Monday, August 31, 2009

Your Own Recipe for Lemonade:

Part 2 of “If Life Gives You Lemons…”
“What is all this juice and all this joy?/ A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning…” –from "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The problem with the saying about lemonade is that it might work easily on things like fruit or favorite shrunken sweaters, but people wish to apply the principle to bigger things in life. That’s because the idea of turning loss or disappointment into something lovely and useful is a compelling one. This is what we are supposed to be doing. It is one of the things that makes us recognizable as having been made in God’s image.
The story of Joseph comes to mind. His brothers sold him into slavery! But through Joseph’s character growth, his wisdom and his humble forgiveness of his brothers, God saved the entire family from the ravages of a famine. This has been what I have known God to do in my own life.

And that’s part of the problem with this saying about making lemonade. Lemons are great, really. That’s why they don’t really work as a metaphor for being sold into slavery. The brightest of flavors, they’re great in iced tea, in tarts, in cookies, in cake and to add zing to hummus, chicken or fish. Lemon juice is useful for keeping fruit from darkening, for bleaching out the scent of stale garlic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with lemons.

I can think of many situations where “lemons fit for lemonade” would provide the perfect metaphor. These are situations not inherently wrong, but come with a bitter taste. It’s hard to make the best of a difficult or frustrating situation. We live through many of these and the goal is not only to survive the difficulty, but to grow in character and understanding.
I remember being frustrated, feeling bitter during summers when we could not afford to go away on a vacation. When I had a good attitude, I tried to make the most of the situation. We enjoyed our home town, went to the beach, took day trips. One thing I made an attempt at doing when my kids were little was to “visit” far off places in imaginative way. My children will probably not remember this, and certainly the idea could be built upon. Choose a country and state you’d like to visit. The library has fun travel videos -- with varying qualities of travel writing. However, the visuals are stunning and inviting and they begin the journey. A cookbook from the region or country could help the family create traditional meals from that country and a book of Christmas crafts from around the world could provide “souvenir” of the imagined vacation for friends or your own Christmas tree. Turn your phone off, use paper plates and make your own recreation. It’s a lovely way to turn the frustration of staying at home into something refreshing, enlightening and useful.


But what if something terrible happens? What if your parents’ marriage flounders or a friend betrays you in a vicious lie? What if death comes too soon or too terribly? Like Joseph’s situation, to dismiss these traumatic events as “lemons” would be callous. Beyond disappointment, these sorts of situations grieve the heart because somewhere deep inside we know that were the world perfect, marriages would all thrive and last, people would die content and full of years, friends and brothers would hook arms with us and laughing at shared memories, look ahead with hope. We long for that perfection every day.

How do we make something useful and lovely and refreshing from profound loss and bitter disappointment? How do we quench throats dry from weeping? “Making lemonade” out of this sort of “lemon” takes time, grace and work.

My mother’s death traumatized me for many reasons but one thing that was especially hard on me was the memory of how she looked when she had died. I wept over it in a frantic, inconsolable way. My mother-in-law, who rarely gives advice, wrote me a note which I received a few days after the funeral and at the bottom was written this recommendation: “It helps to remember the good things.” I figured this was true and wise, but I couldn’t come up with anything good. Not one thing.

