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May 31, 2007

Southern Reading Challenge 2007


I know it's ridiculous to even consider 13 books for one challenge, but I chose these from my stacks with hopes of at least reading half between now and August 30th. How hard can it be? Two a month. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. :) Thanks Maggie, for hosting this wonderful challenge!

Up Island by Anne Rivers Siddons (Georgia)

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg (Alabama)

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (South Carolina)

The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (New Mexico)

gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson (Georgia)

Saving Grace by Lee Smith (North Carolina)

Slow Way Home by Michael Morris (Alabama)

On the Occasion of My Last Afternoon by Kaye Gibbons (North Carolina)

Farewell, I'm Bound to Leave You by Fred Chappell (North Carolina)

The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis (Massachusetts - born in Tennessee)

The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King (South Carolina)

To Dance With the White Dog by Terry Kay (Georgia)

The Promise of Rest by Reynolds Price (North Carolina)

May 30, 2007

Catching Up...

First off, I want to thank everyone for all the comments this past week. I have finally responded to each and every one and hope that you'll all go back to the various blog entries and see my answers. I don't know about the rest of you, but not only do I make an effort to respond to all the comments, but I usually check back on the blogs I've commented on to see if the blogger has responded with a question for me. No wonder I'm falling further and further behind!

To answer everyone's question about Item #2 on the recent meme... PK stands for "preacher's kid". Bellezza was the closest. Both my dad and his dad are/were Episcopalian priests. So there you have it!


Hmmm, what else. So far only Booklogged has inquired about the free copy of The Birth House. Unless I hear from someone else by Friday afternoon, it looks like it'll be hers.


I commented somewhere (Bookfool or Bellezza's blog) about a recent new toy and finally have some pictures to share. I can't tell you how excited I am about this. My husband has a new motorcycle...

and I have...





A kayak!! It's 9 1/2 feet long and weighs about 38 lbs.



Great upper-body workout!


My wonderful husband helped me load it on top of the XTerra, packed up his fishing gear, and off we went. I paddled around Holmes Lake for about 1 1/2 hours while he fished and read his motorcycle cruising magazine. It couldn't have been a more lovely day. The sun was shining, the fish were jumping, ducks were hanging out in the inlets, and I saw a gorgeous blue heron fly right past my bow. Definitely need to take the camera next time out!

Here's to a beautiful summer!

*Click on the pictures for full-size views.

May 29, 2007

The Birth House



The Birth House by Ami McKay
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 5/23/07
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)




From the author's website:

From the Publisher -

Tradition clashes with modernity in this unforgettable debut novel, set in a small Nova Scotia village in the early 20th century, that is reminiscent of the works of Annie Proulx and Chris Bohjalian.

As a child, Dora Rare, the first female in five generations of Rares, is taken under the wing of Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for storytelling and a kitchen filled with herbs. As she grows into adulthood, Dora becomes Miss Babineau's apprentice, and together the pair help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labour, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and even unfulfilling marriages.

But their idyllic community is threatened with the arrival of Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor armed with promised of sterile, painless childbirth. Soon some of the women begin to question the midwives' methods - an uncertainty that erupts in a war of gossip, accusations, and recriminations after a woman dies. Overshadowed by this powerful, determined male doctor, Dora must summon all her strength and wisdom to protect herself and the birthing rituals of her ancestors, and the village she loves.

An enthralling tale with deep resonance for today, The Birth House brings to light the struggles women have faced to control their own bodies, and to keep tradition alive in the face of modernity.


Excerpt:

My house became the birth house. That's what the women called it, knocking on the door, ripe with child, water breaking on the porch. First-time mothers full of questions, young girls in trouble, and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies 'toesies,' because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped the feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves.

Ginny, she had two…

Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here.

Precious, she had twins…twice.

Celia had six boys, but she was married to my brother Albert…Rare men always have boys.

Iris Rose, she had Wrennie…

All I ever wanted was to keep them safe.


