Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Books of 2011

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 109 books I've read in 2010, 24 of them received a 4 or 5 star rating. Looking back over those, 6 rose to the top as my choice for Best Books Read in 2011. Since not all of these books were published in 2011, this is not technically a Best Books of 2011 list, but a Best Books Read in 2011 list.

Pam's 6 Best Books of 2011

When Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe - A powerful debut novel that will not leave the reader unaffected. One of three books I read in 2011 that received a perfect 5 stars.

Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro Kazuo - A stunner of a book. People either love it or hate. I loved it so much it was the second book to receive 5 stars in 2011.

Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton - A very good story, simply told! The third and final book of 2011 to receive 5 stars.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks - The 2012 Reading Across RI (RARI) winner! Brooks is a master at evoking time and place.

Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon- A very original story with characters I came to care deeply about. Thanks to Sue of Book by Book for the recommendation.

Greyhound by Steffan Piper - Best book you've never heard of and might have a hard time finding. But it's worth the effort to try.

2011 was a pretty good book year for me. While I managed to read 12 more books in 2011 than I did in 2010 and I rated 24 of them 4 or 5 stars, I didn't really read any books that WOWed me. I haven't read any books that blew me away since 2009, which was a blockbuster year for me. How about you? What are your top books of 2011? I'd love to hear from you. After all 2012is just around the corner and I can always use some recommendations.

Friday, September 16, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Is summer over already? It just flew by. It was quite the eventful summer, too, and I didn't blog about any of it. My bad. In the interest of brevity and to avoid boring you to death, here is the Cliff's Notes version of my life over the last 3 months or so...

Birthday Celebration

Over 4th of July weekend, we traveled to Denver to celebrate the 70th birthday of Geoff's Aunt Marianne. We are very close to her and Geoff's Uncle Mike and it was a nice chance to see family members that we don't see all that often.

Marianne and Mike

Anniversary Celebration

Geoff surprised me with a weekend getaway at Castle Hill Inn in Newport for our anniversary. It was a lovely surprise and the weekend was filled with lots of little luxuries - roses, champagne, gourmet meals and time to relax on the private beach. I felt very pampered.

Castle Hill Inn

Renovation/Remodel Hell

On August 1, we had to empty out the first floor of our home to prepare for some minor renovations. It's now September 18th and it's still not done. I'm about to lose my mind. I could really use another weekend at Castle Hill Inn.

My Family Room

Driver's License

On August 2nd, Madeleine got her Driver's License!!!! It's hard to describe the feeling I have now that my chauffeuring duties are completely over. Relief, wistfulness, sadness, disbelief. But mostly relief. I'm not sure Geoff feels that same sense of relief. He really misses driving her to school every morning. He's trying to convince her to go to Brown University after she graduates so that he can drive her to class every day on his way to Providence. The empty nest is looming large. *sigh*

Brand New Driver

50 Years...and Counting

In early August, we spent a long weekend in Woodstock, VT with Geoff's extended family to celebrate his parents' 50th Anniversary! We had a wonderful weekend at the Woodstock Inn. The main event of the trip was a special celebratory dinner in honor of Gary and Audrey's 50th. The dinner was absolutely lovely - complete with special flowers, a small wedding cake, champagne and specially designed M&Ms to commemorate the occasion. Each of Geoff's parents made a speech and Geoff and his two siblings toasted their parents. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Truly a memorable and momentous occasion.

Gary and Audrey

College Drop 0ff - Second Time's a Charm

On August 27th, we dropped Katie off to start her sophomore year at college. Things went much more smoothly than the fiasco that was last year. I sensed that she was a little reluctant to let us leave, but since we were trying to outrun Tropical Storm Irene, we didn't have much choice but to get on the road.

Katie's Dorm Room

Speaking of Tropical Storms...

Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it got to RI, but that didn't stop it from knocking out our power for 6 DAYS! I have a whole new respect for people who live in the south and deal with hurricanes on a regular basis. The inconvenience was - well, inconvenient. Not to mention my house was already under renovation and I had only gotten my (electric) stove reinstalled the day before the storm hit. Ugh! But, fortunately, we didn't suffer any damage and we had hot water throughout the ordeal. Not everyone was so fortunate.

Annual Family Weekend in New Hampshire

As we have since 2007, we spent Labor Day weekend in a rented house in NH with my Dad and Sandy and my brother's family. As this trip came right on the heels of Irene (and we still didn't have power when we left), it came at a good time. I really needed to get away and get out of my head with regards to our lack of electricity, the inconvenience and how it had brought the (never ending) work on our house to screeching halt. (I was just a wee bit cranky that week.) I spent the weekend reading on the screened porch and napping. It was fabulous. I felt very refreshed when I got back home.

Dad and me reading on the screened porch

Back to School

Madeleine started her Junior year of High School on September 6th - one week late due to Tropical Storm Irene. It was very exciting for her to drive herself to school for the first time. This school year really feels like the start of a new chapter. Junior year is such an important one. A year focused so much on preparing for life after HS. That, combined with the independence that comes with having a license, has really changed the makeup and tone of our days. It's freeing and exciting, but it's also a little unsettling. I always find the start of the school year a time of adjustment. This year the adjustment seems to be less about getting used to a new routine, and more about adjusting to the next phase in life. And not just for Madeleine.

Madeleine's First Day of Junior Year in HS

Katie's First Day of Sophomore Year in College

Looking back I can see why the summer flew by. It was a busy and sometimes chaotic summer. But there was a lot of fun and love, too. All in all, a good summer. How about you? What did you do on your summer vacation?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Reading Recommendations

It's already July and summer is definitely in full swing here in the Rhode Island and in our household. Both girls are out of school and we've been enjoying the more relaxed pace of summer vacation. I've been getting a lot of reading done and I've read a few really great books. In case you need some inspiration for your own summer reading, here are three books I highly recommend. Happy reading!

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard - When lonely 13 year old Henry and his fragile single mother, Adele, meet a bleeding man on the Thursday before Labor Day, little do they know that their lives will never be the same.

Adele and Henry agree to help Frank and over the course of the next five days, Frank teaches Henry how to play baseball, bake a pie and believe in himself. Henry also learns the importance of putting others before himself. Labor Day is a story of love, redemption and second chances.

I read this book with the book club I run at the library. We had a lively discussion about the characters, their motivations and psyches. This book is ripe for analysis and interpretation. The author has written a wonderful and illuminating essay that adds a depth of understanding to the origin of the story and the characters themselves. A great book for book clubs. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner - Vaclav & Lena is the story of two 7 year old Russian emigres living in Brooklyn who meet in an ESL class and become each other's only friend. Lena spends every day after school until bedtime at Vaclav's house where she is embraced by Vaclav's mother, Rasia.

