Monday, December 13, 2010

Keith Richards ~ Life

I guess I wanted Captain Teague. I wanted to hear all the antics. I wanted to hear the stories behind the stories. I really wanted to read Keith Richards’ memoir, Life. While I have never been a Rolling Stones fan, per se, they have always been in regular musical rotation in my life. I mean, “Get Off of My Cloud” was the number one song on the day I was born, so clearly, the Rolling Stones have always been there for me. So I heard things, you know? Read things. Some of it seemed ridiculous and exaggerated, and those were the stories that ended up being true. Keith Richards writes about rumors I should have apparently known but didn’t, which is fine because they ended up being untrue after all.
Sadly, however, I simply didn’t feel much passion in Richards’ storytelling. He obviously has extreme passion for his music and for other musicians. He names a lot of names. And I honestly enjoyed the first few sections of his book.
He grew up near poverty level in Dartford, Kent, England and learned life’s lessons the hard way, with daily beatings from the other children and living in less than humane conditions after World War II. His family was as colorful as he is and I enjoyed hearing the tales of his tenacity and of meeting Mick Jagger and the early days of not only the Rolling Stones, but Keith Richards himself. I wanted more of that!
He lost me in the late sixties and early seventies in a heavy haze of drugs. I was not impressed with his drug usage and grew tired of his roller coaster ride with sobriety and insanity. I am not a big fan of junkies, sorry mate.
I am often torn between feeling sorry for celebrities and feeling disgusted by the attitude. Richards seems to be baffled by the reasons why the authorities would stalk him to such a degree. “I’m just a guitar player, why do you care what I do?” I get that, but, additionally, they care what you do because you are a public figure and what you’re doing is harmful and, frankly, illegal.
Richards takes great care in describing the music. All music. He’s amazingly passionate about that and I am impressed. Strangely, however, he takes none of that care in mentioning the loss of family and friends or his feelings at certain key times in his life. He seemed to brush over those matters. It seemed very strange to me.
By the end of the book I was really just counting down the pages. I was doing the math (547 pages with 238 left, at 30 words per hour I should be able to finish this book by a week from Thursday) and I am not a math person! I love music and stories and poetry and passion. Things I thought I would find in Keith Richards. I wanted to hear that he didn’t really snort his father’s ashes (he did). I wanted to hear his side of the stories where people wound up wounded or worse after partying with him. I wanted to hear about his children and his love affairs. He didn’t delve into these topics with much feeling. It almost felt like he was trying to relate stories that he had heard about himself, not what he actually remembered or felt about them.
Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed by this memoir.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, Allie!!

Up until August, Allie was my baby. She's not crazy about having a little sister, but she has nothing to worry about! She is still my little precious. It's hard to believe she is already ten years old! Happy Birthday, Allie!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I think my puppy, Puzzle, is actually a ghost! I only ever see her out of the corner of my eye. She’s quick and quiet. I always feel like someone is staring at me, but when I look around, there is no one there. I’ll open the refrigerator in the kitchen and catch a glimpse of her to my right in the great room. Then I’ll turn to put cream in my coffee and I see her to my left in the foyer. It’s bizarre how quickly and silently she moves. Things turn up in weird places , too.... like socks in the yard, underwear in the living room ..... her kennel moves itself to the center of the room while she’s in it! I’ll feel a cool breeze and something brush by me, but in the split second it takes to look down, there’s nothing there .... just that feeling that someone is constantly watching me.
Except at night. At night I feel a nice warm little body next to mine. Soft breath in my ear and an occasional whispery sigh. The night my grandmother passed away, I was sleeping on my side. I felt someone sitting in that little crook at the back of my knees, gently rubbing my leg. Soothing.
That spot is where I feel my little Puzzle at night. Very soft and sweet.
My little ghost dog.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

So Cold the River by Michael Koryta

Monday, November 15, 2010

You Had Me at Woof by Julie Klam
I was in a snit the whole way home after buying You Had Me at Woof by Julie Klam. Until I opened my door to three wagging tails, six shining eyes, and twelve little paws tap dancing in pure delight at my return. The happiness of my three dogs at the mere sight of me made me completely forget the jerk I had just dealt with at the bookstore.

Now, I realize there are people out there who do not know the warmth of a cold nose nor the pleasure of hearing a happy tail thumping on fresh linens. They don't know that a muzzle under the chin is a much preferred way to start the day than a blaring alarm clock, not to mention the sheer comfort of drifting off to sleep with a warm companion at the end of a long day. This book is not for those people, although it would probably do them a world of good to read it.

I have always been and always will be a dog lover. This book did not change that in any way. I can't remember a time when I didn't have a Schnauzer, Springer Spaniel, Border Collie or Mutt in my life. However, You Had Me at Woof (How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness) was a funny, smart, delightful little book, extremely well written by Julie Klam. I have three Border Collies, dogs that are said to be of the highest intelligence. Klam states, "I never understood how that was determined. Were they found by their owners hooking up Bunsen burners and pouring liquids into flasks?"

