14 October 2013

The Funeral Dress

The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore 

***No one has ever entrusted impoverished Emmalee with anything important, but she takes it upon herself to sew her mentor's resting garment in The Funeral Dress, by Susan Gregg Gilmore.  Join From Left to Write on Oct 15th as we discuss The Funeral Dress.  As a member, I received a copy of this book for review purposes.***

This book really struck a chord with me.  It's a sad story in many ways, and it's a story of strength and resilience and hope in other ways.  But what really struck me is that Emmalee was a motherless mother.  

How do you learn how to be a mother, when you don't have one yourself?  Her mother died when she was a young girl, and her father didn't give her much to go on. Emmalee had to fight for every single thing she had, and she didn't have much.  The women that surrounded her at her job became her surrogate mothers, although they may not have realized it at the time.  Her own family did not support her or offer her any kind of shelter from the storm and she was essentially alone.  Her parting gift to Leona, the one woman who really cared about her and tried to help her in a time of need, was all that she could give, and it was everything.  It was a perfect gesture in keeping with the relationship she had built with Leona.

Leona had taught Emmalee how to sew, but she taught her so much more along the way.  Leona mothered Emmalee

In some ways, I can relate to Emmalee's situation.  No, I didn't grow up destitute in a mountainside holler, and I wasn't a young unwed mother, but I lost my mother when I was a child, and I had to learn to be a mother without having one of my own.  I was lucky enough, like Emmalee, to have a few people around me who were willing to step into the void and help me learn.  Those women are thankfully still with us and not in need of a funeral dress.  I don't know how to sew, but reading this book and thinking about my childhood made me wonder.  If I had the chance, how would I repay that debt to them?  How could I show my gratitude for how they shaped my life, and by extension, how they affected my children's lives?  

I don't know if I ever can.

Reasons Mommy Drinks

Reasons Mommy Drinks Book 

(Includes 100 Cocktail Recipes to Enjoy in Your Zero Free Time), by Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson

As a contributing member of From Left to Write, I received a copy of this book for review purposes. 

Since I received it in the mail, I did not have the opportunity to find it while perusing the shelves of my local bookstore, but I have to start with the Lego ice cubes in the drink.  I LOVE THIS image!  LOVE it.   I am the mom of three boys, all of whom have a seriously committed relationship with Legos; I think it's absolutely perfect that they're accessories to alcohol in the cover photo. 

I was thoroughly amused by this book.  No, that's not exactly right...it was more like interrupt- Captain-America-while-he's-watching-football, "OMG you have to read this, it's hysterical" funny. In the spirit of full disclosure, my kids are (and therefore I am) a little bit older than what I imagine the target audience is for this book.  But pregnancy, childbirth and my children's infancies are not that far removed from the dusty recesses of my memory, that I couldn't relate to nearly every page of this book.  

It's a recipe book of sorts, served with a generous helping of self-deprecating wit and snark and camaraderie for moms: newly pregnant, about to give birth, just gave birth and moms in the trenches.  It's for all of us.  Each drink has a theme and a pacifier rating system, as in, how badly do you need this drink?  Some drinks are 1- binky drinks, where yeah, you might could use it.  Or you might just as well enjoy handing baby over to daddy and zoning out in front of What Not to Wear for awhile.  Then you have your 5-binky drinks, which are CRITICAL.  You need it NOW. STAT.  Someone could get hurt.  

The drinks sound pretty good, and I am going to try out a few of them.  I don't object at all to alcohol and I understand the need for it.  It's just that don't mix a lot of drinks for myself.  I kind of cut right to the chase; I pretty much just open the bottle and go. But what I loved, and read out loud to my husband and my mommy friends and laughed till I cried about, were the topics and stories that went with the drinks.  Here's an example: The drink is a Mudslide.  Most of us have at least heard of a Mudslide, even if we haven't actually partaken. 

Chocolate syrup
1/2 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce coffee liqueur
1/2 ounce Irish cream
Splash of milk

Drizzle chocolate syrup around the inside rim of a glass, and then fill the glass with ice. Pour in the vodka, coffee liqueur, Irish cream and milk, and stir.  

How badly you need this drink:
5 binkies

The story that goes along with the desperate need for a Mudslide is called Explosive Poo.  That's pretty self-explanatory, but the paragraph that describes it in hysterical, horrific detail will really bring the point home.  You're going to have to read it for yourself to truly appreciate it.  I will give you this much though:  "There is no waiting for Daddy to get home, though, as The Situation must be dealt with lest you get a diaper rash.  But oh, the horror that unfolds with the diaper."  

Really, who among us can't relate to that?  

