Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Ballistics (Poems) by Billy Collins

Ballistics (Poems), by Billy Collins

With Billy Collins' eighth collection of poetry comes a bit of a departure from his previous works. To be sure, Billy Collins fans (of which I am one) will find this collection to be demonstrative of his signature style. However, there is an element of Ballistics that seems a bit deeper and a little more dark than we are typically accustomed to from our former Poet Laureate.

Other reviewers (see links at end of this post) who are much more well-read in poetry than I am, have also commented on this feeling, so I was glad to see it wasn't just me being my hyper-critical self. Ballistics does tend to leave the reader slightly disappointed, I have to say. Maybe it's because, while these poems still remain true to Collins' format of being ones that the ordinary person can understand and relate to, there are more than a few that require a second reading (or third) to fully understand and appreciate its meaning. Maybe we're not used to working that hard with a Billy Collins' poem. Regardless, it's not necessarily a bad thing ... it's just different.

There are also several poems set in European locales that, I think, would perhaps resonate more if one had travelled to those (or similar) places. I have not, and I think that could have contributed to my difficulty with those particular poems. That's more of a deficiency with me, personally, though, not necessarily the poem itself.

Still, there are several poems in Ballistics that are the stuff of the Billy Collins that I adore, like "Divorce."

Divorce
Once, two spoons in bed,
now tined forks
across a granite table
and the knives they have hired.

See? That's vintage Collins and sheer poetic genius, in my humble opinion. With 18 words about utensils (and so much more), this reader thinks, "That is brilliant to equate silverware with the facets of a marriage and divorce proceedings." It speaks so much in these four lines - how many meals this couple may have shared, was their first date in a restaurant?, the symbolism represented by the unnamed food itself, the nourishment of the relationship (now cleared away), or even the breadbasket that would have been on a restaurant table, now substituted for the money that will be invoiced from the divorce attorneys.

Here's another that I liked (because I'm kind of morbid):

On the Death of a Next-Door Neighbor
So much younger and with a tall, young son
in the house above ours on a hill,
it seemed that death had blundered once again.

Was it poor directions, the blurring rain,
or the too-small numerals on the mailbox
that sent his dark car up the wrong winding driveway?

Surely, it was me he was looking for -
overripe, childless, gaudy with appetite,
the one who should be ghosting over the rooftops

not standing barefooted in this kitchen
on a sun-shot October morning
after eight days and nights of downpour

me with my presumptuous breathing,
my arrogant need for coffee,
my love of the colorful leaves beyond the windows.

The weight of my clothes, not his,
might be hanging in the darkness of a closet today,
my rake idle, my pen across a notebook.

The harmony of this house, not his,
might be missing a voice,
the hallways jumpy with the cry of the telephone -

if only death had consulted his cracked leather map,
then bent to wipe the fog
from the windshield with an empty sleeve.

For people who have not read Billy Collins' previous work, Ballistics is not necessarily the collection I would recommend starting with. It is one that fans of Collins would find elements of enjoyment, albeit with a different perspective than most of his previous work.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Here's what some other bloggers had to say ....

Amy from The English Geek (a new blog to me that I am really enjoying!)
Life on the Periphery

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stop, In the Name of ...Huh?

You may have some questions about the photo that adorns the masthead (is it called a masthead?) of this here blog.

And you wouldn't be alone.

This is probably my favorite photo from our vacation. I took this on Monday evening, as The Dean and I took a walk along the bay. There, with the downtown of Undisclosed Location in the background (as much of a downtown as a place 1.5 miles long can have) and facing the bay, was this recliner.

There's a story here, make no bones about it (and it will likely make an appearance in one that I am writing). I would love to know whose chair this was and who put it there. You can't see the bay in this photo, but trust me when I say that it is mere feet from the stop sign.

I love this photo for all that it says. To me, it says, stop what you're doing. Stop and look at this glorious sunset (for that is what we were doing when we came across this). Stop and expect the unexpected.

What does it say to you?

The Secret's in the Sauce

Boo loves to write. Stories, poems, playlists (or lists of any kind, really), scripts from Phineas and Ferb or Hannah Montana ... he's a jack of all literary trades. He generates these scribblings in great quantities, so we're constantly finding these tidbits throughout the house, in the cars, my purse, etc.

Now he's added recipes to the mix, as evidenced by the directions for this concoction that I found while cleaning up the family room. (See, Mom, I do occasionally straighten up 'round here. :)

Smiley Fri's Recipe for Mac and Cheese (Smiley Fri would be a character in a TV show he has made up, so this appears to be a proprietary dish.)

Here's what you need:

2 cups of cream yellow cheese
2 cups of hot macaroni cream butter
1/2 cup of bones
1/2 cup of meat
1/2 cup of vegies
1/2 cup of cold peas

I guess this low-cholesterol dish cooks by itself, because Boo doesn't provide any further instructions.

I'm intrigued by the addition of the bones. Maybe that's the secret ingredient I need to add to my culinary repertoire to get my kids to try more things.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Beginnings

We are in this place, The Dean and I, that I love. This place that holds so much meaning for our family, both people gone and still here.

There has been a book idea in my mind for awhile - years, actually - but it hasn't quite crystallized. Maybe it never will, or maybe it just needs time to marinate a little more.

So I sit here this morning in the most comfortable writing chair imaginable, following a morning thunderstorm that rocked the house and these few blocks of beach town that time seems to have forgotten, listening to the beep-beep-beep of the trucks that worked through the night on the beach replenishment project a block away.

And a different idea has been born, completely different from what I had thought.

Through my work, I am participating in a program with a local foundation. We're working individually with a career coach, and one of my summer goals is to carve out some time to write. Which I do, through the blog, but she means something else, something bigger than a blog post. (Not like there's anything wrong with a blog post, nor do I have any intents to give up the blog ... oh, no, no, no. Can't get rid of me that fast.)

I have an hour or two before the masses arrive, kids, in-laws, The Dean returning from a morning alone on the beach. And I'm thinking, how does one begin a new story, I wonder? At what point do you start?

Maybe it doesn't have to be this way or thataway, as I wrote on a friend's blog a few moments ago. Maybe there isn't one right, true way.

Maybe it is about starting wherever, whenever, about discovering the journey to come.

Wondrous Words Wednesday - July 29, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme (hosted by Kathy over on her wonderful blog, Bermudaonion) where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.

These words are brought to us by Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Story of a Marriage.

crenellated - cren·e·lat·ed also cren·el·lat·ed
adj.
1. Having battlements.
2. Indented; notched: a crenelated wall.
"I thrust my arms out at the open sky, the clouds bright and crenellated as the grass below, all of it moving, rustling, in the strong wind that smelled of the ocean."

semaphore –noun
1.an apparatus for conveying information by means of visual signals, as a light whose position may be changed.
2. any of various devices for signaling by changing the position of a light, flag, etc.
3. a system of signaling, esp. a system by which a special flag is held in each hand and various positions of the arms indicate specific letters, numbers, etc.
–verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
4. to signal by semaphore or by some system of flags.
"They communicated in a wild semaphore, like mating birds, while I looked around the floor and saw the barkless tree trunks, polished by wallflowers' stroking hands, the clear sky pitted with stars above the garlands of lights that onw young man was jokily reaching up to unscrew as his date beat him happily with her purse."

plinth -
–noun Architecture.
1. a slablike member beneath the base of a column or pier.
2. a square base or a lower block, as of a pedestal.
3. Also called plinth course. a projecting course of stones at the base of a wall; earth table.
4.(in joinery) a flat member at the bottom of an architrave, dado, baseboard, or the like.
"We descended to the clearing, unkempt except around two stone plinths that marked the last duel in California."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Speechless

I am completely speechless right now ... and here's why.

Lily Koppel, author of The Red Leather Diary, links to my blog post from Sunday in her post today.

