Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Learning From Fiction? Who'da Thought!

Stardust by Carla Stewart

Shortly after burying her unfaithful husband, Georgia Peyton unexpectedly inherits the derelict Stardust motel from a distant relative. Despite doubts from the community and the aunt who raised her, she is determined to breathe new life into it. But the guests who arrive aren't what Georgia expects: Her gin-loving mother-in-law; her dead husband's mistress; an attractive but down-on-his-luck drifter who's tired of the endless road; and an aging Vaudeville entertainer with a disturbing link to Georgia's past.
Can Georgia find the courage to forgive those who've betrayed her, the grace to shelter those who need her, and the moxy to face the future? And will her dream of a new life under the flickering neon of the STARDUST ever come true?
With the death of author Maeve Binchy yesterday, Twitter was awash with quotes from and about her books.  One line from Ms. Binchy herself immediately made me think of this book:  “I don't have ugly ducklings turning into swans in my stories. I have ugly ducklings turning into confident ducks.”  Georgia Peyton is widowed, raising two daughters and nearly broke.  With no experience as anything but a housewife, she sets out to remake the Stardust motel.  Part of her transformation involves uncovering the secrets clouding her childhood and surrounding her husband's death.  But it wasn't the ugly duckling or the mystery - although both are very good - that made this a five-star book on my list.

I was fascinated with the setting and the era.  My family took a vacation each summer, usually to the mountains, and sometimes stayed in small, cabin-style motels similar to the Stardust.  Though that would have been a decade later than the 1950's setting of the book, the giant chain hotels were yet to take over.  Reading Stardust brought back some fond memories.  It also introduced me to the polio epidemic.

Poliomyelitis was rampant in the U.S. in the first half of the twentieth century and reached it's height in the early 1950's, with over 50,000 cases in 1952.  I've met several people who contracted polio as a child and were left with twisted or paralyzed limbs, and I've heard stories of iron lungs, but they were distant stories to me - something that happened to someone else before I was born. I had no idea of the fear that gripped communities where someone contracted polio or the torture of treatment in an iron lung.  I recall, as a child, collecting and saving dimes in cardboard folders to be contributed to the March of Dimes, but had no clue why.  Reading Stardust was an eye-opener for me, as well as a good story.  

I'm recommending Stardust, both as a good read and as a history lesson.  If you read it and become curious about the history of polio and it's effects on individuals and the nation, I recommend the Smithsonian Institute's site Whatever Happened to Polio?  Both are fascinating reading.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher - Faith Words - as part of a Twitter contest.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Six Word Saturday

Save A Life . . . Get A Book

This morning I'm giving you an opportunity to do a good deed and be rewarded for it.  In May, I posted this SWS post about Kylee, an American Mastiff pup that needed heart surgery.  When Kylee's owners adopted her, they knew she would eventually need surgery if she were to survive, but they also knew she would be put down if she didn't find a home.  Unfortunately, the heart issues worsened much faster than anticipated and they were unprepared for the thousands of dollars needed for surgery so soon.  Dog lovers gave generously to pay for emergency surgery to save this beautiful dog.  Well, Kylee needs another surgery. Her heart valve has fused shut.  If you would like to make a donation, author Shannon Esposito is willing to reward you for it.

Ms.Esposito is offering a free e-book copy of her novel, Karma's a Bitch, to everyone who makes a donation of any size to help save Kylee.  You can get all the details on Kylee and the book offer on Ms. Esposito's website.  If you can spare even the cost of a cup of coffee, please help give Kylee a third chance.  Can you really resist that face?

Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something in it) in exactly six words.  Then visit Cate at Show My Face to link up with other participants.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sandwich Anyone?

The Sandwich Generation is a relatively recent catchphrase to describe people who are pressed between caring for aging parents and raising children.  I didn't think it would every apply to us - my parents are mid-seventies but in very good health, and Dave's parents just turned seventy.  Our youngest child is now twenty.  In two more years, God willing, both kids will graduate from college (on the same day from colleges 125 miles apart - but we'll figure that out later).  I believed that by the time we needed to care for parents, our children would be self-sufficient.  But this week I'm feeling a bit "pinched".

