Monday, January 15, 2018

When Kindness Brings Tears

I don't know if you read Stacey's Poofing the Pillows or At Home with Jemma (you should -- they're wonderful blogs!) but these two bloggers have been sharing posts as part of their PERK project. The goal: spread Positive*Encouraging*Real*Kindness. They asked their readers to share some examples we have seen of real kindness and how it has made a difference.

More than once I've been the recipient of the kindness of others -- perhaps an unexpected gift left on my doorstep or a dinner provided when I've been unwell, a dear friend willing to feed Lizzie when my regular cat-sitter is unavailable or a listening ear when one has been so desperately needed.

For these things I am grateful. But I am also grateful for something that has not affected me personally but has made a big difference in the lives of those touched by the "Elfing" of Robin and Betsy Miner-Swartz. Their story tells how two $25 gift cards changed the lives of many people at the holidays as a tradition grew larger and larger.

Robin and Betsy -- aka The Elves
Robin and Betsy are two women in my community who, way back in 2009, decided that at the holiday season, they would spread a little cheer. Betsy's mom had died not long before and the holidays were a little less than cheery. The pair went to the Wal-Mart and bought two $25 gift cards and gave them to two strangers, clearly in need, "making them so happy it kind of stunned us," Robin wrote.

The "Elfing" tradition was born that night. When they told people about it, they offered money with the request "you have to tell us about it."

In the intervening years, over $18,000 donated by generous friends and complete strangers, along with Robin and Betsy's own contributions, have been shared during the holiday season with countless individuals, often bringing tears of joy. This year alone 76 people sent money ranging from $10 to $500, topping a collective $5,500.

And I'm not sure who had the biggest smiles -- the recipients of the "Elves" or Robin and Betsy themselves.

A few examples -- Perhaps they'll inspire you to think what you might do in your community. And as you read them, remember, it all started with a $25 gift card. You'll hear me say that again -- but it's important to remember.

Betsy noticed an older man with an oxygen tank was taking his time considering the packages of ham in the grocery store cooler. Robin walked up to the case and said, "Anything look good?" He replied, "Everything looks good except the price." She held out $100 and asked if that would help with his Christmas dinner. He smiled shyly and said, "Boy, would it. Are you sure?" Robin explained that it was something the couple did each year to honor her in-laws. As they chatted, the man revealed that he was battling Stage III kidney cancer and was being treated at U-M and that making the three-hour drive each way was tough "with all the tubes I have coming out of me now." The Elves offered him another $50 for gas and wished him a merry Christmas. "You have no idea what this means to me," he whispered. "Thank you."

Seeing two women huddled at a bus stop, they hopped out of their car, handed a $50 bill to each of the women. "We're doing some random acts of Christmas kindness. Could we give you this?" The older woman said, "For what?" "Just for you. Could you use it?" She threw her head back, laughing with joy. "Honey, we were JUST talking about our Consumers Energy bill and how were we going to pay it? It's $175 and I didn't know how we'd take care of it at Christmas." The women were mother and daughter and their "Elves" handed them another $150 amidst joyful hugs.

A young woman was slowing walking the market aisles at Save-a-Lot, picking up food, considering it and carefully putting it down. The Elves approached her and offered her $100 to help with her shopping. After a hug she said "I'm going to be spending Christmas alone, and I was trying to figure out what to make myself for dinner." She explained that her grandmother -- who had always hosted Christmas -- had just been hospitalized with liver trouble and had been taken down to another city. She'd be traveling down to see her grandma soon, though, she said. She was handed her another $50 so she could get her grandma a gift. She hugged me again, smiling through tears.

Returning home after one Elfing expedition, Robin and Betsy pulled into the A&W drive thru to grab a drink. Despite long lines on this Saturday shortly before Christmas, the cashier was cheerful. Betsy paid for the order and then offered her $50, likely the equivalent of a day's pay. Her eyes got glassy and her smile was huge. "We asked her if we could take her picture and she said, "Of course!" 

At a neighborhood school the Elves made a contribution to an account to cover expenses for items like sweatpants and leggings for students who have accidents or don't have coats and gloves of their own.

A refugee who had fled the Taliban was accepted to his dream college in California. Robin and Betsy gave him a Visa gift card for $100 to help pay for gas on his journey. "He was shy but smiling from ear," they wrote.

