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Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page

Book Review: Belong To Me

In Book Reviews, Family, Friends on January 31, 2009 at 5:23 pm

A Novel Belong to Me: A Novel by Marisa de los Santos


My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I started out really liking this book, and I would still recommend it to anyone who likes stories about friendship and families and the power of love. But the author was overambitious, I think. She could have split the book up into two novels. There were two major plot lines going on and it just ended up feeling like too much. The author has a Ph.D in Literature and before she started writing novels she was a poet. It shows in her writing. She has written another novel, Love Walked In,which I’m putting on my to-read list.

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When A Friend Is Ill

In Friends, Health on January 29, 2009 at 1:01 pm

I just got news today that one of my oldest and dearest friends has a condition or disease that is potentially deadly if not treated successfully. I don’t know what it is exactly because I couldn’t find it in any Internet search. She said it’s called (and I don’t even know the spelling) “lasko meiosis.” If anyone out there knows anything about it, would you please let me know?

I said that I was going to be a better friend this year and now I have a real test of my friendship. Not that it’s more than that to my friend. She says she’s scared. Of course she is. I didn’t know what to say other than to let me know what the doctor says tomorrow. I don’t know if I should go visit her (she lives two hours away and my husband and I only have one car, so it would take some maneuvering to make the trip possible). I do know that I can email and call her and that I don’t normally do that often enough.

I did tell her that I would pray for her. She doesn’t believe in God, or at best she’s an agnostic, so I don’t know how much that meant to her. Except that she should know that I really care for me to say that. She’s been disappointed by Christians before, though, and I don’t think she has a high opinion of us. I admit I feel helpless. As much as I believe in God, I’m not unaware of the fact that prayers are not always answered the way that we want them to be. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray, but I could see where that might not be very reassuring to another person when you say you’re going to pray for them.

I do know that I need to be ready to be there for her as much as I can. I will go down and visit her as often as I can if I feel that she needs for me to. And I suspect that she will need me–at least I think that I mean that much to her. She did call me, after all. Other than that, I don’t know what else I can do, but pray. And try to find out more about her condition.

2009 Progress Report

In Self Improvement on January 28, 2009 at 8:05 am

Here is my progress report for my 2009 projects and book list:

Projects:

  1. The Book Project – This is going like gangbusters, mainly through intentional reading and using Good Reads. I’ve read 9 books in the beginning of the year (and of course that doesn’t count newspapers and magazines).
  2. The House Project – Going nowhere. All I manage to do is keep the kitchen clean (sort of). That could partly be because I’ve read 9 books since the beginning of the year!
  3. The Garden Project – Right now we’re buried under ice on snow on ice on snow–and it’s sleeting right now.  So gardening of any kind is pretty much out of the question.
  4. The Travel Project – We have a trip planned to Orlando in April.
  5. The Writing Project – I submitted one essay; it was rejected. But I’m not giving up. I started to write a story about preacher’s kids. And I’m still blogging.
  6. The Religion Project – I’ve found a church I think I’ll like, but I haven’t gone there yet. (I’ve had to work on Sundays.)
  7. The Office Project – No progress. I’m still using my laptop and the couch as my office. And I have a slew of papers to be filed sitting on top of one of my file cabinets. That’s it.
  8. The German Project – No progress.
  9. The Green Project – No progress.
  10. The Body Project – No progress.
  11. The Friend Project – I’ve actually gotten in touch with some old friends I haven’t heard from in a while, including an hour and forty minute phone call with one of them!
  12. The Family Project – Pretty much the same. I hear from one of them almost every day. Facebook has been helpful to keep me in touch with family and friends.

2009 Book List:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Ann Fadiman (nonfiction) – I really enjoyed.
  2. Rereadings, edited by Ann Fadiman (nonfiction) – Good, but some of it was hard to get into.
  3. Never Let Me Go, Katzuo Ishiguro – Excellent.
  4. The Crooked Inheritance, Marge Piercy (poems) – I’m having trouble with this one. It’s short but it’s poetry. And I don’t much care for it.
  5. Summit Avenue, Mary Sharratt – So-so.

I’ve also made an additional to-read list on Good Reads of approximately 60 books. Having these lists has been very helpful. I don’t have to get fifty books out of the library at one time because I have these reminders of what I want to read and I can get them one (or two) at a time.