Argh! I really hate it when this happens! I've read nothing but great reviews about The Birth House from various bloggers (Amelia, Sassymonkey, Sheri, Dovegreyreader, and Kailana) was thrilled to receive a beautiful hardcover copy a few months ago from the lovely Lotus in Canada. I put the book on my nightstand, waiting for the perfect time to start reading it. I should've know that May has never been a good month for reading anything other than mysteries and thrillers. I'm too busy puttering in the yard (it's amazing how fast the grass and weeds grow when it rains!), laying down fresh mulch and cleaning up after the long, cold winter. I always seem to have longer than usual "To Do" lists in May (birthdays, Mother's Day, clean the BBQ, service the A/C, clean the porch, think about cleaning the deck, yada yada yada) and now that I'm busy with my job at Barnes & Noble, my reading time has taken a bigger drop than the usual "spring fever" drop I generally experience this time of year. Thank goodness it picks back up again as summer progresses.

How's that for a long-winded explanation for the low rating for this book? I truly believe that my overall lack of enthusiasm for The Birth House is a result of bad timing. I had a tough time getting drawn into the narrative and actually considered giving up, but kept reminding myself that some of my favorite books (Atonement, The Book Thief, Life of Pi) took several chapters before grabbing my interest. So I stuck with it. And I did enjoy some parts more than others. The historical references, particularly those of the Halifax Explosion of 1917, were quite interesting and informative, and I enjoyed the friendships that developed between the members of the "Occasional Knitter's Society." I also enjoyed the epistolary device in the latter portion of the novel, as well as the inclusion of various journal entries, advertisements, and news clippings of the time.

And, I do have one lovely passage that I'd like to share. I'm going to omit a name in order to keep from spoiling part of the plot:

We failed to say goodbye until morning. And even now that he's left the house, his breathing is still here, in the shallow between my breasts, the wrinkle of my pillow. He has left me with a quiet, sure happiness that will not go away, and I don't think it matters if he ever says he loves me. I know him, have always known him. Same as I know he doesn't like too much sugar, not in his coffee, not in a girl. Same as I know he's never had patience for lies. Sin has many tools, but a lie has a handle to fit them all. Same as I know that tonight at midnight, or half past one, or whenever he sees that the rest of the Bay is asleep, [my omission] will make his way up the road to Spider Hill and lay his body next to mine, again.

I also enjoyed reading the following from the author's note:

When I was young, I used to watch my mother so I could learn from her. I loved sitting with her while she cooked, sewed or gardened, and even while she was putting on her makeup. One thing I remember well was her end-of-the-day ritual of emptying out her pockets onto her vanity. A spool of thread, a note from a friend, bobby pins, a recipe card, a pine cone I'd handed her as a gift, a torn-out picture from a magazine -- these treasures would sit on a mirrored tray, looking like they were ready to be presented to a queen. A reflection of her day, her art. When I sat down to write The Birth House, I realized that this was how I wanted to arrange my words, as well: by making a literary scrapbook out of Dora's days.

It truly pains me to write such a discouraging review for what many consider to be a great novel. Please don't let me dissuade you. I think it's one that deserves to be read and I hope everyone will disagree with my low rating. If anyone's interested, I'd love to pass the book on, so please leave me a comment with your request and I'll draw a name from the lot.

And do take a moment to visit Ami McKay's wonderful website! The "novelties" page is quite entertaining.

May 28, 2007

Two Years


Meetai dikir nemesheyui.
There is no hill that never ends.
(Maasai proverb)


Rachel Elizabeth Scher
February 17, 1981 - May 28, 2005

Hot fun in the summertime
Del Mar, California (1987)


Family reunion
Depoe Bay, Oregon (2001)


Sisters & Friends
Christmas 2004


Our first (and last!) family camping trip
Sequoia National Park, CA (1987)


Learning how to crochet
Christmas 2004


More beach fun!
Virginia Beach, VA

This year I'm posting pictures that make me smile. Rachel had such a beautiful smile and she always managed to make those around her laugh or giggle. She could light up a room with her joie de vivre.

If she could pick just one song for us, I believe she'd choose this:

Better Things
(Ray Davies)


Here's wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the doubt and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

Here's hoping all the days ahead
Won't be as bitter as the ones behind you.
Be an optimist instead,
And somehow happiness will find you.
Forget what happened yesterday,
I know that better things are on the way.

