Book Report: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The book I’m talking about today is next month’s topic for the cul-de-sac book club in Austin. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was Joanna Cannon’s first novel, which came out in 2015. Since I wasn’t reading novels five years ago, I’d never heard of it, but dutifully ordered it when it was decided upon by the group.

I even read a paperback. Wow!

I got it on Monday, and finished it last night. It was a nice respite from the more solemn reading I’ve been doing lately, but it doesn’t mean that Cannon didn’t sneak in some messages, some of which are quite current today.

I’d say almost anyone would enjoy reading this, though it helps a LOT to be familiar with the everyday items in England in 1976. I know what Fairy Liquid is, thanks to spending so much time in Ireland, but do you? (It’s dish washing soap.) And candies are very important, at least to the main characters, so it would help to Google those as they come up.

The fun thing about the book is that it’s about a cul-de-sac and the varied characters who inhabit it, which of course reminds me and my neighbors of OUR little Bob Cat Run, with its fascinating cast of characters. We will have to decide who is the “Walter Bishop” of our street (he’s the one everyone has a bad opinion of). Oh wait, I think I already know, ha ha. It’s not me or Anita, either!

Much of the story revolves around two young girls who are best friends, Grace and Tilly. They are the junior detectives in the mystery aspect of the book, who, after one neighbor disappears suddenly, decide to find God in the neighborhood. Eventually Jesus shows up, which is a fun twist (I won’t tell you how that happens). All the neighbors get their chance to shine, too, and you eventually learn all their secrets. That’s the fun of the book.

You’ll love the woman who wears a bikini and tans in her front garden every day, the couple with the very nervous wife, Grace’s parents (and her very odd mother), the guy who lives with his elderly mother well into his forties, the friendly widow, the refreshingly rational gardening guy, the exotic new family, etc.

What really makes the book special, though, is how gently Cannon weaves lessons about honesty and lies, ignorance and enlightenment, and most important to me, about how each and every one of us has secrets we think will be ruinous if revealed, but are probably worse being hidden. It’s a fun read with interesting characters, but it also makes you think about morality and judgment. That’s what elevates The Trouble with Goats and Sheep from a pleasant escape to a book that will live with me for a long time.

By the way, it’s also really funny. I had to read passages aloud to Lee. I think I laughed the hardest when Grace’s father tries to convince the new neighbor he’s a worldly, tolerant guy by repeating racist stereotype after racist stereotype. I was happy to see the two of them actually ending up talking to each other from the heart and becoming friends. That’s what we all need to do when confronted with “the other,” I think.

I have a nice stack of books on my shelf, so I’ll start another one while patiently reading a chapter a day in Caste.

Book Report: The Madwoman and the Roomba

So, this book, The Madwoman and the Roomba: My Year of Domestic Mayhem, by Sandra Tsing Loh, was this month’s Austin neighborhood book club selection. I think we were all looking forward to a nice, lightweight comedy book to get us through yet another month of being unable to hang out together and hug.

The flaming waffle says it all.

Indeed, Ms Loh is a really gifted teller of tales, and her slice of middle-aged life in California stories are very funny. I laughed a lot. People in my age bracket who are a little hippie-dippy like me will see a lot of themselves in her desires to live in her Costco massage chair (we ALSO got the big discount), her honest assessments of her mothering skills, her ambivalence about having divorced her kids’ dad, and such.

I was really enjoying this trip through a recent year in her life. Then it hit me. This was a trip through 2018 or 2019, and certainly not 2020. I’d be reading along and suddenly think, “Ah, meeting friends at a coffee shop, I miss that,” or, “Look at her enjoying a relaxing trip to Costco, I remember just browsing and taking my time.”

dog in massage chair
Our massage chair from Costco does get used pretty often, but in between times, it’s one of Carlton’s beds.

In the end, the funny book about a woman’s quirky family and friends (I love her domestic partner, especially, and just about spit out my beverage when he was revealed to be a disciple of the hugging saint Amma *and a bunch of her entourage appeared) turned out to be a little time capsule of the past. I ended up doing as much sighing as I did laughing as I pretty much devoured every page of Loh’s writing.

I’ll probably read some more of her stuff when I need a humor break, though it might be more funny next year.

sunset in Texas
Look at all those clouds! It may rain today or tomorrow.

By the way, each chapter in the book suspiciously reminded me of a blog entry. I wish I were as funny as Loh, because I’d have a book ready to go. Mine would be rather more whiny and angsty, and totally devoid of other characters, because hardly anyone I know would want to be in a book. Well, I’ve talked myself out of THAT idea pretty quickly.

I hope you have a good book, television show (I recommend Star Trek: Picard), or project to fill your weekend with fun!


