Get it while you can

This should be a short and scattered post, if all goes as planned. I just have a little time, lots to discuss and lots to do. So, since you always need to get it while you can, here goes:

Last night I finished John Cooke’s brilliant On the Road with Janis Joplin. I knew the ending – lived through it – but, though I was shocked and saddened when JJ died right after my 16th birthday, reading about it as an almost 60-year-old was much more disheartening. So young and so talented.

Yet in many ways, so predictable. Damn. Who knows what she might have achieved had she lived past that unlucky age?

But overall the book is joyous, so don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. (Next on my list is her sister’s book, Love, Janis by Laura Lee Joplin. The two are said to be bookends, one business life and one family – and, since I’m a Laura Lea, it seems like the right thing to do.)

Before jumping to the next topic, let me just add that the link above, if you choose to listen/watch, is to one of Janis Jopln’s appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, her second of three, I think. My son got me a great DVD boxed set years ago of Dick Cavett’s musical guests – a super treat to own, and Janis truly is a pearl in her appearances.


So, the reason it took me as long as it did to finish OTRwJJ is because I’ve been requiring myself to spend some of my off time studying Italian in preparation for the trip with Mother in aprile. Or indulging myself – it’s pretty fun. And, by the way, that’s not a typo. Months and days of the week are not capitalized in Italiano.

So much to learn. But I think I’m on the right track. Signs are pointing that way. Bear with me and I’ll try to make sense.

My great Zio Giovanni Blaiotta, who married my great Zia Opal, moved to the U.S. (and ultimately to San Francisco) from Italia when he was 10 years old. We always talked about him teaching me Italiano, but since he died much too young of emphysema when I was 15 – and didn’t move to Arkansas until a few years before that – we didn’t get to it while we could.

That always made me sad. Aunt Opal, whose ring I wear every day and whose cedar chest sits at the foot of our bed, had gone to San Francisco from Russellville to make a more interesting life for herself (and after four unsuccessful marriages in a time when that was scandalous, I might add). They fell madly in love and lived just off Haight Street for years before retiring and moving to Russellville.

berlitz Anyway, long story short, last night I got out Aunt Opal’s 1950 copy of The Berlitz Self-Teacher Italian to add it to my instructional pile – I liked to look at it at Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s house as an adolescent but haven’t pulled it out in all the years I’ve owned it.

The inside is stamped in red: “A. Cavalli & Co. (SINCE 1880) 1441 Stockton, St., San Francisco, Cal. GArfield1-4219.” (That’s old-school for a landline phone number, for you younger readers.)

Oh, my goodness. That’s still the phone number at Cavalli Cafe.! If only I’d known that when Mother and I went to San Francisco for her 75th birthday and looked up Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s former apartment, the one where she spent a couple of summers.

You can bet your boots I’ll go there next time John and I are in that great city.

The city where he used to work before coming to Arkansas. And where many of Janis Joplin’s happy times took place.

And the next time John and I go to Italy, we’ll visit the Calabria area of very southern Italy, from whence my dear Uncle Johnny came. And to Sicily, where I’ve dreamed of going since I was young.

Oh, well, makes sense to me.


Let me wrap this not-as-short-as-I’d-hoped piece up by saying how thrilled we all are that Silas is thriving and growing now that his food allergies have been isolated and eliminated. Out, out, damned milk and eggs. Peanuts, be gone.

You can call him little James Brown much of the time now.

Buono notte. Until next time …


A little night reading ... my nightstand overflows with books, most of which I'm at least partway into. The guide to Italy and the two Italian language books are part of my preparation for taking Mother on our trip in April.

A little night reading … my nightstand overflows with books, most of which I’m at least partway into. The guide to Italy and the two Italian language books are part of my preparation for taking Mother on our trip in April.

