Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Books of 2009

The end of the year seems to be a popular time for "Best of" Lists. I couldn't miss the opportunity to make my own Best List. Of course mine is going to be all about books. Of the 87 books I've read in 2009, 13 of them received a 4 or 5 star rating. Looking back over those, 4 rose to the top as my choice for Best Books of 2009. And one book which I gave 3 stars to continues to come to mind when people ask for book recommendations. So I just had to give it a place on Best Books of 2009 list.

Pam's Five Best Books of 2009

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - The only book to receive a perfect 5 stars.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan - The book I fought for (and lost) to be the 2010 RARI selection

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford - The first book I have nominated for the 2011 RARI selection

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert - A surprisingly uplifting book considering the depressing topic

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson - The best 3 star book I've ever read. I'm still thinking about it all these months later.

2009 was a great book year for me. I read quite a few memorable and recommendation worthy books. How about you? What are your top books of 2009? I'd love to hear from you. After all 2010 is just around the corner and I can always use some recommendations.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Feed Your Soul

A couple of weeks before Christmas I got together with my college friend Kristen to see an exhibit at Rhode Island School of Design Museum. During our lunch break the conversation turned to Christmas preparations. Of course, we both grumbled some about the stress and the busyness inherent in this time of year. And we shared ways in which we've made the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable over the years. And then Kristin said something that really struck me. She said that now that she is in her 40s, she is a lot less willing to fill her time with activities (and even people) that she doesn't truly enjoy. She has slowly over the last few years eliminated from her life people, organizations, obligations and activities that don't add value to her life. Now she spends her precious time engaged in activities and surrounded by people who "feed her soul". I love this phrase. Feed the Soul.

I have always been pretty good at engaging in activities that I enjoy. I realized when my girls were still toddlers, that I needed to participate in some activities that replenished and renewed me. Sometimes I was made to feel guilty about this by other at home moms who didn't understand or approve of my need for time away from my kids. Time spent doing things that I enjoyed. I NEEDED this. And I much as I knew I needed it, I did sometimes feel a little selfish about it. But like Kristin, now that I'm well into in my 40s, I realize that I was filling a deep personal need. I was feeding my soul by adding things to my life that brought me joy. But this year I came to the realization that some of the activities that I'm involved in and responsibilities that I have taken on are no longer adding joy to my life. I've begun to think about the "value added" to my life by these activities and responsibilities. And I've decided that sometimes the value added is not enough to supersede the aggravation they also add to my life. And I'm learning to let those things go. I did some of that in 2009. But after listening to Kristen discuss feeding her soul, I realize that I need to do even more. So I'm declaring 2010 the year of Feeding the Soul. I plan to spend some time thinking about the ways I spend my time with an eye toward evaluating their value added to my life and if they do in fact feed my soul. It's easy to be on autopilot and to keep on keeping on. I think it's time to step back and "clean house" with the goal of eliminating anything I can that doesn't add value or feed my soul. As my friend Jeanni said to me years ago, "It's all about the joy". I sure do have some smart friends.

How about you? What do you do to Feed Your Soul?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Last Stand of 2009: A New Year's Meme

The following meme is courtesy of Saturday 9.

Last Stand of 2009

1. What did you think of 2009?

I hadn't really given 2009 as a whole a lot of thought. I think like most years, it had it's ups and downs. Overall I think it was a good year, in the sense that my family is relatively happy and healthy.

2. What do you think was the news story of the year?
It seems as though the big entertainment story of the the year was Michael Jackson's death. But the most amazing story of the year, in my opinion, was the plane crash in the Hudson River in which no one was seriously injured. A truly heroic moment.

3. What happened this year that you never want to hear another word about?
Jon and Kate Gosselin and their 8 whiny brats children.

4. What was your favorite song of 2009?

Second Chance by Shinedown. That is one song I will sing at the top of my lungs no matter who's in the car to hear me. And if you knew how bad of a singer I am, you would know that I must LOVE that song!