I've written before about Dave's mother's battle with Alzheimer's for the last ten-plus years. For most of that time we lived seven hours away so we weren't involved in the daily care.  Now she has moved to a nursing home and again, her daily care is provided by others. Without her at home, there is no need for Dave's dad to maintain a 3 bed, 3 bath home, so he is moving into an apartment.  Obviously, this requires major downsizing, cleaning, sorting, packing, hauling...  We need to be down there helping, but life gets in the way.  Jobs and other obligations fill days.  We live closer now, but it's still a four hour trip, which means it's difficult to do for one day, but we've done it several times.  Staying over means two days off work, boarding the dogs, yada, yada, yada...

On the children side of this sandwich, at 20 and 21, most of the time they are independent.  We go visit, we talk by phone and computer, we send money and advice, but on a day-to-day basis they handle their own lives. I'm certainly not complaining - they're wonderful!  It's the university and the IRS who are teaming up to flatten me a bit this week.

We have been "selected" (I love how they try to make this sound like a prize) to have to prove that our kids are really our kids and that the income we reported to the IRS is actually our income.  It's just paperwork and would be simple, if stupid, to complete - BUT the IRS has decided we don't really live where we live.  They also don't think we live at our old address.  Don't know where they think we went, but it's going to require a phone call to untangle and the wait times to speak to a person are phenomenal.  So - - - I can't make the phone call until I have a day off with plenty of time to sit on hold.  I don't have a day off till late next week because I rearranged my work schedule to make time for trips to take Amanda a new bed, another trip to accompany her to a doctor appointment, and a trip to help the father-in-law move.  (How do people with inflexible, full-time jobs get anything done?)

And in the middle, I'm trying to be a wife, keep house, garden ... have a life.  

Lest you think I'm whining - well, I AM whining, but lest you think I'm doing it disproportionately - I give all kinds of kudos, pats on the back, high fives and bows in awe to my sister-in-law, Steph, who has done the hands on stuff with her parents for the last five years, while raising two kids - one who is only 7 now.  She has a very special crown waiting in heaven for the way she has honored her parents. (I'll be wearing a plastic Barbie tiara from Wal-mart.)

We'll get through the next couple weeks, the father-in-law will get settled in his new spot and the house sale will close, school will start and somehow it'll all get paid for, and life will return to normal just in time for the next "crisis".

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Meet Me At The Movies: Elvis!

Change of Habit - When I was young, back in the days when there were only four television  networks (ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS), the "late movie" came on each night at 10:30.  If the movie happened to star Elvis Presley, I begged Mom to let me stay up and watch.  Because she was such a softy, I've seen most of Elvis' movies - some several times.  I even had the soundtrack album to Spinout.  But I had never seen Change of Habit - Elvis' 31st, and last, movie.

This movie was a definite change from most Elvis movies, which were basically a thin plot to string together lots of opportunities for Elvis to sing.  Change of Habit only includes two songs - the title number and Rubberneckin' - and the story focuses on some deep subjects.

Three nuns - Mary Tyler Moore, Barbara McNair and Jane Elliot - move to an impoverished neighborhood to work in a medical clinic run by Dr. John Carpenter (Elvis).  Filmed in 1969, the story involves issues of race, women's rights, and autism - a condition mostly unknown at that time.

For General Hospital fans, Jane Elliott now plays Tracy Quartermaine on GH, and Barbara McNair appeared briefly on GH in 1984 as Aunt Bettina.  It took me a few minutes to recognize Jane, and I can't remember Barbara's GH character at all, but I thought it was a fun bit of trivia.  You can also spot a very young Ed Asner as the neighborhood policeman.

This was certainly the best written and acted of Elvis' movies, but I'll admit I wanted to hear him sing a little more.  I mean, it's Elvis...!

Friday, July 20, 2012

It Seems Like Yesterday . . .

Look at this couple . . . so young, so happy, so much hair!

That's Dave and I on July 17, 1982.  On Tuesday we celebrated 30 years.  In 1982 we were broke college kids, plus he proposed in April and we married in July, so there was no time or money for an engagement ring. We purchased matching wedding bands.  We've laughed many times about his less-than-romantic proposal, but I was 20-years-old and too excited to care about romance. 