If your kids are past this age, pick it up and reminisce.  And then pass it on to your pregnant girlfriend, or neighbor, or daughter in law.  But if you are in the thick of pregnancy or the baby years, this is book is written just for you.  Do yourself a favor and get it.  You can read it two pages at a time and that will be enough. 

Check out the authors' website here and order the book here!

Happy reading!  And drinking. 

29 July 2013

Daddy's Girl

 Execution of Noa P Singleton by Elizabeth Silver

This post was inspired by the novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth L. Silver. Mere months before Noa's execution, her victim's mother changed her mind about Noa's sentence and vows to help stay the execution. Join From Left to Write on July 30 as we discuss The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

I wasn't quite sure what to think when I read the jacket of this book.  I wasn't quite sure what to think when I finished the first chapter.  Or the second.  The writing is terrific and it grabbed me right away.  The story was, honestly, a little hard for me to read at first.  

I didn't really understand Noa, and what she was thinking. As I read more about the relationship between Noa and her father, I began to understand her a little bit better.  It's fascinating to me, how we repeat patterns in our relationships in spite of our efforts to change those patterns, and even the relationships we say we don't want affect and influence us. 

I did not, and I have a few female friends who did not, have good or healthy relationships with their fathers.  I have heard it said and read in several places, that a child's relationships with the opposite-sex parent sets a course for that child's future relationships with members of the opposite sex, and from the vantage point of 40-plus years of life experience, it sure seems to be true.  When I was younger I didn't always see it that way, and took some pride in choosing relationships with men that drove my father crazy, simply for the purpose of driving him crazy.  For the record, I did outgrow my daddy-rebellion and my husband is only like my father in that he is a guy.  Thank goodness.  My dad informed my parenting to the extent that he showed me what not to do.

What is really interesting to me is that, ironically, I am a parent to only male children, and I am extremely aware of how, by my mothering, I am determining to some extent the kind of woman my sons will likely be drawn to.  It reassures me and scares me at the same time.  I think we have good and healthy relationships and I am very hopeful that will continue once they are all teenagers.  (Only one of them is right now; so far so good).  I hope to raise good boys who will grow into good men. 

I pray that I will use my influence wisely, and teach them well.  I pray that when they are grown, their memories of me will be happy; that I will have been a good example of how to love a child. 

I am the daughter my father raised, but I am not Daddy's girl.  It seems to me that although she professed not to care, Noa was her father's daughter, more than she thought.

19 May 2013

Strong Enough

  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra's debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

'You must do the things you think you cannot do.'      ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
 I believe with all my heart that we are all capable of much more than we think we are.  Whether it's about running another lap or another mile, giving just one more big push, or surviving an unthinkable loss, the human spirit, the will to persevere is strong enough to carry us through.

I have never been to war.  I have been affected by wars, but I have not been put out of my burning home or watched my loved ones taken away by soldiers.  But I have faced obstacles I didn't know if I would overcome, challenges I wasn't sure I'd survive.   I have lost both of my parents, I have lost friends, and I have walked through more than one big bad marital firestorm with Captain America and come out on the other side, bruised and battered but still standing.  I have suffered enormous disappointments, both because of other people and because of myself. 

I have discovered along the way that it's those challenges that we face that really determine who we are.  I have absolutely failed, at times, to overcome fear and trepidation, and I have questioned myself and my God in the midst of confusion, turmoil and seemingly endless pain.  But the storms fade.  Fires die.  And what else is there, but to pick ourselves up, assess the damage, and go about setting things to rights?  Even when we feel defeated, and we feel like we've got nothing left, sooner or later we still get up.

Sometimes, though, sometimes we prevail over the fear and we conquer that thing we are afraid of.  It's not because we're so brave, or we're so smart, or we're so strong.  It's not.  We're not.  Not necessarily.

But I am strong enough.   We are strong enough, to do those things that we think we cannot do. 

We must do the things that we think we cannot do. 

11 March 2013

Terms Of Endearment

Raising Cubby by John Elder Robison 

This post was inspired by Raising Cubby: A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors, and High Explosives by John Elder Robison. Parenting is a challenging job, but what challenges does a parent with Asperger's face? Join From Left to Write on March 12 as we discuss Raising Cubby. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

This book arrived on my doorstep in what I can only describe as a divine moment of timing.  I had just started getting over one of my periodic fits of frustration with my oldest son, who does not have Asperger's Syndrome, but who clearly exhibits several of the classic behaviors.  He struggles mightily to just go with the flow that the most of the rest of us seem to find naturally, without much effort or thinking.  

