Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

I have a whole new respect for people who have had to deal with natural disasters. Have you all heard about the flooding in RI? Guess where I live? Until yesterday afternoon I was knocking on wood any chance I got because we had not been effected by the flooding. Even in normal times, RI is a wet place and many people deal with water in their basements when it rains or when a big snow melts. Not us. We've been very lucky. I've lived in this house for 9 years and have never had a problem. As a matter of fact, our entire neighborhood is very dry. No one ever seems to have issues (even though the cove is at the end of our street). Lucky right?

Well, our luck ran out yesterday afternoon. My girls came home from school to find an inch of water in our basement. By 4:00 pm it was up to 3 inches. And this morning it's more like 5. Geoff and the girls and I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon moving as much stuff as we could off the ground and off low shelves (luckily we do not have a finished basement, though we do store a lot of stuff down there). It's hard to tell how much we can salvage and how much we will have to throw out. Thankfully, most of it is just "stuff" and nothing that is irreplaceable.

The whole time I was slogging through the water and moving things I was thinking about the people of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I had a new found sympathy for them. This was just a few inches of water and few ruined area rugs and suitcases, they lost everything. I may be without heat and hot water and the use of my washer and dryer for a few days, not a few years. When friends and neighbors called to ask how we were faring, they all commented on how calm we are about this. And that's why. It's just stuff, replaceable stuff and it's a very temporary set back. A few inches of water in the basement does not a natural disaster make. And you know what? I still feel lucky.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bragging Rights

OK, fair warning. I'm about to brag about my daughter, Katie. This is not going to be one of the "blogs of substance" I've been talking about lately. And there's nothing wrong with that!

As many of you know, my daughter Katie is a senior in HS. In the last couple of weeks she has accomplished some amazing things and I'm just so proud of her that I can't keep it to myself.

About 2 weeks ago we received a letter in the mail from the HS. This is not that unusual and I didn't think anything about it when I opened it. Well, I was blown away when I read that Katie's GPA qualified her for the Rhode Island Secondary School Honor Society! For some unknown reason, this honor was not on our radar at all. I have no idea why not. Needless to say, this was such a happy surprise and honor for Katie. And we couldn't be prouder.

Then on March 12th, Katie competed for the title of 2010 Rhode Island Future Business Leader (FBLA). FBLA is a national organization for HS students who are interested in pursuing a career in business. Each year the FBLA members take tests in different areas of business (ex. Economics, Communications, Ethics, etc) and the winners at the state level can then compete nationally. This year Katie decided to compete for the top award - Future Business Leader. This involved a rigorous process of testing, interviews and resumes. You know where this is going, don't you? She won!!! What an accomplishment. And we couldn't be prouder.

But that's not all. This past Tuesday, Katie hosted a fundraising dinner at the HS as part of the Interact Club (a community service organize affiliated with the Rotary Club), which she serves as President (yes, yes, shameless bragging on my part). But she didn't just host this dinner. She planned the entire thing - practically single handed (don't get me started on why the rest of the club members didn't help her). The dinner raised over $800 for water filtration systems for a small village in Cambodia. Not only did Katie arrange for a local restaurant to provide authentic Cambodian food, she visited approximately 15 local businesses and asked them to donate items for a raffle, arranged to have traditional Cambodian dancers perform before and after the dinner, invited 3 Cambodian monks (and a translator) to attend the dinner to bless the food, organized her family and friends to supply homemade desserts, created a trifold brochure to hand out to the diners, bought all the tablecloths and paper products, supplied her iPod with Cambodian music downloaded for the dancers and arranged to have the local Rotary Club attend to give a presentation on the work they are doing in Cambodia. And she emceed the entire event. Geoff and I were amazed, not only by the success of the event and all her hard work, but also by her poise speaking in front of such a large group. And we couldn't have been prouder.

Katie, you are one amazing young lady. I am in awe of all you do and have accomplished. And I couldn't be prouder of you. You rock!

Katie and Madeleine

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

When I learned Chris Bohjalian had written a new book, Secrets of Eden, I was very excited. Excited, but skeptical. The very first book I ever read of Bohjalian's, Midwives, blew my socks off. It was amazing! Since then (approximately 10 years ago), I've read several other of Bohjalian's books - with mixed reviews. None has thrilled me the way Midwives did all those years ago. For me, Bohjalian's books have always been very hit or miss. And that's why I say I was skeptical when I heard he had published a new book. Well, I'm happy and excited to report that Secrets of Eden is a winner!

