Friday, October 28, 2011

"Don't Worry if It's Not Good Enough . . ."

Sing.  Sing a song.  Sing out loud.  Sing out strong.  Sing of good things, not bad.  Sing of happy, not sad.  Don't worry if it's not good enough, for anyone else to hear, just sing.  Sing a song."

These are lyrics from a Sesame Street LP that I had as a child.  I can still sing pretty much the whole album by memory.  (Other classic hits included Ernie's "Rubber Ducky, You're the One" and the Count's "Bats in the Belfry".)  As a child, I spent numerous hours, lying on the floor with my head next to the speaker of my grandparents' huge record player cabinet.  It had sliding doors on the top.  In the left side was the record player itself, in the right side was storage for the records.  The unit was huge and took up the entire wall that was just inside their front door.  During the holidays my grandmother would decorate the top with something seasonal.  My grandpa sometimes hid our Easter eggs inside it.

In college I sang in two bands, with E.  We wrote our own music most of the time and covered a Black Sabbath song or two.  For my 40th bday last summer, having a Karaoke DJ was a must.  I broke out the Coldplay, which I'd been practicing for a month.  As the night wore on, and the keg grew empty, more and more friends and family let their inner crooners and rockers fly free.

For a few years now, I have been craving to sing on a regular basis.  Not just in the shower or in the car (or full blast in my closet with a pillow over my face to not alarm the neighbors), but with a group of people.  In public. 

I thought about joining the Fallbrook Choir and it may still be an option in the future.  They sing at public, patriotic events and dress in vintage costume for "Scrooge" every year at the local theatre.  But I recently found something that fits my style even more.

I have started singing as an extra with the Hilltop Center for Spiritual Living.  This sweet church is right across the street from our house and about 9 months ago, I decided to go to a service and see what it was all about.  For the first time in my life, I think I may have found a spiritual home.  AND . . . a few months into it, one of their singers moved.  I spoke to the lead musician and one thing led to another . . . and I'm singing.  Out loud.  In front of people.  And I'm smiling.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Night to Remember

I have to tell you about the meal I ate last night.  Actually,  I didn't just eat it, I inhaled it slowly through all my senses.  I actively ate each bite as in the present as I could, feeling the textures and imbibing the scents like few I have before.  No, I'm not on death row.  I was having one of my last meals with a very dear friend of mine, who is moving too far away.  Also, it's the first "regular" meal I've eaten since starting the Dukan Diet on Labor Day.  So after 30 days of eating strictly lean proteins with alternate days of proteins plus veggies (and being down 18 pounds for my diligence), I broke the fast and ate a little chicken dip, had a shot of tequila, some pollo verde enchiladas, rice, beans, cesaer salad and scalloped potatoes.

It was the potatoes that did me in.  I have been fantasizing about my late Grandmother's scallooped potatoes, with the thinly sliced spuds layered with cheese and celery, baked with a milk sauce.  Omg.  Seriously.  I just had to decide to let up on my strict diet and give in to the call.

Let me back up a little.  This wonderful group of friends evolved from a restaurant job in town.  I was hired by a fantastic lady (Ms. Joni) to be her baker.  Next she hired Lora, an amazing chef (and forever sister of mine), then Marshall came along to round us out, with his artistic flair and wonderful sense of humor and compassion.  Unfortunately, these difficult economic times proved tough for our little small-town eatery, but the friendships live on. 

Marshall hails from Colorado and the longing to move back has been a part of him as long as I've known him.  Well, his dreams are coming true and to celebrate he invited a few of us over to cook with him.  I planned on bringing a notebook and taking copious notes from this Master, but I left the notebook in my bag and simply let the night be my teacher.  The sounds of onions caramelizing, the laughter of friends, and the chopping of thyme drew me in. 

Earlier in the day, I made up my mind to enjoy this meal, (taking one serving of each item) because it symbolized too much to let simply slide by because of diet concerns.  I had been "good" after all and will continue to do so until my desired healthy weight is reached.  Much rides on the success of being healthy, not to mention the bags of clothes eagerly awaiting me in my garage, items I used to wear and look forward to again.  On the other hand, I consciously threw myself into this bittersweet evening of friendship, love and potatoes. 

As we sat around the intimate table, enjoying a small glass of wine and a large glass of iced water, I suddently realized that my plate did not have all the necessary items.  "Where are the f***ing potatoes?!?" I blurted.  With mock indignation, Marshall gave me a hard time for my rudeness.  I was assured that they were in the oven for just a few more minutes.  My heartrate steadied back to normal and I patiently awaited the desired dish, although I was quoted throughout the night. 

This evening was imprinted on my memory and soul.  Although we may be miles apart, Marshall will always remain in my heart.  A roadtrip was planned and I pray it comes to fruition.

I will need more potatoes. 
Thanks for listening.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What a Night

This evening, my girl, L, and I went to see "The Help" at the local theater.  I had been looking forward to seeing the movie ever since devouring the book this past summer.  It was a fantastic film, despite some changes, and I am determined to read the book again A.S.A.P. 

We laughed and cried.  I had some tissue in my pocked, but it wasn't nearly enough to cover the tears, so I simply let them roll down my face before using my jacket sleeve to mop them up.  My girl was sniffling right beside me.

We left the theater around 9:15 and were traveling down the mostly dark Mission Avenue, when we passed a dead Labrador in the middle of the street.  We were instantly saddened again, and decided to pull around to see if it had any identification.  With my little flashlight in hand, we made our way over to the dog, who had a broken neck and was a bloody mess.  Already emotionally fragile from the film, outraged at whoever just left  the dog in the road after killing it was compounded by the heedless drivers who drove past us without slowing.  We were both almost hit.  Multiple times.  I have to say, we didn't use our pretty language as we told them to SLOW DOWN!  L got the collar off, but there were no id tags.  She placed it on a nearby mailbox and as we contemplated what to do, two more cars pulled over.  Turns out, these folks had also been to see the film and had pulled over after seeing a dead white dog on the side of the road.  Two dead dogs.  L ran over.  Same story.  Collar but no tags.  A few more cars pulled over, and even though there were multiple people in the street, with blinking emergency lights and flashlights, the cars just kept barrelling by.  The dog in the middle of the street was miraculously not hit again, right in front of us. 

A teenage girl came running down the driveway and asked what had happened.  I told her there were two dead dogs.  She said they were hers, that they had been out looking for them.  Oh, heartache.  She was crying and I was crying, hugging her.  Her dad came running out and he was very distraught as well. 

One of the bystanders offered to help him move the dogs, but he pulled the black one by himself to the side.  He went and got his truck and the two men picked up both dogs and set them inside.  The girl said she had to go home to tell her sister.  The dad was crying very hard by the time his task was completed, hugged us both and thanked us numerous times.  Seems he and his family had just moved to this house, which explained why the dogs didn't have tags yet.

The whole night was surreal.  I am emotionally drained.  It's almost midnight and I have chores to do, lunches to make, and need to be at work with my son by 7:30 a.m., but I am wired.  I shot off a letter to the editor of my local newspaper, imploring my fellow townspeople to be considerate of people in their times of need.  My heart hurts for the family that just lost their animals.  I was very happy to come home to my own two waggy-tailed pups.  Goodnight and thanks for listening.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Summer's Over . . .

Even though the calendar states that Summer isn't over until September 23rd, for those of us who work in education, it's time to put away our beach towels and comfy clothes.

