Wednesday, November 26, 2014

COMMENTARY: Give Thanks...Out Loud

10 Reasons to Share Your
Thanks over Thanksgiving Dinner

This year, instead of spending time worrying about the upcoming family brawl, the afternoon football games, or arguing about who had the best float at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, consider starting a new Thanksgiving tradition.  Whether you are dining at home with your family of four, enjoying an enormous potluck with 42 relatives at the neighborhood church, or simply having a solitary meal on this day, consider taking a moment to contemplate the good things in life for which you are thankful.  And then say them out loud.

Here are 10 reasons to share what you’re thankful for over Thanksgiving dinner:

1. It’s THANKSgiving.  Yes, I know the holiday is supposed to be about some pilgrims and stuff, but the reality is, sometimes we need to be reminded to be thankful for what we have.  And if anyone needs a reminder to do it, this is the day!

2. Make it more than just about the food.  I love to eat as much as the next person, but it can be uncomfortable for some people when a holiday is so focused on food, particularly if they are on any kind of a restricted diet.  It’s nice to have something to look forward to other than just the turkey. 

3. Practice makes perfect.  Saying thank you takes practice.  Sometimes a LOT of practice.  Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to practice being appreciative of the things we have.  And maybe, just maybe, it will help us remember to say thank you during the rest of the year. 

4. Focus on the positive. It’s easy to get bogged down with the negativity of life.  Spending too much energy worrying about the bad stuff happening, either in our small world or in the larger world around us, is a real downer.  Too often, we get sucked into focusing on disappointments and anger and fear, and we forget to appreciate the love and laughter and security we have.  Saying what we are thankful for out loud helps to refocus our energy on the positive in our life instead of the bad.  Remember the phrase “What you focus on expands”.

5. Don’t take the little things for granted.  Wow, can you believe how much we take for granted in society today?  We have a roof over our heads, clothing to wear, food to eat, clean water to drink, and so much more!  Sometimes we forget that there are many people in other parts of the world who have none of those things.  We expect to have those things; it’s not even a question.  Giving ourselves a moment to stop and think about what we are thankful for might just remind us to appreciate the barest necessities of life that we do tend to take for granted.

6. Go a little deeper. We certainly live in a ME-ME-ME world.  With the “look at me” selfies, the “look how clever I am” status updates, and the “look how popular I am” friend lists, we tend to get (and give) instant gratification for doing, saying or photographing something noteworthy.  I love a funny meme as much as the next gal, but when was the last time you really sat down and thought about what you find enjoyable or entertaining?  Taking a few moments before this holiday meal to really think about what you are glad to have in your life will take you just a few steps deeper into yourself than your usual daily LOL or ROFLMAO.

7. Make someone else feel good.  Okay, I’m going to admit something a bit uncomfortable here.  I am a bit of a narcissist (aren’t we all, really?)  I love being told that I’m loved.  And I love being told that someone is grateful to have me in their life.  Taking the time to give appreciation for a person you care about is time VERY well spent (even if it means the turkey might be getting cold). 


8. Create some memories.  One of my favorites was when my daughter’s pre-school teacher told me they had asked the children what they were most thankful for.  My daughter’s response?  “Mom’s homemade pizza”.  The teacher thought it was funny and shared it with me.  It made my day then, and even now it makes me smile. 

9. Let those sharing this day get to know you better.  Many people really just keep to themselves and are difficult to get to know.  Using this opportunity to share something that we are personally appreciative of allows those sharing this day get to know us just a little bit better.  And it lets us get to know them a bit better, as well.

10. Because it feels good!  Yes, it’s true.  Saying out loud what you appreciate makes you feel GOOD.  Take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity to feed your soul, allow yourself to be surrounded by peace, and just appreciate the poetry that IS gratitude.



BOOK REVIEW: "Generation A"

Generation A
By Douglas Coupland
Copyright 2009
Scribner Publishing
Adult Fiction
3 Bookmarks

Well, leave it to Coupland to write a bizarre tale such as this.  The story begins in a world where something has killed all the bees, fresh foods are scarce, and everyone has a sense that something is not quite right.

