Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Snapshot - Strawberries :)



Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce @ At Home with Books



My youngest picked these plants from the co-op last Spring
and was so disappointed that they never made.
As we're getting ready to prepare our garden for this year we happened to notice that our 1 little strawberry plant had increased itself to 10 little strawberry plants!!!!  All of them have some little buds, flowers and even the beginnings of little strawberries!! None have turned red yet, but there was enough progress to send my youngest over the moon!!
I'm sure everybody knows more about strawberries than I do, but the green in the middle of the flower is actually the beginnings of a strawberry!!!!!
:):)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kendal!!

18 years ago today the Head of My Household and I welcomed our firstborn child into our family.

I will never forget the first time I heard her voice.
All of a sudden it became clear to me that there had been a living human being inside of me.
I was so overcome with the newness of this experience and will never forget the gamut of emotions that swept over my body.



 
When we brought her home, I remember vividly thinking, "Oh crap! What do I do now?"
 
I really wanted one of those nice nurses from the hospital to come home with me...but the hospital frowned on nurse kidnapping :/







She wasn't the best sleeper...and after 6 months she no longer took naps...OY!





She was and is now still constantly on the move,




 
has always had a strong personality,





and an unquenchable thirst to be in charge.
 

 God Bless You if you get in her way ;)






She is a perfectionist.
It doesn't matter what anyone else expects; she expects perfection of herself.


She is a beauty.
Her look is unlike most people's, with dark eyes, long dark hair and a svelte athletic body 




 

She is a lover of knowlege...
 




animals...

 



sports...





books...





and adventure
  




As the oldest she has paved the way for her sisters...dragging her parents through the first date, the first breakup, the first prom, the first driver's license, and very soon the first high school graduation.
 



I love you, Kendal and am so very proud of you!


 





Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Good Earth - Book Review



Golden Lines:

He went in, then, and she lay there upon the bed, her body scarcely raising the cover.  She lay alone.
"Where is the child?" he asked.
She made a slight movement of her hand upon the bed and he saw upon the floor the child's body.
"Dead!" he exclaimed.
"Dead," she whispered.
He stooped and examined the handful of its body - a wisp of bone and skin - a girl.  He was about to say, "But I heard it crying - alive - " and then he looked at the woman's face.   Her eyes were closed and the color of her flesh was the color of ashes and her bones stuck up under the skin - a poor silent face that lay there, having endured to the utmost, and there was nothing he could say.


Short and Sweet Summary:

Wang Lung is a poor Chinese man who lives hand to mouth with his old father, his wife O-Lan and their children.  Wang Lung watches the rich city men and despises the way they treat those so much less fortunate but at the same time dreams that one day he will have a life even better than theirs.  With hard-working O-Lan by his side and a unwavering loyalty to his land, Wang Lung is able to do just that.  As he prospers Wang Lung finds himself making decisions that as a poor man he would have never dreamed of and dealing with the consequences of those decisions.     

My Initial Response:

I read this book as a part of the Classics Book Club Read Along.  I really didn’t have any expectations for the book…I’ve, of course, heard of it many times through the years but never really knew past the general synopsis what the book was all about. I became addicted to the characters very early in the reading...especially the character O-Lan. O-lan is a character like none other that I can think of. Calling her a tough cookie would be an understatement.  Working in the fields beside her husband all morning, giving birth to a child on her "lunch break" and returning to the fields is what O-Lan is all about.  Needless to say, modern women are weenies compared to O-Lan. 


What I Liked:

There is so much embedded in the story about the Chinese culture and history that I wanted and still want to know more about…for an author who I was totally unfamiliar with and a setting with which I had no experience, I was completely swept into this story. 


The details are vivid...I could see the city with its brick walls separating the rich from the poor,  my bones ached from hard work, and my stomach growled from hunger.  I shivered with the families as they struggled to stay warm during the nights living outside those walls and I felt the fear and helplessness in many of the female characters who were tossed around.  I didn't "like" these feelings, but for an author to be able to pull a reader (me) in so completely was astounding.

