A Cat Named Cleo

I am very sad tonight. We had our cat Cleo put to sleep today. She was 13, not super old for a cat, but old enough. She developed a cluster of health challenges rather suddenly, and she was in pain and not herself. My husband and I were with her at the end, and the good people at our vet clinic were as kind as I could have ever hoped for. (God bless vets and vet technicians!)

img_2132Cleo came to me as a stray street kitten. One day I was visiting my mom’s house, stepped out of my car, and there was this little fluffball, gray and peach and white (what I would later learn was called a Tortie), meowing up at me. At the time I was totally broke and couldn’t afford to take her to the vet to get shots and rid of fleas, so I asked my mom’s neighbor to keep an eye on her for a week or so till my next payday. When the payday rolled around I took her to the vet and brought her home. I’ll never forget watching the fleas just drop off of her and die from the medicine they gave her. She slept most of that day and then started bouncing off the walls as kittens do, playing with and getting used to my other cat at the time, the unflappable and dignified tabby Gus.

img_2130A few months later I started dating the man who would become my husband. Two years later we would all move to our new house. Three years after that, my son was born and five weeks later sweet Gus kitty passed away. I don’t think Cleo was quite right in the head after those events. She was an anxious, vocal, possessive kitty. She loved me fiercely and I loved her, even as challenging as she could be.

Here are some things I want to remember about Cleo:

She always wanted to be in my lap at night, any time I sat down. If I reclined she would get up on my chest and fall asleep.

She had the softest fur. She was 90% fur, I think.

She was beautiful.

img_2131She could be hateful to anyone besides the three of us who live here. We had to put her up in my bedroom when we had company over. But she was still a sweet kitty to me.

She loved to go outside and eat grass.

She never was much good at killing bugs. I always wanted her to take care of them for me, but she’d just kind of half-heartedly bat away at it for a minute and then lose interest.

She loved to sit in the window and watch the birds. She made the funniest little squeak when she saw them close by.

She was such good company at night, when my son is asleep and my husband at work. It’s awfully quiet and empty feeling in here tonight. It’s gonna take some adjusting to not having a cat in the house for the first time ever. I know that we will get another cat some day, but we will never EVER have another cat quite like our crazy Cleo. She had a good life for a one-time street kitten. Rest in peace, Cleo, and have fun catching up with Gus up there. I’ll miss you.

Break Time!

Hi friends! Just a short note to say that I am taking a week off from the blog, and hopefully from social media in general. It’s my son’s Spring Break and we’re going to have adventures together. I’m going to try and unplug from social media as best as I can! Wish me well, I’m a bit addicted, I admit!

colorful-chairs-free-beach-wallpapers-beach-backgrounds-587fb9eb5f9b584db31f75d4I’ll see you lovely bookish unicorns in a week or so! Happy Reading!

40 For 40 Update: Rediscovering Poetry

Last year I wrote about wanting to commemorate my 40th birthday with a list of challenges that I wanted to pursue in 2017. Well, as of today, I’ve completed 19 of them. Almost half! I’m pleased but not satisfied. I’ve decided to continue trying to complete the list, as I won’t stop being 40 until May. And even then, if I haven’t finished them all, I’ll keep trying. As Naomi remarked on my blog when I was fretting about not reaching my reading goals, goals are for striving for, not necessarily to reach.

img_1526The first item I attempted this year was an utter success: Read poetry every day for one week for at least 15 minutes. Friends, it has reawakened my love of poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, ever since I was eight or nine and entered a poetry contest at my school and won a prize (a gift certificate to a local bookstore! And they displayed my poem!) I wrote poetry all throughout middle and high school, into college and beyond. But somewhere in my late 20’s I just stopped writing. I stopped believing I had anything valuable or original to say. And before too long, I stopped reading it too. With the exception of Mary Oliver. For me, her New And Selected Poems is practically a sacred text, and I keep it by my bed and dip into it often.

Every day that week I read some from Oliver, and then I would visit poets.org and poetryfoundation.orgfor some new poetic inspiration. If you have any interest at all in expanding your knowledge of poetry, I highly encourage you to visit these sites. I found some interesting poets that were new to me, like Maggie Smith. Here is her poem “Good Bones.”

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
And by Natasha Tretheway, “Theories of Time and Space.”

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

On both websites you can listen to poets read their work. What a cool resource! (Even as I wrote this, I stopped to visit the sites and listened to a terrific poem: “original (sin)” by Alison C. Rollins.