It's really good to see you rocking out
And having fun,
Living like you just begun.
Accept your life and what it brings.
I hope tomorrow you'll find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.

Here's wishing you the bluest sky,
And hoping something better comes tomorrow.
Hoping all the verses rhyme,
And the very best of choruses to
Follow all the drudge and sadness.
I know that better things are on the way.

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead.
The past is gone it's all been said.
So here's to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
I know tomorrow you'll find better things.

As long as you mention my name, I live!
African proverb

May 24, 2007

Eight Things About Me

I guess everyone in the blogosphere knows how terrible I am about participating in memes. Not one single person tagged me for the Eight Things About Me meme, so I've tagged myself. Actually, I needed some blog material as I've been in a bit of a reading slump and haven't written very many reviews this month.

Here are the details:

1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don't forget to leave them a comment and tell them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

Here we go:

1. I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and have dual-citizenship (Canadian father, American mother). Not sure exactly what all that means other than if the House of Bush decides to draft 40-plus-year-old women, I can flee to Canada - legally.

2. I'm a PK. Any guesses?

3. Kris Kristofferson is my first cousin, once-removed. Explanation: His mother and my grandmother were sisters. He and my mom are first cousins.

4. I have a couple of special autographs:

The first is a baseball signed by Sandy Koufax (left-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers 1955-1966). I didn't actually meet him in person; a friend gave me the ball. I believe he got it at a golf benefit.

The second is from Charles Lindbergh. My grandfather used to fly for Pan American Airlines and he invited Lindbergh to a family Christmas party. My mom (who was 14 at the time) got his autograph in 1947 and passed it on to me a few years ago.

5. My first husband's last name is the same as my maiden name. Was it an omen? ;)

6. I was kicked out of kindergarten after just one day. Well, not exactly kicked out. But my teacher told my mom that I was so painfully shy that perhaps it would be better to wait another year before starting school.

7. Speaking of school, we moved around quite a bit when I was a child. I went to 10 schools in 12 years.

8. I've run one marathon. Took me ten years! Ran the first "Half" in 1985 (La Jolla, CA) and the second in 1995 (Lincoln, NE).

9. Well, I've never been to Spain, but I've been to Oklahoma...

Guess that was more than eight. Oh, well. Not only am I a meme wimp, I don't play by the rules! And I won't tag eight people since I'm probably the very last person to participate. If you haven't and want to, consider yourself tagged.


May 20, 2007

A Three Dog Life


A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
Memoir
Finished on 5/7/07
Rating: 4/5 (Very good)
Nonfiction Book Challenge #1





Publisher's Blurb:

When Abigail Thomas’s husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his brain shattered. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations, he must live the rest of his life in an institution. He has no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and great change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lives in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. This wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail discovered in the five years since the accident: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.

An excerpt:

This is the one thing that stays the same: my husband got hurt. Everything else changes. A grandson needs me and then he doesn’t. My children are close then one drifts away. I smoke and don’t smoke; I knit ponchos, then hats, shawls, hats again, stop knitting, start up again. The clock ticks, the seasons shift, the night sky rearranges itself, but my husband remains constant, his injuries are permanent. He grounds me. Rich is where I shine. I can count on myself with him.

I live in a cozy house with pretty furniture. Time passes here. There is a fireplace and two acres and the dogs run around and dig big holes and I don’t care. I have a 27-inch TV and lots of movies. The telephone rings often. Rich is lodged in a single moment and it never tips into the next. Last week I lay on his bed in the nursing home and watched him. I was out of his field of vision and I think he forgot I was there. He stood still, then he picked up a newspaper from a neat pile of newspapers, held it a moment, and carefully put it back. His arms dropped to his sides. He looked as if he was waiting for the next thing but there is no next thing.

and another:

Writing is the way I ground myself, what keeps me sane. Writing is the way I try and make sense of my life, try to find meaning in accident, reasons why what happens happens-even though I know that why is a distraction, and meaning you have to cobble together yourself. Sometimes just holding a pen in my hand and writing milk butter eggs sugar calms me. Truth is what I’m ultimately after, truth or clarity. I think that’s what we’re all after, truth, although I’d never have said such a thing when I was young. And I write non-fiction because you can’t get away with anything when it’s just you and the page. What would be the point? Who would you be kidding? Why bother writing at all? Once in a while you come too close to an uncomfortable truth, and your writing goes flat, and your instinct might be to change the subject. But this is the most interesting of moments. There is so much to be found out. You can either stare at the page and realize hot dog, this is a safe to be cracked, or you can crawl under the covers and take a nice nap.