5. What did you accomplish this year?

Ths is a tough one. My life is really just about the day to day. I don't really accomplish "big things". I did participate in the Reading Across Rhode Island nominating committee this year, which is something I'm proud of and excited about. Other than that the most important thing I did this year was help my daughter through a stressful time this fall. It was very overwhelming for several weeks, but I managed to find an appropriate solution while also keeping her afloat academically and not falling apart myself. It was a real challenge, but we got through it.

6. Did you learn anything new this year?

I learned that sometimes it's better to let go of things in your life that are not adding value. Especially if they are adding stress. Even if it means giving up on something that you feel strongly about.
7. What are you looking forward to in the new year?

I'm not sure about this one. This year will be the year that Katie (my oldest child) goes off to college for the first time. That is really something I'm spending a lot of time anticipating. Not sure I'm exactly "looking forward" to it. But it is looming large in my thoughts. I'm very aware of the passage time in relation to my time spent with her. Ugh!

8. What are your plans for New Year's Eve?

Right now the plan is to have a quiet evening at home with Geoff and the girls. Of course, if it's anything like last year, the girls will make last minute plans with their friends and Geoff and I will be left home staring at each other. But in all seriousness, after the hubbub of the holidays, I really do like to spend New Year's Eve at home with my family. It just felt a little lonely last year when the girls went out. Oh well. That's life.

9. What's the best thing you ever did on a New Year's Eve?

Several years ago we had three families come over and spend the night. The adults enjoyed a wine, cheese and chocolate tasting while the kids watched movies in the basement (also known as the teen lounge). It snowed over night and in the morning everyone (except me and one other mom) went sledding at the golf course in our town. They we all had a New Year's Day brunch. It was a lot of fun.

Want to play? Be sure to link up your post at Saturday 9.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Story of Our Family

Yesterday I mentioned that each and every ornament on our Christmas tree has great sentimental value. And it's true. The year I got married was the first year that I had a Christmas tree of my own. And that year Geoff and I received two Christmas ornaments commemorating our wedding. And every year after that I made a special effort to buy an ornament that signified a special event that had happened in our lives that year. I call these our "Special Event" ornaments and they are all lovingly dated, labeled and packed up each year. And every year when I unwrap them I relive the special moments in our family's life - big moments (the births of our girls) and smaller moments (the year the girls and I attempted to learn how to golf).

I also collect ornaments when we travel. It is always such a joy to unwrap those ornaments and reminisce about those family vacations. There are other ornaments on our tree as well. There's the ornament I made in catechism in 2nd grade out of beads and glitter that were put into a muffin tin and melted. I love that ornament!

And the Christmas ball given to me by my mom that has a Christmas scene on it and says "To a Special Daughter, 1980". There are ornaments from dear friends that I left behind in AZ when I moved and handmade pasta angels that were given to me by my dear friend Margaret.

And then there are ornaments that speak to my soul.

Every year when I see those ornaments again I am reminded of our family's history. Where we've been, what we mean to each other, the milestones in each of our lives and how we've built this family together. It may seem silly, but I believe that our ornaments tell our story in a very tangible way. They are among my most valued possessions. Silly or not, they mean the world to me.

Sentimental Sunday

It's been a while since I've posted a Sentimental Sunday picture. Since this is the last Sunday before Christmas, I thought I'd post a photo of our current Christmas tree. Our Christmas tree is truly very sentimental because each and every ornament on it tells a story. But you'll have to wait to hear more about that. I will be writing a post about it next week.... Sorry to keep you on the edge of your seats. LOL!

Oh and just for fun, here's a few pictures of what I woke up to this morning. These were take from the garage, there was no way I could even contemplate wading through all that snow to get a picture of my house from the street. Maybe after the snow plow comes. There isn't much I like better than a snowed in Sunday! I've been looking forward to today since they began predicting the "big snow" on Friday!

This is a picture of our side door from the garage. As you can see, we can not even open the door! YAY!

Here's Katie's car. Look how high the snow is on the tires.

