to move into a more manageable, safer place intensified last year in the aftermath of mom’s suffering a third mild stroke.

Mom was understandably resistant to moving. When she and her husband bought their then-new house in the Atlanta suburb of East Point in the late 1950s, their move was a huge accomplishment for a young married couple with (then) four kids. Both Marge and Roy had come of age in Arkansas during the Great Depression, and had previously lived in rented houses. Mom continued to live in the house after she and Roy raised their kids (eventually five of them) and they had each eventually moved into their own houses. After paying off the twenty-five-year mortgage on the house and eventually divorcing her husband, it was from the house on Cloverhurst Drive that my stay-at-home mom bravely entered the workforce (she worked for years at the phone company) so she maintain her financial independence.

Decades laer, after heroically managing, alone, the upkeep of a large house with a big yard located in an increasingly crime-plagued neighborhood, mom finally agreed, earlier this summer, that it was time for a change.

Last month, mom moved in with my youngest sister Lori, who lives in north Georgia, and we put mom’s house on Cloverhurst Drive up for sale. Because of the heartbreakingly low market value of houses in mom’s neighborhood, the realtor – the stepdaughter of one of mom’s many church friends – received three offers on mom’s house with 48 hours. We took the third offer and closed on the house a month later.

We began cleaning out mom’s house before my recent two-week trip to Ireland. We being my three sisters – Gayle, Jan, and Lori – my nieces (Lori’s grown children) Shauna and Jessie, Jan’s partner Wyatt, and Shauna’s and Jessie’s respective boyfriends Jason and Michael, and me.

After I returned from my trip and after Lori had brought mom back to the house for a final sweep for things she would need at Lori’s house, we switched into house-emptying high gear. Fortunately, the guy who bought the house – and had been amazed at how well mom had maintained her house all these decades since the house was built – allowed us ten days after he’d become to new owner to finish cleaning out mom’s things.

Which, this past weekend, we finally finished doing!

Aside from emptying six rooms full of furniture – much of it, as well as the nearly-new washer and dryer, mercifully hauled away by my mom’s pastor or by the operator of the furniture bank where my mom worked as a volunteer for several years – we unearthed all manner of stuff while clearing out mom’s house:

  • Multiple closets stuffed with no-longer-fitting clothes, no-longer-worn shoes (including a pair of bowling shoes that mom probably hadn’t used for over thirty years), shelves full of frayed towels and no-longer-needed bed linens, an antique (and still working!) vacuum cleaner with a crumbling box full of clunky plastic attachments, and of course tons of empty wire and plastic clothes-hangers and umpteen zillion plastic bags (each bag carefully folded into a tiny little square!).
  • Dresser drawers full of no-longer-used scarves and multiple containers full of costume jewelry.
  • Miscellaneous detritus like a collection of scratched-up LPs from multiple music eras (everything from mom’s collections of Mario Lanza to Lori’s The Best of Bread).
  • Bins and boxes of hundreds of loose photos spanning three generations of Goughs and Gaddys.
  • Bookcases crammed with everything from old books (in mom’s case, an impressive array of tomes by Billy Graham and others of his religious persuasion), to back issues of Graphology Magazine (that my mom had for some reason decided to keep for the past thirty years after helping clear the house in Arkansas that her mom had lived in for many decades), to boxes of old checks, at least a half-dozen decks of playing cards, a dozen eyeglass cases, a bag of embroidery thread and cross-stitch patterns.
  • Dozens of framed original oil paintings (my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandmother, and one of my great-aunts were self-taught painters), multiple macramé wall hangings, and vase after vase of plastic flower arrangements.
  • A kitchen full of Corell dishware, untold numbers of dented aluminum pots and pans, and a refrigerator and cabinet full of food that had to be disposed of.
  • An attic chock-full of decaying strings of ancient Christmas tree lights, tree ornaments, and a half-dozen manger scenes; dozens of empty cardboard boxes and gift-wrapping supplies; two huge bags of plastic hair curlers; disintegrating boxes full of all manner of paraphernalia that had at some point figured in our family’s history: birth certificates, five kids’ worth of report cards from grade school, high school trophies and yearbooks, kiddie art projects long since removed from the refrigerator door, sixty years’ worth of saved-up letters and Mother’s Day cards.
  • A basement harboring (among other things) an old cast-iron bedstead that one of her children (moi) had stored there since the late 1970s, a lifetime’s worth of of no-longer-needed gardening tools, my grandmother’s gigantic oak office desk we’d moved from Arkansas (and that I’d painted purple during the years I’d used it in my own houses), etc.
  • Six rooms and sixty years worth of knickknacks.

