Wednesday, January 31, 2007
I could summarize the plot but so could you without ever reading the book. If I told you Ria meets a dashing, charming man who sweeps her off her feet in her 20’s, you could finish the sentence and the story by saying he probably betrays her and leaves her in her 40’s. If I said she is surrounded by several close friends and family members, you could probably peg their personalities, even if you didn’t know which belonged to whom. Surely there would be the friend who is married, too, but not as richly, not as romantically (her sister); of course there would be the friend who is always there in times of trouble, an extremely successful, independent icon of a woman who mysteriously never marries, a fact that leads us to easily realize she must be having an affair with Ria’s husband (Rosemary); there would have to be the cynic in her life (Ria’s mother) and the friend who is worse shape than she is and balances out the themes of unearned abundance and hard-earned poverty (Gertie). Perhaps you might even suggest a few minor characters to throw in, surely a mistress (or two) will come into play (Orla, Bernadette, even Polly); and some character must represent the sinister side of humanity, the side of greed and arrogance abundant in novels, (Barney).
Given the already overly-simplistic, idealistic plot line that a high school writing student might have drafted, it’s not hard to take the next step and dream up the conflict. Upon knowing that her husband has betrayed her, what will Ria do? Of course she will do something that both drastic and assertive (the contrary would be even worse reading), but also something that will demonstrate the strength of a woman and of friendships. Binchy introduces us at this point of the novel to Marilyn, an American, who through a very fast and barely thought-out negotiation, occurring at the perfect time, swaps houses with Ria for the summer. And it’s not hard at all to realize that Ria will find herself, her independence, her worth and her ability to support herself during this sojourn.
It’s a sweet, simple story of friendship. I guess I’m just looking for a plot that I can’t surmise on page 5. I can appreciate conflicts that I can relate to, or that are familiar to me, but it doesn’t make exciting reading material. In my mind, a book filled with stereotypical relationships doesn’t make a bestseller without a creative perspective, a unique plot or matchless depth and “Tara Road” lacks them all.
If you’re looking for an easy, summer, beach book, this might be one, if you can get it cheap. If you’re looking for something unique, something to remember for awhile, something that leaves a sweet taste in your mouth, this isn’t the book.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
(It's hard to show, but the door is NOT open, it's still latched. He somehow got the whole front of the crate to collapse IN to the crate (where he was) - I have no idea how.)
Is "Houdini" a Biblical name?
(Luckily, it doesn't look like he chewed or pee'd or anything wrong in the house...whew!)
Monday, January 29, 2007
I’m not sure I remember exactly the first time I met Judy, although she probably remembers meeting all of us. I’m sure we were all glazed over with cynical eyes and judgmental hearts. I remember visiting her adorable little house and while I’m sure I complimented her on it, I also know I didn’t want it to be adorable. I didn’t want her to be nice, to be a teacher, to make my dad laugh. I remember the day we all went to dinner (or something) and then we walked around Lake Geneva (or parts of it). Dad and Judy were way ahead, walking at what we would later deem “Judy Speed” and the rest of us falling behind, complaining that we never had to walk with Dad before, and whose idea was this anyway?
They announced their engagement, although I don’t really remember how they told me. I just remember that my brother, still living at home, in the house my mom had passed away in, was really struggling with the idea. I remember fighting with my Dad because I stood up for my brother when he refused to stand up for the wedding.
The wedding was really beautiful. It was small, and filled with family, just like mine had been. What I remember most was the toast that Judy’s son gave. How he addressed the fact that she had been married twice before (a fact we couldn’t get our narrow sheltered minds around) and how wonderful my dad had been to her. I realized that day it wasn’t about us. It wasn’t even about my mother. It was about my dad being happy. And Judy made him happy.
I can’t say I still didn’t have my moments. The first Thanksgiving, back in my childhood home with Dad and Judy with the table full of dishes I couldn’t identify. She had been kind and had made several that were my mom’s recipes, and yet, still, my focus was on all the things that were different. The most blaring example being Judy herself.