The author takes us on her incredible journey of life lessons via dog ownership from her single days in New York City through marriage and motherhood. She is clever and humorous and the kind of person I would want as a friend. She became that woman by opening her home and her heart and accepting the many gifts that come with owning a dog.

And she wrote a beautiful book.

From learning how to share her life to learning how to mourn the loss of friends (the unfortunate thing about loving dogs is that a dog's lifespan is a mere fraction of our own), from choosing the right dog to letting herself be chosen, the author exquisitely reveals her innermost thoughts, revelations, concerns and comedies of life with multiple tail-waggers. At one point, the author believed the strange behavior of an elderly foster dog in her care was in preparation for her own death when the rather homely, geriatric pooch actually gave birth to two puppies (originally believed to be mice). As Klam searches for the ultimate career (which would allow her to spend even more time with her dogs) and debates motherhood and additional children, Klam learns she has so much more to offer than she could have ever imagined.

I, too, have rescued dogs and could completely relate to her hilarious and horrendous takes on the special needs these little misfits bring to the table. All dog lovers will ask, for the same reason I tend to avoid "dog books": Will it make me cry? The answer is Yes (I have the swollen eyes and aching head to prove it). But, as surely as loving and letting yourself be loved by a canine counterpart, it will be worth it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The weather began to change while reading this book. I was working a lot of long hours and arriving to the parking lot in the cold and dark, feeling sorry for myself that my life had become stressful and then, to add insult to injury, chilly!
The worn pages of my book, however, reminded me of my evil ways and the fact that my complaining, if only to myself, was not warranted.
I will never complain again!
I am extremely late in reading The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It was published nearly eight years ago and I avoided it on principle for many of those years. I haven’t seen the motion picture, either. And, as with most of the books I read, I had no idea what it was about going into it.
All of that being said, The Kite Runner truly is a beautiful book. It was difficult to read ... gruesome, horrifying and sad, but extremely well written and moving.
Trying to summarize this story without ruining it or diminishing the feeling of it is like summarizing a soap opera without it sounding stupid .... impossible. But the fact of the matter is: The book is amazing, albeit tragic. It’s a story that will make you think about what you have, how you feel and where you would like your life to go.
To be thankful for the little things.
The things that matter.
People will always ask me, while eyeing one of my books, “Is it good?” Good? Well, no, it’s not good. It’s horrible.
But it is important and passionate and absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Mary and O'Neil by Justin Cronin

As most people do from time to time ... or obsessively in my case ... I have been pondering the meaning of life lately. I am Andrew McCarthy's character in St.Elmo's Fire (how's that for an extremely poor cinematic analogy?) minus the pining and yearning.
And I did not find it while reading the anticlimactic Mary and O'Neil.
While I certainly appreciate the author's talent, insight, and writing ability, I just didn't feel any passion for this book.
I like the idea of weaving several short stories into one novel, however, when reading it cover to cover, it became rather redundant. And I honestly don't see how any one story could have stood alone. There was nothing to put me on the edge of my seat. Nothing to keep me from putting it down. The author told me what was going to happen several pages or even chapters before it happened.
While contemplating the significance of my own existence, this book just left me feeling sad and empty.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Such an odd story.
I dream a lot. Many nights, I have nightmares. Sometimes I just dream strange things. Sometimes I dream the same dream many, many times. And sometimes, I can talk myself out of a dream ... or I will say to myself in my dream, "Oh, we're dreaming this again, are we?"
My brain plays weird games with me.
I'm used to it.
The Unnamed had that same essence of strangeness to it. It was just ... different. I didn't love or hate it. I didn't have any desire to put it down, but I didn't count the minutes until I could pick it up again, either.
It's the story of a man with an unnamed "condition" - mental or physical, no one knows - that forces him to walk without warning. For miles and miles through all elements and obstacles, he would walk. Until he was finished walking. Then he would sleep. Wherever he ended the walk. In the street, the woods, a parking lot, a place of business.
And the story is about what The Unnamed does to his life, his family, his career.
It was an odd story.
At times I was intrigued and interested and other times my mind wandered like the lead character ...
but in the end ... ?
It was just the end.
Very odd and quite sad.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

I like reality shows. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not ashamed, either! I love a good social experiment and I always have. The hidden camera videos we watched in high school psychology classes were my favorite .... and don't forget Candid Camera! And now I love the Amazing Race and The Apprentice, especially the celebrity version!! I'll even waste a day watching those damn real housewives!
So it's really no surprise that I actually enjoyed this story about a fictional reality show. It's one of those books that you are embarrassed to tell people that you are reading it .... and that you actually like it!
No, it won't go down in my history as an all-time favorite or anything, but I did have fun with it for a few days and I'll admit it!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs

I heard this book was good.

Unlike the many fine folks in Blazing Saddles who heard the sheriff was hung,

I heard wrong.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Five Year Olds Are Funny!