Secrets of Eden tells the story of Reverend Steven Drew, a pastor in a small church in Vermont. When his parishioner, Alice Hayward, is murdered by her husband in a murder-suicide, Drew begins to doubt his faith. He is saved from complete despair by the appearance of Heather Laurent, an author of two very successful books about angels, of all things.

Heather Laurent is the child of parents who both died in a murder-suicide and she identifies with Katie, the Hayward's now orphaned daughter. Heather offers herself as a counselor to both Stephen and Katie. When Stephen steps down from the pulpit of his church immediately after Alice's funeral, the state's attorney begins to question Stephen's reasons. And when Alice's secrets are uncovered, more questions begin to arise.

Bohjalian has done a masterful job crafting this novel. It is divided into four parts, each told from the perspective of a different person - Stephen Drew, Catherine Benincasa (the state's attorney), Heather Laurant and Katie, the Hayward's teen aged daughter. As I read each section I fully accepted each person's perspective as right and true. All the characters have very believable and trustworthy voices. But, of course, someone is lying. Or at least mistaken. In addition, Bohjalian does a wonderful job of foreshadowing. His characters hint at things that serve as a trail of crumbs to the truth. Brilliant. This was a very clever way of structuring this novel and it worked well.

The other thing that really jumped out at me and is something I remember so clearly from Midwives, is that Bohjalian is very skilled at writing in a woman's voice. I found Catherine Benincasa's voice to be very authentic. I've found this to be fairly unusual when men are writing female characters. Kudos to Bohjalian for that.

One thing I want to warn against is that from my and other descriptions of this book, one may get the idea that this novel is overly religious, or New Agey or even that it is a police procedural or suspense/thriller. It is none of those. It is a wonderful novel full of flawed characters who are simply trying to make sense of two senseless deaths and the aftermath of them.

I would give Secrets of Eden 4 stars - I really liked it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Did we hit a few nerves out there or what? In case you don’t know what I’m referring to, last weekend Sandy of It's a Jungle Out There and I launched a new blog called Words of Wisdom……Join the Conversation. Our hope in starting this adventure is to create a place for bloggers who enjoy reading and writing posts with great content to find each other and to share.

As of this writing we have 40 followers which seems pretty good for only a couple days. I’ve been cruising around the blogosphere this week checking out the posts written about WOW and especially focusing on the comments left on those blogs. There have been two recurring themes among those comments.

One is that many of you are questioning whether you are what we are “looking for;” if you “qualify.” Again, I want to stress that we are NOT looking for “great” authors. Who or what is that anyway? A great author/writer means different things to different people.

To those of you who are asking if you are who we are looking for I say, follow our format, submit your posts and let’s see what happens. I can tell you that at WOW we definitely want people who have something to say. While we don’t mean to criticize or eliminate the occasional product review giveaway or meme, we are just hoping to appeal to those who write more with “great content” and definitely with less commercialism.

It’s difficult to sum that up in a few words. Basically, we are looking for people who write blog posts that make the reader think or sit up and take notice. They can be funny or serious.

And secondly, we want to stress that in no way are we bashing "Mommy Bloggers." I was a SAHM for 17 years, 5 months and 15 days. I don’t think of myself as "Mommy Blogger", even though I sometimes write about my kids and family. And while Sandy is not a mother, she often writes about family. And I plan to continue writing about my family occasionally; sometimes in a serious way, sometimes not so serious. Both Sandy and I followed the particular blog that people have mentioned and who, quite frankly, have taken some shots at. We both followed that blog for months and overall it was a positive experience. I found several blogs and bloggers there that I enjoy and continue to follow. WOW is just our way of branching off into something of our own that we thought (and now know) certain bloggers might be looking for.

So if you haven’t stopped by WOW, please do and let us know what you think.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Content is King

Not too long ago, I posted about things I've learned in the year since I began blogging. One thing I mentioned is that I most enjoy blogs with great content. I enjoy reading blog posts that make me think or sit up and take notice. Blog posts that make me itch to leave a comment and become part of the conversation on that person's blog. And I enjoy writing those types of posts, too. I love it when I get a conversation started on my blog that continues behind the scenes.

