Friday Book Whimsy: The Dollhouse

searchThe Barbizon Hotel for Women is/was a real thing. The hotel was a residence for women only from its inception in the late 1920s until it began allowing men as guests in 1981. The Barbizon was a safe place for young women new to the big city to live. Located on the upper east side of Manhattan, it was the home for many women trying to make their place in the world – women such as Lauren Bacall, Sylvia Plath, Grace Kelly, Eudora Welty.

The Barbizon Hotel may as well be one of the characters in author Fiona Davis’ captivating debut novel The Dollhouse. The Barbizon is the star of the show.

The novel is a back-and-forth story of two women, both who live in the Barbizon. One of the women, Darby McLaughlin, comes from a small town in Ohio, and is sent to New York City in 1952 by her bossy and obnoxious mother, who pays for her to attend a secretarial college in NYC. The second story is contemporary. Rose Lewis is a journalist who lives with her boyfriend in what used to be the Barbizon, but is now condominiums. However, a few of the units are still inhabited by former residents of the old historic hotel.

Rose is dumped by her boyfriend, and through a series of somewhat admittedly unlikely events, she becomes acquainted with a couple of the women who still live in their original apartments. Originally interested in these women primarily to write a story for the magazine for which she works, Rose eventually gets caught up in these two women’s compelling and interrelated stories about life in the 1950s, love, jazz music, and murder.

It is all quite delicious.

I think part of me liked the story so much because I found the whole notion that there was a hotel for women in NYC so interesting, and when I did some research and learned about some of the real-life residents who lived there, I was hooked.

Sometimes novels with back-and-forth storylines can become confusing and jumbled, but I found Davis’ handling of the style to be smooth and flowed well. Despite the fact that I was horrified at some of the choices Rose made in her search for the story, I liked the characters and found them to be realistic and interesting.

I think The Dollhouse would be a great read for a book club.

Here is link to the book.


Thursday Thoughts

Packaging and I are in a fight. We almost always are, because it is just so flipping difficult to get anything opened when you have arthritis in your hands. Even using scissors, it seems like the task is near impossible. But that’s not why we’re in a fight this time. Today it’s because, was it really necessary that the one – ONE – battery for my telephone (a battery that measures 2-1/2 x 2-1/4 inches needed to be packed into a box that measures 10 x 7 x 5-1/2 inches? Perhaps they use such a big box for some judicious reason, but I can’t think of it. I also can’t think why it annoys me so….


Up, Up, Up
And speaking of being annoyed (boy, I guess this is going to be one of those crabby get off my lawn kinds of posts today), I spent yesterday morning trying to figure out what the cost of my insurance will look like next year. The price – already horrendous – went up once again, which was no surprise. I will say that this year at least, the cost increase was slightly lower than my 2 percent salary increase, bringing my net increase to about two bucks more a month. That won’t even buy me a cup of coffee these days. My main struggle this time is with my dental insurance. That cost didn’t go up, but I got to thinking about how much more I spend on dental insurance than I would pay outright to the dentist without insurance for my semiannual checkup and cleaning. Of course, just about the time I decide to forgo dental insurance, I will bite into a popcorn kernel and will break a tooth. The truth is, I’m not much of a gambler. And the paperwork? It’s so complicated! When will Obamacare start making my insurance life easier?

Birthday Boy
I told Bill yesterday morning that he was king for the day, meaning he got to choose any and all activities for his birthday. What’s more, I promised him if he chose to work on his little car all day, I wouldn’t complain. Shockingly, he chose NOT to go to the gym; he chose a slice of pizza from our neighborhood joint for lunch, and chicken-parm-you-taste-so-good from one of our favorite Italian restaurants for dinner. Check out the size of this slice…..


The McLains (minus Adelaide, who is Washington, DC, on a school trip) came over after dinner for cake and ice cream. As I do every year, I told Bill I would make him any kind of cake he desired. He always chooses a chocolate cake, and so I was kind of surprised this year when he chose an ice cream sandwich cake. The cake is super simple to make, simply stacking store-bought ice cream sandwiches in a criss cross pattern, with whipped cream and whatever else you choose between the layers…..I chose Heath bar, caramel and hot fudge……


He was happy to be with half of his kids and three-ninths of his grandkids. The others telephoned him from afar…..




I’ve been reading on some of the blogs that I follow, as well as other kinds of social media, that there is remarkable angst amongst the younger crowd because actor Luke Perry is on the cover of AARP Magazine.

Well, welcome to my world.

Apparently Luke Perry (a name I vaguely recognize, like I vaguely recognize – if I recognize them at all — the names of most of the so-called stars on Dancing With the Stars these days) starred in a television program called Beverly Hills, 90210 back in the day. Beverly Hills, 90210 is a program I watched exactly zero times. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even know it existed except for the fact that my zip code for many years was 80210, and I found that exceptionally coincidental. Looking back, it really wasn’t.