I've always been fond of memoirs, but I've felt especially drawn to this area of nonfiction writing more during the past two years than ever before. As the author states, "Truth is what I'm ultimately after, truth or clarity." I previously read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she shares the intimate details of the tragic loss of her husband. However, Abigail Thomas' stark honesty resonated much more strongly with me than Didion's, in spite of the fact that Rich Thomas' TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) didn't result in death. Thomas' writing reflects that of one coming to terms with a grief of sorts, yet unlike Didion's, her narrative is much more provacative and intensely emotional. Perhaps because she's living the life of a wife that isn't.

The book's epigraph explains the meaning behind the title:

Australian Aborigines slept with their dogs for warmth on cold nights, the coldest being a 'three dog night.' - Wikipedia

Some favorite passages:

I seem to be leaving in the road behind me all sorts of unnecessary baggage, stuff to heavy to carry. Old fears are evaporating, the claustrophobia that crippled me for years is gone, vanished. I used to climb the thirteen flights to our apartment because I was terrified of being alone in the elevator. What if it got stuck? What if I never got out? Then there I was one Sunday morning in the hospital, Rich on the eighth floor, the elevator empty. What had for years terrified me now seemed ridiculously easy. I haven't got the time for this, I thought, and got right in. When the doors closed I kept thinking, Go ahead! Try it! What more can you possibility do to me?

I know this is something my husband and I have both experienced since the death of our daughter. We've been through the absolute worst. All the minor worries of day-to-day living are pointless.

and

One day I look out the hospital window high above Central Park, and I feel as if there's a tightrope connecting Rich's hospital room to our apartment, and all I do is walk back and forth on it, the city far below. I can almost see it shivering like a high-tension wire above the trees. This is when I learn that I have to take care of myself, even if my leaving makes him angry, or worse, sad. I need to eat and sleep. I need to do something mindless, go to a movie, fritter away an afternoon. And I realize something even more startling: I can't make everything all right. It's his body that is hurt, not mine. I can't fix it, I can't make it never have happened.

and

Time has gotten skewed, as tangled as fish line, what means what amymore? How could it be two years since the accident? I calculate it in months, weeks, but the numbers don't feel real or important. One hundred and four weeks. Twenty-four months. Whole handfuls of time have slipped through my fingers. Seasons rush by before I have grasped "winter," "spring." Somehow I have gotten to be sixty, in no time Rich will be seventy. We would have had parties to mark the place, but the last birthday slid by unnoticed, the lat anniversary. Twenty-four months since the accident. If it were a child, it would be talking, walking, climbing into everything. "Time flaps on its mast," wrote Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway. For us time hangs off its mast. Sometimes I'm not even sure about the mast. Something stopped ticking April 24, 2000. Our years together ended, our future together changed. In one moment of startling clarity he told me, "My future has been dismantled."

I found myself nodding my head as I read the above passage. In many ways, it feels like we lost a huge chunk of time after Rachel's death. I've found myself in the middle of a conversation, talking about an event that took place three years ago, yet thinking it was only a couple of years past. It's as if we were living underwater, anethesitized from the real world, for almost an entire year. Time passed, but we stayed locked in our own world of grief. Of course, more time has since passed and we've returned to the real world, making plans for a new motorcycle, a kayak, road trips and living life to its fullest.

I first heard about A Three Dog Life from Nan over at Letters from a Hill Farm. Her lovely review piqued my interest and I immediately ordered a copy. Not only will I re-read this gem of a book, but I plan to buy copies of Safekeeping: Some True Stories from a Life and An Actual Life.

May 13, 2007

Guess Who Came For Dinner?

1,272 miles -- approximately 20 hours (roundtrip from Fort Worth to Lincoln)

3 tanks of gas -- $150

Dinner for 3 (instead of the original 2!) -- $75

Surprise visitor for Mother's Day Weekend -- Priceless!



