Monday, January 21, 2013


I haven't updated my books for quite awhile. Here's the rundown on the latest of my reads.
Night Circus was a really different kind of book - and I liked that.  In this book magicians are not illusionists but real magicians who use a circus as the means to display their talent and compete with one another to create amazing things.  The book grabbed my interest right away and kept me wondering exactly what is going on. There was splendor and intrigue and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  (*Available on kindle through my library).
Set in the Antebellum US, Soul Catcher follows a slave catcher as he tracks down a gorgeous and strong willed runaway slave.  The book did a solid job of speaking to the attitudes of Southerners of that time and explained the diverse attitudes of that time via the storyline.  There were a few moments of modern political correctness, but on the whole it stayed historically true,which was what I liked so much about it.  There was some rough language, etc. but it felt representative of the story being told. 
I LOVED this one! As a sociologist who has focused on gender issues, Cinderella Ate My Daughter was right up my alley.  This non-fiction, yet humorous book examines modern culture, focusing specifically on how younger girls learn and express gender.  Orenstein addresses marketing, media and parenting.  She discussed Toddlers and Tiaras, Disney movies, mothering groups, as well as academic studies that were so insightful I referred to them in the soc. class I teach (like how women's math scores decrease after trying on swim suits).  Stuff like that fascinates me! I devoured the book.   LOVED it!  (*Available on kindle through my library).
Girl in Translation follows a recently immigrated Chinese mother and daughter who are fighting to pull themselves out of extreme poverty.  It's a fascinating look into the awful state of the weak and vulnerable immigrant population trapped working in illegal conditions in the garment industry.   Luckily the daughter Kimberly is incredibly bright and opportunities present themselves by virtue of her talent. The book is fiction, but based on the author's experiences as a Chinese immigrant.  It was ultimately hopeful and a captivating and quick read.  (*Available on kindle through my library).
I was a big fan of Mad About You and had thoroughly enjoyed Reiser's earlier books Couplehood and  Babyhood.  When I saw he had another book out I jumped at it.  It was the perfect vacation read - light and funny with several touching and poignant parts.  I loved reading about his two boys (one with special needs) in his honest and loving voice.  I recommend it! (*Available on kindle through my library).
The historian in me was drawn to When Everything Changed.  This non-fiction text examines how women in the US have gained economic and political strength over the last fifty years.  The first chunk of the book details life for women in the 1960s (that part alone was worth the read) and then continues though to today.  Collins addressed the overlap with the Civil Rights Movement, legal issues, how abortion works into the debate, etc. It's a history book for sure, but the author avoids dryness by sharing story after story of the women who fought for equality.  As I was reading, I was constantly sharing with Diamond the things I was learning and I wish I had a hard copy to write on and keep in my library.  I doubt this book is for everyone, but I enjoyed it. (*Available on kindle through my library).
Ladies Auxiliary takes the reader inside a small, southern and totally Orthodox Jewish town.  Despite all of that, I related to so very much of the novel.  Mirvis breaks down the social dynamics of a group of women thrown into each others lives by virtue of geography and faith - in other words, a Mormon ward.  I could envision each character as someone I knew and I thought the author did an outstanding job of addressing the "what's culture and what's doctrine" debate that I find myself fighting regularly.  Ladies Auxiliary is a quick and easy read that I would totally recommend. 
Jane Eyre is a classic - which is pretty much the only reason I read it. I didn't really connect to the novel.  Jane's a little too perfect.  Mr. Rochester bugged me.  It moved a little slow.  The language was a little too descriptive for my tastes, etc.  I don't regret reading it, but I didn't love it.  (*Available on kindle through my library).
Unnatural Selection is a non fiction book that marries the sociologist with the historian as it explains both the causes and effects of sex selecting for boys throughout the world.  There are startling pieces of information (for example, the world is missing over 600 million women - the total number of all American females, from sex selective abortion).  The first third gives the history and driving forces and the last third addresses the startling and fascinating impacts (the middle third? not my favorite).  This is probably another book that many people might not take to, but I love books that explore these types of issues.  (*Available on kindle through my library).
Newbury gave an honorable mention to Breaking Stalin's Nose, a children's book which depicts Stalin's Soviet Union from the perspective of a young boy.  When the secret police suddenly take Sasha's father into custody, our hero becomes disillusioned by a government that is far from the ideal system he had always believed in.   It's super short and does a good job of showing life in Russia. 
My friend Christine is a big fan of the Gallagher Girls series, so I thought I would give it a try.  It's youth fiction, light and easy.  This first book in the series, tells of young Cammie who is a super smart spy-in-training that falls for a local boy.  She uses the spy skills she has learned in her all girl's spy academy to managed this new and unfamiliar relationship.  It's silly, it's cute, it's fun, but  I'm not sure if I'll read any more of the series. 
This is one of those free kindle books from amazon that I downloaded just to have something on my kindle to read.  A divorcee moves into a new home only to find that her next door neighbor is a famous author who she hates at first but is engaged to before the story ends.  It's predictable, but not a bad read.  It takes place the week before Christmas and is set in Salt Lake City.  It feels like a Mormon author, but there is nothing so completely overt that it becomes a "Mormon book". Fluff for sure.  Fine enough for something to read the week before Christmas.
I took Remember Me? on our Bahama's cruise for a fun and light read.  Kinsella didn't let me down.  After an accident leaves Lexi with a brain injury which prevents her from remembering the last five years, she finds her 'new' life to be completely different than the life she remembers.  It seems as if Lexi won the lottery with her handsome husband, fancy flat and impressive job.  However, she quickly finds out that her new life isn't quite so simple.  Fluff for sure, but I enjoyed it.  (*Available on kindle through my library).