My niece and her three kids are visiting from Illinois. My great niece, Isabelle, is five. She has a little brother, Isaac, and a little sister, Ivy. They are all adorable and so much fun! They definitely have more energy than I do, but I still wish we could spend more time together than we are able to now.
And this surprise visit has been amazing! Isabelle and I tease each other and giggle a lot and I thoroughly enjoy her clever sense of humor!
This afternoon, my sister, Grandma Robin, my niece, Leigh, and the kids spent the afternoon in Washington DC in spite of the nearly unbearable heat. We were walking through the Museum of Natural History with the two smaller kids in a double stroller and Isabelle holding hands with both her grandma and great aunt. As she tried to get us to hold hands with each other, she said, "Don't you guys hold hands?" I know she thought she was being funny, so I said, "Of course we do! We're sisters and sisters hold hands!"
Isabelle looked amazed! "You guys are sisters?!"
My sister, Isabelle's grandma, said, "Yes, we're sisters!"
I asked Isabelle if she really didn't know that we were sisters and she just looked at me quizzically.
Robin said, "Aunt Becca is my Ivy!"
Isabelle said, in a snide, under her breath kind of way, "Yeah, poison ivy!"

Friday, August 6, 2010

The World in Six Songs by Daniel J. Levitin

I used to work as a manager at a movie theatre when I first got out of the Air Force. We played our own music while people were filing in to find their seats. At the later shows, I would play some pretty wild stuff! I would go up to the projection booth and peer out into the audience. If anyone was getting into the music, I would know they were "cool" (I was new in town and desperate to meet people)! It worked, too, I met my friend, Lori, that way. She couldn't believe she was hearing Sisters of Mercy at a movie theatre in Iowa!
Music is a huge part of my life. More than likely, it is a huge part of everyone's life. I never really stopped to think why that is, I just accepted and enjoyed it as a fact of life!
The World in Six Songs - How the Musical Brain Created Nature explains a lot of the "why that is". I think I would seriously enjoy taking one of Mr. Levitin's classes, but I have to be honest, it took me over 3 weeks to read this damn book and I found my mind wandering a lot! While there is a great deal of fascinating information on these pages, and my copy is super fat with dog-eared pages, it is really just a paperback text book and I have never been good at studying on my own.
The book is extremely interesting and well-written, but I think I would rather just sit down and have a conversation with the author. Especially since he seems to have conversations with some pretty amazing people (Sting, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon)!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Sometimes I think certain sections of my life would make an interesting play. I like the way a play seems to break it all down more than a motion picture.
More real - more raw.
More intimate.
While I certainly enjoyed "A Raisin in the Sun" and "The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window" (both by Lorraine Hansberry) very much, I really felt connected to "The Glass Menagerie". The characters were vaguely familiar and subtly intense. Tennessee Williams was amazing like that.
Amanda (the mother) was strikingly simple and complicated .... and sad.
Laura was delicate and flawed.
Tom was restless.
Amazingly, Mr. Williams could take that .... just that .... and make a beautiful, magical, sorrowful moment that would last for all eternity.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Friday, July 2, 2010

Two Beautiful Plays by Lorraine Hansberry

By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I have never read a play simply for the pure pleasure of reading a great story. But recently, I read two. A Raisin in the Sun and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, both by Lorraine Hansberry. I suppose I cheated a bit, because both plays came bound together in one lovely little paperback, but that didn’t make me love them any less. In fact, the commentaries between the plays were absolutely heartfelt and breathtaking! Lorraine Hansberry was a beautiful, funny, insightful woman who, in her abruptly short life, changed the world with her raw perception and clever, genuine dialog.
While Raisin takes us into the South Side of Chicago and a family clinging to, losing, and grasping to figure out and save their dreams .... The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window takes us to a very different dark place in American society with another ragtag cast of characters doing very much the same thing in their own way.
A Raisin in the Sun seems to end on a happy note, although we know the Lee family has a much more difficult journey ahead of them and Sign leaves us sad, angry and charged.
However each play is so much more than that. More than the stories come to life on the stage. More than what you see in front of you. The author is very funny and intuitive, very much in tune with the world and human condition. But both plays left me feeling differently about the world around me and that is a beautiful and amazing testament to Ms Hansberry!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heroes for My Son by Brad Meltzer

I don't know exactly what the word "hero" means to me. I don't know if we run into heroes every day or if many people even strive to become one. I like to think so.
I do know Brad Meltzer's little book, Heroes for My Son, is a beautiful gift he gave to his children and they will most definitely call him a hero for that!
The book is filled with everyday heroes from all walks of life. Some obvious choices, some more obscure. I like the reasons they are heroes to this author, for now they are to me, as well. Filled with beautiful character sketches and touching testaments, this book is absolutely moving and real.
For all of my heroes, past and present - thank you!