I’ve never been to Monterey, though I’d love to go there, but Eric Burdon and the Animals’ classic description of the Monterey Pop Festival has been playing in my head for days. That’s because I finally let myself jump with both feet into On the Road with Janis Joplin, one of my Christmas presents from John.

janis It’s super fabulous if you’re a Janis fan – and, really, anyone who enjoys reading history and about pop culture should enjoy it. OTRWJJ is no adequately written lightweight memoir; au contraire, this book is a literary delight. John Byrne Cooke, the multi-talented author (he shot most of the photos and also worked on the filming of Monterey Pop, the excellent documentary, among other accomplishments), is a Harvard graduate and excellent writer, as well he should be as the son of well-known British journalist Alastair Cooke and the great-grandnephew of Ralph Waldo Emerson on his mother’s side.

That’s plenty to give him literary cred. But most importantly for this book, he was Janis Joplin’s road manager from shortly after she played the pop festival with Big Brother and the Holding Company until her much too youthful death – a gig that couldn’t have been easy.

For whatever reason, I was mildly (possibly a lot-ly) obsessed with the Monterey Pop Festival as a kid – I was 11 when it happened, but it just seemed so fantastic and fantastical that I was and always have been drawn to anything about it. I got The Animals’ 45 as soon as it came out and played it over and over. So I was in a literary swoon reading Cooke’s descriptions of the event, including the logistics, the crowd, the performances, even the newspaper reviews.

I’d read some nugget aloud to John from the treadmill (where I do lots of my reading) every time he came within earshot. (Side note: I know I drive John crazy at times, but my Myers-Briggs personality inventory says I can’t help sharing things I’m excited about.)

(Side-side note: I was tickled to read in her recent Rolling Stone cover story that my girl Stevie Nicks was reading OTRWJJ, too.)

This is the third book in a reading cycle of sorts. One of the books I took on our recent trip to Washington, a gift from my 10Songsexcellent friend Susan Garner, who thought I’d like it after hearing about it on NPR, is Greil Marcus’s History of Rock ’n‘ Roll in Ten Songs.

Was she ever right! I read the whole book on the return trip. This is not your standard R&R fare – Marcus takes readers on many side roads, tangents and flights of fancy as he discusses the music we love through some of the more obscure songs in the genre.

If you’re serious about music and like books that don’t walk the beaten path, I highly recommend it. I found myself at times thinking of Sarah Vowell’s books, with their sidetracks and tangents.

Telegraph_AvenueAs soon as we got home I started in on Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. If you love Chabon’s writing, you’ll enjoy this book. If you’d love a good, quirky story set in and around an Oakland record store (vinyl, not CDs) – with midwifery, family tensions and coming of age themes – then you’ll enjoy it, too. We’re talking literary fiction, not pop fiction, but Telegraph Avenue is easy to read and hard to put down. And it’s nowhere near Chabon’s best work.

This is my overflow stack on the dresser – and one reason the nightstand is in such disarray. I keep cheating and grabbing books form the overflow stack. I'm an addict; what can I say? But the top two books are for the trip ...

This is my overflow stack on the dresser – and one reason the nightstand is in such disarray. I keep cheating and grabbing books from the overflow stack before finishing the nightstand books. I’m an addict; what can I say? But the top two books are for the trip …


I was thinking today that perhaps we should have named Zuzu “Shadow” or “Curious Georgeanne.” Wherever you are, there she is, and whatever you’re doing, her nose is in it. She’s precious and has an exuberance for life, but, dang, she can be an obstacle.

But look at that face.

Zuzu takes a break from dogging Mom. She'd been my shadow or stumbling block all morning. But we love her madly.

Zuzu takes a break from dogging Mom. She’d been my shadow or stumbling block all morning. But we love her madly.


One last note about the damned shower and this will be the end of it, I promise. First, I moved all my stuff back downstairs and took a heavenly debut shower today. Ah, the pleasure of not having to stand on a stool to get wet. It’s just my size, has nice water pressure and the river rock floor is like a foot massage.

So, ultimately, whatever. As Tom said, it’s the little things.