I had a marvelous summer break.  After obsessing and planning over my 40th birthday party, it went off without too many hitches.  Family and friends filled our modest home and spilled out into the yard.  We put some living room furniture outside to accommodate the karaoke set-up.  I borrowed and rented tables and chairs and a huge jumpy with a slide.  We declared our son's room off limits, so we went on a toy buying spree at Dollar Tree.  Whether the toys survived the party or not didn't matter.  We sanded and painted his tree fort, reinforcing the loose boards and making it cooler and more child friendly.  I ordered unicorn themed decorations to symbolize my inner child.  The party went late into the night.  Friends slept in the furniture out front and in the jumpy.  It was a good time. 

My son and I singing Karaoke.   A Sabbath song, I think.
Mark n Captain Mady
Chef Mady with Auntie Judy, baking Smore Bars on the Houseboat.
Cousins in the Kayak
Two weeks later we went on our ?th annual houseboat trip.  I have lost count of the times we have packed up food and entertainment and driven to Nevada to soak in the lake and enjoy each other's company.  For those of you who have never been on a houseboat trip, there isn't much to it.  Just make sure you invite people who are flexible and fun-minded, bring lots of snacks, and plenty of ice.  I bring along books, movies, games for the kids, and a few changes of clothes.  My husband prides himself on bringing only a pair of swim trunks and a few t-shirts.  This year's trip was bittersweet, being the first one without our beloved Punky (E's father, who died last Labor Day).  At one point, walking up the dock to the store, my breath caught as I saw a broad-backed man filling an inntertube with air.  For a moment, it looked just like my father-in-law, who would be pleased that we continued our traditional summer trip.  This year my brother-in-law drove the boat to the landing spot just right, letting one of the children "help" steer, just like Punky used to.  On our last night, we took a bottle of Punky's favorite Bushmill's whiskey to the top of the boat.  We poured a shot for each of us, plus one for him.  Emotions spilled over as we remembered this amazing man, gone too soon.

I spent the rest of the summer playing mom and chauffeur to my son and his friends, watching movies, reading books, and stripping a new-to-us dining room table.  I love my sander.  With my i-pod blasting tunes in my ear and the wood showing it's true beauty out from under the old stain, I am in heaven.  I still need to re-stain the table, but as the raw wood is just so gorgeous to me, I am loathe to cover it up, even though I know I need to protect the wood and match the table to the chairs.

I went back to work a little early to clear out a room in the library that is now the student store, as well as to help with registration.  I erased the anti-"others" sentiment from the door and put in a request to the custodial staff to clean off the sharpied curse words on my book drop.  I entered to find the usual "mystery" boxes that had been left in the library by those who feel that when in doubt, the library's the place to put it.  Sometimes these are welcome surprises, other times I wonder, "what were they thinking???"

Yesterday was the first day of school.  Students and their parents packed the hallways, waiting to get their class schedules.  Staff was working as efficiently as possible.  Purple papers meant the students had to stay in the MPR, they needed to meet with the principal in regards to their low G.P.A.  Green dots meant their registration packets weren't complete.  Red dots meant they still needed to show proof of their Pertussis immunization to the nurse.  The little 6th graders looked eager and fresh, if not a little nervous about finding their way around.  The 7th and 8th graders were more interested in their class schedules and comparing them with their friends'.  By 2 hours into it, I was finally back into my sanctum, the glorious library.  I had requested fewer Teacher Assistants this year, as last year, I learned that more student helpers were definitely a hindrance to efficiency.  I had 3 returning helpers and 1 new.  I was closed to the general public at lunch, but some of my regulars snuck past security and with the familiar faces around me, it felt like an extension of the year before. 

Summer already seems far away, although the weather is too hot for my cute Fall clothing.  I am surrounded by textbooks that will be distributed next week.  Earlier today, one of my students asked what I was going to dress up as for Halloween.  Yup.  Summer's over.                           Thanks for listening.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mix the Dark with the Inspirational and Just Plain Entertaining

A few months ago, a friend and fellow school librarian, sent me an interesting article from The Wall Street Journal entitled "Darkness Too Visible" (June 4/5, 2011), which examines the dark literature that is so popular with young readers. 

Pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago, that were still only sparingly outlined a generation ago, are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail.

The author points out that as early as 40 years ago, "no-one had to contend with young-adult literature because there was no such thing.  There was simply literature, some of it accessible to young readers, and some not."  Beginning with The Outsiders, still a tremendously popular book, the young-adult industry was born. 

The article asks, what is our responsibility to our children (and the children we may come in contact with because of our school district jobs :) )?  What do we want to put in their absorbent and impressionable brains? 

I come at this question from a few different directions.  As a young reader, my life was indelibly shaped with the controversial novels by Judy Blume.  I vividly remember reading my first "sex" scene while slowly swinging on the playground and hoping the adult supervisor wouldn't sneak up and read over my shoulder.  Some may have argued that I was too young to be reading this, but I felt empowered (as well as a bit nervous and tingly) to know that people would tell me things in a book that an adult might not say to my face.  As far as "dark" books go, those are the ones that fly off the middle (and high) school shelves.  During the school year, I can't keep a copy of A Child Called It (which, unfortunately, is NOT fiction) in house.  I am not saying that books containing violence and sex and suicide should be pushed just for the sake of kids reading, but if I promote reading as a way to step into someone else's shoes, I won't ban them either.  I pray the the dystopian societies portrayed in The Hunger Games or The Forest of Hands and Teeth won't even remotely come into existence, but the human emotions portrayed (loyalty, bravery, sorrow, camaraderie) are a real part of everyone's lives.

There are books I won't read, and when my school kids check them out, I might warn them about the darkness contained in the book.  (The aforementioned Child Called It is a prime example.)  I choose what I want to read and encourage others to do the same.  I only got to page 80 in the young adult series Lockdown.  Escape from Furnace, because the plot of sadistic alien creatures wearing the guise of humans who set young boys up only to incarcerate them into a prison where there is no escape and you had better not get close to anyone, because chances are, one night they will disappear, hit a little close to home, with my only child being a 10-year-old boy. 

Yes, I will incorporate this title into my school collection.  Yes, I will get the sequels as they come out.  I know (by the subtitle) that they boy will escape and perhaps another child reading this book will find a way out of his/her own personal horror, or, less grandly, just be "into" the book.

I had started this blog post to tell you about a few other books I recently read that would portray the other side of the coin.  Seeing as I've already gone off on a rant and want to keep you interested, I will quickly tell you about them.

From oldest to newest, I am happy to say that I have finally read My Side of the Mountain by Jean George.  This Newberry Award book, written in 1959 is what I love about a book with its wonderful, courageous and ingenious character.  City boy, Sam, decides that he wants to live off the land.  He has heard stories all his life about the family land in the remote mountains and he makes his way there and accomplishes his goal.  It was a glimpse into another time and place, where a family might let their child prove himself in this manner, without reality shows or mommy looking after him.  Sam lives in a tree (the trunk, not the branches), makes his own clothing and supplies and a few friends (both human and animal).  I will read the other books in this series.  I will hopefully get my own son to read them.; a far cry from his own reality, I must admit.

Al Capone Does My Shirts (2004) won both the Newberry and Young Reader's Medal awards, and for good reason.  Matthew ("Moose") and his mom, dad, and autistic sister move to Alcatraz Island, where his father is an electrician and a guard.  This book sucked me up like a biscuit soaks butter.  I was  fully enthralled by this character rich story about kids who have a lot of rules to follow, but live in a time and place where they are on their own a lot.  Yes, Al Capone plays a small, but inspirational role in this book.  Yet again, this book has a sequel, which I will be on the lookout for.