Anyway, that whole oh my God, how can (fill in the blank) possibly be that old phenomenon happens on a regular basis when you’re a Baby Boomer. I distinctly remember the first time it happened to me.

I was the office administrator at a downtown law firm. As part of my job, I interviewed and recommended the hiring of administrative staff – anyone who wasn’t a lawyer or legal assistant. In that vein, I was perusing resumes for a secretarial position. Suddenly I noticed that the person applying for the job was born in 1960. I nearly fell out of my chair. Why, that was simply impossible. That was only yesterday, wasn’t it? I remembered what I was doing in the 1960s, for heaven’s sake.

Since then, I’ve experienced that same reaction many times. Like when I see Paul McCartney perform. (When did he develop sagging jowels?) And that can’t be Smokey Robinson.  Maybe it’s time to put away the shiny suits…..


Perhaps the only Good Vibrations the Beach Boys are feeling are those coming from their vibrating recliners….


It’s time that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel sit on the park bench and sing Old Friends to one another…..


But I’ll tell you about one person who has been a member of AARP for a fair amount of time, but to me he doesn’t look a day older than the day I met him…..


Today Bill turns 74. He’s more handsome than ever. Happy birthday to my much-loved husband.

And to all of you who are up-in-arms about Luke Perry: Get a grip. It’s happening to you too. You just don’t know it.

The Falling Leaves

The falling leaves drift by my window
The falling leaves of red and gold
I see your lips the summer kisses
The sunburned hands I used to hold
Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall. – Johnny Mercer

Neither Bill nor I are fans of cold weather. He grew up in Chicago, and I grew up in eastern/central Nebraska, and we both have spent the majority of our lives in Colorado, so it’s not like we aren’t used to wearing snow boots that track the snow into the house, and knit hats that flatten your hair, and heavy gloves that make you incredibly clumsy. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

And we don’t. That is why we own a house in Mesa, AZ; it’s someplace to go when the snow begins to fly.

Having said that, I really do love the fall days in Colorado. And I love them even more because, despite the fact that the changing leaves are a precursor for the inevitable snow, I can thumb my nose at it. We leave next week for Arizona. Let the snow fly.

This year, unfortunately, I don’t see us getting up to Rocky Mountain National Park to listen to the elk bugle. That makes me sad because it’s one of my very favorite things to do. For a variety of reasons, we can’t make that work this year. Nor have we been able to find time for even a drive in the mountains to look at the changing aspens. That bright gold against the evergreen trees, both juxtapositioned against the blue of the sky, says autumn to me.

But it hasn’t mattered because the trees here in Denver have been absolutely splendid. Magnificent. A gift from God.

I have never properly seen the changing leaves in New England. One year, when I was still getting paid to write, I attended a conference in Boston in October. Bill accompanied me as the guest spouse as he often did. After the completion of the conference, he and I took a week-long drive to see the changing leaves for which the region was famous. Only they weren’t. Changing, that is. I frankly can’t remember if we were too early or too late, but it doesn’t matter. There were the trees, either still bearing their green leaves or standing naked. But not red and orange. We drove through Rhode Island and Delaware and Vermont and Maine and Connecticut, and the trees simply didn’t cooperate. Not a red maple leaf to be found.

I’m sure New England’s colors are magnificent, but frankly, the colors in Colorado this year have been incredible, even without a trip into the mountains. The parks have ash trees and maple trees and oak trees and honey locusts, all proudly displaying their colors. The scrub oak are getting into the action as they turn to rust. I have made it a point to get out and enjoy the colors, and here are some of what I’ve seen…….





I know these photos look like I’ve been in the mountains, but all of the photos were taken smack dab in the middle of Denver at urban parks. Aren’t I lucky?

Jen reminded me recently that when she and Bill and I first bought the house in Arizona, Bill and I would leave late in September and spend nearly all of October in Arizona. She told me she always was sad that I was missing the pretty colors. October is the nicest month of the year, she proclaims.

And I think she’s right. By time Bill and I return to Denver for the holidays, the trees will be bare and snow will have fallen. In fact, despite our attempts to live a snowless life, we always get a snowstorm or two sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, when we leave again to spend the rest of the winter in AZ. That’s okay. It reminds us of our youth.

Plus, now we have grandkids to do the shoveling!

A Little Nag Will Do Ya

Bill and I were driving to church yesterday morning, and somehow got to talking about the seven deadly sins. You know, pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth. One year for Lent, rather than giving up candy or eating between meals, I instead selected a different deadly sin each day of the week, and concentrated instead on “giving up” actions related to that sin.

I told Bill that I thought I got more out of that particular Lenten sacrifice than I had any other time. I went on to say I think I should do that every day, not just during Lent.