One night, many months later, still unable to sleep, I remembered hearing about a child who had seen her parent shot to death. I felt inspired to pray for this child. I knew, in praying, that God wished to comfort that child and for the first time since my own mother’s death, I felt a little better. Then in days and weeks following, when the sorrow came back to me, I turned my mind to those similarly grieving and remembered them in prayer. Thinking of others soothed my heart somehow.
My mother’s funeral was conducted by a priest who struck me as fussy, and rigid. I wanted the hymn “Give Me Jesus,” to be sung. The priest had never heard of it and required me to provide him with the lyrics. I know I was upset anyway, but you’d think a song titled “Give Me Jesus” would be okay at a Christian funeral. Even though I disliked him, during the funeral he said something that dropped into my mind with a resounding thud. After listing aloud my mother’s struggles and difficulties (she had many), he prayed that in heaven God would comfort her and that all her tears would be dried. I wondered if this could be possible and may have muttered something awful like, “as if…” The idea stayed with me and despite mulling over it, I couldn’t squeeze out its real significance.
Shortly after that my sister compiled my parents’ home movies (created on what we used to call film) into a poignant tribute complete with the most comforting, apt music. I saw footage of their wedding. The image of their happiness was so surprising and bright that it was as if I had been reminded of what they really looked like. Their eyes shone with joy and hope. Oddly, this mixed with the priest’s prayer in my mind; I could picture no greater happiness for my mother than the rapturous look on her face on her wedding day. I decided that I would keep that image in my mind and when the other image – the picture of disappointment and loss – intruded, I would purposefully turn my mind to how she would be now – all her tears dried.

I’m better now. God provided help to me through inspiration, the inexplicable comfort of His Holy Spirit and the gifts of others – this was the recipe for me. I had to follow that recipe by replacing terrible images with those of renewed meaning. But I don’t think these examples—as methods-- will help you. I think the idea that you can seek to make something useful and life-giving out of everything from simple irritation to terrible loss and anguish might help.
Do you have examples of when you made something useful, beautiful and refreshing from loss and disappointment? Whether it’s something light – like my sweater, something lovely – like my imagined vacation, or something life-changing - like my mother’s memory write and tell about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Juicing a Lemon, part 1

Someone asked how to get a juice out of a lemon. You don't need a fancy juicer. Lemons should be kept at room temperature, but if yours is in the fridge, that's okay. Take it out and put it in the microwave for 10 seconds. No more.
Next roll it beneath the heel of your palm. This loosens the juice. My friend puts it on the floor and steps on it and rolls it under her foot, then she washes it off and uses it. Either way works.

Take out a small bowl and a sieve. Cut the lemon in half and hold it over the sieve. Take a fork and stick the fork into the fruit part of the lemon half. Twist the fork and squeeze the lemon. Keep going until no more juice can be extracted. Repeat with the other half of the lemon. This works with limes, too.

This makes me think of that saying, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." This saying used to infuriate me (I don't like cliches). When I heard it, I would invariably fume internally saying, "How? What does that mean? Why don't people give specifics?" Now at age 55, I can't figure out why I was so upset by that saying. It's so obviously sensible and it is what anyone who tries to use what is at hand for good will do.

I love using what I have at hand to make something or fix something or finish something. Recently, when cleaning out my closet I found that a favorite sweater had moth holes in it. Though I have lavender saches in my closet, the moths still invade. This sweater is a fabulous color and has sentimental meaning because I was wearing it when I first met Joey. Anway, it seemed also to have shrunk a little. (Must be the sweater, couldn't be all those cookies) so I decided to shrink it some more! I washed it in as hot water as I could, then dried it on high. It was definitely smaller.
Then I dug out my baby patterns and used it to make a little jacket for Valerie's baby. The knitted hem and cuffs made perfect, ready-knit trim for the little sweater!
Then I decided to use this lovely fabric ( I had only 1/2 yard) to make a matching dress. I guess that's more like life giving you lemons and you make an entire party.

Here's to taking what you have and making something useful!
... to be continued

Friday, August 21, 2009

Four Good Things About August...

... the evening light, green dragonflies, darting hummingbirds and cool, homemade drinks

In Maryland August is typically hot, dry and humid. This means that the lawns are crunchy and brown, (I hear you can make tortillas from them), the plants drooping from thirst, but walking outside means a 95 degree blanket of damp smog drops over your head and shoulders, puffs your hair up into a wad of cotton candy and shuts your lungs down. Little swarming bugs love this weather and are waiting to buzz and sting with joy until they are caught in your great mound of puffed hair.

But soon the hummingbirds will fly south and the dragonflies will be no more; it will be dark when people come home from work. So I thought, why not try these two refreshing drinks and make the best of the hottest days?