Lastly, and those of you who have no patience with books dealing with supernatural romance can skip ahead, there is Paranormalcy.  This book was recommended to me by the Bookfair rep for my local Barnes and Noble, plus the book is written by a San Diego author, so how could I resist?  Evie is one of the only "normal" creatures who work for the International Paranormal Containment Agency, or is she?  Dedicated to keeping the world a safer place by placing tracking and behavior modification devices on potentially dangerous creatures like vampires, werewolves and hags, Evie is challenged by nightmares, both real and in her sleep.  Paranormals are being murdered and her faith in the Agency is shaken.  The fairies are being evasive and one, in particular, is stalking her.  And what's up with the hot guy who is practically invisible and has the gift of mirroring anyone he chooses?  A great book, again with a sequel that is on my to-be-read-and-purchased-for-my-school list.  (Phew!)

So, while I find a lot of merit in the concern of the New York Times author who is wondering exactly what it is we are teaching young people today, I think my own personal role is to keep reading as many of these books as I can and steering as many kids toward them as possible.  That's what they pay me the big bucks for, right?!?                             Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

These Times, They are A-Changin . . . for the Better . . .

             I love when books I am reading magically intersect each other. 

Both The Memory Keeper's Daughter (by Kim Edwards) and The Help (by Kathryn Stockett) deal with separation and inequality in the American '60's. 

"The Memory Keeper" refers to Dr. David Henry, a doctor, who is forced to attend to his pregnant wife's delivery when a snowstorm prohibits his way to the hospital.  His son, Paul, is perfectly healthy, but his daughter, Pheobe, has Down syndrome.  Stunned by this reality, David is forced to recollect his own sister, who died at age 12 from a heart problem, breaking the spirit of their mother.  To save his wife the grief of a retarded child, he asks the attending nurse to take the baby to a nearby home for the mentally disabled. When his wife, Norah, awakens, he tells her that the baby has died. 

The nurse's name is Caroline, and after seeing the facility, decides she cannot leave the newborn there.  She takes the baby home instead.  When she sees the infant's death announcement in the newspaper, she decides to raise Phoebe as her own and moves to Pittsburgh. 

Raising a child with Down syndrome in the 60's is no easy feat.  After rushing a the child to the emergency room when a bee sting proves almost fatal, the attending nurse asks Caroline if she is sure she wants to save her. 

In The Help, close-mindedness is rampant on an even larger scale.  While it is perfectly acceptable for a black woman to be employed in a white person's home, cooking for them and raising their children on a day-to-day basis, it is considered unhealthy for them to use the same toilet as the white family.  They must not use the same silver or glassware.  They are expected to use the back door.

But not everyone is content to let these inequalities go without question.  Eugenia Phelan, commonly known as "Skeeter" for her tall, skinny frame, is home from college without a wedding ring on her hand and a fierce desire to write.  She lands a job answering domestic questions for the local paper.  Being a rich socialite, she has no idea how to address such issues as sink stains and bitter coffee.  She decides to ask someone who would know.  Aibileen is the maid of her best friend, Hilly.  Aibileen grudgingly gives her the answers and when she shares that her son, who has recently died, was interested in writing a book about being black in Jackson, Mississippi, Skeeter decides to take a great risk and run with the idea.  She secretly interviews maids about their lives and what it is like to work for the white ladies of the town.  Some of the stories are decent, but a lot of them are not.  Risking their lives, one by one, the maids offer their stories and Skeeter types them up, hoping to impress a New York editor with her book idea. 

Both of these books caused me to shake my head and feel an aching heart at what so many people have gone through because of being different.  While 2011 is far from a Utopian society, I am very grateful that I can have a house full of mixed-race friends and not think anything about it.  When I was a child, I was uncomfortable being around people with mental disabilities.  Having a family member who is affected, as well as working in the public, has helped me to grow up and out of these prejudices.

In The Memory Keeper's Daughter, I had to wait over 300 pages for Norah to discover that the daughter that she has never stopped grieving for was not dead after all.  It was worth the wait.  The prose are beautiful and the character development over a span of 25 years is wonderful and insightful.

The Help is by far the best book I have read this summer.  When I posted on Facebook how much I loved it, a friend mentioned that when her mother started reading it to her grandmother, the grandmother became angry; citing, "we never treated our help that way!".  Hopefully not.  I know there are a lot of decent people who understand that all are created equal.  Unfortunately, I also see the opposite on a daily basis. 

Pick up either or both of these books.  They are worth your time.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"The House Settled in for the Story"

"The minutiae had consumed the whole."
Meredith and Nina are sisters, daughters of Anya, their Russian-born mother who doesn't look them in the eye, hug them or share any part of herself.  Meredith and Nina survive their childhood and Nina becomes an award-winning photojournalist, documenting tragedies all over the world and working on her pet project, photos of amazingly strong women of all nations.  Meredith has stayed close to home, married her childhood sweetheart, and runs the family's apple orchard business.  Their father, Evan, the loving bond that holds them all together is dying.

On his deathbed, Evan makes his daughters promise to take care of their mother and to get to know her.  The only time she has opened up to them is through her fairy tales, of which Meredith refuses to listen, ever since a heartbreaking incident when she was young and tried to act the stories out during a Christmas evening.  Her mother exploded and put an end to all her hard work.  Now a widow, Anya is calling her daughters by different names, pulling down and boiling the wallpaper and cutting her fingers with a knife. 

After a short stint in a retirement home (for which she packed a bag of leather belts and butter), both girls redouble their efforts to find out who Anya really is.  Nina relentlessly hounds her to retell the fairy tale of their youth.  Although Meredith is determined to stay out of it, she is drawn to the magic of her mother's voice and the memories of the only times in her childhood that she had her mother's attention.

"It's a tearjerker, but the journey is as lovely--and haunting--as a snow-filled forest," promises People magazine on the front cover of this amazing book that I bought from my last bookfair and squirreled away for summer vacation.  Boy, they weren't kidding.  Riding around in the backseat of the truck yesterday, I was glad to be in my own ipod/dark sunglasses world as Anya relieved any mother's nightmare (think Sophie's Choice . . . shudder, shudder).  I finished the book tonight, hidden away from the family, and quietly shared my grief with the dark night.  It was a beautiful story and one I can't wait to pass on.  In the past, I would have saved it to give to my Gram.  She loved romance novels.  She lives only in my heart these days, so I think I'll give it to my sis-in-law, Kris.  She loves this stuff too.  Thanks for listening and pick up a copy of Winter Garden.  You won't be sorry.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Vaca

It's official.  I'm on Summer Vacation. 

I work for the school district and have summers off.  It kicks a@@.  Majorly.

The past week and a half of "free time" has been full of business.

 I'm having a party and have a ton of details to work out. 

I volunteered to help my son's class go on a field trip as well as in the classroom, as my awesome mother-in-law taught them about geology.

We needed our trees trimmed and had some fabulous guys take care of that.  We got a new Boxer puppy and have been like parents of a newborn, waking multiple times a night to let him roam the yard,.  (I will be very grateful when he is big enough to go throught the doggie door.)  Our other doggie contracted a hematoma following his neutoring and needed extra care.   I did an "extreme home makeover" for our best friend and spent today at a dear friends' baby shower, followed by a gathering at my neighbor's house, as she just lost her grandmother and we needed to come and drink with her.

I have not yet had a "down day" and won't until my 40th bday bash has come and gone. 

That's ok.  I sign on for the chaos and have to pay the piper.  I like over-activity and relish the days of non-commmitment that are coming my way in the near future.