Anyway, I am so glad that I chose this task as my first of the new year. I currently have five books of poetry checked out as we speak! Poetry is something that I feel is open and should be open to everyone, and it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t occupy a larger space in our cultural dialogue and awareness. I think people have false impressions of poetry as too elitist, or too difficult, or too pretentious. For me it is an essential art form that speaks to our shared humanity and deals with both the big questions and seemingly mundane incidents of ordinary life. I love feeling connected to poetry again. I hope and plan to continue reading more of it throughout the year! Who knows, maybe it will spark some new writing from me too.

Three Year Blogiversary!

Happy-3rd-birthday-Ad-RepublicJust a quick post to share that today is my 3 Year Blogiversary.  It’s still one of the best decisions I ever made, to begin this blog and attempt to share my passion for reading with other passionate readers.  I never imagine that I would “meet” so many thoughtful, kind, intelligent, interesting people out there in the world.  You all seriously save my opinion of the internet.  🙂

Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and thanks for creating interesting content that I love to read myself.  I’ve found so many new authors in the last three years – I’ll always be grateful to you for expanding my reading world!

Happy New Year to all my blogger friends.  I’m going to get myself some cake now to celebrate.  🙂

Love, Laila

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Reading

Hello, friends!  It’s been forever since I’ve written anything.  I have a reasonably good excuse, I think, in the form of a family vacation and the lead-up to/anticipation of said vacation.  My reading concentration has been awful the past few weeks, and I had a stressful personal issue crop up at the most inopportune time as well.  So, having begged your pardon, now I am ready to dive back in to book blog life!  I missed you guys.  I miss feeling like a reading machine.  I’m ready to get my groove back.


So where did we go?  Toronto, Ontario, Canada!  My cousin from Iran moved there a little over a year and a half ago.  This was my first opportunity to actually meet her in person.  We stayed with her and she graciously showed us around beautiful, vibrant Toronto.  The weather couldn’t have been better while we were there.  There is SO MUCH to do and see in Toronto.  Just riding the subway and walking around felt like an adventure to me!  We visited Saint Lawrence Market, the CN Tower, and the Royal Ontario Museum among other attractions.  We also took a day trip to Niagara Falls, which was fun.  My son is absolutely nuts about LEGOs so we also went to the Legoland Discovery Centre in nearby Vaughn.  He had a blast.  We took a zillion pictures but I’m just going to share a few.

My son lying down on the glass floor at the CN Tower over 1100 feet up.
Gazing at the Horseshoe Falls at Niagara.
My cousin, me, my goofy son, and my husband at a delicious Persian restaurant in Toronto called Gilaneh.
I marveled at the giant armadillos at the ROM.
T. Rex at the ROM.

It was a great trip, my son’s first airplane flights and our first visit outside the country since my husband and I went to Ireland in 2006!  I most definitely want to return to Toronto.  Oh, I did manage to go to a bookstore while I was there – an Indigo store right near where my cousin lives.  I didn’t have much time so I consulted Goodreads and hastily selected three books from Canadian authors that I thought I might not be able to find easily in America.  (Thanks to Naomi and Buried in Print for the author inspiration on these!)

I’ve not read any of these authors before… have you?  Elizabeth Hay’s Small Change, Montreal Stories by Mavis Gallant, and The Memento by Christy Ann Conlin. They all look very appealing.  And of course, I have absolutely NO idea when I’ll get to them!  🙂  So that brings me to…

What I’ve Been Reading

  • I listened to the third Harry Potter book before we left and of course I enjoyed it.  But I’m taking a small break from them before I start Goblet of Fire.
  • I finished Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery the night before we left.  It was just lovely.  I’m not going to do a review of it, but I most thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to the sixth book in the series for #AnneReadalong2017.
  • On the plane I took Anne Tyler’s Celestial Navigation.  I have a superstition about carrying an Anne Tyler book with me when I fly, don’t ask me why, it’s wholly irrational.  I didn’t read much on the plane (short flight times!) or while in Toronto (too tired from all that sightseeing!)  But I managed to get pretty far into it during the return trip, and finished it a couple of days after we got home.  I love Anne Tyler, and intend to read all of her books.  This one was… not her best.  She’s excellent at character study, but this one was so frustrating.  The two main characters were so passive, or passive aggressive, or something.  They were making such poor choices and I just wanted to slap them!  It was a rather depressing read.  Only for Anne Tyler completists, I’d say.
  • As of now, I’m reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for the RIP Challenge.  It’s luscious and atmospheric and brooding and I LOVE IT.  I suppose I’m about a third of the way through.  I’m going to get back into it when I finish this post.