Responding to the shock of their lives, a bee sting, are five different characters in five different parts of the world.  No bees have been seen for years, and yet, these bee stings somehow occur.  The author takes us down the path of each of these unusual stings, introducing us to the characters one by one.

In each sub-story, the characters are minding their own business (some of which is fairly amusing), when, out of nowhere, there appears a bee.

To each of them, the oddity is obvious, but they hardly have time to react before they are whisked away by a team of folks in hazmat suits and taken to a secret facility called Research Triangle Park in North Carolina where they are kept in seclusion for testing.

Each of the characters is eventually released back out into the public, but they've now become famous as being the five who were stung by the bees.  Life is challenging on the outside, and the five eventually come together and are taken away again, this time to a seriously bizarre world of made-up stories and drug addiction.  I'll leave my plot description there, in case anyone wants to read and find out "the rest of the story".

My thoughts on this book:  Number one, it was weird.  Number two, it had mildly entertaining moments, but also some parts that really dragged.  And Number three, I did think the premise of having the bees disappear was an interesting one, especially considering the fact we really are having an issue with that in the world right now.  But overall, this was not a top pick for me.

Everyone should read a Douglas Coupland novel at some point in their life, just for the sheer eccentricity of it.  I just don't think it should be this one.

SONG OF THE DAY: "All Around Me"

"All Around Me"
By Flyleaf


Thursday, October 23, 2014

COMMENTARY: "Life Rules"

Everyone needs a good set of rules.  Sometimes one rule will do.  Sometimes three is enough.  Sometimes you just need one more.  


There are all kinds of rules in life.  Rules set by society, by religion, by parents or by other authority figures.  Or we set rules for ourselves.  Rules to help us succeed.  Rules to help us survive.  Rules to guide us through difficult times.  Rules to protect us from ourselves…or protect us from others. 


Some people follow the rules.  And some people bend and break them.  Some people ignore them altogether and live as if there are no rules in the first place. 


Me?  I am a rule follower.  Although I may have bent a rule or two in my day, breaking rules has not been a habit of mine.  I’m generally of the opinion that if everyone just followed the rules, the world would be a better place (although, I suppose, it does depend on who makes the rules).  


Most of the time, I find it perfectly acceptable for someone else to make a rule and then I’ll follow it.  It’s not that I don’t like to think for myself; but, rather, that I prefer to have a structured list of what is expected of me so that I know how to judge whether or not I have been successful.  If no one else tells me what I ought to do, I create my own internal list of expectations and use that to determine the quality of my achievement.  I believe many of us create such “life rules”.  


Some “life rules” are easy:  “Compliment one person every day.”  “Always say please and thank you.”  “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

Others are tougher:  “Forgive.”  “Apologize.”  “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

And some rules are so nebulous that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around them:  “Be happy.”  “Don’t hold everything inside.”  “Allow yourself to feel.”  


Without rules, life is chaos.  Sometimes you just need one more rule, a guidepost, a line you know you won’t cross, a promise to be a better person for those who love you.   


Because without such “life rules”, all we are doing is just surviving each day with no way of knowing if what we are doing means anything at all. 


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Saving Fish From Drowning"

Saving Fish from Drowning
By Amy Tan
Copyright 2006
Ballantine Books
Adult Fiction
2 Bookmarks
Spoiler Alert!

One of the best books I've ever read is The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan, although I read that one in my much-younger years.  I saw this, more recent, novel by Tan and decided to pick it up.  With such an intriguing name, Saving Fish from Drowning would surely be a book as good as Senses, right?  In the end, I decided that my primary assessment was incorrect.

To summarize, Saving Fish from Drowning is about a large group of friends who travel together to Burma (Myanmar).  They travel without an important member, Bibi Chen, who planned the trip in the first place but mysteriously died prior to departure (although she is there in spirit as she is the narrator of the story).

The book follows the travelers on some interesting (and some not-so-interesting) adventures, until they are eventually kidnapped by an oppressed tribe who refer to themselves as “The Lord’s Army”. 