It wasn’t that she was the opposite of my mother, just that they were remarkably different. Judy had been a single, working mother. My mom had been fortunate enough to stay at home for nearly her entire adult life. Judy had two grown sons, one of whom was married with a child. My mother had raised two girls and then a son. My mom cooked with simple “farm” ingredients, very limited spices. Judy cooked anything and everything. It had been a remarkable statement when my dad, after perhaps 15 years of eating a large, thin crust ham with mushroom pizza from Pizza Hut every Sunday night, ordered a Hawaiian pizza one day. With Judy, her pizzas came with every topping imaginable. My dad, a non-drinker suddenly had boxes of wine in his fridge.
They have been married for more than ten years now, and I now see things so differently. Judy wasn’t looking to get remarried when she met my dad. But God brought them together at the right time. My dad, I have no doubt, had been lonely for years, living by my mother’s bedside as she fought and finally lost her battle with cancer. Judy opened not only my dad’s eyes, but our whole family’s to new ideas, new beliefs and new opportunities. More than just an introduction in “How to Cook Using More than Five Ingredients,” Judy taught us how to disagree and still love each other. I don’t remember my parents fighting because they disagreed on a topic (my mother believed the husband was head of household and had final say – most of the time) but more over something that had been lost, or something that wasn’t done right. I wasn’t familiar with this new kind of disagreement, one that was taken in such stride. I felt defensive of my dad and his opinions.
As I worked through my own divorce, some of the best advice came from Judy, who had been there and knew what I was feeling. She not only gave me tips on what issues were important during mediation, but also seemed to be the one who best understood my own needs during and after the process was complete. Even now, she knows far better than my own mother would have, what it feels like to be a single mom.
I had the wonderful opportunity last month, to talk with Judy one morning, while watching the sunrise on the cruise. It was the first time in a very long time I can remember listening to her share such intimate feelings. She talked openly of some frustrations in her own life and of her feelings towards her grandchildren – all six of them. I have never once heard her refer to any of her grandkids as "step grandchildren". It was a moment I will always treasure.
I used to refer to Judy as “my dad’s wife” and then later as “my stepmom” but recently have found that word to get tangled in my throat. Today, when people ask about my parents, I explain that my folks live in Tennessee. While I know she will never replace my own mother (and she has never tried to), in the past ten years, she has come to mean more to me than any “step-no-blood” ever could.
I have been remarkably remiss in not demonstrating to her better how sorry I am for the skepticism I first conveyed, even if it was innocently displayed as a child’s sense of protection for her only remaining parent. I have also been remiss in telling her exactly how important she is to me now. I wish there was a word in the English language for her position in my life, the best I know to give it is that Judy is my second mom.
Happy Birthday, Judy. May this year be a remarkable year, and may it be filled with all of God’s blessings for your life.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
He's also being treated for tapeworm, and I've had to clean out his disgusting ears (we'll be doing that everyday until we can get the stench removed!) and he's had a bath. All that and he still loves us!
He's adapted well to his crate at night and hopefully will take tomorrow in stride as his first day crated while I'm at work. I've only heard him bark once, and that was when he heard LM arriving home for church this morning.
As he sleeps soundly next to me on the floor, I have to say, so far, it seems as though we've been blessed with a wonderful companion. I'm so glad we were able to rescue him, and I cannot imagine who gave him up in the first place (but we're glad they did!)
The story is about a woman who is left in a coma after a car accident. Through the magic of the imagination, her spirit is able to leave her body and travel invisibly, eavesdropping and invading the lives of anyone she chooses. No one is able to see this spirit except for the man who lives in what used to be her apartment. No reason is given for this unique ability, other than the fact that he's handsome and single and she's a looker despite being in a coma. The two embark on an uneducated, and eventually unrealistic (if you have already gotten past the idea of the ghost to begin with) journey to keep her coma-body alive and to get her spirt reunited with her physical being.
As I said, the plot isn't complicated, nor realistic. The dialogue and interactions between characters are simple, unpolished and curt. The book was a quick and easy read, taking me perhaps two hours. I am certain I will have forgotten (gladly) the context within the same time frame.