Some people put celebrities I've never heard of on pedestals. Me, I reserve that spot for writers. Every since I was a little girl, I've viewed writers as exalted, larger than life.

I've never stopped being that 6 year old whose fan letter was personally answered (in handwriting, no typed letter this) from her favorite author, and that's how I felt tonight when, while perusing a few blogs, I stumbled onto Lily's (which I've had in Google Reader since discovering it a few days ago).

"If you are reading this, you are part of a salon ...." her post was titled.

"How cool," I thought. "Someone else had the same thought of equating Florence Wolfson's literary salons to what we're doing here, online, talking books and whatnot."

And I clicked on the link, and I realized it took me to my very own blog.

Thank you, Lily ... for this and for writing a wonderful treasure of a book.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to channel my inner 6-year old and dance around the living room with all the joy and exuberance of a child.

Book Review: There's No Place Like Here, by Cecelia Ahern

There's No Place Like Here, by Cecelia Ahern

I once read a description of Cecelia Ahern's books that said her fiction was akin to modern fairy tales for grownups. (As if regular fairy tales are solely the property of youngsters.) In a Q & A on her website, how Ahern addresses this is the perfect introduction into the premise of There's No Place Like Here:

"My opinion of a fairy tale was of a story that lacked realism, in which female characters are "rescued" by men, whisked off their feet from the boredom of their mundane lives, proposed to, and brought to a castle where they would live happily ever after. This is not the case with my books. I want them to be about strong women. They are about real people with ordinary, everyday struggles who are faced with having to embark on a journey of self-discovery.

As soon as my characters begin to grasp who they are, and how and why it is that they've reached this point in their lives, then they realize they must heal themselves. Self-healing is extremely important in my stories, and while there are strong male characters in the books, they aren't the handsome princes that have come to save the day. Their role is to help the characters help themselves. People learn about themselves through interaction and through their relationships with others; obviously nobody can do it alone, so the love interests are instrumental in helping the characters look at themselves and their own behavior but then eventually helping themselves.

How a good fairy tale will make you feel after you've finished it is full of hope --- the hope that no matter what we're faced with, we can get through it. While the books don't always end on a "happily ever after" note, they do reach a point where they realize they have the strength, confidence, and ability to continue. And that is the modern twist."

There's No Place Like Here fits that description admirably well. Ahern's fourth novel is the story of Sandy Shortt, the owner of a missing-persons agency in Ireland. Sandy's had an obsession with lost things ever since a neighbor (and childhood nemesis) disappeared when they were 10. As an adult, she pours herself into her work helping families of people who have gone missing and her workaholic tendencies of disapppearing for days at a time have cost her relationships with her parents and a love interest, the school counselor who helped her as a teenager.

So when Sandy really does go missing, no one really notices or cares much - except Jack Ruttle, who has hired Sandy to find his missing brother, Donal. Convinced that she holds the keys to the answers he seeks, Jack embarks on a search for Sandy that brings him into contact with each person in Sandy's life.

Similarly, Sandy is on her own journey of discovery, stumbling upon a world (not too far off from the one that we know) that simultaneously reunites and acquaints her with the very people she's spent her life looking for.

"It was a scene I was familiar yet unfamiliar with all at the same time because everything I could see was composed of recognizable elements from home, but used in such very different ways. We hadn't stepped backward or forward, we had entered a whole new time. A great big melting pot of nations, cultures, design, and sound mixed to create a new world. Children played; market stalls decorated the road and customers swarmed around them. So much color, so many new sounds, unlike any country I'd been in. A sign beside us said HERE."

There's a mystical quality and a subtle religious element to There's No Place Like Here. For example, it's not much of a stretch to view Here as a symbolic interpretation of Heaven. (I mean, c'mon, one of the characters is a carpenter named Joseph.) Despite that, Ahern manages this aspect while avoiding becoming too heavy-handed.

"I'm very interested in the idea that we are not alone on this earth," she states on the interview posted on her website. "I write books about lives, and in our lives are men, women, children, animals, and the others we feel around us. I'm aware that many people are turned off when this subject is broached but it's as simple as when, after losing a loved one, people openly admit to feeling that their loved ones are still with them."

The novel is told in flashbacks as well as in the present, and Ahern weaves these together very nicely. There are, however, some elements within the plot that don't quite get answered at the conclusion. We see a relationship developing between Sandy and her guidance counselor at school, which doesn't come into fruition until Sandy is an adult (thankfully), but the reader is left not quite knowing what happened with Sandy and Gregory in the middle. We can guess, which is perhaps what Ahern wants us to do.

There's No Place Like Here, Ahern's fourth novel (I think), is the second one of hers that I've read and enjoyed. The first one that I read was If You Can See Me Now, which I loved. (Anyone who has been around a child with an imaginary playmate will never dismiss the notion of invisible friends again after reading that one). Both are highly recommended and make for light, entertaining reading while being thought-provoking and viewing this world in a different light. If you're looking for this type of read this summer, give Cecelia Ahern's books a try.

My rating for There's No Place Like Here: 4 out of 5 stars (simply because I would have liked to have known a little more about the relationship between Sandy and Gregory!)

Other reviews:

Page After Page

Monday, July 27, 2009

Green Bean and Potato Salad

I made this tasty Green Bean and Potato Salad recently for dinner. The Dean and I liked it, and even Betty tried a little, so that makes it a keeper. (Just The Dean's endorsement alone makes it worthy.)

This would be a delicious salad to bring to a barbeque, picnic, or other outdoor get-together. It doesn't have mayo, so there wouldn't be the typical concerns associated with a traditional potato salad sitting outside in warm weather. It can be made ahead and I'd imagine it would travel well, too. My only question is whether this would really serve 10; I'm not convinced it would. If you're serving this to a crowd, you might want to double it.

I found this on Allrecipes.com, which is also where I borrowed the photo from.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds red potatoes
3/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and
snapped
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (I omitted this)
1 small red onion, chopped (I used a small Vidalia)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 dash Worcestershire sauce (I omitted this)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:
1.Place the potatoes in a large pot, and fill with about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Throw in the green beans to steam after the first 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and cut potatoes into quarters. Transfer to a large bowl, and toss with fresh basil, red onion, salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, mustard, lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil. Pour over the salad, and stir to coat. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

Nutrition Information
Servings Per Recipe: 10 Calories: 176
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat: 11.3g
Cholesterol: 0mg
Sodium: 121mg
Amount Per Serving
Total Carbs: 17.4g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4g
Protein: 1.9g

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Sunday Salon: On Literary Salons of Then and Now

Thanks to BlogHop, I've gained a few new readers in the last few days, which always thrills me. I am most appreciative to each one of you for stopping by. In case you're also new to The Sunday Salon, I've included a link explaining more later in this post. (My not-quite-so-subtle way of having you read the whole post ... or, not.)

This week I've been reading The Red Leather Diary, by Lily Koppel. It's not Lily's diary, however; it is that of Florence Wolfson, a teenager living in New York during the early 1930s. If you haven't read it, it is a fascinating glimpse of that time period. Lily Koppel combines extensive interviews and Florence's diary entries to create an exquisite book. There's been a lot of positive buzz about this among book bloggers, to whom I am grateful - I might have missed out on this had it not been for all your reviews. Hopefully I will finish this today (only 70 pages left) as I have a little more time than usual to read.

I'm at the part of the diary (page 237-238) where Florence, a 19 year old graduate student at Columbia University, starts a literary salon.