It was at about this point in the book that I realized that this was not merely an “escape from real life” story book.  No.  It was, instead, a political commentary on an oppressive regime, which (I’m assuming) is likely still a problem in that particular region.  I hate stuff like that.  From that point on, I just sort of went through the motions of finishing the book.  I’m sorry, but I typically read to escape; not to find out more about the horrible things that horrible governments and horrible religions do to people in this world.  If I wanted to read that kind of stuff I would stick with non-fiction.  Or watch Fox News.

It’s not that I want to stick my head in the sand and never know anything that’s going on; it’s just a survival mechanism, I suppose.  To survive, I have to think about the good things in life instead of suffocating in the bad.

Anyway, so I did eventually finish the book and realize the intent of the book title.  The “moral of the story”, if you will, seemed to be that even though us “westerners” go into these types of areas to try to help the oppressed people, it just ends up making things worse for them (at least that seemed to be the author’s take on things—that we think we are “saving” them, but instead we are “drowning” them). 

I disagreed with the premise and only found some of the story interesting.  I also thought the whole “mysterious death of Bibi Chen” thing (that really didn’t have anything to do with anything other than to create a narrator for the story), was a weird distraction.  Not one I would recommend.  


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Mistress of Nothing"

Mistress of Nothing
By Kate Pullinger
Copyright 2011
Touchstone Publishing
Adult Fiction
3.5 Bookmarks

I just really liked the title of this one (it also had an enchanting cover which, as you know, always makes me pick a book up). 

The Mistress of Nothing chronicles ladies maid Sally as she travels to drier lands with her mistress who is ill and trying to escape death by tuberculosis.  Leaving England is not too difficult for Sally, as she has always enjoyed escaping her domestic life by visiting museums.  Sally is also extremely loyal to her mistress and willing to do (almost) anything for her.

It is only when things take a decidedly different turn for Sally that things get really interesting. 

Stuck in a house in a small village in Egypt with only her mistress and a new-found freedom, Sally finds her way into a difficult situation with choices she isn't prepared to make. 

The author does a fabulous job of pulling the reader into Sally's world; a world of loyalty, love, and power.  The scenery is described with beautiful detail and even the mundane daily tasks become intriguing with the author's crisp prose.

I didn't want to put the book down because I just knew it was leading to some gripping climax.  I didn't have to wait too long. 

My thoughts about the ending of the book are a bit mixed.  I won't go into the details (spoilers, you know), but I was a bit sad with the way things turned out.  I could think of a few other endings that would definitely have been better.

Every time I read a book that I'm enjoying, I seem to not like the ending.  Sometimes it's just because it's the end and I don't want it to be over.  Sometimes it's because the author just got to the good part.  Sometimes it's because the story took a wrong turn and ended up somewhere it shouldn't have been.  Sometimes I think I could have written it better.  Perhaps someday I will.
 

BOOK REVIEW: "Home to Woefield"

Home to Woefield
By Susan Juby
Copyright 2011
HarperCollins Publishers
Adult Fiction
3 Bookmarks

Has it really been so long since I've posted a new review?  Sheesh.  Time flies. 

On to the review.  Home to Woefield is a story about a young(ish) city girl who finds out she has inherited an old farm from a distant relative.  She jumps at the chance to go live at the farm and make a go of it.

When she arrives at the farm, however, she finds that things aren't exactly as she'd hoped.  With a falling down house, one sheep, and not much actual farming to speak of,  Prudence still doesn't give up.  Making due with what she has and trying to come up with creative ways to save the farm result in a somewhat entertaining read.

In typical fiction format, Prudence brings together a band of misfits to help her cause.  A crotchety old man, a know-it-all kid who raises chickens, and an alcoholic 20-something neighbor are the main cast of characters. 

With the farm on the line, Prudence pulls out all the stops and....well, I wouldn't want to spoil it so I won't tell you how it ends.

As expected, this wasn't a very deep or meaningful story that makes for a good discussion (actually, I haven't read one of those in awhile, but I hope to be able to soon).  But it was a fun and quick read and had some entertaining moments. 

