Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Reading

What are you reading on this fine Memorial Day Weekend? Something light and flirty? Something heavier that you're trying to finish before summer really kicks in? Or nothing but the Bar-B-Q Bible, trying to find the perfect way to grill that chicken and kielbasa...?

This week I read Ann Hood's latest novel, THE RED THREAD. I had bought the hardcover for my mother-in-law for mother's day, along with tickets for the two of us to go hear her speak at a literary breakfast. She loved the book and dropped it off last Sunday for me to read. I polished it off during the week, in the car while waiting in line at Parent Pickup at school, or in the waiting room at the doctor's office, on the bench at the playground while my daughter made new friends, and in the parking lot of the soccer practice field.

This is a heart-wrenching story, in the same way that her prior book THE KNITTING CIRCLE tugged hard at your emotions. If you don't like sad books, don't read this. Ann Hood writes grief and regret from a place deep within her own emotional core, having been through the depths of hell with the sudden death of her own 5-year-old daughter.

But where THE KNITTING CIRCLE left me sad, this new book left me feeling hopeful.

The main character is Maya Lange, owner of The Red Thread Adoption Agency in Providence, Rhode Island. She battles her own inner demons throughout the book, even as she outwardly appears to be the picture of composure to all the other characters, helping each of the others fight their personal battles.

The chapters are broken up in a funny way, but you get used to it fairly quickly. Each section focuses on one of the characters, whether it's one of the mothers in China and her reasons for leaving her baby on the steps of the orphanage, or one of the families waiting to adopt a little girl from China, or Maya herself, as we follow a specific group through their year of waiting for their adoption paperwork to go through.

Each story is different. Each mother in China is forced to make this heartbreaking decision for slightly different reasons. Each woman in America ends up at the adoption agency for varying reasons as well. We get to know each one, and cheer for them all when the babies are finally placed in their arms at the end.

The story of the Red Thread is an old Chinese proverb, which says that each of us has an invisible red thread of destiny, tying us to each person who will be important in our lives, binding people together in unusual and undeniable ways.

Ann Hood herself adopted a baby from China. At the literary breakfast, she told the audience how when the call came from the adoption agency, she was told "her baby" was born on the same date that her daughter had died. She balked. She told her husband she couldn't see herself baking cupcakes and celebrating anything on That Particular day out of all the days in the year.

She also told us that when her daughter recently turned 5, she found herself baking cupcakes with a yard full of kindergarten classmates and balloons and streamers... and she said she could see that red thread, connecting her to her new daughter as well as to the one who had been taken from her by illness. Her voice choked up as she related this part of her narrative, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the room.

My recommendation? If Ann Hood is coming to a bookstore or library near you, go listen to her speak. Her story, her words in person, make her books seem even more heart-wrenching. And if you like books that bring tears to your eyes, definitely read THE RED THREAD.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Puppy Fishes with the Kids

Now that she's conquered her fear of the big jetty, Puppy couldn't wait to go out with the whole family on a fishing excursion. Early evening is a great time to fish - especially when the weather cooperates.

Puppy hesitated a few times, before jumping over some of the larger spaces between the boulders. Then she decided her favorite thing was to run back and forth between the beach and the kids with the fishing rods.

Big Dog and I followed her back and forth as she made her way to and from the fishermen. Luckily, we were the only people fishing on the jetty that day....
Puppy liked to watch as the kids fiddled with the lures, took seaweed off their lines, and cast out into the ocean.
Puppy didn't understand my daughter's fascination with snails. "They're just smelly rocks," she probably thought. "Where are the tasty spider crabs?" Luckily, we didn't hook any of those!
My daughter did manage to hook a "schoolie," a young Striped Bass for those not in the know. Not long enough to keep, but big enough to put up a good fight. Puppy thought the process was interesting only because the rest of us were so focused on it.

The fish itself? Not so interested.
All in all, Puppy had a wonderful evening. Hanging with the family, running back and forth, acting like a Big Dog. She loved it all.

And slept very very soundly that night.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ghost Tale for Tuesday

What's your favorite scary movie? Not a horror film, per se, but truly scare-your-pants-off, give-you-creepy-dreams scary.