What a guy!

The pine trees on the side of my house. Don't they look glorious! I love winter!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Unfinished Friday

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile is testing out an idea for a new book meme - Unfinished Friday. Here's how she describes it:

I know most of us endeavor to finish everything we read, but we don't have to, and sometimes it's impossible- it just doesn't work for us, for one reason or another. But it's still possible to get some mileage out of that work for your blog- by sharing it with us here on Fridays!

I really like the idea behind this meme, for a couple of reasons. First it allows me to give my opinion of a book that didn't resonate with me without having to write a full blown review. I'm not interested in writing lengthy reviews of books I didn't like, especially if I didn't finish them. Secondly, for those of you who look at my Goodreads widget and notice what I'm reading and what books I've given low star ratings to, now you'll have a way to know if I read the whole book and didn't like it or if I abandoned it early on because it didn't appeal to me. And thirdly, it serves as a way for others to have a realistic gauge of my Books Read This Year widget, because I include all books there, even those that I didn't finish .

Recently, I've been in a real book slump. It seems as though nearly every book I pick up, I abandon early on. This is a bit unusual for me. The idea behind this meme is to update your unfinished books every week, but since the meme is new I'm going to update for the last two months - especially in the light of the fact that my books have been dropping like flies recently.

So far in December I've given up on two books:

The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault - A mystery that takes place in the offices of a dictionary publisher. Two lexicographer's find clues to a mystery hidden in the citation files for new words. It sounded intriguing and it was mildly interesting. I got about half way through this one and I might have finished it, but a book I was anxious to read finally came in at the library.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery - I've seen this book come up on numerous lists and decided to give it a try. It takes place in France, which was interesting and it involves two quirky characters who live in the same apartment building. One a middle aged concierge the other an intelligent and sensitive 12 year old girl. I gave up on this one because the writing was so pretentious I couldn't stomach it. Yuck!

In November, I gave up on:

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan - The latest Oprah book. I don't usually pay attention to Oprah picks, but this one sounded promising. I liked the idea of stories of hardship and poverty as told through the eyes of children. Depressing, I know. But a child's perspective could be enlightening (think Slumdog Millionaire). Anyway, it wasn't what I was expecting. The stories did not move me in any way. I kept waiting for one to be over so I could see if the next one was better. I finally gave up after 2 or 3.

A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary by Anonymous (actually Marta Hillers) - This book was originally published anonymously and was the diary kept by a female German journalist (Hillers) during WWII. It chronicles the living conditions, sights and sounds of Berlin in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion. I found it terribly repetitive and uninspired as a "story".

And just because I'm completely anal, here is the list of the other books I started and left unfinished so far in 2009:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

So do you have a book you haven't finished that you'd like to tell us about? You can leave a comment here and also at The Boston Bibliophile.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Best Part of Christmas

For the last 8 years I've been involved in wonderful local Christmas charity, Woonsocket Adopt-a-Family (AAF). AAF's mission is to provide a full Christmas for needy children in Woonsocket, RI. My step mom Sandy from It's a Jungle Out There has been involved for 25 years and is currently the Program Coordinator for AAF. (And from what I heard while volunteering this year, she's really the heart of the program. But, I already knew that!)

My involvement began in 2001, when we moved back to RI. I started out as a volunteer during Distribution Week - the whirlwind week when all the donors deliver the gifts they've so generously bought and also when the recipients come to pick up their gifts. Like all first time volunteers, I was awed by the sheer number of bags of gifts that are donated.

Not to mention all the bikes!

Oh, I can't forget Santa's Workshop. The AAF board members also shop the after Christmas sales and stock up on toys and clothes just in case they don't have enough donors and need to complete what they refer to as "in house adoptions". This year, not surprisingly, there were fewer donors and more recipients. So, the AAF elves were hard at work putting together donations for over 300 children (Sandy, please correct me if I've got the numbers wrong). It's a wonder to behold.

