Archive for the 'Books & Reviews' Category
I’ve been in a funk the last few days. I don’t exactly know why. The weather is gorgeous. We’ve had the most beautiful October. Ever. And we are all healthy. Maybe it’s because I joined the PTA. I stayed away as long as I could, until I couldn’t anymore. PTA moms are an altogether different species, and I just couldn’t see how to make myself fit in. I still can’t.
This is what I’ve observed so far: We, PTA moms, seem to have no other interests but to make copies, staple classroom information packets together, decorate for the auction, fundraise, and meet for lunch on Wednesdays. Where, I will add, bottle upon bottle of cheap white wine will be consumed and very little food will actually be eaten. And then when the weekend comes, we, PTA moms, can think of no better way to spend the time than to congregate on one field or another and cheer our kids on. We are so certain, that at least one of them, if not more, will be a professional soccer or football player. I mean, come on! Have you seen those kicks?
The entire social network of PTA moms seems to be made up of other moms with whom we discuss everything from how awesome our kids are - they are PERFECT and as such deserve only praise! - to whether milk is good or bad - it’s BAD, by the way. Very, very BAD! - to how often we have sex with our partners, - apparently we are all in our sexual prime because we have sex AT LEAST five times a week! When our husbands are home, that is. Because a lot of our husbands travel for business. - to how our single friends, or childless friends don’t understand us anymore -we feel betrayed. So it makes sense that with our husbands traveling and our other friends betraying us, we turn to other PTA moms for friendship.
Since we are so busy being PTA moms, we really have no time to read books. Unless it’s Shades of Grey, of course. Which we discuss quite a bit, giggling over some of the parts, and justifying how this book is a story about redeeming love - really! - and all of us can’t wait for the movie -NOT!!! If any mom suggests that we read something different next time, we immediately silence her with a look. I mean, doesn’t she already know that life is hard enough, and we are so busy, and our families and society as a whole, expect so much from us? If we read, we read for pleasure. We are such romantics! We are suckers for love stories! And reality TV.
If this is a harsh portrayal of my fellow PTA moms, I apologize. If I seem to arrive late for our meetings, and leave early, I apologize. If I yawn quite a bit when you all go on and on about one thing or another that is beyond boring to me, I apologize. Perhaps I’ll get around to your way of thinking one of these days. Until then, I’ll go and read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. That is sure to get me out of this funk.
I haven’t been feeling all that great the last several weeks, dead tired by nine, fast asleep by ten, and wide awake at three. The world is quite different at three in the morning. Every sound magnified, every shadow lengthened. I make my rounds in the dark, check on sleepy heads, careful not to trip over blankets dragging on the floor. In the kitchen I turn on the lamp, settle myself in the big chair and reach for my journal or laptop. Journal usually wins. Because blogging at three in the morning isn’t always wise.
But right now, I feel like blogging, because after dinner last night I picked up Night by Elie Weisel, thinking I’d read a chapter before sleep, and an hour and a half later, I finished the book, tearful and exhausted. There was so much I wanted to say, and don’t know if I’ll remember it all, but all I could manage then was a good cry over all the suffering that goes on in the world. I was so tired, I fell asleep before I even wiped my tears away.
For the last five hours I’ve dreamt only of stifling hot cattle cars and of digging in the cellar for my family’s treasures, my mouth clamped shut over my gold-crowned teeth, afraid the evil dentist was somewhere in the darkness, ready to yank the gold out. It seemed so real! I awoke relieved it was a dream, and that I had no gold anywhere in my mouth.
When I was twelve and reading The Diary of Anne Frank, the pastor at my church - whose daughter was my age and probably reading the same book with her seventh grade class - said that the Holocaust was God punishing the Jews for crucifying Jesus. What shocks me now is that I wasn’t shocked then. I remember that Sunday, the slant of the sun coming in through the windows, the heads in the audience nodding in agreement. All those nodding heads, lacking their own method of reasoning, believing what they were told without question. Just like me, afraid to challenge what I heard lest I lose friends or I become confused.
When I see how strong the need is to be liked and popular and when I see how much effort it takes to think for oneself, I am not surprised how idly we stand by, how we distance ourselves from the suffering of those different than we are, and how quickly we find reasons to defend our apathy. It’s tragic and I hate it. And I realize that as a mother my role is to teach my children HOW to think, and not WHAT to think. Because there will be plenty of people to tell them that.
When I was a young child, the summer days stretched endlessly from dawn to dusk. Mornings were always my favorite time: the bright sunshine, the cool air, the quiet. I would fluff up my pillows and open my book. In our overcrowded and busy family house, the best time to read was when everyone else was asleep and no artificial light was needed.
Breakfast was usually a hurried affair of cold cereal and toast, as the day awaited and we all couldn’t wait to get going. The playground awaited. Visits to family friends awaited. Lakes awaited and picnics awaited and barbecues awaited and laughter and fun awaited. There was always something going on. And when there wasn’t, lazy days of reading and sunbathing in the backyard awaited.