"As Florence bent to light the fire in the fireplace, she unpinned her long hair and let it cascade seductively onto her shoulders as her guests pondered Aristotle's Art of Poetry and the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas. These were their heroes. Her first year at Columbia, Florence began a salon in the Wolfsons' living room, assembling an avant-garde group hungry for ideas and as passionate about words as she was. Ideas were their aphrodisiacs, the intellectual lifeblood of their being. Each member's day-to-day existence was driven by discussions of Socrates and Plato, relating lofty truths to daily acts like riding the subway. The circle was their real life. They were bohemians, wandering along Riverside Park on a Sunday afternoon, stopping for a thirty-five cent Chinese banquet or rounds of beers. 'Eccentric' or 'unusual personality' described just about everyone in the circle.

"The salon members were flamboyant, shrewd, artistic exiles from immigrant families. The American dream, for their parents, had been to get rich at whatever cost, no matter what labor was involved. Their parents were craftsmen, tradesmen, and merchants. Their life's work was work. Florence and her friends wanted to be recognized for their artistic genius. They read The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Atlantic. They despised the bourgeois ethics perpetrated by magazines like Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post. They read aloud from Hound & Horn, a literary quarterly founded by Harvard undergrads Lincoln Kirstien and Varian Fry in 1927, devoted to writers they idolized, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein.

"Florence served white wine on a silver tray at the group's midnight sessions. Her friends stayed until early morning, talking philosophy, getting drunk, having little orgies in Florence's bedroom, seeking physical as well as intellectual pleasure, all in pursuit of 'the Socratic quest.' 'Know thyself - gnothi seauton,' reminded their hostess. They meditated on Socrates's famous line, 'The unexamined life is not worth living."

How I would have loved to have been part of Florence Wolfson's literary salons, I thought, as I read that passage. Can you imagine what that must have been like? Discussing literature and exchanging ideas, escaping from one's everyday life for the time it takes to write a blog post and being something more than what we do as a profession or a career or however we pay the bills, striving for something more than materialism from getting rich at any cost?

And then it struck me.

I am part of such a salon, just in a different form than what was in the 1930s. If you think about it, it's really not all that different than what we are doing here, online, on our blogs and in forums like She Writes, in communities like The Sunday Salon. (There's your link to what this is all about, as promised at the outset of this post.)

It's especially apropos this weekend, I think, with the finale of BlogHer '09 in Chicago and several of us (myself included) beginning to make our plans for being at BlogHer '10 in New York City (how apropos, with the subject of this post!) a whole year from now.

I love this whole notion of blogging, of coming together to discuss books, current events, and ideas - be they highbrow ones or the things people do to express their inexplicable adoration of The Jonas Brothers.

I hope you're having a great Sunday and that your week ahead is filled with great books, a great exchange of ideas, camaraderie with people you love and admire, chances to escape from your everyday self, discovering and recovering your soul.

Thanks to all of you, mine certainly will be.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Wake Up Call

"Mommy! Mommy, mommy, you have GOT to wake up right now!"

Ohmuhgawd, what now, I thought, barely conscious. Exactly how I wanted to be woken up at 5:52 a.m. On a Saturday morning. With nothing planned.

I must have neglected to tell Betty that it had been kind of a late night, BlogHoppin' partying mom that I am. Don't tell anyone ... I snuck into the bedroom after 1 p.m., well past my bedtime. I overindulged a little last night, visiting way too many blogs, overloading Google Reader (at what point does that thing implode?) and making too many new friends.

"You have to see this!!! Right now!!!"

"Whassa matter, honey?" I said, lazily, realizing that a) if the other child wasn't screaming or b)the security alarm wasn't blaring or c) the smoke detectors weren't beeping, then things were probably somewhat under control. "What's wrong?" I said, yawning.

"Look what's going on!" she exclaimed, pulling me into the hallway.
And there it was ...

The photo doesn't do justice to the sunrise streaming through our family room windows at dawn, stretching its rays, wing-like, across the horizon. (Speaking of the photo, it was Betty's idea to take the photo ... and this was, indeed, taken by her.)

It was one of those moments, when you realize that you might be doing something a little right in this parenting gig. In your teachings that it is the simple things - the sunrise, for example - that are worth paying attention to, worth waking up for.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Keeping Up with the Jonases

Twitter informed me that my afternoon commute home would likely be a traffic nightmare - and Twitter was, as always, correct.

(For any newcomers to this blog who may have BlogHopped here, I have a hellacious commute to and from work. It's usually about 1 hour, 40 minutes. Yes, that is each way. Yes, I know it is ridiculously insane. Don't ask.)

Several occurances were converging on my city to make this slog worse than it usually is - as if that is possible on a Friday evening. Apparently Toby Keith is performing at some venue nearby. The alternative music station is throwing a shin-dig. There's a Phillies game. We're within a few hours of two separate beach locales, and on Fridays, it seems that every car on the road is heading for the shore. (Or the beach. Yes, one is known as the shore, the other is known as the beach. Don't ask.)

And to top it all off, there were the Jonas Brothers, also performing downtown for the second night in a row.

Sitting in 20 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic (I wish I was kidding ... the backup really was 20 miles), I followed this car most of the way.


I caught a glimpse of the parental-type units that were chauffering the teenyboppers to the Jonas Brothers' concert, and I really wanted to take a photo of them because their expressions were priceless. Yet, something about their wearisome faces told me they might not have taken too kindly to a stranger snapping their photo, in 20 miles of standstill traffic, with their car a mobile shrine to the Jonas boys.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Not Going to BlogHer? Come Over to BlogHop!


One of the most fun-filled parties of BlogHer starts in mere minutes. Oh, wait, um ... what's that now? You're not at BlogHer?
You're on your sofa with the laptop, eating a bowl of ice cream in your pajamas wishing you were at BlogHer? Um, yeah ... me, too.
No matter. To quote Kool and the Gang, there's a party goin' on right here. (You knew there would be one.) BlogHop '09 starts tonight, at 9 p.m. CST and continues through the weekend and even into next week.
It's being hosted by Robin over at Pensieve (a new blog to me that I'm looking forward to reading more of, especially since Robin sounds a lot like me) and Jo-Lynne, who writes Musings of a Housewife. Robin plans on posting a Mister Linky in mere moments, where the idea is to register your BlogHop post and visit the other participating blogs, and add the cool button on your sidebar.
Almost forgot the best part: The BlogHop '09 ladies have also provided us with a goodie bag extraordinaire. Some of the prizes that sponsors are offering include a $25 Build a Bear gift card, a $50 Paula Deen gift card and the $150 registration fee to Type-A Mom Conference! There's probably more ... go over to Pensieve and check 'em out.
See you at BlogHop '09!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Life Begins at 51

I don't know what was so magical to me about the notion of having 50 subscribers to my blog, but for whatever reason, 50 subscribers became some sort of personal benchmark for me.

I can't explain it. The Big 5-0 just seemed to hold some sort of cachet for me. I know, it makes no sense. And for months (OK, ever since December, when I signed onto Feedburner), I watched and watched as the subscribers inched ever so slowly, tortoise-like, towards that magical number.

(About these photos I'm showing off here. At the tippy top is the Philadelphia Zooballoon, taking off for a flight. We weren't on this. I stayed on the ground, snapping the photo. And the creature above is a Galapagos Tortoise, also found at the Philadelphia Zoo. Yep, a real tortoise, as in "The Tortoise and The Hare." This dude can live for 200 years. I wonder if there will be blogs 200 years from now? Speaking of which, it's taking 200 years to bang out this post.....)


Some people watch and obsess over the stock market. (Or used to.) I watch and obsess over my blog stats.

Now, I know Feedburner can be more tempermental than a toddler, and I know that I really may not have 50 subscribers.

I don't care. What I know is that when I checked Feedburner this evening, there it was ... 51 subscribers.

I'm guessing - although I've been known to have been surprised at a thing or two in my life - that I will likely never become the sort of blogger who gets 13,000 comments on a single post. (Truly, there are people who actually do.) And that's OK with me. Because for tonight, I am content with my 51 subscribers. More than content. To quote Sally Field, you like me. You really like me.