(You get the picture.)

(Not that my own, much smaller house isn’t crammed full of even more Stuff than was in my mom’s house – and I can’t justify my own Accumulations with scarcity-based habits spawned by being raised during the Great Depression. One of the upshots of this recent house-emptying experience is that one of my New Year’s Resolutions is going to be removing at least one item from my own attic every week for the rest of my life. I’ve done the math: If I live to be the age my mom is now, my attic will be empty!)

At any rate, in addition to the challenge of coordinating multiple siblings’ schedules to assemble enough manpower to accomplish our task, we had to summon the resolve and energy to wade through, sort, and dispose of All Mom’s Stuff.

There were five major sorts:

  • Things mom might need or, for sentimental reasons, might want to keep with her at Lori’s house.
  • Things mom either no longer wanted, no longer needed, or that there is no room to store at Lori’s, but that one of her adult kids could use: household tools, a never-used roasting pan, the car mother can no longer safely drive, etc.
  • Things we could donate – either to specific individuals or to a thrift store.
  • Things that could be, should be, or must be taken to a dumpster.

For most people, including my mom, the process of moving from the place she’s lived for almost six decades – despite whatever benefits might result from such a move – is inevitably experienced as a diminishment. (I don’t do so well with change myself, and certainly wouldn’t want to move, especially if I were 89 years old, out of my own house – which I’ve lived in it for less than half of how long my mom has lived in hers.) Much to her children’s surprise, mom seems to be coping pretty well with this major and much-dreaded upheaval in her living circumstances.

For those doing the house-emptying – especially when those people are the offspring of the house’s owner – the process was not only time- and labor-intensive but strewn with nostalgic flashbacks and wince-inducing discoveries. Certain objects suddenly morphed into psychological land-mines, and some of our excavations rekindled long-forgotten memories. To pick only one among dozens of examples, until I ran across of a clutch of letters my dad wrote to my mom from Chicago, I’d forgotten he had, long before their divorce, temporarily moved there to work for a while.

If, like me,  you are a former librarian and an archive-minded sentimentalist, emptying the house where one’s mother has lived for almost six decades included several satisfying rescues of ancient artefacts, like rediscovering in an old shoebox the letters I wrote home during my college years, and the letters my mom had written to her mother when my grandmother was still alive.

The emptying of the house on Cloverhurst Drive was particularly fraught for my youngest sister, Lori, as it was the only house she’d ever lived in as a child and as a teenager; the rest of us have memories of living in other houses before we moved to the one in East Point.

For me, the most difficult thing to leave behind was not anything inside mother’s house but saying goodbye to her yard. The house sits on a corner lot with a big side yard – the site of countless softball, dodge-ball, badminton, and volleyall games. The side yard also contains several trees climbed by each of Marge Gough’s children and grandchildren. As for the front and back yards: some of the two-dozen pine trees surrounding mom’s house were once small enough for us kids to jump over the tops of; they are now towering over the house on Cloverhurst Drive. Underneath those pine trees (whose roots had eventually wrecked my mom’s asphalt driveway), my mother had planted scores of azaleas (including a half-dozen native varieties) that she had nurtured over the decades into huge plants.