*I wondered how all the Amma followers are doing now that hugging is not such a great idea, so I looked it up. It turns out they are donating a lot of money to coronavirus research, and interacting online, like the rest of us. Keep spreading that love!

Make Big Bucks from Your Blog?

I just read that WordPress has come up with a method whereby you can have “premium content” in your blog. The idea is that people sign up to be a supporter of a particular blog, and for X dollars a month (or year) you get access to blog content that those poor regular readers can’t see.

Examples that I read about included recipes, photos, art, etc. Maybe a poet would write a poem just for the paid customers.

Perhaps adorable dog photos would entice followers to pay up. Hmm.

This reminds me a lot of the Patreon site, where you pledge some number of dollars in support of an artist, musician, crafter, or writer, just so that they can have some time to work on their artistic avocation and not have to hustle so much for cash to pay the rent. It worked for Michaelangelo, sort of.

Bouquet of the day? Well, I bought this for Kathleen, so mine would not look so nice.

The people I support on Patreon send out an occasional postcard, or share a drawing/cartoon just with their supporters. I’m guessing most artists get a little money each month, while ones who are very popular may get a good amount. I would assume you wouldn’t want so many patrons to please that you once again have no time to be creative.

Anyway, it got me thinking. What on earth would I do for “premium content” that anyone would actually want? Photos of the animals? Tarot card of the day? Identify a bug or snake? Honest, I am grasping at straws here. I think my little introspective creations are fine for myself and for others to read for free, but it’s not the kind of thing people pay for.

Art! That’s it! I call this “Giant peach and laptop background,” by SA Kendall

So, I’m asking: If Suna were to offer “premium content,” what would you like it to be?

Answer in the comments (or on Facebook, or in person). If the answer is “nothing,” don’t worry. I agree with you!

Are We Moving into the Pope House?

It’s beginning to look a lot like an office! Because Kathleen has a lot of stuff happening in the next couple of weeks, and because she was tired of looking at piles of stuff that didn’t fit into her Hermit Haus office sitting in the meeting area, she decided to get her new office set up this week, as I briefly mentioned a couple of days ago.

What a nice desk setup!

She spent a lot of sweat equity (especially so, considering that the air conditioning isn’t hooked up yet) putting together her beautiful office furniture selections over the past few days. Wow, she picked some wonderful things, and the color scheme is so restful and rustic!

The blue corner chair ties in with the door.

There’s enough seating in her office to hold our management meetings, too, so we will be all comfy and cozy. What a great job she did! Later it will have all her art and accessories, and it will look even more amazing.

Love the lamp and cow chair.

Seeing her office looking so nice has all of us excited for when it’s our turn (Lee’s office is full of trim for the other two areas, and we still need to do the floors in my office and the main office…coming soon).

Getting Ready for Glass and Cabinetry

Another thing we are looking forward to is getting the glass for our interior windows and my office desk. Before they can install it, they need a template for the big arched window between Lee and Kathleen’s offices and they need the frame set up for the window in my office that looks out into the hallway.

The wood that sticks out is the frame for my office interior window. Also featured are nails that refused to go into the hard old wood. Time for plan B.

I am pretty darned impressed with this frame that Chris has made for the arch, which they will use to make the piece of glass. Curves are hard.

It’s nearly done now, but it’s in progress here.
It’s blurry, but there are two little open mouths in the picture.

It’s especially hard to work when there is a family of barn swallows right above you who are feeding their extra cute little babies. Who wouldn’t be distracted by that? We’re really enjoying them.

Anyhow, the cabinets are all painted and put together, so this morning Chris and I debated exactly where they are going to go. There’s a low electrical outlet that we have to take into consideration, and we need to leave the right amount of space for the refrigerator.

We hope to have a slanted end counter at the end here, if we can figure out how to cut it and put an edge on it.

But, I think we finally have a good plan and are ready to get the counter tops. Whew.

From the other side. The fridge goes in the gap.

I looked at the in-stock laminate counters, and I think there are some that will look just fine in here. It will be just fine.

We’ve even got a plan for when to get the big sander for the floors, and the bits of glass for the inserts are smashed to pieces. SOON!

Grace, Nature, and Humor to the Rescue

What do you do to get through trying times? You take it one day at a time. I am doing my best to just observe and not get all caught up in things I can’t control, like I’ve been saying this week. And I figure one way I can help myself and others is to provide brief diversions. What the heck?

