Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hard to Beat This Moment . . .

I am a very contented woman.  I am sitting in a comfortable, red leather armchair, looking out windows at a snow covered slope, with pine trees and a blue sky.  My first Honey Jack Daniels/diet 7-up/Rockstar is comfortably warming my belly and I just finished a great book.

You know those books that you slow your eyes down as you're reading the last few pages in an attempt to make the experience last?  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly was one of them for me.  I felt a bit of sorrow as I saw the pages that were read far outnumbered the pages that were left to read.  This first Young Adult novel by a practicing physician and lawyer, who was born in New Zealand, raised in Canada, and currently  lives in Texas, is a Newbery Honor book.  It's a keeper.

The book is about young Callie, only girl of seven children, living in Texas.  The year is 1899.  Callie is an observer and has been recording her sightings and scientific thoughts/questions in a little notebook.  When a particularly puzzling question about some different grasshoppers leaves her stumped, she musters her courage and approaches her grandfather, with her query.  Although her grandfather has lived with them her whole life, all of the children are a bit frightened of this gruff old man who spends his time in his Library or out in the former slave quarters cum Laboratory where he is working on distilling pecans into a drinkable whiskey.

Her curious mind and boldness catches his attention and soon their friendship and explorations became the most important thing in their lives.  Callie's mother is determined to make a lady out of her, forcing her to spend endless hours learning to cook, bake, knit and tat (lace making).  In her stolen hours she steals away to spend with her grandfather, during which time they discover what might be a new type of plant.  They take the specimen into town to have it photographed and sent off to the National Geographic Society.

As I read this delightful book, I thought often of my late grandmother, Edna Boyd, who had many stories about her life on the farm in Minnesota and how she and her many siblings spent their time. She would have gotten a kick out of this enduring story.  I am also particularly drawn to stories about girls who lived before electricity.  I still have my first copy of Little House on the Prairie.

What eased the bittersweetness of ending this lovely book was the fact that we recently arrived in Running Springs (in the San Bernardino Mountains) to stay for the weekend at a cabin of a distant cousin.  He has invited us up repeatedly over the years and this is the first time we've taken him up on it.   Boy, have we been missing out.  This cabin is divine.  Decorated to the last inch in vintage Western, you can tell this place is his pride and joy.  (He's a brave guy, inviting us up with three kids!!!)  Soon as the majority of our baggage had been brought in and enough stuff had been put away to assuage any guilt over being "lazy", I sat down in this cool chair with my delicious beverage and finished the book. (Ironically enough, this chair reminds me of one owned by my grandfather, Kenny Gribble, also a gruff and slightly intimidating old man.)

Don't worry, I have three more books with me.  I am almost halfway finished with The People of Sparks, book two in the City of Ember series,  a third through Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which I started yesterday at work, and have some required reading in The Essential Ernest Holmes, for a class I am taking, plus magazines and five picture books that are up for the California Young Reader Medal award that I wanted to run by my niece before I start reading them to the kids at school, after which they get to vote for their favorite, state-wide.

This place is adorable, from the jukebox stocked with old school (and very palatable) country, the bear skin rug in the master bathroom, to the distressed wooden doors.

 Tonight I will be taken out to a Valentine dinner with my sweetie.  Life is good.  Thanks for listening.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ah . . . the Music . . .

Do you remember the first time you heard a certain song?  The way it ran through you and changed you at the deepest level?  It's amazing how this happens and how we never forget.

When I was in the third grade, I first heard "I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan and the Blackhearts.  It was played on a classroom record player and I was stopped in my tracks.  I didn't necessarily love it at first hearing, but I hadn't known music like that existed.  Her hoarse vocals and the pissed energy was a life-changer for me.  Luckily, this song is still played often and each time I catch it on the radio, I am again about 9 years old, feeling uncomfortable because I had transferred to a new school mid-year and was still feeling out of place.  Joan Jett gives me courage and a bit of the "f*** it" mentality that allows me to put on a brave face and go forth into the unknown.

Joan Jett rockin' a set in Norway in the 80's.
U2's "New Year's Day" caught me by the boo-boo when I was about 11 and I have been a fan ever since.  I was in my pink and green "big girl" bedroom in our house on Sierra Vista in Alhambra and it came on the radio.  I was again rendered motionless as I soaked it in.  I couldn't believe music could make me feel this way.  I still love the song and the way it makes me feel.

In case you have a hankering to hear the song for yourself, here's a link to the original video:

For the past few days, I have been cranking the Styx's greatest hits album on my iPod, much to the discomfort of our 12 year old son.  "Is that a GUY singing?"  he keeps asking?  Yup.  Sure is.  How can I explain the experience I had when I was young, of being the only one on the set of mechanical swings at the "Play Days" carnival which I went to annually in Monterey Park.   It was twilight, still one of the most magical times of day for me, and the ride operator let me have an extra long ride because there was no one in line. "Mr. Roboto" was blaring through those huge ride speakers and I flew through the pulsating sound, an experience seared into my consciousness. I still feel the thrill and the wind and the excitement of a moment in time when I felt fully alive.