For a $.50 library sale book, I did not get my money's worth on this one.
Friday, January 26, 2007
I wasn't impressed with this novel. The characters didn't move me, the plot was tediously slow, the setting in England, pre- and post-war. McEwan has a story to unfold, this is certain, the the lengths he goes to, the details and journeys he takes us on seem so tangental to the point that I felt a loss of connection. I stuck it out only to see it through, but not for a sense of urgency to turn the page.
It also seems to me that stories of betrayal are limited in scope. Either, the betrayer comes forward (or is brought forward) and repents, is forgiven and life moves on; or, the betrayer dies with the secret, their penance being the burden of guilt. This novel takes the turn of repentance, but forgiveness cannot change the burden of the effects. The crime will ripple through their lives with or without repentance, and so it bears no weight when the betrayal is acknowledged. It feels empty and I wonder why all these pages should lead to an event so unremarkable.
Perhaps it is so that we realize the cross to bear is our own, whatever our sin. Forgiveness is an internal matter as much as an external one. Decisions, made in youth or in maturity can change our lives and those around us forever.
I wouldn't recommend the novel, but for a $.50 library sale book, I'd say I got my money's worth.
I have a need to hear you laugh. To see that smile, those eyes. There is peace there, contentment, security. Your presence is a safe haven. Perhaps the only place where I never felt pretenses, never had the need to hold back, hold up or hold onto.
I have a need to see your words. Your writing, your letters. To see the emotions you don’t always say. To read the feelings hidden within. To know, to just know.
I have a need.
But I won’t pursue it. I won’t call the number I know I could find. I won’t send the letter I wrote after dark. I won’t find your email, changed, but similar. I will leave it alone.
Because that is how we are best. Alone. Apart. Divided. That is the only way we can both move forward. And moving forward is the only way I will go. I will not go back.
This need will pass.
This need will pass.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
If you have not read anything by Rick Bragg, plan to. At some point, let the phrases of his books roll through your mind like a summer thunderstorm. Let the people of his life enter into yours as your own family. Let the love and the heritage of his past linger long after you close the book and set it back on the shelf. Bragg's writing is the most un-forced, natural flow of words that I have ever read. And the ease with which you will feel a part of his history is remarkable.
For some reason I cannot put my finger on, I have avoided reading “The Poisonwood Bible.” I know it was classic Kingsolver, and I know many people who have read it, but for some reason I had always avoided it. Until now. I picked up a copy at my library’s book sale last summer and finally cracked it open last week.
“The Poisonwood Bible” tells the story of a missionary family, led to Africa by their zealous father who becomes oblivious to the cultural hurdles and challenges that lie in his path to converting the Congo to Christianity. It takes the reader on a journey through this family, through Africa and through the tested faith of Christian children. It is a story of love, of belief, of faith, of reality, of the world, democracy, kindness and charity. Each chapter is told from the view of the mother or one of the daughters, complete with grammar and semantics appropriate to the character.
Kingsolver has given us a gift with this book. Tremendous characters wrapped in the culture and settings of Africa. She gives us a glimpse of faith, the blindness, the arrogance, the ignorance, the assumptions and yet the kindness, the charity and the generosity. She tells a side of history white, upper-class Americans would rather forget. She tells of the human element of war, famine, politics and religion.
I am sure that most book lovers out there have long ago read “The Poisonwood Bible” but for those like me, who never picked it up, I encourage you to do so. You will fall in love with Rachel, Adah, Leah and Ruth May. You will struggle as their mother did with her circumstances and her choices. You will find yourself angry with America and her arrogance in politics. You will cry over the generous spirits of the world’s poorest citizens. And hopefully you will come away with an appreciation for the absolute necessity to understand one another, to know from what place we have come from, and to apply our beliefs according to that understanding, not in spite of it.