Peach Iced Tea
You can buy this if you want, but it is expensive and often made with the stomach-bloating high fructose corn syrup. My recipe is easy, fresh and economical.
Fill a five quart pot with cold water and bring to a boil.
Drop in 6 Lipton tea bags (you may also use PG Tips or Red Rose – no others under any circumstance).
Add 4-5 bruised, ripe or over ripe peaches. (If they are moldy, cut out the mold and throw that part away).
Let this tea steep until it is cool.
Remove the peaches and reserve.
Add 1 Cup sugar
Add ¼ Cup lemon juice
Stir, chill and serve over ice. It is fragrant, refreshing and delicious!
Peel the peaches which are no longer pretty. Serve them with morning cereal where you are too sleepy to notice their spent looks, under vanilla ice cream ( say under not over) or in a cobbler where they’ll be hidden under sugar and crumbs .

Three Variations of Lemonade:
When I was a teenager, I lived in St. Louis, MO. My sister, Gloria, convinced me to join the Political Science Club at our high school with her. Though I am an American, I am not interested in politics, nor was I then – just as though I’m a Christian, I am not interested in doctrine, please don’t talk to me about it. My mind shuts off.
This Political Science Club met once at the home of its president, a young man with an Irish name that I can no longer remember. In St. Louis, the heat was worse than it is here in Maryland because there was never the benefit of breezes from the water. I guess we were too far away from the great Mississippi! So, not only was I bored to death and out of place, but I was melting from the heat. Then the young man’s mother brought out lemonade on a bright silver tray! She presented me with a tall, ice-filled glass of lemonade – a pale, natural yellow—with one bright red cherry floating on top. I thought of nothing else that entire meeting.

Here’s the general recipe-- but with lemonade a lot of it depends on your preference:
Lemonade for a Crowd (50 people):
Measure 4 cups of cold water into a saucepan.
Add 8 cups of sugar and bring to a frenetic, rollicking boil and let it boil this way for 2 minutes. (Don’t worry! You are making a syrup. You will not drink it in this concentration!)
Add 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt
Squeeze over a strainer (to catch the excess pulp and seeds) the juice of 4 fresh lemons
Add 5 Cups lemon juice from a jar
This is your lemonade syrup. Chill it and store in the refrigerator. The lemonade syrup must be diluted before drinking.
To serve:
Add 3-4 gallons water (taste this)
Add 4 cups good apple juice (such as Martinelli’s) or 2 containers of frozen apple juice.
Slice a lemon or two in circles, cut these circles in half to put in the pitcher, punch bowl or glasses. Serve with a single cherry over ice.

2. Smaller Crowds:
Make less syrup by halving the proportions. You may also freeze 1 or 2 cup quantities in zip lock bags.
To serve, add water and apple juice to taste based in a

general measure on how much you made or froze.

3. Berry Lemonade:
To your lemonade syrup add 1 Cup pureed summer berries. You may use blackberries, raspberries or strawberries (blueberries don’t work well, but you can try it if you want). Strain these through a sieve to try to eliminate some of the seeds or some of your guests may get a slightly upset stomach)
The more puree you add, the darker your lemonade will be. This way it will be a light pink. You can adjust according to your taste and the amount of berries on hand.
Add the puree to the lemonade, dilute as above and serve over ice.
People actually love this!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teach By Encouragement

It occurred to me that my mother never criticized my sewing.
You may mutter, “So what? Why would she?” Anyone who knows me well, knows that I had a stressful relationship with my mother. This was doubtless due to my own defensiveness and to her outspoken nature. She found fault with nearly everything I did. She criticized my appearance often greeting me with “Why don’t you put some make up on?” after her “hello” kiss and hug. Often she found my cooking dry and claimed she couldn’t swallow it! She criticized my mothering, my housework, my children’s thinness, my choices in clothing, furniture, cars, husband, etc. She even criticized my gardening. One time in around 1986, we were shopping at Homestead Gardens and I met her at the cash register with my $2.49 plant. “Why are you buying that half dead plant?” she demanded. I shrugged, too embarrassed to remind her that I couldn’t afford anything more at Homestead. When I see that plant --now huge and spreading-- bloom each Spring, I think of my mother.