I don't think I would really recommend this for a book club or anything like that.  More of a "sit on the beach and listen to the waves coming in while you relax" kind of read. 

Truly, I need to find something a little more meaningful to make me think. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "The Custom of the Country"

The Custom of the Country
By Edith Wharton
Original Copyright 1913
Charles Scribner’s Sons Publisher
Published by Penguin Books 1990
Classic Literature
3.75 Bookmarks
Spoiler Alert!

I try to throw a few “classics” into my reading queue every now and again, usually as more of a reminder of times gone by than anything else.  Sometimes I’m bored out of my ever-loving mind, but with this one I was actually pleasantly surprised!    

The Custom of the Country is the story of the delightfully unlikable Undine Spragg, the daughter of an up-and-coming New York family who move out of the sticks to introduce their daughter to “society”.  While Undine thrives in her new social entanglements, she does have hopes for finding a suitable spouse (which is not easy after some youthful indiscretions, including a quickly-unraveled elopement with a man who seems to continually pop up in her new world). 

Undine is a manipulative little narcissist and usually manages to get whatever she wants.  But when hiding her past becomes a difficulty, Undine rushes into the first advantageous marriage she can find.  Her new husband has entrĂ©e into society, of course.  But, as Undine later discovers, his finances are not in the best condition, nor does he have the ability to change those circumstances.  Undine, who had grown accustomed to always having her way and being able to manipulate her parents into giving her everything, becomes increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied at her new financial constraints.  Her husband tries to fulfill her wants, but soon discovers the pitfalls of his bridal choice.

When Undine finds herself in a situation that could lead to a future with another man (a man with money, of course), but only if each of them could obtain their own respective divorces, she throws herself headlong into the process without even a second thought.  Then when the “other man” ends up not wanting her (shocker!), Undine seeks a new sugar daddy and finds one rather quickly, or so she thinks.  Despite his impressive French title, however, husband #3 has dedicated his slice of the financial pie elsewhere and merely rolls his eyes at Undine’s voracious appetite for spending money, locking her down into a quiet domestic life that she absolutely abhors. 

Dumb luck being what it is, Undine runs into hubby #1 again (you know, the one she eloped with WAYYYYYY back when) and wouldn’t you know it?  He is now rich beyond the dreams of Avarice.  You can just imagine how this turns out.

Things I loved about this book:
#1.  I absolutely detested everything about the main character of the book, which kept me reading to see what she was going to do, think or feel next.  One of the lines that best describes this character: “…Undine felt the rush of physical joy that drowns scruples and silences memory.”
#2. Near the end of the book, with Undine in her latest marriage and spending more money than you can even imagine, she STILL is not satisfied.  The author notes, “Even now, however, she was not always happy.  She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.” So in the end, she really didn't get everything she wanted.
#3.  The author actually uses the word “tessellated” in a sentence. One of my favorite Alt-J songs:

Although it had a few sections that were a little slow and yawn-worthy, it was generally entertaining and kept me intrigued.  I do recommend this one for anyone who is a fan of Victorian-style writings.   

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "Brida"

Brida
By Paulo Coelho
Copyright 2008
HarperCollins Publishers
Adult Fiction
3 Bookmarks

So many books out there talk about journeys of spiritual discovery.  But not many will take you on quite the same path as Brida by Paulo Coelho.

Of the books I’ve read that are in this style of writing, I don’t think I could say this was my favorite.  With an odd storyline and strained conclusions, Coelho takes the reader on a journey with the main character, Brida, who wants to find her true path.  Along the way, she meets a wizard, an older man who lives in “the tradition of the sun”.  She also meets a witch, who teaches “the traditions of the moon.” 

Until Brida starts delving into the magic of these "traditions", she has lived a normal life as a student, an employee, and a girlfriend.  But nothing she does from the moment she meets Magus, the wizard, is what I would call normal.
   
Learning, eventually, that she has a “Gift,” takes Brida even deeper into her desire for the knowledge of these “traditions” and Brida decides she wants to become a witch.

Following the guidance of Wicca the witch, Brida hallucinates, dreams of herself in a previous life, and questions her relationship with her boyfriend. 