Betsy wormed her way in line behind a woman who was going to put back a gift for her son and as the cashier was ringing up her Bridge card, Betsy asked if they could pay for the items. She did -- and then offered the woman $150 in cash to help with the holidays. The woman began to cry and told Betsy she would be seeing her daughter next week for Christmas and wasn't sure if she would be able to give her a gift. Now she can.

At a local animal hospital that included a "giving tree" in its lobby, donations made possible a feline leukemia test for an orange kitten, prescription dog food for a Shih Tzu that lives in a local senior facility and dental work (including extractions) for a Jack Russell Terrier.

One family found the Elves to be angels in disguise. The mother had received a new kidney but not before diabetes robbed her of her sight. With a daughter who has sickle-cell anemia and a son with autism, the husband was struggling to support the family and provide care for his wife and children.  The Elves provided a laptop, mouse, printer and ream of paper for the little girl who was having trouble keeping up with her homework without it. The little boy received a Nintendo system and games he'd hoped Santa would bring and the parents were sent a gift card for $200, suggesting the couple spend it on themselves.

At a Wal-Mart, the Elves got in line behind what they described as "a sweet older man buying a lot of store-brand food and what looked like stocking suffers for granddaughters. As he was loading bags into his cart, Betsy told the cashier to add her paper towels to his order and that she'd take care of it. He didn't hear and kept loading. When he turned back to pay, she told him it was covered, nodding at Betsy. His eyes grew wide and filled with tears. He turned to me and said, "Is this real? Are you really real?" I assured him I was. "I've heard about this before, but I never thought it was real."

A mother and her teen daughter were making very difficult decisions about a couple of small toys, price checking everything to be sure they had enough money. Robin handed the mother $65 in gift cards. There were tears and hugs as she revealed she had just been laid off, her son was making her car payment for her and dinner was the only thing her family would have for Christmas this year. The Elves pulled out another $150 in cash, which "put things off the charts for her and her beautiful daughter."

Robin says In one visit, they gave away about $800 at a Kmart filled as people were facing tough decisions about what leave in or remove from the cart. They paid off two layaways, including one for a man who would have to leave without his family's Christmas gifts. The young cashier, wearing tattered clothes, was so grateful he cried and hugged the Elves, who gave him $100, "which made him sob and have to leave the room." They also helped a grandmother, a couple who were buying only shoes and boots for their kids, struggling young moms and another woman who was buying boots for her mother who is a school bus driver with little ability to buy for herself.

These aren't all of the Elfing stories in a given year (these represent some of several year's stories), but you get the idea.

All of this sounds pretty big and pretty grand -- and it is. The work Robin and Betsy do at the holidays brings joy, cheer, tears, and a sense of hope to the recipients. It brings those gifts to Robin and Betsy as well.

But remember -- it all started with two $25 gift cards and knowing that the effort of one or two people could make a difference.

It's something we all can do -- whether it is as an individual or by pooling energies with someone else. Robin and Betsy are the first to acknowledge that this collective effort (and they never asked for donations; they just came because people supported the idea) has been able to expand because people cared. Pooling resources makes the resources stronger.

But it doesn't change the love. That was always there, always powerful.

(Special thanks to Robin and Betsy for letting me share the stories and photos they posted on Facebook, some edited for length, others pretty much as written. I remain in awe of their commitment to love, giving and caring.)

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Just a Typical Michigan Winter

There was snow covering the ground in a thick, white blanket earlier this week but the streets were sloppy and the snow banks were gray. Then, after two weeks of temperatures that were in negative numbers (sometimes not including wind chill), we experienced the January thaw.

I wouldn't have believed that this would take us down to grass and pavement, but upon rising Wednesday morning I saw a back yard of wet, greenish grass. I'm sure the fraternity boys at the university were in their shorts, sitting on the roof of their house drinking beer and no doubt will be at the health center getting antibiotics next week. (And then last night the temperature dropped, the rain came and turned into pretty, clean, white snow -- which is came down fairly heavily as I typed! Today it took me an hour to go what normally takes 20 minutes and there were sirens and blinky lights everywhere. Michigan Winter.)

