The Beauty of Book Clubs

Expanding my horizons

Hello Friend,

One of the reasons why some do not like joining book clubs is that they are not too keen on having someone else choose a book, expect them to read it, and then to have to finish it within a certain time.

Those are precisely the reasons why I like being in a book club.

I am a member of two book clubs that meet once every month. One is hosted by the Stow-Munroe Falls Public Library (I am very fortunate to live within ten minutes of two great libraries), and the other by a local teacher. One meets in the library and the other in a restaurant.

The process of choosing what we read is similar in both clubs; members make suggestions and the group votes on what selection we will read. The flavor of the discussions differs somewhat because of the different venues, but each place has its own appeal; the library is quiet with the focus being on the book we are discussing, while the more casual restaurant setting allows for deviations from topic as we order food and drink, observe other patrons, and have our chat move to more personal levels at times. Both clubs feature all genres.

I deliberately did not choose membership in book clubs that are more specialized, such as those dedicated to crime or the classics or history and biographies, because I wanted to experience a greater variety in topics.

Mystery, suspense, crime, is what I gravitate towards. As a result, I often enclose myself in reading cocoons, where, once I find an author I like, I read only his or her books until I exhaust all available titles. It happened with Tess Gerritsen, Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben, and most recently, Lee Child. And the same happened with Richard Paul Evans who is not exactly a mystery writer. As you can imagine, this pattern of behavior leaves me little exposure to other fine books and authors when I alone choose my reading material.

That is where the book clubs come in. They help me break out of whatever cocoon I’m wrapped up in and free me to explore other genres. If I were not a member of these two groups, I would not have come to know the delightful, quirky characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or of the intense rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse in The Last Days of Night, or of the experiences of war brides in Ship of Brides. I am enriched by the variety of books I am exposed to as a member of a general focus book club.

Besides the variety of topics that are covered, there is also the variety of perspectives that I am privileged to hear. I am usually surprised by someone else’s revelation of a point that I did not see before, or of how someone relates to a topic in a different way from me because of the differences in our lives. The discussions by a cross section of people with different experiences and perspectives enrich the sessions, and lead to a more in-depth knowledge of the work.

The time constraints imposed by book clubs help keep me disciplined. I am less likely to be tempted to watch every episode of the latest blockbuster shows on television back-to-back. I can ration my viewing to a few episodes per day and leave time for reading. It is a win-win situation for me.

The social aspects of getting together to discuss a book that we all read cannot be underestimated. I look forward each month to getting together with like-minded folk to share our thoughts as we indulge in a common interest. It is even more exciting when our views oppose that of our clubmates, but then we share our reasoning and perhaps raise questions that were not apparent before, all of which allows us a deeper understanding of the books we cover.

And if there is a book that one just cannot get into after several tries, no one compels you to finish it. You just wait and hope that the next selection would be more riveting.

Million-Dollar Paintings

Would you want one hanging in your home?

Hello Friend,

I would most certainly NOT want a million-dollar painting hanging in my home.

Now before you think I’m cuckoo or looney or batty, please hear me out.

I could not sleep a wink if I had anything that expensive in my home, but since I cannot afford such that is a moot point.

For argument’s sake though, let us say I just happened to acquire a priceless piece which now hangs in my parlor. I believe I would have my household tiptoe around it, I would be on edge every time it was dusted, I would be afraid that if anyone banged on the wall too hard that it would fall, and that the glass would break, and the shards would cut the canvas and then the priceless item would be worthless. Instead of bragging, I might tell my friends and neighbors who happened to see it that it was just a very-well-done copy, complete with a dismissive fake laugh that in essence says oh, that old thing. One cannot be too careful owning such a property.

Having a treasure like that in my home would make me ill instead of bring me pleasure. If I did not end up with ulcers, I would likely have a nervous breakdown. Gosh, I won’t even be able to brag about owning something so valuable for fear of having it stolen. And the insurance on that thing; can you imagine?

Such a painting might very well end up hidden in my attic, and decades later when people are cleaning out my home they will find it, and have it appraised, and news all over the world would cover the story of the old woman who had a priceless gem that she abandoned in her attic. Then there would be speculation and documentaries about how and why such a piece ended up there. Did she not know its worth? Was it cursed? Did it remind her of something terrible? Investigative reporters would be all over that.

