Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mini Book Reviews

Here are some quick reviews and thoughts about three books I've read recently.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen: I was excited to see that Anna Quindlen had written a new book. I loved Black and Blue and many of her collections of essays and I hadn't seen anything substantial from her in a long time. The description of the book sounded interesting as well - the story of a mom dealing with the trials of parenthood and especially her concerns over her youngest son. Quindlen did an amazing job of capturing the life and role of a typical suburban mom. I could identify completely with Mary Beth as she goes through the days of soccer practices, prom planning and guitar lessons. And then the story takes a completely unexpected turn that takes my breath away. Unlike Little Bee by Chris Cleave, Every Last One is a book that you shouldn't know too much about before you read it. My suggestion is not to read any reviews or to let anyone tell you too much about the plot. Let the story unfold naturally. I loved this book. It would be a great book club selection. But I don't want to say anything else about it. I gave Every Last One 4 stars - I really liked it.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: I had heard about this book at least a year ago (way before it became so popular) and decided that because it's a mystery/suspense/crime thriller, I wasn't interested. Then the books in the series (this is book one in a trilogy) simply exploded in popularity and I decided I had to see for myself what all the fuss is about. On top of that, my personal book club chose this book for our July selection. I will admit that I was excited to read it and was all ready to love it and anxiously devour the other two books in the series. Well, that didn't happen. While it is a good mystery/suspense/crime thriller, it isn't good enough to make me want to read more. At least not right now. Maybe next time I'm in the mood for that type of book I will pick up the next book. But for right now, I've had my fill. I gave Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 3 stars - I liked it.

The Woman Who Can't Forget: The Extraordinary Story of Living With the Most Remarkable Memory Known to Science by Jill Price and Bart Davis: I stumbled upon this book quite by accident. I happened to be in a library in a nearby town when I decided to check out their collection of playaways. There are not a lot of books available on playaway through my library system, so in order to find one to read I really do need to browse the titles and see if something captures my interest. And that is exactly how I found this intriguing memoir. The title caught my eye, since I have an interest in psychology and medicine and the study of memory is a big part of the study of psychology (I have a degree in psychology). I found Jill's story absolutely fascinating. She has a remarkable autobiographical memory in that she is able to remember, in great detail, every single day of her life from the age of about 10 on. And she has many vivid memories from even earlier. She is not a savant who can perform great feats of mathematical skill nor can she recall long lists of words. Instead her memory is one that does not let her forget one single moment of her life. And these memories come to her, oftentimes, unbidden. And not just pleasant memories, but all her horrible memories as well. In addition, she experiences all the emotions of those memories each time the memory is recalled. For Jill, this ability has been a huge burden for her. I found her story fascinating. I'm not sure this book would be for everyone since it does go into some detail on memory research, brain studies and diagnostic testing. But if you have an interest in the topic, I recommend it. I gave The Woman Who Can't Forget 4 stars - I really liked it.

How about you? Have you read any good books lately? Any bad books?

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

On Sunday morning I was catching up on all the blogs in my Reader when I read a post by Miss Kris of A Shelter from the Storm, that listed all the ways that today's youth have it easy. You may have seen this list or a similar one as it's been making the email circuit lately. To refresh your memory here is the list:

1) When I was a kid we didn't have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!

2) There was no email!! We had to actually write somebody a letter - with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox, and it would take like a week to get there! Stamps were 5 cents!

3) Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us. A swat on the rear got our attention and didn’t really hurt anything but our pride.

4) There were no MP3's or Napsters or iTunes! If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the record store and shoplift it yourself!

5) Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and mess it all up! There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car. We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless.

6) We didn't have fancy stuff like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that's it!

7) There weren't any all-invasive cell phones either. If you left the house, you just didn't make a call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your "friends". OH MY goodness!!! Think of the horror... not being in touch with someone 24/7!!! And then there's TEXTING. Yeah, right. Please! Doesn’t anyone know how annoying they are in public places?

8) And we didn't have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, your in-laws, the collection agent... you just didn't know!!! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!