Inexplicably, one day Lena disappears and a bewildered Vaclav spends the next seven years wondering what happened to her. When Lena just as suddenly reappears in Vaclav's life, he finally gets the answer to his questions. And with Vacla's help, Lena gets the answers to her questions as well.

Vaclav and Lena in an absolutely amazing debut novel. The story is original and engaging and the characters are wonderfully rendered and very real. I am stunned that this is Haley Tanner's first novel. She is a talented storyteller and a gifted writer. The level of originality and sophistication in Vaclav & Lena is truly astonishing for a young, first time author. I am anxious to see what Tanner writes next. My only regret is that I didn't read this book for book club. I'm dying to talk about it with someone. 4 stars- I really liked it.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew -Another debut novel, this time by a woman in her 70s! The Dry Grass of August will appeal to lovers of Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

It's 1954 and 13 year old Jubie Watts and her family are travelling from Charlotte, NC to Florida with their black maid, Mary. Mary has been a part of the Watts' household for as long as Jubie can remember. But Mary is so much more than just a maid. She serves as a stabilizing force and a source of comfort and love to Jubie and her siblings.

As the family travels south, Jubie becomes uncomfortably aware of the increasing level of anti-segregation sentiment and racial tension. This tension will eventually change the Watts family, and Jubie in particular, forever.

The Dry Grass of August is a terrific story detailing a tension filled time in our nation's history. It's also a coming of age story of a young girl confronted with a question of morality at a tender age. Mayhew has written a thoughtful book filled with wisdom. The characters of Mary and Jubie are especially vividly drawn. The voice of Jubie is reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird's Scout and Mary will bring to mind the wise and loving Abileen from The Help. Another wonderful book for book clubs. 4 stars - I really liked it.

How about you? Have you read any good books this summer? Does your summer reading differ at all from what you read the rest of the year?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Reviews: A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates and Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

I've recently read two wonderful books, either of which would make great summer reads.

A Widow's Story by Joyce Carol Oates - A Widow's Tale is a memoir written by Oates after the unexpected death of her husband, Ray. At first I wasn't going to read this book because I'm a little tired of memoirs and I had read Joan Didion's memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking, which deals with the exact same subject. However, I kept hearing such glowing things about this book that I just had to see for myself. I'm so glad I did. I enjoyed this book on so many different levels. First and foremost was the writing. Oh my goodness. Oates is a master of evocative language. She can express the most emotionally authentic thoughts eloquently and succinctly. I was constantly amazed at the beautiful way in which she set her thoughts and emotions on paper. I also found her descriptions of her life with Ray to be fascinating. They had a very unique relationship. It was an intellectual and academic life between two people who had the utmost respect for each other. But there is also something fragile and childlike about Oates and in many ways her relationship with Ray seemed to have a father-figure quality to it. I was also fascinated to read how Oates views her fame. In her mind, she is Joyce Smith and Joyce Carol Oates (or JCO, as she refers to her public persona) is just that - a public persona, a draining role she is reluctantly required to fulfill. Fascinating! I've never heard anyone else talk about this before. I also learned that she is a notoriously private person and rarely gives interviews or shares anything of her personal life with the public. So writing this intensely personal book was quite a giant leap of faith for her. And very brave for one so seemingly unsure of herself. And lastly, from my own experiences with grief - both personal and as a witness to a situation very similar to Oates - I feel that Oates presents a view of grief that is authentic, real and heartrendingly accurate. 4/5 stars - I really liked it!

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks - I absolutely LOVE Geraldine Brooks' books. If you haven't already read A Year of Wonders or People of the Book, you simply must add them to the top of your tbr list! And while you're at it add Caleb's Crossing as well. Brooks is a master of evoking time and place. Her use of language, dialogue and even her writing style perfectly fit the time period and the characters of her novels. Caleb's Crossing is an historical fiction novel set in the late 1600's on Martha's Vineyard and Cambridge, MA. It tells the story of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to graduate from what would become Harvard University and his friendship with a young white girl, Bethia Mayfield. Bethia yearns for an education, which is closed off to her because of her sex. Meanwhile, Bethia's father is struggling to convert the natives to Christianity and one of his projects is to educate Caleb. Brooks does a wonderful job of presenting the societal issues of the day without becoming preachy or presenting one side or the other as being all good or all bad. The reader is presented with a clear view of the life and times of the Puritan settlers and the Native Wampanoag tribe living both on the wild island of Great Harbor and in the gritty community of Cambridge. What makes the book even more compelling is that Brooks lives on Martha's Vineyard and came to write this story when she came across a document that mentioned the real life Caleb Cheeshahteamuck. There is very little information about Caleb, but Brooks felt that his amazing story was one that should not be forgotten to time. If that isn't enough to grab your attention, it's interesting to note that until this past May when Tiffany Smalley graduated from Harvard, Caleb was not just the first Wampanoag to graduate from Harvard, he was the only one! Imagine that! 4/5 stars - I really liked it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Never Forget

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

~John McCrae*

*Maj. John McCrae of the Canadian Army is best know for his famous war poem "In Flanders Fields," written following the death of a friend during the 1915 battle in the Yspres salient. McCrae composed the poem while sitting in the back of an ambulance, looking out on a nearby cemetery filled with wild poppies.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Freshman Year - A Mom's Retrospective

In the blink of an eye, Katie's freshman year of college is over. She came home last Saturday and it's so hard to wrap my mind around the fact that her first year of college is over. Incredible.

In the week or so leading up to her homecoming, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience over the course of the last 9 months. The range of emotions and my experience adjusting to this new stage of parenting is incredibly varied.

The first two weeks were spent in perpetual thought of her. I was constantly thinking of reasons to call her. I found myself on her Facebook page (something I hadn't done much of in the past) just to see if I could glean any information about what her days were like. And when I did find something I obsessed about whether I should comment. Would she think I was stalking her (I was) or would she feel bad that her mom wasn't wishing her good luck on her first college math test? What to do? I was wracked with indecision and angst. It was a rough two weeks. The good news is that she called and texted often. So I did have a sense of how she was doing. The bad news is that a lot of our conversations were about things that were worrying or upsetting her. So then I was worried and upset. And of course by the time we next spoke, the crises was long over - for her. That was difficult lesson to learn.