But the “grout” is definitely more concrete than grout – we just can’t figure out what those guys were thinking/doing/hoping to accomplish. I’ve a bit of trepidation over how it will hold up, since it won’t take the sealer (even though said sealer is made for grout OR concrete – but evidently not a mix of the two). And, just to show that I’m not an insane woman, as John said I might appear, one last photo to show where he had to patch some areas with the grout we chose.

The chosen color was “Dark Taupe.” We’ll live with “Driveway Gray,” if it holds together. Fingers crossed.

See?! I told you it was the wrong color and texture. The dark area is the pure grout. OK, ohmmm ... letting it go.

See?! I told you it was the wrong color and texture. The dark area is the pure grout. OK, ohmmm … letting it go.

Hold on tight

This is the view Karen and I woke up to in New York for the climate march. Lucky us!

This is the view Karen and I woke up to in New York for the climate march. Lucky us!

OK, hold on tight, folks, because this is going to jump all over the place as I play a bit of catch up and hit on some random things, too.

First, let me mention what great long-distance friends I have. When Karen and I went to New York, both Margot Harris and Melissa McNeese came into the city to have dinner with us, Margot on Saturday night (from Edison, NJ, even though she has to drive to Staten Island every day for work), and Melissa Sunday night.

Melissa came 100 miles by train from upstate. Like I said, great gals. Thank y’all so much!

New York always makes me happy, but the street-light mosaics in East Village are just so fabulous – what a cool way to delineate an area – that I have to share this. Here’s a fabulous video about Jim Power, the Mosaic Man of New York City. You should watch it. Trust me.

Street light mosaic in East Village.

Street-light mosaic in East Village.

Another view. See where it says "Village" on the side? What a great way to make a neighborhood recognizable.

Another view. See where it says “Village” on the side? What a great way to make a neighborhood recognizable.

OK, next topic: Zuzu’s birthday!

Zuzu turns 4 Oct. 13!

Zuzu turns 4 Oct. 13!

Our big baby turns 4 tomorrow. The years have flown, of course, and she still acts like a goob much of the time, but you couldn’t ask for a better dog. She adores the grandchildren and lets them climb all over her, accompanies us on every move we make – no matter how many trips up and down the stairs that might entail, and does a great job of protecting (and herding) everyone she loves, as well as guarding her turf.

Sylvia and Silas call the dogs on FaceTime. It’s always pretty cute, but last night, during the sad Razorback game, when Silas yelled “Zuzu!” via my laptop. Zuzu came running, and for a second, she could really see him on the screen. Her eyes got huge and she touched her nose to the screen right as Silas leaned forward to kiss her on his mom’s laptop screen.


Zuzu and Tess, who is 9 1/2 now.

Zuzu and Tess, who is 9 1/2 now. They’re constant companions and are the reason our floors look like that. But they are more than worth it.

What next? So many ways this could go. OK, you may remember that Cathy, Paul, John and I did the 23andMe DNA testing for our New Year’s Eve event. Now Mother’s had hers done and yesterday we mailed in her brother’s kit – my Uncle Bill and Karen’s dad. Karen drove him down, so we’ve already gotten another visit in.

We’re going to keep that vow of holding the family together for another generation.

Anyway, I’m still a neophyte, but the past few days I’ve spent quite a bit of time with it. Can’t talk intelligently yet, but a 9th-chromosome long-section match relative from outside Chicago found me and has been coaching me a bit. My darling Doug, my cousin on Daddy’s side has been tested through another company, so I shared Sue’s info with Doug and Doug’s with Sue, and they have a match, too, but on a different chromosome.

I’ll come back to this when I know more what I’m talking about (if I ever do – complicated business), but here are good examples photographically of the kinds of things you can learn.

23andMe top

Italian! Who knew? That's one of the mysteries to solve.

Italian! Who knew? That’s one of the mysteries to solve.

Cathy and I are 56.2 percent identical, slightly higher than average for siblings. That probably doesn’t surprise people who know us. And at 2.3 percent, I’m slightly below the average Neanderthal DNA for European 23andMe members. Don’t ask me what that means, though. Still learning and way behind the curve.