Most "scary" movies today are also slasher films. Or feature aliens from outer space. The kids told me about a boy on their bus who refused to shower for an entire year after watching "Killer Clowns from Outer Space," a classic scary cult film if there ever was one! The alien clowns were pretty outlandish and over the top. The shower scene was really creepy, though... but so is not showering for a year!

Hitchcock was a master at creepy suspense, and a master at taking ordinary situations and looking at them in a slightly skewed way, so that even the mundane can begin to freak us out.

Take "The Birds" for instance. We see large migratory flocks of birds all the time. In late summer and early fall they do start to gather just like in the movie. When they reach critical mass, they really do fly as a black cloud, and swoop as a single unit. Okay, I've never seen them execute a coordinated attack on humans, but it's not that far a stretch to imagine. We just needed Hitchcock to push the envelope.

That's what I think makes movies scary. Taking something common, and just tweaking it a bit. Starting with the ordinary and adding that extra element of fear, an element that lies just below the surface anyway.

In seventh grade, I saw the original movie "The Fog," with Adrienne Barbeau. I say original because I hear it's been remade in recent years. But I'm not going to rent it or try to compare the two. I'm never going to watch the original again, either. Or go into a lighthouse alone at night, for goodness sakes.

At the Jersey Shore when I was growing up, we never really had the "fog" phenomenon... and then I moved to Cape Cod. Here along Nantucket Sound, we have lots of the creeping, rolling, billowing fog that you can watch as it rolls down the street... ... when it rolls in at twilight, it's not hard to imagine that the beasties from the movie are hiding within its depths...

What's your favorite scary movie? Leave a comment and share what films make you scream.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Reading

What have you been reading this week?

Actually I finished this a few Sundays ago, while on the wedding trip to Washington D.C., but haven't had time to blog about it yet. And it's certainly blog-worthy.

DEAD IN THE FAMILY is the latest installment to the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. The series of books that the HBO series TRUE BLOOD is based upon. Harris does a wonderful job of painting characters who we might see on any street in any town... and yet there's a twisted underside to them that the average person doesn't know about.

The supernatural world - or the supes, as Sookie calls them - are all around us and intermingled in our ordinary lives. Most people are too caught up in their own inner workings to notice, but the paranormal is everywhere in Bon Temp, Louisiana. Maybe in your hometown, too.

I enjoyed this book. If you're a fan of Sookie and the gang, you'll enjoy it. But I wouldn't choose this particular book to start with. The tenth book in the series, Harris relies too heavily on our prior understandings of the complex relationships between the various characters.

There are so many characters to keep track of, as well as so many dead characters and references to prior incidents to keep track of... I found myself thinking "Oh, I'd better go back and read that book again," thinking I didn't remember a few of the references all that well. And I've only just read all of the books within the last few months. Imagine a reader who's been following Sookie all along.

As a reader, I've gotten annoyed many times over the years by the seemingly extraneous explanations of who's who and what's what (I mean, how many times did we really need to be told that Nancy Drew had titian hair and a convertible?)

But I also appreciate a series where you can pick it up at any point and jump in, either for a quick dip in just the one book... or to then decide to swim through the entire series.

Some of the Sookie Stackhouse books work this way. You don't have to start with DEAD UNTIL DARK. In fact, I think the first one I read with LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS. But at this point - Book 10! - you can't start here. You need to go back and read a few - or all - of the books in the series to get everything out of this one.

Which is good for fans like me. But not so good if you're not already up to speed.

Luckily, the other nine are all available in both regular and trade paperback. And thanks to their popularity, most are also on the shelf at your local library. I mean, if my little library has them, they must be all over the place!

My recommendation is to read them all. Catch up with the rest of us hard-core Sookie fans. And then read this book. These books are all fun, light reading with a dark paranormal chewy center, perfect for summer reading both on and off the beach.

And most perfect of all, TRUE BLOOD will be back with its next season of shows very very soon (it's almost June!) ensuring this summer will be a hot one. At least on Sunday nights.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Puppy Tries Again

The beach roses are blooming, which means summer is just around the corner.

