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Friday Night Book Club: A Russian Feast

Some books read like a symphony. They start out innocently enough, a little tug here and there to capture your ear, then they rise and float as different instruments chime in – and before you know it you’re swept away by the melody, by thunderous twists and gentle pauses, cheerful refrains and deep undertones carrying heart and mind to unexpected places.

A Gentleman in Moscow is such a book. It’s also a book that reminds me why I find the written word so magical.

In telling the story of an aristocrat under house arrest in Moscow’s finest hotel during the 1920’s – 1950’s, a world within a world is brought to mesmerizing life – a world as surprisingly large as it was obviously small, as delightful as it was touching, while offering a glimpse of Russia during a broad span of massive change  – and Amor Towles masterfully ties it all together with a steady beat of delicious writing.

Like a fine wine (or perhaps a Vodka?), there were passages so yummy I had to pause now and then to savor the flavor. Like moments in a symphony that hold you briefly but luxuriously suspended in time and space, I would find I’d stopped to relish a particularly brilliant sentence. (But, don’t worry, you won’t pause for long, because you’re already anticipating the next movement.)

A Gentleman in Moscow had all the key elements right – irresistible characters inside a beautifully written, well-crafted tale. Well done, well done.

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Friday Night Book Club

You should never read the ending of a book in the morning (kind of how you should never go to bed mad, or put sugar in herbal tea) – because what if someone comes to your door, and there you are sobbing.

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And if you’re not teary, you at least need some time to sit with it a while, linger a little, say good-bye to the characters you’ve met along the way. You need time to return to reality.

Fortunately, no one rang my doorbell when I finished reading A Man Called Ove this morning.

I didn’t expect to have so many emotions while reading this book. I didn’t expect to break out laughing. (Though I adore humor – who doesn’t? –  I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to eliciting an actual “hahahahaha!” from books or movies.) And I didn’t expect to cry. I thought it might be filled with quirky people I didn’t particularly like. Turns out, it was filled with quirky people I did like. I also liked the writer’s often tongue-in-cheek writing style – another happy surprise, and not something everyone can pull off, but something Fredrik Backman did spectacularly well. And in the end, I had to accept the fact that this book touched me deeply. For whatever reason. I loved it. And I think most people will find that they, too, will laugh and cry and feel.

………

For you book lovers out there who might like to read along virtually, my friends and I gather on the first Friday of each month. Some other Book Club books we’ve read since my last Friday Night Book Club posting (which, I confess, has been quite a while) are – in order of preference, my favorites first: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sender, The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain, The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.

I’m also reading Diana Gabaldon’s entire Outlander Series outside of Book Club, because I’m obsessed with them. Currently on book five, The Fiery Cross. And I have a long list of books on my GoodReads author page if anyone wants to connect over there.

Peace, love, happy reading.

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Dragons Be Here!

It takes a long time to make a book. Particularly challenging when your models have very large claws and tend to breathe fire. But the work is done; the wait is over – the restless beasts (and restless author/illustrator) are thrilled that their book is now out into the world.

With great pleasure I bring to you “Book of Dragons” – the third book in what has become my trilogy, of sorts, of mystical creatures. (Mermaids, then Fairies, now Dragons.) Along the way I came to know a few dragons quite well, and learned a lot from them. (They really like classical music, for one thing – who knew?) I hope you and the children you know will enjoy learning about them, too!

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I’ll keep you posted about upcoming book signings and/or events. In the meantime, you can head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy!

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"Scary Illustrations" and Other Great Reviews

Everyone likes a great review. When you’re published by a small independent publisher, you appreciate them even more. And so, I send my heartfelt thanks to all who’ve written reviews for my books over at Amazon.

I love the 5-starred ones best (of course!), but they say “no review is a bad review”, so I appreciate them all – even the one about the fairy book illustrations being scary. (That had to be my favorite “negative” review. Because, really?)

And as I’m soon to launch a new book, I’ve got books on the brain. (Well, sure, I often have books on the brain, between writing them, reading them, and designing covers for others – but today, even more so.) So I wanted to send out a nudge to anyone who’s a fan of any of my 3 current books or my mermaid toy, encouraging you to head over to Amazon and write something sweet.