One thing to my mother’s credit was that she was good at many things. She was a wonderful cook; her house was always clean. She was a master gardener in knowledge and practice. Beetles and slugs were stamped out, dead-heads removed continually, seeds gathered for next year. She kept up with things, showing her disciplined nature. She read voraciously and was always hungry for more knowledge. She was an accomplished artist and I still remember the wonder I felt the first time I saw her quickly sketch something. She was drawing chrysanthemums for a church fair poster and did so with the kind of artistic flair that made them seem bending toward me, their petals moist with dew. She ate like a horse and was always thin, dressed well, could manage and invest money, could refinish furniture, paint a room without using that blue tape and without spilling a drop. Naturally I didn’t mention it when I knocked over an entire can of paint one summer day while painting Val’s bedroom. Just thought I’d skip that story. Her standards were high and she reached them. Looking back, I suppose she wanted the best for me and wasn’t the type to keep her thoughts to herself or write them in a blog after she passed on as I might be inclined to do. Hence the tension between us.

But she was never critical of my sewing. This is a remarkable fact considering that by trade, my mother was a fashion designer. Valerie has recently turned some of her sketches and paintings of fashions she designed into the most charming stationary;
you can find these at Valerie's Etsy Shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/bedbyday.
As well as designing fashion, my mother was a brilliantly skilled seamstress as can be seen first by the picture of this sample zipper she sewed.I still have a notebook of her sewing skill samples from when she attended Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. The difficulty and precision of this seam is astounding!
Not only could she sew children’s clothes that inspired sighs of awe, but the things she made for my father were tailored more sharply and carefully than any suit or shirt available at the mall. Her stitches were tiny, her seams straight, her work utterly beautiful and admirable. This is a sample of a tailored pocket Mom made with stitches so tiny a fairy could have made them, edges crisp as a knife. Beautiful!
My mother taught me to sew and yet I remember no criticism, no painful moments. She was a patient sewing teacher, explaining not only the right way to accomplish a difficult skill, but the reason behind it. Her instructions were full of helpful tips, such as the way to pin to keep the fabric from buckling, how to hold the scissors, why the fabric wouldn’t lie flat on the table. When my home economics class at school was required to make a garment, I chose a dress with set in sleeves, cuffs with button holes, a tailored collar and more. We were supposed to finish it at school, but in middle school I had an unfortunate tendency to talk and goof off in class. So, I didn’t finish and there was a school-wide fashion show in which we were to model our sewn clothes. My teacher commented to my mother at an evening school event, “Loris bit off more than she can chew with this project.” While this was true, this wasn’t the actual reason I wasn’t done. My mother rose to my defense and told the teacher I was a “marvelous seamstress” (her actual words) and then commanded, whispering fiercely in my ear, that I bring the cursed (not her actual word) thing home with me. Which I did. I sneaked it into my book bag.
We finished it at home. She did most of the work as it was really way over my head. While I watched, she sewed the bound button holes with such precision that I am still not over their beauty. I learned a great deal through her help, though. And suddenly it occurs to me that these were moments when I first saw how to teach. I learned that teaching must be done through encouragement, that the teacher must always believe the best of her student and then she must set the target and help her student reach it. It’s funny to me, because I applied these principles always to the teaching of literary analysis and of writing, but not until just now did I realize that I learned them from my mother.
Pin tucks...
Seeing that she passed on her best skills to me in such a life-giving way, I wonder if her criticism was not what it seemed at the time. I wonder if her question at Homestead Gardens was her clumsy, human way of worrying aloud about the budget of a young couple with one income and four perpetually skinny children. Like all of us, she had a lot of fears and I think now that she probably didn’t know how to deal with them, so they came bursting out of her as criticism – or what felt like criticism to me.