O-Lan - I totally was not expecting what happened to O-Lan and I didn't feel badly for Wang Lung when it happened...even though like many men, he realized that maybe he hadn't had it so bad after all.  Too bad!  O-Lan gave Wang Lung everything she had and was willing to work herself to the bone for his pleasure…but he still wasn’t satisfied. O-Lan was honest, hard-working, loyal, smart, a good mother, and in her own way I think she loved Wang Lung...she wanted him to be happy with their life and she had absolutely no hidden agendas.


The ending - I’m still chewing on the ending…The Good Earth doesn't end happily, but I don’t think there was another way. If the story had all ended “nicely,” it wouldn’t have been realistic. Wang Lung wanted everything he saw the city men had...whether or not it was pertinent to his life. Obviously there should be consequences for selfishness and greed.  He even managed to use something good (education) against his own children.  While I think he truly wanted what was best for his sons, I do think he wanted what was best for his sons for the wrong reasons. He was blinded by his jealousy of the city men whom he had bad mouthed his entire life and used his sons as pawns...in the end this comes back to "bite him in the butt" as I like to say. 


I think there are so many life lessons here…namely being satisfied with what you have. Wang Lung spent most of his life working to obtain more…how would his life have been different and how much more happiness and less heartbreak would he have had to bear if he had just been satisfied with enough?


What I Didn't Like:

The Good Earth is an emotional roller coaster ride.  I did have some prior knowledge about the repression of women in Chinese society but to hear it spoken as in normal conversation and accepted as “the way things are” amongst men, women and children of all classes broke my heart.


I tried not to harbor much resentment toward Wang Lung because much of his behavior was expected of  a man his age and place in society. The survival and future of his family depended on Wang Lung acting his role...talk about complicated. Even if Wang Lung wanted to change things, it would have been impossible.  It became more and more difficult for me to like Wang Lung as the story went on, however, because he knew in his heart some of his actions were wrong, yet he chose to do them anyway. 
 
I was furious when Wang Lung began visiting the tea house. I wanted to yell for Wang Lung to get out of there and go back home…to remember where he came from and all the lean years he’d survived with his family. I was absolutely nauseous when Wang Lung took O-Lan’s pearls…at that moment he officially becomes all that he used to despise in the fat oily rich men behind the brick walls. 
 
My absolute last straw was the character Lotus.  Wang Lung brought this pretty much worthless woman into his household. Wang Lung had always complained about the extra mouths to feed when and if they could not pull their own weight so to speak…and then he himself brings in pretty much dead weight to just sit around and be pretty…and service him when he pleased. I thought Wang Lung so much smarter than that and it disappointed me to see that he could be duped just as easily as any other man…by a pretty woman.
 
The character Cukoo was ridiculous and grated on my every nerve…she has essentially sold her soul to the devil and capitalized on the objectification of women…money has become her most important asset regardless of her own self worth and pride. I pitied her as much as I felt angry with her.

What complicated all these emotions for me even more was that there were times when I could see how Wang Lun could possibly think of making some of the decisions he had to make...selling a daughter so that the rest of the family (5 other lives) could survive?  Everybody sold their daughters...if a child was born a girl, that child was called a slave...and disposed of one way or another as quickly as possible...as a true slave in another household or as a wife.  So, not such a bad thing, right??  Before you answer that question, remember I have 3 daughters :/ I'm not sure it's possible for me to completely comprehend this cultural belief.
During the war especially and the times of starvation, we all like to be high and mighty and say that we would never steal or take advantage of anyone, but how many of us know what war and starvation are like??  What would you do to save your children?
 