So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to the past few weeks.  I hope to get back to a more regular posting schedule soon!  October is such a busy month – do you all find that to be true?  There are so many Fall and Halloween related activities.  My son’s two week break will be over Monday, so it’ll be back to the usual routine.  (They start in July and get two-week breaks in Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Yes, we like it.)

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read anything I’ve mentioned here, or what you’re reading right now.  Thanks for reading!




40 For 40 Update: Some Progress Is Made, And A Poll!

So a while back I wrote about turning 40 this year, and how I’d made a list of 40 small “challenges” I wanted to complete before the year is out.  Well, since my birthday’s come and gone, I thought it was time to share an update on my progress and give you a look at the whole list.  (It wasn’t complete the last time I wrote about it.)

IMG_1628Here are the challenges I’ve completed:

  1. Memorize a poem (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver)
  2. Eat a salad for lunch every day for a week
  3. Meditate at least 5 minutes every day for a week
  4. Plant something new in the garden (watermelon and pumpkin)
  5. Read one book of the Bible (Mark)
  6. Don’t get on Twitter or Facebook after 6 pm for one week
  7. Do a three-star sudoku puzzle
  8. Thoroughly de-clutter my chest of drawers
  9. Drink 8 glasses of water a day for a week
  10. Work out in the 30 Minute Fitness area of my gym

Here are some challenges that I’m currently working on:

  1. Learn some ASL signs/phrases
  2. Watch all the Iranian films in my library system’s movie collection (we have a lot!)
  3. Get rid of 40 possessions (I’ve gotten rid of ten so far)

Challenges still remaining:

  1. Read a classic book that has intimidated me (I’ve not yet chosen which book!)
  2. Go see a play
  3. Bike from my house to a local landmark (I still haven’t gotten a bike yet!)
  4. Cook something that intimidates me
  5. Bake something complicated
  6. Take a dance class
  7. Start learning how to knit
  8. Get my passport renewed
  9. Go to Toronto to visit my cousin and sight-see
  10. Visit a church
  11. Go on a hike with my Dad
  12. Play with my son right after dinner every night for a week instead of immediately washing the dishes
  13. Camp overnight with my husband and son (I’ve never camped)
  14. Take a yoga class
  15. Read a book that my husband picks for me
  16. Volunteer with an organization for an afternoon/a day
  17. Write a paper letter to a faraway friend
  18. Do one random act of kindness every day for a week
  19. Call an old friend who is faraway
  20. Go to a museum
  21. Visit Parnassus Books in Nashville
  22. Take a class – art, cooking, gardening, etc.
  23. Begin learning Farsi
  24. Spend 15 minutes reading poetry daily for one week
  25. Bake bread (I’ve never tried)
  26. Swim with my son at the neighborhood pool this summer (I’m notorious for avoiding a bathing suit)
  27. Attempt to make tadig or tahdig (a Persian crusty-rice dish that’s very popular – and delicious!  My mom used to make it when I was a kid.)

Lately my attention to the list has been poor.  The first few months of the year I was gung-ho about the project, but I’ve slacked off the last couple of months. I still want to accomplish as many of the goals as possible before the end of the year, though, so I’m renewing my focus!

Here’s where you come in:  You get to help decide which classic book I read! Take a look at my choices, all books I want to read sometime in my life.  Vote in the poll!

If you have any tips on making any of my challenges easier, I’m all ears.  I’ll be sure to post an update later in the year, and I’ll let you know the results of the book poll shortly!


The Liebster Award, Or Me Talking About Myself

So I’ve been nominated by Anna from The Tsundokist for the Liebster Award, which is a fun blogging honor/meme that I’ve seen pop up from time to time on other blogs.  You should check out Anna’s blog – I very much enjoy reading her reviews!  Thank you, Anna!

liebster2The Rules: 

  1. Thank the person who nominated you.
  2. Answer the 11 questions they’ve written for you.
  3. Nominate 11 other people (preferably those with under 200 followers)
  4. Give your nominees 11 different questions to answer.

The Questions:

1.Do you read one book at a time or multiple?