I guess I shouldn’t have expected progress on the body front. That’s always everyone’s Achilles heel when it comes to New Year Resolutions. My kids, who are very health-minded, keep bugging me about eating better and exercising. I think the more they bug me, the guiltier I feel and the more I resist changing my habits! I also spend so much time reading and writing, I run out of time for anything else. I’m going to have to start making time for other things, like cleaning, planning better meals and exercising.

I probably have a hundred German tapes, reference books, workbooks, textbooks, children books and novels. I’ve also been using Mango Languages through the local library. So I have great resources at my disposal. I just have to make myself do this. I do enjoy it–it gives me a real sense of satisfaction–but it’s hard to practice because my husband and I always speak English to each other. The only time I have to use my German is when I speak with his mother. And then I say the same things over and over: Wie geht’s? Was ist neues? Wie ist das wetter dort? Stimmt. Ich verstehe. Ich verstehe nicht!

One thing I have improved on: I’m not sleeping as much as I used to. There for a while I was sleeping ten and twelve hours a night! Now I’m down to eight to ten. Still a lot, but I’ve been making myself get up early more often, like seven or eight o’clock (I usually don’t turn off the light until midnight or later–that’s when I do a lot of my reading). That probably sounds late to those of you who are working outside of the home, but after years of getting up at four or working the graveyard shift, this is a welcome–and much needed–respite. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep and I’m definitely not a morning person, so seven or eight o’clock is a major accomplishment for me. I’m definitely getting more done.

I think the six weeks in my cast got me antsy and now that I’m out of it, I want to accomplish more. I still have a long way to go to be a productive member of society, but I’m not going to stop trying.

Obama’s First Interview

In Politics, Religion on January 27, 2009 at 1:16 pm

President Obama’s first interview since taking office was with Al Arabiya. I think this was a tremendously smart move on his part. The Muslim world is waiting with bated breath to see how this new leader of the United States  is going to handle “the Muslim question.”

I work with foreign students, most of whom are Muslim. The day after Obama’s election, one of them greeted me with a big smile, held out his arms and said, “Congratulations on Obama!” It was obvious that he was almost as delighted as I was. Why would that be so, unless he felt that Obama held out hope for peace, or at least better relations, between the Islamic and Judeo-Christian world? Isn’t that what we all want?

I pray daily that God gives Obama wisdom and strength to tackle the hard issues he has before him. This is certainly one of them.

My Religion Project

In Religion on January 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think I know what church I want to start going to: it’s downtown, perhaps five minutes from me, a stone mid-to-late nineteenth century building right next door to the Columbus Museum of Art. (Since the Museum is free on Sundays, I could go there after church and enlighten my soul even further!) It’s a United Church of Christ congregation. I happened upon it during my research of Protestant churches other than the ones I was already familiar with (Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal). I was attracted to it because it describes itself as an open and affirming community of faith:

We believe we are all created in God’s image, female and male, and we are called to love our neighbors as Jesus loves us. We believe we are many members, but one body in Christ, and called to unite all people in God’s love. We welcome and affirm all people. We invite those who are seeking God’s presence in their lives to join us in our common journey. Our faith community seeks to unite persons of all ages, races, nationalities, ethnicities, sexual orientations, mental and physical abilities, socioeconomic levels, and political and theological backgrounds. Together in our diversity, and being empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit, we will “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Book Review: Rereadings

In Book Reviews on January 22, 2009 at 9:07 am

Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
A great premise–revisiting books that you read when you were younger and comparing your reactions then and now–but many of the essays come across as heavy-duty literary criticism rather than anecdotal. I felt like I was in over my head most of the time, but I kept on reading anyway. In the end, I wasn’t sorry. It’s always enriching to read about why others love to read and what they’ve learned from their reading.

Some of the authors whose work is represented are: Jane Austen, Colette, Katherine Mansfield, D.H Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, J.D. Salinger, Walt Whitman, Evelyn Waugh and Hans Christian Anderson.

The book is short (238 pages) and doesn’t take much of your time and you can always skip the essays you don’t think you’d be interested in. So I would recommend it, especially if you are into literary criticism.

View all my reviews.