This year gifts were donated for 2,310 children in 1,118 families!!! That's about 100 classrooms full of children! But beyond that, the Type A part of my personality was impressed with the simple, yet effective procedure that makes the whole process run smoothly. AAF is a well oiled machine!

I still volunteer every year during Distribution Week, but since 2002 I've also "adopted" a child. And you know what? Shopping for that child is a complete joy. AAF provides donors with a wish list complete with the child's clothing sizes and needs and a few toys they would like to have. I love to imagine the face of "my child" on Christmas morning. I wish I could be a fly on the wall.

But beyond the joy of giving, I love working with the AAF board members during Distribution Week every year. And every year, I get tears in my eyes when I see that room fill up with bags and bags of gifts. And it doesn't stop for an entire week. As soon as some gifts are picked up by the recipients, more are dropped off. The generosity of the donors is astounding. It renews my belief in the goodness of people. For me, it's the Best Part of Christmas and one small way that I honor the 11th Commandment - Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And a Merry, Happy Holiday Season to All!

Sometimes I think people have completely lost their common sense. Take the whole Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays conundrum. A few years ago it became more acceptable to say Happy Holidays as opposed to Merry Christmas in order to avoid offending people who don't celebrate Christmas. OK. I suppose there's no harm in that. But now apparently, some people are upset about this change. Really? Why does anyone even care about this? I suppose that's easy for me to say, being that I do celebrate Christmas and since I'm not particularly religious, I don't mind being wished Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas.

But, how would I feel if someone greeted me with Happy Hanukkah? Would I be offended? No, I don't think I would be. I think I would pause for a moment and wish them a Happy Hanukkah as well. Why not? I certainly do wish people of all faiths a happy holiday - whatever it might be. And if someone chooses to bestow upon me a cheerful greeting, I accept it with the goodwill with which it was given. Kindness deserves kindness. Look at it this way. If someone wished me a Happy St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day or Flag Day - would I get upset if I'm not Irish, their sweetheart or particularly patriotic? No, of course not. So why should anyone care if they are wished a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Ramadan or Season's Greetings. It makes no sense to me. My philosophy is to be grateful for the good wishes and cheer and move on.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. However, if you have a strong opinion either way, please present your point of view with grace and kindness. Thank you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Book Review: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig

It's been awhile since I've written a book review. I've been in a bit of book slump lately. But there was one bright spot. The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig was the November/December book club selection for the book club I run at the library. I had read a review of this book in The Providence Journal ages ago and decided that the book sounded interesting. I added it to my list of possible book club choices and finally got around to selecting it. It was a wonderful selection.

The Whistling Season is told through the eyes of the now middle aged Paul Milliron, as he recounts his childhood in rural Montana in the early 1900's. Paul's father is an overwhelmed widower trying to raise three rambunctious sons while also eking out an existence on the unforgiving land. When he hires a housekeeper, sight unseen, from a newspaper add that states "can't cook, but doesn't bite", the lives of the the Milliron "men" are changed forever. The fascinating Rose arrives with a surprise guest- her scholarly and gentlemanly brother, Morris. When the teacher in the one room school house runs off to get married, Morris takes over the duties as teacher. His passion and knowledge transform the children of Marias Coulee in wonderful ways. As the story unfolds we learn more about the lives of the people living in this harsh landscape.

The Whistling Season is a simple story, beautifully told. Doig is a master of language and his writing is glorious and poetic. As a matter of fact, Doig himself has discussed in interviews his love of the "poetry under the prose". He states that "rhythm, word choice, and premeditated lyrical intent are the elements of this type of writing". His writing evokes a different time and place. What I loved most about this book is its simplicity. There is no intrigue (OK, maybe a little at the end), no drama, no big conflicts. Just a good old fashioned story. That seems like a rare commodity these days. If you want to read a story filled with lyricism, simple yet fully formed characters and be transported to a time gone by, I highly recommend Doig's literary novel - The Whistling Season. I don't think you will be disappointed.