Puppy is growing like a weed. Emboldened by her successful fishing excursion on the short jetty, she thought she was big enough now to climb up on the riverside jetty.

The Big Dog (being half Swiss mountain dog) jumps up onto the jetty in one leap.
The rocks on this jetty are bigger. There is an easy-access rock at the base now, thanks to the shifting sands, but still no easy way up to the top.

The Puppy's legs still aren't quite long enough to make it all the way up.

She was again stuck mid-way up the jetty, standing there on the rocks. I helped her down, and she lay in the seaweed having a little sulk. After a few bleak moments, she realized that the Old Dog was still down on the sand with her.

Old Dog is 15, and has long since given up any aspirations of fishing on the jetty. She still likes her beach walks, but she feels no compunction to do anything she doesn't want to do. And who could blame her? She's 15 and still smiling, for goodness sakes.

So Puppy stopped her sulking and played with her, together searching for the spider crab shells that they both enjoy chewing on.

One day soon, she'll be able to make it to the top of the jetty. And then she'll have a choice of what she wants to do.

Everyone likes to have options.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ghost Tale for Tuesday

I spent the weekend at Girl Scout Camp, camping with my daughter and her Junior Troop.

One of the classic Girl Scout Camp activities is telling ghost stories around the campfire. The girls went around the campfire circle telling stories they made up, or reading them by flashlight from a book one of them had brought. The scariest tale told this weekend was the Legend of Bloody Mary.

This tale is so scary that one of my 4th graders started crying as soon as she heard the name of the story to be told. I had to take her and a few other girls up the hill to the kitchen area to get away from the campfire. Several other girls tagged along under the premise of cheering up the first girl, but they were also eager to get away from the scary tales.

As as it turns out, I never heard the story of Bloody Mary.

I asked my daughter, and she told me that if you look in a mirror on Halloween or Friday the 13th and say her name 13 times, she'll appear in the mirror next to you. She has red eyes and a long pointy nose and straggly black hair... My oldest son chimed in that there's a Legend of Bloody Mary in his school, too. If you go in the boys' room alone, and spin around ten times and call her name she appears in the bathroom mirror.

"So does she jump out of the mirror?" I asked them. No, they replied.
"Do you die if you see her?" I asked again. No, they both replied, sounding annoyed.

There must be more to this story. Does anyone know this legend? Are you tempted to sneak into the boys' room and spin ten times?

What's your favorite ghost tale from summer camp?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Puppy Goes Fishing

Puppy has been trying to get up on the jetties ever since her first beach walk. Somehow, she knew there was fun to be had if she could only make it up on top of those big rocks. After all, the Big Dog jumped right up there. If the Big Dog was doing it, it had to be fun.

The jetty down along the river is tough; it's old and the rocks at the bottom are all pretty big. But the short jetty is fairly new, and Puppy finally found a spot where she could make it up.

Note the look of triumph on her face as she turned to say, "Look at me, Mom! I did it!" She then proceeded to turn around and get her back legs stuck in a large space in between two of the rocks. She struggled for a moment and looked back in my direction.

As soon as she saw that I had dropped the leashes and was headed toward her, she stopped struggling and just waited for me to help her. When I reached her, I grabbed the extra skin on her hind quarters and lifted her back legs up out of the crack and onto the rocks. She spared me a quick smile, then scampered off, not phased in the least.

She'd figured out the one pitfall of the jetty - stay out of the cracks. And she didn't fall again in her hurry to reach Big Dog and the Fisherman.

Puppy was very full of herself when she finally got out there. Every time he cast the bait, she watched and waited, keeping an eye on the line. She thought she was helping, and that she was integral to his fishing efforts.

He didn't dissuade her from this way of thinking.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Puppy Learns to Share

Puppy likes toys. She likes to surround herself with her treasures, just like a little kid sitting amidst a pile of Legos, or shells at the beach. Inside she plays with dog toys and chewy bones.

In the backyard, she has sticks and shells that she hordes as if they were precious.

The Big Dog always wants what the puppy has. It doesn't matter that she hasn't chewed on a stick in the last 24 months. If the Puppy is hording it, it has to be good.