Sewing has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I love touching the fabric and being able, by touch, to tell its composition. I love the scent of the sizing in the fabric store, the homey scent of wool, the brisk scent of silk. I love the shades of color, love the task of matching fabrics, choosing buttons, envisioning something useful hand sewn. When I go to G-Street Fabrics in Rockville and see the quality merchandise, the fabrics from all over the world, I remember my mother’s mouth-watering descriptions of the fabric stores in the garment district of New York City of old. “…you could get Thai silk there… and Swiss laces with their exquisite white embroidery, bolts of them, lined up on the shelf, piles of French laces for dirt cheap…”

This summer at the Sewing Camp that Andrea, her sister Jen, Valerie and I taught, I loved passing to a new generation my mother's skill and wisdom. The girls at Sewing Camp designed and sewed their own wonderful Christmas stockings.

My mom would have been pleased with Sewing Camp. As I did, she would have loved the beautiful things that the girls made and the way the teachers helped them. Sewing builds a creative and inspiring community as everyone loves to see what each other has made, learn techniques and share patterns; it’s a worthy skill, an enjoyable art form, one that should be taught with joy and encouragement. All this I learned from my mother. All this joy, I owe to her. Thanks, Mom. My parents before the graduation dance for F.I.T. My mother designed and sewed her hankerchief hemmed dress.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Eight Hands Around: Too Special to Throw Away

Eight Hands Around: Too Special to Throw Away
http://www.eighthandsaround.com

Too Special to Throw Away

“Happy are they that can hear their detractions and put them to mending.” -Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing

My mother saved stuff -- zippers, buttons, pockets cut out of trousers and even some of my baby clothes. She gave the baby clothes to me when I got married. I couldn’t put them on Eric and Joe, so I saved them and when Val was born, she wore a few of the things. I loved putting her in the little flannel jacket my mother had made and embroidered. She wore my flannel-lined pink corduroy coat her first winter.

When Valerie discovered that she is expecting a girl, I looked in my cedar chest to see what I might have saved for her. We found the dress and bonnet my friend Courtney brought to the hospital for Valerie to wear home. Courtney insisted that Valerie could not wear the yellow pajamas I had packed for the baby and so she ran out to Woodies (an old Annapolis department store- dependable as sunrise and sorely missed) where she bought a little white dress with a pink ribbon trim and a bonnet to match. How right Courtney was-- how generous and thoughtful! The tenderness and awe I felt when I tied the bonnet’s bow beneath her chin is with me every time I see Val today.

We also found a lovely pink sweater and cap.


Don't you love the collar? The top part (yoke) of the sweater is a different kind of knit, closer and made to fit. Then it blouses out below the yoke.

I think these were mine, but I’m not sure. The pink is that warm color of ballet shoes or the inside of sea shells. Both items are knitted in tiny stitches of the softest wool. The sweater has an intriguing tag explaining that it was hand knit in Sweden. Both items were yellowed and stained. I soaked them in Oxi-clean and then in Clorox II. The sweater emerged with two faded spots on the front (where the spots had been) and I noticed a couple of holes. The cap brightened up beautifully but also showed a couple of holes.
As I stared at them, at the beautiful needlework accomplished so long ago, I thought… I wonder if I can perk these up and fix them? I wonder if I can make them look like chic and original and beautiful?

Valerie and I found a scrap of wool and decided to make pockets for the sweater that would cover the faded spots. I lined the pockets with soft white flannel and stitched them on by hand. It needed something else. What about a ruffle of the same wool on the bottom? This will make the pockets look less like the patches they are! I cut a thin strip of wool, finished the hem with a tight zig-zag stitch, touched the edges with Fray check (this is a fabric finisher that is just what it sounds like). Valerie chose bright red buttons to replace the oversized, chipped ivory ones on the front placket. To tie the design together, I sewed the last two red buttons on the cuffs and turned a spotty, worn sweater into a chic original.
Above is a photograph of when we were trying out the pockets and the buttons to see how it would look. Val suggested red buttons and they were just the right color for blending the orange/brown of the pockets and the peachy pink of the sweater.