No one would guess that that woman was just afraid of having it damaged, or having her family suffer if some horrible person decided to steal it.

The most likely scenario, however, would be that I, being me, would let a museum have it at a fair price. But then, I, being me, would never own such a thing in the first place.

It does make me wonder though, why others choose to have such treasures in their homes. Of course, if one can afford that level of luxury then I suppose they would have the best security systems and guards to protect their possessions and their families. But I still would not be able to relax into peaceful slumber, just knowing that having that piece of art around puts my family in danger.

I have seen enough crime shows and read of countless real-life heists to know that no type of security is foolproof. There are ways of getting guards to co-operate, through money or threats on their own or their family’s lives. And there are people with the know-how to hack security systems, even remotely, to disable the alarms.

So why? Would it not be better to have rare or priceless works of art displayed in museums where the public could enjoy them? Could it be considered selfish to keep elegant artwork in places where only a select few would have the privilege of viewing it?

Our museums afford the public the opportunity to engage in experiences that they otherwise would not have access to, such as to admire and study the work of fine artists. It would also be a great public service if those who own such pieces could arrange with museums to have them on display with a plaque informing the public that it is able to enjoy that work through the generosity of the benefactor.

And that generous benefactor in turn would have the gift of being able to relax into peaceful slumber.

Brain Development

 I learn how to create a blog site

Hello Friend,

The fact that you are reading this means that I was more successful at learning how to set up a blog site than I was in learning how to swim.

One of the items on my bucket list was to create a blog. I plan to share areas of my life or my thoughts and experiences that others might find informative, entertaining, or perhaps even inspiring. I have now checked that item off the list, but have added, Be diligent in updating blog regularly. I have the best of intentions to do just that.

Our local library, Hudson Library & Historical Society, offered free classes each week for four weeks to teach website set-up for those who are interested in conducting online business, and to teach the mechanics of setting up a blogging site for those of us who want to share our experiences with readers everywhere.

The library contracted with a professional website development company, Gigalearn, to provide instruction. The classes were top-notch. Since I have come this far that is confirmation that our instructor was highly efficient, besides being a pillar of patience. She had about twenty-five students under her wing, each at a different level of experience, and with different needs. One visual artist wanted to set up an online gallery to showcase her work. Although this did not apply to what I wanted to do now, I learned useful information that I might need to use at some point.

I believe I was one of the students with the least experience, so if you decide to pursue similar learning know that you stand an excellent chance of succeeding.

The classes were held online because of safety concerns. This is not my favorite method of learning, but it worked well. I also practiced a lot and that helped me improve.

I am excited to have this outlet to share what I have learned, what I do, and my thoughts on various topics. I would love to hear from you also, so please feel free to leave a comment.

I am grateful to both the Hudson Library & Historical Society and my instructor from Gigalearn, Sarah Kepple, for making this possible.

Best wishes to all my classmates in their endeavors!

Guilt-Free Thanksgiving

For those of us who are not Martha Stewart

Hello Friend,

“The turkey is dry.”

“The gravy has lumps. The mashed potatoes too.”

“The stuffing is soggy.”

“The mac and cheese from the box tastes better.”

“What is this? I like the cranberry sauce from the can.”

No, no one has ever said those words to me. Folks are usually more polite, especially around Thanksgiving. But I know that I overcook turkey; the whole salmonella business you know, one can never be too careful. And there is usually a lack of consistency with the other foods even though I swear I do the same thing every time. There are times when some dishes will turn out perfectly but not the next.

My family was never fussy about where Thanksgiving food came from as long as it tasted good. I was the one who put pressure on myself to make it a homemade production. My turkey never looked golden brown like I saw on TV; it looked more like a turkey that went tanning with clothes on, some parts were golden, some parts were pale.

I knew that my children loved the mac and cheese from Boston Market, and that their birds were superior to any I made, as were their mashed potatoes and gravy. I am not sure exactly how the decision was made but one year we ordered the main Thanksgiving dishes from Boston Market, and I made some additional sides.