No matter how censured I felt as a child and young adult, both by my parents and the church community, my parents did their best to create for us a childhood and youth filled with happy memories and free of financial worry. We weren’t rich. Far from it. My dad worked hard, often three jobs at a time, so that my mom could stay home and take care of us. And it wasn’t easy. I knew it then, and I know it now; being a parent myself, I find myself pulled in all directions. Work. Family. Books. Guilt I’m not at work enough. Guilt I’m not with my family enough. Guilt I’m spending money on books I don’t have time to read. Always on the phone… Or checking my messages… Or sending texts to my employees, reminding them what to do. The list goes on.
Excuses. All of them. I’m sure that on my death bed, the only thing I’ll regret are the days and times I’ve spent away from my kids. These summer days my goal is to be with them as often and as much as I can, and to provide them with a legacy of golden memories. What about for you? What are your goals?
I know, I know I’m a day or so late. Sorry. But we do have a winner. Without further delay, congratulations to commenter number 25: Joyce! Please email me your mailing address and Hidden in Paris will be on its way to you.
I first came across Corine’s blog about two years ago. I was smitten from the start with her colorful garden, her fearless decorating style, and her refreshing sense of humor. I remember one night in those early days of having discovered her, when I couldn’t sleep, so I spent about two hours just reading her previous posts, fascinated by this French woman who could say so much and so well, in just a few words.
In the time since, I have discovered that Corine and I have several things in common, besides blogging and telling stories: we both have sisters, we love to eat and are great at it, and we speak English with an accent. When I found out that Corine’s first book came out I immediately bought it, and read it all the day it arrived.
I love the story. It is a perfect read for the summer. Hidden in Paris, is about three American women in the heart of Paris, each wishing to escape her own problems, living together in a beautiful house, and eating delicious French food. Because Corine is French and has lived in America for quite a long time now, she’s tackled both the French and the American cultures so well. And because I love the story so, I am offering a giveaway of the book. Any comment from now until Wednesday midnight (Pacific Standard Time) will be entered.
Visit Barnes & Nobles online, Amazon.com, and Goodreads, to purchase your own copy of Hidden in Paris.
I came home from a Christmas party tonight to find a package had arrived for me all the way from Provence, France. A month or so ago, I was one of a few lucky giveaway winners of Vicki Archer’s new decor/lifestyle book French Essence. Vicki’s a mesmerizing storyteller, decorator and style setter, and this book does not disappoint. In fact, because I so love Vicki’s books, I am having two giveaways of French Essence. Leave a comment to enter the drawing. The two winners will be announced on Wednesday, December 22. Good luck to you all!
My husband and I have a dream of living abroad. We’d love to take the kids and move from one country to another, settling for a time being in each, getting jobs, learning the culture, the ways of that world, knowing the people, and eating the food. Whether we ever will, remains a mystery to us. In the meantime, we’re happy to read about other families braver than we are. Families such as the one belonging to Rebecca Ramsey, author of French by Heart. I marvel at her courage to uproot her three small children from their South Carolina home and follow her husband to France for four years.
Rebecca is as charming in real life as she is in her book. I’ve read French by Heart twice, I love it so, and I also bought an extra copy because I wanted to give it to someone to enjoy it just as much as I did. Please visit her blog: #mce_temp_url# to read more about her, and also go on and purchase a copy of French by Heart. #mce_temp_url# has some amazing deals (don’t they always?)!
The contest for this book is through next Sunday at noon (my time). Everyone who leaves a comment on any of the posts is automatically entered. Have fun!
Congratulations to Corinne of #mce_temp_url# for winning last week’s Writing Home giveaway! Stop on by her place and say hello. She is a wonderful writer.
When I was young my grandmother used to say that children are our inheritance from the good Lord. As we receive them into our families, we inherit their dreams and their futures as well, neither of which we should take lightly. Now, fully an adult and a parent as well, I understand the magnitude of her words.
Responsibilities come and go, but this is one that stays with us. Years and years of preparing them for adulthood, making mistakes along the way, learning together (in my case, at least), yet knowing there’s nothing arbitrary about the values we try to instill in them. We hope to infuse their life with meaning and with joy. We try to be good examples, yet remain true to ourselves. And we get tired along the way, and wish to just give in and let things be.
There are inherent risks in all we do, in life itself. Sometimes the most we can offer is emotional safety. Because life nonchalantly goes on in it’s own way in a blatant disregard to our opinions and wishes, our duty to our children’s future is so vital and so much more rewarding than we can even anticipate.
And with this in mind, I’d like to introduce you to Cindy La Ferle. I read Cindy’s collected essay book, Writing Home, nodding my head at her words, knowing that I have lived or thought about every single issue about motherhood that she brings up. Immediately I went out and bought another copy. It is so good that I know others will greatly benefit from it. For more of Cindy’s words of wisdom, visit her at #mce_temp_url#. You may also purchase the book and receive it within a few days from #mce_temp_url#. This drawing is open to all readers until next Sunday at noon.