Thirty years later, he proposed again
 - this time on one knee and with a gorgeous ring. 
 I said yes!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Six Word Saturday

Don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden!

Bunny Update:  We researched what to do with our lost bunny and found that he may not be lost at all.  All sites we read said that rabbits of this age/size will wander a distance from their nest during the day and that it is likely we will not see the mama, as she will only return at night.  Also, we were warned against trying to rescue him ourselves and that few wild rabbits live under those circumstances unless you are a professional rehab - which of course is not available here.  But there is good news!  As the web sites predicted, Peter Rabbit is nowhere to be found this evening, so we assume he has returned to his nest.  The lettuce and carrot we left him disappeared also. :)

Dave found this little guy in the yard a couple nights ago.  Don't know what happened to his mama or Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottentail.

To give you a little perspective on how small he is:

We checked on him last night, and he was still hiding under the rain spout.  I don't want to encourage rabbits near the garden, but we picked a couple lettuce leaves and a small carrot and left them for him to nibble until Mama returns. Hope she makes it before this little guy meets up with the mower - or the dogs when Dave's not there to control them. 

Anyone want to raise a rabbit?

Want to play along? All that's necessary to participate is to describe your life (or something in it) in exactly six words.  Then visit Cate at Show My Face to link up with other participants.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

50 Shades of Controversy

If you haven't heard of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, you've surely been hiding under a literary rock.  They are right up there with Harry Potter or The DaVinci Code for splitting readers into emphatic factions.  I have read the first two books of the three and find myself leaning towards the "pro" camp, but the books themselves are not what's really being debated.  

The books started as fan fiction - "stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than the original creator...and almost never professionally published"*.  Fifty Shades is based on the characters from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series and originally appeared in serialized form on a fan web-site.  It went through several re-writes and adaptations and was eventually published in trade-paperback and ebook form.  And then began the firestorm.

I've never read the Twilight books - actually I read about half of the first one and realized that they weren't for me.  I just couldn't get interested in teenage vampires, or even teenage non-vampires.  So, the fact that Fifty Shades is based on those characters would have blown past me if it hadn't been so widely talked about. That seems to be one of the objections - even though the characters in Fifty Shades are older and the setting/premise is different, the basic relationship is not original.  However, can Twilight fans claim that Ms. Meyer is the first author to envision characters in a moth/flame relationship?  I suspicion that, if Fifty Shades had gone straight to publication without first being on a fan fiction site, few would have recognized it as such.

There's also controversy over the genre. It is pigeonholed as BDSM erotica.  In my opinion, the "erotica" classification is questionable.  I've read many, many excellent mainstream authors who write scenes just as steamy as these - Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, Karen Robards - but because they didn't involve the masochistic elements, they are classified as romance rather than erotica.  Honestly, I started the books with trepidation about the BDSM stuff, but it wasn't as frequent or graphic as I feared.  In fact, I loaned my copies to my daughter when she asked what I knew about them. Certainly not worse than what she can see on TV or read in a $5 paperback from Wal-Mart.  Still, the "guilty pleasure" stigma fanned the flames and made everyone curious.  Readers are disguising the cover when in public and whispering about it at the office.

As far as my review of the books, I'm really not going to write one.  I enjoyed the first two, and will eventually read the third.  They didn't have me bubbling with recommendations like some books, but neither did they have my struggling to finish them.  On the scale of books I've read, they fall above the center line.  But the writing style and plot are also not what is being so hotly debated.

The core issue is book snobbery.  Based on the Tweets and blog posts I've read, the vehement anti-Shades camp can mostly be subdivided into two groups: the Snooty and the Jealous.  (That should probably be developed into a Soap Opera.)  The Snooty dislike the books because they aren't "literary" enough.  Well, honestly, neither is a Stephanie Plum mystery or anything Nora Roberts ever wrote, but I enjoy them.  The Jealous are just annoyed that someone else got published, not to mention a movie deal and big bucks, without struggling through the usual channels.  There are those who disliked the books for any/all of the reasons a reader usually dislikes a book, but they aren't the ones raising a ruckus on-line.