I saw your recent friendship vacancy listed on your blog and wish to submit my resume for consideration. Your position of “Dear Friend Extraordinaire” meets convincingly with my skills and experience with relationships. Attached, please find a list of reasons for why you should consider me as an excellent choice to not only replace the friendship you recently ended, but to surpass your expectations for a friend altogether.
The following is a list of the top ten reasons why I would make a great friend:
1. I love visitors. Last minute or planned long in advance, I love visitors. My house is your house and if you can find something edible in the fridge, you are welcome to it. If you just need a break from your house, your kids, your spouse, your job, you could stop by and hang out and relax and I wouldn’t mind a bit;
2. I’m available. I am not so super-busy in my life that you’ll find me to be an absentee friend. I’m there. I’m accessible. I can come at a moment’s notice to watch the kids while you take the dog to the vet, or to watch the dog while you take the kids to the ER. Whatever you need, I’m there. But I'm not so needy that I can't leave you alone, either. I enjoy quiet nights to myself, without lengthy phone calls or being bogged down by the problems of others. I know when to say when.
3. I know when the moment calls for a margarita, a cup of cocoa, a glass of wine, soda and popcorn or just a hug;
4. I always have tissues. With lotion. If you’re feeling sad, want to watch a great but sad movie, or just have the flu, I have tissues;
5. I don’t care what condition your house is in. You will never see me making an ugly face when I walk in the door and your sink is piled high and your carpet is the color of the dog’s fur. Not only will I not care, I’ll load your dishwasher while we talk. I’ll help you vacuum before your in-laws arrive and I’ll even take out the trash when I see that it’s full;
6. I know to bring something. When you invite me over, I’ll always bring something. Whether it’s the latest book I read that I know you’ll love, some homemade cookies or a new recipe that will accommodate your husband’s allergy to white things, I’ll have it;
7. I love kids. Mine, yours, the neighbor’s (well, sometimes the neighbor’s), I love kids. If hanging out together means we need to entertain the kids, too, all the better! If movie night means watching Ice Age 2 for the 100th time, so be it! If you can’t go out because the littlest is sick, I’ll bring over a pizza. I’ll also baby-sit so you and your man can actually have a date night this month;
8. I’m cheap. I don’t want to go into the city to the clubs and bars for girls’ night out. I don’t need to go to the movies to see a flick, either. Going to the mall doesn’t mean I’m going to spend more than $10. I’m not into designer anything, I don’t have to acquire things to make myself happy and I don’t need a restaurant with linens on the tables;
9. I’m low maintenance. You don’t need to change your clothes if I’m coming over for dinner. You don’t need to have makeup on if you want to go to the bookstore. If you need to clean out the garage and want some company, I’ll put on old jeans and throw my hair in a pony tail and be right over to help; and,
10. You don’t have to be perfect. I try to be a good Christian but I mess up. Sometimes I swear, sometimes I get obsessed about football, sometimes I feel like sleeping in instead of going to church, sometimes I get jealous or angry, and it’s okay with me if you feel those things, too. You don’t have to tip toe around me or watch yourself so that you don’t slip up and appear “un-Christian-like”. I’ll like you anyway.
I hope you’ll consider my qualifications carefully and schedule a time when we can meet in person to discuss your friendship vacancy. If, for some reason, you don’t feel that our personalities are a good match, I believe these qualifications would also make me a good girlfriend and perhaps you could pass along my resume to any single man you might be acquainted with.
Thanks again for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
I think he's a keeper, how about you?
Friday, January 19, 2007
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Sunday, January 14, 2007
If it must be close, I will survive, as long at the Pats come out on top. A feat that shouldn't be too difficult against the King of Playoff Chokes, Peyton Manning.
Your dearest fan,
P.S. Give Samuel, Caldwell and especially Gaffney a big bonus, will ya?