He is disorganized at school and is a regular in the detentions that are supposed to be a deterrent for forgetting to do and/or turn in homework in a timely manner.  He is easily distracted and can often be found gazing out the window or playing imaginary games in his head, using the eraser of his pencil as the main character.  Sometimes, when he gets overwhelmed by the noise and activity level at school, he prefers the company of his imaginary world and its inhabitants to the here and now.  He can go on at length about the TV shows and video games he is particularly enamored of, and can give a mini dissertation on them, not really grasping that you don't find it every bit as riveting as he does.  

The day I got this book, I had sent a semi-desperate email to Moe's teacher, principal, tutor and school psychologist, asking for help, and I was working on scheduling a meeting with all of them to discuss getting Moe tested for learning disabilities.   It pains me to say it, but my kid really needed something he just wasn't getting.  I have no interest in hanging a label, but if I don't know what he's dealing with, I can't help him or give him any effective tools to cope with the challenges he faces.  My good friend, who is a teacher herself, gets angry when I say I think something is wrong....it's not that I think he is defective somehow, or broken.  But I know, in my heart, that he's different, that he does not and will not fit into any predetermined boxes, and he operates on a whole separate level than most of the rest of the world.  The world in which he must learn to operate and function.  

I enjoyed reading this book.  I found myself nodding in agreement and understanding in several places, and laughing out loud in others. I get the author's style of writing and his sense of humor, at least I think I do. I get his thought process.  

I especially got a kick out of, and enjoyed his nicknames for his wife and his son, and even their cat. I have nicknames for Captain America and Moe, Larry and Curly (other than those!) that probably not many people would understand.  In fact, I might be a little embarrassed trying to explain my little pet names for my people.  But to them, and to me, those names are special....those little pet names communicate an awful lot more than just whose attention I am trying to get.  They speak to the special bond between me and each member of my family.  Some are sentimental and some are silly, and they are all uniquely ours.

I will share one of them, though, because I think it's particularly funny.  And it will be funny for me to call my youngest child this name on his wedding day.  Curly is a funny, silly kid, a performer, someone who loves to laugh and make people laugh.  I call him Monkeyface, and he responds without hesitation.  My other man-cubs get offended if I try to call them Monkeyface, but Curly...I think he likes it. 

Do you have special nicknames or pet names for your family or for your kids?

21 January 2013

Shooting the messenger

The Expats by Chris Pavone

This post was inspired by mystery thriller novel The Expats by Chris Pavone. Kate Moore sheds happily sheds her old life become a stay at home mom when her husband takes a job in Europe. As she attempts to reinvent herself, she ends up chasing her evasive husband's secrets. Join From Left to Write on January 22 as we discuss The Expats As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

There are a lot of secrets in this novel.  And I don't want to ruin them for you, if you decide to pick it up.  But I want to talk about a part that really stuck with me and made me think about a related question for some time after I finished the book. 
 In a lot of ways, I related to Kate, the main character.  Not so much that I was leading some sort of secret double life, but that when I put that job aside, the job that I loved and the job that served as my identity in my twenties, it was really hard for me to say goodbye. That job was not compatible with a stable home and family life, and when I gave birth to my first child, I realized that a stable home was more important than the job.  

It was still really hard to give it up, and I, like Kate, often look back and wonder, could I have somehow made this work?  I've looked at my house, cluttered with toys and books and teenytiny Lego pieces tangled in the weave of the carpet, the kitchen with bread crust on the floor and peanut butter smeared on the front of the fridge, and thought, is this it?  Is this what I quit working for?  

In other ways, though, I couldn't understand Kate at all.  I didn't understand why she was so reserved when she moved to Luxembourg; didn't she want to make friends?  Didn't she want to carve out a new life with her people, her compadres?  Even when she did make friends, she wasn't completely open.  

But then, neither were all of her friends. 

Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that, in this book, not many people are who they say they are.  And Kate finds this out in a most uncomfortable way, while she is hiding behind her own secrets.  She stumbles across a spouse, doing something they shouldn't be doing, with someone they shouldn't be doing it with.  And the plot thickens. 

The question I keep coming back to is this: if you, by pure accident, discover that someone you know is keeping a secret, one that could potentially hurt someone else you know, are you supposed to tell it or keep it?  This comes up all the time in women's magazines, usually in relation to a cheating spouse.  But, really, it can cover a wide range of situations, and secrets besides affairs.  And the advice columnist in the women's magazines always, always says to stay out of it.  You're the messenger, therefore you're the bad guy and you'll be the one who takes the blame for whatever fallout there is. 

And not having any experience in this, I can't say for sure that that isn't true.  But it sits wrong with me; I don't think the messenger should be the one to get shot.   No one likes to deliver bad news or tell people something that will likely hurt them or upset them.  

Maybe I just have that tendency to root for the underdog, but I always end up feeling bad for the messenger.