During the now-ended thaw. It is at times like this I wish I'd put the pumpkins farther back into the brush. When I "hid" them at the end of the season for the critters, they were behind the hostas. Looks sad, doesn't it!
In a typical Michigan winter, after the holidays, I de-decorate. The trees are down, apart from the winter trees which stay up a bit and all the Santas are stored away.

New winter decorations are coming out, including the felt skiers that are currently residing on the mantle.

To be honest, it doesn't look much like a snow bank. But I like them and I'm not sure where else to put them. So there!

The birds (and Bushy the Squirrel) are socking down feeder food like bonus night at the Golden Corral. Lizzie, of course, is amused. Only her own dinner and her frequent naps top birds in the list of "favorite things to do."

January is Get Organized Month. So, I looked at my junk drawer.

I might look at it again. Or maybe not.

I did, finally, finish Rick's scarf. Knitting doesn't come as easily as it used to -- sore fingers! I'm waiting for the tumeric that my cousin swears by to kick in and ease the aching joints. This scarf is long overdue, his other having taken the scenic route to Detroit on a sloppy, icy day three years ago, dragging outside the driver's door. He'll be careful with this one!

I took a page from Barbara Windle's beautiful blog and made a scarf wreath out of a foam wreath form and a Dollar Tree scarf, capped off with a cute pin at the knot.

Barbara's weath is somewhat different (and more lovely). I wanted something sort of rustic to fit my cottage feel and the checked pattern worked well. I wasn't sure about the knot and when I remembered the pin my friend Jane gave me, I pulled it off a sweater and added it to the wreath (and now I see it even more!) It reminds me of Gypsy and his mentor, Stimpy, the pre-Lizzie residents. And it brings a little bling to the wreath, which I liked.

Barbara's instructions and wreath are wonderful (and much more elegant) and I hope you will check it out right HERE and maybe even try one of your own.

And then there is the part of me that is heartsick. My favorite, neighborhood book store is closing. It's not that business was bad. It was just that the landlord wanted them to subdivide their store, losing the popular cafe, coupled with taxes four times more than their mall or Grand Rapids location. I went today for the first of their markdowns and it felt like being at a wake. We hugged our favorite staff (that's Dewey, below) and told them we were worried about their jobs. Strangers were coomiserating with other strangers. We are heartbroken.

And yes, I bought books. On sale. But I felt guilty about it.

Meanwhile, I head to physical therapy for that pesky arthritic knee several days a week and eagerly anticipate a trip to London, Ontario, to see our friends Suzanne and Jim and enjoy Stephen Sondheim's "Follies" as performed by England's National Theatre, live on the big screen.

I say "it's winter! (At least in this part of the world!) Go out and treat yourself. Oh, go treat yourself, no matter what time of year it is!"

How's your January faring?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Tracing Your Family History -- Thoughts from the Field

In a very nice comment quite some time ago, blogger Elizabeth said she wouldn't begin knowing how to chase down her family history as her living relatives have been dead for many years.

I'm no genealogy expert though I seem to learn more and more about it every day. But it's something I've heard others mention when I get all excited about my family history search, so I thought I'd share a couple of quick ways to start in case you decide to pursue the family history road  at some time.

I found the land where my great grandfather's farm was and where my grandfather was born.
All I had when I began my search for ancestors was the names and dates on the family tombstones. I knew a few family stories that might add some depth to what I found or maybe point me in a direction but not much hard data.

All I started with were the dates on my family's tombstones
I also had some family photos, some of which were identified, others I was able to figure it out based on resemblances to those who were identified in other photos. I also found a few funeral handouts that had birth/death dates and cemetery information. (When you are from a family of "keepers" you have these things.) Look in old family Bibles, too. Sometimes tidbits are stashed there, especially if you happen to have Bibles belonging to your grandparents.

Ironically, the best "hard data" I had, documentation from my dad's grandfather regarding his immigration, was about as far back as I've been able to go so far because of the Scandinavian connection and how names change from generation to generation. Granted, most of my time has been spent working on mom's family because that's where I have generations in the future that may appreciate what I dig up. Still, my dad's side is tougher.

Then I did it the hard way. I started googling. (This is helpful later; in the beginning, not so much!)