The biggest surprise in this debate is the number of ruckus-raisers who haven't actually read the books.   You read that right - they are Tweeting their disgust, followed by "that's why I refuse to read them."  They are blogging lists of things they hate about the books, none of which involve actually picking up a copy.  I'm baffled!  Why?

Among nay-sayers who have read one or more of the books, there are those who are compiling lists of nit-picky details to dislike and airing their disdain on Twitter.  I'm sure these normally affable bloggers have read other books they didn't like, but still managed to write a review that said so without being derisive or mean-spirited.  I have received books for review that were so bad they were laughable, but I politely declined to post a review rather than insult the author or, for that matter, the readers who might disagree.  Why doesn't this author or these books get the same courtesy?

There are fifty shades of controversy surrounding the Fifty Shades series, but the biggest question is, why are so many people rushing to hate books?

*from wikipedia

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Puzzling Post: Gene Kelly

UPDATE:  Rather than writing a separate post for the answers to this puzzle, I refer you to commenter Lisa's solution which was correct!  Way to go!

In keeping with my summer obsession with classic movies, I've created a picture puzzle featuring my all-time favorite movie star - Gene Kelly.  He was a singer, dancer, actor, producer, director and choreographer.  And he's the original cinema heartthrob.  If teenage girls had hung posters on their bedroom walls in the 1940's, Gene Kelly would have been the top pin-up. His movie career lasted through the 50's, then expanded into TV movies and guest appearances until the mid 80's.  

Just in case you're not totally familiar with his movies, I'm giving you a hint by listing the movie titles.  Can you match the titles with the scene from the movie?

Click to enlarge
a.  Summer Stock
b.  Jack and the Beanstalk
c.  Singin' in the Rain
d.  Anchors Aweigh
e.  Take Me Out to the Ballgame
f.  The Three Musketeers
g.  An American in Paris
h.  Brigadoon
i.  Inherit the Wind

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Sister Olympics

From Friday, July 27 through Sunday, August 12, the world will be focused on the Olympic Games in London.  But in at least three households, there will be another competition going on:  The 2012 Sister Olympics. 

My sister, Teri, and I have both been working to lose weight and adopt a healthier lifestyle.  Our sister, Deb, is already thin and healthy, but she's joining us just for kicks.  We came up with our own list of events, with the goal of accomplishing as many as possible during those seventeen days.  Keep in mind that none of us is 45 anymore, some of us aren't as thin as we used to be (yet) and we were never college-caliber athletes. (One of us wasn't even jr. high caliber.)  We don't run!   

Dash:  Walk at 4 mph (or above) for 5 minutes 
Marathon:  Walk 5 miles at a minimum of 3 mph
Javelin: Play catch with baseball/softball for minimum of 15 minutes.
High Jump:  Jump rope for 5 minutes
Basketball:  MAKE 20 free throws
Rowing:  10 minutes on rowing machine or actual row boat.
Cycling:  Ride 10 miles (real bike or stationary)
Swimming:  Swim 30 minutes (laps, treading water or aerobics)
Weightlifting:  Bench press 50 lbs. 5 times.
Golf:  Play at least 5 holes
Gymnastics:  Do a 30-minute dance-type workout video or class

There is no prize for completing all the goals other than a feeling of accomplishment and looser pants, but neither is there a penalty if you don't do all eleven events.  We have a very laid-back Olympic Committee.  If you would like to join us, we welcome "honorary" sisters.  Feel free to adapt our goals up or down for your personal fitness level.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

That Funny Feeling and Easter Parade

While the TV is overloaded with reruns and sports I don't like, I'm making use of the movie channels and DVR to catch up on classic movies.  Search your TV Guide, NetFlix or neighborhood Blockbuster and . . . 
Easter Parade:  (1942) Fred Astaire loses one dance partner/girlfriend (Ann Miller) but gets a new one (Judy Garland) in this delightful 1948 MGM Irving Berlin musical comedy directed by Charles Walters. 

Fred Astaire had announced his retirement before the cameras begn to roll on Easter Parade, but he decided to ccept the film's leading role when its original star, Gene Kelly, broke his ankle.