It's finished!



The cap’s remake was next. I used a bit of the same wool to make a wee rose and sewed in its middle a red bead. This echoed the sweater’s red buttons. I sewed the rose to the side of the cap beside the delicate chin strap. A strip of the same wool made a narrow ruffle for inside the cap where there was a brim made of 1/2" cream-colored lace. I sewed the ruffle beneath the lace for contrast. Because it all felt sort of wooly, I lined the cap with fabric from an discarded, soft as a whisper T-shirt. I want the baby to be pretty and comfortable!
The handiwork in this cap was too delicate and special to discard. Better to mend!
To mend the holes in a knitted sweater or cap is easy.
Find thread the same color.

Hold the hole open by placing your finger beneath it.
Take tiny stitches all around the hole.
Begin to weave the hole closed. This must be done carefully, catching single threads and gently pulling the hole closed as you weave threads first one direction, then the next.

Below the outside of the sweater (isn't the pink so lovely?) is shown with the hole mended! Result? A sweater and cap – redeemed!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Dozen Books I Love And Would Love To Read Again and Again


A Dozen Books I’ve Loved And Would Love To Read Again and Again

1. Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge I found this book at the new library in Chesterfield, Mo when I was 14 years old. My hand went toward it as if pulled by some sort of literary magnet and it is the first book I truly loved. Since reading it then, I’ve read it probably ten times. Not only do the descriptions of the most surprising and vivid places transport, but the characters’ struggles are sympathetically drawn, appallingly unique and heartbreaking. The resolution of the conflicts fills the heart with deep, poignant peace as if upon closing the book the heart says, “Yes. That’s right.”

2. Hamlet by Shakespeare… I can no longer count the number of times I’ve read this play and each time I love the language more passionately and bow to Shakespeare’s genius with more amazement. “... This goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire…” See what I mean?

3. Macbeth by Shakespeare – People turn their noses up at this play calling it dark, which it is, but my classes helped me to see that it is the most tightly written and redemptive of all Shakespeare’s plays. (not that I’ve read them all because I haven’t but I still know this to be true!) By the way... the mystery cannot be solved by saying Macduff was born by caesarian section. Women who give birth by c-section are still women. There's more to it and the difference is symbolically critical to the idea of redemption that is the heart of the play.

4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley … This book, written in lovely, careful prose by a 19 year old woman, is complex and fascinating.

5. Desiree by Annemarie Selinko … Oh, you see, it is about Napoleon’s first love, who is a most likeable, ordinary woman. It takes place in Paris and etc. is sprinkled with French and dotted with history and just delicious.

6. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn byMark Twain… This is another book that I have had the privilege of teaching. What do I love about it? I love the descriptions of the river, the genius and justice of Jim’s admirable humanity, Huck Finn’s prefect literal narration, the scene where he declares “you can’t pray a lie” in all its sharp irony and of course the last line.

7. Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith… We read this book to our children when they were small. I am talking here about the original children’s novel (a chapter book) not the Disney version. In it, the dogs have more character development, (sounds funny but it works great) --including a host of English dog personalities --as the two Dalmation parents make their way across England in search of their puppies. It is worth a search on ebay to purchase a copy.

8. Katherine by Anya Seton… My sister, Gloria, gave me this book when we still lived in New Jersey and reading it began a life-long fascination with the shining, tumultuous and faith-filled Middle Ages.

9. A River Runs Through It by Norman Mclean… This book is beautifully written, profound and meaningful. The author’s view of his home country and family changed my life. I don’t understand the last line, though. Does anyone out there?

10. The Little Minister by James M. Barrie… I found this book by first catching a glimpse of the movie. The movie is charming, but omits a poignant and important part of the plot! Plus it takes place in Scotland! Read it! You will love Babbie, the gypsie… I found her to be much like looking in the mirror (in a good way). Maybe you will, too.