I would give The Whistling Season 4 stars - I really liked it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

TV Quick Quips

Here's my take on this week's episodes of my favorite shows:

The Biggest Loser - I was so excited that Danny won! He really struck me as a really decent guy. I liked Rudy too and his transformation was completely amazing. But, I think the best man won. I hate to be catty, but I thought Rebecca looked cheap and sleazy. Her hair looked terrible, her dress was way too short (I could see the all the extra loose skin on her thighs flapping as she walked) and she seems to have morphed into a hootchie mama. What happened? She didn't look "hot", she looked ridiculous. I know that's mean, but it's true. Of course, she deserves a ton of credit for losing all that weight, but no matter what size you are, you need to dress for your body type. She failed in that. I was also glad to hear that a new season of The Biggest Loser will be starting on January 5. I've never watched this show before, and I just assumed it was over until next fall. Yay!

Modern Family - It was fun to see Phil's Dad on Skype. The apple didn't fall far from the tree apparently. Loved Jay's comment about not being in Columbia since there are "no goats in the street" and Cam's description of the baby swing as "something astronauts would train in". Very funny. Another great episode. This show keeps delivering week after week.

Glee - Yes, yes, I know I said was done with Glee. But after Modern Family, Madeleine wanted to watch Glee and since I was so comfy snuggle up on the sofa, I decided to watch rather than give up my prime location in the family room. (It's not often I get the sofa). I actually thought it was a pretty good episode. It seems they've put to rest the two pregnancy story lines that were bugging me. And it's nice to see the two couples who should be together moving in that direction. I was surprised when Madeleine said that episode was the season finale. Though it was a great finale episode. Way to keep the fans on the edge of their seats. But, then I heard from Karen at A Peek at Karen's World that part two of the season will begin again on April 13th. I reserve my right as a woman to change my mind about this show.

The Office - Once again, Creed had the best line of the episode - "What if I've been evil"? So Creed. Love it. Darryl was also great in this episode when Oscar came to the warehouse with Matt's (Mark's?) check. Very nice. I love the random Creed and Darryl moments. This season they've used Creed a lot more. Time to give Darryl more screen time, as well.

I was a little surprised (and sad) to see that both Modern Family and The Office aired their Christmas episodes last week. I guess that means there won't be any new episodes until after Christmas. With Glee finished until spring and The Biggest Loser finished until January 5th, I guess there won't be much to watch on TV for the next couple of weeks. I guess that means I'll have plenty of time to watch all my favorite Christmas movies on DVD.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Christmas Meme

I found this cute Christmas meme at A Peek at Karen's World and just couldn't resist. Feel free to play along if the spirit moves you. Come on! You know you want to.
1. Have you started your Christmas shopping?

Yes. I've got the lion's share done. I just have a couple of gift cards to get and I still need to come up with something else for my husband. Any ideas?
2. Tell me about one of your special traditions.

In 1978, when I was 14 years old, my paternal grandmother hosted a Christmas Eve get together for her 4 sons and their families. It was such a success that she did it every year until I was about 22. I always looked forward to spending Christmas Eve with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Most of whom I didn't see very often throughout the year. When my grandmother was too old to host, my Dad and Step mom took over the duties and we continued getting together with my extended family until 1995, the year my Grandmother died. Now each of her sons hosts his own children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, as my generation grew up and got married it just got to complicated for everyone to get together. Suddenly, there were too many other families to consider. But, Christmas Eve at Dad and Sandy's is still my favorite Christmas tradition. And now it's my children and my brother's children who get to spend the evening with their grandparents, cousins and aunt and uncle. We've come full circle.

3. When do you put up your Tree?
I don't have a set date, but usually I do it 2 weeks before Christmas. This year we will put it up this upcoming weekend.

4. Are you a Black Friday shopper?
Absolutely not! And I have no intention of ever becoming one.

5. Do you Travel at Christmas or Stay home?
On Christmas morning we go to my brother and sister-in-law's house for brunch. It's only 1/2 mile away. Not really "traveling", but we do leave home for a few hours.

