Thursday, December 29, 2011

hints from the lazy rambler

I confess...I am not handy, fancy, or fashion-forward.  I think that this makes me an ideal hint-er.  Heloise spends a lot more time on everything than I takes special skills to be lazy.  So, for my lovely readers, assorted tips from the Rambler...

  • Although I kick them off at some point every night, I tend to start out with socks on in bed.  I like slathering my feet with lotion beforehand, ideally sitting on the bed so I can avoid standing after socking-up.  Helps keep my gym-worn feet a bit softer.
  • Maybe this is obvious but I didn't start doing it until I was in my the shower, I'll shampoo first and then put on conditioner. I'll shave and wash up while the conditioner soaks in. Multi-tasking both saves water and lets the conditioner work longer than if I was twiddling my thumbs for a minute.
  • Another hair tip -- I have THICK and long hair. I do NOT need volume but, when I've been able to w/ the back issues, I flip and dry my hair upside down a bit first. It speeds drying by getting to the underlayers and I finish upright which takes out the excess volume.
  • Plucking eyebrows is easier after face-washing...kinda similar to shaving after exfoliating.  Both make it easier to get "at" the hair and do a thorough job.
  • I pick and chose generic products. Most drugstore stuff is pretty equivalent, especially medicines since they are subject to rules. I test out generic sodas....some are perfectly fine but others will go to waste because they simply aren't as good. Unless there's a sale, most of the store-brand yogurts work fine for me but I see a marked difference in frozen meals. 
  • If I'm buying something online, I'll do a quick search for "STORE coupon codes". More often than not, I can get some degree of discount or free shipping. It takes a few minutes to dig through the websites and try codes to see if they work, but it is totally worth it. I find I buy stuff I don't really use if I focus on paper coupons, but this is focused on something I'm already buying. 
  • I use the same credit card for almost all online purchases. I haven't had any issues, but I'd be able to spot a fraudulent charge faster since I check the bill knowing it is the riskier one. 
  • I don't carry a credit card balance. Obviously, this isn't possible for everyone. It is nice though to have a card you know you'll pay can pick one with good rewards that might have a higher APR. My Amazon Visa isn't the best rate but the points add up and the rate is irrelevant since I wouldn't use it if I didn't know I could pay the bill. Folks with a balance could use a lower interest one for bigger bills but still keep a good points one for bills they can pay.
  • Not only is men's Barbasol cheaper than frilly girl shave gels, I like it MUCH better. However, I suppose because most men don't shave in the shower, it lacks the rust-proof bottom. When I don't have it sitting on another item, it leaves awful rust rings. Solution that totally works -- Coat the bottom "ring" with clear nail polish. Easy and effective.
  • I have two laundry hampers. I kept ending up building a new "pile" when the hamper was holding clean clothes that I hadn't gotten around to putting away. The spare is smaller, which encourage me to eventually put away stuff, but it keeps PJs and sweaty gym stuff from sitting on the floor for a day or two mid-laundry-process.
  • I haven't been able to help with cleaning much of late, but I always do bigger jobs post-workout. It allows me to shower after cleaning, which helps with allergies and just feels "earned". It is also nice to shower in a freshly cleaned bathroom.
  • A little plastic crate keeps my bedside "necessities" (meds, lotion, etc) handy but under control.
  • When I need to write something professional, I try to spread out writing and editing. I find it too easy to overlook errors immediately after they are made and I am more likely to catch more intangible things that are "off" (like a sentence that made sense to me when I wrote it but wouldn't make sense outside my head) when I am a bit removed.  
  • I also find that the tip-of-my-tongue, perfect word is more likely to come when I step away than when I'm sitting and pondering. If time isn't on my side, the Word thesaurus is a start but sometimes I get closer if I just play with Google a bit and either type in the less-ideal-substitute or the general context.
  • The number one thing to focus on in ANY writing project -- the audience.  I've written for judges, lawyers, hiring professionals, and the general public.  Heck, I've written for my own amusement.  I try to keep the audience in my head, especially if it is something I'm being paid for, and to respect the reader while not assuming knowledge they may not have. 
  • I think I've said this one before, but the little "button bags" that carry spare parts for new clothes are PERFECT for stashing medicine.  I tuck the bag into a pocket of my wallet w/ "might be needed" medicine and it keeps them clean and easy to access.
  • I like leaving random cards for MM.  I'll buy a few at a time so I've got one to leave out if the mood strikes or cheering-up is needed.
  • I totally plan my workouts around mindless but entertaining TV.  It makes the treadmill time much easier. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