When we had finally packed up the last box – every one of our vehicles stuffed to the gills with bags and boxes destined for “the Goodwill” or for the dumpster – we stood on mom’s carport and drank a toast to all the pleasant (and all the not-so-pleasant) memories of Cloverhurst Drive. I had no problem then ritually removing the American flag that mom had long displayed in honor of her relatives (including two brothers and several uncles) who had served in the military, but I couldn’t bring myself to dismantle the bird-feeder in mom’s yard. I just wanted to leave behind something that visibly marked my mom’s long residence on that street.

Our periodic gatherings during the past fifty years at the house on Cloverhurst Drive for birthdays and holidays – including gatherings that at various points included the respective spouses or former spouses or partners of mom’s grown kids – became less frequent after Mike and his wife Inice and their recently married daughter Erin moved to Oregon over twenty years ago, and after Gayle and Lori eventually moved out of the Atlanta area into different towns in north Georgia. Since then, we’ve been celebrating fewer birthdays together on Cloverhurst Drive and for several years now the holiday family gatherings (with or without Mike and Inice and Erin) have been happening at Gayle’s (for Thanksgiving) and at Lori’s (for Christmas).

Of the group photos of all five of Marge’s kids that I have on hand, most of them were taken at the house – or, more often, in the yard – on Cloverhurst Drive.

another-gough-siblings-on-cloverhurst-outdoors10192016_0000

gough-siblings-on-cloverhurst-outdoors10192016_0000

gough-siblings-on-cloverhurst-indoors10192016_0000

During an early phase of the house-emptying process, Lori took a few photos of Mom’s final visit to her house on Cloverhurst:

another-lori-photo-of-mom-on-her-front-porch-at-cloverhurst

lori-photo-of-mom-saying-goodbye-to-3158-cloverhurst

And here’s mom at her new abode, making friends with Lexie, Lori’s dog and Marge’s companion during the day while Lori is working:

loris-photo-of-mom-in-her-new-digs-and-her-newest-friend

We’re all hoping Marge is feeling less stressed out in her new living quarters, that she will come to enjoy some of the benefits of no longer being responsible for the upkeep of a large and maintenance-intensive property, will eventually meet some new friends at a church close to where she now lives in north Georgia, and will get to see her grown children and growing grandchildren more often than when Marge lived in East Point. Meanwhile, Marge’s kids are definitely feeling relieved that their elderly mother is now situated in a safer, if less familiar, environment.

 

 

Chihuly. At night. In a garden.

abg-photo-of-chihuly

Earlier this year I finally forked over the hefty membership fee for becoming a member of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. When the ABG decided to allow its members free entry into its “Chihuly Nights” exhibit (rather than charging us members extra, like the Garden charges extra for parking), I decided to check out the exhibit, which I’d previously seen during the daylight hours. I particularly wanted to see how the Chihuly sculptures at night compared to the Garden’s “Holiday Lights” show, which I enjoyed three years ago.

The sculptures of Dale Chihuly are worth a visit any time, but they’re especially impressive lit up at night. The photo above is from the Garden’s website; I took the following photos with my iPhone camera:

chichuly-and-october-mantel-002

chichuly-and-october-mantel-006

chichuly-and-october-mantel-007

chichuly-and-october-mantel-008

chichuly-and-october-mantel-014

chichuly-and-october-mantel-015

chichuly-and-october-mantel-016

chichuly-and-october-mantel-017

chichuly-and-october-mantel-021

chichuly-and-october-mantel-025

chichuly-and-october-mantel-028

Lots better than these photos is the video of these sculptures at Chihuly’s website.

If you live in or near Atlanta and plan to see these amazing glass sculptures yourself, better hurry: “Chihuly Nights” closes at the end of October.

A Second Trip to Ireland

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-042

A gaggle of long-time friends who two years ago rented a canal boat and a villa in southern France decided we wanted to do something similar this year in Ireland.