The meal was a hit, and we continued doing the same year after year. I did feel guilty though, and somewhat inadequate at not being able to prepare a perfect traditional Thanksgiving feast from scratch like I was sure every other mother did. So, for me the pressure of Thanksgiving persisted, even though I did not cook most of the meal. The logical part of my brain said it was okay since my family enjoyed what was served, but the emotional part was a nag.

Then relief came. The back cover of the July 2005 edition of Reader’s Digest featured an illustration by artist C.F. Payne titled Thanksgiving. It was part of the Our America series and depicted a family opening brown paper bags of Thanksgiving food that looked very much like the bags from Boston Market. You can view it here .  Phew! I was not alone. The pressure was off. The artist may have spoofed Norman Rockwell’s much-spoofed Freedom from Want painting that features a traditional family gathering with homemade food seen here .

There are those of us who are blessed with the ability to prepare a perfect multicourse meal. Not all of us are able to carry that out, but each of us have our own unique talents that we can be proud of.

As Payne showed us, our America had changed from the time Rockwell created Freedom from Want, and it had changed even before that. It is likely that once upon a time women or men felt guilty if they did not hunt, kill, pluck, and dress their own turkey, as was done for generations before, once their local butcher took care of that. Maybe there are those who feel badly if they get a frozen instead of a fresh bird, and do not spend days on brining it like grandma did. Judging from the increasing number of supermarkets that offer whole pre-cooked holiday meals one can conclude that more families are letting experts handle the cooking for the benefit of all. It seems to me that this is just a natural progression of the holiday. Those who want to prepare the entire meal themselves, and can do so well, kudos to you; and those of us who are less gifted in that department should not internally punish ourselves for lacking that particular skill.

I may have been a little ahead of my time, or maybe I was keeping up with the times without realizing it, but the end result is that it works. Family and friends come together to remember all the things in their lives that they are thankful for, everyone enjoys the food they are served, and the hosting party does not worry about whether the dishes turned out right. Sounds like a perfect gathering to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

A New Hobby

Swimming lesson number One

Hello Friend,

Hmmmmm. Was this someone’s idea of a joke? This was supposed to be a heated pool. The sign says so. The water says no. It’s just before nine o’clock. My swimming lesson starts in ten minutes, and I don’t think this pool will be warm enough in time.

I withdraw my toe from the water, the big one on the right, my testing toe, and look around. In the sectioned off other half of the pool a woman was doing laps, another tread water, and a man’s head bolted out of the water at equal intervals as he crossed to the other side.

I revised my thinking. Someone has a seriously different idea than me of what a heated pool should feel like.

I decided to learn to swim since I now have the time, being retired and all. I have never learned how despite living right next to a river, in which we played, when I was a child. Maybe we were not allowed to try to swim because there were piranha and water snakes in those waters. At that time, we lived in Orealla, an Amerindian village in South America.

The presence of those critters did not matter to the Amerindians because the river was an integral part of their lives. It provided water for cooking, drinking, washing and it was how they got from one place to the next. Swimming was second nature to them, but not for us city transplants.

This spa-like pool is in a Health and Wellness center. Its clear water is housed within Caribbean blue tiles, aiming to give the illusion of being at the beach no doubt. No murky water, no piranha, no snakes, no slimy things that bump your leg and make you scream. Thank goodness for civilization.

I had all the proper equipment: swimsuit, goggles, swim cap and pool noodles. I also had the will to swim.

It took me many, many minutes to get to chest height in that heated water. The young woman who taught me (tried to teach me would be a better phrase) just slipped right in without even a gasp.

I watched her graceful moves as she pushed off the wall with her streamlined body and showed me what I was supposed to do. My flapping to stay afloat and keep my head above water stood in stark contrast to her. Swim boards and noodles helped a little, very little. I just prayed that there were no cameras catching all this, considering that they are everywhere these days. But if there were, then someone was having a good laugh somewhere. Maybe they would spew their coffee if they did laugh.

I found out that I do not have a tolerance for water in my nose and mouth. And the stifling feeling that goes with it. Goggles and a swim cap protected the rest of me, or it could have been worse. (How did that Little Mermaid manage with all that hair and not end up in a tangled mess?)

I have advanced to floater. I give myself an A for effort. I give my instructor a gold medal for having the patience of Job.

This is one of those cases where the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Someday I might be swimming laps and raising my head up and down in rhythm, but for now, the hot tub is my friend.