They called Lou Gehrig "the Iron Horse".
But he wasn't made of iron.
He was made like us.
... He just didn't let that stop him.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald

I used to think that it was an Orphan Edge. There was a large, white, one-room house full of cots lined against the walls that sat out on the edge of town where children went if they didn’t have parents or their parents couldn’t stand them any longer. I grew up in South Dakota where we heard the horror stories of buffalo being run off cliffs to their brutal demise. That’s what the Orphan Edge was to me! Just an edge ... like a huge cliff and if you went too long out in the house without being adopted, you were simply sent, en mass, over the Edge.
My mother would threaten to send me out to the Orphan Edge if I didn’t straighten up, and that didn’t really seem like a viable option to me. Although there was a lot of singing and dancing going on out there (what else are you going to do while you are waiting to be thrown over the Edge like a herd of naughty buffalo?), I knew I was not nearly as talented as Annie and Oliver and I couldn’t even be chosen in the top ten for dodge ball, so clearly there was no way I was going to be chosen by a new family after being cast away from another one!
It’s funny, too, how much of what we believe when we are children still holds a special place in our minds long after we learn the truth. So it will forever be the Orphan Edge to me. And I know what goes on out there!
The Irresistible Henry House is a story inspired by an actual occurrence in these United States between 1919 and 1959: Practice babies! No kidding! They used to pull babies from the Orphan Edge and loan them to Home Economics schools. They lived in Practice Houses and were raised by several mothers at a time! After a year at the Practice House, they would be sent back to the Orphan Edge where they were considered “lucky” to have had such a head start and would probably be adopted before the less fortunate orphans.
The fictional Henry House was one such baby.
This coming of age story takes us through Henry’s life from his birth in 1946 up to his promising young adulthood in the late 60’s. Filled with interesting pop cultural references and colorful details, the story of Henry House is a roller coaster of emotions for the characters and readers alike.
I felt both happy and sad while reading it and it inspired thoughtfulness and creativity within myself. Not a classic by any means, I think The Irresistible Henry House would make an amazing, fun motion picture in the right hands and I, for one, will definitely go see it!!
I wonder if there will be singing and dancing?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte reminded me a bit of The Catcher in the Rye with a new, not at all improved, Holden Caulfield in the form of plump, pushing forty Milo Burke. The language is brilliant, albeit dirty, and the wild, ridiculously normal situations are extremely ... well, real.
Take the story for the story and it's basically just pathetic, but the author's (and narrator's) way with words makes the whole thing unrestrainedly hilarious!!
Each character is more flawed than the next and while reading each and every far-out scenario you realize that you quite possibly know these people, or people like these people.
I always try to see the humor in the worst moments life has to offer, which is probably why I enjoyed The Ask so much!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sightless Wednesday!

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I loved the title of this book and chose it because I somehow thought I could relate. Someone who wants things to be perfect but is too lazy to make sure it happens.
A clever idea for a book, The Imperfectionists is really just a series of short stories based on the characters surrounding a sinking newspaper in Rome. Although I would have liked the characters to overlap a bit more, and perhaps a little less irony at the end of each, the stories were very well written and enjoyable to read. Mr. Rachman certainly has a way with a character sketch!
Although, overall, the themes were a bit depressing, I would still say I enjoyed reading The Imperfectionists, in spite of my laziness.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Scent of Summer Past

Once upon a time I lived in the Black Hills of South Dakota in a little trailer in the alley behind Professor Straum’s Old Time Portrait Studio, where I worked while on delayed entry into the Air Force. It was a lonely/happy time. That is a strange combo platter, to be sure, but it really best describes the way it was for me.
Truly on my own for the first time, I learned how to find pleasure in the simple things .... find new friends, find new contentedness in myself and the air around me.
I loved that time in my life.
The Black Hills are an absolutely gorgeous place to find one’s self. Even on a tight “photographer’s” budget! During the week I dined on instant rice and enjoyed a little splash in the sink we used in the darkroom in lieu of a real bath.
For fun we held up the stagecoach a couple of times a day with the prop weapons we shared with the studio across the street (the “competition” was owned by the same person!) We took strolls on the boardwalk and hiked into the woods. We swam in a hot spring the local boys found and we dined on the kindness of travelers from time to time.
We dangled our feet in the stream while panning for gold and marveled at Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. We told stories and shared laughter with strangers.
We wandered through caves and danced in the streets at night while drinking the cheapest beer we could buy and listening to mixed tapes of Missing Persons, INXS, U2, etc.
Once a week, I would splurge and pay 25 cents for a real shower at the campground and enjoy a bag of popcorn out of the machine.
I would climb to the highest peak and let the sun warm my face and the breeze rustle my hair. And I would dream the day away .....
The air is different there.
It was a sweet, simple time and I will never forget that summer ......