One New-to-Me, One Well-Read Review: The Imperfectionists (Rachmann) and The Remains of the Day

I feels a bit funny to do a book review post X-mas Eve, but I'm halfway through my next read and I like doubles for than triples.  I actually had a few "new-to-me"s on my nightstand but I'm trying to get back in the habit of throwing in some re-reads (like Remains of the Day, below).  I don't really re-watch movies but I do like re-visiting old books, some get nearly annual reads (Red Tent, Cider House Rules).  I suppose my lack of memory skills are an asset in saving on books. 

I don't tend to like short stories and this book straddles the line between a novel and shorts-land.  It is in a similar style as Olive Kitteridge but, luckily, I enjoyed this one much more.

The chapters alternate between portraits of a newspaper's modern-day employees and a history of the paper's founding and development.  There is some overlap in the portraits, which makes sense, but they are also pretty distinct stories that could each stand-alone.  The paper is international in scope, traditional in format (not even a website), and based in Rome.  Characters vary from an aging stringer to a writer whose career becomes his focus after a familial loss.  Many are not overly likeable but most are interesting and fairly well fleshed-out for the style (my usual complaint about shorts is the lack of fullness in the characters).

I enjoyed this quite a bit and give it a solid four stars.  I'd certainly seek out more works by Rachmann since I enjoyed his writing style and his attention to character development.  I wasn't as frustrated as I might have been by the brevity of each "visit" and I think that's largely a testament to the amount he fit into the pieces.  Yes, they aren't all likeable but, in my view, that makes them all the more real.  A favorite was the piece on the Chief Financial Officer who finds herself seated on an international flight next to a man whom she'd just laid off.  There is commentary on the impact of modern life on the newspaper trade but I didn't find the context to be incredibly central to the book.  It did remind me of a favorite chapter in Ulysses (and I just like being able to tout surviving that one, as all Haverford English majors do...and even enjoying it....).

Definitely for readers who want character over plot.
This is one I've revisited several times and always enjoy (four stars).  On the surface, it is simply a six-day journey to visit an old colleague, but there's much more underneath.  Stevens is a career butler in England who recently "came with the package" when an American purchased the house he has tended for decades.  Stevens prides himself on his "dignity" and spends a lot of time reflecting on the quality which, for him, often involved staying focused on his professional role despite any personal matters.  He asserts pride in having continued to serve impeccably on the day his father, a butler as well, passed, but there is some clear doubt about his choices.  He also reflects on his long-time employer.  Stevens had been proud to serve a man involved in international affairs who claimed to be hosting gatherings with global implications in the time between WWI and WWII.  However, even Stevens will admit that his employer made some poor choices in his loyalties, having been a clear Nazi sympathizer prior to the second war.  Stevens admits his employer was mistaken but argues strongly against anyone who demonizes the man, asserting (to himself as much as the reader) that the man was truly a decent person who just chose a wrong allegiance.

Again, this is a book of characters more than plot, even though there IS much more plot than just the roadtrip.  The trip serves as a chance for reflection since it is a rare time off-duty and so it does have the "action" of many years within the short trip.  It is more about character though and about concepts like dignity, class, and culture.  A key question left to the reader is whether the quality of a worker should be judged in relation to the nature of the employer.  Stevens clearly hopes his life of service has been worthwhile, but worries about it in hindsight. 

I consider this a key piece of twentieth century fiction and recommend it to literary folks who want to be comprehensive in their reading as well as to those who like their books to provoke thought.  It is a treatise on moral reflection in the dressing of a novel and carried off well by a wonderfully talented writer (loved his more recent Never Let Me Go, 4.5 stars, and just ordered two more of his works).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

(Non) Material Girl

I confess....I never wrote a letter to Santa.  Of course, the fact that my custodial parent was Jewish, may have had something to do with that.  But, even as a kid, I generally didn't have the holiday lists that other kids generated.  I spent X-mas at my Dad's and my half-siblings always had quite the lists but I always struggled to come up with gift ideas.