9) We didn't have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! You actually had to use your imagination!!!

10) You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were out of luck when it came to channel surfing! You had to get off the couch and walk over to the TV to change the channel!!! NO REMOTES!!!

11) There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons!

12) And we didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove! Imagine that!

13) And our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long. Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back inside... you were doing chores!

14) And car seats - oh, please! Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on. If you were lucky, you got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling "shot gun" in the first place!And you know what? With all these modern day conveniences supposedly invented to make our lives easier...are they, really??

As I was reading the list, I found myself nodding my head in recognition and agreement and even smiling and reminiscing a little bit. And then it hit me. Like a ton of bricks. OMG! I'M OLD. This is one of those "good old days" lists that old people talk about when they complain about kids "these days" and here I am nodding my head in agreement and recalling those "good old days" of my youth. *gulp* What a reality check.

Later that day, I went grocery shopping with my 15 year old daughter, Madeleine. While I went up and down the aisles filling our cart, she stood at the deli and ordered our lunchmeat and cheese for sandwiches (ah, the joys of having older children. I hate waiting at the deli. It feels like a monumental waste of time.) Anyway... When we got home and were putting away the groceries Madeleine told me that waiting at the deli had made her feel old. Really? Just how old can a 15 year old feel? Well, it seems that when Madeleine ordered some sliced American cheese, the deli worker offered a slice to the adorable little boy waiting nearby with his mother. She did not offer a slice to Madeleine. In that moment Madeleine realized that, in the eyes of the world, she is no longer a child. And it made her feel sad... and old.

Apparently being "old" is all a matter of perspective. Ah, dear Madeleine, I know how you feel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Techie? Who Me?

Most of you probably know (or have figured out by know), that I'm not the most technologically advanced creature on the planet. I'm not a gadget guru and I tend to like to do things the "old-fashioned way". Well, the times they are a changin'. Recently I've found myself using (and enjoying!) two technological gadgets! Go figure.

It all started at the beginning of July when I realized that the fact that my walking buddy was not available was not a good reason to stop exercising. (Canceling my membership to Curves was not a good excuse, either. Whatever). I had to do something.

From past experience, I know that walking by myself is just too boring. I get about 3 1/2 minutes from home and I'm wondering if I can turn around and still count it as a workout. I considered listening to books while I walk, but I don't have an iPod and even if I did I'm sure I wouldn't be able to figure out how to download books to it. I've tried walking with a CD player in the past and that just doesn't work very well. Too much jostling. Then I discovered the most wonderful new gadget. Playaways! Digital books that can be checked out of the library! How perfect is that. Each Playaway contains one complete book and is about the size of a deck of cards (see image above). Now I can hardly wait to get out there and walk in the mornings. How's that for multitasking - reading and exercising all at the same time. Can't beat it.

And if discovering Playaways wasn't enough, I also think I've fallen in love with my Kindle. I know, I know. I never thought it would happen. When I bought the Kindle last summer to take on vacation I thought I would hate it and was surprised that I didn't. But I still considered it solely a tool for traveling. I used it again on this vacation and decided that I actually do like reading on it. I even downloaded and read a book on it after I got home. Holy moly, what's happening to me? I don't think I will continue to do that, however. I'm not accustomed to paying for books and even with the discounted Kindle price, I can't see myself spending $50-$60 a month to read. I just can't get my mind around that. Maybe I'll use it for really hot new books. Then I won't have to wait to get the book from the library. We'll see. In any case, I'm a little surprised by all this. Who says you can't teach a old dog new tricks?

How about you? Do you prefer to read the old-fashioned way or are you totally techno? Have you tried Playaways? I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

Once again it's been a long time since I've posted here. Time and motivation have been very lacking lately. I did, however, just return from vacation so I have lots of stories and photos to share.