So, mid-September, off we went. For some of us , this was a first trip to Ireland; for others, including me, it was our second trip together there (although my first trip to Ireland, four years ago, was mostly to the southwestern coast). This time Kris, who was on both trips, went over a week earlier than the rest of us so she could attend an annual Matchmaker’s Festival and to do some genealogy research. Kris also skipped the boat rental phase of the trip (week #1) and joined us for the house-renting/day-tripping  part (week #2). Joyce and Walter also opted out of the boat rental week, but they stayed in a town near where the rest of us rented the house.

The Boat Trip

Because Ireland’s canal system hasn’t been spruced up with amenities for tourists to the extent that the canals in England and France have been, we opted for cruising down the Shannon River instead of navigating one of Ireland’s canals.

We decided to pilot the boat ourselves, as we had on our previous boat-renting adventures. The boat we rented for the Shannon was huge – it sleeps eight people, even though there were only six of us aboard. We used the same excellent company we’d rented our boat from in France LeBoat.

le-boat-photo

The experience of maneuvering this large vessel down a river was very different from merely mooring it anywhere we might want to stop, as we did in the canals of England and France. Also, like all canals, the Shannon has several locks that must be navigated into and out of in addition threading our way under the river’s bridges and parking our gigantic vessel each night into a narrow slot in a crowded marina!

boat-in-a-lock-photo-by-randall

map-of-boat-route

We started our week-long cruise down the Shannon at Carrick-on-Shannon, heading downstream toward Portumna. Although we stopped at several towns along the way, we spent the most time in in Athelone, the largest town in the area and located about mid-way between where we started and our intended destination.

ireland-2016-photos-by-cal-from-iphone-013

On the bridge in Athelone, with our boat moored with numerous others in the background.

our-rented-boat-moored-in-athlone

Out boat in Athlone, where we moored it for several days.

For me, the scenic highlight of the river cruise was our post-Athlone stop at the ruins of Clonmacnoise, the site of a large and famous medieval monastery, located directly on the river and far from any visible towns. We spent a leisurely afternoon there wandering around the site, having lunch in the tea shoppe there, and taking photos.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-024

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-018

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-013

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-008

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-002

Resuming our course down the Shannon, our self-piloted river cruise was abruptly cut short on our next-to-last day when one of our pilots (it doesn’t matter who – it could’ve been any of us amateurs!), while trying to dock the boat in a town where we wanted to spend the night, broke the boat’s propeller! (Note to self: piloting a huge boat through the unmarked shallows of a flowing river is much trickier than piloting a smaller boat down a uniformly narrow and uniformly deep canal!) The boat company sent a rescue team (aka “Connor”) to tow us to the next town by commandeering another boat piloted by another (and not very happy) group of tourists..

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-027

Our propeller-less boat being towed toward the next marina.

We never got to Portumna: instead, we spent the night on our disabled boat in Banagher where our boat had been towed. The following very rainy morning, our rescuers hauled our boat out of the river to replace the propeller, and we bundled ourselves and our considerable collection of (somewhat soggy) luggage into a taxi to be driven back to Athlone. There we picked up our rental cars and headed for the west coast of Ireland for the second week of our trip.

The House Rental and the Road Trips

The house we rented as our road-trip base for week #2 is located at the end of a winding quarter-mile-long driveway off the highway that runs through Ballintubber, a tiny rural village in the countryside of County Mayo, about halfway between Galway and Sligo.

gate-to-the-rental-house-photo-by-kris

house-we-rented-photo-by-kris

Although the surrounding countryside was suitably pastoral, the house itself is a large, modern, comfortable structure that – especially compared to the place we had rented in Gordes, France two years ago – is decidedly non-quaint. But we certainly enjoyed settling into our spacious accommodations and the convenience of preparing breakfasts and dinners there (vs. doing that on a boat).

another-photo-of-the-gang-minus-kris-at-the-house-rental-kitchen-table-photo-by-kris

some-of-the-gang-at-the-rental-house-table-photo-by-kris

Our numerous day trips from Ballintubber were often to destinations along the coast – via the glorious countryside and tiny villages in Connemara.