I'll admit that I know this was/is a source of frustration.  It was compounded by the short gap between my birthday and the holidays...some years it overlapped with Hanukah and it is less than two weeks before Christmas.  Since I only spent a couple of weeks a year out there, I know my father found it particularly maddening when I couldn't come up with many gift ideas.  I'd try to save a few up, but I was never a great help. 

The truth is, and I really don't want this to sound "holier-than-thou" and am quite aware it might, I'm just not all that needy when it comes to material goods.  I'll admit that I am emotionally complex, but I am not all that in need of "stuff".  When MM and I faced our first gift-giving occasion, he was doubtful I'd be happy with wine, a DVD, and dinner.  I think he's since learned.  I do love the teddy bear he got me and I'd save that well before the "bigger" present of a necklace. 

I do, however, like thoughtful gifts.  In some cases, this may actually make me MORE demanding than the girl with the endless list of wants, especially from closer folks.  It needn't be pricey, but I appreciate a present if it shows thought about me and my world.  I did suggest it so it isn't quite the perfect example, but the jars of deep conditioner from my mom are in this field.  It is something useful to me that helps in the love/hate battle with my thick, dark, long hair that I force straight since its natural state is a messy spot between curls and waves.  And, since it is the weekly treatment type (vs daily use necessity), it is something that adds up in price and a luxury that I question spending the extra funds on given my limited income.  Way back when, I had friends travel far to Big White Dress day who gave a small gift but whose presence meant more than the big checks and gift cards from family friends (not that I didn't appreciate the latter!!!).  Likewise, Teddy MM is special not only b/c he was an early present but b/c his outfit has a bit of meaning behind it (note: I was mad at MM last night....when I am mad, I want nothing related to the target, so Teddy MM got thrown across the room....sorry, Teddy, not your fault...). 

Again, I know that depth can be a tall order sometimes.  It may even be unfair.  It does, however, fit with the not-a-material-girl trend.  I don't care about the object, I care about the sentiment.  And dessert...I always like dessert :P 

Tangent alert -- I was in CVS the other day.  A mom, grandmom, and young boy were there too.  Mom walked away and grandmom asked the boy what he thought they should get a younger child for a present.  The boy (maybe 7ish, I'm not good at guessing) suggested a board game set.  Grandmom asked if it might be a little too old for the kid in question.  The boy, with all sincerity, replied, "It's okay.  I can play with it for him."  Favorite comment of the week!   Loved that he really meant it and didn't see any conflict at all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the anti-resolution rambler: working on me

I confess...I am not a fan of New Year's resolutions.  I have rambled about it before, but I think change comes when it is ready rather than when a calendar flips.  I am, however, realizing that sometimes external cues can be cause for evaluation.  For me, my birthday tends to do that more than the calendar flip, but the timing is close since I flip to the next year less than three weeks before the calendar.  I'm not really thinking in terms of make-or-break goals but more "things to work on in year 34."  It is, I think, a more fluid concept.  I hope that I'll continue to evaluate as the year progresses, but a few things I want to focus on as I continue to evolve and grow:

