Sunday Morning Rambling

FullSizeRenderThe wind is harsh this morning.  Gusts are causing the siding on the house to creak and moan.  Being a light sleeper, this is what woke me shortly after 5 am.  I wasn’t ready to be awake, but I tossed the covers aside, picked up Buddy (my dachshund), and started the day.

As I start jotting down thoughts for this post, it’s a little past 7 am.  I have already finished a small load of laundry.  I’ve had two cups of fantastic coffee, a 50-50 blend of Monsoon Myst and Honduran Blend from our local Furnace Hills Coffee Co.  I’ve got a coffee maker that grinds the beans and makes the pot of coffee with the push of a button.  How I savor the smell of freshly ground coffee on my weekend mornings!

I finished reading “The Buried Giant” last night.  If you like a fantasized-historical account of the Britons and Saxons post-King Arthur, full of a mist that robs the people of their memories, a she-dragon, monks, knights, etc., it’s a good book to read.  Honestly, don’t think that this is weirder than it is, but what I like about the book as much as the story is the book’s binding and jacket.  The jacket reminds of linen.  I wanted to read the book, and when I picked it up and felt it in my hands, I knew it had to be on my bookshelf.  I never judge a book by its cover, but in this case, if I had been wavering on whether to buy it, I would have after seeing it.

Short post today – it’s a busy day, lots to do like grocery shopping, more laundry, and all the other fun weekend stuff that gets crammed in before the work week starts again.  Have a  blessed day, everyone!

“What to do when it’s Your Turn”

I received copies of Seth Godin’s latest book, “What to do when it’s Your Turn” yesterday.  By the end of the evening I had finished reading it.  I highly recommend it.

Seth Godin has a way with words.  He has a way with getting his point across.  My takeaway after reading the book – and I emphasize that it’s my takeaway – is that I have to stop waiting for everything to be “perfect” before I tackle the things on my bucket list.  I’ve been waiting for “my turn” – for the feeling that the stars are perfectly aligned, that I’ve practiced as much as any human can practice, and that I will be received well when I finally take that plunge.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the novel I want to publish or the songs I want to sing in front of a coffee house crowd.  It doesn’t matter if it’s giving the killer presentation at work that causes everyone to walk away nodding their head in agreement with what I had to say.  No matter what “it” is, I just have to do it and accept that I may win or I may not.

In reality, I’ll win either way (in spite of my hesitation).

National Novel Writing Month

Wow, are my fingers tired! For the first time, I decided to take a shot at writing a novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which is November. On and off during the past 25 days, I have put together a story that has been stirring inside of me for years. The goal for being titled a “winner” for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words, and the sites’ verification process counted 50,550 words in my novel. Whew! That’s a lot of words!

I have to thank Jamie, Josh, and Buddy for putting up with me during these past several weeks because, except for the week I was gone for training in Chicago, I have been consumed with writing this novel. I have to admit that I feel a sense of peace right now that the story is final out there.

What comes next, I don’t really know.

Happy day, everyone! 🙂

What a Weekend!

Great weekend! I passed my Project Management Professional certification exam on Friday. I’d been studying for the exam since the beginning of February when I started a prep course at UMBC Training Centers. A huge sigh of relief as I walked out of the testing center on Friday.

I read two books this weekend (only because it was a 3 day weekend) – “50 Shades of Grey” and “My Sweet Saga”, and both were good reads. Next up is “50 Shades of Darker”. Several of us leave for a business trip to Reno next weekend, so I’m planning to get a lot of reading done while in the air. Yes, I’m making up for lost time since I only read exam-related materials for four months!

I’ve also been practicing my song for the Fiddler’s Convention which is right around the corner. Should be fun. Jamie’s been working on his songs too.

Watched several episodes of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” and admit that every time Guy goes to Chicago or some diner is serving a Chicago style something-or-other, I get a little smile and think of how great the food is back home. Got to get back there soon!

Hmmm … My iPod is playing “Longer Boats” by Cat Stevens. Love that song!