I'm very grateful and humbled that there are 51 0f you (give or take a few :) who actually care enough to read my ramblings of the day. It means so much more than you will ever know, and I thank you and appreciative you all so very much.

Sky Magic

I wrote this post last month during Bloggiesta, intending it to be one to have "in the can" for a rainy day. While today isn't rainy, it is the 40th anniversary of the moon landing (in case you hadn't heard). Turns out, this post seems to have an appropriate resonance for July 20, 2009.

I don't have any first hand memories of the moon landing, since I was only 3 months old when Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind. For those of us celebrating our 40th year (or close to it) on Earth during this moon landing anniversary year, this strikes me as one of the remaining few "where were you when ...." types of moments that my generation won't have any immediate recall of. It puts into perspective how much has changed since the moon landing and how much is, hopefully, still ahead.

(And no, I'm not talking about continuing the space program and going onto Mars. I'm not in favor of that, because I think we have enough problems to occupy our time here on Earth. I look at a trip to Mars as akin to, say, The Dean and I jet-setting off to some remote island in the Caribbean for six months. It would be nice, people would benefit, but there are at least two responsibilities here at home. Not to mention no money for such an adventure.)

I digress, as per usual. Here's the post I wrote back during Bloggiesta about a cute little children's book of poetry called Sky Magic.


Sky Magic, poems compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Mariusz Stawarski

When she was little, one of us had to sleep with Betty until she fell asleep. We set up a mattress on her floor, we squeezed into her twin bed with her ... there were all kinds of machinations that we had to go through every night.

One routine Betty and I had was looking out her bedroom window together while reciting, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight ..." when we saw a star. We'd make a wish on the star ("I hope Little B. feels better soon," or "I'm glad the sun came out today.") As these childhood things do, this seemed to last for quite some time ... and then, as such things do, it faded and disappeared.

It's been a few years - a few lifetimes - since we slept on the mattresses, tip-toed like thieves out of a bedroom with a squeaky floorboard, or wished on stars.

We have different nocturnal nuances to contend with now. They still linger in the form of Betty, Boo, and I reading our own books together in the guest room while pointing out new-to-us or special words - princess, castle, cakes, pink - to one another. I was thinking about those toddler days when we recently read Sky Magic, a breathtaking collection of 14 poems celebrating all things celestial - the sun, the moon, the stars, the sky. Of the poets included, I admit that I only have heard of Tennessee Williams and Carl Sandburg. Still, the others are certainly worthy. The illustrations by Mariusz Stawarski are colorful and soothing.

Here's one poem from the book that I liked:

Who Found the Moon? by Alice Schertle

Who found the moon?
Who found it when it tumbled from the sky
and picked it up like any common stone
and looked around to see he was alone?

Who licked it with his tongue
to see if it would melt,
and rubbed it with his thumb,
and felt its silver coolness on his palm,
and saw it was no bigger than a plum?

He must have known
that moonlight would be missed.
I wonder if he kissed the moon good-bye
before he wound up knee-high in the grass
and pitched it like a fastball toward the sky -

to hang among the silent stars in space
with finger smudges on its silver face.

Sky Magic is intended for children, although I will confess Betty and Boo weren't enthralled with this. I try to read poetry to them on occasion but with the exception of the great Shel Silverstein, they don't seem all that interested. This is, however, a nice bedtime, lullaby book - one that I would have loved when the kids were little and needed some help drifting off to dreamland.

Here's another poem, Moon Lullaby, which seems especially apropos for tonight:

Moon Lullaby - by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Lull cats to sleep,
let children dream
shine silver blue
on gentle stream.

Glaze the house
where sleepers sigh ...
as hours
as nights

as years go by.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma, Karma Chameleon


"Yo, Sid ... hand me that microphone. Got a little number I'd like to do for you folks tonight. Ready? A one, two, three, and! Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma cham-meeeeeeal- leeeee-un! You come and go! You come and go-oooooooo! Lovin' would be easy if your colors were like my dreeeeeeeeam, red, gold and green! Red, gold, and greeeeeeeeeeen! Sing it with me, folks, I know you know the words!"

I took this photo today at the Zoo, and this was the first thing that immediately popped into my time-warped child-of-the-80s mind. I mean, seriously, doesn't this dude look like all he needs is a microphone and he could burst into tune?

Even funnier was the reaction of Boo when he came over to the laptop as I was posting punch-drunk-like captions (this one included) on my Facebook page to the accompanying 54 photos. (I know, I know ...)

"Karma, karma, karma ...." he started to read, and I broke into song.
The kids lost it, laughing uncontrollably. "Did you just make that up?" asked Boo. "That is the silliest song!"

"Um, well, yeah, you see, it's kind of a real song," I said, hoping Boo was not going to ask me who the singer was and if we could look him up on Wikipedia, as Boo is fond of doing. "It was pretty popular when Daddy and I were little."

"Nuh-uh!"

"Yeah-huh."

"A real song? What's it called?"

"Karma Chameleon."

"Sing it again, Mommy!"

"Thank you! You've been a great audience! I'll be here at the Lizard Lounge all week!"

The Sunday Salon

The majority of my reading this Sunday will likely be reading signs at the Philadelphia Zoo, which happens to be America's first zoo and is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Betty is pretty passionate about animals, especially tigers. One of her favorite activities is to visit the Siberian tiger at the small zoo near us. She even sleeps with a oil painting picture of that very tiger right next to her bed. She's been asking to go see the tigers at the Philadelphia Zoo, so, we'll likely be reading about all kinds of species by the time you're reading this.

Most regular readers of mine know I have a long commute to work (nearly 2 hours each way ... don't even ask, and no, I only wish I made a six-figure salary to justify such insanity). I've really gotten into audiobooks to help stave off the doldrums. This week, I started and quickly abandoned Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marilynne Robinson.

Have you read this? I just couldn't get into it. I picked up the print version at the library, because I don't think it is entirely fair to judge a book by the audio. There are so many variables involved with audiobooks - the narrator, the type of day you've had when you're listening, the plot, the language. Some books translate well to audio and some simply do not. That's why I try go to the print version if the audio isn't working for me, but I'm not sure that's going to help with this. If you've read Gilead, let me know if I should give the print version a try instead.

I switched to Clyde Edgerton's The Bible Salesman, which I finished on Saturday and liked. It did start a bit on the slow side, but quickly picked up pace; when it did, it had my full attention. The ending scenes are incredibly tension-filled and T.Ryder Smith is probably among the best narrators I've heard yet. I'll have a review up soon (perhaps as a pre-scheduled post while I'm on vacation.) I'll say this in the meantime: this may not be a book for everyone, but if you're a fan of Southern fiction, as I am, this is a good read (and a better listen).

On the print side of things, I finished There's No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern. I really enjoy her novels, and find them to be a light, but still thought-provoking, read. I also read Ballistics, Billy Collins' eighth volume of poetry, in one sitting on Friday evening. Found it a bit deeper and darker than the other works of his I've read, but still good. (It is Billy Collins, after all.)

And thanks to several book bloggers who have raved about The Red Leather Diary by Lily Koppel, I knew to pick this one up when I saw it at the library, and oh my - this girl can write. I am really enjoying this.

Speaking of book bloggers, have you heard about the plans for the 2nd annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week? I was too new to the blogging scene last year to participate fully (I didn't even know what a book blog was), but I am really looking forward to it this year. From all the buzz, it should be a lot of fun.

Would love to see you there!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week - September 14-18, 2009

I'm really excited about this year's Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) because ... well, this year I actually understand what's going on. Last year's event happened a month after I started writing The Betty and Boo Chronicles, so BBAW felt like being at a very fun party without knowing anyone there or what language they were speaking.