After the first couple of weeks, I really felt that I had adjusted to having my first child out of the nest. But I was wrong. Without realizing it, I was a total wreck. I knew I felt a little "off" and I craved a retreat of some sort, but I wasn't connecting it to Katie's departure. I was fortunate enough to arrange a week long getaway in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. I went with a friend in a similar situation and we spent our time in quiet contemplation and exploration of the surrounding area. We even spent one night taking turns talking about issues that were weighing on our minds. It felt good to get it all out. But my real relief came after my friend left (she had to get back) and I had a day and a half to myself. I drove to the top of a mountain, hoping to climb the observation tower for a view of the valley. The tower was closed for the season (it was late October), but I decided to explore a little on my own. After walking around a bit, I sat on a low stone wall, overlooking the valley below and without warning all my emotions rushed to the surface and I began to quietly weep - releasing all the pent up emotion of the previous weeks and even months of Katie's leave taking. Another solo visitor saw me sitting there and approached me and asked me if she could pray with me. Not being a religious person, I politely declined her heartfelt and generous offer. But her care and concern touched me deeply. Despite my lack of religious belief, I do believe she was there for a reason. I will never forget that moment or her kindness. It was certainly a defining moment for me.

And it wasn't just I who was changing. Thanksgiving was a difficult visit for Katie and me. She was difficult and demanding and I regretted the tone of that visit. I was apprehensive as winter break approached. Five weeks is a long time. I hoped it would not be a repeat of Thanksgiving. And it wasn't. I noticed in change in Katie. She was less combative and more cheerful. It was a great visit. And each subsequent visit - a weekend in February, spring break in March and Easter weekend - proved to be fairly positive. Still I was concerned about summer. Three months is a long time. Could we all live harmoniously? It's a big transition to live on your own at college to re-assimilating back into family life. Would it go smoothly? Would we all be at odds with each other? How would the family dynamic change? Would it change?

I think it's too soon to answer these questions. The first few days that Katie was home I noticed a concerted effort on her part to be amenable and cheerful. It seemed as though perhaps she had grown up some while away at college. But signs of our old tensions and struggles are starting to appear now. I sense her struggling to fit back into the new family dynamic that has emerged while she has been away. I can tell she feels a little out of place. I am struggling with this. How do I make the necessary adjustments that she seems to require, when I'm unable to anticipate or recognize what she wants from me? And what if what she wants is unrealistic? I think there are more adjustments to be made as I navigate this new stage in parenthood. Perhaps I'm going to have to find another mountaintop to visit before the summer is over.

Monday, May 16, 2011


You can't make this stuff up. Here's a conversation I had today with a patron.

Patron: Are you Pat?

Me: No, I'm Pam. Can I help you with something?

Patron: I was in here the other day and I bought one of the music cassette you had for sale. It was the worse 10 cents I ever spent. I put it back in the box. I'd like my dime back. The woman upstairs said I need to speak to Pat.

Me: ....... Well, I'm not sure where Pat is, but I can give you a dime. (hand him a dime)

Patron: Thank you. (he leaves)

Me: Am I on Candid Camera?

Now I've heard it all!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Project 52 - Weeks 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

Well, so much for updating my Project 52 goals once a month. Since I'm a week late, I'm including Week 19 as well!

Weeks 15-19 were all pretty good weeks for me. I did a decent job of keeping up with my weekly and monthly/multi-event goals and I even crossed off 2 of my one-time goals! But I have noticed that my motivation on my weekly goals is definitely waning. Not only the motivation of keeping up with them, but also the motivation to keep track of them. One thing I've learned is that if I participate in Project 52 next year, I will not include any weekly goals. Here's my accounting of how I did:

Weekly Goals

3. Cook 3 times per week - Epic fail! I didn't accomplish this at all in Weeks 15-19. Ugh! Score: 9/52

10. Walk/Exercise 3 times per week - I'm still going strong on my exercise goal. I walked 7 days in Week 15 and 19, 6 days during Weeks 16 and 17 and 4 times during Week 18. I think I've been successful in making exercise a permanent part of my routine! Woot, Woot! Score: 16/52

30. Pay attention to local politics - Check! I'm still doing a good job keeping up with local politics. And I did do a better job of keeping up with international politics during the month of April, which I had set as a goal last month. I'm going to continue to work on that in May. Score: 18/52

33. Post at least once a week - Nope. I missed Week 18. Score: 16/52

34. Write a weekly letter to Katie - Done! Score: 14/32

36. Keep fresh flowers in the family room - Check! And today I was given a lovely bouquet in honor of Mother's Day. It was made even more special because Geoff and Madeleine both remembered my favorite flower, Gerbera Daisy, and chose a bouquet featuring a lovely light pink one. Score: 18/52.

Monthly and Multi-Event Goals

1. Try one new non-soup recipe a month - April was a bust! But I have already made one new recipe in May - Moroccan Zucchini Lamb Chili (Geoff and I loved it. Madeleine, not so much. What else is new?) Score: 4/12

5. Invite my mother to dinner once a month - Gulp! Another failure in April. Are you noticing a theme here - anything to do with cooking is a real struggle for me. Madeleine and I did take her out to a Mother's Day Tea today. I'd like to count that for May's dinner, but I won't. That's really not in keeping with the spirit of this goal. Score: 3/12

31. Watch one Netflix month a month - I am really on top of this one. Not only did I watch a Netflix DVD in April (Mad Men Season 4 Disc 1) I have already watched one in May (Conviction). I loved both, btw. Score: 5/12

32. Go to the movies once a month - Another success! I saw movies in April - Jane Eyre with a girlfriend (loved it!) and Water for Elephants with a group of girlfriends from my book club (we all loved it!) I also already met this goal for May since I saw Something Borrowed last night (exactly what you would expect from a romantic comedy). Score: 4/12

37. Donate to a charity or cause once a month - Done! In April, we donated to a political cause whose values match our own. Score: 4/12

38. Just say "no" at work - Without going into details, I did have an opportunity to express myself about an issue at work and I got up the courage to be honest about my opinion. It was a little nerve-wracking, but in the end it all worked out. However, I have a very specific event in mind when it comes to saying "no" at work. An event that should be coming up in the next few months. Let's see if I can stick to my guns on this one. *fingers crossed* Score: Making progress

40. Schedule one Mental Health Day a month - I did follow through with the plan I formed in late March to have a Do Not Disturb day in April. On April 8th I stayed home, cozied up on the sofa and caught up on DVDs I'd been wanting to watch (Never Let Me Go, Made Men and episode one of Cranford. All excellent!) Score: 3/12

One Time Goals

4. Buy a Dutch Oven - This one happened quite by accident. I was shopping at Sam's Club and saw a gorgeous bright red Dutch oven for a very reasonable price. Sold! Score: Completed!

