Hello reading friends
I hope you are all well and looking forward to a break over the Christmas period. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it can still be a chance to spend some time looking after your own needs. For me, this means reading in the afternoons without feeling guilty, going swimming, and wandering around in the garden. I try to make sure my ‘to do’ list is as short as possible and focus on self-care.
How do you like to spend your time in the holidays?
What I’ve been reading
I managed to get through two books since we last chatted and they were curiously similar. I don’t want you to think they were boring, because they weren’t, but I would probably describe them as quiet. There are no murders or inconceivable plot twists, but lots of moments of recognition and a few chuckles. They’re about love, families and friendship.
Both are about women who have given their time and energy to their families and in middle age decide to live out some of their own dreams.
In One Day I Will Astonish The World, Susan gives up her dreams of academic career when she finds herself pregnant with her first child. She finds a part-time job in the local haberdashery shop where she meets Norma, a larger than life young woman hell-bent on living her best life.
It started to feel like we were sisters, Norma and I, not that we were alike or aligned, but that we were attached for all time. Even while I was away, she rang every Sunday. I’d always wanted a sister and particularly an older one who wouldn’t fuss over me but whose version of the world would be constantly revealed, like items on a conveyor belt I could reach for or dismiss. And who would examine my pre-occupations and discard them with the same few comments. ‘You care too much,’ she’d say, and ‘Don’t worry about it. And if I imagined a face in the bark of the tree , she’d say, ‘People who see faces in everything often lack self-assurance.’
Thirty years later, Norma is enjoying a sparkling, if unconventional life, and Susan wonders if she has made the right choices about life, love, work and friendship.
In French Braid, Mercy waits until her last child has gone to college before finding herself a small place of her own where she can paint and just do nothing.
For the next little bit, then, Mercy continued sleeping at home. She got up in the mornings and made Robin’s breakfast; she tidied and bustled around until he went to work. (Oh, leave! Just leave! she told him in her mind. How long can it take to just go?) Then, the instant he was out of the house, she was off to her studio. She didn’t have much to carry anymore. All the essentials were there now, and even those seemed excessive because she had envisioned her future life as taking place in an empty room.
Do you ever dream about having a different life to the one you are currently living?
What I’ve been listening to
Here’s a lovely interview with Anne Tyler where she talks about her early life and influences. If you’re not familiar with Desert Island Discs, it’s a show where people choose their favourite music and talk about their lives. It’s one of my favourite podcasts.
Jazz up your salad
Salads can be quite boring if you eat the same thing day after day. I like to mix things up by adding some extra ingredients. My favourite things are sweet, salty, or nutty.
Here are a few suggestions:
Nori sheets - roll them tight and cut with scissors. Sprinkle on any salad that involves rice, tuna or egg, or all three.
Pickled ginger - add to any salad for a bit of extra flavour, but especially good with tuna or salmon
Dried cranberries - add to salads that need a bit of sweetness
Fresh blueberries - you’ll be surprised how much better your salad tastes with the addition of a handful of fresh blueberries
Salted cashews or peanuts - especially good with chopped apricots or raisins
Dried figs - good with salads that involve ham, prosciutto. Slice very finely
Goats cheese or fetta - I know it’s expensive, but a little goes a long way. Crumble on top of an otherwise boring salad
Parmesan - sprinkle over your salad for a bit of pep. Good with pumpkin
Toasted walnuts - I always toast my walnuts, it makes a big difference. If you have time, try candying a few. Yum…
Fresh herbs - my favourites are mint, coriander and basil
I know that none of these ideas are new, but I want to encourage you to jazz up your salad even if you are eating alone. Don’t wait for people to visit to add something tasty to your meal. Is it worth toasting a few walnuts for just one person? Yes!
If you’re new around here, you might not know that I’m starting a book club in the New Year. I’ll be announcing the book in the next newsletter (Issue #46) so watch out for that. I can’t wait to get started!
You don’t need to register or sign up to join the book club and it’s free. I will organise a virtual catchup in late February or early March. If you can’t make the time and date (yet to be announced) you can still join in using the new chat function provided by Substack.
If this all sounds a bit complicated, don’t worry. I’ll send out an email providing all the details in the next two weeks.
Happy reading and look after yourselves,
I was struck by the quietness of French Braid also--quite a contrast to most of my fiction diet, which often includes a murder or two!
I hope I’ll be able to be part of the book club. Given the time difference, that could be a problem, but I’m so glad you’re doing this!
I believe I use almost all the additions to my salad that you suggest, and they make all the difference. I love the idea of fresh fruit--berries are great, but also sliced apple or pear. Sometimes I like to take leftover bread that I’ve bought or made and turn it into croutons. It’s pretty easy. I just chop leftover bread into cubes, spray on a little oil, add seasoning and maybe a little Parmesan, tgen toast lightly in the toaster oven.
Thanks for the link to interview with Anne Tyler. I didn’t know her husband had died quite young which explains the Iranian connections in Digging to America. A friend often comments that The Ladder of Years where a woman walks out on her ungrateful family really resonated with her when her kids were teens (circa 1995). Me too!