Rick Warren’s Inaugural Invocation

In Politics, Religion on January 21, 2009 at 11:49 am

I was more interested in Pastor Rick Warren’s invocation than in President Barack Obama’s speech. (Read the text here.) I’m sure it didn’t satisfy everyone–how could any prayer do that in this multi-religious (and anti-religious) world? There was so much controversy about his selection, I was a little surprised that there hasn’t been more reaction to it. It’s still early, though; there undoubtedly will be.

What did I think of the prayer? I thought it was outstanding. Unlike some, I was not put off by his references to Jesus (in several languages) because he prefaced them with the phrase, “I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life,” making it not a point of doctrine, but a personal testimony. Surely he is allowed that much.

I was impressed by his use of the Hebrew phrase: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one.” It’s hard to imagine how he could have been more inclusive, without turning the prayer into a travesty. (As an aside, the phrase in Hebrew is “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam”–I don’t know what the name Barack is supposed to mean but it bears a passing resemblance to “blessed” in this prayer. Interesting.)

I was glad that Warren didn’t make any political references in his prayer–to abortion or homosexuality, for instance. But I didn’t really expect him to. That’s why I wasn’t riled up by his selection the way a lot of pro-choice and gay activists were. From what I know of the man (which, I admit, is second-hand at best), I never expected him to divert attention from his central message: “Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.”

I particularly like the passage that followed:

“When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

“And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.”

Amen.

In Motion

In Health on January 15, 2009 at 11:07 am

I guess I haven’t reported on the progress with my broken foot. I got out of the boot cast on December 30th and just went back for a check-up. The break is filling in nicely, the doctor said, and he doesn’t think that I need physical therapy. Thank God, I’ve been that route and it’s rough!

I found out from my six-week-long enforced immobility that movement is a wonderful thing. I feel so free. like I can do anything. Unfortunately, the thing I most like to do is to write and I spend hours at it each day. I now realize that I need–and want–to do more with my life. Some of it I could care less about: like cleaning my house (although I do enjoy the feeling of a freshly cleaned home). But what about getting out in nature, taking a walk around the neighborhood, getting my old bike refurbished and starting to take bike rides, going out for lunch with friends, visiting relatives?

I’ve been trying to lose weight forever and all I did was put more on, especially when I was confined to the couch for six weeks. I know that exercise is a key component, but I shy away from it. The only exercise I really enjoy is swimming and I don’t have easy (and free) access to a swimming pool. A few years ago I belonged to a fitness club that had a pool and it was heaven. But I can’t afford that now, so I’m reduced to things like walking and calisthenics in my home.

I reluctantly admit that getting more exercise HAS to be one of my New Year resolutions, but I’m going to have a rough go of it. I’ll keep you posted.

Book Review: Never Let Me Go

In Book Reviews on January 15, 2009 at 10:26 am

Never Let Me Go Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Reading literary fiction is a new emphasis for me and not one I was entirely looking forward to. So I was pleasantly surprised by Never Let Me Go. It is basically science fiction but set, strangely enough, in the 1990s. I don’t want to spoil the story so I’m not going to recount it here. Part of the fun is that the author doesn’t come right out and tell you what it’s about. I started out the book thinking that it was about a boarding school in England. It is, but it’s so much more than that.

Literary fiction often means that there are no neatly tied-up or happy endings and this book is no exception. I’m used to genre fiction which is the opposite. But this book is such a satisfying read, I didn’t really mind. It’s entertaining and makes you think at the same time.

Beware: the book can get a little tedious: the main character goes over her childhood memories almost obsessively. But it’s well worth wading through them to gather the clues that lead you to the revelation at the end.

View all my reviews.

Book Review: The Suicide Index

In Book Reviews on January 12, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Putting My Father's Death in Order The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order by Joan Wickersham

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Instead of chapters, the author put an index at the front of the book. For instance: Suicide: act of, anger about, attitude toward. Not only is this different, it actually structures the book in a more realistic way than a chronological narrative would have. Reacting to a suicide doesn’t happen all at once; it’s spread out over years. And Joan Wickersham does an excellent job of showing how it stalks and grabs you when you’re least expecting it.

This is a book about her father’s suicide, the act itself, the questions it engendered, the attempts to make sense of it (an impossible task, it seems)and the affects it had on friends and family. How do you go on with a normal life after someone you love has committed suicide? Wickersham suggests that in some ways you don’t. You can never go back again to the way things were before it happened. This is true of any death, of course, but suicide is uniquely problematic. Wickersham eloquently illustrates why.

View all my reviews.