13. Join and complete Shape Up RI - Back on February 7th, Geoff and I joined a group of 9 other friends to form a team for the our statewide health and fitness challenge - Shape Up RI. The idea of Shape Up RI is for participants to track their exercise minutes, steps per day, weight loss and number of fruits and veggies consumed for twelve weeks. The challenged ended on May 7th and I'm proud to state that both Geoff and I finished in good standing. Over the course of the 12 weeks I lost 8 pounds, walked 870,178 steps and exercised for 3,790 minutes. (Geoff lost an amazing 25 pounds!!! I'm so proud of him!) I did not do as well on eating my requisite 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, however. I always thought I ate lots of fruits and vegetables, so I was very surprised to see that in reality I do not. Ugh! Perhaps that can be a goal for 2012's Project 52. Score: Completed!

How about you? How are you doing on your Project 52 goals or New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to hear about your progress.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's Not About You

As some of you know, I'm on the nominating committee for Reading Across Rhode Island (RARI). This year I was so please when the committee chose Rhode Island native, Craig Mullaney's amazing memoir The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education. When I saw this book on the list of nominated books my immediate reaction was that I had no interest in reading a "war book" and would wait to see if was eliminated in early discussions before committing to reading it. During our first session, another member of the group stated that she had the read book (even though she was sure she wouldn't be interested) and that it was fabulous. That got me curious. I decided to read it before our next meeting. And it made a very positive impression on me. At our next meeting there were several of us who had read the book and we all gushed about what a wonderful choice it would be for RARI. The rest is history.

This past weekend was the official celebration for The Unforgiving Minute. I had the great fortune of being invited to attend a reception for Mullaney on Friday night at his alma mater, Bishop Hendricken High School (a Catholic HS for boys). It was an extremely informal affair and I had a chance to talk briefly with him and have him sign my book. I told him how much I enjoyed his book and that I was strong supporter of it as our RARI selection. He was very gracious and humble. Then on Saturday I attended RARI's culminating event, the May Breakfast, in which Mullaney appeared and gave a talk to 425 enthusiastic readers. I attended the event with 10 members from my two book clubs. Part of the May Breakfast is also a food drive for a local pantry and participants are encouraged to bring canned goods and use them to create a centerpiece for their table. This year one of the women from my library book club, Donna, created a centerpiece that was reminiscent of one of the photographs from the book. She finished setting it up before the breakfast officially began and it immediately caught Mullaney's eye. He came right over to our table and spent the next 20 minutes talking to Donna, her husband Joe and the other members of our group. He even graciously agreed to pose for photos. It was very exciting. In the four years that I have been attending these events, no author has ever come into the crowd to visit with participants! We were all thrilled.

He then went on to give a very moving talk about the lessons he learned during his years at West Point, Ranger School, and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He also explained to us how those lessons prepared him to lead a platoon in Afghanistan. He spoke emotionally about the deep toll the loss of one of his men had on him and stated that writing the book was really his letter to that young man's parents. This was the first time I have been moved to tears at a RARI breakfast. He also spoke eloquently of personal responsibility, responsibility for others and responsibility to our communities. He summed up this sense of responsibility when he remembered the words of one of the men who trained him at Ranger School - "It's not about you". Mullaney related to us how the full force of those words hit him when he was told of the final words uttered by the soldier in his platoon as he lay dying. Private O'Neill asked, "How are the other guys?" It's not about you. Quite a powerful message.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Day for Quiet Reflection

Does anyone else feel that the public celebrations of Osama bin Laden's death being telecast on national TV are inappropriate? I think it's entirely natural to feel proud, relieved, thankful and even pleased. But, I also feel that this is an occasion that should lead to quiet reflection and remembrance. Not a party in the streets as though your favorite team just won the Super Bowl. This type of behavior seems disrespectful and even offensive. Please take a moment today to remember all the innocent lives lost on 9/11 and all the brave servicemen and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of this goal.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Visit to the Empty Nest

For the last week, Geoff and I have had a sneak peek of Life in the Empty Nest. Our oldest daughter, Katie, is away at college and our younger daughter, Madeleine, has been in France for the past week with her French class. Before she left, I flip-flopped from being thrilled to have a week to ourselves, to being terrified. Geoff and I have had the occasional vacation without kids, but we've never been home all by ourselves for more than a night or two. I really wasn't sure how it would feel. Would we stare blankly at each other across the silent dinner table or charm each other with sparkling conversation? Would we reconnect with each other as a couple or wonder who the heck is this person I'm sharing a home with? Would we feel off balance in a house gone suddenly quiet and still?

Happily, we did just fine. Since we were able to focus only on each other, we did have some great conversations. It was refreshing to have the time, space and freedom to do that. As it turned out, we didn't have an opportunity to stare blankly at each other across the dinner table, because we were both so busy this week that we only had two dinners together! Wow! Normally I don't think I would have realized how busy we both are. When there is so much going on at home, you kind of lose track of the days. But when it's just two of you, it's a lot more noticeable when the house is empty in the evening. I felt kind of bad about this at first, but upon reflection I think it's a good thing. Being active and busy and engaged in the world will probably serve us well when we live in the Empty Nest full time. I don't think we will ever get to the point where we don't have anything to say to each other. And when we are both sitting down together over dinner or in the evenings, we will appreciate the time together to reconnect.

The only downside of my visit to the Empty Nest is that it struck me that Madeleine will be going away to college in 2 short years. That really snuck up on me. I know how quickly these next 2 years are going to fly by and I am already getting sad thinking of the day that Geoff and I will drive her to college. It breaks my heart just thinking of it. So for now, I'm going to focus on the fact that in a few short hours not only will she be back from France, but Katie will also be home for Easter. What a strange feeling to be welcoming both my girls home in time for a holiday. Shades of things to come...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Books vs. Movies - The Great Debate

I used to think that I didn't like movies that were made from books. I had the attitude that "the book is always better than the movie". But recently I've begun to see things a little differently and have a had a change of heart. I can no longer make such a blanket statement.

It all started with Memoirs of a Geisha. By the time that book had been made into a movie, it had been several years since I had read the book. I LOVED that book and was anxious (though nervous) to see the film. The film was absolutely gorgeous and wonderful and I couldn't remember enough details of the book to know if the movie butchered it or not. The same thing happened with The Lovely Bones and The Other Boleyn Girl. At that point, I changed my opinion and decided that as long as I had read the book long enough ago, that I would be able to judge the movie on its own merits and not compare it unfavorably to the original.

And then last week, I had to reevaluate my stance on this issue yet again. A few weeks ago I read and reviewed the fantastic Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I LOVED this book and couldn't stop thinking about it for days after I finished it. I was aware that it had been made into a movie very recently and I was anxious to see the film. I watched it within a couple of weeks of reading the book and was afraid that since I remembered the book vividly I might regret watching the film. I was wrong! Even though the movie did stray from the book in a few minor ways, I loved it! It was very well done and watching the movie actually enhanced my understanding of the characters and added a whole new layer of appreciation for the story. This was so unexpected and such a revelation. It has caused me to rethink my whole philosophy on movies made from books.