Another topic: The ELO song this post’s title refers to says “hold on tight to you dreams.” One of my lifelong ones – or at least since early childhood – is coming true right now.

My under-restoration 1940 Baldwin baby grand piano!

My under-restoration 1940 Baldwin baby grand piano!

John surprised me for my birthday by getting me an antique baby grand piano, a 1940 Baldwin that he’s restoring, with the help of our friend and master piano restorer Jim McGehee. It’s currently in pieces and the keys have to be shipped off to be covered in plastic – even if ivory were still an option, I’d want plastic. Poor elephants.

John looks pretty tickled about the progress they're making.

John looks pretty tickled about the progress they’re making.

Now I’ll just have to re-learn how to play. My hope is to be able to teach my grandkids enough to see if they’re really interested in taking lessons. If only Lavinia Montgomery, my beloved piano teacher, were still alive…

Speaking (sort of) of my multi-talented husband and his ever-increasing skills, John’s just gotten the second-floor bathroom floor done (with heating coils under the marble tile!) and we finally have a door!

Bathroom floor ...

Bathroom floor …

... and bathroom door. Door frame trim in progress.

… and bathroom door. Door frame trim in progress.

OK, one more catch-up topic for the day: Books.

MysteriesI took Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh to New York. His first book, Mysteries was actually his master’s thesis. The beauty of his writing made me want to cry at times. It’s a short little book and reminded me in some respects of The Great Gatsby.

I bought it a while back because I’ve loved the other Chabon books I’ve read. Had no idea of its background. Or that it’s dedicated “To Lollie.” It was the perfect length for a quick trip – finished it as the plane was landing in Little Rock.

I highly recommend it.

Once home, it was back to Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory. Glory I’d gotten the book shortly after John and I saw Pat Tillman’s widow and brother-in-law (if memory serves) at The Clinton School, then couldn’t bear to read it. John read it immediately and I kept waiting. And waiting.

I knew how it ended, but it was still a tough read. Excellently written, but so infuriating – what a waste the Iraq War was. And here we are, all these years later, and the same issues in the book are still issues today. And getting worse daily.

Can’t remember if I mentioned reading Krakauer’s Three Cups of Deceit recently. That’s more like a pamphlet. I knew that JK is one of the best journalistic-style non-fiction writers around, but now I know that you don’t want to lie to him or piss him off. He will eviscerate you with words if you deserve it.

If you need some help understanding what’s going on in the Middle East or can’t remember how we lost sight of Bin Laden for so long and got distracted by destroying Iraq, read Where Men Win Glory.

WTFOne more book I must mention, though I’m not quite finished: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a first novel by David Shafer. That’s the military phonetic alphabet for WTF? It’s one of my birthday books from John and has been keeping me up way too late. It’s very, very much in the same vein as Dave Eggers’ The Circle, only much better.

I’ll let you know my final verdict, but so far it’s funny-ish and intriguing enough with interesting characters – and I hope to hell the story is as far-fetched as it seems.

Our blind faith in technology is scary if you take the blinders off. If Eggers and Shafer know something we don’t, we’re in for a future of which I don’t want to be part.

Guess that will do for this scattershot post. Oh, one last photo of something that makes me very happy, Japanese persimmons just like the ones my grandfather used to grow. Fresh (and unripe) from the Bernice Garden Farmers Market this morning, grown by my friend Robert Lashley at Willow Springs Market Garden.


Japanese persimmons



Put your records on

Just a few of my old albums from the later ’60s to the ’80s, before CDs took over, have made it to the shelf so far. Hope they still all play. Nothing beats vinyl ....

Just a few of my old albums from the later ’60s to the ’80s, before CDs took over, have made it to the shelf so far. Hope they still play all right. Nothing beats vinyl ….

Focusing on the negative is easy, especially when the news is as bad as it’s been lately, but I’m usually more of the Pollyanna-bent. So when I noticed a bit ago that I hadn’t been feeling quite like myself, I knew it was time to put my records on.