Overall:

Anyone who enjoys history particularly history pertaining to the Chinese Revolution will like this novel...although it is probably more of an ethnography than a history of the country...an in depth portrait of the Chinese people and their culture is presented in such a way that the reader while following the story accidently learns some history ;)
And, very obviously anyone with an interest of any kind in the historical treatment of women whether in China or not will find this novel an absolute must read.
This is the story of a family...its struggle to survive and prosper against all odds...and the consequences of that prosperity.










Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Me and She





She's almost 17...she's my middle daughter...
I've loved those dimples for a long long time :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Top Ten Characters I'd Want as Family Members


Top Ten Tuesday is an original meme hosted by the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week's list is about 10 literary characters that you would like to have as members of your family.  At first I thought I would be repeating myself with previous lists about characters and I almost didn't participate, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that bringing someone into the fold of your home and family is totally different than just liking them or thinking what they do is exciting or adventurous...These 10 characters I would gladly welcome into our clan :)



1.  O-Lan - The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck


Ahhhh, O-Lan.  One of the most hard-working women in fiction EVER.  Tireless, smart, honest and loyal...but not a pushover.  She cannot always stand up for herself because of the culture in which she lives, but she quietly holds her place by refusing to be broken by the unimaginable oppression that has surrounded her for her entire life.  O-Lan does not let the past get in the way of possible happiness in he future either.  She could very easily wallow in the way she's been "used up" by the time she leaves with Wang Lung, but she doesn't...she holds her head up and begins again.  That doesn't mean she's all smiles and giggles...that would be unrealistic...but she embraces her new life and makes the best of it as long as she can.
What a woman.  I wish she was my sister.

2.  Katnis - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Who would not be proud to have this child as a daughter????  Strong, independent and smart, this child faces reality head-on...what has to be done has to be done.  But, she's not hard hearted; she's not mean and she's not cold.  She's willing to risk her own life to save her sister's...not in a reckless way...she knows she has 100 times more chance of survival than her 12 year old sister who is just beginning to learn to live.  It is the right choice, albeit a difficult one for everyone around them to swallow.  Then, Katnis sets off with the goal of surviving and getting back home again...not a pie in the sky kind of hope...a real one, with a plan of action, with internal motivation and emotions that she holds onto even though she doesn't let everyone see them all the time.
You go, girl ;)

3.  Father Tim - The Mitford Series by Jan Karon



I'd like to have Father Tim as an uncle...that way I could take a week or so each year and visit him in Mitford.  I would know the people of the town after spending year after year visiting in the summer...I would know the peace of that household as well as many opportunities to genuinely help others.  I would know perfectly what an orange marmalade cake tastes like too, and I would help my uncle Father Tim control his Diabetes by coming up with a recipe using Splenda :)  Dooley would be my adopted cousin and we'd have great fun romping around Mitford with "big as a buick" dog Barnabus by our sides.  Cynthia would be my adopted aunt and I know that her cat Violet and I would have been partners in crime out in the garden.


4.  Grandma Mazur - Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich



Who wouldn't love for Grandma Mazur to be their grandmother???  She's funny as all get out, silly crazy, owns a gun (yikes!) and ain't afraid to use it...much to Stephanie and her mom's chagrin.  As kooky as she can be (I have laughed out loud at more Grandma Mazur antics and comments than I can ever count), she also loves her family...her own daughter and Stephanie, who she sees as a lot like herself.  She encourages Stephanie and slips in some humdinger words of heartfelt advice when Stephanie least expects it. 


5.  Novalee Nation - Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts


Novalee is a young woman who has everything working against her.  She's pregnant, unmarried, has no money, and her boyfriend disappears, leaving her homeless at Wal-Mart.  Novalee could've sat down and cried...and cried and cried and cried.   And, none of us (probably not even me) would've blamed her.  Keeping her wits and a spirit that is unshakable in tact she manages to not only pull her ownself up by the bootstraps but a few others she meets along the way as well.  This is one of the few movies that I liked just as much as the book.  I would like to be Novalee's foster mother...to help her help herself on the road to success. 