Oh ... maybe you're like me, back then, wondering what Book Blogger Appreciation Week is? Read on ...

Thanks to the magnificent Amy, the 2nd annual Book Blogger Appreciation Week (BBAW) will be taking place in September. What is BBAW, you ask? Well, read on for all the details…

WHO: Anyone who blogs about books is invited to participate. In fact, we want everyone who blogs about books and reading to be a part of this week!

WHAT: A week where we come together, celebrate the contribution and hard work of book bloggers in promoting a culture of literacy, connecting readers to books and authors, and recognizing the best among us with the Second Annual BBAW Awards. There will be special guest posts, daily blogging themes, and giveaways.

WHEN; September 14-18, 2009

WHERE: Over at the new Book Blogger Appreciation Week Blog! (Please note that this year there are three separate blogs and feeds—one for the main event, one for giveaways, and one for awards.)

WHY: Because books matter. In a world full of options, the people talking about books pour hard work, time, energy, and money into creating a community around the written word. Amy, the founder of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, loves this community of bloggers and wants to shower appreciation on you!

WANT TO PARTICIPATE? Please help us spread the word about Book Blogger Appreciation Week by posting about it on your blog, twittering about it, and telling everyone you know that it’s time to have a party and celebrate book bloggers!

Please register by filling out the registration form! Registering ensures your inclusion in the BBAW 09 Database of Book Bloggers and enters you into the drawing for the BBAW 09 Grand Prize! Come back often as there will be many updates! And follow us on Twitter!

AWARDS: BBAW Award Nominations are now open on the BBAW Awards Blog. Many, many, many thanks to Amy for all of her hard work and continuing this awesome tradition!!

The Ongoing Valley Club Saga and Mr. Peabody's Apples

The ongoing saga of The Valley Club and the Creative Steps day camp simply won't go away. You probably know what I'm talking about - the suburban Philadelphia swim club embroiled in a public relations and legal nightmare as a result of their actions toward the 65 children enrolled at Creative Steps Day Camp.

I wrote about this story on July 9 . All month long, hardly a day has gone by in our local press without some mention of this quagmire. It seems that everyone wants a piece of the action - not the least of which is the Executive Director of the camp who announced her intention, along with 45 parents of the campers, to sue The Valley Club.

The lawsuits (of which papers reportedly have not been filed yet) were inevitable in a case that appears to be, on the surface, blatant racial discrimination. Again, it's unfortunate this even happened in the first place, and it is especially unfortunate that The Valley Club officials have been so bumbling and Three Stooges-like in their handling of a PR nightmare from hell that will not end. (I still maintain that, had someone with even the most rudimentary clue about the care and feeding of the media beast been managing this, then we might not be at this point. But, be that as it may ....)

By suing The Valley Club, the day camp will likely force the Club to close - permanently. A look at the Club's finances shows that they don't have the wherewithal for such legalities, unless a lawyer would take the case pro-bono.

Meanwhile, the kids from Creative Steps have been offered all kinds of other activities and outings (how many of those benefactors, I wonder, gave a crap about helping 65 African-American children before the feel-good PR benefits were at play?), free website design and assistance, and God knows what else. And this is all a good thing, because if one is to believe the Executive Director of the camp, the children in her camp are "permanently scarred." (Are they really? Seriously? Then how come the only angle that hasn't been reported is a story from a perspective of a counselor who has spent every day with these scarred kids?)

A lot of people are permanently scarred by this. Which leads me to the children's book I read to my kids last night.


I picked up Mr. Peabody's Apples at the library the other week, simply because the author is Madonna (yeah, that Madonna). I had low expectations, I must admit, and I was quick to judge the book - not based on the cover, per se, but just because the Material Girl was its author. And, y'know ... I was pleasantly surprised. It's a great children's story, one that was inspired by a nearly 300 year old story told to Madonna by her Kabbalah teacher. "It is about the power of words," Madonna herself writes in the book's aftermath. "And how we must choose them carefully to avoid causing harm to others."

Mr. Peabody's Apples is the fictional story of an elementary teacher who also coaches the Happville Little League baseball team. Billy Little, a student in Mr. Peabody's class and on his team, admires his teacher and helps out whenever he can. After each game, Mr. Peabody stops by Mr. Funkadeli's store, and from the fruit stand out front, takes the shiniest apple he can find - without paying. Another player, Tommy Tittlebottom, sees Mr. Peabody taking the apples on several occasions.

(Along me to interject here with a personal note to Lady Madonna, because I'm sure she's reading this: I give you props for creative monikers, but um ... given that you are Madonna, might you have come up with something other than Tommy Tittlebottom? I couldn't even read that to my kids, and instead resorted to Tommy. However, my kids can read ....)

Back to Mr. Peabody and his penchant for apples. Tommy tells one person, then that person tells another, and soon word spreads throughout Happville that Mr. Peabody is a thief. Billy Little finally tells Mr. Peabody what people are saying, and together they visit Mr. Funkadeli. A simple explanation is provided (turns out Mr. Peabody pays for the apples in advance) and Billy then tells Tommy.

"Oh dear, Mr. Peabody," said Tommy, on the doorstep. "I didn't understand. I should not have said what I said, but it looked like you hadn't paid for the apples."

Mr. Peabody's eyebrows went up a little, and he felt a warm breeze blow across his face. "It doesn't matter what it looked like. What matters is the truth."

Tommy looked down at his shoes, and said,"I am so sorry. What can I do to make things better, now?"

Mr. Peabody took a deep breath, looked up at a small cloud that was in the sky, and said, "I'll tell you what, Tommy. Meet me at the baseball diamond in one hour, and bring a pillow stuffed with feathers."

He complies, and on the breezy baseball diamond, they cut the pillow and the feathers swirl and scatter in the wind. Mr. Peabody then instructs Tommy to pick up all the feathers.

"I don't think it's possible to pick up all the feathers," Tommy replied.

"It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done by spreading the rumor that I am a thief," said Mr. Peabody. "Each feather represents a person in Happville."

There was a long pause as Tommy began to understand what Mr. Peabody was saying.

Finally, he said, "I guess I have a lot of work ahead of me."

Mr. Peabody smiled and said, "Indeed, you do. Next time, don't be so quick to judge a person. And remember the power of your words."

Creative Steps has clearly won their fight against the Valley Club. They don't need to file a lawsuit to prove the quickness to judge and the power of words. That point has already been made and proven. Meanwhile, the children of the camp are "permanently scarred" and the children of the Valley Club's president, who has offered to resign, have reportedly been sent out of town in concern for their safety. The reputation of The Valley Club, its members (past and present), and even the community of Huntingdon Valley, have all been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably.

And how, exactly, will Creative Steps' lawsuit solve any perceived racial and ethnic tensions? Because Huntingdon Valley is a community that borders Northeast Philadelphia, a section of the city that is home to many ethnicities - African-Americans, Russians, you name it. After the cameras disappear, and after people have let their public-relations guard down, things will not improve. In fact, I'm of the opinion that a lawsuit that results in the closure of The Valley Club will only be detrimental to race relations in that community.

It would be just as impossible to undo the damage that you have done ...

How very true. For all the Billys and Tommys and Mr. Peabodys involved in the Valley Club/Creative Steps imbroglio, this is really a lesson that doesn't need to involve lawyers, guns, and money. There are other options, ones that could harbor in more healing. Allow this instead to represent what it really is and can be - a turning point for all of us, a reminder to not be so quick to judge, and to always remember the power of our words.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Book Review (Poetry): Fidelity, by Grace Paley


Fidelity - Poems, by Grace Paley

I've been trying to expand my literary horizons by reading more poetry (as I've mentioned before with my review of Billy Collins' Nine Horses).

