Thursday, November 3, 2022

Election Gratitude Reflection

My latest post went live over on my professional blog at The Medway Group. Pretty excited it was also published on the SC Press Association's News Exchange where any paper in the state can pick it up. 

Good memories abound from many of my "last week of the campaign" adventures.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Wrap up: Blink Book Reviews

What started out as a personal discipline this summer to get off the screen and back to books turned out to be a fun exploration of different reading genres and books I might not have considered reading otherwise. I'm so grateful to the more than 200 people who ended up joining my Blink Book Review Facebook group, offered book suggestions and participated in conversations. 

Mini-reviews and suggestions came in from as far away as Israel and as nearby as up the street. My "to-read" list is bulging, and these suggestions have gotten me out of my rut of reading the same authors and genres. 

In addition to the books that got full reviews in this series, I don't want to overlook several others I read or listened to:

  • "South Toward Home" by Julia Reed - This was a jewel. Another collection of essays kind of like Ann Patchett's book I reviewed. Even if you don't like Julia's writing (which would be really hard to do), just listening to her read in her lilting Mississippi Delta accent is enough. Talent gone too soon!
  • "Apples Never Fall" by Laine Moriarty - Typically I like her books but this one was loooong and slow. The narrator's Australian accent was what kept me engaged.
  • "I Guess I Haven't Learned that Yet" by Shauna Niequist - Another author I've frequently read. This one shared some valuable insights about acceptance and change, but had lots of references to the author's past that didn't quite connect with me since I didn't know her family history.
  • "No Cure for Being Human" and "Everything Happens" by Kate Bowler - These were half book/half Audibles for me. Inspiring, love her reading voice.
  • "Blood" by Allison Moorer - Another read by the author (my favorite kind). She tells the story of how music steadied her crazy growing up years with sister (and country music singer) Shelby Lynn in the rural south.
  • "In Love" by Amy Bloom - Powerful memoir read by the author telling her story of how she supported her husband in his quest to end his life after his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Another type of reading I rediscovered this summer is hard copy travel guides. As I worked on planning a trip to Spain for the fall, I checked out library books about the cities we're visiting. While online guides with links and photos are great, I forgot how nice it is to hold the travel books in my hands. Now I have to go buy them so I can mark them up and keep the maps.

I'll keep the FB group live into the fall and will keep posting occasionally as long as people keep reading. Join us here.

All the Blink Book Reviews are available on the SC Press Association's news exchange website where they were published weekly for local newspapers to pick up. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Blink Book Review #12: "In the Shadow of the White House" by Jo Haldeman

The 50th anniversary of Watergate this summer struck a real chord with me bringing back snippets of news stories from the summer I was eleven and heading into the sixth grade.

An NPR podcast got me curious to dig a little deeper into that dark time in our nation’s history where trust in government was at a low point (sound familiar?). After reading old news stories, listening to several podcasts, and browsing through a number of books on the subject, I settled on reading "In the Shadow of the White House," a memoir by Jo Haldeman, the wife of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. She wrote the book in 2017 when she was 88 to make sure her grandchildren understood their grandfather’s role in history.

Jo Haldeman was a devoted housewife, stay-at-home mom of four children and LA native in 1968 when her husband, Bob, was picked to be Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. Jo embraced the family’s move to DC and her role as the wife of a senior White House official, tending the home fires by day and accompanying her husband to ritzy black tie events at night.

This book is her story of how Bob, a former advertising executive, ended up at the center of one of the nation’s biggest scandals and how his demise impacted not only the nation, but also – and more importantly – his family. Jo writes with navel-gazing accuracy about her family's daily life based on journals and notes she kept. This level of detail gives the book an interesting foreshadowing that probably wouldn't have been possible if she had relied solely on her memories and those of others. 

What drew me in the most about this book is how Jo chronicles the transformation of her gentle-spoken family-focused husband into a chronic workaholic who claimed, even after his conviction, that he knew nothing of the Watergate break-in. It also gives some human insight into some of the eccentricities of President Nixon and the failings of his administration.

This is not a hard-hitting political tome exposing the underbelly of the Nixon administration. Rather it’s one person’s perspective on a piece of our nation’s history that I remember just enough of to want to know more. For the more hard-hitting version, next on my list is revisiting “All the President’s Men” that I last read for a journalism school assignment in college.

Knowing what’s happening around us in national politics right now, this book reminded me of the old saying that “those who don’t remember history will be doomed to repeat it” is frighteningly true.

My summer challenge is to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability is to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words. Join my summer Blink Book Review FB group to get the reviews and book suggestions from others. Or email me at with your own favorites.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Blink Book Review #11: A Double Dose “Enough Already” by Valerie Bertinelli and “Back to the Prairie” by Melissa Gilbert

My recent beach reading consisted of memoirs by two actresses from my childhood – Valerie Bertinelli (Barbara on “One Day at a Time”) and Melissa Gilbert (Laura on “Little House on the Prairie”).

