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?


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