I just finished watching "The Tourist."  I rented it on June 3rd, my bday, because it starred Johnny Depp and I have been obsessed with this man since 1987, or so, (since I was 16, owned my own tv and "21 JumpStreet" was on Sunday nights.)  Purrr.  This man makes my day, no matter what role he plays.  Didn't get a chance to watch it before it was due, so we burned it and it has been waiting until I had 1 1/2 hours to burn.  I watched it in two parts today and wasn't disappointed. 

Grrr.  Purrr.  Sigh.
Add Angelina Jolie and need I say anything more?!?  It was a good movie, filled with hyper-gorgeous people and a plot line I could follow.  Good stuff.

The days ahead are already filled.  Get my son to a friends' house for swim day, then to my bro's for a few days of "guy time."

Book chairs, tables and umbrellas for the party.  Make sure the caricature artist knows the hours we want him here for and find out his rate.  Remind the karaoke guy about the party and make sure he isn't double-booked.  Go to Costco and gather party necessities.  Go to Albertson's for the rest.  Obsessively clean things that haven't been cleaned in years.  There are people coming to this party who have never been to my house.  It's gotta look good.  And who knows what unexpected events will transpire?!?  Expect the unexpected has become my motto.

Sorry if you feel the above was disjointed ramblings.  It's 10:52 p.m. and I have had a full day of friends and parties.  It's all good!  Been awhile since I blogged, so I felt it's past due.  (I won't mention the numerous books stacked by my side, read and ready to be reviewed.  All in good time.)

Thanks for listenintg and enjoy your summer!!!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


"Need anything from Barnes and Noble?" I ask my girl, A, last week.  Being a bookclubber, she often has a novel on her "need" list.  I was there for a Library Tech meeting with my member card in hand.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.  "No, but you need to read Modoc," she tells me.

  Modoc, The True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer took up my Memorial Day weekend, (along with double batches of potato salad, s'mores bars, and good times with friends and family).  Ralph Helfer is an animal trainer and behaviourist, who specializes in affection and kindness to lead animals to do what he needs.  He was also the last owner of Modoc, an amazing elephant whose life span covered multiple countries and 70 years of adventures.

Modoc was born in Germany and was raised in a circus at the loving hands of Josef Gunterstein.  Josef's only child, Bram, was  born the same day.  Josef finally had the son and daughter he had been waiting a  very long time for.  The two were raised side by side and their bond lasted a lifetime. 

When the circus was sold to an American, Bram stowed away to be with his beloved elephant, leaving behind his recently widowed mother, Gertie, his first love, and his circus family.  The ship sinks and all the animals but Modoc perished.  Modoc floated in the ocean for several days, helping to keep a few survivors alive.  She and Bram rehabilitated in India, at the amazing Elephantorium.  Bram learned even more about elephant training and the bond between all living things. When the American Circus owner heard that Modoc was alive, he was determined to once again separate her and Bram.  Bram sneaks off with her to work the teak forest.  They survived many dangerous adventures and eventually came to the U.S., with Bram being reluctantly hired by the Circus owner who resented his Jewish heritage, but felt Bram owed him big time and was determined to get compensated by working him cheaply.

I'm doing my best not to ruin the whole storyline here, as I highly recommend reading Modoc.  This amazing creature wrapped her trunk around my heart and I shed a few tears as I followed the path she and Bram took together over their lifetimes.  I also really appreciated the spiritual aspects.

Sometimes it is better to accept help than to suffer the consequences without it.  Only men suffer the pride and ego that they themselves have created.  The Creator never gave animals these burdens.  They are of little use, but it is my guess that He had to test us to see if we could overcome. 

All life is built upon steppingstones that reach into the Beyond.  Without them, we could never reach our goals.  Use them, you have earned them, and they are yours.

It is 3:45 a.m. and I haven't slept much this weekend. I finished the book, and turned off the light, but my thoughts went round and round.  I figured a blog was in order.   I don't usually suffer from insomnia, but I guess as long as there are great books around, I'll always have something to turn to.  Pick up Modoc.  You won't regret it.  Thanks, A, for insisting I read this amazing book.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Surrounded by Darkness

Sometimes I am just drawn to the dark stories.

At any one time, I am reading multiple books, so it tends to even out, but right now, I am surrounded by misunderstanding, lies, death and deceit. 

Not 5 minutes ago, I finished my latest audio book, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. 

I don't often listen to murder stories in my car, especially by authors unknown to me.  There is something vulnerable about being read to, all alone, as I drive the 45 minute commute to and from work.  For some reason, this story about murdered little girls and a woman who cuts words into her skin beckoned. 
Perhaps I was curious about the words she picked and placed such as "wicked" above her hipbone and "harmful" on her wrist, which made me want to delve into this darkness.    Whatever the reason, I am glad I heard the story, but will be haunted by it for a long time.

Camille is a reporter who lives in Chicago, but grew up in a tiny go-nowhere-town in Tennessee called Wind Gap.  The first of three daughters to a spoiled, rich heiress, Camille grew up around politeness so thick you could cut it with the pig slaughtering knife that had made her family its money.  Camille and her mother don't speak too much, and when they do, nothing much is said.  Her middle sister died when she was only 13 and her younger sister is about 15 years her junior.  Sometimes Camille doesn't even remember that she exists.

When two girls are murdered in this tiny town, Camille's editor orders her to go home and get the scoop.  She doesn't want to go.  Too many memories of a cold, loveless childhood and the ghost of her dead sister.  She goes anyway.

What follows is a really messed up story about sick family dynamics and jealousy.  Who has killed these little girls?  Why were their teeth removed?  How did her sister really die?  Delving deep into the subjects of alcoholism, cutting, Munchhausen Syndrome, and denial, the book kept me rapt until the very end.  I sat in my car in the driveway to finish it up.  Although my mind had run through the list of suspects throughout the whole story, the ending was still a shocker.  When I looked up the website for the book,, I saw that the first review had been written by Stephen King.  Figures. 

The other book I am into right now is called Newes from the Dead, a young adult novel by Mary Hooper.  One of my 8th graders requested I order a copy for our library.  I got two.  Gave one to her, and started the other myself.  Based on the true story of servant girl, Anne Green, the story takes place in 1651, when a young woman was hanged for the murder of her stillborn child.  Having been impregnated and betrayed by the uncouth heir of the estate where she is employed, she has not a chance.  Anne is hung and her body is taken to be dissected in front of an audience of doctors (and the young man's grandfather), and yet she is still alive. 

I haven't finished the book yet, as I read bits at a time during my short lunch period which is constantly being interrupted.  I have two weeks left of school, and had better make reading this sad and intriguing book a priority.  Maybe I'll let you know how it ends, or maybe you'll just have to find out for yourself.

Today I stopped by my local library to return the movie "Dinner for Schmucks", which was pretty funny, and thought I'd just pick up a new audio, knowing I was at the end of Sharp Objects.  What do you know?  A Stephen King novella that I had not read/heard yet.  I guess the gruesome still beckons me.  Not a surprise.  Thanks for listening. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Pawprints on Our Hearts

We bought Kodi for our son for his second birthday.  It was our first pure-breed-with-papers dog.  We picked him from the litter and anxiously awaited the day when he would be old enough to take home to join our family.  Kodi was short for "Jakob's Kodiak of Fallbrook".  I guess when you have a "papered" dog you have license to come up with wacky names.