I was re-introduced to Styx when baking an all-nighter at Coco's in Rancho Cucamonga.  (Which is also when I became a Metallica fan.)  I can't remember if the head baker popped in a CD or a cassette, but it kept the energy up and later that week I purchased the CD myself.  It's now on my iPod and I can listen to it whenever/wherever I want.

"What's up with the retro weekend, mom?"  Just because, son, just because.  One day you'll understand and the music playing on and around you will take you back to your own memories and I hope they're as good as mine.

                                                                                                          Thanks for listening.

Saturday, January 12, 2013


The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger has been living unread on a shelf above my pillow for over a year.  There was just something I knew intuitively about this book that scared me from delving in.  Pain, sadness, longing and heartbreak awaited me once I started reading, and I was a coward.  I did not want to face these emotions, especially at night, which is when I want to blandly read myself to sleep, not get all worked up.

The book called out to me incessantly  however and over Thanksgiving break, I gathered my resolve and started taking the book along during long car rides and to houses where it was permissible to sit and read while amongst family.  It drew me in and took over my thought.  I craved it when I had to set it down in order to deal with my own reality.

The book hops back and forth in time, with each chapter title mentioning the date and the ages of the two main characters, Clare and Henry.  Henry is an involuntary time traveler and Clare is his wife, although much of the book is set in Clare's childhood when Henry is often an adult.

There were quite a few things that drew me to this book.  First was the cover, which is mysterious to me and called out to the little girl who dwells inside.  Secondly, I just knew that this would have a love affair that my heart could accept.  I don't read a lot of romantic books because my natural skepticism keeps me from blindly believing that two people are drawn together just because the author decides it to be so.  Another added bonus was that Henry is a Librarian at the Newberry Library and, being a Library lover and Elementary Library Tech myself, I read these parts with relish.

I don't feel like delving into the plot line in this post.  Either you are drawn to it or you're not.  Suffice it to say that my dread of uncomfortable emotions that was presumed when I first procured the book was to be proven correct.  There is heartbreak and pain and sadness and longing.  As I came to the last few chapters of the book, I intentionally set it aside to gather my emotional cloak tightly against myself for protection.  Then other books and magazines covered up the book and I found myself almost desperately searching for it.  I finished the book a few days ago and a friend, who saw that I was reading it on a social book site, asked me to let her know if the book was as good as the movie, which she had seen.  Well, you know, I don't know if I want to see the movie.  The book is ingrained in my heart and psyche and I don't quite have the neutral attitude to keep myself level if the movie changes too much I hold dear.  Maybe in time I'll view it.  Maybe not.

Another book I have just read and gotten incredibly and emotionally enthralled with is Orchards by Holly Thompson.  My dad knows the author and gave me an autographed copy for Christmas.  Last Monday I felt the need to go to the hospital because of a wretched asthma/bronchitis episode and I grabbed the book on my way out the door.  I read the whole thing in one sitting.  Granted, the sitting was about 4 hours long, as I waited to be seen by the doctor, then waited for my meds at the pharmacy.

Orchards is a Young Adult novel, my favorite genre, and is set in Japan, where my dad lives and I hope to bring my family next December.  (Erik and I visited back in 1996 and it's high time we brought the boy over to experience this wondrous country.)  Kana Goldberg, who is a half-Japanese, half-Jewish teenager who lives in the States, is sent to Japan to reflect in the presence of her ancestors the horrific suicide of a bullied friend, Ruth.  This friend was one on the outskirts of the social circle Kana ran in and had the unfortunate repercussions of having a friendship with a boy who was desired by Lisa, the most popular girl in the group. The girls, led by Lisa, turn on Ruth and the outcome causes an nation-wide outcry against their uncaring generation.

I don't think I
did anything to drive you
to perfect slipknots
or learn to tie a noose . . .
with what?
I wonder
backpack cords?
drawstrings in your gym shorts
as you waited for your turn
at the softball bat?

Every page in this book is written in short sentences, with interesting punctuation  which occasionally caused me to backup and re-read it for the correct inflection.   I appreciated this, actually, as sometimes I read too fast and miss the nuance.

Kana goes through the usual stages of grief . . . shock, anger, denial, realization, forgiveness of self and others, and action.  It's a lovely journey to spend with her.

As I stood in line for my meds, tears streaming down my face as I tried to inobtrusively wipe them away, I decided to donate this book to the new section of my school library which is geared toward the older readers.  It's a beautiful reminder to be aware of what is happening all around us.  We have the choice to speak against bullying or to remain a silent part of the problem.  As Thompson wrote in my copy, "Treasure your friends", which I indeed do.  I hope this book touches many lives.  It did mine.