I also hosted Okay for Now for my book club, so I reread that.  Still love it.  (Although for me it seems books are never quite as good the second time around). 

My favorites of this group would be Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Ladies Auxiliary and Girl in Translation.  Enjoy!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Have a First Grader

It's been a little over a month since the horrific shooting in Newton, Connecticut and I still feel it.  Every day.  I am the mother of a first grader - the exact same age of those twenty little souls that were brutally shot down while at school.

I feel it in the morning as I hurry my little boy along to get ready for school.  I look at his little body - leaping around the family room in nothing but his Spiderman undies and I think of his innocence.  I feel it when I kiss him goodbye and send him off to school.  I have always told me children "Love you!" when they leave for the day.  Well, almost always.  Not if we're in a hurry.  Not if carpool came early.  Not if... It's different now.  I make him look me in the eyes when I say it.  It's much more deliberate than it used to me. 

I feel it when I volunteer each week in his school.  I look around his classroom for places to hide.  I question whether or not I should point out that the teachers desk is located in a corner, and largely obscured by boxes and shelves.  Of course I shouldn't, right?  I don't want to scare him. He doesn't even know what happened.  I was careful not to watch any coverage when he was around.  But when I am there, I wonder if his little body would fit inside the closet.  I wonder how many children could hide in the few spots that are available. 

I feel it when I pick him up after school.  I watch the stream of children running and laughing at the end of the day and wonder how anyone could ever target such young children.  I hug my first grader and kiss him and look at the faces of the other parents who are hugging and kissing their children.  I think of the parents who don't have a child to hug and kiss and I can physically feel that pain. I look through his backpack overflowing with drawings and writings and I wonder "Should I save this stuff?  What if it's the last story I get to read?  What if it's the last drawing?"

I feel it when I see how completely young my first grader really is.  The day after the shootings I heard crying coming from my little boy's bedroom.  When I went in to see what was going on he had tucked himself into the corner and was sobbing because BB#1 had spoken to him "in a mean voice".  Last night he was scared to go to bed because he had seen a book with a picture of a vampire on the cover.  A picture.  Of something pretend.  To actually witness such a massacre would shape a young life in enumerable ways.  I think of the fear those children must have felt as they watched their teacher and classmates die.  I understand that one child did survive the actual shooting.  I'm so grateful he made it out alive, but I can't begin to imagine the degree to which his soul has been wounded.    I sometimes allow myself to think of my little boy having to witness such terror.  To do much more than begin that line of thought about does me in. 