6. What is your funniest Christmas memory?
My funniest memory is the year my mother attached wind chimes to the outside of our Christmas stockings so that she would hear us when we snuck out of bed and tried to get into the presents in the middle of the night. I still vividly remember the wind chime that was attached to my stocking.

7. What is your favorite Christmas Movie of all time?
A Christmas Story, hands down. We make a concerted effort to watch that movie as a family every year at Christmas time. I also love The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (the original cartoon version). I'm the only one who really likes that one and I watch it every year, even if I do it all by myself.

8. Do you do your own Christmas baking? What’s your favorite treat?
I do NOT do any Christmas baking. For a few years when my kids were very small, a friend and I would get together and bake cookies during one marathon session at one of our houses. It seems so silly now to think I did that with four toddlers running around. Why the heck did I think that was a good idea? I don't really have a favorite Christmas treat. Maybe I need to get one.

9. Fake or Real Tree?
Without a doubt, REAL! Though sometimes I understand the wisdom behind the convenience of an artificial tree. I'm just not ready to "go there" yet.

10. What day does the actual panic set in to get it all done?
No particular day. And I usually don't panic, but being that I'm a Type A+ personality, once I start shopping I feel compelled to finish RIGHT NOW! Even if I start in October. It's completely ridiculous. If I haven't started, I'm completely fine, but once I get going I just want it done... NOW! Can you say anal?

11. Are you still wrapping presents on Christmas Eve?
Absolutely not. See anal, above.

12. What is your favorite family fun time at Christmas?
Watching A Christmas Story, Christmas Eve with my entire family at my Dad's and playing games on Christmas Day.

13. What Christmas craft do you like the best?
I don't do "craft".

14. Christmas music? Yes or No, and if yes What is your favorite song?
I enjoy listening to Christmas music in the two or three weeks leading up to Christmas. Any sooner and I get very cranky. My favorite Christmas song is Oh, Holy Night. I get goosebumps every time I hear the lyric "Fall on your knees". Not sure why.

15. When do you plan to finish all your shopping?
Sometime between now and next week. I usually finish the week before Christmas.

Do you want to play along?Just simply copy and paste the questions into your blog, and then answer them.

Here are the official rules, though I am choosing not to tag anyone. Feel free to do so, or not.

•Then tag 5 or more of your favorite blogs, and leave them a comment telling them they’ve been tagged.

•When you post on your blog, please spread some Christmas Cheer, and leave a link back to the blogger who started the meme: Heather @ (Top 10 Christmas) Heather would like any blogger to participate in this meme, so let her know if you do it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

TV Quick Quips

Considering the fact that The Biggest Loser finale is on tonight, I'd better hurry up and post Quick Quips for last weeks episode. Better (super) late than never.

The Biggest Loser - I was so impressed that Danny was able to lose 59 lbs while at home for 60 days. And Rudy lost 40+ while both of the women lost about 16 pounds (a respectable and realistic 2 lbs a week). What's up with that? Why is it so much easier for men to lose weight than it is for women? I realize that Danny and Rudy both have a lot more weight to lose than do either Amanda or Liz, but I've noticed this all along. It just seems so unfair. OK, rant over. As for the 4 finalists... I really hope Danny wins. Of the four remaining contestants he has been the most consistently nice and supportive without ever being annoying. Rudy really disappointed me when he stabbed Shay in the back. (In this morning's newspaper, I read that Rudy actually grew up in and still works in RI. I had no idea. Usually I would root for the hometown boy, but not this time). And as much as I like Amanda and think she's adorable, she's a bit of a whiner and a crybaby. Something I really have a hard time with. And while I've been rooting for Liz as the middle aged female on the show, she really can be a bore at times. But Danny is just a genuinely nice guy. I hope he wins. Phew! Glad I got that posted before the finale.

Glee - I'm no longer watching this train wreck of a show. I'm really disappointed about this, too, because the show started out so strong. I just can't stomach it anymore. I will no longer be quipping about Glee.

