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Word of the Day: Donnybrook

I was reading an article in the WSJ today and came across a word I’d never seen or heard spoken: donnybrook. The article was about the town of South Burlington, Vermont where citizens are upset about changing the name of their high school mascot (Rebels). To describe the situation, the reporter used the word ‘donnybrook.’

A quick search of online dictionaries came up with: brawl, public quarrel, contentious dispute. The word sounded Irish to me, so I also wanted to know the origin of donnybrook. Merriam Webster helped me out. You’ve got to love this.

“The Donnybrook Fair was an annual event held in Donnybrook-then a suburb of Dublin, Ireland-from the 13th to the 19th centuries. The fair was legendary for the vast quantities of liquor consumed there, for the number of hasty marriages performed during the week following it, and, most of all, for the frequent brawls that erupted throughout it. Eventually, the fair’s reputation for tumult was its undoing…abolished in 1855, but not before its name had become a generic term for a free-for-all.”

With all the controversy the US experienced during the election season last year, I am surprised I haven’t heard donnybrook used before.

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They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were s...

I had lunch with a dear friend who participated in the San Diego Women’s March several weeks ago. The march inspired her, and she shared a photo with me. It showed a woman holding a sign with two sentences: They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds. Those powerful words touched her and me as well.

The curiosity bug hit. I had to know the origin of that saying. Several sources attribute it to the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulus.* He was a voice for the homosexual community in 70’s. Translated directly from the Greek: What didn’t you do to bury me but you forgot that I was a seed. Mr. Christianopoulus is 85 years old.

The saying has been embraced by the Mexican counterculture movement and is considered a Mexican proverb.

Today, women in the US are marching and identifying with the same words. Truly fascinating.

*For more information on Mr. Christianopoulus, click this link on Goodreads.

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A Year of Book Recommendations

The wonderful women of my book club and I reviewed forty books this fall. We slimmed them down to our top picks for the next twelve months. I thought I’d share our many hours of work with val’s road readers. The genres include: fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and fantasy. I’ve included brief summaries of the books as well as the month we will be reading them. This is a great place to quote an aphorism by Arthur Schopenhauer (a German philosopher) who said, “A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.”

To all you book lovers, I hope all the choices below fall into the “good book” category.

We the Animals by Justin Torres (11/16)
A slim novel about three brothers, half white/half Puerto Rican who scramble their way through a dysfunctional childhood. Torres’s sentences are gymnastic, leaping and twirling, but never fancy for the sake of fancy, always justified by the ferocity and heartbreak and hunger and slap-happy euphoria of these three boys. It’s a coming-of-age novel set in upstate New York that rumbles with lyric dynamite. It’s a knock to the head that will leave your mouth agape. Torres is a savage new talent

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (12/16)
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee. Lydia’s parents are determined that will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. Both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait that explores the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovers the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives to understand one another.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes (1/17)
From the creator of many TV hit series comes a powerful memoir and self-help book that promotes saying “Yes!” to life. In 2013, Rhimes’s sister challenged her over Thanksgiving meal prep, and Rhimes formed a dare for herself: an entire year of saying “yes” to the things that scared her. The results were spectacular: Rhimes learned to live life to the fullest and on her own terms.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende (2/17)
Who is sending lovely little cards and gifts to Alma Belasco, a resident of San Francisco’s Lark House nursing home? To find out, go back to 1939, when Alma’s parents send her from Poland to San Francisco to live with a wealthy aunt and uncle after Germany invades. She and Ichimei Fukuda, the Japanese gardener’s son, fall in love but are wrenched apart when thousands of Japanese Americans are interned during the war. Through the decades, they keep their passion alive and secret.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (3/17)
There is no shortage of great literature about the fallout from divorce and the reconfigured families that children are left to cope with. This novel stands out on many levels, from its assured handling of complex time shifts to Patchett’s extraordinary compassion even for seriously flawed characters like Bert. Her deeper sympathies clearly lie with Bert and Beverly’s two betrayed spouses, saintly Teresa Cousins and warm Fix Keating, who eventually find happiness with kinder partners. They also benefit from the tag-teaming care of their grown children in their final years. “What do the only children do?” Franny Keating asks her sister after a difficult eighty-third birthday outing with their dying father. “We’ll never have to know,” Caroline answers.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith (4/17)
When he’s only nine, Lincoln’s mother dies from a supernatural assault, passed off as milk sickness. From that moment, the future president vows: “I hereby resolve to kill every vampire in America.” Subsequently we find him earnestly decapitating America’s vampires with his trusty ax. Not to be missed are Lincoln’s trusty companions in his crusade against the undead, among them the president’s real-life wrestling pal Jack Armstrong, and a New Orleans encounter with a gloomy, little-known writer, Edgar Poe, newly fascinated with stories of the undead. The book’s grotesque joviality should be fun for those looking for it.