Grace

I’ve been reading and reading ideas on mindfulness and they have brought me a bit of grace, I think. Here’s a quote by Joanna Macy, the Buddhist teacher and naturalist, about the times we are in and our relationship to the earth:

…It is so great a privilege to be here on Earth at this time….Being fully present to fear, to gratitude, to all that is–this is the practice of mutual belonging. As living members of the living body of Earth, we are grounded in that kind of belonging. We will find more ways to remember, celebrate, and affirm this deep knowing: we belong to each other, we belong to earth. Even when faced with cataclysmic changes, nothing can ever separate us from her. We are already home.

Lion’s Roar, May 2020, p. 50. Excerpt from A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, edited by Stephanie Kaza.

Guess what book I just ordered?

Nature

As always, nature has provided me with a way to center. The magnolia blossom that Chris picked for me this morning has filled my office with fragrance, and I found myself in a meditative state earlier, just looking at the structure of the center.

Magnolia glory.

You can see how the current beauty is all set up to become a beautiful seed pod with bright red seeds. I take it as a reminder that we are always undergoing a transformation (including Mother Earth) and that we can gain solace from how destruction and metamorphosis bring their own beauty.

What’s cool is that it continues to change. The petals are folding up now (not happy we picked it, I guess)

I’ve noticed a lot of my friends sharing their gardens, whether flowers or produce, which brings moments of pleasure. And my Master Naturalist friends keep coming up with the best stuff! Look at this puffball mushroom my friend Pamela saw on her property, just a couple of miles from our ranch.

Now, that’s one big mushroom! I love all the patterns on it. Photo by Pamela Neeley.

Humor

And then there’s humor. I was rather surprised yesterday when I made a joking comment to my husband, and he took offense. He says I never joke around. This is disturbing, since I think of myself as funny. Oops.

But I decided that it’s a good idea to have some fun with images, anyway. I posted the following photo of a tile in my bathroom on Facebook:

What do you see in the center tile?

I said I saw a Satanic goat (it has scary eyes). The responses to the post were a lot of fun. People saw a llama, a dragon, a snail, a slug, a horse, unicorn, a goddess, and a duck (among others). The tile is a natural stone called river travertine, because it looks like flowing water, so the person who saw the ocean was right on!

I decided I’d just post things that made me laugh, so I also posted a picture of poor Penney and all her excess skin.

There’s a second dog in there somewhere.

So yeah, I’m not going to deny the undercurrent of doom swirling around me, but my pet bobcat (or whatever that is) and I are going to keep looking for grace, natural beauty, and the absurd as we go through the day.

Oh, SnapChat, when you don’t have me worried about my kid’s safety, you entertain.

Bathroom Etiquette in a Small Office

This has just been making me chuckle, so I am sharing. To set the stage, at the Hermit Haus office, we currently have two bathrooms in the basement (someday there will be an upstairs bathroom). The church that occupied the building before us decorated the rooms in stereotypically masculine and feminine ways.

The scenic ladies’ room, complete with fake window.

But, when you look closer, each of them has a toilet, a sink, some towels, a lot of soap and hand sanitizer, etc. They function exactly the same.

The manly men’s room.

When we had Master Naturalist meetings in here, I noticed that people seemed aghast when I suggested that anyone could use either room. True, someone had stuck signs (two actually, one above the door and one on the door) on each room, hinting at the preferred users. But really, they are the SAME dang bathrooms!

Ah, there are options! You can be a lady OR a woman to use one of our restrooms.
Maybe we need THIS sign!

(Aside, they also get upset that “the toilet doesn’t work” when people repeatedly flush before the tank has refilled. I need to put up a sign saying “ancient 1930s plumbing; please be patient if you want a good flush.”)

As we’ve been working here all by ourselves (the Hearts Homes and Hands staff and me), I’ve noticed another pattern. Repeatedly, Lee decides he has to “go” and bursts in on Chris, who has closed (but not locked) the door to the men’s room as a sign that it’s occupied. When it was suggested that Lee use the other bathroom, he acted like that was not a possible option. Once again, there is the SAME equipment in each room, just one looks 1980s girly and one looks like some fancy gentleman’s dressing quarters.

This is an option, of course.

I THINK we have all come to an agreement that if a door is shut, it’s probably occupied, and you should at least knock. Preferably, just use the other one. Apparently once or twice someone closed the men’s room door after use and it confused Lee, but that hasn’t happened in months.

It just makes me laugh. At home, everyone uses whatever toilet is available. But when we get to work, the exact same group of people acts like one of the available options is poison.

Just go! Photo by @mylove4art via Twenty20.

We are so well trained! I can’t wait until there are more universal and family bathrooms around, so people will get used to it. As for me, when I gotta go, I gotta go. I can handle masculine decor, though I won’t use urinals. That’s my private business.