Modern Family - No show this week. I'm having serious withdrawal symptoms.

The Office - Ugh! I really need to give this show the heave ho. I just can't though because of the awesomeness that was season 2. I know. It was years ago. Time to move on. I'm working on it. This episode was just so stupid and repetitive that I can't even think of one episode specific thing to say about it. Oh wait. I think Rainn Wilson did a great job with his impressions of Stanley, Kevin and Toby. So good, in fact, that I thought maybe he was lipsynching over their real voices. That's about all I can say about The Office this week.

Not a great TV week. I did watch an excellent foreign film, however. If you don't mind reading subtitles, I highly recommend Elling. Here is how Netflix describes this charming and quirky movie:

Per Christiansen Ellefsen and Sven Nordin play the shy, retiring Elling and the imposing Kjell in this Norwegian movie about two mentally challenged friends who battle adversity and find their place in the sun. When the two become roommates, they attempt to create a life for themselves outside the confining, but protective, walls of the hospital. Petter Naess directs this Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film.

Genre: Foreign Comedies, Foreign Dramas, Scandinavia
This movie is: Feel-good, Understated, Quirky, Emotional

Elling was without a doubt the best thing I watched on TV this week.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Musing Mondays

Today’s MUSING MONDAYS post is about library etiquette…

For the regular library patrons among us: do you have your own idea of what constitutes proper library etiquette? Is there anything you always try to do? Anything you hate when others do?

Oh boy! Don't get me started... Of course, I'm going to be coming at this from the other side of the circulation desk. But truthfully, I'm anxious to read what bugs library patrons. There are probably things I can do differently to make using the library more enjoyable for my patrons. Hmm...

My number one pet peeve, is parents who come into the library with toddlers and then sit at the computer and completely ignore their child/children. For long periods of time. And they don't bring anything for the kid to do nor do they even direct them to play with the puzzles or look at books. They simply ignore them or even worse yell at them the whole time to "behave". Seriously?! These children are under 5 years old. Guess who ends up entertaining these poor little kids. Yup! The staff of the children's room. Grrr!

Patrons who steal from the library. OK, maybe this is number one. Of course books are sometimes never returned, but sometimes people steal CDs and DVDs right out of the cases on the shelf. Our entire collection of country music has been stolen. Right now we keep the new discs behind the counter, so the cases are empty. But our country music thief is very patient. As soon as the discs are back in the cases... they disappear. So now ALL music will be behind the desk. And it doesn't end there, our donation jar has been stolen numerous times and we've even had a computer stolen. Come on, people. We're a library. We're not "the man". We're here to serve you. We're not ripping you off. You don't need to "stick it to us". I hope your conscious is killing you.

People who take hardcover books to the beach and return them with bits of sand under the plastic cover. Somehow it feels as though the book has been defiled.

Books that come back smelly like cigarette smoke. Totally ruins the reading experience for me. I will go so far as to order a different copy. Reading is a very sensual experience for me. If the book reeks like stale smoke, I can't enjoy the reading experience.

As I said, I could go on and on. But, I'll stop there.

As for what I do to make the experience nicer for patrons, I always greet everyone who comes into the library. I try to be pleasant and smile to each patron who comes to the desk. I make an attempt to learn the names of the all the toddlers who come to story hour and speak to them individually when they come up to the desk. Basically, I try to be everything that the stereotypical librarian is not. Cheerful, friendly, helpful and kind - even when moms are surfing the net while they're bored, hungry, tired children are running rampant in the children's room.

How about you? What bugs you? I'd love to hear how library staff can help make your library visits more pleasant. This is your chance to really let me have it. I'd love to hear from you.

Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By

Last Thursday night I had an opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to attend a lecture at Bryant University given by Elie Wiesel. Most people know Wiesel as the Holocaust survivor who wrote about his time at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in the book Night. (If you haven't yet read Night, you really should. It's one of those books that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime). But, Mr. Wiesel is also a professor and a humanitarian. And it was in his role as Humanitarian that he spoke to the packed audience at Bryant.