Both of these former child stars are close to my age – 60 or pushing it – and experiencing many of the same life events that my own contemporaries are. Both played beloved characters in my personal television soundtrack of the mid-70s. Both had written previous memoirs about the challenges, insecurities and success of their early career years. Both new books focus on their “late middle age” years and the comfort they’ve found in their own skin and their more intentional lifestyles. I enjoyed both immensely.

Valerie’s “Enough Already: Learning to Love the Way I Am Today” reaches beyond her lifelong struggle with weight and self-image to chronicle how she has happily settled into a hard-won acceptance of who she has become because of – and sometimes in spite of – the intense pressure of Hollywood expectations. She writes, in large part, from the perspective of a mother wanting the best for her very talented son she shared with rocker Eddie Van Halen. Despite the fact she and Eddie divorced in 2007, they remained close, especially during the last years of his long battle with cancer leading up to his 2020 death.

Melissa’s “Back to the Prairie: A Home Remade, A Life Rediscovered” tells the story of her coming of age in her 50s to find a more balanced life without cosmetic surgeries, hair coloring and anxiety about measuring up in a competitive Hollywood environment. The book is an honest accounting of how she shifted her life approach away from the fast pace she’d always known to a more bountiful, yet much simpler, life. This time in Melissa’s life is also a love story about building a quiet life with her husband, actor Tim Busfield, who shares her joy in raising chickens, renovating a ramshackle cabin in the woods, doting on grandchildren, and living ordinary days away from the limelight.

An interesting intersection of these two books is how these former child stars have found financial success in this season of life through cooking and comfort in the enjoyment of home. Valerie has become a successful host on the Food Network. Melissa is basking in the “homebodiness” of a new online venture called Modern Prairie as a modern-day pioneer woman in the Catskill Mountains tending her large garden, enjoying the local wildlife and basking in the abundance of being part of a community.

Anyone who grew up watching these 1970's television favorites will find these two books a delightful update on the lives of the two young actresses who captured the imagination of a generation.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Blink Book Review #10: "The Speckled Beauty" by Rick Bragg (with a bonus section of other great dog books)

A young friend recently asked me to choose my favorite dog book. I had to think really hard on that one. I’ve read a whole lot of them. I believe in the power of a dog. And there’s a special place in the universe for writers who can script a good dog story – whether it’s through poetry, fiction, personal essay, photo captions or a good dog obit.

At the time I got this question, I had just started “The Splendid Beauty … A Dog and His People” by Rick Bragg. “All Over but the Shoutin’” was Rick’s first book that pulled me into his writing many years ago. I’ve long admired his spot-on southern-isms that completely avoid the “fingers on the chalkboard” of writers who try to fake knowing the real south and how it sounds, feels, smells and tastes.

In this book, Rick tells the stories of Speck, a bad-boy mixed breed (or mutt as he would have been called before that term lost favor). Sixteen essays lay out various episodes of Speck’s egregious behavior woven in with stories of Rick’s sideways love for this wild creature. This passage foretells the whole concept of the book:

“In his first two months here, he [Speck] was incarcerated twenty-nine times. Telling him to behave, even after almost two years now, is like telling him it is Tuesday.”

In one paragraph, Rick would have me crying. The next had me laughing out loud. And there’s lots of talk of food - both the human and canine kind (sometimes they are the same). Speck gets factored into the count for Thanksgiving dinner and has a Christmas list that includes cocktail weenies, sliced ham and a dog bed (which Rick kind of counts as edible since Speck ate the last two he had).

If you’ve ever had a dog that wasn’t perfect, you’ll recognize many of Rick’s perfectly told stories.


A little extra this week (this puts me over my 300-ish word count commitment so consider this a bonus)

As I read this book, I found myself reflecting back on dog books that have fed my soul, tickled my funny bone, brought me to tears.  Part of why I love to read is to learn how to be the kind of writer of stories I’d want to read. These four dog books all taught me something about dogs and about writing.

Dog Medicine” by Julia Barton. At first, this book seemed to be the story of the author’s struggle with depression. My interest waned a bit at first…based on what I saw on the cover, I wanted to read about Bunker, the dog. But it didn’t take many more pages to understand that, while depression is certainly a major player in the book, it is by no means is it the main character. The real story here is about resilience, acceptance, trust, connection and belief in something bigger. And all of that comes alive through Bunker and how he leads the author through her depression. Read my earlier review here.

“A Year of Dogs” by Vince Musi. This one feeds my need for visual tickling and great writing. Vince’s stories in this book reflect his canine subjects’ personalities and quirky habits with a humor that can only come from his lively imagination plus his willingness to let dogs just be dogs. The narratives that accompany each pup’s unique photo range from sentimental to side splitting. Even if you think you can’t abide a dog, Vince’s book leaves you with that feeling of having just been loved on by a gentle Great Dane with a really long tongue. Read my earlier review here.

“Dog Songs” by Mary Oliver. While I’m not a big poetry reader, Mary Oliver’s collection of poetry is probably the only book on my nightstand that never gathers dust because I pick it up so frequently to just read a poem. You can read these poems as either her musings on daily life with her beloved canines or deeper reflections on the role of our connections with dogs in enriching our existence on this earth.