11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee … Doesn’t everyone love this book? Everyone should read it as Atticus Finch is one of the rare, great fathers in literature.

12. The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass by himself… Frederick Douglass is one of the most elegant, analytical and expressive American writers. If you’ve never read his work, do yourself a favor.

What are your favorites?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Humble Explanations of Why I Have Thrown These Books Across The Room



1. Tess of the D’Urbervilles… by Thomas Hardy…Have you read it? If you have, you won’t wonder why. No hope for the wise, good and beautiful among us. Not a bit..

2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton… This is Edith Wharton’s life vision? Really? Seriously? I read once that Edith used to write in the morning and garden in the afternoon. If that’s true she must have had a garden that reeked of garbage where slithering poisonous snakes squirmed, slugs made lace of her foliage, and hungry chattering squirrels threw pine cone cores at her while she was digging in unyielding, red clay soil. If I could, I would unpublish that book.

3. Beach Music by Pat Conroy… Now, I’ve read nearly every word Pat Conroy has published and I admire him greatly. He’s funny, skillful, appalling and he writes startling prose. In his novel The Great Santini, Conroy writes a scene where the children make a "cake" out of dog poop to celebrate something their hostile father loves. Beach Music is book basically made from the the same sort of stuff written to rub everyone's nose in Conroy's obsessions. Hated it. Still disappointed.

4. Sister Carrie by Theodor Dreiser -- Ick, ick and endless ick… after a contrived situation, unspeakably sad things happen to someone who is no one’s sister for no good reason. Nothing can or is done to stop or relieve them. The ending may be the first “so what?” ending in American Literature. If it had never been written, we probably wouldn’t have so many trillions of modern books and short stories with book tossing endings.

5. The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher – Typically, I like (not love) Rosamunde Pilcher and though I read this many years ago I remember throwing this book across the room; it is a BIG book and it sort of splatted on the floor by my chair (didn’t make it all the way across the room). I was angry because of one line that the protagonist said smugly in response to her sister’s struggle to provide for her son. It went something like, “There’s no sense bleeding yourself white for the sake of one small boy.” Now, that’s a pretty good image and the sentence has a nice rhythm but I hated the disconnect, the lack of understanding for the basic truth of motherhood. Instead the narrative celebrated a resentful, self-indulgent motherhood as the superior attitude. It struck me as unjust! Mothers of the world unite with me to heft this heavy volume into the abyss!
Has anyone out there thrown a book across the room?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When the Toys Misbehave

From the toy basket recently, Joey took all the plastic toys. This includes a clan of dinosaurs, three alligators, 4 horses left over from a 1980's toy ranch, bears, fish, wind-up snakes and a small, plastic porcupine. He likes to make a parade of all these fellows and while we were doing this, wouldn't you know, one of the animals was naughty! It seems the largest alligator bit Joey's leg.

Well, something had to be done, and I asked Joey what. "We should put him in time-out." At Grannie's house, time out for the toys takes place on a nice pillow. At Christmas there was a particular elf toy that looked grumpy and was always ending up in time out. Unfortunately for us, the elf didn't take this measure seriously and kept singing Christmas carols from the pillow instead of meditating on his crime (which was that he was looking grumpy). As Jack has gotten more mobile, the offending animals have to be put on the nice pillow and the pillow placed on a table that Jack can't reach. So we put the alligator in time out. It was hard to tell by the expression on the alligator's face, but in a few minutes she was feeling more herself and was allowed to rejoin the parade.

Joey went back to his task of lining up the animals. After a minute or so, he cried out. I gave him my attention to see that he was holding the little plastic porcupine up to me. "This porcupine porked me."

"What?"

"On the finger. He porked me." He held up his poor porked finger, which definitely looked injured. "He has to go in time out."

Imagine that. I wonder how one tells if a porcupine is ready to stop porking innocent bystanders.