Friday, January 12, 2007
We Are The Mulvaneys is the first book I've read by Joyce Carol Oates and more than likely will not be the last. The book is about a family, a happy, healthy, prosperous family living on a farm in upstate New York. More than that, it's about one incident, one day in their life, one moment that happened personally to one and communally to the whole family and how it changed them forever. It's the story of the struggles from within a family to detach and reattach. To deal and to deal with those who don't deal. It's a story about people. People dealing with life. People dealing with each other. People dealing with themselves.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I loved the depth Oates went to to allow the reader to really become attached to each member of the Mulvaney family. I felt each struggle, felt each personal battle. I related to each child and each parent.
But it felt to me long-winded at times. Details of tangental pieces that I could not find myself interested in, because I was already so full of the details of the family. There were times when I found myself skimming, wondering why she included so many paragraphs to things that did not educate me further on any character, their motives, or their emotions. Descriptions that went beyond just giving me background or setting. It was a long book, arduous at times to read through, and yet even now, I am thinking about the Mulvaneys, thinking about my own family, thinking about how families deal with crisis, personally and as a unit.
I recommend the book. I'll pick up another of hers here before long and see if perhaps it captivates me as much or if I get lost in too much detail.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
The Mending String was an uncomplicated story of a man and his daughter. Despite Coon's attempts at making the relationship seem strained and difficult, the characters and their relation to each other seemed typical and commonplace to me. The youngest daugher, living alone with her Pastor father after her mom dies, stubborn as the day is long and a father, leading a church in his old-fashioned ways, has a hidden past secret that is not nearly as tantalizing as the author wanted you to originally believe. Through a series of misadventures and bad choices (placed to provide the assumed Christian reader with a life lesson, I suppose)the daughter and father are forced to address their strained relationship and to share their hidden secrets.
The book was a quick, easy read. It was everything you expect and nothing you wouldn't. There were no hidden surprises or twists of plot that kept you guessing, just an easy flowing storyline that wrapped itself up neatly at the end.
The Mending String epitomizes what I don't like about many Christian authors and that is the assumption of innocence and morality of the readers mirrored in the characters. Of course we know what the right thing is, and of course we SHOULD be doing that, but we don't always, as humans we make bad choices sometimes very bad choices, and yet we are forgiven for those and we learn from them before moving on. To tell a good Christian story, it seems to me, an author need not depart from the complexities that face us in real life, the struggles we go through just as non-Christians. The difference is in how we respond to those choices, and how God responds to us. Things don't always wrap themselves up neatly. Happy endings aren't the normal, and good moral behavior isn't always rewarded.
This book didn't captivate me and perhaps won't stick with me past next week. I didn't walk away learning anything or feeling as though I related well to the characters and came out somehow changed (for the better) at the end. It's a nice read. I'd recommend it only if you pick it up cheap at a used book sale.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
It's hard to melt yourself into a wooden pew.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
1. I went for a walk this morning in a t-shirt and yoga pants.
2. All the windows in the house are open.
3. I have plants out on the deck.
4. LM is out riding his bike in shorts.
5. It is January 6, 2007.
6. I live in SE Pennsylvania.
This is crazy weather. It feels like a day in May, not a day in January. I feel as though I should be planting flower boxes on the deck or something instead of watching my neighbor take down their Christmas tree.
But I won't complain. In my book, this is way better than snow. LM would vehemently disagree to that, but he's put it past him enough to be outside on his bike playing with friends. He's good like that. :o)
I'm going to go enjoy my day. I hope wherever you are, there's sun in your heart and a spring in your step!
Happy January 6th, everyone!
