Top Ten Books to Read in Autumn

Top Ten Books to Read in Autumn

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At last!! A book post! A list post!! A get-ready-for-the-best-time-of-year post!!!

As a bibliophile, nothing makes me happier than snuggling up on my couch with a cup of tea and a good book. In celebration of this best of seasons, here is my list of best books to read while the leaves turn and the pumpkins ripen.

1. Jane Eyre

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The ultimate brooding gothic tale for when the (ideally chestnut) leaves begin turning and the heather moors begin howling with a lonely, weeping wind…ahem.  This classic is so broody and atmospheric, it’s an incredible read to enjoy in autumn! Or any time of the year, as the strong female lead is an inspiration to principled (and brokenhearted) women everywhere. 

2. Dracula

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As Halloween rolls around, a good scary story wouldn’t go amiss. Be forewarned— just because this classic was published in 1897 doesn’t mean it’s for the fainthearted. I was amazed at how scary this story is! Many scenes are utterly chilling. Do yourself a favor— forgo any stories about vampires that sparkle in the sun this autumn (or ever),  and revisit this original grandaddy of all vampire tales.

3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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These are some of my all-time favorite stories. They take me back to being five years old, snuggled between my parents in their bed while my dad read these stories to us aloud. His tattered hardcover, thick as a brick, still lives on his shelved headboard. I can easily return to the sitting room of 221 B Baker Street any time of year, but there’s something particularly nostalgic and fitting about visiting our friends Holmes and Watson when the air is crisp and cool. Check out The Hound of the Baskervilles, in particular, to be transported to the spookiness of the lonely English moors. 

4. The Hobbit

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“Far over the misty mountains cold…” the dwarfish song begins. And away we go, into forests, mountains, caverns, and glens with our company of heroes. You might not be a Hobbit sitting next to a hearth fire, pipe smoke swirling around your head, ale or tea in hand, but nothing beats reading Tolkien while the shadows fall on an October evening.

5. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

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As “A Christmas Carol” is to Christmas, so too “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is to Halloween. This is another story particularly close to my heart for personal reasons. On a family trip to New York when I was eight years old, we took a day trip upstate to Tarrytown, the real-life town Sleepy Hollow was based on. We visited the little historical church and then, among riotous hardwoods exploding in breathtaking reds, oranges, and golds, we wandered the ancient graveyard (perhaps one reason why I’ve always, always adored graveyards). The caretaker greeted us, and then to our delight, treated us to an insiders-only tour of the graves, pointing out all the graves of the real-life people the characters in the story were based on, including (and most impressively), the Headless Horseman’s! I still have the photos I took with my disposable camera buried in a box somewhere. We’ve seen so many interpretations of this beloved story (indeed, the Tim Burton film makes my list of Best Films for Fall), but there’s nothing like reading it in its original form to evoke Halloweens of yore.

6. To Kill A Mockingbird

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Some might argue this isn’t actually an autumn story but a summer story, as much of the plot takes place in a sweltering courtroom in midsummer. However, anyone familiar with this story knows that its contains an undeniable back-to-school theme, as well as an…ahem, important scene…that takes place in the fall. That’s all I’ll say, although if you haven’t read this story yet, heavens, please read it immediately!

7. A Separate Peace

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For anyone who prefers a return-to-school theme rather than a Halloweeny theme, this superlative story about friendship, jealousy, and identity hits the spot, bringing the reader home to a boy’s boarding school in New England during World War II. It remains steadfastly in second place on my list of all-time favorite books (The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery is the only book that tops it for me) where it will undoubtedly remain.

8. The Moon Bridge

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This children’s story (suggested as grade five reading level) set in San Francisco during World War II might not contain pumpkins, turning leaves, or any of the classic icons of autumn, but it is a moving and beautiful book that begins with a new school year. This is a wonderful story for children and adults who don’t mind reading excellent children’s literature, and touches on friendship, war, and the U.S. Japanese internment camps of World War II in an age-appropriate way.

9. The Witches: Salem 1692

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Finally, some non-fiction! We are back to a witchy theme, though. This book, as you might have guessed, discusses the astounding and disturbing events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, a series of prosecutions and executions, fueled by rumor, hysteria and group-think, in colonial Massachusetts. The book is really interesting, and is written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Stacy Schiff. It can be a little dry at times (full disclosure, it doesn’t have outstanding reviews on Goodreads.com, and a slight textbookish-ness was the most cited reason), but I found it fascinating and heartily recommend it for history lovers.