I’m an Ambibibliophile

Okay, so I’m coining a phrase (I think) – ambibibliophile. Definition – a person who loves and collects books no matter what format – physical, digital, audio download, etc. An ambibibliophile is capable of reading a physical book one moment and switching to a Kindle, Nook, iPad, CD player, MP3 player, or some other device the next moment.

I love books. I love to read no matter what platform I’m using. There are millions of us out there, and our love of the book no matter the delivery method will survive the endless debates over physical versus digital. And no matter what, we – the consumer – wins. More books, more choices. What could be better?

“The Help”

Several months ago a friend of mine recommended “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  Always willing to read something a friend recommends, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle.  I finished the book last weekend.

Most of you may know that “The Help” takes place in the 1960’s in Jackson, MS where the main set of characters have black “help” – women mostly, but some men too.  It’s a very interesting story of lives that are impacted not only by the times but by those they work with as well.  And then comes a women who wants to be a writer and who takes up the cause of exposing the things these black women deal with day after day in their roles as “help.”

One of the several story lines revolves around interracial issues – one of the maids gives up her baby because it was born with white skin (I won’t go into details about that story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read the book).  Ms. Stockett also mentions Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and other social/political things that were going on during those years.

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I remember both the King and Kennedy assassinations.  I remember the riots in the streets of Chicago – especially overhearing my Dad talking about them (he witnessed them firsthand as a truck driver in the city).  Now whether this is a true memory or not (I believe it is), I recall my parents telling my sister and me that we couldn’t walk down the street because of the riots – and that was the first time we had heard of such a thing.  Not able to walk in our own neighborhood in Bucktown?  What the heck was that all about?  It was about parents knowing that the violence could spread.

I also remember my Mom’s cousin Diane who we rarely saw and who was spoken of in hushed tones.  Diane was – Mom would always say – a mulatto.  Back then I didn’t really know what that meant; all I knew was that Diane had tan skin.  Back in the 1960’s that was a bad thing.  I vaguely remember Diane’s face, but what I do recall is that the few times I saw her, she was cute, smiling, bubbly, slightly overweight, and wore the cutest shift-style dresses.

So many things changed over the next decades – “colored” became “black”; “mulatto” became “mixed” or “interracial” – but then again, many other things did not change, such as people’s attitudes.

Growing up during those years of unrest explains, I guess, why my parents were so shocked when I announced in 1986 that I was marrying a black man.  I knew without a doubt that my Dad wouldn’t give me away (my brother-in-law stepped in for that action).  My Mom sort of took it in stride by the time of the wedding.  After all, Ken was handsome, well spoken, and a Baptist minister.  Several months after I was married, Dad accepted Ken as part of the family, and that made me very happy.

Ken and I waited five years to have Josh, and it was well worth the wait.  Josh is a great son.  I sometimes wonder how Ken’s and my divorce affected Josh, but honestly I think everything turned out okay.  My son knows the scoop, and he knows if he ever has any questions he’s free to ask.  He gets honest answers from both of us.

I apologized to Ken right before he and his current wife moved to Georgia.  I apologized for not holding his hand more often in public, and I apologized for letting some of the nuances of the 1960’s affect me to the point that I was constantly aware of people’s eyes on us as we walked together.  Back when we were first married, as much as I wanted to be near him, I sometimes held back knowing that some of the public still had major issues with interracial relationships.

** And let me just say it wasn’t always the white population that had issues.  I encountered a lot of flack from the black population too; especially in one of the churches we visited. Trust me – on more than one occasion I was told Ken could have done better than me, referring to having a black wife instead of a white one.**

People are going to be people no matter what.  A hard lesson to learn is that you should be true to what you feel, not to what others want you to feel.  Would things have turned out differently if I had focused more on the relationship than on the rest of the world?  Probably not.  I don’t think the circumstances of the breakup would have changed.  But it’s important to speak out that no matter the mix (skin color, sexual orientation – whatever), the relationship should be true to itself.

Be happy in your chosen relationship – be proud of it – be proud of the person you are with.