Music always soothes my soul and lifts my spirits, and my regimen of listening to my music at least once a day – not counting in my car – has helped.

(Technically, these days it’s my iPod in a Bose dock, but John recently built an album-sized shelf upstairs and got many of my albums out of storage. Now I just need to get a turntable hooked up.)

I also haven’t had much time for creative outlets, other than what I do for work, or exercise, except the bare minimum, so it’s time to get the sewing machine back out, try my hand at pointillism and shake a tail feather. Without killing myself in the process.

Work/life balance has been out of balance. I’m working on that.

Jude’s spending the night tonight and tomorrow we go dig for diamonds at the Crater of Diamonds State Park – something neither Pop nor I have done. It’s the rest of his 8th birthday present. It’s good to have one-on-one time with our oldest boy.

The one thing I have had time to do lately (on the treadmill and by staying up way too late) is read, which brings me to this installment of “Lolly’s Book Report.”

predisposed Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives and the Biology of Political Differences is a fascinating, if somewhat textbook-y read. The studies are eye-opening, and if everyone were required to read it – with an open mind – surely much hatefulness would be abated. Fear and loathing of the political “other” is defused when you learn that people are born with a predisposition to being a certain way.

For me it was a hard-to-put-down, hurry-to-finish book. John finds it very interesting, too, but not as compelling as I did. Even though some parts required a twice- or thrice-over reading, I scoop that stuff up with a spoon then lick the bowl.

I’d suggest it to anyone interested in the human mind, even if, maybe especially if, politics turns you off.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a fabulous little mystery that I can’t say too much about without ruining it for you. Miss PIt’s a page-turner; I  read it from start to finish the day we flew to Yakima. I will say read it if you like fun, well-written stories that linger after you’ve finished and make you go “Hmmmm, I wonder ….” The eerily fascinating real photos will linger after you’ve finished and possibly appear in your dreams.

100 footThe 100-Foot Journey was my Yakima read. It’s a fairly short, lightweight book with a definite charm – and on my list of books to read before the movie comes out. I suspect it was greatly changed in the screenplay from the trailers I’ve seen. The book is based around French cooking and the graphic descriptions of animal slaughter and handling of meat gagged me at times, but the humor and humanity of other parts kept me reading.

Can’t say it’s in my top 100 books, but at this age, I don’t bother finishing a book if it isn’t good.

Last night I finished the book that’s been keeping me up too late lately – and disturbing me, greatly, at times, even though it’s about events in the 1930s. gardenKitty gave me In the Garden of the Beasts in Yakima – she’d recently finished it. I love Erik Larson’s writing style, and though Garden isn’t quite as good as The Devil in the White City, it still worked me into fury over intelligent people’s collective blindness to der fuhrer’s insanity as he rose to power. That’s some powerful writing and disturbing reading.

Disturbing – and more than a little scary, considering much of the craziness in the world and right here in the U.S. right now – but important reading. Those who don’t learn from the past and all.

madwoman After finishing it, though, I dove straight into The Madwoman in the Volvo, which John got me as a surprise after we saw author Sandra Tsing Loh on Real Time with Bill Maher recently and she made us laugh so hard.

John said he thought it would be funny and that I’d enjoy it. He was right. It is and I am.



Abbey Road 45 years later

Abbey Road 45 years later

Something about seeing that Pattie Boyd turned 70 yesterday made me feel – not old, not nostalgic, not sad – grateful? Happy to have lived when I have?

Pattie Boyd, my childhood idol and living Francie doll.

Pattie Boyd, my childhood idol and living Francie doll.

Can’t quite put my finger on what that something is, so I’ll blog it out. She’s the girl about whom George Harrison wrote, “Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover …,” from Abbey Road (across which we walked on our recent trip to London). She’s the same girl about whom Eric Clapton wrote the tortured “Layla” and the adoring “Wonderful Tonight.”