10. A Wrinkle in Time

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This Newbery Award winning book is the first in the acclaimed Time Quintet. It literally begins: “It was a dark and stormy night.” We join the main character, Meg, who is wrapped in her quilt as we are wrapped in ours and follow her and her little brother, Charles Wallace (and many other delightful characters), through time and space on a deep, soul-stirring rescue mission of love. All books in this series are good for the colder months…even “Many Waters,” set in the Judean desert. Maybe save that one for the dead of winter, when you need warming up!

Hope you get a chance to enjoy any of these great autumn reads this season. I’m sure there are many books that could be added to this list, but I’m definitely going to be diving into a few of these again, for old time’s sake.

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Hello Autumn!

Hello Autumn!

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Autumn. It is finally the most wonderful time of year. The time of turning leaves, crisp air, pumpkins, bonfire smoke, remembering things past, honoring of great mysteries.

One reflection autumn brings us is the reminder that all things fade away, that we too will join everything on earth that has gone before. That’s easy to remember these days, as we watch the world in such turmoil from catyclysmic natural disasters, in addition to man-made miseries. As I type this, I am awaiting news of the fate of my family and friends in Puerto Rico, who were affected by Hurricane Maria. We none of us know what the future holds, and in honoring this bittersweet, beautiful, gathering-in season, we remember how oh-so-lucky we are to have moments to do so.  The most blessed, beautiful, golden-harvest of autumns to you. May you have many moments to remember all things that need remembering with peace and with love.

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” — George Eliot

 

 

 

Dog Days

Dog Days

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The dog days of summer have really arrived, despite it being September. In some ways that’s normal for the Bay Area. We usually suffer a freezing, fog-drenched July and August, with an Indian summer bringing the heat in late September and October. However, the heatwave we had two weekends ago was off the charts. Literally, it was the hottest day ever recorded in San Francisco history, at a whopping 104 degrees. Readers from places like Arizona might scoff, but please remember that it NEVER gets that hot here. Many people, if not most, don’t have air conditioning in their homes. In the city proper, houses often don’t even have screens on the windows. Husband and I don’t even own a fan. So we rode out the heatwave by going to see Dunkirk (excellent, though terribly sad), taking a dip in the pool (thank the LORD for that pool!), and sitting on the couch in the few-degrees-cooler-than-outside apartment re-watching Downton Abbey. Last night we had the craziest summer shower, complete with hours of roaring thunder and heat lightening…it was incredible! We lost power for about forty minutes, but as it was already dark we hit the hay and enjoyed the light show just outside our open (thankfully screened) window.

The devastation that we are seeing in the news from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and to a lesser extent Jose has been heartbreaking. I have family and friends in Puerto Rico, and was so grateful the island was spared the worst of it. The poor residents of St. Thomas, Barbuda, and other Caribbean islands did feel the full wrath of it, though, are continuing to suffer. My heart goes out to them. It is a reminder that we are all human, we all need help, and we are all called to help. I can’t say I’ve done anything that feels satisfyingly useful, other than to donate to reputable charities and pray. I know it isn’t enough, but I hope that even that small effort might help even a little.

I have a few little things going on in my life right now that are fun and exciting, and that are keeping me going when planning a memorial service for Grandma, or having an argument with my parents, or feeling unfulfilled by my work shake my cool. One of the little things is actually kind of a big thing, and I’ll discuss it in a future post because it deserves a whole post to itself. But little little things, like starting the L. M. Montgomery series “Emily of New Moon,” rebooting my diet (to the best of my ability…day three for the win!!), making raspberry cordial from scratch (please disregard what I just said about my diet), starting to exercise with my new weight set I got for $12 at the thrift store (thrift-SCORE!), have all been balm to my soul. This is definitely a season of confusion, and as I rotate thought the grief cycle for Grandma, I find I’m also rotating through the grief cycle for things that happened in my childhood— a lot of bile and muck is being brought forth, and while the purge is perhaps healthy, it’s still a painful and anger-filled process that I know will take a while to reach any meaningful place of healing.