Puppies are hard work.  Kodi  was the pick of the litter. The alpha male.   Jake was a precocious two-year-old.  They would fight over who would sit on my lap, pushing each other out onto the floor and then crying.  For a few weeks, I thought we had made a big mistake.  I was exhausted by my toddler and our psycho puppy.

Over the years, though, Kodi became the best dog I have ever known.  He was awesome with kids, fiercely protective of our property, and funny too.  One time when we were sleeping at my bro/sis-in-law's house, E n I were discussing our upcoming Avocadofest party.  Kodi burped and it sounded like he said, "GUAC" really loud.  We laughed so hard we woke the house up.  He would also make Wookie noises if he really wanted to get our attention, like when there were apple slices on J's plate that he felt he was entitled to.

He was big and barrel chested, like most boxers.  He was great to hug.  He would follow us around and fall to the ground at our feet when we finally sat down.  He let our son ride him like a horse.  He didn't like it, but he tolerated it and never snapped at him.  He farted like no-one's business. 

He loved to chase thrown grapefruit.  He would jump high and pick them out of the tree, then get this really distinctinctively sharp yip that described his love/hate relationship with the bitter fruit.  He would follow and snap at bubbles.  He made our child feel safe in his bed at night.

Kodi died last week.  After dealing with a mysterious malady that almost killed him and put him on antibiotics and steroids for a few months, he had a heart attack in the vet's office while awaiting a routine blood check. 
We were devastated.  The vet's office is going to make a paw-print in clay for us. 

A few days later, E drew parallels between the recent loss of his father and our doggie.  Both lived life to fullest, right  to the end.  Right now, Kodi and Punky are living it up in the afterlife, binging on salami and beer.

Kodi sent another dog our way just days later.  Two, actually, but only one to stay.  (Another long story.)  He knew we couldn't bear to be dogless.  He knew that us taking in another dog wouldn't diminish our love or sorrow, but build a bridge to heal our hearts.  He was intelligent and loving and will live forever in our hearts. 

                                                    R.I.P.  Kodi.  We will love you forever. 

Girlfriends . . . 15 Years Later

One of my favorite books of all times is Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan.  It is one of the few books that was made into an equally awesome movie.  I have watched it more times than I care to count.  A week or so ago I was trolling the newly-built and breathtakingly awesome Fallbrook Library and found a sequal in the audiobook section.  It is entitled Getting To Happy.  You know I had to snatch it up and give it a listen.

I was a tiny bit apprehensive, as I didn't know what to expect.  Well, it was wonderful.

Read by four different actresses, the main characters Savannah (the outspoken and smart tv producer), Gloria (the overweight, single-mom-finally-found-love salon owner), Bernice (the gourmet chef, mom, and divorced-because-her-man-cheated-on-her) and Robin (the shop-a-holic, promiscuous, impulsive and gullible insurance underwriter) were brilliantly portrayed.  (The only voice my mind had a hard time accepting was Savannah's, who was played by Whitney Houston in the movie and the voice actress was a bit gruff and crass sounding.) 

It is 15 years later.  All the women are single, save for Gloria, who is still married to Marvin, the ideal man.  Robin was pregnant when we last saw her.  Now her daughter, Sparrow, is a precocious and creatively mismatched high schooler.  Savannah is bored with her marriage to a carpenter and finds out some dirty secrets about him on his computer and decides to end it.  Bernie has been two-timed again and is barely coping (with the aid of some pills).  The girlfriends are as close as ever, even though they don't hang out as much as they used to.

This book made me laugh a lot and cry more than any other audiobook has.  I will not ruin the storyline for anyone who is interested in getting caught up on the ladies and their drama-filled lives.  But trust me.  It's worth it.  It's awesome.  McMillan couldn't have done a better job if she had tried. 

My thoughts went out to my own girlfriends.  We call each other when we want to go out, when we need to vent, when we're bored, and just to check up on each other.  We leave each other boxes of tissues and chocolates when we most need some extra love.  I am blessed to have them in my lives.  Here's to girlfriends!    Thanks for listening. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Last Note from Your Narrator . . . I am Haunted by Humans

As a rule, I don't do the Holocaust.

For me, the horror of what people do to each other just gets worse with age.  I remember lying on the floor of my Jr. High library, continuously drawn to a Time Life book on WWII.  In it was a double-paged picture of a Jewish woman whose breast had been cut off.  I must have looked in that book 50 times.  I couldn't believe it was real.  I was hypnotized by the mind-numbing atrocity of it all.

Over time, I have sheltered myself from war movies, TV shows, and any book set during WWII.  Last year when the high school classes were finished with their Holocaust studies, I asked the head librarian if he would mind shelving the books.  I was afraid one of them might open and sear me with yet another miserable image.  In the first Middle School where I worked, I stealthily wept while investigating our collection.

So you can see why I was in no hurry to read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, especially when someone told me that I had to read this book but that the ending would make me cry.

The book kept popping into my existence, however.  When you have a book to shelve in the "Z's", you tend to notice it, as there aren't too many of them.  On the cover is a finger ready to push over a row of dominos and The New York Times quote that it is "BRILLIANT and hugely ambitious . . . It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING".  So a few months ago, I found a copy at a used book sale at a local library.  Fine, I decided.  I'll get it.

I put off reading it for a bit.  What horror awaited me in its pages?  It took me a few months to read it all the way through.  I refused to read it at night and let myself get sidetracked by all sorts of other titles in the meantime.  But by page 25 I knew I had something special in my hands. 

I am a sucker for good figurative language.  This book overflows with the most beautiful prose and imagery.  It's enough to make you want to eat it up with a spoon. 

Her wrinkles were like slander.  Her voice was akin to a beating with a stick. 

The book is told, in third person, from the perspective of the Grim Reaper, who's awfully busy in this book. 

Summer came. For the book thief, everything was going nicely. For me, the sky was the color of Jews.

The book thief is Liesel, a German orphan, who steals her first book on the day her little brother is buried.  She is illiterate.  A book drops unnoticed from a gravedigger apprentice's pocket.  Liesel picks it up.  She is on her way to a foster home in Molching.  She never sees her mother again.  She sees her dead brother nightly in her dreams. 

A Photo of Himmel Street
The buildings appear to be glued together, mostly small houses and apartment blocks that look nervous.
There is a murky snow spread out like carpet.
There is concrete, empty hat-stand trees, and gray air.

 Hans and Rosa Hubermann take Liesel in.  Later, they also take in a Jewish fugitive, Max, who lives in their basement for months and months.  Rosa is an insultingly loud woman who makes horrible soup.  Hans is tall, quiet, pretty much invisible painter and accordion player who becomes the center of Liesel's world.

Max spend a lot of time writing, down there in the Hubermann's basement, while Liesel is out playing soccer, getting into trouble with her best friend Rudy, and stealing books from Nazi bonfires and the mayor's wife's library.  Max writes, among other things, a story called "The Word Shaker".  I have never read a more touching fairy-tale-esque take on the Holocaust as this little story that Max writes for Liesel.  In it, the Fuhrer decides to rule the world with words.  His words create forests of farmed thoughts.  Word Shakers climb these trees of terrible words and throw them down to the people below.  One Word Shaker has a single teardrop made of friendship that has dried into a seed.  She plants it among the other trees.  This tree grows faster than all the other trees.  The Fuhrer demands that it is chopped down.  The Tree Shaker climbs up in protest and stays for many months.  No axes are strong enough to bring the tree down.  Eventually the Tree Shaker is coaxed down by a friend, the man whose tear grew the tree in the first place.  The mighty tree falls and carves a "different-colored path" through the forest of hateful words. 