I feel it at home when my first grader doesn't want to go to bed.  The week of the shooting my little boy had been having a series of bad dreams and wanted to sleep in our room.  Usually I make him sleep on the floor next to our bed when he needs to be a little closer to us.  That week I allowed him to sleep snugly between me and my husband.  It was a relief to have him so close, to feel his body rise and fall steady and sound.  A month later and I still want him close to me. When he has a hard time falling asleep I cuddle him until he drifts off.  It's as much for me and it is for him.  I can feel the warmth of his breath and it makes me feel simultaneously blessed and terrified. 

I felt it at church when the children were practicing their Christmas songs.  I had to walk out of the room when they were singing "It's Christmas Eve/I'm tucked in bed/I'm snug and warm/My prayers are said".  I felt it keenly on Christmas Eve as we laid out the cookies for Santa and my first grader was so excited he couldn't hold still.  I felt it Christmas morning as I looked at the opened presents.  For some reason I was fixated on the thought of unopened Christmas presents.  What does a parent do with those presents?  Give them away?  Donate them?  Redistribute those packages to other siblings?  How does a parent confront such a gut wrenching sight as unopened Christmas gifts?  I thought of those families a lot on Christmas day.

I feel it all the time.  I suppose it has made me cherish my little boy, and it has.  But it's not a pleasant kind of thing.  It's laced with fear and worry and desperation.  I put  myself in the place of those parents and I ache.  I see pictures on Facebook or in the  news and I see my own child.  It's not that I'm unwell, or crying a bunch, or am paralyzed.  But it's there, in the back of my mind.  And I feel that. 

Giligan's Island Revisited - or- How I Got Rescued Off a Deserted Island

While in Freeport I basically lived an episode of Gilligan's Island.  No joke.  Here are the facts:

(1) We were signed up for a five hour tour.  With us was a professor (me)
A beautiful and slightly dramatic woman named Ginger (my sister - far right)
A super skinny and kinda goofy young man, not unlike Gilligan. 
And my older parents (think Mr & Mrs. Howell).
We also had a guy who was leading the tour (Skipper).  All we needed to complete the cast of Gilligan's Island was Marianne, and if you count my two cute nieces, I think we've got everyone.
(2) Dave rubbed this strange bottle he found on the beach right before we left the main island. (Does anyone else remember that episode of the Brady Bunch where the family goes to Hawaii and right after Peter finds the relic in the abandoned mine all these terrible things start to happen???)
(3) Freakishly windy and cold weather kicked up right after we finished kayaking to a little, deserted island off the coast of Freeport.
(4) The conditions kayaking back were pretty rough. The adults were able to manage, but when BB#1 and his cousin tried to get past the breakers they just weren't strong enough to overcome the wind and waves. 
(5) We were ultimately taken back to the main island by flagging down the only passing boat we had seen all day.  Everyone who hadn't gotten off yet jumped aboard then we moved alongside the two kayaks that had managed to get beyond the breakers and pulled them and their kayaks into the boat.
(6) We did get back to the cruise ship before it left - with only about 15 minutes to spare. Phew!  
(7)  The Harlem Globetrotters never showed up.  Certainly disappointing, but we did manage to see them later that week when they came to Denver. Close enough, right?  (You remember that Gilligan's Island episode, don't ya?)
OK, so it may not have been EXACTLY like Gilligan's Island. But it does make for a good story - and it's ALL true! 

Formal Night

We always seem to take a ton of pictures on formal night - everyone looks so great! Instead of captioning each picture, suffice it to say, I so LOVED being with my whole family! My brothers crack me up, the cousins are great friends and my sister is fabulous. I know that for my parents, having this family picture taken was about the only thing she REALLY wanted for their 50th anniversary. Love it!  Unfortunately, I can't seem to upload those family pictures, but here's what I did get:
 This picture is one of my favorites of the entire trip.  Me and my siblings.  LOVE!
 BCF  (Best Cousins Forever!)  These two are great friends!
 The boys!