Every day I ride the Yellow Line to work. And every day I forget those memories of a warm South Dakota summer 26 years ago.
But each time I get off the train at Huntington Station, for a split second, I smell the forest of yesteryear. The Black Hills. Every day I forget and every day I am reminded again as if for the first time.
Each and every day I am treated with a pleasant memory hidden away in the back of my mind caught forever in the sweet scent of the air at a train station in Alexandria Virginia.
Life is funny like that.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Still Alice by Lisa Genova

In spite of the delicate subject matter, I am so happy I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I considered putting it down when I realized what the book was about, but thankfully, I did not.
I have a sister-in-law, also named Lisa, who’s mother was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease at a young age. I remember Lisa, a strong, funny woman and natural caregiver, telling me stories of the progression of her mother’s disease and the struggles she and her family endured.
In turns tragic, frustrating, poignant and comical, life with Alzheimer’s is a difficult one for everyone involved. I remember seeing Lisa’s mother changing before our very eyes and how I felt whenever I was around her.
I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. And that embarrasses me to this day.
Still Alice is a moving story of a fifty year old woman in the prime of her life and career being diagnosed and living with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. Written in first person, this novel delves into the progression of a fatal disease and what it means for the life of a YOUNG woman with a brilliant career, happy marriage and growing family.
But, it is so beautifully written ... elegantly blending medical facts with extremely raw human emotion. Amazingly, I found it extremely uplifting! Sometimes we have to understand (and having lost loved ones to fatal illnesses over the last decade, it’s something I have firsthand experience with) that, although a life is altered and, sadly, shortened, it is still a life worth living and respecting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

Once again, I chose a very sad book.
A story of labels and tragedy, confusion and pain.
A story of how words can wound and how sometimes life just gets in the way of living. Thank God for the cherry blossoms
and birds chirping
and for lunch breaks under the springtime sun
~ if not for these simple pleasures,
I would have been left depressed and darkened.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

In spite of my abnormally large head, I am far from what I would consider a brainiac. I did not excel in math and science and spent most of my education baffled by that subject matter.
So no one is more surprised than I am that I absolutely loved “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. I am not even sure why I chose this book. Probably only because the author shares my name. Seriously, I am that simple.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the beautiful story of a young mother who walked into Johns Hopkins Hospital complaining (although not much complaining from Henrietta) of a painful "knot" in her cervix and a bloody vaginal discharge. That day, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and the appearance of the tumor was unlike anything that had ever been seen by the examining doctor.
Cells from the carcinoma were removed from Henrietta’s body for research purposes without her knowledge or permission and became the first cells to be grown and kept alive in a laboratory.
This story covers the amazing science and discoveries in medicine following the discovery of Henrietta’s cells (known as HeLa) and the life and struggles of the family who knew nothing about the advances in medicine attributed to their beloved mother.
So while their mother’s cells were busy making medical history significantly contributing to major cancer research,
the polio vaccine, space missions, first cloned and mapped genes, atom bomb research, etc.
Henrietta’s family still cannot obtain medical insurance.
And while Henrietta lies in an unmarked grave in Virginia, there is not so much as a wing in Johns Hopkins Hospital to honor her amazing contribution to medicine and healing.
This book covers science, medicine, law .... and humanity. I smiled, chuckled, gasped and wept openly while reading this amazing story. The author brilliantly put it all into words I could easily comprehend as she did the same for Henrietta’s family. I absolutely recommend reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sarah's Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

On July 16 and 17, 1942 , more than 13,000 victims (mostly women and children) were arrested in Paris and held at the Vélodrome d'Hiver and the Drancy internment camp nearby, then shipped by rail to Auschwitz. The Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, nickname for the Vélodrome d'Hiver: "Winter Velodrome" cycle track, was a Nazi decreed raid conducted by the French police. The roundup was one of several aimed at reducing the Jewish population in Occupied France. Very few of the transported Jews survived.
Sarah’s Key is a fictional story based on these horrifyingly factual events in the summer of 1942. Sarah’s story is heart-wrenching and difficult. The author, however, flip-flops between Sarah’s story and the story of an American journalist covering the 60th Anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup. Julia is an American who has been living in Paris for over twenty years, married to a French man and raising a child in Paris. She works for a newspaper catering to Americans living in France.
This back and forth between Sarah’s horrific experience and Julia’s modern day discoveries of those events makes it somewhat easier to read, although not nearly enough to take away the anguish and pain of Sarah’s story.
The first half of this book was riveting and nearly impossible to put down. However, once Sarah’s voice became silent, I found the story lost much of it’s luster. I liked the book very much, don’t get me wrong, and I still felt considerable compassion for Julia, but I missed hearing Sarah’s side of the story and the more intense facts surrounding it.
I missed her.
It is a sad, sad story.
On many levels.
This is a work of fiction albeit laced with graphic facts. It is not a text book. It is a story. Keeping that in mind, I would say it is worth reading.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Queen of Clichés