Either despite or because of this, I’m really grateful for the little daily graces. I’ve been feeling the supportive kindness of Husband, Sister, and other family and friends. I’ve been enjoying all of the gifts of the season, and I’m really looking forward to what the next two months holds for me. I know in the end, it’s all going to come out fine. It always has, and I have faith that it always will.

What’s In My Cup?

What’s In My Cup?

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“Where there’s tea, there’s hope.” — Arthur Wing Pinero

Indeed, Arthur. There is nothing so soothing to the soul in any season as a cup of tea. Just a short check-in today as it has been almost two weeks since my last post, due to exceedingly hot weather in the Bay Area which makes me unable to do anything productive, a simultaneous busy-ness with all kinds of figurative housekeeping for various family members, and the preparation of a really fun autumn book list I’ll be sharing shortly! In the meantime, my prayers are with everyone suffering from the recent hurricanes. I hope to touch more on this within the next few days, but for now please know that my heart goes out to you.

This tea was from over the weekend– a Ceylon tea I ordered from Twinings in London, my favorite tea shop that I’m hopelessly dedicated to. I place an order with them about twice a year and get boxes and boxes of teas not readily available in the States. This one is a nice crisp black tea that I’ve been enjoying plain.

Love and and a pleasant day to you all.

 

 

 

 

Hello September!

Hello September!

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It’s September!!

Autumn is my favorite season. Maybe because the cycle of the school year will always be indelibly tied to how I feel about seasons, autumn is and always will be a time of beginning. In the Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah— the Jewish new year, takes place in the fall. They really got it right. Heck, the liturgical year begins in autumn technically (even though it always feels like winter, being so near Christmas), so I’m justified in my notion that fall is a fresh start. The crisp air, the anticipation of the holidays that are still a safe distance away, pumpkins, turning leaves, bonfires, apple cider, ghost stories…and the most wonderful feast days that remind us to think about mortality with levity…to remember the dead with love. Fall fills me with joy and vibrancy, and this year I need those things more than ever.

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My problem, though, is that I tend to jump the gun when it comes to autumn. The first day of autumn isn’t until September 22nd, and in the Bay Area, summer is just beginning to get into full swing! Our Indian summer will kick up the heat soon, and won’t quit until well into October. I find myself trying to will fall into being simply by putting on corduroy pants, sweaters, and drinking chai…except that I end up a sweaty mess because it’s still summer!

To avoid any autumn burnout, and to keep the rituals of autumn truly special, I don’t purchase any pumpkins until October. However, this year I am going to begin decorating our house with fall colors, leaves, and candles even while wearing skirts and sandals to work. That crisp air will be here before I know it! And there are so many neat things to look forward to this month, so without further ado, here’s what September looks like:
4th— Labor Day
5th— Feast Day: St. Theresa of Calcutta
8th— Feast Day: The Birth of the Virgin Mary, International Literacy Day
14th— Feast Day: The Triumph of the Cross
15th— Feast Day: Our Lady of Sorrows
18th— National Cheeseburger Day (or veggie cheeseburger day, for us!)
20th— Rosh Hashanah begins
22nd— Autumnal Equinox, National Hobbit Day (I had no idea this was a thing!!)
23rd— Feast of St. Padre Pio
29th— Michaelmas, Yom Kippur

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Here are some of my intentions for the month of September:

–Before Grandma passed last March, I was a committed pescatarian– the only meat I consumed was fish (Husband has been a devoted vegetarian for years). That fell dramatically by the wayside after she passed, as I indulged in the foods that she fed me, full of meat! I plan to return to committed pescatarianism as of September 1st!

–Figs are in season! I’ll cook something with figs.
–If the weather permits, bake the first apple pie of the season.
–Begin reading the Emily stories by L. M. Montgomery
–Begin a simple exercise routine and stick to it the duration of the month
–Begin a meditation and prayer routine that Husband and I can stick to together

I think that’s it for September, at least for now. I need to leave some things to Providence, right? Have a wonderful month, everyone. Thanks so much for reading.

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*photo credit to Rachel Bellinski

 

 

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely

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Hi friends! Another Delightful, Delicious, De-Lovely post, where I talk about things that bring me joy, things that are tasty, and things that are just plain beautiful!

Delightful:

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Old books. Holy cow, guys. These books made my month, partially because I got them in a thrift store for FORTY CENTS each! *Swoon* During our fantastic summer adventure I’ve been posting about, I did a lot of thrift store treasure-hunting at the wonderful thrift stores in the Sierra foothills. Where there are retirement communities, there are often treasure-filled thrift stores.