Footware Fantasy

Do you have a favorite pair of shoes? I believe I do. And a couple of runners up. I don’t have a shoe fetish or an actual mental health challenge about shoes. My Well, you may or may not agree.

I have a few shoes. There are more in Austin. I recently gave lots away.

Now I own a lot of shoes. I do. I’ve endured Imelda Marcos jokes for decades. Maybe young people don’t know about her and it will stop.

I always blamed it on my sun and moon being in Pisces ♓️. That sign “rules” the feet. Apparently the Piscean will either have beautiful feet or scary ones. My dad’s were very weird, and his high arches made it hard for him to buy shoes.

I had a pair of sandals for church at this age. I’m the one with fewer teeth.

I had very nice, average size feet that looked good in shoes. When I was little, we mostly went barefoot and got a new pair of shoes when school started, either loafers or Keds.

Normal feet for my age.

So, when I started earning my own money, the first thing I did was buy shoes. High school friends will remember the white patent-leather 6” platforms I bought in Mexico in ninth grade. I’m sure I looked like a puta, but I could be in the back row in chorus. Ha!

Second row at the end. The shoes are peeking out.

Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed shoes. I sorta miss my lovely Cole Hahn dress shoes, but my feet are thrilled that I now wear comfy ones. Now I just miss all the shoes in Austin I haven’t seen since the first week of March. Poor orange sparkles!

I hope someone is enjoying these. Not me anymore.

You might be surprised that my favorite shoes are very practical. They’re brown walking shoes, what a snooze. But they are infinitely comfortable, great for walking and hiking, and get this: they’re waterproof! I can walk around in the rain or afterward without wearing hot rubber boots.

Practical.

And the bottoms have leaves!

You can see that used them to walk in mud.

I got them on a weird shopping trip with my stepmom. The store owner showed us all his guns. I felt so safe.

It has orthotics.

Other favorites are Corky’s flip flops, because they don’t hurt between my toes. Then there are the sparkly sneakers. All of them.

Others I like are the Skechers GoWalk series. They are good for work and dog walking. And my colorful Western shoes. Almost as great as the brown ones.

I love cowboy boots. Right now my favorites are these blue Ariats I wear for ranch stuff and riding. They have soon kind of cushioning that’s miraculous. My favorite dress ones are the snakeskin. So comfy.

I always wondered if other people were as fond of shoes as me. Maybe if you had a lot as a kid, they don’t matter? Or if you don’t obsessively match your outfits and shoes like me. I guess I’m a grownup at last, though, with this parade of comfy shoes passing as my favorites. Y’all missed my glory days!

Book Report: Bunny Bunny

This book is a follow-up to the memoir of Alan Zweibel that I posted last week. In that book, Zweibel talked about a little book he wrote about his late best friend, Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer at a very young age. He said the whole book was dialog that just came to him after she passed away. I was interested.

The cover was put together by Zweibel’s wife and an artist they commissioned for the painting.

So, I set out to get a copy. That was harder than it might have been, because Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner: A Sort of Love Story (a book with TWO colons) is out of print, having passed its prime in 1994, I guess. Luckily I selected a reputable vendor of used books and got a copy in pretty good shape for just $7.

Once again. Zweibel made me laugh a lot, but I was also touched by the little stories he chose to tell. It’s a wonderful tribute to an amazing friendship. I had to read some passages aloud to the family, so they could enjoy them, too.

I got a real kick out of the illustrations, as well. They are simple line drawings by the artistically impaired author, but they are also really sweet and convey the essence of the stories perfectly.

Here, they have taken a taxi in New York City. I left in a snippet of dialog to show you the format.

So, I’m pretty sure none of you are going to go out and buy this book, but if you want to borrow it from me, see me after people can meet up more easily!

Mexican hats!

Enjoy some flowers. They’re left over from yesterday’s photo expedition.

That Dog

Just a funny little Vlassic story.

I’m friendly, that’s all.

This morning I had to gas up the car before heading to Cameron. I pulled into the bay, got out, and Vlassic jumped out right after me.

I was worried he’d get hit by a car at the very busy station.

But no. He ran around the car at the pump next to me, which had also just pulled up, and jumped into that car. He was ready to go.

The man at the other pump laughed and laughed. He said, “He must have known I have a dog that looks just like that!”

How dare those men park here!

Right now we are waiting for Lee at the scenic Buckholts State Bank, where Vlassic is focusing his laser vision on people who have the nerve to park next to us.

Scenic Buckholts State Bank, as seen through a wet windshield.

(Weather report sidebar: yes, it’s raining again. We sure enjoyed that one sunny day this week.)

I need a knife.

When the people leave, he’s trying to break into my giant box of egg cartons.