For some reason, though, I struggle with the mere notion of reviewing a poetry collection and I wonder why that is. Perhaps, despite a college degree in English/Communications, I'm not confident in my abilities to "analyze" or critique poetry or maybe it's simply that my tastes vary. I'm very much a "I know what I like when I see it" kind of girl when it comes to poetry. I suppose I'm not alone in this.

From the inside jacket cover of Fidelity:

Just before her death in 2007 at the age of eighty-four, Grace Paley completed this wise and poignant book of poems. Full of memories of friends and family and incisive observations of life in both her beloved hometown, New York City, and rural Vermont, the poems are sober and playful, experimenting with form while remaining eminently readable. They explore the beginnings and ends of relationships, the ties that bind siblings, the workings of dreams, the surreal strangeness of the aging body—all imbued with her unique perspective and voice. Mournful and nostalgic, but also ruefully funny and full of love, Fidelity is Grace Paley’s passionate and haunting elegy for the life she was leaving behind.

Yes. That's exactly what I would have said. Here are just three of many that I especially liked:

I Met a Woman on the Plane
she came from somewhere around Tampa
she was going to Chicago
I liked her a lot
she'd had five children
no she's had six one died
at twenty-three days

people said at least you didn't
get too attached

she had married at sixteen she
married again twenty years later
she said she loved her first husband
just couldn't manage life

five small children? I said
no not that
what? him?
no me she said


I couldn't get over that baby girl
everyone else did the big
kids you'll drive us all crazy
they said but that baby you can't
believe her beautifulness
when I came into the kids room
in her little crib not a month old
not breathing they say get over it
it's more than ten years go away leave
us for awhile so I did that here I am she said
where are you going

Untitled
I needed to talk to my sister
talk to her on the telephone I mean
just as I used to every morning
in the evening too whenever the
grandchildren said a sentence that
clasped both our hearts

I called her phone rang four times
you can imagine my breath stopped then
there was a terrible telephonic noise
a voice said this number is no
longer in use how wonderful I
thought I can
call again they have not yet assigned
her number to another person despite
two years of absence due to death

Fathers
Fathers are
more fathering
these days they have
accomplished this by
being more mothering

what luck for them that
women's lib happened then
the dream of new fathering
began to shine in the eyes
of free women and was
irresistible

on the New York subways
and the mass transits
of other cities one may
see fatherings of many colors
with their round babies on
their laps this may also
happen in the countryside

these scenes were brand new
exciting for an old woman who
had watched the old fathers
gathering once again in
familiar army camps and
comfortable war rooms to consider
the necessary eradication of
the new fathering fathers
(who are their sons) as well
as the women and children who
will surely be in the way.

These are the poems of someone nearing life's end, and some could say that they're a little depressing. I find them more reflective and appreciative, but I definitely had to be in the right frame of mind to read these. It has also made me curious about reading more of Paley's other work. (I may have done so in college, but that was awhile ago.) Still, if you are interested in reading more poetry, this is a lovely collection to become acquainted with.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book Review: A Gift of a Memory: A Keepsake to Commemorate the Loss of a Loved One, by Marianne Richmond


A Gift of a Memory: A Keepsake to Commemorate the Loss of a Loved One, by Marianne Richmond

We spent the night before my grandfather's funeral at my mother's house since we all had to be up early. This would have required an inhumane (and quite possibly traffic-jammed) departure time from our home, so it was much easier for all of us to spend the night at my mom's.

In the guest room, she had a a copy of this wonderful picture book for the kids. Betty, Boo, and I sprawled out on the bed and listened as my mom read it aloud to us. (I wonder how long it had been since my mom read me a bedtime story...?) I was immediately captivated and comforted (by a little more than just the book, I'll admit.)

Some things seemed so usual
on that remembered day
The sun arose, the birds awoke
and kids came out to play

For most of us, the hours passed
much like the days before
We lost ourselves in busyness
and rushed from task to chore ...

This is one of those books that may seem intended for children but is really a comfort for all ages. It gently guides the reader along the grief process, and there's something soothing about the soft pastel illustrations and gentle lyrical rhymes that is akin to a balm for the grieving heart, whether you're a child or a grownup. My mom mentioned that she purchased this for a child we know who lost her father very suddenly and unexpectedly, as well as for one of her best friends.

My father died when I was a teenager; had someone given me A Gift of a Memory back then, I would have treasured this.

Included in the book are several blank pages, as would be in a journal, to write memories and special thoughts of the loved one who has passed away. This would be a thoughtful gift for anyone, young or old, who has lost someone special.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Awful Library Books

The Dean says (jokingly) that he is going to take my laptop away from me if I keep laughing like this.

But I can't help it. I'm reading the funniest blog, Awful Library Books. Have you read this yet? (I'm usually that person who discovers things long after they've been cool, so most likely you have.)

In case you haven't, you must, must, must check this out. (Pun totally intended.) I usually don't share my "new to me" blogs because a) I find new ones all the time, and b) it would be impossible to remember them all. Awful Library Books is too good to keep to myself.

Here's the description, written by the blog's creators, Holly and Mary.

Awfullibrarybooks.wordpress.com is a collection of the worst library holdings. The items featured here are so old, obsolete, awful or just plain stupid that we are horrified that people might be actually checking these items out and depending on the information.

This blog contains actual library holdings. No specific libraries or librarians are named to protect the guilty. Check your shelves, it could be you.

May 19, 2009 Update:Thanks for all the comments and interest in our site! We are thrilled to find out that we aren’t the only ones concerned about quality library collections. If you have any awful library books to share, please feel free to email them to Holly and Mary at awfullibrarybooks@gmail.com. If you can include any bib data as well, we would appreciate it!

We promise to keep your library and name confidential.

Thanks! Mary and Holly

I don't know about you, but I cannot wait for my next visit to the library ....

Book Review (Kids): A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever

Award-winning children's author Marla Frazee has written a delightfully fun book for this time of year. James is visiting his grandparents, Bill and Pam, who live at the beach, for a week's vacation. His best friend Eamon ("pronounced "ay-mon"") comes along.

(Bill and Pam must be saints (or sedated) to agree to babysit two high-energy boys - who appear to be elementary school aged - for an entire week. I'm just sayin'.)

Nonetheless, you know you're in for a fun time just by the cover illustration, which has James (on the left) saying, "How long do we have to stand here and smile?" and Eamon replying, "Only for this picture and then we can go back to being normal."

With that, the reader is off with James and Eamon for a rollicking seaside adventure, but soon learn that Grandpop Bill (who strongly resembles Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical pitchman - and accomplished actor - Wilfred Brimley) has planned a week of Nature Camp for all to enjoy. He has a fascination with Antartica, suggesting that they all visit the Penguin Exhibit at the Natural History Museum, and brings globes and maps to the breakfast table (laden with Pam's specialty, banana waffles).

James and Eamon are less than interested, to put it mildly - until their last evening at the beach, when they wander outside, and discover the many joys that nature can provide when you're not really looking. The ending is a special gift for Bill and Pam that makes Bill realize that perhaps his tutorials on Antartica and penguins have been absorbed more than previously thought.

Marla Frazee has written an incredibly entertaining book, one that my kids loved. For the purpose of this review, I asked Boo what he liked most about it and he replied, "The characters."

There is one page that several bloggers (I've listed some other reviews below) have commented on that bears mention. Grandpop Bill is driving the boys to Nature Camp, and en route, "James and Eamon learned a lot of new vocabulary words while Bill drove." The illustration is of Bill driving the car, with a "speech bubble" over his head, with simply: "@#%&!

This didn't cause that much of a to-do in our house ... in fact, my kids thought it was funny, perhaps relating to other youngsters who have, ahem, learned a few choice words while driving with a grown-up. I didn't find it too inappropriate (although I respect the opinion of others who see it differently and felt it shouldn't have been included). I just explained the @#%&! to my kids as how one would write the sound "Argh!" (if that makes sense). And they bought it.