We also ventured several hours south of Galway, to make our obligatory visit to Ireland’s most visited outdoor spot, the Cliffs of Moher.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-047

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-046

Ireland’s Tourist-Promoting Powers That Be have signposted the country’s most scenic network of coastal roads the “Wild Atlantic Way,“and some of us spent a good deal of jaw-dropping time driving through and stopping along those extremely narrow, extremely windy, and extremely scenic roads. Among, them, the “Sky Road” beyond Clifden:

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-043

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-039

…and the coastal roads of Achill Island:

another-achill-island-via-walter

achill-island-coastline-from-walter

achill-island-photo-via-walter

All of us also spent time – at different times, and some of us more time than others – exploring Westport, the largest town near the rental house.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-049

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-055

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-054

westport-photo-by-kris

Most of us made an excursions to the justly-popular tourist spot of Kylemore Abbey.

kylemore-abbey

joyce-at-kylemore-abbey-via-walter

The trip to Kylemore was particularly gratifying for me because Kylemore’s beautiful grounds include the only formal garden I visited in Ireland

cal-in-garden-at-kylemore-abbey-via-randall

I am also glad to have gotten to Kylemore Abbey because I later skipped an opportunity to tour with my fellow travellers Ballintubber Abbey, located within a few miles of our rental cottage.

Incidentally, the afternoon at Kylemore was the only time I got caught in a rainstorm. Kris took a photo of me pinned behind the door of a completely-mobbed bus stop at the edge of the gardens, where we all fled when the heavens opened:

cal-at-kylemore

The Final Days: Dublin

Though some of us were there at slightly different times than the others, all of us spent the final days of our Ireland vacation in Dublin, which now ranks as one of my favorite cities in Europe.

Four of us, including me, stayed at the conveniently-located and excellently-managed (if somewhat overpriced) Kilronan House.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-081

Dublin’s medieval Christ Church Cathedral, where I listened to the choir singing during Sunday mass.

Some Particularly Memorable Ireland Moments

  • The afternoon we explored the town of Cong, including the ruins of its abbey…

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-034

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-028

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-029

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-032

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-038cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-037

  • Driving through the countryside along the lakes on either side of Cong:

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-058

  • The hour or so that Randall and I spent gazing out over one of the beaches on Achill Island:

cal-sitting-near-beach-on-achill-island

  • Walking around Westport, shopping with Kris – and taking a quick peek inside what’s got to be one of the most congenially-sited public libraries I’ve ever seen:

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-057

  • My impromptu visit with a local calligrapher, who happens to live near the house we rented (and who happens to be the sister-in-law of the rental house’s owner).
  • The final day of the house-renting/day-tripping portion of the trip. I spent that morning exploring the mostly-Victorian architecture of the town of Sligo.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-067

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-066

After my morning in the town, I spent the afternoon gaping at the gorgeous countryside surrounding Sligo, which the tourist authorities have dubbed “Yeats Country.”

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-079

ireland-2016-photos-by-cal-from-iphone-035

I knew very little about Yeats before my trip, and still don’t know much about him, other than realizing in the middle of my trip that he had written one of my favorite poems.)

Highlights of my day in Yeats’s Country:

  • Stumbling upon an exhibit in Sligo’s town hall about Yeats’s life.
cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-069

The church at the cemetary in Drumcliff where Yeats’s grave is located

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-070

Doors to the church in the cemetery where Yeats is buried.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-071

View from Yeats’ gravesite.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-068

View from the edge of the graveyard where Yeats is buried.