I have to admit that I was less than thrilled about the destination of our family vacation this year - Disney World. Now I know that many people, maybe even you, love Disney World and some people go year after year after year. Let's just say that I'm not one of those people. Years ago, when my girls were 5 and 3 and then again when they were 8 and 6, we went to Disneyland. (We lived in AZ at the time). It was fun to watch the girls experience the magic of Fantasy Land. But, now the girls are 17 and 15 and I'm just not feeling it. Not to mention that Disney World is in FLORIDA and it's JULY! Yeah, it was hot. And humid. But, I was overruled this year and I sucked it up and took one for the team.

So, here's the Cliff's Notes version of my summer vacation.

The Good

We stayed at Saratoga Springs Resort. It was a beautiful resort and our suite was lovely (not that I spent all that much time there, but still...)

Meeting Anita from A Wife, A Woman, A Mom!!!! Yes, I met a real life blogging buddy. It was amazing. Anita picked me up at my hotel and we spent the next 7 hours chatting in a bookstore, chatting over dinner and chatting over hot fudge sundaes with my family. For those of you who know Anita through her blog, I'm pleased to report that she is just as sweet, funny and charming in real life as she is in blogland. She even drove an hour to meet up with me! How nice was that? Meeting Anita was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.

There were some other good moments:

Arriving at our room and finding a lovely gift bag full of Disney snacks, water bottles and fruit from my friend and travel agent, Colleen! Thanks Colleen! That was so sweet and very appreciated.

Harry Potter's Wizarding World (is that what it's called?) at Universal Studios was amazing. Well worth the 90 minute wait to get on the "big" ride.

Though I drew the line at waiting two hours with Katie and Madeleine to get into Ollivander's Wand shop to buy a magic wand (I kid you not). If I'm going to wait 2 hours for a magic wand it had better turn my husband into Prince Charming, my house into a castle, my sweat soaked sun dress into a ball gown, and my floppy canvas hat into a tiara.

Epcot Center's World Showcase was fun as was the ride Soarin' (I'm not much of a ride person).

Though I did ride The Rockin' Rollercoaster at Hollywood Studios.

The safari ride at Animal Kingdom was exciting.

And we had some nice meals. Katie and Madeleine had a wonderful time and that was fun to witness. All in all, it wasn't as horrible as I feared it would be.

Now for...

The Bad

Did I mention it was hot and humid.
I have had some serious back issues in the past, but for the most part I've been fine for the past 5 years. Well it chose this vacation, which is nothing but walking for hours and hours every day, to go out. I lived on Advil for a week. I'm going to have to make an appointment with the chiropractor.

Waiting in lines. Long lines.

The downfalls of using your room card/park ticket to make purchases (everything from food, to souvenirs). Way too easy and too much like play money.

Disney is expensive (see above).

Katie lost her fairly new cell phone during the very last portion of our very last day of vacation.

The Ugly

Madeleine getting sick and feeling like she is going to throw up 15 minutes before boarding our flight to FL. (Guess who didn't get on that flight?)

Having to call someone to come and pick us up at the airport and drive us home only to realize 2 hours later Madeleine is fine and could you please drive us back to the airport (thanks Dad and Sandy).

Arriving at the hotel to find out that a bottle of spray sunscreen exploded in my brand spanking new luggage, leaked through the sealed ziploc bag it was in and ruined not only the inside pocket of said new luggage, but it also leaked through to the outside of the suitcase leaving a huge greasy looking stain AND it also managed to ruin several articles of clothing. Yay!

Realizing on the day of departure that Geoff THOUGHT he paid an extra $10 per ticket to guarantee "A" boarding passes on Southwest Airlines for all of us, only to find out that he didn't. And now it's too late. Guess who ended up sitting in the last row of the plane (you know, in the seats that don't recline) while the rest of her family found seats together up front? Oh yeah, it was a great flight home!

OK, OK, enough complaining. It really was a nice vacation, even with the aforementioned Bad and Ugly. Disney really does know how to run a business and how to make their guests happy. Everything is very well organized, clean and efficient. There is nothing out of place and the staff (or cast members, as they are called) are all cheerful, pleasant and helpful. And seeing how happy Katie and Madeleine (and Geoff) were made it all worth it. At least until the credit card bill arrives.

And just in case you are dying to see more vacation photos, here are few more of my favorites:


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