My mother, like her mother before her, is the Queen of Clichés. I, on the other hand, while growing up was the Princess of Literal. The Amelia Bedelia of Mellette Elementary, if you will. It led to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings around our house. Me thinking my mother was crazy and she, in turn, thinking I had special needs. I walked around scowling and mystified most of the time, while she was walking around betting dollars to doughnuts and taking stitches in time.
I never knew what on God’s green earth she was talking about!
“Well, if you can’t see the forest for the trees, Rebecca, I don’t know what to tell you!”
Ummm, clearly! We lived on the plains of South Dakota ... what trees?! What forest? What was I missing?!
“Pretty is as Pretty does, young lady!”
Who is Pretty and what the hell does she keep doing to get me into so much trouble?
It was baffling!
As I wandered across the street one sunny afternoon, I heard “REBECCA ANNE!” screeching across the airways.
“You didn’t look for cars any more than the man in the moon!”
Well, honestly, I probably was looking for the man in the moon which was why I didn’t see the car that nearly hit me!
My eyes were always bigger than my stomach and I was biting off more than I could chew. I was always looking a gift horse in the mouth, telling cock and bull stories, barking up the wrong trees and crying wolf ... although I have no recollection of doing any of these things.
I loved to draw when I was little and I remember asking my mother to join me.
“The only thing I can draw is a bath.”
I was fine with that, although while I never saw her actually do it, I couldn’t figure out why she could draw this (according to her):

but not this:

Seemed odd.
I was a curious child, although usually too frightened to ask questions. Mostly because the answers were always so cryptic and confusing. When I did venture to ask a well-thought out and provocative question, my mother would simply roll her eyes and say, “Heavenly Nose, Rebecca.”
I won’t even tell you how old I was when I figured out she was saying, “Heaven Only Knows”, which, while still not answering the questions, would have at least made more sense!
And my grandmother, in addition to her entirely different set of clichés, simply said bizarre things. She was weird.
“Grandma?” I once asked. “There are no chairs left at the table, where should I sit?”
“You could always sit on my thumb.”
For the life of me I still don’t know what that meant!

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

I feel like I bumped my head and received a concussion where my reading taste buds have lost their ability to ... well, taste. I feel like I haven’t enjoyed a book in a long, long time. Perhaps it’s simply because it took me a long, long time to read this book, which I did not enjoy.
The Room and the Chair was confusing and irritating. Like an annoyingly overzealous child who wants to be everything when he grows up, but can’t really make an intelligent decision on the subject.
There were too many quick-change jumps from here to there, person to person. I found it difficult to keep track of the story and even more difficult to find a reason to care. I did not feel connected to any one character and only mildly with one story line or another - story lines that never did climax or connect even to each other.
And I may have to see a doctor concerning this concussion!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nine Days in February

February 2, 2010
Day 1
I was always extremely thin as a child, teenager and young adult. And then I turned 26 and I popped. It was weird. It almost literally happened over night. I simply exploded!
It sucked!
I have gone up and down 25 pounds every few years for nearly two decades.
I struggle with self-loathing and low self-esteem.
I suck!
This is my diary of cleansing, soul-searching and (with God’s grace) weight-loss over a nine day period at the beginning of February. My husband was working in New Orleans for two weeks and I felt like this would be the perfect time to “cleanse” my system and get rid of the excesses in my life. I had visions in my head of being a noticeably thinner version of myself upon his return. Little did I know, we were about to be attacked by a record-breaking blizzard in our area that would leave me trapped in my home alone for the better part of two weeks!
On the very first day, I first started thinking about food at 9:45am. Not even so much hungry as just thinking about food. I didn’t start to actually feel hungry until 9:57am.
I am doing meal-replacement shakes for five of the nine days and a liquid fast for four of them.
My first shake was good! Large! I made it in the blender and since I only use the blender for frozen fruity beverages, the only thing missing to me was a banana and some booze. I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs .... hear the blender, think frozen adult treat. Putting that aside, I did enjoy the flavor of the shakes and readily accepted the fact that this was a meal, not a cocktail!
As time went on, I realized that I was cold and I am lazy. So I think about eating. I think about what food would taste like. I am not hungry. I am bored.
It snowed overnight.
I was able, however, to stick to the plan and lost over 4 pounds the first day! I am drinking the Kool-aide now, baby! This stuff really works!!
Okay, on day two - I am inspired! I think I will do a fast today and tomorrow. I feel slightly hungry this morning but more, I believe, out of habit than hunger. I always wake up, grab a diet soda pop and make something to eat. I am going to get a glass of water and plan my day! I can’t believe I lost over 4 pounds in a day doing NOTHING! This is amazing! Fasting will be far more difficult, I know, but it will so be worth it in the end!!!!!
I am feeling very positive right now!
I first started feeling my real hunger pangs at about 4pm on the second day of my plan, the first day of fasting. It’s the first I’ve actually felt my stomach growling and I found myself thinking about food constantly. The commercials and television programs seemed to absolutely bombard me with images of lovely meals and treats.
I am giving it up to Jesus.
I am reminding myself how much I do not like ME right now. I am reminding myself of how ugly I feel and how I shy away from social situations and cameras simply because I cannot stand the way I look. I really want to be successful with this plan.
I have a pack of green Jell-o looking at me. It is my cheat. It is ten calories and no sugar. If I DO cheat with the Jell-o, it’s not really that bad, I think.
I stare at the Jell-o snack pack and it stares at me. For three hours.