“Is nagging one of the seven deadly sins?” Bill asked, his voice full of hope.

Very funny.

But unbeknownst to either Bill or me, the theme for the Mass readings was praying endlessly. And, to my delight, the gospel was the one in which Jesus tells his friends the parable about the bad judge and the woman who nags the judge again and again until he finally gives in and agrees to give her a just judgement.

The moral? Nag God. Badger him endlessly. Pester him until you think he will listen to you. In other words, pray, pray, pray, pray. And if you haven’t gotten the answer you want, pray some more.

Jesus asked his friends: Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night?

The challenge, of course, is to be open to God’s answer, which may not be the answer for which you’ve been hoping.

This election season has been very stressful for me. Quite frankly, I’m appallingly unhappy with my choices for president. Not voting is not an option for me. So I will vote, but I’m not kidding even a little bit when I tell you that I don’t think I will know for whom I will vote until I sit down and fill out my ballot.

It’s caused me to lose sleep. I’ve cried. I’ve felt helpless and frightened.

And then recently, my stepmother began posting something on Facebook on a somewhat regular basis that actually made me breath again. Her message is simple. Vote, and then pray.

So God, prepare to be nagged.

By the way, on a related note, please read the attached link to a Daily Mail article in which the publication cites research indicating that husbands with nagging wives actually live longer than those whose wives don’t hound them endlessly.

See Bill, it’s for your own good. You’re welcome.

And despite the nuns’ assertion that puns were the lowest form of humor…..

Roy dreaded the nights his wife would badger him mercilessly.

This post linked to the GRAND Social


Saturday Smile: In Marlin Perkins’ Dreams

Even naturalists like to make a fashion statement.

On Tuesday I watched Cole while his mommy chaperoned Kaiya’s field trip to a nature center. When I stopped by at 8:15 a.m. to pick up the boy, Kaiya answered the door, looking cute as a bug wearing shorts, a baseball cap, and bright pink flowered rain boots. “Wow, why the boots?” I asked her.

“We are going to be up to our ankle in water, Nana,” she said. “And there will be (gulp) BUGS in the water.” Oh no.

Well, I told her that sounded kind of yucky, and asked her if she was a bit nervous about walking in water where there are insects.

“Not really,” she assured me. “I’m hoping the only bugs in the water will be ladybugs.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that was an improbability.

But these photos tell me that whether or not she was the bravest among the naturalists, she was certainly the fanciest. You might notice that no one else is wearing pink boots to explore the wild….



Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

If I’d known the format of this book – entirely a series of e-mails, flashbacks, school documents, notes, and so forth – I assure you I wouldn’t have picked up this book. I generally know what I’m about to embark upon when I start a book, but I had heard so much about this novel that I dove in unprepared.

I couldn’t possibly be happier that I did, because Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple, will undoubtedly be one of my favorite books read in 2016.

The characters in a book are very important to me. If I don’t like any of the characters – and in particular, the main character – I am liable to dislike the book. Bernadette Fox is not only likeable, she will be one of my favorite book characters ever. I wish she was a real person and that she was my friend.

Don’t be put off by the format of the book. The author puts it all together so cleverly that it easily reads like a novel despite the lack of chapters and traditional dialogue.

Bernadette seems to have the perfect life. Her husband Elgie is a bigwig at Microsoft Corporation in Seattle. Their daughter Bee is a prodigy, super-smart and funny, despite having been born with a heart defect that nearly killed her as an infant. Bernadette is a prize-winning architect known for “green” design long before anyone even knew what that meant. The marriage is interesting and happy.

But what most people don’t know is that Bernadette is agoraphobic. She does everything possible to avoid having to leave her odd house (originally it was a school and for the most part, nothing has changed despite the fact that the family lives there). She takes Bee to school every day, and does what’s absolutely necessary outside the house. Beyond that, she has a personal assistant (a person somewhere in India she has never met but with whom she communicates via email and text messaging) who literally manages Bernadette’s life, and therefore the life of her family.

What carries this plot, however, and prevents the reader from wanting to dislike Bernadette and her weird life, is Bernadette herself. She is funny as hell and looks at life in a way that is so interesting and quirky. It’s no wonder that Bee loves her mother so very much.

And then, one day, not long before the family was to take a trip to Antartica to reward Bee for her perfect grades, Bernadette vanishes. No one knows why or where. Only Bee is certain that her mother will turn up.

I know this plot sounds weird, but I’m telling you that you can’t help but like Bernadette, and it makes the story fun and interesting. One of my favorite things about Semple’s writing is that, while there are quite a few characters and plot twists, and we only know these characters through emails and other documents, they don’t all sound the same. The reader gets a very good sense of who these people are, for better and for worse.

The ending was clever and satisfying and just the way I would have wanted it.

Please don’t do what I could have easily done – been turned off by the format. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Here is link to the book.