I read multiple books at a time – I usually have a fiction and a nonfiction going at any given time, and sometimes will throw audio books or another fiction in the mix.  I tried the one book at a time thing and it just didn’t work for me!

6147RXZYV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_2. Favorite Childhood Book?

I particularly loved Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.

3.  Which author do you think is totally overrated and why?

I hate to say mean things about authors…  I will just say that I do not see the appeal of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, having read the first one.  Not my thing.

4.  What was the last book you read that made you laugh a lot?

I’ve been rereading Lois Lowry’s Anastasia Krupnik series lately (a favorite from childhood) and they are laugh out loud funny.anastasiaagainloislowry

5.  What was the last book that made you cry?

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

6.  Are you a fast or slow reader?

Medium.  (Seriously, I don’t know how to judge these things.  I’m no speed reader, I know that.)

7.  Name a book you DNF’ed recently.

My most recent DNF was More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.  I intend to try it again, though.  I just wasn’t in the mood.

8.  What is your go-to genre for long-haul flights?

I don’t fly very often or very well, but I MUST have two things for reading materials:  Gossip magazines, and an Anne Tyler novel.  It’s a weird superstition of mine.

sense-and-sensibility-bicentenary-edition-penguin-classics-2012-x-2009. What is the most recent classic you read and what did you think of it?

Right now I’m listening to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility on CD and it’s MARVELOUS.  I’ve read it twice before and it’s one of my favorite books anyway.  But this version, read by actress Juliet Stevenson, is really well done!

10.  What is next on your TBR?

I’ll be reading Donal Ryan’s All We Shall Know for Reading Ireland Month.

11.  Do you have a favorite bookshop?  Why is it your favorite?

I have a particular fondness for Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina.  My husband and I go there whenever we’re in Asheville.  It’s just marvelously quirky.

So that’s it.  This was great fun!  I think many of you have already done this meme before, so I’ll just nominate five bloggers who I think may not have participated and who I enjoy reading:

Valancy @ Blue Castle Considerations

Jackie @ Death By Tsundoku 

Katie @ KatieGilley

Sarah @ Reviews and Read-a-thons

Marie @ Book Chatter

Questions for Them to Answer:

  1. Name a book that’s been on your TBR for more than three years.
  2. If you had time to grab one book from your shelf before fleeing your home (and your family is safe) what would you choose?
  3. What’s the most recent book you gave someone as a gift?
  4. If you could have coffee with any writer, living or dead, who would you choose?
  5. What time of day do you do most of your reading?
  6. What do you do to get out of a reading slump?
  7. Do you have a favorite bookmark?  If so, describe it.
  8. Do your IRL friends read your blog?
  9. Name one of your favorite “comfort reads.”
  10. Name a bookstore you’d like to visit.
  11. Name your favorite book-to-movie adaptation.

Thanks again, Anna.  This was great fun!  For anyone else who may or may not have done this book tag before, feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments below. I’d love to hear your picks.




40 for 40: A Year Of Smallish Challenges

Hi friends!

In my previous post I mentioned recently beginning to practice yoga.  I’m doing it twice a week at night after my son gets to bed.  Three other nights I do some sort of strength training.  I’m especially trying to execute REAL push-ups, not the ones on my knees that I’ve been doing my whole life, but the ones on my toes.  Considerably more challenging! But I am happy to say that I’ve seen a little progress already in the month or so that I’ve been doing this.  I am more slightly more flexible and I feel like my posture is truly improved, and the yoga leaves me feeling refreshed and mentally clearer.

Why am I telling you this?

keep-calm-its-my-40th-birthday-4Because I’m turning the big 4-0 later this year.  And it’s kind of freaking me out a little.  I know age is just a number, or a state of mind, or something.  But there’s something about approaching what could be the halfway point of one’s life (if you’re lucky) to make you start thinking about how quickly time passes.  I’m assessing my goals, dreams, hopes, aspirations, wild longings.  And I feel a renewed sense of energy about accomplishing things.

To that end, I’ve embarked on a series of weekly mini-challenges that I’m calling 40 for 40 (I know, not terribly original, but I needed something to call it!)  Here’s what I’ve achieved so far:

  1. Drank 64 ounces of water daily for a week.  (I’ve kept this up!)
  2. Did not get on Facebook or Twitter after 6 pm daily for a week.  (Sadly, I have NOT kept this up.)
  3. Memorized a poem.  (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.)
  4. Tried the 30 Minute Fitness area of my gym for the first time (weight machines and steps.)