After You by JoJo Moyes (Sequel to Me After You) (5/17)
Eighteen months after the events of “Me After You,” a terrible accident sends Lou home to her family. Forced to take stock of her life after Will, she realizes it’s not what he had hoped for her. So she begins to struggle up out of her grief. Along with Lou’s journey, we see the emotional quests of her family, Will’s family (including some unexpected members), a grief support group, and, of course, a new romantic interest.

The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznick (6/17)
In this sweeping, poignant, and beautifully written memoir, Jasmin weaves the stories of three generations of Iranian women into a unique tale of one family’s struggle for freedom and understanding. The result is an enchanting and unforgettable story of secrets, betrayal, and the unbreakable mother-daughter bond.

Euphoria by Lily King (7/17)
Euphoria is Lily King’s bestselling breakout novel of three young, gifted anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead.

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin (8/17)
The abduction and subsequent radicalization of Patricia Hearst is one of the most bizarre but illuminating episodes of that tumultuous era of protest. Jeffrey Toobin retells the story with a full-blown narrative treatment that may astonish readers too young to remember it themselves. Toobin spins this complex chapter of recent history into an absorbing and intelligent page-turner.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (9/17)
2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – The Sympathizer is a sweeping epic of love and betrayal. The narrator, a communist double agent, is a “man of two minds,” a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who arranges to come to America after the Fall of Saigon, and while building a new life with other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting back to his communist superiors in Vietnam. The Sympathizer is a blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping espionage novel, and a powerful story of love and friendship.

What the Heart Remembers by Debra Ginsberg (10/17)
The concept that memory can exist on a cellular level lies at the core of this captivating psychological thriller from Ginsberg. After Eden Harrison, who’s suffering from arrhythmia, successfully undergoes a heart transplant, she feels mysteriously compelled to leave behind her life in Portland, Ore., which includes her fiancé and her fulfilling job working with special-needs children. Eden starts over in San Diego, Calif., where she’s soon haunted by disturbing dreams and, after wealthy young widow Darcy Silver visits the restaurant where she works, a strong sense of déjà vu. As Eden gets closer to discovering the identity of her organ donor, she realizes that the truth may put her in danger. The suspense never flags as Ginsberg explores Darcy’s abusive relationship with her late husband and fraught friendship with Eden.

Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (11/17)
Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.

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The Whip-poor-will Song

On a recent trip to Columbia, South Carolina, long after the sun had set, I heard a bird song I never hear in California. It was unmistakable. It was the song of the whip-poor-will. According to Wikipedia, “The Eastern Whip-poor-will is a medium-sized nightjar from North America. The whip-poor-will is commonly heard within its range, but less often seen because of its superior camouflage. It is named onomatopoeically after its song.”

I love unusual words and to have whip-poor-will, nightjar, camouflage and onomatopoeically all used in one paragraph…well it is word heaven.

If you haven’t heard a whip-poor-will recently (or ever), the attached link will refresh your memory. Click on

According to the Audubon website, the Eastern Whip-poor-will is climate-endangered possibly due to scarcity of its food supply of moths and beetles. They also noted that their song may seem to go on endlessly; a patient observer once counted 1,088 whip-poor-wills given rapidly without a break. That certainly was one patient person.

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Quotes to Start 2016

It’s been four years since I posted some of my favorite quotes. So, with the start of 2016, I’d like to share a few more on writing, anger, resentment and forgiveness.

“Never write about a place until you’re away from it, because that gives you perspective.”
Ernest Hemingway

“How much more grievous are the consequences of our anger than the acts which arouse it.”
Marcus Aurelius

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Nelson Mandela

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different, it’s accepting the past for what it was, and using this moment and this time to help yourself move forward.”
Borrowed by Oprah Winfrey*

*I first heard this quote on a show about twin sisters who were raped by their brothers and then their father. Their mother knew and did nothing. It was heart-wrenching. Oprah’s hope for the twins was that their past would not break their spirits.