She’s the girl on whose every (ghost)written word I hung as a 9-11 year old when she had a beauty and advice column in 16 magazine. Her hair and makeup tips were memorized by yours truly, amusing considering I couldn’t touch cosmetics until I turned 13.

She married a Beatle, for heaven’s sake.

Jean Shrimpton was my favorite model in those days, for sheer beauty, glamour and – just look at her.

Her highness of beauty, Jean Shrimpton

Her highness of beauty, Jean Shrimpton

But Pattie was a regular girl, accessible, with an attainable look and darling clothes. (Or so she seemed, despite marrying George, then marrying Eric and having those songs written about her.) She transcended glamour.

As frivolous as it might seem, I’m glad I was affected by her.


A few people have asked me to write about our trip, but that’s not something I really feel like doing at the moment, other than to mention the books I read on our trip – and one inspired by our trip that I ordered the last night we were in Paris.

I told myself I could not take Michael Chabon’s Kavalier & Clay with me – it weighs too much and I’d waited all these years to read it and another week wouldn’t hurt me. Kav&Clay

I was about halfway through and could finish it when I got back, I told myself repeatedly – and I already had a beat-up used copy of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl packed – I’d been saving it for the trip since Julia told me I must read it immediately.

But the day came to leave and I couldn’t leave my comic-book-creating boys behind. I stayed up late nights on our trip to finish the tale Chabon wove so well. I won’t give anything away, but if you like World War II history, comic books or just excellent writing in any form, read it.

CalamityPhysicsBookCoverBut I didn’t let myself start Calamity Physics until our very long return-travel day – made do with magazines after the heartbreak of finishing K&C. I almost finished CP in that one day – what a great, weird book it is. After we got home and real-life ensued, it took me a few days to finish the little bit I had left.

Can’t tell you anything, really, except you’ll never read anything else quite like it. Pessl blew me away with her first novel. The first-person narration, by a college-age girl, is accompanied by self-annotation, a fascinating device and not distracting at all from the top-notch mystery that the book really is.

Just as I finished it, the book I ordered from our hotel room in Montmartre arrived. (Stayed up late the last night of our trip to find a good used copy of a 2013 book, which took some digging. I feed my addiction with used books when possible; my iPad is loaded with classics, travel books and books for work, but turning pages is part of the experience for me.)

thepaintedgirlsI’d read about The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan, a while back and thought I’d probably read it when it came out in paperback. But after seeing Little Dancer, Aged 14 at the Musée D’Orsay, then talking to a very nice lady from Port Arthur, Texas, at lunch at the D’Orsay (she and her husband, a retired firefighter, were at the table next to us and accents required chatting), I revised that to “I’ll read it now.”

She brought it up and said she was back at the D’Orsay to visit the statuette after reading the historical novel, based on ballet dancers near Montmartre, including Marie van Goethem, who modeled regularly for Edgar Degas and was captured in Little Dancer and many paintings.


Degas’ “Little Dancer, Aged 14”

The book is good, not life-changingly great, but solidly good and very interesting historically. Buchanan craftily weaves two true stories into one –and it was cool reading about events on the streets we’d walked and hills we’d climbed. I’m very glad I read it.

Montmartre and Sacré Coeur from one of the clock windows at the Museé D-Orsay – the setting for much of

Montmartre and Sacré Coeur from one of the clock windows at the Musée D-Orsay – the setting for much of “The Painted Girls” and where we stayed our three nights in Paris. (Taken with an iPhone, I might add, which did better than our Canon aim-and-shoot.)

their_eyes_frontBut now I’m reading Their Eyes Were Watching God. Once I got used to the dialect, I find it hard to put down. I started it to fill a gap in my English-degree reading. Thank heavens I did!


One last something to write about, in the photo department – and some things I noticed: My passport is expiring, so I had to go get a new picture made. Things I noticed: I often have the non-drunk drunk eyes Daddy had in many photos, and they show up well here. Ten years age you a lot. Passport photos have gone up quite a bit – 10 years ago, I think it was about $10. Yesterday it was $16+ with tax.