It really makes a difference, and helps get more books into more hands, especially those young ones whose imaginations are so alive. Thank you dearly!

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Going Thoreau

Pond. Woods. Cabin. Pen. Paper. Laptop. Me, and piles of unfinished writings. (Right. Thoreau didn’t have a laptop, much less electricity. So let’s call it a modern-day female Thoreau of sorts.) Wind whipping through red-budded trees, ducks squawking, late afternoon sun bouncing off royal blue water, star-studded nights and a deer (or three or four) to greet you at your door. Some fresh space for the muses.

Of course I wasn’t really alone. Aside from the ducks and deer (and, apparently, bears), there were plenty of other characters for company – a couple of boys and girls, some angels, and monsters, a flying horse here and there. There were real-live actual people too, nearby but not too near, and no one making a ruckus. No cars zipping by, no leaf-blowers or tv’s blaring. Laundry could wait, dishes were few, regular life paused. Except I did miss our cats sitting on my work. (I think?)

So, that was my five-day gift to myself – a mini back-to-nature answer to the incessant chatter of works undone while I’m otherwise busy designing things like branding and book covers for my wonderful clients. A cabin in the woods. A room with a view. Pen and paper. It was both enough and not enough. Is there ever enough time, though?

We do what we can when we can with what we have – then grab on and go.

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A Plethora of P’s / #88, 89, 90, 91 & 92

proactively punctuating life with the plausible, powerful possibilities of positive thought presented through a plethora of “P’s”.

– ♥ –

#88: Plucky

saxton.P_pluckyPlucky. Such a lively little word. Even better, it means something pretty good: it’s about showing courage in the face of difficulties or danger.

Sometimes it’s okay, and even necessary, to let someone else be brave. But sometimes we need to don our own capes and be our own source of courage.

– ♥ –

#89: Penmanship

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The physical, pen-in-hand act of writing is not only a form of communication, it’s a form of self-expression; another window into the soul. There’s also the value of hand-eye coordination, thinking patterns, and better comprehension when writing things down “painstakingly” by hand (not to mention knowing how to spell and use proper grammar and punctuation without spell-check tools). Doctor’s aside (why is this?), developing good penmanship is a plus any way you look at it.

I wrote an essay on the subject of cursive writing earlier this year, prompted by news stories that penmanship may be (or already has been) eliminated from childhood school curriculums. I feel pretty strongly. If interested, you can read that here. Meanwhile, please, write on.

– ♥ –

#90: Pets

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Cats and dogs are probably the most common pets in any family, and with good reason. They provide companionship and are scientifically proven to increase our well-being. They love us, they teach us. And they make us better people by caring for something besides ourselves!

– ♥ –

#91: Pyramids

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With three equal sides, the pyramid, or triangle, is the most stable form in our world. (Example: A three-legged stool is much harder to knock over then a four-legged one) In sacred geometry*, the triad symbolizes the trinity of life, of substance, intellect, and the force that drives it; it’s the point where matter, and consciousness connect with the higher realms. And according to Plato, triangles form the basic building block of the entire universe. That’s some pretty impressive stuff about the humble pyramid shape.

And then there’s the math: There are 5 types of triangles: right triangle, equilateral triangle, isosceles triangle, obtuse triangle and acute triangle – but no matter their shape or dimensions, the sum of all three angles always adds up to 180 degrees. Nice.

*Sacred Geometry is a term used to describe patterns, shapes and forms that are part of the make up of all living things and that regularly occur in nature. It is system of universal design in which the energy of creation organizes itself into form.

– ♥ –

#92: Pickles

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When I hear the word pickle, I can’t help but think of Arlo Guthrie. (“I don’t want a pickle/ Just wanna ride on my motor-cickle…”) Now that I’ve dated myself, let’s move on.

Pickles are a flavorful, low-calorie vegetable high in vitamin K. This is good news for all the people who adore pickles, and too bad for me, as I’m only an occasional fan of pickles. The conditions have to be just right. My grandmother made her own pickles. Sweet pickles, they were called, and they were well-loved. Still, while I loved my grandmother’s home-made bread and just about everything else she made, I slithered away when the pickles were served. Same goes for pickled this and that. Pickling is clearly not my favorite flavor. It placed me in a bit of pickle to admit I didn’t like pickles. Maybe no one noticed.