“My Reading Life” by Pat Conroy

"My Reading Life"

"My Reading Life"

I can’t say enough about audio books.  I finished Pat Conroy’s MY READING LIFE during my last trip to Vermont to pickup my son for the summer.  I have to hand it to Mr. Conroy – he piques interest in books I never thought I’d be interested in reading.  So what did I do the moment I got home from Vermont?  I ordered WAR AND PEACE for my Kindle.

They say that in order to be a writer one has to read.  I get it.  I totally get it.  When I saw MY READING LIFE setting in a hurt books bin at work, I picked it up and read the back of the box.  I immediately knew it was something I wanted to read.  I mean, if you’ve got someone like Pat Conroy (THE GREAT SANTINI, THE PRINCE OF TIDES, SOUTH OF BROAD, THE WATER IS WIDE, BEACH MUSIC – just to name some of his novels) recommending the great books he has personally read, how can you go wrong?  So what is on his list of “must reads” …

WAR AND PEACE, GONE WITH THE WIND, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Thomas Wolfe, James Dickey, and many more …

His story – his autobiography – and the way he tells it is amazing.  The people he met – Joan Baez, Michael Jackson – it’s a great list.  But what truly inspired me was his telling of his relationship with his English teacher.  I could fully relate to how a teacher can inspire and change a kid’s life.

I like his style.  He’s an extrovert who knows how to strike up a conversation no matter where he is.  Mr. Conroy is witty and charming, helpful when someone needs assistance, and apparently brutally honest when honesty is called for.  He’s a no-nonsense person.  I am grateful that he read his book instead of someone who wouldn’t have given it the nuance it needs.

If I can learn to write a small fraction as well as someone like Mr. Conroy does, and learn by reading some of the great novels of our time – well, I’ll be a happy person.

Thanks, Mr. Conroy.

“The Weird Sisters” by Eleanor Brown

"The Weird Sisters"

"The Weird Sisters"

I needed a new audio book for my last trip from Vermont.  I looked around on Amazon.com and found the book, THE WEIRD SISTERS.  Excellent!

I read a review in the NY Times last week that I thought did not give credit to the story.  It was written by one of their male staffers.  I couldn’t help but post a comment on his review that I think he got it wrong because he isn’t a mother or a sister – or for that fact – a female.  He wanted to fact check certain pieces of the book, which may be something that other people do too, but in all honesty it will detract from the story.

You see, the book is about three sisters who have been living their own, totally different lives in different parts of the US.  But family circumstances (their mother has cancer) draw them back home.  The tale describes how they feel about each other, about their parents, about the things they’ve done in their lives, and where their lives are headed.

You don’t need to count the years and the events described in the book to believe that these things could have ultimately happened to someone.  Honestly, some of the incidents in the book are a little “out there” but so what?  Every story has parts that a reader may or may not believe in, and that’s what makes a novel a personal experience.  It’s what allows people to compare notes, to talk about how the book made them feel.

I’m a mom.  I’m a sister.  I’m the eldest of two girls.  My dad is nothing like the father in THE WEIRD SISTERS and my mom is nothing like the mother.  Are there certain things that I can relate to as a sister?  Sure.  Good things and not so good things.  Things I wish I had done with my sister.

Eleanor Brown, the author, did a good job.  She should be commended on this, her first novel.  Maybe a few things in the book should have been more relative to other things she wrote, but again, the story is still a good one.

If you want to read about a family that is somewhat dysfunctional, a father who lives in the words of Shakespeare, a mom who has words of wisdom, and three sisters who love each other more than they know, then you should read this.  By the way, it’s written in a different way – the sisters taking turns narrating the tale.  It’s cool.

“Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen

"Water for Elephants"

"Water for Elephants"

I finished reading WATER FOR ELEPHANTS a couple of weeks ago.  Good book – interesting characters and some intense moments.  I admit that I skipped through a few parts when the action with the horses or the elephant got a little too graphic.  Skipping those passages did not diminish the impact of what was happening.