  • Finding what gives me satisfaction -- Minds out of the gutters, folks!  Satisfaction comes in many forms and I want to find things that nurture me and feed me.  This could be tied to the job search but it could also come from elsewhere....if I knew the details, it wouldn't be on the list!!
  • Getting to my physical best -- Like many folks, I have a goal weight in my head.  I doubt that I'll ever stop caring about the digits on the scale.  But I'd really like to work on framing it differently and achieving a body that is healthy and balanced.  I want to know it is a body I work to maintain but also one that I can live in peace with and that also allows me to enjoy life.  It means not abusing myself with binges but also not beating myself up if I slip.  It doesn't mean "perfection"....I don't want to live a life without some indulgence.  My physical best is about balance.
  • Nurturing my relationships -- Of course, the relationship with MM is a big one, but it isn't the only one.  I want to enjoy the people in my life and have relationships that bring joy and strength to both me and the others involved.  I want to take each person as an individual and respect each relationship with that in mind.
  • Giving back -- I'm not sure what the best way is for me, but I do want to feel like I am an asset to the world around me and that I make a difference.  I look at this very could be financial support or in-person volunteer work but it could also be supporting others going through battles that I've also endured.  I know my e-buddies help/ed me with so many fights and I'd like to do the same for others who feel alone in their battles.
  • Loving myself -- Again, folks, minds out of the gutters!!  I can own a few of my strengths, but I know I'm harsh on myself.  I often say that we should never treat ourselves any worse than we'd treat our dearest friends.  I want to work on LIVING that, a process that means being honest about my weaknesses when necessary but also owning my strengths and taking care of my inner and outer self. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

wherein i jump on the holiday survey bandwagon

I confess...this is an odd time for me to jump on the blog survey wagon, but it seemed fun.  My mother's family is Jewish so there wasn't a holiday debate as a kid....I spent X-mas at my father's every year.  During my childhood, that included a step-mother (I have a new one now, the old one fit the "wicked" moniker but the new one is very kind) and half-siblings (when it was still unusual enough that people asked what a half-brother and half-sister looked like).  As an adult, some were spent quietly and others with X's family.  This year, MM and I will have a quiet holiday at home.  I am hoping to get brave and make a roasted chicken (better sized for two than other similar meals).

So, my holidays were always a bit different and I'm not a religious person but I still feel like playing.  Stolen from Tina (if you are an ATL friend and need a personal trainer, call her!!  and read her stories if you're a fellow fighter against the binge-eating demon): 

Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? All wrapped, but rarely well!!

Colored lights on tree/house or white?  I prefer simple so white/silver and blue.  Maybe it is my way of blending in Hanukah colors.  MM says his chili-pepper lights are required.  I'm down with that, though they are distracting when set on "blink".  Our neighbor across the street must have doubled his electric bill this month!!

Do you hang mistletoe? No.  Kisses shouldn't be forced

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?  It's varied so much over recent years, but I made MM my mom's lox rolls at T-day and look forward to them at family gatherings on that side.  As a kid, my dad's house had a huge X-mas Eve gathering.  I hated ham which was always the entree for days on end but loved various pastry-laden appetizers and the corn casserole

Favorite Holiday memory as a child? Given that Dad is a surgeon, much of my time on visits as a kid was really w/ wife 2 who I always knew kind of hated that I existed and my half-siblings, who were fun but the 5 year gap was a lot.  But Dad and I were in charge of a bunch of errands on X-mas Eve before the big party and I loved that time together.

Snow? Love it or dread it? It is lovely to watch but needs to time itself can fall when I am not going anyplace but should stop and be gone when I need to exit the door. 

Real tree or fake tree?  No real opinion

What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?  I'm not religious.  I'll resist the temptation to say cookies and say I love watching people feel a sense of community and joy.

What is your favorite Holiday dessert?  Gingerbread cookies!!  But it is tough....I'm not good at control so I really need single-serving desserts and they can be tough to find.

What is your favorite tradition? Too many variables to really answer these days. 
What tops your tree? Same.

What is your favorite Christmas Song?  Because I cried like a baby at the scene in Love, Actually, "All I Want For X-mas Is You". 

What do you leave for Santa?  No kids, so nothing.  But I'm recalling the little girl in an ad who got awesome gifts and explained she'd left cheese.

Do you have a Christmas morning tradition? Again, too varied.  Quality PJ time is always good!

Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall? Online.  I hate crowds so get any mall-going done a few weeks in advance.  I like the options online too and generally can find deals to compensate for shipping (or get it free).  This year, I was loving the Signals stuff too....I joined the "club" and did get some coupons to use that paid for the membership but those had to be ordered by phone which was somehow incredibly annoying to me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Harper Review Trio: The Flight of Gemma Hardy (Livesay), First You Try Everything (McCafferty), Ali in Wonderland (Wentworth)

I confess...while these books are all courtesy of the lovely folks at Harper (which will be reiterated in the reviews since I also post them on Goodreads), I did leave a book-lover piece out of my recent Things the Rambler is Lovin' post.  While the APR is high so I wouldn't reccomend it if you don't pay it off every month, the Amazon Visa is lovely for fellow book lovers.  You get 3 points on Amazon purchases, 2 at drugstores, and 1 on other stuff.  A penny a point did add up when I used it on some of my medical bills instead of paying them directly.  Since I usually find used books for under a dollar (with a $4 shipping fee), a horrid $1,000 co-pay earned me a couple free books.  Always good in my world.  Anyway, reviews:

Inspired by Jane Eyre, when we meet Livesay's heroine she is a young orphan living with an Aunt and cousins who clearly let her know she is more a burden than a loved member of the family.  Gemma is excited by the prospect of a boarding school scholarship, only to find herself living as a servant at the school with a rough group of fellow working girls.  The reader follows Gemma as she grows to young adulthood, including a role as a governess in a house with its own secrets.

I spent the majority of this book (which was provided to me by the publishers) convinced I'd never be able to decide which way to round from 3.5.  The ending, however, didn't fit with my preferences and I ended at 3 stars.  I do like that Gemma isn't made into a paragon of perfection, she has and acknowledges faults.  I just don't tend to be a fan of too much literary magic.  But, I know that sometimes fits with the type of novels that inspired this story so others might feel differently.  I'd also have liked to see some of the characters more fully fleshed out.  It was a nice read, but just not one I see myself passing on or revisiting in the future.

Switching between characters, this novel tells the story of a marriage ending and shows one partner unravelling as the other begins to move forward.  In early chapters, I related a bit to some of the descriptions of Evvie from Ben's viewpoint but she quickly began to deteriorate and a troubling underside to her became clear.  She has trouble accepting Ben's departure and her sanity begins to crumble over time.  Ben is concerned but is trying to walk the line between being supportive and giving her false hopes or falling back into old habits himself.

I wasn't quite sure how I'd feel about this novel as I progressed.  There's a key story element that I won't reveal but that I just didn't enjoy at all.  Despite that, I am giving this novel (provided to me by Harper) a solid four stars for the deep psychological study of a woman shaken to the core.  The author shows that the roots of Evvie's disturbance went deep (vs. having her just crack one moment) and I think both partners are well explored.  I'd very much like to remove the one storyline that felt like too much of an add-in (I can see how the author got caught by the concept, just think it'd be a better novel without it) but it is a worthwhile read as it stands.  Good for folks who like compelling character-driven studies of personality and psychology.
Having enjoyed a few of Jen Lancaster's books, I was glad to have the chance to read a copy of this book provided to me by the folks at Harper.  It is a humorous memoir of a woman who grew up in an elite D.C. circle and roamed around a bit before finding herself back in the D.C. arena after marrying a well-known political advisor/journalist.  The book covers event's of Ali's childhood, her adventures in love, and her life as a wife and mother.  The author is a comedienne with come acting creds but not someone I was familiar with prior to the book.

Unfortunately, this just didn't fire right for me.  I was amused but never in a laugh-out-loud fashion and I never felt like I could really relate to Ali.  I'd go with 2.5 stars given the option.  I'll round up to fit the full-star needs of the review sites and because I certainly never debated abandoning ship.  It just never quite spoke to me and it lacked the "girlfriend gab" aura I had hoped to find.

rambler in print

I confess...I don't want to put my name directly on my blog (even though I know that folks could find it if they really wanted to) but I will say that a certain Rambler has a series in  the Gazette, our local freebie paper.  It is the 12/16 edition (in case you see this some other time).  See the editor intro on page 4 and the piece at the bottom of page 10.  FYI -- It's a local free paper that one grabs in the grocery store or DQ so it is kinda low-tech and a bit slow to load.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

things the rambler is lovin'