6.  The Narrator - The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova




Another motherless child...but this time a child who is uncertain of her mother's fate and is searching for answers.  Yes, this is Winonna Ryder in the photo, but this is what I think the nameless daughter of The Historian who becomes the historian herself would look like.  Classically dark and beautiful like her mother but not made up or sassy at all...dark, sad, haunting but also determined eyes.  This girl is no victim.  She is a survivor and does survive even on her own as a young girl in a foreign country.  I would adopt this child, but I think it would be difficult to get close to her...


7.  Marmee - March by Geraldine Brooks



This photo is taken from the movie version of Little Women...but I would like to be sisters with the younger Marmee I met in March.  Headstrong, outspoken, loud and angry sometimes, she was raised amongst thinkers and encouraged to be a thinker and to stand up for her views...characteristics much unheard of during the Civil War.  As her sister I would have been tempted to tell her to stay away from the young salesman...especially once he tried to squash her spirit to some extent.  I would've pointed out that he was a big talker but didn't really have anything to back up all that talk.  I would have warned her that he talked of freedom and independence for all but encouraged her to control herself.  Of course, if Marmee had listened to me, we wouldn't have Amy, Jo, Meg and Beth :(
Heavy sigh....

8.  Annie - The Quiet Game by Greg Iles



Annie is Penn Cage's little girl...When we meet them, they have just suffered the numbing death of Penn's wife and Annie's mom from cancer. Penn is struggling to deal with his own grief as well as help young Annie somehow wrap her mind around what has happened. Annie is a strong, independent young girl who has been blessed with a childhood so far surrounded by two parents who love her honestly and deeply and love each other. While she understands the reality of what has happened to her mother as much as a four year old can, she can't help but sometimes simply wanting her mama. Penn decides to move back home closer to his own parents for both his and Annie's sakes.  If you're a mother...and maybe even if you're not, you can't help but want to take some of Annie's pain away. I would like to be Annie's aunt and spend time with her, getting to know her and to carry out some of her mother's wishes for her as she continues to develop into a young woman.


9.  Spit McGee -  My Cat Spit McGee by Willie Morris




Spit McGee was a real character so I'm not sure if he counts or not...often forgotten and much overlooked considering all the hype that surrounded My Dog Skip, Spit McGee was a rescue adopted by Willie Morris during his adult years.  An obvious dog lover, Morris quickly fell under the feline spell so many of us cat lovers know well and told of his and Spit McGee's adventures in true Willie Morris style.  Spit McGee outlived his famous owner but has since passed away.  The above photo was borrowed from David Ray Morris, Willie Morris' son and is a photo of the real live Spit McGee living a life of leisure.   Yes, cats are part of the family :)

10.  Sidda Walker - Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells



What relationship is more complicated than that of a mother and daughter?  Daughters are products of their mothers and so also products of their mothers' pasts.  Sidda loves her mother but struggles to understand some of the things that have happened during her childhood between her and her mother and has to look into her mother's life even further back to begin to understand.  Even with understanding, a lifetime of misunderstanding cannot just be erased...on both sides.  Her mother is who she is and Sidda is who she is.  In the above photo from the movie, Sidda is screaming into the phone to her mother who is on the other end of the "conversation" slamming the phone onto the kitchen table over and over :)  Will the two ever be able to find common ground?  Sidda struggles to find a way to connect with her mother while holding on to her own individual sense of self.
I'd like Sidda to be my sister, so I could take her to therapy ;)

 

NEXT WEEK: Top Ten Bookish Pet Peeves :)

The Hunger Games - Book Review



Golden Lines:

"Why don't they just kill him?" I asked Peeta.
"You know why," he says, and pulls me closer to him.
And I do.  No viewer could turn away from the show now.  From the Gamemakers' point of view, this is the final word in entertainment.