This was the best book I have read in years.  Tomorrow I will take it to work and slap a barcode on it and start feeding it to the students who are ready to read it.  Maybe if it comes your way, you'll read it too.  It's worth it.  And you might cry a bit at the end, in the middle, and even in the beginning.  It's worth it.  Every word of it.  Thanks for listening. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"Mrs. E, Is That A Fax Machine?"

So a few weeks ago, I decided that I wanted a typewriter. 

Working in a library, one of my tasks is to make call stickers to place on the spines of the books.  (You know, those funky letters/numbers that tell the librarians where the book belongs in the stacks?)  When I worked at the High School last year, we had an honest-to-God typewriter that dutifully made us stickers anytime we turned it on and pressed the keys.  I know.  Amazing. 

The school where I'm working now has been around since the '50's and it shows.  There have been numerous librarians and library tech's running the show, each with his/her own sense of how things should be organized.  One of them decided that instead of categorizing the fiction books by authors' last name, which is standard, they created numeric categories with the name of the genre.  (For example, a mystery book might be listed as 40 Fic MYS.) Uber-confusing to the already addled teen.  But I digress . . .

One of the most frustrating (and disgusting) habits one of the tech's had (a female, by the look of the handwriting) was to use masking tape to made the call label.  A RIPPED piece of tape with the info, slapped onto the spine of the book, edges uneven and frayed.  Well, I gotta tell you, over time, masking tape gets brittle and gross.  For one, it's hard to read the tag and secondly, it's very tacky!!!  (Get it?  TACKY!)  Oh boy.     SO.          I decided that now was the time to start replacing the stickers. 

The last tech blessed me with a template on my computer and a whole bunch of stickers.  Awesome.  The only problem was, what if I only wanted ONE sticker at a time?  Open the document.  Type in the correct information.  Put the sticker paper in the printer's paper drawer.  Facedown.  Press print.  Now I have 49 unused stickers.  For a while, I was marking (on the computer template) which stickers were being used, so I could go in and just print out others as I needed them, but keeping track of that ONE certain sticker page and figuring out which direction to put the paper in once some of the stickers were missing was making my head spin.  Logistics and math are not my strengths.  So.  All that babbling just to say that I wanted a typewriter so I could receive instant gratification and get my stickers when I wanted them.  Was that too much to ask for?!?

I started my quest by e-mailing everyone on campus, inquiring if anyone knew where a spare typewriter might be.  Boy, did that open a can of worms.  The jokes and smarty comments that came flying back at me were funny at first, but a bit frustrating as the day went on and I wasn't getting what I wanted.   "Ask the 100-year-old research guy.  He might still be in his office."  "Ask my grandma."  "What's a typewriter?"  Etc.  By the end of the day, however, I heard from a security officer who works multiple sites that there was an unused typewriter at the school right next door.  I headed over there right after work, identified myself and what I wanted, and was shown the typewriter.  It was a big and beautiful old thing.  Electric, thank goodness!  We plugged it in for a test run.  Nothing.  Dang!!!  I punched a few keys and was about ready to turn away, very saddened, when it came to life.  It was like the electricity had forgotten how to flow through the cord.  It was mine, all mine (although they wrote down my name and site for "inventory" purposes and I was told that it was on "long-term loan" (meaning that if I was ever finished with it, send it back to sit all alone on the counter.  Typewriter purgatory.)  Sometimes the bureaucracy of the school district really cracks me up. 

On the next work day, I took some minions (ahem, Library TA's (teacher assistant's) to my truck to help me haul in a bunch of loot.  The typewriter inspired awe.  They couldn't wait to try it out.  At first, I was selfish and stingy about letting students type away on it, but after ascertaining that I could get replacement ink cartridges online, I let them play. 

The students' reaction to the typewriter has been amazing.  They are obsessed.  They think it is the most awesome thing ever.  They want to write their life stories on it.  (Seriously, two students have asked me if they could.  I explained how computers save and correct our work and typewriters are pretty much one-shot deals, but the romantic idea of getting their thoughts down via a TYPEWRITER has blinded them to logic.)

One TA, upon using it for the first time, was dismayed to realize that "all his work was for nothing" as he hadn't pressed the "return" key enough times to get the paper to where the keys were.  He had been typing on the roller bar. 

I will end my extremely long rant with an excerpt from a letter written by one of my TA's to her friend.  All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(for those of you who aren't used to middle school speak, here's a translation:  annie--what's up?  I wrote this to you on a typewriter and it's so cool!  It's at the library.  She let me use it so I'm writing to you on it.  My bad, I made a mistake.  Sorry.  There's no backspace so I can't erase the mistakes but this is so cool!  Sorry, another mistake.  I don't know how to use a typewriter but you should swing by on your rope to come see it.)

(Just to set your minds at ease, there is a backspace/delete key.  It types white over the letters, but you have to delete them in the same order you typed them.)

So now I know.  Got bored kids?  Pull out the antiquities and let them roll.  Anyone know where I can get some quills? Thanks for listening.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"You, My Fine Friend, Have Entered Doll Time."

"Do you have a book about a rabbit named Edward Tulane?" a student of mine asked me about a week ago?  I checked the computer catalogue.  Nope.  I went to the Internet and found it online.  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate KiCamillo.  Hmmm.  $4?  I think we can manage that.  (By the way, I am going to promote Abe Books ad nauseam.  I find amazing deals here weekly and help make both kids and myself happy really inexpensivelyy.) 

"We don't have it, but I could get it.  Would you like me to?"  I asked.  "Yes, please."  (Oh, how I especially love the ones with manners.)  "Ok.  It'll take at least a week, but I'll let you know when it comes in and I have it ready for you,"  I told her. 

The book arrived last weekend and I was drawn to the cover art.  Kate DiCamillo, the author, had written The Tale of Despereaux,  the heart-wrenching mouse and princess story which my son and I had listened to on audio just last summer.  The story had been emotional and magical.  (No, I haven't seen the movie and can't compare it.  Maybe later . . .)  I thought I might just peek inside this book and see just what was so special that a student would remember it and ask for it. 

Edward is a custom-made china doll that had been commissioned by a woman for her granddaughter.  He had hinged arms and legs and sported real rabbit fur, although "whom the whiskers had belonged to initially-what unsavory animal-was a question that Edward could not bear to consider for too long."  Edward has a wardrobe of fine clothing and his little mistress, Abilene, dotes on him.  He sits at the table while the family has their meals, much to the amusement of Abilene's parents.  The grandmother, Pellegrina, on the other hand, seems to know that Edward is more than just a doll, and she is disappointed in his snotty attitude.

I was hooked by page 16, when the neighboring Boxer comes into the house "uninvited and unannounced" and commences to urinate on the white tablecloth and shake Edward back and forth "vigorously, growling and drooling." 

We have a boxer and I could just see ours pulling the same stunts.  I decided to keep the book just a little longer, just to see where the story might go.  Well, tonight I put off the dishes and sat for about 30 minutes, reading this book up like a bowl of gravy with rice.  Edward starts off as a vain, contemptuous, bored rabbit; ignoring the babbling of his adoring charge.  He is taken on a cruise with the family and is accidentally flung into the ocean by some teasing boys.  All the stricken Abilene is left with is his fine pocket watch.

Spoiler alert:  I will just quote the Coda, which summarizes the rest of the story, which had me weeping into a towel. 