You will never be free again.
You live two lives now,
hers and your own.
And the greatest pain is having to let
her make her own choices --
whatever your experience foretells.
Mercifully, this life link carries
happiness as well as heartache. You
are allowed to touch her joys, to
share the triumphs and excitements.
Distance cannot divide you. There
will be nights without sleep. Days of
waiting for a word. But letters.
Unexpected phone calls. The
astonishment of her standing on the
doorstep when you thought her half
a world away. And happiness
beyond anything you ever thought
possible. Surprises. Amazement.
For she is your diamond daughter.
She can cut across your
heart and mind.

Rosanne Ambrose-Brown, b. 1943




May 10, 2007

Dream When You're Feeling Blue




Dream When You're Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 5/5/07
Rating: 2.5/5 (Average)





Book Description

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg takes us to Chicago at the time of World War II in this wonderful story about three sisters, their lively Irish family, and the men they love.

As the novel opens, Kitty and Louise Heaney say good-bye to their boyfriends Julian and Michael, who are going to fight overseas. On the domestic front, meat is rationed, children participate in metal drives, and Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller play songs that offer hope and lift spirits. And now the Heaney sisters sit at their kitchen table every evening to write letters–Louise to her fiancĂ©, Kitty to the man she wishes fervently would propose, and Tish to an ever-changing group of men she meets at USO dances. In the letters the sisters send and receive are intimate glimpses of life both on the battlefront and at home. For Kitty, a confident, headstrong young woman, the departure of her boyfriend and the lessons she learns about love, resilience, and war will bring a surprise and a secret, and will lead her to a radical action for those she loves. The lifelong consequences of the choices the Heaney sisters make are at the heart of this superb novel about the power of love and the enduring strength of family.

Well, that settles that. After three disappointments, I can safely say that Elizabeth Berg is no longer one of my favorite authors. While I enjoyed Dream When You're Feeling Blue much more than The Handmaid and the Carpenter (which as you'll recall, I didn't bother to finish) and almost as much as We Are All Welcome Here (which was also a letdown), it certainly doesn't compare to her earlier novels. It took me quite a while to get interested in the story, and I never did come to care for any of the one-dimensional characters or their predictable plights. As I read, I couldn't stop thinking that this simplistic narrative was more characteristic of a young adult novel and that the author touched on all the key points about World War II as woodenly as if each were being dutifully ticked off, one by one, from a detailed checklist.

I've gone back over this review (such as it is) for several days now, trying to come up with something else to say. Unfortunately, there's nothing left to say other than meh. Not one to recommend. Glad I saved my money and borrowed a copy.

May 9, 2007

April Showers... (Part II)


THE LILY OF THE VALLEY
Roberts, Charles G. D. (1860-1943)

DID Winter, letting fall in vain regret
A tear among the tender leaves of May,
Embalm the tribute, lest she might forget,
In this elect, imperishable way?

Or did the virgin Spring sweet vigil keep
In the white radiance of the midnight hour,
And whisper to the unwondering ear of Sleep
Some shy desire that turned into flower?




May 5, 2007

April Showers... (Part I)


Sweet April showers
Do spring May flowers
~Thomas Tusser


When Clouds appear like Rocks and Towers,
The Earth's refreshed by frequent Showers.
~John Claridge


O rain! with your dull two-fold sound,
The clash hard by, and the murmur all around!
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge



Winter is many months of the year
But now at last Maytime is here;
And birds sing from a leafy screen
In the trees and hedgerow freshly green;
And the wood-anemone is out in the shade,
With its blushing petals which too soon fade;
Once more the bracken is unfurling there,
And bluebells gently perfume the damp air.
~Veronica Ann Twells, Maytime


A delicate fabric of bird song
Floats in the air,
The smell of wet wild earth
Is everywhere.
Oh I must pass nothing by
Without loving it much,
The raindrop try with my lips,
The grass with my touch;
For how can I be sure
I shall see again
The world on the first of May
Shining after the rain?
- Sara Teasdale, May Day



Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling
root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.
~Carl Sandburg