The timing of this attitude adjustment couldn't be better, either. There are two current movies based on books that I've loved either playing now or opening soon - Jane Eyre and Water for Elephants. I actually saw Jane Eyre last night and thought it was terrific. The cinematography was gorgeous and I thought the movie was very well done. I loved that most of the actors are relative unknowns and their "celebrity" did not get in the way of the characters they were playing (if you know what I mean). This very issue is one that worries me about Water for Elephants. I am excited to see this movie, but I think it was very miscast. I really can't envision Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon in the leading roles. But, I'm willing to put aside my reservations. I just might be surprised. As I've recently come to realize, the book isn't always better than the movie.

How about you? Do you enjoy seeing movies made from your favorite books? Or do you avoid them at all costs?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Project 52 - Weeks 10, 11, 12, 13,14

Well, so much for updating my Project 52 goals once a month. Since I'm a week late, I'm including Week 14 as well!

Weeks 10-14 were all pretty good weeks for me. I did a decent job of keeping up with my weekly and monthly/multi-event goals and I even crossed off 2 of my one-time goals! I like those the best. Crossing things off of lists gives me a real sense of accomplishment! Here's my accounting of how I did:

Weekly Goals

3. Cook 3 times per week - I was able to do this for weeks 11, 12 and 13, but I only cooked twice in week 10 and a measly one time in Week 14. Not too bad, especially since this is one of the hardest goals on the list for me. Score: 9/52

10. Walk/Exercise 3 times per week - Success! I blew this goal out of the water. Weeks 10 and 12 I walked 5 times and Weeks 11, 13 and 14 I walked 6 times! Woot, Woot! Score: 11/52

30. Pay attention to local politics - Check! I'm still doing a good job keeping up with local politics, especially education. I've also been paying close attention to the discussion surrounding RI's unfunded pension liability and the suggested reforms. I could be doing a better job of paying attention to national and international news. I'm going to try to focus on that in the month of April. Score: 13/52

33. Post at least once a week - Nope. I missed Week 12. Score: 12/52

34. Write a weekly letter to Katie - Done! Score: 9/32

36. Keep fresh flowers in the family room - Check! Score: 13/52.

Monthly and Multi-Event Goals

1. Try one new non-soup recipe a month - I nailed this one in March. I actually tried 4 new recipes! (I'm really tempted to count three of those for future months.) Score: 2/12

2. Try 6 new soup recipes - I finally found a soup that we all like - Winter Casserole Soup. Delicious! This may be the last new soup recipe until Fall. Soup season is (thankfully) almost behind us. Score: 4/6

5. Invite my mother to dinner once a month - Yup. During Katie's Spring Break we celebrated St. Patrick's Day with a traditional Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner, which is something my mother loves. And as a bonus she had a chance to spend some time with Katie. Score: 3/12

14. Write book reviews for all 4 and 5 star books read in 2011 - In the past few weeks I have read 5 really great books, four of them back to back. One book, The Moonflower Vine, scored it's own review, but it was impossible for me to keep up with individual reviews for the other four so I wrote one Book Feast blog post. Score: 7/7

31. Watch one Netflix month a month - I did finally watch The Last Station, which I thought was a terrific movie about the last years of Tolstoy's life. I was so fascinated that when the movie was over I did a little research on Tolstoy and decided to read his novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich. It was interesting to read it after learning more about Tolstoy's philosophy. Score: 3/3

32. Go to the movies once a month - Geoff and I saw the Adjustment Bureau. I really enjoyed it. I usually have a hard time following the plots of action adventure movies, but this one was written in such a way that I actually understood it! Amazing! And it was a even an intelligent story. Imagine that. A thinking woman's action adventure movie. Go figure! Score: 2/12

37. Donate to a charity or cause once a month - As it turned out Geoff and I had three opportunities to donate to charities/causes this month. Our planned donation was to our town's Education Foundation, which provides "extras" to our local schools - items such as digital cameras, video equipment, technology supplies for the libraries, etc. Sadly, we also made a donation to a local church in memory of the mother of one of Geoff's friends/employees. And lastly, we made a contribution to a political cause that is important to Geoff after receiving a fundraising phone call and letter. Seems like there is always a good cause to support. Score: 3/12

40. Schedule one Mental Health Day a month - Nope! During the last full week of March, I realized that I hadn't scheduled a Mental Health Day and there was no opportunity left in the days remaining. I suppose this is actually a good thing, since I didn't feel the need to "check out" for a day. But I plan on remedying this early in April. As a matter of fact, tomorrow is already earmarked in my calendar as a "Do Not Disturb Day"! Score: 2/12

One Time Goals

18. Read one book on my tbr list that has been on the list for at least 3 years - I got a really pleasant surprise when I looked through my tbr list to find a book to meet this criteria. Seems I've either done a good job of keeping up with my list or of weeding out stagnant books, because the oldest books I could find were added to the list in March 2009. And those books were all non-fiction books written by Alison Weir. Reading one of Weir's book is #17 on my list, so I decided to pick the next oldest book to meet this criteria. That was The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carlson, which was added in December 2009. It was fabulous! Score: Completed!

25. Spend the weekend in Portsmouth, NH with a friend - I've started the preliminary planning on this trip. My friend, Margaret, and I talked about going some time this spring, but could not find a date that worked well. So, we've decided to go in the fall. New Hampshire in the fall! Sounds like a good time to visit. Both Margaret and I have a lot going on during most weekends next fall, so we'll see if we can squeeze this one in. I sure hope so.

26. Explore the shops on Hope St. in Providence - This goal turned out to have a added bonus attached to it. Not only did I explore the shops, I did it with Katie! Before Katie came home for spring break she mentioned that she wanted to put a day aside to spend with me! I was so surprised by this. Usually when she comes home she just wants to sleep and spend time with her friends. So this really touched me. We ended up spending the day on Hope St - shopping, browsing, having lunch at an adorable diner and getting dessert a local bakery. It was a great day! Score: Completed!