Summary

Katnis lives in District 12 (The Seam) of a place called Panem, what's left of North America, with her little sister Prim (12 years old) and her distraught mother.  Because of her mother's deep depression brought on by the death of her father in a coal mine explosion, Katnis is responsible for their survival.  With her friend Gale she must hunt, forage, trade, and use her wits so that they don't starve to death.  At the annual Reaping ceremony mandated by The Treaty of Treason where one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to compete in The Hunger Games, the unthinkable happens and all of Katnis' survival skills are put to the ultimate test.  Only one of the 24 chosen will survive the games.

My Initial Response:

I read this story in only a few hours.  It's that catchy...I've been wanting to read more YA books...I taught a YA Lit. class several years ago at the university where I finished my Ph.D.  I was an avid reader of YA when I was a YA :) and then caught back up the semesters I taught the YA class. 
The Hunger Games  reminded me very much of The Giver by Lois Lowery. The storyline is complicated and things don't happen just the way you expect them to, but the storyline is completely believable, which is actually kinda scary.  The way the author sets up the emergence of Pandem, the rebellion of the districts, the punishment of the districts and the yearly reminder that Big Brother is in charge all make perfect sense.  As much as I dislike politics, this story reinforces the necessity of being an involved and informed citizen.

What I Liked:

  • Katnis - what a protagonist...once she realizes that she cannot depend on her mother to take care of her and Prim, she doesn't sit around whining about it (I'm not big on whiney characters).  She uses her strengths, the skills she's been taught all her life and refines those strengths into the survival skills necessary to keep her family fed.  Katnis is not perfect and she knows it; she doesn't trust many but finds ways to capitalize on opportunities where her strengths are complimented and/or gaps are filled...again her only agenda being to keep her family alive.

  • The mockingjays and especially their connection with the character Dru...obviously since the last book in this trilogy is called Mockingjay, I know that these little birds will play an even more significant role for Katnis...I'm assuming the mockingjay pin that Madge gives Katnis before she has to leave for the games also foreshadows some hidden secrets pertaining to the mockingjays.  Just guesses but there were more than enough symbolic teasers to make me want to read the next installment.

  • Cinna, Haysmitch and even Effie and other substantial characters who worked behind the scenes and within the system to buck The Capitol's horrific treatment of the people within the Districts and particularly their children who are chosen to compete within The Hunger Games.  They realize that to openly revolt will simply result in a quick painful death for everyone...so they use their wits to help each other and especially the children they are responsible for to hopefully keep them alive and maybe even stronger for surviving their experiences.  There were some parts of The Hunger Games that also reminded me of Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery because of these characters and their refusal to conform to the barbaric traditions of The Capitol.
What I Didn't Like:

  • The werewolf type animals that show up close to the end are almost a little over the top...the final death is the worst...and while I can see the death itself and even the way death finally comes to this character, I though it was far fetched as to WHO the death finally came from (very difficult to discuss this without spoilers)...and I don't mean the person who put this character out of his/her misery.

  • Peeta, the baker's son - I feel so bad for disliking him...and I don't know if I dislike him...he's just soft...I liked him a lot when he figured out a way to hide himself after being injured...taking advantage of his strengths no matter how silly they seem and using them to survive.  I think all his lovey dovey stuff bothered me the most.  He almost allowed his feelings to get in the way of not only his survival, but Katnis's as well...no matter how dangerous, she had to go get the final backpack...he caused her extra danger just by being silly.

  • Once Katnis leaves for the games we have no more knowledge of what is going on at home.  I thought this was strange since the author sets up life in District 12 so specifically in the beginning.  I would have liked to have had a glimpse at least to see whether or not Katnis' mother was living up to Katnis' challenge, what Gale was thinking as he watched the games broadcast on widescreen, how Prim responded  to her sister's absence etc.  I do realize that some of this info may have been left out because of things I don't know that are yet to come.