Once, there was a China Rabbit who was loved by a little girl.  the rabbit went on an ocean journey and fell overboard and was rescued by a fisherman.  He was buried under garbage and unburied by a dog.  He traveled for a long time with the hobos and worked for a short time as a scarecrow.
Once, there was a rabbit who loved a little girl and watched her die.
The rabbit danced on the streets of Memphis.  His head was broken open in a diner and was put together again by a doll mender.
And the rabbit swore that he would not make the mistake of loving again.
Once there was a rabbit who danced in a garden in springtime with the daughter of the woman who had loved him at the beginning of his journey.  The girl swung the rabbit as she danced in circles.  Sometimes, they went so fast, the two of them, that it seemed as if they were flying.  Sometimes, it seemed as if they both had wings.
Once, oh marvelous once, there was a rabbit who found his way home.

I loved the message that DiCamillo expressed on page 189.  Edward is sitting on a shelf in the doll mender's shop, feeling empty and like nothing is worth anything.  A 100-year-old doll is placed next to him on the shelf.  She has been on a long journey and wonders who will come for her next. 

"I don't care if anyone comes for me," said Edward.
"But that's dreadful," said the old doll.  "There's no point in going on if you feel that way.  No point at all.  You must be filled with expectancy.  You must be awash in hope.  you must wonder who will love you, whom you will love next. "
"I am done with being loved," Edward told her.  "I'm done with loving.  It's too painful."
"Pish," said the old doll.  "Where is your courage?"
"Somewhere else, I guess," said Edward.
"You disappoint me," she said.  "You disappoint me greatly.  If you have no intention of loving or being loved, then the whole journey is pointless.  You might as well leap from this shelf right now and let yourself shatter into a million pieces.  Get it over with.  Get it all over with now."
"I would leap if I was able," said Edward.
"Shall I push you?" said the old doll.
"No, thank you," Edward said to her. "Not that you could," he muttered to himself. 
I found the book lovely.  Special.  One of the good ones.  Tomorrow I'll take it to school, stick on a barcode and a date due paper, cover it in plastic and let the sweet girl know her book is ready.  When she brings it back, I will place it on my "Mrs. E's Pick Favorite's" shelf.                               Thanks for listening.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Effects Books can have on Children . . .

In case you haven't noticed, I come from a family of readers, on both sides.  We would read for entertainment, information, to waste time, and to create a lesson for our children.  With the devastating earthquake and tsunami so recently experienced in Japan, my son had questions I couldn't answer.  I got books from work and brought them home to teach us both just how those tectonic plates worked.  When I was rude at home, my maternal grandmother would have me look up the word which described my particular action and read the definition to her.  Another case in point:  Noisy Nora , "An Almost True Story" by Hugh Lofting (whom I just discovered created Doctor Doolittle).

Once upon a time there was a little girl and her name was Nora.  She lived on an old farm in a hollow of the hills with her mother and father.  On the farm they had many kinds of animals, horses and cows and pigs and chickens.  Now Nora's table manners were very bad.  She never said "please" or "thank you" and she always ate with both hands at once.  It was a good thing the neighbours used to say, that she had not four hands, for if she had she would surely have used them all at the same time.  But the worst thing in Nora's very dreadful behaviour was chewing with her mouth open. 

This book was published in 1929 and the copy I have is an original.  The pages are falling out and the cover is faded.  There are water marks (or possibly tear stains from the naughty children in my family who were made to read it) at the bottom of some of the pages.  This book belonged to my paternal grandmother and she kept it high up on a shelf.  She was a stickler for manners and had very definite ideas about how children should behave.  When one of us was rude at the table, smacking our lips or speaking with our mouths full, she would refer to "Noisy Nora".  I remember feeling a gleeful sense of foreboding when she would take that book down and pass it to me.  Sometimes I would ask for it, even when I was acting appropriately. 

Last weekend I was visiting my Aunt when she got this maniacal look in her eye and said she had something for me.  Out of the hall closet, she pulled out this very same copy of Noisy Nora and handed it over to me with a shiver.  I think she was glad to get rid of it. I sat there and read it, feeling myself shrink to a young girl, sitting in the dark family room of the old family place, with the light coming over my shoulder from the huge window way in the back of the room, over by my doll house and the loom.  Yes, my grandmother had a loom.  The pictures in the book are part of what make it so charming, and freaky.  There are little pictures drawn in-between words to help young readers, as well as larger ones to help make the point of the book.

With my step-mother looking over my shoulder, I quickly summarized the book to her, how Noisy Nora is so rotten at the table she is sent to the kitchen to learn some manners.  By lunchtime, the cook tells her father that none of the farmhands will eat with someone who made so much noise chewing with her mouth open.  Nora's father sends her out to the horse stable.  Nora thinks that sounds fun, so instead of apologizing to the cook, she goes to the stable.  Soon, the horses send in a message, begging for the dreadful little girl to be taken away.  How does she fare in the cow shed?  With the pigs? The rats in the barn?  None of them can stand her obnoxious chewing and lack of manners.  Nora is put out in the pasture, scaring away the rabbits, birds and worms, the butterflies, ants and grasshoppers.  Eventually Nora is surrounded by "a solemn silence".  Even the wind has gone someplace more peaceful.  Nora reaches for her sandwich and starts eating.  Now that she can hear herself clearly, she is disgusted by the "nasty and dreadful noise she had been making."  Finally, Nora decides to never again eat with her mouth open and "to always think of others when she was at table." 

My dad read the book for the first time in MANY years and wasn't as creeped out by the memories as he thought he might be.  I'm looking forward to reading this book to my son.  I have referred to him as "Noisy Nora" from time to time and wished I had a farmful of animals to shun him when he's being gross.  I'll have to put my mind to this one.  Maybe I can borrow a horse or chicken from the neighbors.  Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Ratty Old Blanket, a Guilty Conscience and a Confession

When I was in Jr. High, for my birthday one year, I received a dual-sided pink comforter for my bed.  I also had a sleepover.

Young teenage girls can be "cliquey" and petty and mean-spirited.  I know.  I was one of them at one time.

 A group of my girlfriends came over to spend the night and a girl who used to be my friend came too.

Growing up, she lived across the street and we spent a lot of time together.  I don't remember us particularly bonding, but we were the same age and same sex and our moms got along, so it was assumed we would too.

Around the 6th grade, I started going to the same school as her.  We didn't run in the same circle of friends.  In fact, I thought she was snobby and standoffish.  Maybe my feelings were hurt because she wasn't friendlier to me, considering the fact that we had hung out together since age 5.  Anyway, we didn't have anything in common anymore.

I'm not sure why I invited her to my sleepover, but I did and she came.  Instantly the groups of girls divided.  She and another one of the girls broke off from the rest of us from the beginning.  She didn't like the games we had planned and I even have a picture of her from that day where she's got a rolled-eye expression on her face and her arms are crossed.  My dislike for her was intensifying by the minute.

By bedtime, it was definitely us vs. "them" but mainly her.  When she fell asleep first (NEVER) a good idea at a sleepover, we went into action.  First we put her hand into warm water, that old "pee your panties" trick.  I was of mixed emotions at this point.  Mainly, I wanted to get back at her for being who she was, but dang it, she was sleeping on my new, double-sided pink comforter!  My spite got the best of me and the trick commenced.  The warm water hand trick did not cause her to pee so we decided to just go ahead and pour the warm water "down there" and pretend that she had.  We poured.  She awoke to find all of us standing around her, staring.  My remembrance gets a little hazy at this point, but I think we pretended not to notice the "pee" on her underwear and bed until she got up to use the bathroom.  Then the whispering and giggling commenced.  Now's where my 22-year-old-ish memory of this incident diverges onto two possible paths.  Perhaps she pulled me aside and told me that something had happened.  Maybe we just accused her of peeing her pants when she got back.  Either way, I wasn't particularly nice about it.  I made a big deal about the comforter being new.  A birthday present from my mom.  No, I wasn't too nice and it still bothers me.