Realizing her Gift leads Brida to ask big questions, such as “what is the purpose of life?”  Wicca responds to Brida by explaining about Soul Mates, “Our souls divide as do crystals and stars, cells and plants. Our soul divides in two, and those new souls are in turn transformed into two and so, within a few generations, we are scattered over a large part of earth.”  According to Wicca, the process of finding those scattered parts is Love.  She explains to Brida how important it is to reencounter those Soul Mates, “…Even if it is only for a matter of moments, because those moments bring with them a Love so intense that it justifies the rest of our days.”

In her quest for understanding, Brida finally begins to realize what it really is that she is seeking, and she feels an obligation to discover her Soul Mate(s).  She still has a boyfriend at this point, and creates an experience that leads her to believe he is actually one of her Soul Mates.  This seemed a bit of a stretch for me, since the boyfriend had played such a minor role in the book up to this point. 

Even though she feels a sense of relief at discovering a Soul Mate, the author has disclosed earlier in the book that Magus, the wizard, feels Brida is also his Soul Mate, which Brida eventually discovers for herself.  As I was reading this, it seemed to me this would lead to some kind of climactic love triangle, but I was wrong. 

Not until near the end of the book, when Magus explains to Brida why she will never belong to him, did I realize they weren’t going to have some kind of competing lovers duel or something like that.

Despite that, I did appreciate some of the symbolic explanations of the Soul Mate issue within this book, especially about being able to recognize your Soul Mate “by the light in their eyes.”  The book wasn’t terribly interesting or exciting, though.  And, frankly, the magical elements were a little uncomfortable for me (I live a simple, non-magical, existence after all).  But it was a quick read and made me think about love a little differently than before.     


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: "The Sunny Side"

The Sunny Side:
Short Stories and Poems for Proper Grown-Ups
By A.A. Milne
Copyright 1921
Harper-Collins Publishing
Short Story Collection
3.5 Bookmarks

I've been getting kind of bored with the "how to parent your kid" books, so I thought I'd try something totally out of the ordinary.  I grabbed this short story collection (by the author of the Winnie the Pooh series) and was quite pleased with it! 

Milne has a lovely, vintage, satirical style that was truly joyful to read (although it did make me feel about 70 years old).  Everything from a tale about "Toby" (a "nice" horse), and "Common" (a decorative dog who goes to war), to some quick and clever poems, to an evening playing cards together as friends, they all have just a touch of whimsy and express the feelings of taking joy from the small things in life.

I enjoyed the story called "The Arrival of Blackman's Warbler", in which the narrator decides to act like he knows more than he does, and then must go to great lengths to avoid being caught in the lie. 

Not to be outdone by the likes of Aesop and Hans Christian Andersen, Milne adds a fable called "The Legend of Hi-You" to his collection.  It is the story of a pig farmer who convinces himself, and eventually others, that one of his pigs is actually a prince who has been cast under an evil spell.  I rather enjoyed the writing on this one, and the twist at the end (although not surprising), was cute.

You wouldn't think that an author would really make much fun of themselves, but Milne manages to do that on quite a few occasions, even remarking at one point on his poetry that "Anyhow it was a lie, as so much good poetry is."

One of the essays was entitled "The Perils of Reviewing".  It is Milne's take on what happens when one is asked to review a book, decides not to read it before reviewing it, and the consequences that follow.  Milne writes, "I reviewed a book the other day.  It is not often I do this, because before one can review a book one has to, or is supposed to, read it, which wastes a good deal of time."  As a fan of other satirical writers, such as Ray Bradbury, Flannery O'Connor, Dave Barry and Gary Larson, I rather enjoyed the tone of this one.  For obvious reasons, this was my favorite essay of the entire collection. 

Unless you're bothered by a slightly old-fashioned style of writing, this collection would be quite an enjoyable one for anyone to spend a lovely afternoon with, especially sitting under a giant oak tree in the Hundred Acre Wood.  It was delightful!