I didn’t cheat!! I am going to bed feeling good about myself!!!!

I did not sleep well at all that night! When I did sleep, I dreamed of food and cockroaches! And drowning.
I felt very tired the next morning. I felt a bit shaky, but not terribly hungry. I was not looking forward to another liquid day, but I believed I could do it!! I was so pleased with the results!! I lost 6.6 lbs in two days! I only expected 7lbs total, so I was extremely pleased!!
This is a note I wrote to myself:
I can totally see how eating disorders happen. After 2 days of fasting, I am sitting here worried that there won't be much loss tomorrow. I am stressing about putting on weight when I get to eat my one meal for the next four days. I am feeling some bizarro power over myself and my hunger and desire to eat. It's weird!!! I don't think it will last, sadly, but for right now I am feeling it. And it's gross that I say "sadly"! Like I freking WANT an eating disorder!”

Feb 5, 2010, first official snow day - although it hasn’t even started snowing yet! I made it through two days of fasting and was losing weight.
I was absolutely thrilled with my results!! I was a little shocked, truth be told, but absolutely thrilled!!
We were expecting and received a ton of snow starting that day, so I took a vacation day. I was worried about getting stuck in DC, which normally would have been fun! I could have stayed with a friend and it would have been an adventure, but with Jerry gone, I couldn’t take a chance on not being able to get home to my dogs.
And in a very selfish way - I was thrilled! If I was home, I would not face as many temptations. I knew that if the weather got as bad as they were saying, Metro would be closed the next day which meant I wouldn’t be back to work until the following Monday!! I was really thinking “this is it”!! I had lost over 8 pounds and it was only the beginning of Day 4!! I had 5 more days of the program and a couple of extra days just to be safe!
I was so happy!!!
I had my first shake of the day at 11:15am. I was ready for it! After 2 days with no food, it tasted like heaven! It was like having a treat!! I bought myself some bendy straws and I was feeling rather decadent!!
I was feeling fantastic!
Journal entry: “I am home during a snow storm. The news is saying we are in for a huge blizzard. It is gently snowing now, but it started right on cue. They are talking about losing power and water, but I think I am fine. I have plenty of bottled water and enough food for my meager meals anyway. The timing is actually perfect! Since I don’t even have to be at work, there is nothing to stress about as far as the weather! If I lose power, I will just bundle up my pups in the bedroom and grab my book. I have plenty of candles. It’s almost exciting!!”

My first solid meal since noon on Tuesday was 560 calories. And delicious! The flavors almost seemed .... intense.
And, expectedly, I had boo-boo belly.
Day 5. Snowed in alone with my dogs and my appetite. Alas, my weight did not drop overnight. It did, however, stay the same. I was worried about adding food after the fast, so I am so pleased that my weight didn’t go up!
“Today I am facing the kiss of death: Boredom! I will not let myself eat out of boredom. Or convince myself that I am starving out of boredom. Or talk myself out of sticking to the plan out of boredom.”
I have several FEET of snow to remove from my driveway so I may possibly leave the homestead and venture back into the real world at some point. People will think I had been snowed in without food, I am so damn thin! I drank gallons of water while I shoveled, scooped and pushed the heavy snow. I was freezing, exhausted and hungry.
Feb 10, 2010
Day 9
Another freking blizzard!
This is day 9 of my program. The last day! It is a fasting day which means no solid food. I went to work the day before and successfully fasted the entire day. Today is also yet another snow day for me. I have only worked two days since I started this program! Both were Fasting days, ironically. I am thinking, I can actually do this!! I can’t believe I have lost 10lbs!!
I am thrilled and scared!
I am also freezing!
The heat in my house can’t keep up with the cold outside. Especially with the added pleasure of 35 mph winds. I thought, What Would Jerry Do? Oh yeah, he would turn on the oven for heat!
I did that.
And the ghosts of every wonderful thing ever baked in that oven are visiting me like it’s Christmas Eve in Victorian England! Every pizza, every cookie, every cake, every Thanksgiving dinner and pasta casserole, every turkey, cheesy potato, and brownie ... all marching by me like a Mardi Gras parade. While I slowly freeze and starve to death, my oven is whistling “When the Saints Come Marching In” ....
... but I WILL NOT CAVE!!!
Day 10
The program is “officially” finished!! However, I am going to continue to lose on my own. I am positive of this fact. I am not super thrilled to weigh what I weigh, but it is an awesome start !! 11.2 pounds lost in nine days! That is amazing!
I am remembering Bridget Jones’s Diary (the book) when Bridget lost a bunch of weight and was so tickled with herself. She couldn’t wait to go to work so everyone could tell her how amazing she looked! She got to work and everyone looked at her with disgust, “What happened?! You look terrible! Were you sick?!?!”
I was expecting that to happen to me. I was prepared for that reaction! I had several quick comebacks for their reactions. 11.2 pounds in nine days is huge! People will feel sorry for me. They will think I was stuck all alone out in the woods in the blizzard of a lifetime ... no food ... perhaps an illness.
But I could handle it. I would handle it with grace and humor while feeling delightful inside my new svelte frame!