I found a new one I hadn’t been to before that was an annex of one I have been to, but didn’t patronize often because they were just too expensive. On a whim, I stopped in and they told me about their new “Book Nook” book annex…well, naturally, I had to check it out. Holy cow, it was an amazing book store, except with thrift store prices! The best part was a giant section of antique books, where I found these lovelies. They were priced at $3 per book (which I thought was fine for vintage, antique hardcovers in good condition), but when I got to the counter, the lady decided to charge me $2 for the lot (including a vintage copy of Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor, not pictured). Nope, it wasn’t a mistake. She was just being really nice. 🙂

They are: Brideshead Revisited, 1945; Miss Gibbie Gault, 1911; Aunt Jane of Kentucky, 1909; Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, 1944. What a find!

Delicious:

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Unfortunately, while my body might be back from vacation, my tastes in teatime goodies clearly are not. I should probably get it together and begin eating healthier now that I’m home, but honestly…we were in need of dessert, so I made some. I’m sure you know the feeling.

I’ve been on a bundt cake kick for a few months, and this one was no exception. This crazy chocolate creation is a chocolate-chip sour cream bundt cake with chocolate glaze. I was hoping the glaze would be thicker and more ganache like, but it turned out to be quite runny and pooled all around the cake after pouring. Still, it was perfectly delicious! Just the loveliest accompaniment to a piping hot cuppa.

De-Lovely:

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This teeny little Hobbit house! Or perhaps gnome home? Fairy dwelling? I discovered this on a hike while visiting Fraiser Falls in the Sierras. If you live in Northern California and find yourself in the high Sierras looking for a wonderfully easy hike (the path was paved and handicapped accessible to boot!), visit Fraiser Falls!

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Here’s the beautiful path. It isn’t a long hike by any means, maybe half a mile, or a mile tops. But we took it slow, snapped lots of pictures, examined strange bugs and flowers, and I got to pretend I was visiting the elves at Rivendell when we found this cute bridge:

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Ok, so Rivendell is a stretch, but I used my imagination! It was a wonderful day, and a wonderful walk, and I am extremely glad we got the opportunity to experience it.

Funeral Blues

Funeral Blues

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Grief is a spectral that follows you, tied to you like a shadow. Depending on the day, you might not notice it at all, or you might be cast beneath its gloom to gaze at everything as through murky water– an altered reality, painful and horrible in its ugliness and its vast mystery.

Yesterday was a bad day. It has been five months and nine days since I last saw her, hugged her (twice), kissed her, heard her “I love you.”

I used to wail. I used to shriek. There were weeks when all I did was stumble through the door before collapsing onto the sofa or the bed, to weep for hours, often gasping and moaning more than crying, the strange sensation of the vagus nerve– the nerve that runs up near the heart– strummed expertly by grief, creating a horrible heartbreak in my chest. The pain, physical pain…if I wasn’t mourning a monumental loss, I would have thought nothing but a heart attack could create such pain. There were nights that I clutched her pink sweater (still smelling of her soap and hairspray), plucked from the hook on her bathroom door the day I kissed a cool, still cheek that didn’t know me anymore, tears streaming into it until I awoke the next morning, puffy-eyed, not knowing when I slipped into sleep.

Sometimes I am Hoover Dam, holding back an ocean for the sake of those who love me. Because you can’t really live with a sobbing person. Not for months on end. But Husband is good and kind, and does all he can to help. And I don’t sob that much anymore.

But yesterday was a bad day. A day in a span of weeks that feels like a regression. Lots of things caused it, but they don’t matter. I couldn’t hold back the dam. For the first time in months, I cried myself to sleep.

Sometimes you just have to acknowledge the bad days.

Amid the quiet tears that streamed down my cheeks, settling into my ears while I laid on my back in the darkness, my favorite poem about loss found its way to the forefront of my mind. I’m sharing it with you, in the hopes that when you need it, you will have it to provide the meagre comfort of knowing that someone else too, felt like this.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with the juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and, with muffled drum,
Bring out the coffin. Let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message: “He is dead!”
Put crepe bows around the white necks of the public doves.
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my north, my south, my east and west,
My working week and Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song.
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can come to any good.

W. H. Auden