But I did land on a "hit" via one of the many genealogy sites -- in this case, "My Heritage." Someone had been doing work that included my family. Because that's the first I found, that's the one I signed up for. Free. (To actually contact people, you have to pay.) From there, I found the names of my great grandparents.

A page from the City Directory told me where my mother and grandfather worked in a given year
Once I had better information, I was able to google more effectively. I also discovered, which is run by the Latter Day Saints and is a massive genealogy database. I could also access our Michigan Education Library data base, including Between these two, I could find census data, city directory data, agricultural summaries. It was through family search (and the detective work of a woman at the historical society that my friend Barb discovered) that I found my great grandfather's commitment papers to the insane asylum and my second great grandfather's immigration data, along with christening records and much more.

This is the asylum where my great grandfather spent the last 13 years of his life. We never knew.
The Mormon Church in my town has a genealogy library open to anyone. Many universities or community ed programs feature classes or groups related to genealogy and they are all too willing to help you learn your story.

There are also online tutorials that can help you get started. And once you get started -- well, it's hard to stop!

Sites like Ancestry and My Heritage also offer "hints" and some of these are right and some wrong. But you can check to see if you can go deeper by really assessing these hints. You have to be careful of pitfalls here -- many people would name a child after a deceased sibling (which might also have the name of a father or an uncle). One of my relatives had three children named John. Sometimes it's hard to pick the right one!

Agricultural Census
And often, when a wife would die in childbirth or as a young mother, the husband would marry her sister. So, was your fifth great grandmother really your aunt? Or a stepmother with no biological link?

Immigration record of my second great grandfather
The mystery is part of the fun. Much data carries interesting facts, such as religion, occupation or property value. You may be able to find a ship manifest or town history. Many families have written histories as well (some very old) and if you get far enough back in your line to recognize an Erb or a Wismer or an Oberholtzer, you might find interesting stories and more data in books that are available online.

Many families have history books written on their lineage and many of these are available online. They often reveal interesting stories
For me, part of the fun isn't just knowing the dates and places. That's actually pretty dull stuff. But when I learned my great grandfather had a farm in Michigan in the 1800s, I started looking into farming in Michigan during that period and learned so much about what he and his family had to do to maintain a farm long before there was motorized equipment to help with plowing and sowing. Another great grandfather worked in the Buffalo, NY, confectionery business and it was fascinating to discover how candy making came of age in the second half of the 19th century.

My great grandparents on my grandmother's side -- I never even knew her name -- but I still have my great grandfather's recipe book from his time as a confectioner.
Suddenly, these people aren't just old photos or names on a chart, names whose DNA has passed across oceans through generations and now lives in you. They are real people who had real jobs and life challenges. Their courage, their sense of adventure, their quest for freedom and their tragedies are the things that are part of us and part of what shapes us into who we are today, who our children will be tomorrow.
At my great grandmother's grave -- I didn't even know her name before I began my search.
I've realized it doesn't matter if we discover that we are related to Marie Antoinette (I'm not) or just some guy who lived a humble but good life, it is all part of our story. My favorite Christmas gift was a DNA kit from Rick. I can't wait to get the results!

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Pick a Word. Any Word.

It's that time again, time to get my head out of the holiday clouds and choose a word (or two) that will be a guide throughout the new year.

Last year I chose two -- hygge and action. I lived the hygge life, embracing cozy, while trying to be more proactive, respond to political issues, standing up instead of letting things pass by on which I have an opinion. Doing. And for the most part, I did really well (especially with the hygge part!)

How many times in our life are we told not to "stand up"?
This year is a stumper. Personally, I'd like to stay hygge forever, but I don't think I need to have a do-over on that word. I mastered it pretty well. As far as I'm concerned, it's a key part in mastering the science of right living!

I realized there are a lot of words I want to live by -- joy, compassion, kindness, strength. I also realized that I pretty much try to do that as is. No need for it to be the word of the year.

What I really need to do is "extend" myself, get out of my cocoon. Dig deeper, learn more. Do more. Yet I also find myself procrastinating, doing it "later" instead of "Now."

So, once again, I will try to marry those words -- Extend and Now. Actually, these are a bit more on the same theme than last year's. I will listen, try to extend my thoughts and then act in a timely way.

My goal this year is to take a few more chance, to work a little harder to become a better painter, to not put things off that really should be done -- rotate the tires, call for the free home energy assessment, clean the litterbox (which I just realized I forgot to do yesterday), travel farther, read deeper.