I confess...this post comes with a warning.  There's a dismaying link between me loving a product and it being altered or disappearing.  You've been warned.  That said, I wanted to share some random things I've been loving lately.  These will be things I haven't touted before (of course, I still ❤  my Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper) and all are just from my experience, none were provided to me (but I'll take thank you samples!!!): 
  • Dove Conditioners -- My hair is thick and course.  A previously touted anti-frizz serum from Avon is still key to my mane control, but I've become a big fan of Dove's conditioners.  I've tried a few and all leave my hair nice and soft (NOT its natural state).  They are also pretty reasonably priced which is key when your hair DRINKS conditioner (a "dime-sized" amount?  try palm-sized).
  •  Tiger Balm patches -- I have tried LOTS of pain patches.  Many are pricey and still offer very little relief.  The Tiger Balm ones are not cheap (often $8/5) but they DO help.  There is some odor but it is absolutely worth it.  I did score a decent deal on Ebay blogging gig pays via PayPal so it inspired me to come into the 2000s and use the site.
  • Simply Saline - MM got me onto this one.  I was terrified to try it, having imagined an aerosol hairspray can up my nose!  It isn't like that but it does flush things out.  My step-dad (in drug development) wondered about preservatives but the kind I have notes it is preservative-free.  A neti-pot WOULD be greener, but this is an easier first step.
  • Special K Chips -- Yummy and you get a whole bunch per serving.  Light but tasty.
  • Alka-Seltzer Cold Night & Day -- Honestly, more than the actual medicine, I liked that the pack I bought finally recognized that there are more "day" hours than "night" and varied the amount of pills accordingly.  It did help with sinus issues too!!
  • Miracle Foot Repair (warning: link "talks") -- Somehow, my left foot was a horrid mess while the right stayed baby smooth.  Using this twice a day, under my socks pre-treadmill and under slipper socks pre-bed (never stay on all night...), had made a definite difference.  I've done the same with regular lotions and this did actually merit mention b/c it worked better than other products.
I'm still waiting on a new blanket I ordered like two months ago.  It is made of bamboo fibers and I am planning on it becoming a favorite once it FINALLY arrives!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Follow-Up Post: Further Thoughts on the Sandusky Story

I confess...a lot is swirling in my head.  I'm going to pick one topic though, to keep things under control, and it is one I already rambled about before

I continue to follow the Sandusky case more than I really want to admit.  I'm not sure what it is that compels me to tune in to the story.  I've lived in cities so it isn't the first time I had a national story in my backyard (I lived only a couple miles from the so-called Craigslist Killer, my shuttle van driver went to his complex after mine), even if it is unusual for Central PA.  Part of it is about hoping to see justice, especially for child victims.  Part of it is about the way we idolize sports figures and other celebrities as well.  But there's something else and I just can't put my finger on it.  I was sick of Casey Anthony and Conrad Murray after a day or two, but I keep seeking more details this time. 

However, I am NOT interested in attending the hearing next week.  The courthouse is in our small town that neighbors State College.  We aren't right there downtown, but we do live only a mile and a hald from the courthouse.  Out town does NOT get crowds...the highway is a bit busier on game days but the traffic isn't in our town itself.  It seems odd that they are doing a lottery for seats, with a portion for media and a portion for the public.  I guess though that it might be the easiest way and prevent some sort of crazy standing in line that might otherwise be the default.   Regardless, it will be nuts.

There is so much tragedy in this story.  It is horrible to imagine how many kids might have been hurt and hard to understand how people turned a blind eye.  But I'm also trying to focus on some positive outcomes.  I hope the attention makes it a little easier for victims of abuse, past or present, to come forward.  I cannot imagine how hard that is, especially when the perpetrator is touted as such a great community-centered advocate for youth and part of an idolized sports saga.  I had a teacher who blurred the lines once, I didn't even speak up about that (it was borderline, not at all akin to the Sandusky accusations).  The stranger cases are the exception and most victims trust their abuser, making it much harder to speak about the abuse.  I imagine it is even worse for boys/men.  I hope this encourages past victims to seek help and anyone currently dealing with it to speak up. 

Side note: Lawyers need to advertise.  I write for a legal blog and part of the blog's purpose is advertising.  It is important that victims be able to identify legal resources.  I think advertising that you represent abuse victims is appropriate.  I am not so fond of a local lawyer whose TV ad specifically targets victims of the PSU abuse.  It feels a step too far to me. 