And being the Big Dog in the yard, she takes what she wants.

Right out of the Puppy's mouth.

This has happened a lot in the last several weeks. A lot. With everything. So the Puppy had to develop various new strategies to deal with this problem, because she isn't going to fight with the Big Dog. The Big Dog is her Hero.

But still.
So she's learning to share her toys and treasures. Sometimes they'll chew on the same stick, or the same piece of rope. Other times the Puppy goes and grabs another toy to play with, making the Big Dog drop the one she's already stolen and grab the newer toy.

Leaving the Puppy to have the toy she really wanted in the first place.

Sharing or Manipulation? Either way, it seems she's learning some good life skills.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Leap of Faith

Long jump. My least favorite field event, and yet both of my boys enjoy participating in it. Must be something about jumping into a plot of freshly raked sand and leaving big footprints right in the middle of it that appeals to their inner 3-year-old.

It's not that he's good at track, it's that he's getting exercise and having fun. Those are the important things. I give him lots of credit for getting out there and being on the team, especially when his Big Brother is the captain and ready to hand out extra laps to the slackers.

There's no slacking for the Middle Child. There are no medals or glory yet either, but he certainly makes a good effort.

And he looks fast in the photographs, with his rock and roll hairstyle flying behind him...

Monday, May 10, 2010

New Beginnings

I spent Mother's Day weekend attending a family wedding down in Virginia. The logistics and arrangements to organize three kids and three dogs took days and days of planning, involving numerous phone calls and the help of friends and neighbors.

It all boiled down to this one triumphant moment in the church, and her happiness made all my efforts seem worth while.

The bride is a Princeton and Harvard Law grad, who "survived" grueling years working at Freddie Mac in D.C. She lost her mother a few years ago, the mother who's greatest wish had been to see her daughter get married; a wish that went unfulfilled during her lifetime.

The bride is also a cancer survivor, first diagnosed fifteen years ago. She's had a few recurrences and multiple surgeries at this point, as well as the scars to prove it. While she never gave up her fight against the cancer, she'd almost given up on ever finding Mr. Right.

But she found him.

Maybe it was because she stopped looking? Or maybe the Universe had it planned this way all along. We met him last summer when they visited Cape Cod. He's a great guy. More importantly, he makes her really happy.

By all the accounts we heard at the wedding, they are truly perfect for each other. After waiting so long for her wedding day, the bride went to great lengths to plan and organize the weekend down to every last detail. Apparently, the groom supported her in these efforts, and matched her list for list.

The weather cooperated with blue skies and sunshine for the afternoon photo session prior to the ceremony. Only the wind didn't follow the script, blowing hair and dresses and veils in every direction and slowing the process as the photographer tried to grab shots in between gusts. The bride's smile got tighter and tighter as the minutes dragged on. "We're on a schedule, people," she reminded us all.

The groom kept smiling, and stuck to the schedule without complaints. Everyone made it to the church on time.

Later, as we watched the happy couple on the dance floor, I asked one of the groomsmen if his buddy had always been a list-maker or if it was his new bride's influence. "Oh no," the guy assured me. "He's like that. They are so much alike it's scary."

The couple's honeymoon plans are taking them to Europe, on a well-scripted tour of several countries... A trip planned and organized long before the current economic crisis and civil unrest, and before the volcano ash started disrupting air travel.

The couple seemed unconcerned as they spoke about their plans on Saturday night. "If we get stuck in Europe, who cares?" said the groom, with a big smile. "We can always extend the honeymoon, or come home by boat. That would be fun, too."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Waiting for Godot

She's a puppy. She doesn't understand delayed gratification. She doesn't understand "Wait." She only understands the Now.

Waiting can be hard for all of us, even those of us well past our puppy years. Waiting for anything... a phone call, an email from an editor, an anticipated event...

My husband was away all week on business. She sat at the door, waiting for him to come home at night... she'd eventually turn away from the door and give up, going on to the next event in her busy puppy life.

He finally came home from Florida last night. You'd expect she'd have been jumping up and down with joy, prancing and dancing all over the lawn. Not so much.