I have to say that so far I’ve really been having fun with my challenges.  It’s added a much-needed sense of freshness and purpose to my daily routine. Some of my other ideas for this year include:

  • Hike with my Dad (an avid hiker) in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  • Ride a bike to the bridge not far from my house (this will mean I actually have to PURCHASE a bike!  I’ve not ridden one since high school, but we have all these great greenways in my county and I need to make use of them!)
  •  Get my passport renewed.
  • Travel to Toronto this fall and meet my cousin for the first time!
  • Spend a day volunteering for an organization, maybe a neighborhood clean-up.

parnassus-blog1Of course, I have some reading challenges on my list too!

  • Read a classic book that has intimidated me
  • Read something that my husband picks out for me
  • Visit Parnassus Books (Ann Patchett’s bookstore) in Nashville

This is where you come in, bookish friends.  I have space on my list for eight more challenges.  I’d love to hear any suggestions you may have for me!  I’ll tell you that I won’t bungee jump or jump out of an airplane, but I’m open to almost anything else.  So what have you got?  Have you ever done something like this yourself?

Two Year Blogiversary!

Two years ago today I made one of my best decisions ever – to begin this book blog!  I can’t even tell you how rewarding and enriching it has been to me, although I suspect you may know this feeling if you’ve been blogging a while!  I didn’t know who, if anyone, would read my posts, or take the time to offer comments.  I just knew I wanted to put something out there (initially for myself) as a way to honor my passion for reading.  I couldn’t have imagined the wonderful bookish community that was waiting for me.

My  son’s birthday cake this year – I didn’t make it!

You guys are just the coolest people!  I never knew this kind, intelligent, thoughtful pocket of the internet existed.  I am honored to be among you all in my own little way. Though I may go through phases where I doubt what I have to say about books and reading, and I may hide for a few days or weeks, when I return you are all there with your supportive and considerate comments.  So if you are reading this right now, please know that I am deeply thankful for you!  And I hope that we all may enjoy a New Year of engaging, fun, meaningful reading and conversation together.

Hmm, I think this occasion calls for some celebratory cake!  Happiest of New Years to you all!

Buying Books For A Good Cause

The past few days have been rough (I don’t need to tell you why, do I?) and I’ve been doing anything I can think of to take positive, helpful action as a citizen of this country and the world.  My sanity strategy is partly self-care, partly taking care of others.  To that end, tonight I went with my son to Barnes and Noble and bought a whole mess o’ books for needy kids!  It was FUN!

See, my library system’s Friends of the Library organization is collecting new and very gently used children’s books for underprivileged families.  Our community does this huge food giveaway at Christmas called the Empty Stocking Fund, and the Friends are providing a book or two to every person who gets a food box.  They’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and it’s proven very successful.  Bookstores are few and far between in the area, and even if a needy person can get to one they may not be able to afford to buy anything. Libraries are absolutely vital, but it’s also just so wonderful to be able to have books of one’s own in the home to read over and over again.  I know that as a child my books were among my most prized possessions.

So I went a little crazy tonight and made some fun purchases.  I bought board books for babies and toddlers, a couple of beginning reader/chapter books, and some books for middle grade readers.  Here are my pics:


I made sure to choose some authors of color here too!  Seriously, Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy is one of my very favorite books and you should all read it!

When I got to the register, the cashier was so excited about my purchases, exclaiming that I’d gotten some of her favorite childhood books.  She also pointed out to me that our local Barnes and Noble is doing a book drive for a charitable organization called Mission of Hope, which provides Christmas gifts for needy Appalachian kids.  So I bought another book at the register for that!

My point with all of this is not to get a cookie for my actions, but only to say that if you’re feeling anxious or sad or angry about what has transpired in the last week, or even if you’re not, there are so many opportunities for doing good.  Perhaps your local Barnes and Noble (or other bookstore) is doing a similar book drive for the holidays?  Check with your public library’s Friends of the Library organization and see if they’re collecting books for kids.  Or maybe there’s a Boys and Girls Club nearby who could use some new books for their collection.  We are stronger when we take care of one another, and what better way to channel your love of reading than to provide books to kids?  I wholeheartedly believe that reading fosters empathy and understanding.  So let’s try to get books into the hands of kids and grow some compassionate, educated kids, okay?  As one of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, says, “Onward!”