"The Last Will and Testament of Very Distinguished Dog" by Eugene O’Neill. I discovered this little gem when it fell off the shelf and landed on my foot during a visit to Kramer Books in DC. It was just weeks after my beloved Golden, Dixie, had died, and it brought me great comfort. It’s a moving and humorous last will and testament of the playwright’s beloved dog reminding the author that every dog we own expands our hearts to make room to love another.

My summer challenge is to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability is to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words. Join my summer Blink Book Review FB group to get the reviews and book suggestions from others. Or email me at with your own favorites.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Danielle Howle and Jay Byrd House Concert - August 11

House concert: (hous KON-sert) - A gathering of friends, neighbors and music lovers in an intimate home setting to celebrate and support local musicians.

OK … so I kind of made up that definition, but it does describe the concept.

The idea of house concerts goes back generations to Appalachian traditions. A performer en route between gigs may have had an open night to play at a host’s home along the way in exchange for a good meal and place to lay his head. The host would charge a small ticket price with all proceeds going to the performer.

In the modern twist on a house concert, guests pay a small admission fee and bring a snack to share if they'd like, their own adult beverages and chairs (we will move inside to the dining room if it rains.)


So that's what’s going on August 11 – a house concert at our house featuring the fabulous Danielle Howle, a very talented songwriter friend of hers, Jay Bird, and Kerry Brooks on bass. Jay writes and performs original roots-influenced music with nods to classic rock and pop artist such as Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne, CSN and Paul Simon. 

Here's the link to purchase advance tickets online (ALL proceeds go directly to Danielle, Jay and Kerry). Once you purchase a ticket, Danielle will send you the house address for the concert. We ask you purchase tickets in advance ($15) to avoid the hassle of cash at the event ($20) – we can’t take cards that night. Kids are welcome, and those under 12 are free. No pets, please.

I’ve loved Danielle’s music for many years going back to when she got started in the early ‘90s as “Danielle Howle and the Tantrums” in local venues. Over the years, she has shared the stage with the likes of the Indigo Girls and Mark Bryan and opened for legends like Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Sam Bush, The Avett Brothers, Fugazi, and Elliot Smith.

You just never know what's going to happen at a Danielle house concert. One year, she brought a special guest whom many of us later saw in the summer of 2019 play three blockbuster shows with a little local band called Hootie and the Blowfish. Another year was the launch of her new CD, and the year before that, it was her send-off to a tour with the Indigo Girls.

This year will be her seventh concert at Chez 1425. Danielle and Jay will start about 7:15 p.m., but if you show up early, you can catch the opener - our band Flossie Dog. We start at 6:30.

In deference to COVID precautions, we will be outside on the patio. There will be a few chairs - or bring your own or a blanket for picnic-style seating if you want. And in the spirit of a true house concert, please bring whatever you want to sip and a snack to share...this is potluck at its best!


Flossie Dog July 2022 (Jeff Goodwyn, Beth Steffans, David Johnson, David Campbell, Rod Swan, Reba Campbell)

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Blink Book Review #9: "These Precious Days" by Ann Patchett

This summer’s reading list has included books beyond the best-seller fiction I usually favor. Ann Patchett’s “These Precious Days” is one of those. This collection of 24 essays hits on topics ranging from Snoopy’s influence in her life and her three fathers to how she selects a book cover and why knitting saved her life.

Ann’s fiction has graced the top of the NYT lists for years. “Commonwealth,” “The Dutch House” and “Bel Canto” are just a few. But it’s her non-fiction that really gets my pages turning.

Normally, I like to invest time in a book, get to know characters, dig into a plot. So typically, essays and short stories aren’t really my gig. Reading this book started slowly for me. Finally, over the July 4 holiday I picked it up again. And couldn’t put it down.

Initially, the cover drew me in when I saw it on the shelf at Litchfield Books (yes, I occasionally judge a book by its cover). The bright colored painting turns out to be Ann’s beloved dog, Sparky, with eyes that will look right into your soul. You’ll have to read the book to get the whole story on the cover art. That essay alone, ‘These Precious Days,’ is worth the price of the book.

What I love about Ann’s essay writing (I’d read her first book of essays years ago) is how she blows life into seemingly mundane things while, at the same, makes events like being asked to interview Tom Hanks at his own book signing sound almost ordinary. Ann quotes a friend as telling her, “Do you even realize your life isn’t normal? You understand that other people don’t live this way?” My kind of gal! She seems so totally unimpressed with herself and her huge talent.

My favorite line in the book reflects so my own love of books and sharing books with others: “As every reader knows, the social contract between you and a book you love isn’t complete until you can hand that book to someone else and say ‘Here, you’re going to love this.’” Consider this my hand-off.

And as a PS – Ann has a hugely successful bookstore in Nashville, Parnassas Books, that is my must-stop every time I visit the city. I’ve snuggled with Bear (photo left), one of her shop dogs (here’s his sweet story); browsed for hours; and bought more books there than I should have. If you order “These Precious Days,” do it here.

My summer challenge is to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability is to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words. Join my summer Blink Book Review FB group to get the reviews and book suggestions from others. Or email me at with your own favorites.