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever has been named as a 2009 Caldecott Honor Book (among many other awards)and, on a more local level, as a Blue Hen Award Nominee for Children's Choice. I've seen the Blue Hen books at our library on occasion and have been curious about what these are all about. Seems that each year, our state's library association selects a handful of picture, chapter, and teen books as nominees; kids get a chance to vote for their favorites. A Couple of Books Have the Best Week Ever is up against one of Betty's favorites, Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words by Jane O'Connor, and three others.

This one will be getting Boo's vote - as well as mine. Marla Frazee has written (and illustrated) a lighthearted, fun summer read that, just like the subtle lessons imparted by the story's Grandpop Bill, emphasizes the bonds of friendship and family, respect for elders, and an appreciation of natural resources and the environment.

I hope you enjoy this one during one of your best weeks ever.

Here's what a few other bloggers are saying (if I missed your review, please let me know!)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Sunday Salon (7-12-09): Vacation Reading Planning

Our vacation isn't for a couple more weeks yet, but I'm already setting aside the books I'm bringing.

There's a bit of madness to this, I admit. For starters, I must have more books with me than I can possibly read. At the bare minimum, there must be one book for each day of the vacation. Never mind that a brand new library just opened in Undisclosed Location, where the family beach house has been for ... who knows. Never mind that there is an inviting chock-full bookshelf in the robin's-egg-blue bedroom that gets the bay breezes when the windows are open.

The books accompanying me must be by authors of a known quality to me. There's nothing sadder than abandoning ship in the middle of one's vacation. I need to be pretty confident that this is going to be a book I'll love. That's why Beth Kephart is coming along, in the form of Nothing But Ghosts and Into the Tangle of Friendship. Beth will sharing the blue bay-breezed bedroom with Kaye Gibbons and Ellen Foster as I read The Life All Around Me. (I started this on audio recently and quickly turned it off, the writing being so wonderfully rich that I had to read it instead of listening.)

No nonfiction books on parenting or special needs are permitted. I make exceptions for memoirs, however, so Vicki Forman's This Lovely Life will be part of a lovely week by the sea.

Library books are verboten to be read on the beach if they have the cellophane-ish jacket cover. (They can be read on the second story porch with views of the bay and the ocean, depending on what Adirondack chair you're nestled in.) As a teenager, I worked in a library shelving books and nothing was more off-putting to me than handling library books with grains of sand imbedded in the covers. (I still cringe just thinking about it.) Or maybe it was a reminder that the affluent patrons of the library were taking the books to far-flung beaches in the dead of winter that made me so sensory-adverse. Library paperbacks are allowed on the beach.

And finally, there must be a short story collection. It's usually the Best American Short Stories collection or the PEN/O.Henry Stories. I happened to get The 2009 PEN/O'Henry Prize Stories 2009 at the library today - and as a bonus, its in paperback!

Today, as I'm counting the days to vacation, I'm spending time with Cecilia Ahern's There's No Place Like Here (a fitting description of the six-block long, two-block wide enclave that is Undisclosed Location). If you're a fan of Cecilia Ahern's (and I am), this has the magical realism qualities of her previous novels. I'm enjoying this, and it's a fast read so far.

I'm between audiobooks right now, although with lots to choose from. (I've been, um, kind of overdoing it with my library loot lately.) Most likely this week's audio book will be Gilead by Marianne Robinson.

I hope your Sunday Salon reading is being done while on vacation. If so, what are you reading ... and where?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It's July 11. Bah, Humbug.

In need of some stocking stuffers? How about an artificial Christmas tree or a snow blower? Then you'll want to head on over to Sears, where their Christmas in July sale is going on. (It might end today, I dunno.)

I first heard about this sale at work yesterday, when the guy who administers our retirement plan funds mentioned such during a meeting. (Talk about a big chill. There's absolutely nothing warm and toasty when you're talking retirement planning these days.) Mr. 401k mentioned that he noticed a Christmas display while in Sears.

After years of "Christmas creep" where holiday winter snowglobes have long shared the aisle with Halloween witches and skeletons, I guess it was inevitable that we would be hauling out the holly while similtaneously having a hot dog and a brewski on the back deck.

I checked out Sears' website and sure enough, there's a Christmas Lane tab. You can Shop Holiday Decor! or Shop Winter Readiness! A fleece blanket by the fireplace for the Fourth of July, anyone?

Maybe it's me, but doesn't this strike anyone as insane? Or sad? To me, the Christmas creep is downright creepy.

Or, maybe there's a bright side to this. Allow yours truly to be the first to wish you and yours Happy Holidays.

Unless someone already beat me to that back on Easter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer


The Story of a Marriage, by Andrew Sean Greer

I am in love with Andrew Sean Greer.

Hmm, perhaps I should clarify that statement, since my husband The Dean has been known to read this blog.

I am in love with Mr. Greer's writing.

Still, any guy who writes the way Andrew Sean Greer does in The Story of a Marriage qualifies as a keeper in my book. Read for yourself, with these opening lines:

"We think we know the ones we love. Our husbands, our wives. We know them - we are them, sometimes; when separated at a party we find ourselves voicing their opinions, their taste in food or books, telling an anecdote that never happened to us but happened to them. We watch their tics of conversation, of driving and dressing, how they touch a sugar cube to their coffee and stare as it turns white to brown, then drop it, satisfied, into the cup. I watched my own husband do that every morning; I was a vigiliant wife.

Yep. That would be me.

"We think we know them. We think we love them. But what we love turns out to be a poor translation, a translation we ourselves have made, from a language we barely know. We try to get past it to the original, but we never can. We have seen it all. But what have we really understood?

One morning we awaken. Beside us, that familiar sleeping body in the bed: a new kind of stranger. For me, it came in 1953. That was when I stood in my house and saw a creature merely bewitched with my husband's face."

With those lyrical lines, I knew this was going to be a good book. And as the cadence and rhythm of that prose continued throughout the novel, I was left breathless. On more than one occasion. Seriously, there are countless of passages like that - and better. (I found myself thinking, "Yes, that's a perfect quote for my blog review!" on almost every other page. I'm not kidding; Andrew Sean Greer's writing is simply that spectacular and original.)

Jeez, do I not sound like a lovestruck teenager instead of a 40 year old mother of twins? {{fans self}} (And as a matter of fact, yes I did just follow him on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that ... right?)

OK, back to the review.

Pearlie is the wife of Holland Cook; the two grew up together in Kentucky and reunited by chance on a California beach after Holland returns from serving in World War II. Despite the well-meaning but meddlesome overtures by Holland's spinsterish aunts, who inform Pearlie that their nephew is ill, Pearlie and Holland marry. ("The younger aunt put her hand on her lips, like an old statue, and told me it was bad blood, a crooked heart, that there was no cure for it.") With a backdrop of major historical events, like the trial of Ethel Rosenberg, and cultural norms unfolding in the background, Pearlie and Holland live a fairly typical 1950s life in California, along with their son who is afflicted with polio - until an old friend of Holland's returns.

Greer weaves details - one by one - of Pearlie and Holland's younger selves throughout the progression of the novel. (This is the type of book where discussing too much of the plot in advance will absolutely ruin the reader's experience, and as such, I am trying not to give too much away.) I will say that, with one word, one phrase, or one sentence, Greer gives his reader the unexpected - and then some.

I loved, loved, loved everything about The Story of a Marriage. The characters, the plot, the language (in one sentence, he describes "squirrels, fussing like accountants"), the conflict and tension, all of it.

I hope I am doing this wonderful book justice. There's been a lot of buzz about this book among book bloggers (and others) and I admit that I might not have picked it up at the library if not for the many bloggers who raved about this. I'm so grateful for that; otherwise, I would have possibly missed out on discovering a new favorite writer. You'd better believe that I have Greer's previous works, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Path of Minor Planets, and How It Was For Me on my TBR list.