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Lucia, Lucia – Trigiani
All Over But the Shoutin’ – Bragg
Dear John – Sparks
For One More Day – Albom
Broken For You – Kallos
The Abortionist’s Daughter – Hyde
Maggie – Martin
The Dead Don’t Dance – Martin
A Good Year – Mayle
Mere Christianity – Lewis
Moo – Smiley
When Crickets Cry – Martin
Mercy – Picoult
Eventide – Haruf
Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Capote
The Pillars of the Earth – Follett
The Good Mother – Miller
A Wedding in December – Shreve
The Pilot’s Wife – Shreve
River Rising – Dickson
Get a Life – Gordimer
Wrapped in Rain – Martin
Crossing to Safety – Stegner
A Lesson Before Dying – Gaines
Bad Twin – Troup
The Stolen Child – Donohue
Some Wildflower in My Heart – Turner
Plainsong – Haruf
In Cold Blood – Capote
The Wonder Spot – Bank
Milk Glass Moon – Trigiani
Big Cherry Holler – Trigiani
Big Stone Gap – Trigiani
Fools Crow – Welch
Where Rivers Change Direction – Spragg
The Power of the Dog – Savage
The Stones of Summer – Mossman
Sleep Toward Heaven – Ward
Was it Beautiful – McGhee
Until I Find You – Irving
Time Traveler’s Wife – Niffenegger
Vanishing Acts – Picoult
Crime and Punishment – Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina – Tolstoy
Disgrace – Coetzee
Kite Runner – Hosseini
To the Lighthouse - Woolf
This morning, I spoke with LM about what might be appropriate to write inside the book cover; a note saying how much he had enjoyed this book when he was little and wanted to share it's joy with little Ethan. He was writing in ink, so I stressed the importance of extreme neatness, reminding him that this would probably be kept for years and years. The first thing he does is write "Ea" and then says, "Mom, how do you spell Ethan?" He tries to make the 'a' into a 't', and gives me a sorry look. When he finishes his inscription, I say, "Now, let's date it for Ethan's birth. What day was he born?" and we think back until we remember it was Friday morning. I go over to the calendar and say, "December 29th". LM writes in the book and then hands it over to me for my approval. On the top of the inscription he has now written, "January 2, 2007". I nearly lost my mind. I explained to him how we had JUST talked about putting down the DATE OF ETHAN'S BIRTH not TODAY'S DATE. And how I had even said, "DECEMBER 29th" ALOUD. Oh, he didn't get that. So, under his name, I have hiim write Ethan's full name and his birth date so it doesn't look like we were complete morons.
Then I give LM the card that goes with the book. "Just write something nice to your aunt and uncle and little Ethan about what a blessing a new baby is or something," I say. Apparently, I should have been more specific. "May God bless you and ease your burden. Happy New Year, Love, LM" is what he writes on the New Baby card. I lost it. I asked LM "What burden?" He replied, "You know, how tired Aunt M is going to be with the new baby and all." Great, so we've implied on the new baby card that babies are a pain.in.the.neck. GREAT!!
I get out a blank and empty card form from my scrapbooking supplies, cut out the cute little baby things from this card that he just wrote on and glue them onto the card form. I hand this one to LM and say, "Can we try this again and this time say something POSITIVE about having a new baby?!" So he writes a nice little note, copying from what the pre-printed inscription had been on the old card. It reads much better than before, actually implying that we are glad Ethan has arrived.
I would hate to see what LM might write in a sympathy card.
Monday, January 01, 2007
My ex and I are very amicable. We have never argued finances. He has always paid his child support on time, in full and without question. When LM had ortho bills, we resolved easily who was to contribute what and we each paid our portion without complaint. My ex has LM two evenings a week and every other weekend. He is as involved as he knows how to be. In all the behind-the-scenes ways, my ex is a good dad.
It's just in the ways that LM sees that I think his dad is lacking. Not calling on holidays, not trying to see him more, or putting off seeing him for things like shopping. When they are together, LM plays computer games and watches tv, he never has friends over, and rarely does anything outside the house (except go out to eat!)
My vent was not meant to shed a bad light on all the good things my ex does. I am so thankful for our amicable relationship. It was simply meant as a vent of my frustration that in the ways the LM spends time with his dad, I think his dad is sending an unintended message and LM is old enough he's starting to pick up on it.
Perhaps, in any case, I should simply have a private conversation with my ex and explain my concerns so that he might see it from LM's perspective. As much as my ex and I might disgree on some very fundamental issues, we are LM's parents together, and to that end, I'd like to think we could still help each other recognize our weaknesses and aim towards improving our parenting together.
Thank you, again, for allowing me to vent with such honesty before, and for letting me clarify and give the full perspective now.