How about you? How are you doing on your Project 52 goals or New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to hear about your progress.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Feast of Books

It seems that for the last several months, when it comes to great books, it’s either feast or famine. And right now I’ve been enjoying the most amazing feast. In the last month or so I’ve read 4 terrific books. Since I’m behind on writing reviews, I’m just going to do mini reviews of all four of them in one post.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier – Chevalier has written quite a few books, most famously The Girl with the Pearl Earring. She is one of my favorite authors and I’m always interested to check out her latest book. I must admit that when I read the summary of Remarkable Creatures, I was not all that interested and had decided not to read it. But then Peggy, one of my co-workers whose opinion I value, said it was a great story and would make a good book club choice. And she was right. The story takes place in the early decades of the 1800s during a time of great scientific discovery. Remarkable Creatures tells the story of Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Anning, two unlikely friends who live on the coast of England in an area rich in fossils. The two women are both fossil hunters – but for very different reasons. When Mary makes an important discovery, she is thrust into the world of academia, for which she is ill equipped and which is also closed off to her because she is a woman. But Remarkable Creatures is about so much more than fossil hunting. It’s about social class, the roles of the sexes in the early 19th century and most importantly about female friendship in all its incarnations. This is a great read and it generated a wonderful book discussion – all the more so since it is based on real people and actual events! 4 stars – I really liked it.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy – After watching the wonderful movie, The Last Station, about the last years of Tolstoy’s life, I found myself wanting to learn more about this intriguing and mystifying man. I did a little research which led me to want to immediately pick up one of his books and read it. I have always wanted to read Anna Karenina (and I will someday), but I decided I wasn’t ready to make such a big commitment. During my research, I learned that Tolstoy was fascinated with religion and death and that he was quite a philosopher. His novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich was mentioned as being “one of the world’s supreme masterpieces on the subject of death and dying”. I decided it would be the perfect book to scratch my Tolstoy itch. Not only is it short , it deals with a topic that is pure Tolstoy and it was written in the latter part of his life – which fit in nicely with the fact that my interest was generated by the movie. In addition, I remember having read it in college in my Russian Literature course and I still have my copy. It was so much fun to see the passages that I highlighted as a 20 year old all those years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this classic piece of literature, which deals with a middle aged man, who has followed all the rules in his life and now finds himself suddenly faced with his own death. A matter he has never spent a moment considering. The Death of Ivan Ilyich follows Ivan’s journey as he comes to terms with his imminent demise. I noticed as I was reading that my long ago self had not highlighted any of the 34 page introduction. Which is not all that surprising. But it is a shame, because I got so much more out of this story by having first read the introduction. I can’t say that I came to any great epiphany after reading Ivan’s story. I have a feeling I’m still too far removed from my own death (at least I hope I am), but it I did enjoy the wonderful writing and I certainly can appreciate Tolstoy’s message about death. I’m pretty sure the whole point of the story was lost on me as college student. I’m so glad I made the time to revisit this “supreme masterpiece”. 4 stars – I really liked it.

Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro –
I LOVED this book! I can not say it enough. I listened to the audio version of this one in my car and I’m not sure I would have loved it quite so much if I had read it, but I can’t be sure. The book is written in a very conversational style, which might have seemed a little sleepy on the written page. Never Let Me Go takes place in England in the 1990s (my best guess). It is narrated by Kathy, a 31 year old woman, who is reminiscing about her time at a Hailsham, a boarding school, with her two closest friends Tommy and Ruth. The students at Hailsham were sheltered from the outside world and made to feel special and separate from it. Kathy left Hailsham, Tommy and Ruth behind long ago, but when they are reunited she begins to allow herself to think about her time there and to explore the dark secrets of who they really are. I don’t want to give too much away, but Ishiguro masterfully reveals the plot in small crumbs that kept me questioning and rapt. I couldn’t wait to get into my car to run errands or drive to work. I simply had to find out how this story would fully reveal itself. Never Let Me Go would make a fabulous book club book since it not only deals with issues that lend themselves well to discussion, but Ishiguro also leaves the reader pondering some big questions. Fabulous! (Note: I have heard from a friend that her book club read this one and people either loved it or hated it, but I think it’s worth giving it a try. Because if you’re in the love it camp, you will be so happy to have read it). 5 stars – I LOVED it!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand –
Unbroken tells the remarkable true story of the record breaking Olympic runner and WWII veteran and POW Louis Zamperini. The book covers Zamperini’s life from his years as a delinquent teenager all way up to the present day as a still vibrant 93 year old. But the majority of the book focuses on Zamperini’s time as a bombardier and POW in the Pacific theater during WWII. Zamperini’s plane was shot down over the Pacific and he and 2 other men survived over 40 days on a leaky life raft in the shark infested waters. That alone is hard to fathom. However, when the survivors finally wash ashore it is on a Japanese controlled island and the men are taken as POWs. The majority of the book chronicles Zamperini’s time in various POW camps . What Zamperini and the other POWs were subjected to defies explanation. There were many parts of the book that I found how to believe. And while many of the atrocities are related in the book, they are handled with great sensitivity. But this is not a story of torture, it is a story of survival and the strength of the human spirit and the incredible will to live. But most of all it is the story of human dignity. But I learned so much more by reading this book. I’m embarrassed to admit that aside from Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagaski, I knew nothing at all about the war in the Pacific. Seems all I ever learned about was the Germans, Hitler and the Holocaust. I know have a much fuller understanding of Japan’s role in the war. Unbroken is non-fiction at its best. 4 stars – I really like it.

It’s been a really good few weeks of reading for me. I hope it continues. How about you? Read any good books lately?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Never Enough Books...

If you're anything like me, you have a long list of books "to be read". I find new titles almost everyday. I find them in all kinds of places: your blogs, at work, magazine and newspaper reviews, friends' recommendations and sometimes I have no idea where I heard of a particular book.

Colleen, a friend of mine, always seems to hear about the most intriguing books. Forever ago, she told me that she receives a daily email from her local library highlighting the Book of the Day. I was intrigued, but never remembered to look into it. Well, yesterday I somehow stumbled upon it while trolling doing some research online. The East Providence Public Library here in RI provides this online service. You can sign up for book recommendations in a variety of genres and even for books for teens. Some of the emails arrive daily and others are weekly. It's a fascinating service and for book lovers it's a little like getting a gift every day. You never know what little gem will show up. And so far I've been impressed (yeah, I know it's only been two days) that the titles are not the ones that are already on the best sellers list. They are books that I hadn't heard of... yet. Which is saying a lot since I work with books and my personal life is also full of books.

Anyway, I thought I'd share this little gem with all of you bookworms. If you are like me and can never have too many books on your tbr list, you might want to sign up for East Providence Public Library's eNewsletter. Happy reading!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Review: The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton

Finally! It's been a really long time since I've read a book that I truly love. A book that I am excited to recommend to my friends. After months (and I do mean months) of lamenting my dearth of good books, I've finally read a book that I'm excited to review - The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton. I have no recollection of how I heard of The Moonflower Vine, but I'm so glad that I did.

The Moonflower Vine was written in 1962 and it was Carelton's first and only book. After reading the forward, written by Jane Smiley, I came to understand that like many books, The Moonflower Vine had become all but forgotten over time. Then in 2005, Smiley wrote a book called 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, in which she discusses 100 novels (among other things), which led to the reissue of The Moonflower Vine in 2009.