Another thing I learned is that it's very difficult to find these blogs I call "blogs of substance". I have found some (all of you!), but it's been a trial and error process. Many of you have expressed similar feelings. For a while I thought about starting a blog that would serve as a venue for Blogs of Substance to find each other and to have a chance to be highlighted. I spent a lot of time talking this over with my fellow blogger, friend and step mom, Sandy of It's a Jungle Out There. Well, guess what? We did it! (Actually, Sandy really did it. She created the site, even though she's never done anything remotely like that before. I did, however, cheer her on!).

So, if like me, you are a little tired of blogs full of giveaways and ads that seem to have overridden the "meat" of the blog, please check out our new blog Words of Wisdom (WOW). We will be highlighting blogs of substance to help you find them and also to help draw interested traffic to your great blog. All you have to do is follow WOW, grab our button, "join the conversation" by checking in regularly and leaving a comment and of course, visiting and commenting on the highlighted blog, the Blog of Note. Want to become a Blog of Note? Let us know. There is more information on how to do that on WOW.

Please join us. And if this sounds like something you are interested in, please feel free to post about it on your own blog. The key to WOW's success is going to be by spreading the word. I hope you will all decide to become a WOW Blogger of Note. You all write such thoughtful and insightful posts. Let's help each other find other like-minded blogs.

UPDATE: I'm beyond thrilled to announce that WOW will be highlighting its inaugural Blogger of Note (BON) on Monday! Please be sure to stop by and visit this extemely eloquent blogger. And be sure to "join the conversation" by commenting on Monday's WOW post so that other bloggers can find you, too.

(So, who wants to be next? Let me know).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing or Am I Missing Something

Hey all you SITS Girls and Mommy Bloggers out there. I have a serious question for you. Have you seen SITS today or the New York Times article "Honey, Don't Bother Mommy, I'm Too Busy Building my Brand"? I'd absolutely love to hear your take on this.

When I checked into SITS this morning there was quite a hullabaloo going on about this article which talks about Mommy Bloggers and the SITS Book Camp and Tiffany (of SITS) in particular. Many bloggers were interviewed and even linked to. Though, significantly I think, not SITS or Tiffany. Hmmm....

Heather and Tiffany had then linked several blog posts by "Mommy Bloggers" who are very upset about this article. Honestly, I read the article and I just don't get it. While the title is inflammatory, it actually doesn't even accurately describe the content of the article.

I will admit that I did not read all the posts from the offended moms, but I did read one at random and I read Tiffany's post. It seems the moms are offended about the article's reference to them as the "minivan crowd" and referring to "tutu tutorials". And Tiffany seems offended that she was described as having the energy of a barefoot sorority sister. Really? Was she barefoot? Was she high energy? You know what. I'd love it if someone compared me to a energetic sorority sister.

I get that bloggers want to be taken seriously. I get that. But I also get that Mommy bloggers do blog about making tutus, getting their kids to use the potty and every time their new baby smiles. I also get that some bloggers are trying to "build a brand" by having sponsors, reviewing products and having ads on their blogs. So what's the problem with the article? Truthfully, I'm in agreement with ScaryMommy who was quoted in the article as saying:

“I wish we could go back to where blogging was five years ago, when it was just about the writing and the connecting and none of the free stuff and the vacations and the swag bags,” said Ms. Smokler, of ScaryMommy .com. Her blog recently landed her a full-time job with the Nickelodeon social-networking site, despite her not having a résumé. “I think it dilutes the point.”

I realize I may have opened a can of worms here. And I am asking for your honest opinion on this topic. I really am wondering if this is "much ado about nothing" or if I truly am missing something. I just ask that all opinions be presented with courtesy and respect. No flame wars, please. (I have a delete button and I know how to use it).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

With the release of the new Johnny Depp movie, Alice in Wonderland, the timing of my reading of this book couldn't have been more perfect. Though it was a total coincidence.
Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin, tells the story of Alice Liddell the real Alice in Wonderland. Who knew that Lewis Carroll (real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) modeled his famous character from children's literature on a real little girl? Not me. And that is the very reason this book intrigued me. I love books about the real story behind the story. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, Alice I Have Been covers 7 decades of Alice Liddell's life - from the age of seven when she poses for a picture for Mr. Dodgson (as she calls Carroll) that inspired him to create Alice in Wonderland, through her teens and early twenties and then jumps to the end of her life in her 80s.