The Story of a Marriage is one that I will be recommending for quite some time, as it is one of the best books I've ever read. You know how Newsweek recently published their list of the 50 books for our time? This absolutely, without a doubt, is the very definition of a book for our time. Even thought it is set in 1953, it is incredibly apropos for 2009.

This is a classic. Truly. (And dare I say, moreso than others that have that distinction.) Make this among your summer reading. It's a quick read at 195 pages, so there's no excuse.

My recommendation: 5 stars out of 5. This is one that I would likely re-read, and I very rarely re-read books. (Or watch movies or television, for that matter.) But a second reading would definitely give the reader a deeper perspective into the story and the issues presented, so it would be worth doing.

Andrew Sean Greer's website is here, and below are reviews of what other bloggers had to say. (None of these reviews contain spoilers or other artificial ingredients.) If you read The Story of a Marriage, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Book Nook Club
Books on the Brain
Devourer of Books
The Literate Housewife

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fool on the Hill

Before you get to the pool at The Valley Club, you have to climb up a very, very steep hill. One that, at its peak, rewards your efforts with a gorgeous view of the valley below. To get there, however, you need to lug all of your swimming gear - your towels, your cooler, your duffle bags, etc. - up what can seem to a kid to be akin to a miniature Mount Everest.

Let's just say that I know this fact from firsthand experience. And yes, I'm referring to that Valley Club - the same Valley Club that's attracting national attention across the country and throughout the blogosphere as a result of the incident involving 65 children - all African-American or Hispanic - from a Northeast Philadelphia day camp.

According to the news accounts (and I've read too many to link to just one), the director of a nearby day camp contracted with The Valley Club and paid nearly $2,000 so that her campers could go swimming there on Mondays. Just on Mondays, mind you, and only for 90 minutes.

So, on June 29, the campers arrived. All 65 of them. It was their first visit to the Club - as well as their last. Seems that a few of the Club's members plucked eyebrows were raised higher than The Valley Club's 10 foot diving board, as the kids' presence caused some consternation among the members. Subsequently, the camp's payment was refunded with the sentiment that they were asked not to return. According to the club president, it seems that some members were concerned that the campers' presence would "change the complexion" of the Club.

And that would be, apparently, because the campers in question are African-American. And that is ... how shall we say? A little bit of a different demographic than what typically makes up The Valley Club's membership.

He then corrected his poor (but telling) word choice by saying he meant the "atmosphere" of the Club. Now, tonight club officials are saying the camp was asked not to return because The Valley Club couldn't handle 65 kids. This after knowing well in advance that 65 campers would be showing up. Nobody thought to prepare for that?

Now, 65 kids is a lot of kids. I think we can all agree on that. And the fact of the matter is that this is not a large, community recreation center type of pool. It's on the smaller side, as pools go, and frankly, 65 children in the shallow end of the pool would have been too close for comfort regardless of whether they were white, black, red, yellow, pink, green, or some combination thereof.

Still, this is discrimination at its abhorrent worse. And to say this has been handled poorly is an understatement. It's a crisis communications case study for any Public Relations 101 course. And since The Valley Club could use the services of a PR professional right about now, I offer some free advice (and free might be all they can afford; even if they do wind up staying in business, which I highly doubt is possible at this point, the legal bills will be out the whazoo).

1) Issue an apology, in post and in haste. It'll fall on deaf ears, it'll be disingenuous and insincere sounding, but just do it already.

2) Stop denying that you discriminate. You do, and you have. For years. Well before these campers were even born. Admit that fact and take steps to change that. Immediately.

3) Do something about that hill, the one you have to lug all your gear up in order to get to the pool.

What, you can't alter the actual terrain of the land that your Club sits on? OK, that's understandable. But yes, there's something you can do about the obstacles that stand in the way of enjoying a perfect June afternoon at the pool.

You can tell your members - and yourselves - to leave their prejudiced 1950s segregation baggage at the bottom before climbing that hill to enjoy the view high above everyone else.

Day after day, alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still,
But nobody wants to know him,
They can see that he's just a fool,
And he never gives an answer,
But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down,
And the eyes in his head,
See the world spinning around.

Well on his way his head in a cloud,
The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud
But nobody ever hears him,
Or the sound he appears to make,
And he never seems to notice,
But the fool on the hill . . .

"Fool on the Hill", The Beatles (1967)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Man (or Woman) in the Mirror

We just love to get all sanctimonious and high-and-mighty, don't we?

I'm talking of a collective "we" here - that of our society in general. And not every person in society, of course, but a handful.

Allow me to explain.

I listen to a fair amount of talk radio (an average of 2 hours daily) and it's fair to characterize me as a news junkie. And given the overkill coverage of Michael Jackson over the past few days (and yes, I admit I'm contributing to such on this blog and with this post), I've been hearing a mantra that strikes me as ... well, I have to say it ... hypocritical.

It's this discourse that Michael Jackson's death and the circumstances surrounding such are being blown out of proportion in regards to the death of other, more noble and honorable every day people.

People like the brave and distinguished soldiers who died in Afghanistan over the weekend. A six month old baby who died from the number one genetic cause of infant deaths, a disease no one knows the name to. The list can go on into infinity without mention of a King of Pop but with a proliferation of Kings of Grandpops.

Yes, these people rightly deserve to be memorialized with the same tribute and fanfare afforded to celebrities.

But here's the thing. We say we'd rather watch coverage of a regular soldier's funeral, or even regular people's memorials. And I have no doubt that this is our true intent.

But we don't.

You could say that we're not watching or reading such coverage because it isn't easily available as part of our junk food laden spoon-fed diet of "news." And indeed, coverage of such occurances isn't widely available.

Or is it?

How many of those saying they'd rather see coverage of other, more substantial, more meaningful deaths actually take the time to read the New York Times' Names of the Dead, its ongoing list of fallen heroes?

How many read the article about the soldiers (eight of them, right?) who died in Afghanistan this weekend?

(My intent was to link to these items, but I've just spent about 20 minutes searching for them, in vain. Kind of illustrates my point, I guess.)

How many people watched So You Think You Can Dance instead of Taking Chance? (What's Taking Chance? Here's my post about it.)

How many people even know that North Korea is sending up missiles willy-nilly, the latest (as of this writing) with seven Scuds launched on the Fourth of July? You want a little rockets red glare on your burger? Comin' right up, plenty more to go 'round.

I'm not trying to be all high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou here because I don't have a pedestal to stand on. I haven't earned that spot; I'm not in the military. The closest I come is being the granddaughter of a World War II veteran who was among the 2,500 or so members of that group dying each day. Of all of the activities I've listed above, I've only watched Taking Chance and I only know about the Scuds from reading The Dean's blog post about it. I'm prone to bypassing the hard news in favor of ... well, less worthy stuff. I'm not proud of that. It's embarrassing.

So maybe that's one of the souvenirs we as a society can collectively take away from the Michael Jackson Farewell Tour. To stop and wonder if our attention is truly worthy of this amount of coverage, whether we really want to watch Matt Lauer's reportage from Michael Jackson's bathroom, for God sakes.

And to put our money where our big mouths are, to start with the man (or woman) in the mirror and decide to make a change and seek out the coverage of more worthy, more substantial and substantive news.

I'm gonna make a change for once in my life
It's gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference, gonna make it right
As I, turn up the collar on my favourite winter coat
This wind is blowin' my mind
I see the kids in the street with not enough to eat
Who am I to be blind?
Pretending not to see their needs
A summer's disregard, a broken bottle top and a one man's soul
They follow each other on the wind, ya' know 'cause they got nowhere to go
That's why I want you to know
I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change ....

Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson