It is the heat. And it is the humidity.


Nearly September. 95 degrees today. Heat index 104. Just like yesterday.

So who else is cranky? I know (at least) three people who live without air conditioning. I don’t know how they live, though. Our thermostat is set at 74 and I’m hot. But I’m grateful for A/C, especially at night.

I’ve never liked summer best. Fall is my favorite. How about you? Depending on where you live, you might not experience four distinct seasons. But by September, the sun rises later and it’s dark by 8:00 now, so I want that cool air to follow.

Meanwhile, I’ve finished the second round of edits for my new novel, so now it’s off to my trusted readers, who give me honest feedback. I sometimes can’t see a plot hole or a character who uses repetitive language, but they can! I’m still on track to have this book ready by December 1 – the day I’ll be at the Rhode Island Authors Expo!

Until then, I’m reading a lot (what are you reading?). I loved How to Walk Away by Katherine Center and Crossing the Bamboo Bridge by Mai Donohue (her memoir of growing up in Vietnam – you won’t be the same after reading it). I’m almost done with How Hard Can It Be? by the hilarious Allison Pearson, just started Alternate Side by the wonderful Anna Quindlen, and The Pendulum’s Truth by the very talented writing team of Leigh Brown and Vikki Corliss. Vacation next week means lots of reading!

Autumn will get here, eventually. You won’t hear me complain about the cold. Not me.

Five Questions for Hannah Colby


Today is the US release date for A Place of Springs, the sweeping epic novel from author Hannah Colby. Published by Unicorn Publishing Group in the UK, the novel is now available for American readers, and is highly recommended as a masterpiece of “love, loss, and the transcendent power of music.” I am so enjoying this novel – the writing is first-rate and you are transported into the lives of Daniel and Irena. I do highly recommend it.

A Place of Springs

Q. Tell us a little about yourself. I was born in Norwich (about 100 miles northeast of London) during World War II. My parents divorced and my brother and I were brought up in London by our mother.  She was an artist, and taught me to paint and draw, a little easel set up beside her own. At 17, I went to Paris, first to a traditional “finishing school,” then to study French Civilization at the Sorbonne.

I’ve written this novel under the pen name Colby – my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was an American from Newton Center, Boston, who married a highlander from the Isle of Skye.

I married young, had four children, and continued to paint. My first husband and I set up a day center for young disabled adults, which I ran for seven years. My present husband and I lived in London and southwest France until we moved to Norwich. Six years ago I began to write the novel that has become A Place of Springs.

Q. What inspired you to write A Place of SpringsThe inspiration came from a lifetime of interests and experiences which seemed to demand expression. First, the horror and shame of the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995 and all the appalling violence of the Balkan Wars. Then, a legacy of my London school, where I studied the piano and viola, my joy of classical music.

The story began to take shape when I was attending a creative writing course. From a collection of photographs, I picked up one of a young girl playing the violin. Without knowing anything about her, I decided she was Irena from Sarajevo, and wrote a short story for my homework. I continued to write about Irena and Daniel for the next six years.

Q. Can you tell us a little about the book? A Place of Springs follows the fortunes and misfortunes of concert pianist Daniel Danuczek, from the time he goes to teach at the Sarajevo Conservatory the year before the siege of that city in 1992. He lodges with Adam and Finola Vidaković and their young daughter, Irena. The tranquil opening chapters end when Daniel must return to London and the peace that Sarajevo has known is shattered.

Having had no news of his friends, Daniel returns to war-torn Bosnia. He learns that Adam and Finola are dead and Irena has disappeared.  Finding her becomes an obsession as he comes and goes between London and Sarajevo. His quest ends abruptly on his hotel balcony when he is shot by a sniper.

Daniel’s injuries force him to re-evaluate his career and change much about his playing if he is to return to the concert platform. His sister and his agent play important parts in his painful and emotional recovery. The main part of the book is written in three voices: the narrator’s, Irena’s, and that of Sam, one of Daniel’s pupils. During this time, Irena’s aunt writes from New York, where she is caring for Irena, now very changed after two years of brutal and abusive captivity.

This is, of course, a love story, but it is played out against a background of several elements. Music is a constant theme, as are ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and friendship.

To me, this book is about acceptance, forgiveness, courage, and the artist’s dedication to his art. But above all, its subject is healing.

Q. What genres do you like to read? I mainly read art history, ‘pop’ science and psychology, nineteenth and twentieth century novels, modern poetry, cookery, and travel books.

Q. Do you have a “Top Ten” or “Top Five” book list? This is difficult, but here are some that spring to mind:

  • Middlemarch (George Eliot)
  • Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
  • Fortunes of War (Olivia Manning)
  • Alexandria Quartet (Laurence Durrell)
  • Short Stories (Katherine Mansfield)
  • My Mother’s House (Colette)
  • The Pursuit of Love (Nancy Mitford)
  • A Room of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf)
  • The Glass Room (Simon Mawer)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  • Flaubert’s Parrot (Julian Barnes)
  • The Color Purple (Alice Walker)  [note: my favorite!!]
  • The Jews (Roger Peyrefitte)
  • Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
  • Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe)

You can purchase a copy of A Place of Springs here

Woman of Heart and Mind


If the title of this blog post sounds familiar to you, then you, too, are a Joni Mitchell fan. I’ve been reading David Yaffe’s biography  of my favorite female singer/songwriter (Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell) and so often I’ve interrupted my reading to listen to one of her songs.

for the roses

The very first album (yes, I’m old, and albums were wonderful) I ever bought was For the Roses, Joni’s fifth studio album. I was 14 years old. For those of you who know me, and thought my first album purchase would be something by James Taylor, Mud Slide Slim was my second purchase. Those two sufficed for a long time. While I could stare at the cover of Mud Slide for hours, it was Joni’s lyrics that really resonated with me and my teenage angst.

mud slide

joni and james

I started collecting Joni’s earlier records, and reveled in “Cactus Tree” (‘she’s so busy being free’), “Michael from Mountains” (‘there’s oil in the puddles in taffeta patterns’), and “Carey” (‘maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam, maybe I’ll go to Rome’). By the time I was in college, I listened to her constantly, finding meaning in exquisitely-crafted lyrics. As a painter first, Joni crafted lyrics the way a painter creates art. In 1978, I was in Vienna with my friend Peter on Christmas Eve, and I think both of us were missing home separately. I wrote the entire lyrics to “California” on the bathroom wall of our hostel room. I apologize for the vandalism. I’d not yet traveled to California, but the words to this song felt right for that year abroad:

"Sitting in a park in Paris, France, reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won't give peace a chance, that was just a dream some of us had...

...Oh, it gets so lonely, when you're walking
and the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues...

Joni’s nearly 75 now, and after a brain aneurysm in 2015, she’s been reclusive. However, she did attend a James Taylor concert last month at the Hollywood Bowl. You Tube has many of her recordings, concerts, and interviews. And it’s comforting to know that her songs are timeless – from the folks songs of the Sixties to her jazz efforts in the late Seventies and forward*, this self-described “painter derailed by circumstance” has created works of art with her lyrics and melodies. I can’t possibly pick a favorite song, but one of the best, in my opinion, in this one (written about the baby girl she gave up for adoption – mother and daughter reunited years ago):

*By the way, I don’t mean to discount any of Joni’s brilliance post-Court and Spark. I marvel at her talent and can lose myself in her later recordings. But the earlier lyrics spoke volumes to me in my youth.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty-two


mini

Well, that year flew by. I seem to be saying that all the time lately.

A year ago, inspired by The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), I decided to begin my own journey toward living a more minimal, and more mindful, life. If I blogged about it every Friday, I’d be more accountable, and maybe if I had a flash of insight, I’d share it.

It began by cleaning out a drawer, then another. Then a cabinet and a cupboard, and another. Closets, multiple times. I began to look at possessions differently – all those collectibles that my husband I had bought through the years of our marriage, little trinkets of remembrance. Some Many of those items are worth keeping – like the prints and paintings that remind us of a special trip. Other things just take up space.

I’m not done. This is an ongoing project, and I never did clean out the garage as much as I’d wanted to, so I’ve marked that as a fall project. We still have our beloved dog, Bonnie (thankfully), so the well-worn furniture that she claims as her own stays, for now.

My friend gave me this wonderful bracelet for my recent birthday – how thoughtful she is, especially knowing how I feel about plastics and ocean pollution. Please click the link for more information about how you, too, can help. Gifts with purpose!!

If you’re overwhelmed with clutter, know that if you want to change that situation, you can. And if you look around and think you can never live more minimally, start small (like I did). Start with one drawer. Or, start on August 1 and get rid of (meaning, recycle, repurpose, or toss out) one item. On August 2, do the same with two items, and go through the month that way. You can throw out an old tube of mascara on August 1 and donate a worn but still wearable pair of shoes on August 2. Yes, you can do this.

So even though I won’t be blogging every week about my journey, the journey continues.

mini2

Bonus Time


Martha turns 4. That’s me on the right. I don’t know who these other children are.

I’ve only had a few birthday parties in my 60 years on this earth. Birthdays weren’t something my parents made a big fuss over, although the celebration was always enough. Hamburgers on the grill, chocolate cake with white frosting. “Milestone” birthdays are usually a bigger deal (until they aren’t). Although this year, celebrating with my two sisters, brother-in-law, and husband was one of the best days ever.

I’ve never liked having my picture taken, so I don’t get the obsession of some people with selfies. I see myself in photographs and cringe – bad hair, fat face, goofy look, whatever, I could always find a flaw. Adding three pictures of myself to this blog post feels self-serving.

img_5354
We were all young once.

Through the years, I’ve celebrated my birthday with family and friends, most of the time. In 1981, I was working as an au pair in Switzerland, living with an unhappy couple and their badly behaved little boy. On my birthday, I broke a lamp in their house. It was an accident, but oh. Not a good day. She was much more forgiving than he was.

The year I turned 40, my husband and I went to Boston, and, as it turned out, we were back there for my 50th ( I spent my birthday facilitating a roundtable discussion with fellow fraud investigators). But, our hotel room had a view of Fenway Park and I ate chocolate-covered strawberries.

I’ve lost some friends over the years. By the time you reach this age, it’s not completely unexpected, although I do expect to attend wakes and funerals for the parents of my contemporaries, not my contemporaries. Still. Jeff, Steve, Lucy, Kevin, Sue, Paul, Kathy, Jack, Patty, Susan, Michael, Andy, Danny, Carole, Tom, Pat, Karen, Joe, Tim. Always remembered.

My friend Tommy Hobin (we’re going on 48 years now) says we’re living in “bonus time.” How many of us can say we’re still alive thanks to good fortune or dumb luck – those narrow escapes we reminisce about but don’t want to share with our children or grandchildren. Bonus time.

This year we won’t be in Boston, but I’ll be somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean. I had a new headshot taken, by my dear friend Dianna Solimeo of Vee’s Photography. It’s me at 60, with my Coke-bottle eyeglasses and lines on my face. It is a true photo of the real me. Maybe, finally, I’m okay with it.

BONUS!

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a reward! Every single one of my books (all eight) are discounted to 99 cents for the digital version. Seven novels, including my Swiss Chocolate trilogy, and one nonfiction. I’ll keep the prices low for a week or so. 💛💚💙

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty-one


plastic bags

I’ve been thinking a lot about plastic – bags, straws, packaging, utensils – there’s just so much plastic. And we all aware that our oceans are filling up with plastic at an alarming rate.

At the conclusion of this year-long project, I’ve just discovered Tippi Thole. Tippi Thole is someone you should discover, too. Check out her “tiny trash can” website here – and you’ll be amazed/inspired/ wowed. Because Tippi Thole replaced the trash can in her kitchen (10-gallon capacity) with a small wastebasket (like the kind you probably have in your bathroom). She began to shop mindfully, and within a few months, the amount of trash her family produced each week fit into a Mason jar that is under 3″ tall!!!

Could I do this, too? I’m sure as hell going to try. We’re only two people.

The Year of Living Minimally – Week Fifty


LIVE

Maybe you’ve figured out, like I have, that material things don’t make you happy. Yay! But, like I was last year, you’re wondering where to begin. So. Much Stuff. Right?

I hear you! I feel you! And perhaps I can help. So here are 10 things you can do now:

  1. Start by reducing items. Look in your linen closet – how many towels, how many sets of sheets, how many tablecloths? Do you need all of them? Betcha you don’t. Keep what’s necessary – you also don’t want to be doing laundry every day – but donate or ditch the rest.
  2. Get in your closet. Remember when I wrote about Project 333 ? I did it, for the summer, and I love it. I have a few work-appropriate pieces for when I go into the office where I work one day a week, and the rest of my clothes are simple pieces. I’ll do this again in the fall.
  3. See if you can donate something to a well-deserving charity each week. The extra set of dishes that you never use. The winter coat and the boots that you don’t wear.
  4. Sell your unwanted but still good stuff. Yard sales and online auctions work for some, and you might pocket a little cash in the process.
  5. Have cloth shopping bags in your car always. Use them wherever you go, not just the grocery store, but everywhere. If you do have plastic bags, find a place to recycle them.
  6. Living minimally also means spending mindfully. If you keep track for even a week of your mindless spending, you’ll be shocked.
  7. Getting rid of paper has been one of my biggest challenges. I’m still working on digitizing everything, from photographs to insurance policies to tax returns.
  8. Unplug when you can. And you can more often than you think. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that clog up your inbox and never get opened. If the news in your feed is making you angry or depressed, let it go. You can still be informed.
  9. Borrow books instead of buying them. Or buy a digital version, if you like that. I read both, and I like to support independent authors by buying their books (both print and digital versions), but if I buy a print book, I pass it along to someone else. For better-known authors, I’ll use the library.
  10. Do you give a lot of gifts? How about an experience instead? Treat your girlfriend to a manicure, send your parents to their favorite restaurant, give your kid’s teacher movie coupons.

 

I’m sure there are plenty more ideas you can come up with!