The majority of the book deals with the Liddell family's friendship with Mr. Dodgson, the slightly odd mathematics professor at Oxford where Mr. Liddell is Dean. Mr. Dodgson, a bachelor, spends many free afternoons on outings and picnics with the Liddell family and forms a special bond with little Alice. One day, while on a rowing expedition, Dodgson tells Alice and her sisters the magical tale of a little girl who has a fantastic adventure underground. It is clear to Alice that the story is about her and she begs Dodgson to write it down for her. He eventually does, and Alice in Wonderland is born.

However, Alice's relationship with Dodgson has long lasting effects on Alice and her family and colors the rest of her life. Not always in positive ways. It isn't until the end of her life that Alice is finally able to reconcile herself to the fact that she is the REAL Alice and to use that fact to her benefit.

I truly enjoyed this story of the real Alice. It is extremely interesting and more than a little mysterious. As detailed in the book, there is some break in the relationship between Dodgson, Alice and her family that threatens Alice for much of her young adult life. According to the author's notes, this is in fact true, but none of the parties involved ever divulged what had transpired to cause this break. There are, however, clues and Benjamin uses those clues to write a believable story about this event. And this is what I loved the most about this book. It made me want to learn more. To research Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell and the other prominent figures in the story (who I won't name, so as not to spoil the story) and see if I can find any more tidbits of the truth. Of course there aren't any more facts to uncover. Which just makes this story all the more intriguing. In addition, the author has included a few photos of Alice throughout her life. Including the one of Alice that inspired Dodgson to write Alice in Wonderful. A truly fascinating read. And very timely for those of you who can't wait to see the new movie.

I would give Alice I Have Been 4 STARS - I really liked it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

The February book club selection for the book club I run at the library was The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. I absolutely LOVED it! The story takes place in Scotland and centers around Iris, the owner of a vintage dress shop with a complicated and complex personal life. Iris' world is rendered a little off kilter when she is informed that she is the next of kin of her great aunt Esme Lennox, who is being released from an asylum after being locked away for 61 years. The most surprising thing about this is that Iris didn't even realize she has a great aunt. Esme is the sister of Iris' grandmother, Kitty. However, Kitty has advanced Alzheimer's Disease and Iris can not question her grandmother about this mysterious relative.

But that is not even the most interesting part of this multi-layered story. As Iris begins to unravel Esme's story, she begins to uncover layers of secrets within her own family. Not the least of which is that Esme was locked away mainly because she was an unconventional woman during a time in British history when it was extremely unacceptable, especially among the upper classes.

Maggie O'Farrell handles the complex telling of this story very deftly. The story alternates between the voices of Iris, Esme and Kitty and also between the past and present. Through these vignettes of memory, the author slowly unveils the story of these two very different sisters and how Esme comes to be hospitalized and what happens to each of them after that event. As a reader, I enjoyed the slow unfolding of the story as the layers where peeled away. And each piece of the puzzle led to a wonderful understanding of the characters as a whole.

What fascinated me the most about this book is that Maggie O'Farrell states in an interview that she was inspired to write this story based on actual British history. Apparently, until the 1950s it was possible for a man to commit his wife or daughter to an asylum with just a signature from a doctor. Women were locked away for reasons as nebulous as "taking long walks", refusing offers of marriage, accidental pregnancies, refusing to cut their hair and most shockingly one girl was diagnosed as insane because she was "caught dancing before a mirror, dressed in her mother's clothes". Amazing, but true! O'Farrell further states that she's long been interested in what happens to "non-conforming" women in different points in history. In the 16th and 17th century they would have been burned as a witch, more recently they were locked away in asylums. It isn't hard to think about women today in fundamentalist Muslim families who are murdered in "honor killings" for "non-conforming" behavior that brings shame to their families. O'Farrell maintains that in The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, "Iris and Esme are essentially the same person and it's just the luck of the draw that Iris was born in a time when that didn't happen to her". Let's all be thankful we live in the time and place that we do.

I LOVED The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I would give it 4 Stars.

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