The story takes place in rural Missouri in the first half of the 20th century and tells the story of Matthew and Callie Soames and their 4 daughters. It reminded me in style of To Kill a Mockingbird, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and So Big. It's a very good story, simply told. The characters are all rich and complex, yet they are simple, moral people trying to live good lives. The story could have been told in a sensationalistic way, but instead Carleton chose to tell the story in a more realistic and subtle way. It's the story of regular people, who see themselves as being essentially good, yet they all struggle with secrets and flaws. What makes it so authentic is that they know they are flawed and they wrestle with the that knowledge and the fact that it doesn't fit in with their own or society's view of them. It's a great story. I couldn't wait to see how the story would play out, yet I didn't want it to end. 5 stars - It was amazing.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage

By now I'm sure most of you have heard Carolyn and Sean Savage's heartbreaking story. They are the couple who where inadvertently given the wrong embryos during an IVF treatment. When faced with this horrible and horrifying news, they decided to not only continue the pregnancy, but to surrender the child to his biological parents and not fight for custody of him. It's hard for me to imagine a worse situation to be in. And if faced with a similar situation, I'm not sure I would have been as strong, gracious or giving as the Savage's.

The story was made even more poignant by the fact that due to medical considerations, this would be Carolyn Savage's last pregnancy. She would not be able to undergo another IVF treatment with her own embryos. I can only imagine her heartbreak. How difficult must it have been to carry that baby for nine months, knowing you couldn't keep him? And not because you didn't want him. You do want him. Desperately. But you choose to do what's morally right. From the beginning, Carolyn and Sean thought about the biological parents and what they would want if the roles were reversed. And they based their actions on that. Putting their own feelings aside, as much as was possible.

Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift presents an honest and sometimes raw account of how Carolyn and Sean came to the decision they did and how they got through this most emotional of pregnancies and deliveries. It is a surprisingly honest presentation of their ordeal, in that the Savage's don't try to hide or sugar coat their experience. It is all revealed - the good, the bad and the ugly - but with an astonishing amount of grace, dignity and respect. Carolyn and Sean Savage are amazing people. I was so impressed with their courage and their strong sense of morals. My heart breaks for them.

This book is definitely not for everyone. It's certainly not a book that I'm telling everyone to read. For me, I was interested in reading it because I was so impressed by their story and I wanted to know more about how they came to make this difficult decision and how they were each able to reconcile this terrible situation in their own minds. Additionally, I am interested in all things medical, but especially medical and maternal. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about this strong and compassionate couple, readers who are fascinated with medical ethics or anyone who likes to read stories that force them to question how they would behave in a similar situation. What makes it all the more fascinating, heartbreaking and incomprehensible is that it is all true. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Project 52 - Weeks 7, 8, 9

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't posted a Project 52 update in a few weeks. Rest assured that even though I haven't been posting about it, I have been busy keeping up with all my goals and chipping away at my Project 52 list. I simply decided that since posting every week was beginning to bore me, it must really be boring the rest of you. Since many of my goals are weekly goals, I really felt as though I was saying the same thing week, after week, after week. Boring! So I decided to do one update at the end of each month, reflecting back on my progress. Hopefully, that will be less boring for all of us!

Weeks 7-9 were all pretty good weeks for me. I did a decent job of keeping up with my weekly and monthly/multi-event goals and I even crossed off one of my one-time goals! I like those the best. Crossing things off of lists gives me a real sense of accomplishment! Here's my accounting of how I did for the past 3 weeks:

Weekly Goals

3. Cook 3 times per week - I did manage to cook 3 times in Week 7 and 8. But Week 9 was my Home Alone 2 week and I did not cook at all. And I'm proud of that fact! Project 52 goal #3 be damned! Score: 6/52 weeks

10. Walk/Exercise 3 times per week - Success! Weeks 7 and 8 I actually exercised 4 times. Week 9 I just barely got my three times in. Score: 6/52 weeks

30. Pay attention to local politics - Check! I've found that I'm mostly following what's going on in education in our state. But I have forced myself to read other political articles - both local, national and international. I am definitely making a conscious effort to do it (Project 52 is calling...), but if that's what it takes to make me accomplish some of my goals - so be it! Today Geoff even forwarded a political website to me that will send me an email any time RI is mentioned in the news nationwide. All I had to do is subscribe. Now it will be even easier to keep up. This one is harder to score, but as long as I read one article a day I'm counting it as meeting my weekly quota. Score: 8/52

33. Post at least once a week - Yes, by the skin of my teeth. Score: 8/52

34. Write a weekly letter to Katie - Not only did I write to her each week, two of those letters were in care packages! One package was full of Valentine's Day surprises and the other, less exciting package, consisted of shorts and a To Do List she left behind. Gotta love those To Do Lists! Score: 5/32

36. Keep fresh flowers in the family room - Ummm, define "fresh". Week 7 and 8 were no problem. As a matter of fact, Valentine's Day fell during Week 8 and Geoff gave me the most gorgeous bouquet of 3 dozen red roses I have ever seen. They were flown in from Colombia - not sure why- but they are truly lovely and have lasted a long time. However, in Week 9 many of them are looking a little sad. Some are still in good shape, though. I really need to weed out the wilters and make a smaller bouquet of the survivors. So, I'm going to be generous here and give myself Week 9. Score: 8/52.

Monthly and Multi-Event Goals

1. Try one new non-soup recipe a month - I'm hoping to get this one in under the wire. I'm planning on making a Chicken Piccata recipe tonight. However, I've got a crazy late afternoon today and I'm not sure I'm going to be able to pull this off. We'll see. Score: 2?/12 *fingers crossed*

2. Try 6 new soup recipes - I made Italian minestrone and barley soup. Geoff and I loved it. Apparently, barley makes Madeleine gag. She tried one bite and couldn't even manage to let the soup leave the spoon! I've never seen anyone put a spoonful of food in their mouth and then take it right back out. Hysterical! She could not tolerate the texture of the barley. Who knew? I, on the other hand, love barely. I guess I won't be having more any time soon. Score: 3/6

5. Invite my mother to dinner once a month - Does lunch count? Somehow the month got away from me and I never did invite her over. I feel badly about that. But, I did take her out to lunch one day, which is not something I do regularly. Again, I'm going to be generous with myself. After all, it's the spirit of the goals that is really more important than following them to the letter. At least, for me it is. Score: 2/2

14. Write book reviews for all 4 and 5 star books read in 2011 - Well, I'm halfway there. During Weeks 7-9, I read 2 books that I rated 4 stars - The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage. I have written a book review for The Crucible. I will be writing and posting a book review about Inconceivable soon, but it's not ready
yet. Score: 1/2

28. Try 3 swanky restaurants in Providence - 1 down, 2 to go. On Sunday Geoff, Madeleine and I went to Ruth's Chris Steakhouse to celebrate my birthday. It's a beautiful restaurant with a magnificent view of the city. Our meal was delicious and it was a great way to celebrate my birthday.