And check out the hair – mainly the bangs. Sixties’ influence much? Some things never change.

Pattie Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, I feel your bangs.

Pattie Boyd, Jean Shrimpton, I feel your bangs.

Time won’t let me

Time seems to be circular instead of linear for me these days. You? Instead of moving in a straight line, it keeps looping up and meeting itself somewhere in the middle or at the beginning. Time won’t let me make sense of it, but that’s ok. I’m just observing ..

For example, a year ago today, about three hours from now, my step-father quietly slipped away after a quick month of living hell. I’m finding, though, that Daddy’s death in April of 1982 seems as fresh and recent and Bill’s feels as long ago and ancient.

I turn around and week is gone – or two, in the case of blog entries of late. Ah, well, it can’t just be me who feels this way.

My absence from The Lolly Diaries is easily explained, me being me. I fell into a rabbit hole of reading. from which I haven’t yet climbed, though I am stirring.

Yes, this is going to be one of those book posts.

First is a quick and quirky read, an older book from 1960,

We ThinkWe Think the World of You, by J. R. Ackerley. I bought it for John – put it in his stocking Christmas before last – but he hasn’t read it yet, so I decided to go ahead. Anyone who’s ever loved a German Shepherd, especially a skittish one, should read it. Funny, heartbreaking, uplifting and dead-on accurate in the descriptions of Evie, the dog who would not tame.

The book is a novel, but I can’t believe at least some of it’s not autobiographical.

Then I got trapped in Dave Eggers’ The Circle, which John got me for Christmas this year. I adore Dave Eggers, but this book – appreciate it, yes. Adore it, no. Couldn’t put it down, though – four days, I think it took me. Maybe five. It’s spooky and gripping and annoying for weak character development, pop-fiction thriller-style and moralistic tone, which, I’m sure, is exactly what Eggers intended.

TheCircleHe is, after all, a staggering genius.

And, frankly, The Circle made me consider ending this blog and is part of the reason I’ve been away. As I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen (harder to find since I no longer teach and have a captive audience), it’s a 1984/Brave New World for the digital age.

Can’t stop thinking about it and seeing aspects everywhere.

Then I had a quickie with President James A. Garfield, via the excellent Destiny of the Republic by the brilliant Candice Millard. My friend Shalah turned me on to this one, after I told her about Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacationdestiny-of-the-republic

Everyone who’s ever taken American history knows Garfield was assassinated, but the book is still a nail-biter, page-turner, just-have-to-read-one-more-section story. One detail, which I won’t spoil for you, brought tears to my eyes on the treadmill, which is a little dangerous.

In structure, Destiny reminds me of The Devil in the White City, another book I had trouble putting down. Perfection in 260 pages (not counting notes, etc.)

517Q8HVYBYL And now I’m being held hostage by Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks – her first novel, published in 1977. I ordered a used paperback copy, a British version from an “American classics” series published in the 1990s. Strange cover and British punctuation, but, heavens, Lisa Alther can write. Pop-fiction this is not, though, with almost Moby Dick-like attention to description and minute detail.

Reading it after reading her Kinfolks, her nonfiction account of searching for her Melungeon roots/ancestors makes Kinflicks doubly interesting, but that’s not required.

John is in Yakima as of Wednesday, spending time with his mother, Kitty, Marie-Noelle and the rest of the fam, so I’ve made quite a dent in the massive book. But today I’m taking a break to walk the girlies, who are patiently waiting on me to finish this post (they’re not Evies, thank goodness, though both had such wild tendencies in their younger years).

I think I have a date with the sewing machine, too. At least that’s the intention, if the Tennesseans of Kinflicks will leave me be for a bit.

Who are you?

In a few weeks, my sister, brother-in-law, husband and I will be a bit more equipped to explain who we are – part of our quiet, at-home New Year’s Eve celebration was ordering our 23andMe personal genome kits, which promise to help you “discover your ancestral origins and lineage with a personalized analysis of your DNA.”