I am also encouraged by the call for reform in reporting rules.  Many laws do exist that acknowledge the special challenge of child abuse, including mandatory reporting obligations on many people who have contact with children and suspect abuse.  This case makes it clear that we need more such rules.  We need a system that makes it crystal clear what needs to be done when allegations or suspicions arise in ANY system that involves children.  Two people spoke here....well, at least two.  I do have a level of sympathy for them, both were lower in the food-chain and both did "report up" about what they saw.  A rule that makes it mandatory for those receiving these reports bring them to the police is needed.  It is best for the kids.  It also just eliminates the choice, which I hope these people at least struggled with. 

I have also been heartened to see the community dedicate energy to fundraising and other efforts to stop abuse.  In my first post on the scandal, I expressed hope that the community would take all the emotion and turn it into positive action.  That happened at the first game after the news broke and continues to happen.  Some of it is a PR thing, PSU will have to work to get its reputation back and they have announced several efforts including donating bowl game proceeds to charity and working on a special center dedicated to helping abuse victims.  I see the mixed motives, but I'll take it. 

I hope the victims find justice.  I hope that others speak up if they were also victims, especially those within the limitations period (another side note: I want to say "He misused it.  Cut it off." but I do believe we need to let the system work and in proving guilt in court).  And I hope this tragedy helps us, as a society, learn and move ahead to a better and safer world.

P.S.  I feel silly noting it at all, so minor in the sweep of things, but I will admit the press on the 13th are not here for me.  And I'll see it as an excuse to spend my birthday/hearing day in my PJs. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The New and The Old: Reviews of Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea (Callan Rogers) and Plainsong (Haruf)

I confess....since learning how to work deals on Amazon and getting hooked up with the folks at Harper, I've been re-reading less that I used to.  I suppose it is the upside of a less-than-stellar memory that makes it possible to revisit books.  They feel familiar and cozy but not stale or boring.  This set of reviews has a re-read from my pre-reviewing days and also a new book, one that I was excited to win an advance copy of over at Goodreads (my first win there!).  Since it was a freebie advance copy, I'll put that review first (and hopefully it'll help me earn brownie points to be a future winner!)....

  • Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea by Morgan Callan Rogers
I've entered many Goodreads contests and was excited to finally be among the winners!  This is a coming-of-age story, set largely in the 60s in a small town in Maine where only a handful of families live year-round.  Florine finds herself adrift when her beloved mother, Carlie, disappears while on a girls' weekend away.  Florine is left with her father, who loves her but with whom she struggles a bit, and a grandmother who is an institution in the town and is known to all as Grand.  We see Carlie struggle to define herself in relation to her town and her family and to grow into her own person while the shadow of her missing mother never fades.

I was reminded of Fannie Flagg's writing while I read this novel (more Daisy Fay and The Miracle Man than her better-known Fried Green Tomatoes), a link that seems to have been made by others out there in the book community.  This isn't a light story, there's a lot of sadness here and a lot of struggle, but it still flew by.  It was easy to read but in a very pleasurable sense of that phrase -- you drop in and visit with some friends who are there when you pick it back up the next evening.  It isn't earth-shattering but it is a very enjoyable read and great for a reader looking for a fictional escape.  The residents of The Point are a type of family and I enjoyed sitting at their warm table.  Throughout the book, there are references to cooking and especially to bread.  At one point, a summertime cottage dweller remarks on how wonderful a basic loaf of fresh bread can be and I think that's a fitting analogy for the book -- no frills, but warmly welcoming.  Again, it isn't a story of many joys but there's an undercurrent of love and community that makes it retain hope. 

I suppose the ratings folks help me here since I'd be torn b/w 3.5 and 4 stars and the lack of half-stars resolves that dilemma. I think it is also more fair...the novel doesn't ever really pretend to be overly literary (it is fresh bread, not a fancy torte!), but it does its genre well.  FYI -- The novel does appear to have come out previously in German with the US edition slated for early 2012 release. 