I am ready to get rid of the blanket.  I am almost 40 and the blanket has rips in it and is pretty thin.  Plus, I grew out of pink a long time ago.  It was on my bed in college, in my apartments and folded up for the dog.  It is time for it to go.  But you know what?  I think I owe someone an apology. 

I have at least 4 friends on Facebook who were there at that party.  I wonder if they remember this incident?  I wonder if they are friends with her. Maybe she's even on Facebook.  Anyway, I've been carrying this around inside for a long time and it's not a story I am proud of.  I wonder what will go first . . . the blanket or the guilt.  Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Course in Miracles

"Are you ok?" E asked me as I lay on our bed, my arm covering my eyes.
"Yeah." I moan, then get up with a purpose in my stride and get out my laptop.
"What are you doing?" he asks, looking up from playing Angry Birds on his phone.
"About what?"
"My new book."
"The one you got today?"
"Did you finish it already?"
"The preface."
"And you're going to write about it?"
I've known for a few years that eventually, A Course in Miracles would come my way.  It was mentioned again and again in books and audiobooks I had read/listened to.  I had decided to not actively seek it out, knowing that when the time was right, it would be the right time to read it. 

Yesterday, my girl A and I were perusing the shelves in Barnes and Noble, our favorite "girl date" site and I was scanning the Spirituality shelves.  I had a gift certificate from my son and I was ready to spend it.  A few titles jumped out at me with names like A Course in Miracles in Five Minutes and A Course on a Course in Miracles.  I opened one of them to find out the original author of the original book.  Helen Schucman.  I went to the "S" section.  It wasn't there.  I went to the self-help computer and typed it in.  The computer said that there was a copy in stock, in fact the copy was a combined volume with the text, workbook for students and manual for teachers all in one.  Score!  I went back to the section and got back to the "S's".  Nope.  Not there.  Was this a sign that now was not the time for me to read this book?  Hmmm.  Looked at the computer again.  Stroll down a few other religious aisles. Still not there.  Ok.  I will start at the beginning of the Spiritual aisle and look at every title.  If it's not there, find something else for now.  I got to about the 5th row and there it was.  A Course in Miracles, combined volume, new third edition, "the only complete course as authorized by its scribe and published by its original publisher", published by the foundation for inner peace.  Wow.  Ok.  The book was sealed in plastic so I couldn't thumb through it, but all of a sudden, I didn't want it anymore.  It looked boring.  The cover was dark blue with gold lettering and there were no pictures to suck me in.  It looked time consuming, the thickness of a Bible or textbook.  It looked life-changing.  My ego spoke loudly about how I was doing JUST FINE and did I really want to delve into new thinking patterns?  I told A I didn't want it.  I asked aloud if it were just my ego getting in the way. A reminded me that I had been waiting for this book to land in my hands for over 3 years.  I had to get it.  "Ok." I sighed.  "Let's get to the checkout counter before I change my mind."

I later discovered that the reason the book wasn't in the "S" section for Schucman was because she didn't feel she had written the book herself, that the book came to her and that her job was to write down what she was told.  "The names of the collaborators in the recording of the Course do not appear on the cover because the Course can and should stand on its own.  It is not intended to become the basis for another cult. Its only purpose is to provide a way in which some people will be able to find their own Internal Teacher."  (viii) Dr. Wayne Dyer has said this before about some of his books, that an overwhelming need to write down a message is often put in his lap, at which time he gives thanks for it, meditates on it a bit, then starts writing. 

Helen Schucman was a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York city in the 70's.  She and a fellow professor found themselves on the path to this book after the head of their department "unexpectedly announced that he was tired of the angry and aggressive feelings (their) attitudes reflected, and concluded that 'there must be another way.'  As if on cue, I agreed to help him find it.  Apparently this Course is the other way."  (vii)

Helen's co-worker suggested she write down the "highly symbolic dreams and descriptions of the strange images that were coming to her and she came to realize that she was being dictated to by a Voice that seemed to be giving her a kind of rapid, inner dictation which she took down in a shorthand notebook."  She would dictate this to her co-worker, who would type it out.  This went on for seven years.

The curriculum of the Course states specifically that "a universal theology is impossible, but a universal experience is not only possible but necessary." "Although Christian in statement, the Course deals with universal spiritual themes.  It emphasizes that it is but one version of the universal curriculum.  There are many others, this one differing from them only in form.  They all lead to God in the end."  (viii-ix)  The workbook contains 365 lessons, though it is encouraged to stay with a lesson for more than one day if it seems appropriate. 

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.
One more time? Nothing unreal exists? We may find ourselves in a world of perceptions which leads us away from Truth, the love of God. "What perception sees and hears appears to be real because it permits into awareness only what conforms to the wishes of the perceiver." (x)

This is how A Course in Miracles begins.  It makes a fundamental distinction between real and unreal; between knowledge and perception.  Knowledge is truth, under one law, the law of love or God.  Truth is unalterable, eternal and unambiguous.  It can be unrecognized, but it cannot be changed. . . . The world of perception, on the other hand, is the world of time, of change, of beginnings and endings.  It is based on interpretation, not on facts.  It is the world of birth and death, founded on the belief in scarcity, loss, separation and death.  It is learned rather than given, selective in its perceptual emphases, unstable in its functioning, and inaccurate in its interpretations.  . . . What perception sees and hears appears to be real because it permits into awareness only what conforms to the wishes of the perceiver.  This leads to a world of illusions, a world which needs constant defense precisely because it is not real. (x)

The intro goes on to say that when one is "caught in the world of perception, (one) is caught in a dream."  This sounds mighty familiar to me, as I am a huge fan of Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements, a book which changed the way I viewed my life and those around me.  Ruiz explains that from birth, we are introduced to a dream-state by our caretakers who aren't trying to punish us by bringing us into this illusion of lack and scarcity and hate and pain, but only because it is only what they know.  Time to wake up, people!

The Four Agreements image borrowed from

"The world we see merely reflects our own internal frame of reference-the dominant ideas, wishes and emotions in our minds.  'Projection makes perception.'  (p 445) We look inside first, decide the kind of world we want to see and then project that world outside, making it the truth as we see it.  We make it true by our interpretations of what it is we are seeing.  If we are using perception to justify our own mistakes-our anger, our impulses to attack, our lack of love in whatever form it may take-we will see a world of evil, destruction, malice, envy and despair.  All this we must learn to forgive, not because we are being 'good' and 'charitable,' but because what we are seeing is not true."  (xi)

"Sin is defined as 'lack of love' (11).  Since love is all there is, sin in the sight of the Holy Spirit is a mistake to be corrected, rather than an evil to be punished.  (!!!)  Our sense of inadequacy, weakness and incompletion comes from the strong investment in 'the scarcity principle' that governs the whole world of illusions.  From that point of view, we seek in others what we feel is wanting in ourselves.  That, in fact, is what passes for love in the dream world.  There can be no greater mistake than that, for love is incapable of asking for anything." (xi)

The law of attraction states that what I surround myself with in my mind will come to pass in the physical world.  It is time for me to read this book.  Dr. Wayne Dyer states, "Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change."  I am ready for a change.  If I felt the need to blog after reading just the intro, who knows what will be coming up the pike?!?  Thanks for listening.