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-073

  • Driving many, many, many miles down a one-lane, incredibly curvy – and blissfully scenic – country road to a spot on Lough [Lake] Gill where I could get a good look at the tiny island of Innisfree that Yeats once owned and wrote a famous poem about.

innisfree

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-074

The view from the parking lot at the Glencar Waterfall is as bucolic as anyone could wish for:

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-077

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-082

  • Locating the building in Merrion Square where Oscar Wilde spent his childhood. and finding the statue of Oscar in the park across the street.

wilde-statue-from-internet

  • My long-looked-forward-to visit to the Old Library at Trinity College, where I (after waiting in line for at least an hour) I finally laid eyes on the Book of Kells (which, by the way, was created by monks in Scotland: long story). My encounter with the Book of Kells was for some reason a bit disappointing; more exciting for me was reading the inspiring words of the library’s rare copy of the 1916 Easter Uprising Proclamation. However, spending a half-hour inside the Long Room of the Old Library was the opposite of disappointing. (Although I was shocked to learn that the library’s famous and gorgeous barreled wooden ceiling was part of a 19th-century renovation – the original ceiling was flat and made of plaster!)

long_room_interior_trinity_college_dublin_ireland_-_diliff

  • A final Especially Memorable Trip Moment had nothing to do with any scenery or architectural or cultural or culinary wonder. Instead, it was the moment when I retrieved my much-used down jacket (a Christmas present last year from my friend Harvey) from where I’d inadvertently left it at the Dublin airport’s security checkpoint!

(Confession: Losing valuable objects while traveling abroad is not unusual for me. On a six-month backpacking trip with Harvey to Europe in 1983, I left my passport in the dresser drawer of a hostel in Lisbon – something I didn’t discover until the next day, when we were hundreds of miles away. On a trip to Italy with Larry a decade ago, I left behind in our rental car my camera – and therefore all our photos from our trip. I can’t remember what I left behind on my trip to Mexico three  years ago, but surely I came back to Atlanta minus something. In Italy two years ago, I left behind on a bus my iPhone. And on my way back home last year from a trip to Costa Rica, I left a another jacket Harvey had given me ten years ago and that I had worn almost every day since buying my motor scooter. Although I was lucky in retrieving at the last minute in Dublin the jacket I’d left behind while checking through airport security, what I ended up leaving behind in Ireland – although, fortunately, not until I was able to use it every day on the sometimes-chilly boat trip – was a really nice wool neck-warmer that my thoughtful sister Gayle had given me specifically for this trip.)

Chief Disappointment

Aside from the sad fact that I will apparently never convince the people I otherwise enjoy spending time with to leave behind their electronic devices when travelling in exotic climes, the only major regret I have about my second trip to Ireland is that – apart from a few street musicians and some recordings playing in a few tourist shops (and, rather irritatingly, in the breakfast room of our Dublin hotel) – I heard not a single note of Irish music!

This disappointment is completely my own fault: I was unwilling to schlep out to any of the plentiful Irish pubs at 10pm, when the music in all Irish pubs apparently begins. The one time that I visited a pub at night – visiting, in fact, the world’s oldest pub, Sean’s Bar, in Athlone – I left after a boisterous conversation with a bunch of friendly Germans we’d previously met along the river, but before the musicians began playing and/or singing.I did, however, have the pleasure of hearing plenty of Gaelic spoken in the pubs where we ate lunch along the Western coast.

Some General Reflections

  • The people of Ireland are the country’s most memorable feature. No matter where we were in Ireland, we encountered unusually friendly, cheerful, helpful, sweet people, every single one of them somehow able – no matter how brief or superficial the encounter – to display his/her sardonic sense of humor. (And the men of Ireland – quite a few of them red-headed and blue-eyed – are very handsome; their accents making them even more swoon-worthy. Speaking of Irish men, guess what Randall and I missed by coming to Ireland a week too early:

cals-ireland-2016-photos-from-camera-044

  • The scenery of Ireland lives up to its reputation. As does its reputation for narrow, curvy (but, hey, very scenic!) roads. Actually, I found Ireland’s though very narrow and very curvey, to be in extraordiarily good repair. We encountered narry a single pothole in hundreds of miles of driving! On the other hand, I don’t think I ever saw, in that week of driving, a completely dry roadway! Although the rain never seems to fall for very long, it rains often: the roads – and most of the grass – seem eternally wet. But then, that’ presumably why so much of Ireland is so dog-gone green!