In reality, it was a "Hi, Good to See You" moment, and then back to normal. Because this is Now, and Now he's home, the waiting already forgotten, the absence not to be dwelled upon.

Very Zen for a puppy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Puppy Goes for a Walk

Being the littlest dog in the bunch means having lots of energy, bursting at the seams with unbridled enthusiasm for each and every thing that comes along.

This is especially true at the beach. So much to see, so much to sniff, so much to taste... each thing always seeming new and exciting, each and every day.

All the exploring and sniffing and tasting can turn into a bit of a problem, though.

The big dogs have longer legs.

They've got that "Been There, Done That" attitude.

And they keep on walking, whether or not the puppy is keeping up. So sometimes when the puppy looks up from finding her latest treasure, she's the only one left on that stretch of beach!

A mad dash ensues to catch up with the group. Heaven forbid we lose our pack!

Puppy is always happiest within the safety of her pack. It doesn't stop her from digging for treasures and chewing on spider crabs, but now the Pokey Little Puppy is old enough to turn on the steam and catch up again.

Soon she'll be old enough to know we'll wait for her, no matter what.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ghost Tale for Tuesday

There's a great new exhibit that just opened at the Heritage Gardens and Museum in Sandwich, Massachusetts, at the top of Cape Cod, entitled The Art of Final Farewell.

Since Massachusetts Bay was one of the original colonies, there are tons of old graveyards - at least one in every town on Cape Cod. My town has several, actually, dating back well into the 1600s. A group of historians recently undertook the project of photographing all of the old graves, as so many of them are succumbing to age and weather.

The time and artistry that used to go into carving tombstones is just amazing to think about, back when there were no motorized tools and everything was painstakingly chipped bit by bit, letter by letter. Mistakes were inevitably made and then sanded off...but still visible.

Gravestone rubbing used to be a popular activity for camp groups, scouts, and even family members and loved ones visiting the grave of a dead relative. On Cape Cod, they found that these rubbing activities were adding tot he degradation of the stones. The activity was banned in the late 1970s, but at this exhibit there were several beautiful rubbings - museum quality art - that date prior to 1974.

Some of the gravestones are already so degraded that the historians made replicas of them, copying the more interesting of the stones and sayings to share with the public. This one depicts a gravestone of two brothers who fell through the ice and died in a local pond.
The Heritage Gardens and Museum is open April 1 to October 31 from 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m.

Check their website for admission prices and specific event they have going on each weekend. And don't forget to visit the History Museum Building when you're there. There are a lot more gravestones to check out!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Reading

Scott Westerfeld has a new book on shelves and the start of a new series. I didn't really understand the genre of "steampunk," or the possibilities of YA alternative history until I borrowed this from my son's bookshelf.

Actually, he thrust it into my hands and said, "You gotta read this."

The most popular of Westerfeld's books are a series based on a dystopic view of the post-apocolyptic future. The Uglies, The Pretties, and The Specials show us what might happen to the world after we destroy ourselves on the path we're currently upon. But what if we were on a completely different path?

Leviathan takes us back to the 1940s, to just before World War II when Germany was gearing up for battle. Except in Westerfeld's Europe, there's been a split between those who rely on genetically engineered animals as the base of all technology, and those who rely on human-built metal machines. The Archduke of Austria has just been assassinated, the tipping point for declaring war across the continent.

As in most of his books, the main characters are both male and female, and similar to his Peeps series, the chapters are narrated in different voices. Reading this so close after reading Mudbound, I was ready for the changes in character voice and adapted quickly.

The only problem with this book was that it is so obviously the first of a series that it's frustrating to read it right now, when the rest of the series is yet to be published. I had that problem with Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games, especially since I had no idea it was the first of many (her next book in that series comes out in August). This time, at least, my son warned me.

The writing is interesting and the concept of an alternate history to World War II is intriguing. When we saw Inglorious Basterds in the theatre, we laughed at Quentin Tarrantino's alternate WWII narrative and worried that young people might one day think it was the truth. With Westerfeld's outrageously altered alternate history, I don't think anyone's in danger of confusing it with reality.

But it's fun to read.