They arrived yesterday – I did mine today and will mail it in tomorrow.

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while – but here’s what led up to it actually happening.

Shortly before Christmas, I popped in to beautiful Curran Hall, a restored antebellum home that serves as Little Rock’s official visitor’s center, to check out our ESSE Purse Museum display and visit with my friend Shalah. The weather was horrid, cold and sleety, but Shalah and I had a lovely time, actually sitting in the  armchairs and talking like proper ladies.

Our conversation quickly turned to books – I told her about just finishing Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, which Shalah now wants to read, and she told me about a book she’d read about assassinated president James Garfield. (I held out for a while but have ordered a used copy from a Goodwill.)

Turns out we’d both developed a very retroactive semi-crush on old Garfield, who was not only an obsessive reader himself, but an unabashed Jane Austen fan in the days of manly men and rough-riders. Go figure.

Anyway, as the conversation meandereed, Shalah told me a fascinating story about a group of people she’d seen a PBS show about, the Melungeons (“rhymes with dungeon,” she said) of Appalachia – “tri-racial isolates” (as in a mixture of white, black and Native American) who were pushed into the hills and not allowed to marry outside their race OR multi-racial people who preceded the settling of Jamestown and have possible Portuguese, Moorish or Turkish ancestry.

Some of them have six fingers on one or both hands and occasionally an extra toe.

I know this because I’ve developed a mild obsession with Melungeons and have spent too much time on Internet research – and read Lisa Alther’s interesting, informative and, at times, hysterical, account of her own quest to uncover her family’s Melungeon heritage.

Alther is a writer par exellence – she’s written many novels, but Kinfolks, her first nonfiction book, would be hard to beat. kinfolks

(I’ve also ordered a used copy of her first novel, Kinflicks, from a charitable organization – I try to do good while feeding my habit when I can. I’ll let  you know but expect it to be fab.)

You can find lots of books about Melungeons, but I highly recommend this one, if you’re interested.

I’d been telling my friend Julia, who has read Kinflicks, about Kinfolks – and cracking John up by laughing until I cried while reading it (an inherited trait I got mostly from Daddy, though Mother does it too).

By the way, obsessive research is an inherited trait in my family, too – both my kids got it, Liz probably worse than Ben, and I suspect, had he not died before the Internet came about, Daddy would have shared it as well. We also notice coincidences – I think that comes more from Mother.

Anyway, the coincidences that came up while I was reading the book are too many to list – as in having a conversation during the day and reading something about it that evening.

And discovering that “Black Dutch,” a phrase my kids’ paternal grandmother used in reference to her family is sometimes another term for Melungeon.

And reading that Elvis possibly had Melungeon blood – we’re definitely related to the King through the Tackett (Mother’s) side, and the Tacketts descended from an indentured servant from France who landed in Appalachia after working off his indenture.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop. Except for this: The Saturday after Christmas, as we were spending the evening with Julia and Rich, we discussed Melungeons and the likelihood that Cathy and I could be part Melungeon – and Rich told us he’d just gotten back his 23andMe results.

Rich is an extremely bright, technologically savvy guy (even if his results show he is 3 percent Neanderthal – kidding, because how cool is that??), and if he trusts the results, that’s good enough for me.

Mother always said we were “Heinz 57” on her side – too many backgrounds to know – or a “Duke’s Mixture.” Until today, I never knew what the second term meant, but turns out it was a cheap mix of tobacco scraps sold by, wait for it, an Appalachian farmer after the Civil War.

The hardest part about the test was mustering up enough spit to fill the test tube – nice Southern girls are taught not to spit, and it took me more than the five minutes the kit said it might take. Finally John suggested sniffing chocolate to get the juices flowing, and a dark chocolate truffle (which I promptly ate after hitting the spit fill line) did help a bit.

Now we mail our kits tomorrow (John’s doing his in the morning) and wait. That will actually be the hardest part. It always is.

I’ll let you know, of course.