kris-photo-of-white-horse-in-green-green-ireland

  • Although the scenery along the Shannon River is beautiful – and eerily deserted, in general I found the scenery along the canals in England and France to be more enchanting and varied.
  • The oddest thing for me about traveling around Ireland, at least via rented boat and via rented car – and regardless of whether one is wandering around rural Ireland or in the coastal areas or floating down the river flowing through Ireland’s interior –   is how seldom you see any Irish people! During our boat trip and during our many drives, I rarely saw anyone out walking along the road, working in their yards, or hanging out on the streets of the smaller towns. Many of the roads we traveled were completely deserted (with the exception of an occasional tour bus roaring into view from around some hidden curve). Yes, there are plenty of pedestrians to be seen in the larger towns (a fourth of the island’s populaton live in Ireland live in Dublin, something very obvious while you’re there), but the rural landscapes are extraordinarily empty spaces, as well as beautiful ones.
  • If you like looking at sheep, Ireland is the place to go!

ireland-2016-photos-by-cal-from-iphone-025

  • Ditto rainbows. Saw more of those in Ireland in two weeks than I’ve seen in a whole lifetime of living in the United States!

ireland-2016-photos-by-cal-from-iphone-023

  • If, like I do, you like looking at water – lakes, rivers, ponds, coastlines – Ireland’s got lots of it. Some of my favorite drives were the ones around Ireland’s plentiful lakes. They are all so amazingly unspoiled by development of any kind.
  • The food. Oh my goodness, so delicious! (Only two disappointing meals in our entire two weeks!) The seafood chowders alone are almost worth a trip to Ireland. And then there are the “full Irish breakfasts” we’ll remember.

what-kris-had-for-breakfast-many-days-photo-by-kris

  • I need to learn more about the history of Ireland. What little I know of it is so very, very sad. Centennial-celebrating reminders of the 1916 Easter Rebellion were ubiquitous during our trip. As with Irish history in general, I know precious little of details about this event – although I’ve long been aware of the prolonged and relentless, indefensibly brutal treatment of Ireland and the Irish by the British.

Ireland is a country I could imagine re-visiting indefinitely. It is small enough to make getting around relatively convenient (either by car or, as Kris found, even by public transport), yet varied enough scenery-wise to make you want to explore every part of this amazing island. I still haven’t set foot in the far northern or far southern areas of Ireland, but look forward to seeing their natural and cultural wonders some day. And Dublin alone deserves multiple visits.

As I’ve done in a few other places abroad where I’ve traveled (Italy, England, Greece, and France), I spent part of this trip fantasizing moving to Ireland. The Irish Tourist Board has thoughtfully provided me with twenty-one reasons for doing that.  Except for the excessive rainfall, these reasons are mighty compelling!

Notes on the photos: They aren’t all mine. Some of them were taken by my fellow travelers: Randall Cumbaa, Royce Hodge, Martha Hodge, Kris Kane, Joyce Purcell, Walter Purcell, Nancy Ward, and Robert Ward. I’ll be eventually be inserting additional photos they took. The hyperlinks to the place names mentioned in this blogpost, as well as the hyperlinks to Sean’s Bar and the Kilronan House, will lead you to images of those places that are posted on the Internet, which is also where I found one of the photos of our boat, the Oscar Wilde statue, Innisfree Island, the Long Room in Trinity College’s Old Library, and (below) the NASA photo and the map of Ireland. The internet is also the source of the images you’ll see if you click on the hyperlinks to the Book of Kells, the 1916 Easter Rebellion, and the Easter Rebellion Proclamation. If you decide to click on only one of the hyperlinks to look at the images, click on the images for “Yeats Country” if you want to get a sense of why I loved visiting this country so much.

nasa-photo-of-ireland

ireland-map