I want to see the movie but I’ll wait for it to come out on DVD.  I’m one of those who have a hard time justifying the price of going to the theater these days.  Don’t get me wrong – I will go out to see big blockbusters – movies in the vein of STAR WARS, HARRY POTTER, the Twilight movies, BATMAN – I think you get the picture (pun intended).

The thing about WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is that I don’t like circuses but I was drawn to the book.  First, it was on sale at Barnes & Noble; second, it had a sticker that said it was now a major motion picture; and third, the blurb on the back of the audio drew me in.  Why?  Well I think what got me was how it described three characters – Jacob, Marlena, and Rosie – with these words:

“The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.”

Marlena is married to a circus boss who treats her like a queen and then turns around and treats her like trash.  Jacob is there due to unfortunate circumstances.  Poor Rosie (the elephant) is there because that’s where fate put her.  They think Rosie is stupid, but she’s probably one of the smartest characters in the book.

I like reading depression-era stories when they’re well written.  I like escaping into the lives of people who may have been like my grandparents.  I think of how the States were back then and all of the stories of gangsters and cops and floozies – I don’t know – it was an interesting time.

I enjoy reading stories where love finds people who should be together but aren’t, and it intrigues me to find out how the author arranges circumstances to bring those people together.  Sara Gruen did it well.  It’s a good read.

“Love, Aubrey” by Suzanne LaFleur

"Love, Aubrey"

"Love, Aubrey"

I recently picked up an audio book that I didn’t realize is technically a juvenile title.  I’m glad I didn’t know it, because I probably wouldn’t have listened to it.  Funny how something like categorizing a book can keep someone from reading what might be relevant to him/her.

I initially was attracted to the novel’s cover which shows a young girl lying against a large tree limb in what looks like a forest.  I read the back of the CD box and the storyline interested me.  Aubrey, an eleven-year-old, loses her father and younger sister in a car crash.  She and her mother survive, but the effects of what happened are difficult for them to deal with, as one would expect.  Her mother disappears one morning, and Aubrey’s grandmother takes the girl home with her.  A new school year starts with Aubrey having to transition from her old school and friends to new ones.  Her mom ultimately is found, and what transpires in their relationship tells the tale of need, reality, and growth.

The author, Suzanne LaFleur, did an excellent job telling this heart-wrenching story.  But beyond the tale itself, what strikes me are the similarities between people and events in the book and my own life.  I know it’s all coincidental, but it still makes me feel weird inside.  Let me explain …

Aubrey lives in Virginia.  I live in Maryland.  Okay, not the same state, but a neighboring one.

Aubrey’s grandmother lives in Vermont.  And where do I travel almost monthly to pickup my son and take him back to college?  Yes, Vermont!

Aubrey’s mom disappears and is found in Colorado.  That is the state I have loved since I was a kid and always have been drawn to.  I mean, Rocky Mountain High and all those other John Denver songs are ingrained in my soul.

Aubrey likes a boy named Marcus.  My first boy crush was on a boy named Mark.

Aubrey’s new best friend likes a boy named Christian Richards.  My dad’s name is Richard, and yes, we are Christians.

Aubrey is sent to talk to the school counselor about the things that are going on in her life.  I, unfortunately, had the same experience while in school.

Aubrey feels that she was always closer to her dad and that her younger sister was closer to her mom.  That is exactly the way it is with my mom, dad, and younger sister.

In lieu of a journal, Aubrey writes letters to her sister’s imaginary friend as well as to her counselor, her mom, and others.  I always kept a journal when I was younger.  I have to admit that it got me in trouble, so I stopped eons ago.

I suppose there are a few other elements in the book that I can stretchingly (yes, I know that’s not a real word) relate to.  The point I really want to make is that this book drew me in with the story and kept me involved because I could relate to so many pieces of the book.  What I really enjoyed was the ending, because Aubrey makes a very mature decision, and I applauded it.  The outcome I expected Ms. LaFleur to provide was not the one she wrote, and I think she made the right choice.