Monday, January 27, 2014

COMMENTARY: "Live"



How easy it is to get wrapped up in life and forget to live.  We wake each day with a To-Do list charging its way into our still-foggy mind.  We shower, we dress, we eat, we gather what we need and head out into the world.  We forget to center ourselves. We forget to read. We forget to write. We forget to dream.  We check three items off the To-Do list, only to add five more. 
We sleep.  We wake.  We work.  We eat.  We drop our child off at school and pick her up.  We do paperwork.  We do homework.  We pay bills.  We file taxes.  We rotate the tires on the car.  We go to the doctor.  We go to the store.  We go go go. 
What happened to time?  I remember as a child feeling that time went by ever so slowly.  It seemed as if the weekend would never arrive.  And now, we merely blink and an entire year has passed…or perhaps three.  There is good here.  And there is bad. There are smiles and there is fun.  And there is stress and sadness and an emptiness that will always be.  And these things just swirl together in a cosmic race to get….somewhere. 
But every once in a while
We stop.
We breathe.
We look around and see the beauty of the world.  We enjoy something delicious.  Like a nap.  Or a memory.  Or a slice of pizza so good it makes us moan.  We soak in a hot tub. We laugh with Sheldon and Leonard.  We dance.  We drink wine.  We talk about things.  We do things.  We feel things. 
We live.



 

BOOK REVIEW: "The Measure of Katie Calloway"

The Measure of Katie Calloway
By Serena Miller
Copyright 2011
Revel; Baker Publishing Group
Adult Fiction
3 Bookmarks

I like Old West books.  Lots of different ones, actually.  Anything that brings me back to those days as a child when I read the Little House on the Prairie stories.  Maybe it's just the nostalgia.  Or maybe I lived in the Old West in a previous life. Who knows!  Regardless, every time I see a book cover of some prairie girl, I just want to pick up the book and give it a read. 

So that's what happened with The Measure of Katie Calloway, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a neat little story inside.  The main character is a young bride whose husband has just returned from the Civil War and has a brand new bloodthirsty personality.  Katie finds herself, and her little brother whom she is raising, in a very dangerous situation.  When the husband plots to kill Katie, she takes her brother, a horse and a little bit of money and skedaddles.

Katie finds herself in a small town in the West where she runs into a logging camp manager who offers her a cooking job.  She snatches up the job and heads out into the middle of nowhere to cook for a bunch of men.  Lots of fun adventures, a little romance, and a decent climax all made for an entertaining and quick read for the fan of historical fiction. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Astray"

Astray
By Emma Donoghue
Copyright 2012
Little, Brown & Company
Short Story Collection
1 Bookmark

What a disappointment.  I gave high marks to a previous book by this author, Room, reviewed here.  I suppose I expected something along the same writing style with the clever twists one normally finds in short story collections.  Instead, the author provides an assortment of stories with a somewhat historical relationship, but I never really felt like the tie-in made much sense.

A synopsis of the book I read before adding it to my queue indicated the stories would all be related to some kind of travel.  But the theme was really more about people immigrating or living somewhere that was not their place of birth. 

None of the stories was really all that interesting, in and of themselves.  I did think the last story in the collection, called "What Remains", was at least somewhat well-written and had some heart to it.  But many of the other stories carried a kind of "ick" factor that was hard for me to ignore. 

The only really interesting thing about this collection, in my opinion, was the slight historic twist in each of the stories.  The author took a little-known fact, based off historic letters or newspaper accounts, and wrapped a fictional story around that small piece of history.  Sometimes it worked, other times it seemed extremely contrived.

I didn't really care for most of these stories.  Nearly all of them had some sort of deviant, disturbing or sexual piece to them that was really the only "twist" in the story at all.  The first story in the collection called "Man and Boy" details an incident regarding an elephant that is sold from one circus to another and the weirdly loving relationship between the elephant and his caretaker.  Another story, "Daddy's Girl" tells about a young woman dealing with her father's death, further complicated by the fact that upon his death it was discovered her father was a woman.

Nor did I think any of the stories really gave us anything useful or heartfelt to take away from them, with the possible exception of "What Remains".  I kind of felt like I wasted a lot of valuable reading time getting through Astray. 

Going to have to say that I really don't recommend this one.