 

……………………

Only 8 more Positive P’s to go!

(until next time, you can see the ongoing Plethora of P’s here)

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A Plethora of P’s / #87: Peony

proactively punctuating life with the plausible, powerful possibilities of positive thought presented through a plethora of “P’s”.

– ♥ –

#87: Peony

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Dear Peony ~ Your bloom is brief, and your heavy heads droop low under the weight of folds and folds and folds of petals – deliciously soft, intricate petals going every which way, having blossomed from tightly packed, perfectly round balls to form, perhaps (if there could by such a thing), the perfect flower – oh, how I adore your sweeping grace! You are elegance and beauty; you are divine.

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……………………

(until next time, you can see the ongoing Plethora of P’s here)

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Dear Microsoft Word: Let's Break Up.

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It’s no secret amongst my clients and colleagues – and let me preface this by saying I don’t “hate” much of anything, except maybe cheesecake (I know, I know…), and rudeness, or falling on icy steps – but sometimes I do hate Word. Microsoft Word, that is. It’s fickle. It’s not intuitive. It messes up. It can be nasty. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I tell you!

Oh, and by the way, it is not, nor was ever meant to be, a design tool. Yet millions upon millions of people use it as if it were. I do not understand this. It infuriates me.

But I “must” use it because of those millions upon millions of people who use it, some of those millions being clients of mine and it’s a useful tool for sharing information. Note: Sharing information. Words. It was intended to process words.

Instead, it’s evolved into this messy catch-all of “things it can do”, most of which are not well done, hard to find, and tend at some point to rain on its own parade by crashing. Not crash as in “crash a party”; crash as in stop functioning. Nosedive. All systems out. As in, you’re barreling along when suddenly the spinny-rainbow-wheel pops up and begins its incessant twirl round and round and round and round, often caused by a task as excruciatingly simple as cutting and pasting a paragraph from one place to another. (Maybe it just doesn’t like Macs.)

It’s not well. It’s neither fun nor savvy. It’s a frustrating blend of “tools” that make people like me crazy. People who have worked with beautifully designed software programs that do what they’re supposed to do. People who have come to expect things to “make sense” when using them. (Personal flaw: Don’t like my time wasted, I admit it.)

Because it’s not going away any time soon, we all continue to use Microsoft Word. So we can’t actually break up. It owns the world. It’s the Big Cheese of Word Processing programs.

But, why-oh-why can’t they get it right? Why can’t they make it smarter and less finicky? Why does it try so hard to be things it isn’t, and why can’t it do the things it’s meant to do with efficiency and finesse? To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if you’re going to do something or be something, be a good one.

Meanwhile, I’ll now go back and ONCE AGAIN, find the saved document remnants from my computer’s trash bin. And keep “saving saving saving” every time I dot an i or cross a t in my Word document.

Vent over.

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Some Love & Literary Candy

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Two Tulips / © Patricia Saxton

 

Ah, Cupid, Roman God of Love ~ fickle, passionate, whose darting arrows don’t always hit the target ~ every year on February 14th we celebrate you nonetheless. And we celebrate love: the language of poets, songs of the heart, threads that bind us throughout time, the essence of life itself.

While I can count a few especially thoughtful, and even romantic, Valentine’s Day experiences, yea, well, those went all wrong in the end (beware the man who writes you poetry, a friend once told me…), so instead I turn to the unscathed memories of shared Valentines from grammar school, or the hand-made kindergarten cards we gave to our parents, with big red construction paper hearts and white lace around the edges, filled with unabashed adoration. And those we give our own children, marked with a thousand x’s and o’s.

And yet, despite what might seem a dose of romantic cynicism, I am a true believer. In love. Love is everything. Every task we do, everyone word we utter, every hand we shake, is made better if there’s love in it. Love is the root. Love is the cause. Love is the purpose. Love is all.

So I welcome any reason to honor love. Let sweethearts swoon. Let the day be thick with roses and chocolates for all who’ve ever felt the exultation ~ or the sting ~ from Cupids’ arrows, all who’ve felt their heart swell, their color blush, their energy soar and their selfishness cease.

And with or without a “Valentine”, fill your hearts with love. Love for self, love for others, love for your pets, for your garden, for your books, for your bicycle, for your favorite chair. Even for the guy trying to make a left turn on a busy street. Raise up the heart quotient all around, and feel the peace that settles in when tension is replaced by unbridled love.

Celebrate love. Read some poetic literary candy. Smell a rose. Give someone a cupcake. Smile because love still exists in this mad world.

Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX), Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

 

18th Sonnet, William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

 

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43), Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

 

Love’s Philosophy, Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In another’s being mingle–
Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Week #24, 52 Weeks of Peace

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A Plethora of P’s / #81, 82, 83, 84, 85 & 86

proactively punctuating life with the plausible, powerful possibilities of positive thought presented through a plethora of “P’s”.

– ♥ –

#81: Purge

saxton.P_purgeClutter is not our friend. Clutter = chaos = confusion.

So get rid of it. Toss it. Shake it off. Wipe the slate. Clear the way. Cleanse! Have a purification ritual if you must, but do part with doesn’t serve you. “Stuff”, relationships, situations, behaviors and unproductive emotions ~ all can weigh us down or tangle us in a snarled mess.

That said, there’s no need to go for an all out, bonkers-mad purging frenzy. No need to be reckless. Even just a bit at a time feels good; enough to lighten the load.

Consider your peace of mind. We all accumulate some chaos, whether internal or external, mental or physical,  a lot or a little, and boy does it feel great to purge!

– ♥ –

#82: Plumbingsaxton.P_plumbing

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big fan of plumbing. Having traveled quite a bit, I think I can say with some confidence that here in the good ol’ USA, we have some of the best plumbing in the world. Knowing this makes me flush with pride.

It also makes me thank my lucky stars to live in modern times. Indoor plumbing didn’t come about til end of the 19th century, when its wonders were heavily promoted by London plumber Thomas Crapper. (No kidding!) According to Wikipedia: The flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596. Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778. George Jennings in 1852 also took out a patent for the flush-out toilet. In a time when bathroom fixtures were barely spoken of, plumber Thomas Crapper heavily promoted sanitary plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom.

And now you know.

 

– ♥ –

#83: Pulchritude

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Some say it was Cleopatra; some name the woman who played her part in film, Elizabeth Taylor, as the most pulchritudinous woman ever to roam the earth.

Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder and there are far too many examples of pulchritudinous women to list. And yes, the word is generally reserved for female beauty ~ but it can also apply to the physical loveliness of grand landscapes, majestic mountains, breathtaking sunrises, sunsets, and perhaps a simple, elegant rose.  …Ah, sweet pulchritude.

 

– ♥ –

#84: Pomegranate

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Move over, blueberries; the mighty pomegranate has one-upped you in the Superfruit category. Not your everyday apples and bananas, superfruits are more exotic varieties with higher than average levels of antioxidants and nutrition, and the crimson seed packs nestled inside a pomegranate’s tough skin are the latest pièce de résistance in the fruit world for both taste and nourishing goodness.

Which reminds me, I need to make some pomegranate muffins. Mmmm.

 

– ♥ –

#85: Perception

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It is not what we see, but how we view it. Not what we hear, but how we listen. Not what we sing, but how we feel it. Life is all about our perception ~ how we perceive, intuit or understand any given circumstance or subject matter. It can make the difference between a good day and a bad one, harmony or confusion, truth or uncertainty, agreement or misjudgment. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s a good idea to step back and check our point of view, and then decide if rose-colored glasses might serve us better on or off.

 

– ♥ –

#86: Ponder

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I ponder the stars, that I may feel part of this grand universe. I ponder the sea to soften my nerves. I ponder a tulip, to feel amazed at God’s artistry. I gaze into a fire and ponder the depths of my soul.

Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes not. But the pondering in and of itself is satisfying. Short or long, it takes one’s mind on a vacation from ordinary things, from problems that need solutions. Like meditation, a good ponder can leave you feeling inspired, energized and fresh.

Let your mind wander in wonder now and then. Ponder that.

 

……………………

(until next time, you can see the ongoing Plethora of P’s here)

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