Overall:

Even if you think you're not "into" YA I would encourage you to give this one a try...these characters, even though they're YA characters, have had to grow up fast due to their circumstances.  The challenges they face are very complicated adult challenges and there is not much here that is high schoolish or issues that as "grown-ups" we don't understand.  Politics is also something that you can't miss in this novel...as a dystopian novel, this may be one of the most believable ones I've ever read.




Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday Salon - Book Review Formats


I've been reading book reviews in some form or another as long as I can remember.  I always skim the ones in our local and state newspapers and my monthly magazines, and the "end all be all" of periodical reviews, the Sunday NYTimes Book Review.  With pen in hand I also pick up BookPage each month, either at the library or BooksAMillion, and treat it like the old Sears Christmas toy catalog.
When I worked in a bookstore during my jr. high and high school years, I took home the Publisher's Weekly that came to the store after the owner finished with it; I don't have access to Publisher's Weekly now because the subscriptions are quite expensive, but I curl up with Bookmarks magazine every other month like most people do novels. 

Once I started blogging and reading book blogs, I was introduced to another form of review...and among book blogger book reviews there is quite a bit of variety.  Some bloggers have short and sweet reviews without much detail while others have long drawn out reviews in which every aspect of the story is analyzed from every possible perspective.  In some blog book reviews the story elements are analyzed without any attention to the reader, and in some blog book reviews only the reader's personal opinion is taken into consideration. Some book bloggers rate the books they read with cups of coffee or shots of tequila (tee hee)  and others keep track of where they got the book, why they decided to read it, whether or not they would recommend it, etc.   And, then there are all the others out there that fall somewhere in between...

I think I'm somewhere in between...

The more book blogger book reviews I read, the more I knew I needed some structure for my own book reviews, but I was not sure where to even start.  I'm an English teacher, so I'm paranoid about the possibility of accidently copying someone else's ideas...and more importantly, I don't think there is one right way to review books...I think each blogger should stay true to himself/herself no matter what he/she is writing.
I'm a talker...so I am never going to be able to write a short review. Period.  I also have lots of trouble controlling SPOILERS...this is why I like ReadAlong posts so much; I don't have to have so much self-control ;)  I write with very long sentences, and my summaries are really short retellings :/  I think this is my way of rebelling against my students whose sentence structure or lack of frequently disappoints me and whose summaries are sometimes just one or two sentences...Oy :(

I have also read a book or two that I have not liked and have struggled with how to best review them. I want my reviews to be honest and I'd like to have a more critical stance...every book I read shouldn't end up being the best book I've ever read.  However, I'm a firm believer that just because I didn't like a book doesn't mean there's something wrong with the book...different readers like different stuff...I get that.  I'm also just Southern enough that hurting someone's feelings (like any of the authors would ever see my comments), is just not my idea of fun...I'd rather bless their hearts :)

I've been working on a structure over the last couple of days that includes a "Short and Sweet Summary," "My Initial Response," "What I Liked," "What I Didn't Like" and the "Overall" recommendation.  I wanted a structure that would work for books I loved, books I liked, books that were ok, and even books that I did not like or heaven forbid, did not finish.  The "Short and Sweet Summary" should keep me from telling the entire story and has proven to be the most difficult part of the new structure to write.  The other difficult portion to write is "What I Didn't Like" - even in books that I like, there are parts, characters or other elements that I might not like, that disturbed me, etc.  I don't intend for elements listed in this section to be necessarily strikes against the book...I wouldn't be surprised if I change this label as soon as I can figure out exactly what it is I'm trying to say :)  The last section, the "Overall" recommendation covers who I think will like the book and/or why anyone might want to give it a try.  I've completed my reviews on The Good Earth and The Hunger Games using this structure and will be posting those this week.

While I'm not adding a 1-5 point system yet, if I stumble upon an original little widget related to the theme of my blog, I might jump on that bandwagon as well. 

We'll see how it goes :)

Have a great week, everybody!!