Love to all of you. And a beautiful week!
I apologize for the poor quality of the photo. It was taken with my iPhone rather than with a good quality camera, because a good quality camera does not offer the convenience of an iPhone. Or fit in my back pocket. And also, since it was around 3:00am on Christmas morn, it’s probably a good thing that it isn’t too clear.
Christmas Eve day dawned foggy and cold. I awoke before the darkness lifted though, as I was in charge of the family lunch and the house was a mess from the previous day’s baking with my mom, sister, and husband. The kitchen was a nightmare, with pans piled on every surface!
I cooked and cleaned and washed and laundered and set the table, and before long everyone arrived, laden with goodies. We sat and ate and talked and laughed and ate and drank some more. The lunch stretched into the dinner hour. Noticing the lateness and marveling at how quickly time passes, we put a stop to all the fun and festivities and prepared ourselves for church. On Christmas Eve we always go to church.
And, oh how beautiful it was! The brass band blew away on their trombones, their tubas and their horns. The one hundred person choir performed O Holy Night and Handel’s Messiah, and it truly felt as though the angels of heaven descended on earth with their tidings of great joy. My spine was tingling and my hair stood on end, from the beauty of it all.
After church we hurried home and changed into comfortable clothing. It was time to make our rounds to the Christmas Eve parties already in session. We didn’t linger long for we wanted to be at the party where traditional carols and carolers would be. And so we went to my friend’s beautiful estate high up in the wooded hills. The food was amazing and in abundance. The company awesome! Even Santa paid a visit, handing out bonbons to the wide-eyed children. There we stayed caroling and listening to visiting carolers, eating, socializing, and telling stories until 4:30 Christmas morning.
The kids who had been playing with the other 20 or so children, fell asleep the moment we put them in the car. And we did too, just as soon as we brushed our teeth and tumbled in bed, 15 minutes later.
Christmas Day was quiet. We got up around noon, opened our presents, and had our breakfast. We read, watched movies and took long naps. The skies were beautiful and blue, sunshine streaming brightly, but we just ventured out for a little bit as the wind was quick and sharp. At night we read in front of the fire and fell asleep in a pile on the bed, the kids tucked in between us.
And so today, this second day of Christmas we celebrated some more, and tomorrow and the next we will too. The presents that most children would receive on just one day are spread out until the twelfth night (January 5th), the eve of Epiphany. On the 6th, on that Three King’s Day, we will have a special cake, wearing silver and gold (foil) crowns, searching in the richness of the cake for the King’s ring.
Then the season will conclude. Our hearts will be lighter, our spirits richer, our bodies probably fatter. But who cares? Lent isn’t too far off.
When I was a child my favorite Christmas story was The Story of Holly and Ivy, written by Rumer Godden. It is a lovely story about an orphan child wishing for a doll and a grandmother, and also the story of a doll wishing for a dear child’s arm around her. My sisters and I loved it so much we kept checking it out of the library over and over. As I got older I forgot about the magical story of a wish coming true, until I got pregnant with my son and started on making my dreams of a children’s library a reality.
For months and months I couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally Powell’s Books, my favorite local bookstore, located a used copy for me. And wouldn’t you know it, but a few years later there was a new printing of the book, and suddenly they were everywhere.
A new book I am adding this year is Jane in Winter by Elizabeth Wix. I just ordered this fairy tale and can’t wait for it to get here. Evil queen, forests, children, winter! My favorite kind of story! You can read more about it and order it from the author’s own site: #mce_temp_url#
Also, check out my friend Michelle’s Christmas blog: #mce_temp_url# Michelle loves books! She’s got a collection close to 2000 of them, not counting the Christmas ones. I’d love to spend a weekend in there just looking around. Besides that she is one of the best book reviewers out there, and Christmas is her favorite holiday.
Following is what I consider to be essential reading:
The Gift of the Magi O. Henry
The Fir Tree Hans Christian Andersen
A Miserable, Merry Christmas Lincoln Steffens
The Legend of the Christmas Rose Selma Lagerlof
The Birth Of Christ St. Luke 2:1-16
The Three Wise Men St. Matthew 2:1-14
A Pint of Judgment Elizabeth Morrow
The Miraculous Staircase Arthur Gordon
The Story of Holly and Ivy Rumer Godden
The Little Match Girl Hans Christian Andersen
Jane in Winter Elizabeth Wix
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C.S. Lewis
The Mitten retold by Jan Brett
The Gingerbread retold by Jan Brett
Toot and Puddle: I’ll Be Home for Christmas Holly Hobbie
Christmas in the Big Woods Laura Ingalls Wilder
Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree Robert Barry
Eloise at Christmastime Kay Thompson
Are your favorites on my list? If not, what are they?