A month or so ago, I stumbled on a TV movie while putting in my treadmill time.  I knew I'd read the book but couldn't bring the name to mind and the "guide" insisted I was watching The Golden Girls.  It took an IMDB visit but the name came back and the desire to revisit the book came with it. 

This was my second read of Plainsong.  Set in a small town in Colorado, the novel introduces the reader to a number of residents who feel both very ordinary and also a bit extraordinary.  There's a pregnant teen cast out by her mother, a pair of boys whose mother leaves them emotionally and then physically, a set of old farmer brothers who never married, and a teacher trying to do right in a complicated world.  The chapters shift focus but the stories all overlap with some frequency, much as one might expect in a rural town.  These are people trying to get by and do right.  They are never fancy, nor is the language flowery, but there's a beauty in the simplicity that reigns even in the face of some complex challenges.  I love character-centered books and this certainly qualifies, though it also has a strong sense of place.  Things DO happen, but it is more about how the events shape the people (and how the people, in turn, shape each other).

Strong four stars.  I didn't see the whole TV movie but it seemed worthwhile too...a good warm cup of hot cocoa and a blanket kind of movie (by the Lifetime folks). 

Friday, December 2, 2011

33, part 2 - the pretty-darn-cool

I took me a bit longer to sit down to write this than I intended.  And I'm totally using bullet-points.  The good things that happened in my 33rd year:
  • Really, I could just write about MM but I'll just say that I found the love I never imagined I would have with a wonderful man who can be all macho and fix stuff but still buys a gingerbread-scented candle from the little boy going door-to-door b/c he felt bad for the kid and knows I love gingerbread scent.  I honestly had thought I just no longer liked kissing or being held...I just needed the right set of lips and arms.
  • I took action, put on my Brave Face and went through major surgery.  A lumbar fusion is a pretty big-deal operation and I'm still in recovery mode but there WAS bone growth on my last x-ray which is really encouraging.  I keep citing it but the doc said it was among the worst discs he's seen in years (and he does these several times a week) which was such a validation that the pain was real AND gives hope the surgery will help.
  • Only one trip so far, though at least three more before the official 33rd year ends, but liking the new physical therapist.  I'd seen two in I loved, the other felt a bit too much like an assembly-line, factory approach.  I'm hopeful this one will get me back into fighting shape.
  • Put my past behind me.  It took an emotional trip to a Boston courtroom and then a long wait after, but the divorce is final and official and that's good.
  • Loving my new Centre County home.  I read up on the area when I was looking at a job here summer-to-fall 2010 but came in second.  I was disappointed since I'd truly become a fan.  Then I met some boy at a party.  He lived near State College and it opened a conversation and swears he didn't want to meet the girl he was supposed to meet since I talked to him first.  So, I ended up out here after all.  Love the fact that most anything I need is close but I still feel like I live in a small town where neighbors wave and the mail-lady asks about my back and chases us down for a signature if she spots us going out before she gets to our door. 
  • I may still lack the FT job but I can officially say I'm being paid to write.  It is just a ghost-writing gig for a attorney blog (largely personal injury but branching out), passed on by a friend when she took a full-time job herself, but it is writing and I get money so it still counts.  Another plus is it makes my resume less stale.
  • I still have body image issues, but I have also been learning a lot about how I function.  I figured out an uptick in endo was tied to the pheromone/hormone change in having a man sleeping next to me after sleeping alone for a while (before the divorce too...partly his snoring, partly emotional).  I can tell when I'm getting sick by the endo too.  I'm getting better at reading soreness as well and figuring out how to tackle it. 
  • Silly one -- I perfected the use of Amazon to order cheap books. $3.99 shipping isn't bad when the book costs a penny, especially when it is a book I wanted rather than just a "bargain bin" leftover.
  • I know some new folks stumbled onto my blog and that makes me smile.
Hopefully 34 will bring more good news.   My little town seems to be making major preparations for my birthday....okay, maybe that's unrelated to my birthday and it may make me afraid to walk out our door that day (State College deals w/ crowds, we don't get them here).  Though I have suggested we offer the guest room for rental to someone with AP press creds (kinda like a background check, right??)...only about 1.5m from the hoopla-center.