I have read the book Night three times. And all three times it made a huge impact on me. Most recently I read it in early October. It had been assigned to Katie in her World Literature class. I offered to read it with her. It was a moving experience to read that with Katie and discuss it together. So, when Sandy of It's a Jungle out There told me that Elie Wiesel was coming to Bryant to give a lecture that was free and open to the public, I jumped at the chance to attend. Sandy was kind enough to make the call and get tickets for me and Katie to attend the lecture with her and my Dad (for those of you who don't know, Sandy is not only my friend, she's also my Step mom).

It is impossible to describe what it felt like to be in that room with Wiesel. This is a man who regularly talks to world leaders. A man who is summoned by Presidents to consult on matters of world peace. And here he is, speaking to a group of students, professors and community members. For free! It's hard to wrap my mind around that.

It's also impossible to describe or summarize his talk. His mind is so nimble and his intelligence so great that he made transitions in his talk from one topic to another very smoothly, but as a listener it is difficult, in retrospect, to figure out how we got from his writing, to memory, to the violence of modern language, to the silence between words, to the Bible, to world events, and on and on. I felt as though I was in the presence of true greatness. I was so honored to be in his presence. I know how schmaltzy that sounds. But it was my honest reaction.

In spite of the fact that it's impossible for me to summarize his talk, I did walk away with a message. Wiesel spoke about the 10 Commandments and he suggested an 11th. The most important commandment. One he lives his life by and one he exhorted us to live ours by as well. Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By. The focus of his Foundation and his message is that people should not stand idly by when others are suffering or in need. That as human beings we must respond to those around the world and those close to home who are in need. I've been thinking about that since Thursday night. And I wonder if I measure up. I try to give back. But I do it in a more distant way. I think I need to do more to relieve suffering that I witness first hand. But, you know what, that's much harder to do. So much more up close and personal. So much "messier". What would Mr. Wiesel say to that? In his gentle and accepting way I think he'd tell me not to stand idly by. Words to think about. And live by.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Rat in a Maze...Again!

Well my good luck with driving in Boston has run out. Once again I was a rat in a maze driving in circles on one way streets, making numerous illegal u-turns and cutting off big, burly men in large trucks.

On Tuesday I was invited by my college friend, Kristen, to attend a private tour of the Museum of Fine Arts. The tour was being led by an artist and teacher who would give us an insider's look into the museum building itself and would highlight some of the museum's more famous works. How could I say no? Even if it did mean driving into the heart of hell Boston. Again. As you all know, I haven't always had the best track record driving in Beantown. But, the last time I went, I did great! So with my new found confidence, I gathered up my MapQuest directions and away I went. And the gods laughed. I got hopelessly lost, drove in circles and broke every traffic law known to man. But, I made it!

The tour was totally worth getting lost. Our guide knew a lot about the history of the museum and the different collections. He showed us a wide variety of artwork - from sculpture, to ancient Egyptian, Roman and Greek artifacts to John Singer Sargent murals and paintings. But my favorite moment came when we were looking at a famous Sargent painting, Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.

I was not familiar with this painting (even though it is apparently quite famous). As the guide was talking about the unusual composition of the painting he compared it to another famous painting by the Spanish painter, Velazquez. He couldn't recall the name of the painting and was describing it and gesturing to explain the skirt of the young girl in the painting while searching for the name.

I nearly jumped out of my seat, because I knew exactly what painting he was referring to! I had seen it in Madrid with our friends, Amy and Roberto, this past summer. Roberto had proudly shown us this painting and explained its composition to us. I immediately called out Las Meninas (I'm pretty sure I mangled the Spanish pronunciation, but he knew what I was talking about). This was such a great moment for me. It felt so good to be able to connect those dots in that moment. I love when that happens. Of course, my bubble was burst when I left the museum and was trapped in a labyrinth of one of streets and was seriously worried that I would never find my way out of Boston. Maybe I need to give the GPS another try. Ugh!

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