No one noticed.
Not one coworker.
Not one friend.
Not one husband who had been gone for two weeks.
No. One. Noticed.

Yesterday, a colleague came into my workplace looking wildly thin! I couldn’t believe it! I gushed over him! He was happy and said he just reached his goal weight the day before! He had lost 75lbs! Amazing!!
Another coworker and friend said, “He looks the same to me.”

....I felt a little better!

Where the God of Love Hangs Out by Amy Bloom

I am not sure what is wrong with me. I choose books that other people seem to like. I choose books that are recommended on television, magazines, newspaper reviews .... I choose books that are supposedly amazing. I choose books because I like the cover.
But, for some reason, I am not getting it.
Where the God of Love Hangs Out is a book of short stories. I love short stories and was excited to read this novel. Some of the little tales in this book connect to each other and some stand alone. A little weird, honestly, but I could live with that. And the author is obviously talented. But, for me, the stories were just sad and a little .... well .... sexual.
Now, I am no prude, but I was a little unimpressed with the infidelity and near-incestuous sexual content. Perhaps in one story, I wouldn't mind on the grounds that it was one story and a look into that specific life. But the theme popped up again and again and I just wasn't enjoying it, frankly.
Her characters were lovely, however, and I could easily believe each and every scene she created. Her writing is extremely real.
All and all, definitely not a bad book. It was simply not one that I would recommend or even look back upon with any degree of fondness.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Mr. Eliot Said ...

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
— Charles W. Eliot

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason

Honestly, The Draining Lake will not go on my list of favorites. I didn’t hate it, necessarily, I simply did not enjoy it as much as other novels I have read.
The title, to me, had very little to do with the story itself, firstly. I could dig deeply and find a meaning, I suppose, but it would be a stretch and not really worth my time.
It was tough for me to get started, though, because I became tangled up in words. I do not speak Icelandic. For awhile, I didn’t know if the author was talking about a person or a lake. Many characters were introduced very quickly, and with their unrecognizable names, I didn’t know if they were women, men, proper names, titles, ... cities .... ?
This book is part of a series, apparently, and perhaps I would have struggled less with the names if I had read a few of the others, but I doubt it.
I liked the mystery of this book, especially the back story about a group of Icelandic students attending university in Communist East Germany during the 1950’s. But the mystery was more interesting than the outcome and some story lines were left completely unresolved, which irritated me.
I feel like I struggled through so much confusion with language only to be disappointed with the story in the end.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

So It's the Laughter We Will Remember

I was very young when I met my cousin, Laura. Perhaps five or maybe six years old? That seems so young, but it has to be true. My mother was dating my stepfather at the time and we made a summer vacation trip to Pierre SD to meet his sister and her daughter. They lived out in the country with land as far as the eye could see ... and horses!! In my little head, it was absolutely beautiful!
A foal was born while we were there!
I learned to “ride” that weekend. Well, I learned to hang on that weekend. And I learned the time tested and most valuable lesson of getting right back on the horse that throws you.
Laura and I hit it off instantly. We were very close in age and our personalities clicked. We rode the horses and climbed fences. We wandered the fields and found a huge pile of dirt to play in. A really huge pile, like the kind of pile you can see from a distance of several miles. A mountain of dirt that would take five minutes to climb to the top and only one to slide back down! We were absolutely filthy when we returned!
We laughed so hard I peed my pants.
My family pitched a tent in my cousin’s yard and while I was in the tent changing my pants (so embarrassing), one by one, each member of our “party” took turns walking by the tent to look in at me with horror and disgust! My soon-to-be aunt said, shaking her head as she walked by the flap of the tent, “And I thought you were a big girl!” She must have insisted my cousin come into the tent to apologize.
“I’m sorry I made you wet your pants.”
“It’s okay.”

Ahhhh ha ha ha ha ha!!! And we laughed some more!

It wasn’t the last time I laughed to the point of pee with my cousin. We became the best of friends. My Gramps called us Kissin’ Cousins. We wandered over most of South Dakota on our bare feet, ice skates, bicycles, horses, canoes, cars ....
She was in my wedding and I was in hers.
I held her son.
And we laughed a lot.
Sadly, Laura battled demons I will never know. For every bit of laughter there was an equal number of tears. I am sorry for her sadness. I am sorry for her pain.
I feel like I said good-bye to my friend a long time ago, but now I say good-bye to my cousin.

Rest In Peace, Laura.

I promise to always remember
the laughter....

Laura McKenna Halligan
September 2nd 1967 - January 21st 2010