Now there’s a place where there is no question about what heated means.

Trusting Your Neighbor, Amish Style

A visit to a roadside produce stand in Amish country

Hello Friend,

The roadside stand was unpretentious. A few wooden tables of various sizes and heights, several buckets and bowls, and some bottom-side-up cardboard boxes displayed the fruit and vegetables that were for sale.

Unlike my local supermarket, there was no special lighting to enhance the polished shine of the produce, and no colorful signs to say from which exotic locale the items came from; we knew that. There was one variety of tomato, one kind of corn, and of beans and beets. No stickers with numbers to ensure that the right price would be rung up labeled the produce, and there was no “regular” price or “sale” price listed, just one number.

Nothing about the stand tried to entice one into buying anything. All the products stood there in their natural glory, some misshapen, some off color, some bruised, and some still had a dusting of soil on them.

The stand was housed in one half of a detached garage, and an Amish buggy stood beside it. There was no one around, so we called out and waited.

In the meantime, besides looking over the produce, my friend and I took time to admire the small patch of velvety cock’s comb that seemed to be randomly placed at the side of the dirt driveway. But maybe it was not random at all; perhaps they rose from the seeds that the sower sowed that landed on good ground.

After a few minutes, when no one appeared, we called again. Either the women in white bonnets whom we could see bustling about in the house did not see or hear us, or they were ignoring us. Then we noticed the handwritten sign on a can with a plastic cap that had a slit in it. It said: Please put money in here. Their business was based on trust.

We chose beans, corn, beets, and tomatoes, weighed what needed to be weighed on the old-fashioned scale in the corner, placed them in plastic bags that were kept in place by a heavy rock, rounded up the price, and put the money in the can.

It was humbling to realize that the owners of the stand placed complete trust in the strangers that stopped by. No need to check payment or to check weights. They trusted us to do the right thing and we did.

I have the feeling they may have even come out a little ahead for their trust in their neighbor, even if that neighbor was a stranger. I left feeling hopeful about humanity; that there was still a place where old fashioned values such as complete trust were yet a part of daily life. I also resolved to be more trusting and less judgmental, but I will still lock my doors

Medicare Sign-Up

I found the right place to get help

Hello Friend,

At last! I am retired and ready to tackle the things I’ve always wanted to do but never had time for when employed. Perhaps you are like me.

Before the fun starts, however, I had to navigate the complexities of signing up for health insurance. No more HR to make it simpler.

Since I turned sixty-five, I was faced with signing up for Medicare plans. Parts A and B were easy to get because the government did that automatically and mailed me my card, but I had to research Part D (which covers prescriptions), and Medicare Supplemental coverage, or Medigap insurance, as it is sometimes called.

When researching Medicare Supplemental coverage, I read that I had six months upon turning sixty-five when I was guaranteed acceptance and that preexisting conditions could not, and would not, be taken into consideration to be approved. After the initial six months I could be denied Medigap coverage if the insurer so decides. I did not want to take any chances and so I chose a plan and enrolled.

The greatest help I received in choosing a plan was from contacting SHIP for my state. SHIP stands for State Health Insurance Assistance Program and is available in all states. I obtained information on SHIP at this website, by Googling SHIP.

SHIP sent me an email with information on numerous insurers providing coverage in my state, including the prices of their plans. This was much easier than me, on my own, trying to obtain and compare prices online. When I tried to do this nearly every plan wanted my personal information before revealing their prices. I found that to be frustrating.

 I researched plan details and chose the Part D insurer and plan they offer that best fits my needs according to the medications I take. I chose Cigna and signed up online.

Similarly, I signed up online for AARP Medicare Supplemental insurance Plan G with Wellness Extras that includes gym membership and some help with dental and vision costs, and a 24/7 nurse hotline. (For more comprehensive coverage a stand-alone dental plan is also needed). The AARP site can be reached at This plan best fits my needs. Another plan may be better for you. I chose AARP because it is a company I know and trust, and they offer community rated prices, which means that the price is the same for everyone who has that policy regardless of age, and because the cost, though not the lowest, is reasonable. You need to be a member of AARP to sign up for their plans.

Now I can relax and concentrate on more exciting activities.