We all moved around at dinner each night, taking turns teach others families. 


Our cruise stopped in both Nassau and Freeport Bahamas. The best weather of the entire trip was our day in Nassau.   
My parents with all the grandkids. 
We all explored the Straw Market where the boys practiced their bartering skills. (The Caboose was terrible, BB#2 was pretty good!)  Here my brother Glenn is trying to negotiate a custom carving from this guy. 
Big Boy #1 with the Bahama's flag.
Having been raised in Rochester and then settling in Denver, it was kinda weird for me to see a giant Christmas tree decorated and placed between two palm trees.
The boys all enjoying the water.
Love it!
 My parents.
My dad is like a little kid every time he gets near the water. 
Aunt Caroline enjoying a little relaxation. 
A school of angelfish swam by us and we were able to keep them around for a bit by feeding them Fruit Loops.  It was super cool!
Even though it was the best weather of the trip, it was still kinda cold.  I got in the water enough to feed the fish, but after that I spent the day trying to find a nice spot of sunshine. 
My little snorkeler.
Gary feeding the fish. 
Enjoying the water
It was a nice relaxing beach day, but I do need to add that I will never trust another Bahamas taxi driver.  We were planning on a different beach, but the cab driver lied to us, told us that beach was under construction and then drove us to this beach instead.  Even though we confirmed what she said with a nearby security officer, it wasn't true.  Deal was she got us to take her cab instead of the bus, making about $100 from the lot of us.  Whatever.  It was still a fun day and the beach had cool fish and nice waves.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Board

We offered to throw my parents a big party to celebrate their 50th anniversary.  Instead they wanted to get everyone together and head to the beach.  With a group of seventeen, we figured that a cruise would be the best way to accommodate everyone.  Flexible, low maintenance and fun.  It was perfect!

The ship had a whole water park area, complete with water slides, buckets, etc.  It was a chilly afternoon, but it didn't stop the kids from enjoying the activities!  (I, meanwhile was wrapped up in a towel and tried to stay warm!)
 Having a ball!  How is it that kids just don't seem to feel temperature?
 The big cousins enjoying the water park part of the ship.
 And in the on board pool.
Brothers freezing each other out at the water park.
While the water play was great fun for the kids, I just loved having time with the whole extended family.  One evening everyone gathered in the library to eat Fanny Farmer French Mints, Stuckey's Pecan Logs (thanks Gary!) and play games.  Some of my favorite memories of my childhood were playing games after a day at the beach. I loved doing that again!
On board the staff always have a bunch of silly games going on and one of the games was "The Newlywed and Not So Newlywed Game".  My parents were picked to compete as the 'not so newlywed' couple.  It was silly and embarrassing and fabulous!
The cabins fit four people, so the Caboose, and Ginger's littlest one both bunked with my parents.  They LOVED being able to be with Nanna and Grandpa.
 The last night while all the grown ups were busy packing and getting everything organized, the kids gathered to play games in the hallway.  Some quality cousin time!
 Every so often at dinner the staff would play songs and start to dance.  When 'Gangam Style' came on, we all joined in on the dancing.  So. Much. Fun.
Waiting to debark and making the most of our time with my brother Gary and his wife before we parted ways.  While we were waiting, and at Aunt Caroline's urging, Big Boy #2 actually had two ice cream cones.  For breakfast.
 The last night the wait staff brought my parents a piece of cake and sang them "Happy Anniversary".  I love this picture!  They just look thoroughly happy. 
It's too bad that Gary and his wife didn't take too well to being at sea - they really struggled with sea sickness.  I loved the cruise and it seemed the perfect blend of independence and family togetherness.  It would be fun to do something like this again.  My family is just really fun to hang out with!