We'll see how that goes!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Year of Books

I have been loving books long before I could read the words. I loved the pictures and my parents read to me often, sounding out words as I went along. By the time I was in first grade, I was in the "Palamino" reading group -- which my parents later told me was for the best readers!

It's something I love to this day. I can get lost in the bookstore and books are my favorite gifts to receive.

I started keeping lists of what I read back in high school. Back then it was on index cards and now and then I come across one of them. Now they're in a small notebook with the year, the year's book goal and a long list!

Last year brought lots of good reading hours -- what a year of books! As I went through my list, I realized what I really love reading most (mysteries) and yet found some of the best of the year to be in other categories.

In 2016 I read 60 books. This year, the goal was 52 and I read  59 books. But, I did surpass the number of pages, definitely reading heftier books, by and large. (And lots of them had pretty tiny print, which should have been even more pages.

I want from 18,325 pages in 2016 to 19,570 in 2017 -- so at least I didn't feel like a slacker.

Here's a category-by-category look.


A good category and three of my favorites were locked in here -- "Stephen Sondheim: A Life" (by Merle Secrest); Susan Branch's "A Fine Romance" and Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime" made my best list. Those titles are pretty self-explanatory!

Others included:

  • "At Home with the Queen" (Brian Hoey -- backstairs at the Palace and pretty fascinating)
  • "HM Qqueen Elizabeth II" by Anne Butler (mostly photos)
  • "Prince Harry" by Penny Junor (I never like her books but I did enjoy learning more about Harry)
  • "Making Masterpiece" by Rebecca Eaton (this is as close to best-of as it could be. She's the producer of "Masterpiece" on PBS and there are tidbits about many of my favorite Masterpiece and Mystery series. It's fun and dishy. And also $1 at Dollar Tree.
  • "No Ordinary Time" by Doris Kearns Goodwin -- about the Roosevelts during WWII. Fascinating. And very well done and research. And very long.
  • "As Always, Julia" by Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, edited by Jean Reardon. This was a collection of letters between Julia and her pen pal, Avis written before and during "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Very revealing about cooking, the process of writing the book, politics of the 1950s and Julia's life in France. ALMOST Best of list.
  • "Life Goes On" by Becca Rowan. This compilation of Becca's blog pieces over a two year period tracks her journey through her mother's illness and the grief that followed, along with her passion for writing, music and discovery. Just lovely.
  • "Faces of America" by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a compilation of interviews from his TV series with more details on genealogy searching. Included are Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep, Malcolm Gladwell, Queen Noor, Dr. Oz, Eva Longoria, Kristi Yamaguchi, Yo-Yo Ma and Stephen Colbert (among others). It was through Gates' interview with Colbert that I learned a) that we are distantly related and b) more about our mutual seventh great grandfather!



My best of the year was on this list and it came courtesy of Lynne at Irish Garden House -- Antoine Laurain's "The Red Notebook" (wonderfully sweet romance set in Paris). Also on the Best of from this group was "Broken for You" by Stephanie Kallos (one of the best books I've read related to grief and loss) and "The Little French Bistro" by Nina George (finding freedom and one's self when running from an emotionally abusive relationship and landing in the French countryside.)

Others in the Fiction category include:

  • "The Windsor Factor" by D.J. Taylor. So-so historical fiction about Fascist influence in Britain during the WWII years.
  • "Radio Girls" by Sarah Jane Stafford. More spying in WWII Britain but this time the BBC plays a bigger role. Good feisty female characters and an enjoyable read.
  • "Cooking for Picasso" by Camille Aubray. A young woman whose family owns a cafe finds herself delivering food to Picasso, who is living incognito in Provence.
  • "Under the Influence" by Joyce Maynard. A woman's life falls apart, held together by her child and the family of questionable morals that takes her under their wing.
  • "Christmas in Paris" by Susan Vreeland. Sweet romance set in Paris that would make a decent Hallmark Christmas movie.
  • "Lisette's List" by Susan Vreeland. Very enjoyable read about WWII Provence and a woman who learns of the work of Chagall, Matisse, Pisarro and others. Very enjoyable.
  • "The Magician's Assistant" by Ann Patchett. Another book where coping with grief takes center stage, bringing the main character into contact with the family of the deceased. Very nice. Patchett usually is.