32. Go to the movies once a month - Nope. Maybe next month.

37. Donate to a charity or cause once a month - Check. Geoff and I like to support our town and this month we donated to the town Boosters. Even though our girls have not been too involved in sports in high school (Katie was on the JV tennis team for two years), we feel that a strong sports program is important to the health and well-being of our town's teens. For us, it is a worthy cause. Score: 2/2

40. Schedule one Mental Health Day a month - I think having 5 days and 4 nights to myself at home definitely qualifies! Score: 2/2

One Time Goals

20. Make a day trip to Boston to explore and get my bearings - Done! I visited the area of Boston around Northeastern University with my friend Barbara. She is somewhat familiar with the area, since her son is a Freshman at Northeastern. We had a great time and I definitely feel like I have a better sense of the city as a whole and that area in particular. I hope to make more trips to Boston to explore further, but this was a good start. Score: Completed!

How about you? How are you doing on your Project 52 goals or New Year's Resolutions? I'd love to hear about your progress.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home Alone 2

Back in April of last year I wrote a post about having the whole house to myself during my girls' spring break. Well, the heavens smiled upon me again this past week during Madeleine's February vacation. Once again, Geoff and Madeleine flew off to warm and sunny Arizona and I stayed behind to enjoy some peace and quiet. Five days and four nights to myself.

And I did enjoy it, but I also came to a huge revelation. I really don't need to have the house to myself to have time to myself. My everyday life is already pretty amazing! In the past when I've had time alone, I haven't done much else except read, relax and possibly go on a few "fieldtrips" that I wouldn't have time to do otherwise. This time, I realized that I didn't feel a driving need to do those things. I couldn't figure out why at first and then it hit me. I already get to do those things on a regular basis. I usually have plenty of time to read and relax and I go on lots of excursions with my friends - or sometimes on my own. This was a huge epiphany for me. My life as a wife and mom has definitely changed a lot from the hectic days of raising babies, toddlers and young children. There are definitely stages and cycles to motherhood and I realized that I have entered a new one.

So, how did I spend my time? Well, I did go on one fieldtrip - to Boston with my friend, Barbara. Her son goes to Northeastern University and she has become familiar with the area surrounding the university. We had a great day exploring and shopping. This is something I've been wanting to do for awhile, so this was the perfect opportunity for me.

I also got together with my high school friend, Kim, who I saw for the first time in 28 years back in April when I was last Home Alone. Kim's parents still live in town and she was back for a visit during her kids' school vacation. We met for breakfast and it was so great to have a chance to visit and chat with her! I really enjoy her company and conversation and hope we can continue to see each other when she comes to town. We may even meet up in NYC sometime to explore. That would be amazing!

Other than that, I ran errands (can you believe it!?) during the day. This was when I had my revelation. Why am I running errands during my free week? Why aren't I protecting this precious time and cuddling up at home with a book and some great movies? I just didn't feel the need. So during the day I ran a few errands and in the late afternoon and evenings I enjoyed having the family room, sofa and remote control to myself. I realized that that is what I really enjoyed the most. Because those are the things I don't normally have on a regular basis. Madeleine definitely monopolizes the family room every day once she gets home from school until she goes to bed at night. That was really all I needed to feel as though having the house to myself was any different from any other day. As I said in the beginning - my everyday life is pretty amazing! I guess I just needed to be reminded of that. And in 2 1/2 short years, Madeleine will be away at college and I will have the family room to myself every. single. day. I'm pretty sure that will not be something I will enjoy. So, for now, I'm going to appreciate my epiphany and give thanks for my amazing life. I think this stage of motherhood just might be one of my favorites.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Speaking of Good Literature....

In the last two weeks I have had the opportunity to see wonderful productions of two classic plays - The Crucible by Arthur Miller and A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. I was excited to see these plays since I had studied both of them during my years as a student. How ironic, considering the fact that many schools are considering teaching less literature in favor of more "informational texts". Bah! I wonder if I would have been interested in attending these productions, if I hadn't been introduced to them in school? I think not. As a matter of fact, Madeleine, who is 16, asked if she could come with Geoff and me to see The Crucible since she had studied it earlier this year! Imagine that! The arts and cultural entertainment could be just one more causality of removing challenging literature from our schools' curriculum. What a pity.

Before seeing The Crucible I decided to try an experiment. I decided to reread it to see if familiarizing myself with the details of the story would add or detract from my enjoyment of it. I have considered doing this in the past, but always decided not to, in order to let the story wash over me - without any expectations. I was somewhat surprised to find that a fresh exposure to the play added to my enjoyment of the production immensely! The Crucible is a complex and multi-layered story and having read it ahead of time really added to my understanding of the deeper messages of the plot. Having the time to really ponder the moral questions presented by Miller added another level of appreciation to the live production.

Book review: If you've never read The Crucible or last read it in High School, I highly recommend picking it up again and revisiting it as an adult. It's a surprisingly quick read (I read it in two short sittings) and it's so much more than "that book about the Salem witch trials." It's a moral story about having strength in your convictions, about standing up for what you know is right, about personal honor and dignity and about the love between a husband and wife struggling within a flawed marriage. It's powerful and I highly recommend it. 4 stars - I really liked it.

After my positive experience with The Crucible, I decided to reread A Doll's House before seeing the play as well. I'm really glad I did, too, because the play was written in 1879 and the production I saw was set in 1959. As I was reading the play, I wondered how the director was going to pull that off since the language and story seemed so dated. The adaptation that the director and his partner created was brilliant - updated, but still very true to the original. And I would never had known that had I not reread the play. This gave me an entirely new level of appreciation for the play.

Book review: I didn't enjoy A Doll's House as much as I did The Crucible, but it is still a very accessible and easy to read classic. It's the story of a marriage that seems happy on the surface, but is actually quite the opposite. Torvald has a controlling and condescending relationship with his seemingly weak and dependent wife, Nora. Nora, however, is not the delicate flower Torvald thinks she is and is in reality working feverishly to hide a secret from Torvald. By the end of the play, Nora comes to a realization that will have repercussions for herself, her marriage and her family. The play was highly controversial when it was first produced in 1879 and it translated very well into the 1950s. It's a little less relevant today, but it still presents some truths that resonate with a modern audience. 3 stars - I liked it.


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