A photo spread from "Paris in Bloom"


"The Girls of Atomic City" by Denise Kernan. Similar to "Hidden Figures" only these women are working in plants to build the atomic bomb. Fascinating but too many characters, albeit real ones.

Other Non Fiction

My favorite here was mostly photos, "Paris in Bloom," by Georgiana Lane -- fabulous, luscious photos of Paris, primarily floral.


  • "Christmas Joy" by Susan Branch (if this had more pages it would be a favorite because Susan Branch always is. Wonderful illustrations and ideas and recipes for Christmas activities.
  • "One Thousand Gifts" by Ann Voscamp. Highly inspirational book on living and our many gifts.



Here we go.  I read 34 books in this category and with the exception of Louise Penny's books and and "The Coroner's Lunch," all of them were either by British authors or set there (or both). I didn't pick a favorite because they were mostly all good and many by the same authors. The new Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear ("In This Grave Hour") is always a treat. And I love the Louise Penny "Gamache" books and the Deborah Crombie "Kincaid and James" series -- and read a lot of them (eleven Crombies and seven Pennys.) I'm caught up with both series and can't wait for a new one by either author.

NOTE: This probably goes without saying to mystery readers but I strongly suggest reading series like the Crombies, Winspears, MacNeals and Pennys in order as the personal character development plays a key factor in getting the most out of these, either historically or from a period view.)

Also fun were the Classic British Crime series by Poisoned Pen Press and I did two by J. Jefferson Fargeon and one by Freeman Willis Croft. I'll read more of these.

I also discovered Peter Lovesey's Edward VII mysteries, "Bertie and the Crime of Passion" and thanks to Mae, Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy series. Others included the new Maggie Hope "The Queen's Accomplice" (Susan Elia MacNeal) and Colin Cotterill's "The Coroner's Lunch" along with two by Charles Todd set in WWI (both very good) and Rhys Bowen's "Her Royal Spyness." Also on the list, another Bryant and May book by Christopher Fowler. I'd recommend any of these authors.

Here's the list:

By Deborah Crombie: "Dreaming of the Bones," "Kissed theSad Goodbye," "A Finer End," "And Justice There Is None," "Now You May Week," "In a Dark House," "Water Like a Stone," "Where Memories Lie," "Necessary as Blood," "No Blood Upon Her," "The SOund of Broken Glass," "To Dwell in Darkness" "Garden of Lamentations."

By Louise Penny: "A Trick of the Light," "The Beautiful Mystery," "How the Light Gets In," "The Long Way Home," "The Nature of the Beast," "A Great Reckoning." And, "The Hangman" (not in the chronology.)

Others: "The Queens Accomplice" (Susan Elia MacNeal), "In this Grave Hour" (Jacqueline Winspear), "Thirteen Guests" (J. Jefferson Farjeon), "The Coroner's Lunch" (Colin Cotterill); "Her Royal Spyness" (Rhys Bowen), "Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart" (Christopher Fowler), "The Shattered Tree" (Charles Todd), "The Wyndham Case" (Jill Paton Walsh), "An Unwilling Accomplice" (Charles Todd), "Bertie and the Crime of Passion" (Peter Lovesey), "The Hog's Back Mystery" (Freeman Willis Croft), "The Price of Justice" (Jill Paton Walsh), "Angels in the Gloom" (Anne Perry), "Mystery in White" (J. Jefferson Farjeon).

SO, for this new year?


The pile is tall (or maybe I should say, the piles ARE tall!). They are a mix of "girl" thrillers (books in the genre of "Girl on the Train" or "Gone Girl"), some bios, some British history, some Paris... Oh, I won't be bored!

And then there's a comprehensive historical bio of Henry VIII's six wives, Danubia (on the Hapsburgs, among others), more Roosevelts... and who knows what will come along in-between! All this is great for cold winter nights -- and we have them! I think I'll have to pull out "Paris in Bloom" again, just for the floral eye candy!

I've already finished two this year -- but they were short: Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road and Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. I'd read "Charing Cross" before -- decades ago and it was fun to revisit it. "Duchess" was new to me. These are fast reads and so delightful -- especially if you love books or England.

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