The highlight of the movie are the seventeen musical numbers, all written by Irving Berlin.  Ten were standards, seven new to this film.  Among the highlights are Astaire's slow-motion version of "Steppin' Out", the Astaire/Garland duet "We're a Couple of Swells", and the closing performance of the title number.

Plot is not necessary in a Fred Astaire movie - just watching him dance is draw enough - but this one actually had a cute story.  Fred's in love with Ann Miller, who's got a crush on Peter Lawford, who's got a crush on Judy Garland, who (of course) falls for Fred.  And through it all they sing and dance to songs by Irving Berlin and wear fabulous clothes. Hit!

That Funny Feeling: (1965) Aspiring actress Joan Howell, makes a living as a maid.  When Tom Milford, a New York City publishing company executive. asks her out she invites him to her apartment but, ashamed of her one-room residence, she borrows the apartment of one of her employers whom she has never seen. Tom (who is the employer) goes along with the ruse.

No music in this one except Bobby Darin singing the title song, which he also wrote, but it was also a romantic "comedy of errors".  

The best part - at least in my opinion - was the supporting cast. Donald O'Connor, if course, is wonderful no matter what part he plays.  The rest of the cast was a lineup of familiar faces with resumes that read like the history of television.  Included are Larry Storch (most famous for F Troop), Arte Johnson (Laugh-In), Don Haggerty (Bonanza, Rawhide), Larry J. Blake (The Virginian, Adam-12)...the list just goes on.  If you have time, look them up on IMDB.com  - it's fascinating how prolific their careers are/were.  

One of my favorite scenes involved four ladies gossiping around a phone booth:  Reta Shaw (Housekeeper in Mary Poppins, Aunt Hagatha on Bewitched), Nora Marlowe (Flossie on The Waltons), Kathleen Freeman (Sister Mary Stigmata from The Blues Brothers) and Minerva Urecal.

I didn't know much about either Sandra Dee or Bobby Darrin, including the fact that they were married.  Actually, I knew nothing beyond "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" from Grease, and Bobby's songs Splish, Splash and Mack, the Knife.  They are both adorable.  Wish they had done more together.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Wishing you a celebration among the people you love;
a heart of thankfulness for those who fought for our freedom
and those who defend it still;

the blessings of living in One Nation, Under God;
and a spirit of gratitude for the One on whom it's founded.

May He continue to Shed His Grace on us!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mark One Off the List . . .

For Dave, water-skiing a slalom course was one of those "someday" things.  He's been skiing since he was fourteen - for those of you keeping track, that's 38 years - but he had never been on an actual slalom course . . . until Saturday.  As part of the Cornhusker State Games, Dave will be competing in the 50-and-over slalom event on July 21st, but he thought it might be helpful to at least see a course before then, so we went to a private ski lake north of Omaha where the competition will be held.  The lake is owned, in part, by Bud and Janet Pearcy - two of the nicest people you could find - and they devoted part of their day (not to mention their lake and their boat) to teaching Dave the basics of competition skiing.   

From where I was sitting on the dock, I couldn't get any closeup videos/pictures of him actually making the turns, but I did get this nice shot of him waving to the camera as he made the turn for another run.

 Dave learned to ski from Dr. Carl Plowman (the doctor who delivered me, by the way).  Doc closed his office on Wednesday afternoons and spent every summer Wednesday and Saturday at the lake, weather permitting.  He would select a jr. high or high school student to take along, teach them to ski, and also teach them to drive his boat so he could ski.  When that student graduated, he found a new trainee.  Doc skied to the age of 85, when his cardiologist told him he had to stop.  My guess is that Dave will be skiing to that age and beyond, regardless of what doctors say.  

Our boat with Mitch driving - circa 1997

James Bond in Live and Let Die

We own a classic 1977 Glastron GT-150 (the same type of boat James Bond used to make the famous jump in Live and Let Die.)  It sat in storage for a few years when we lived in Southwest Kansas where they have no water, but it's back out, polished up, and making weekly trips to the lake.  This means we've been seeing more of Amanda lately, as she lives close enough to run up for an afternoon of skiing.  Here's a couple shots she took of Dave last time she was up.  

You'll notice I'm conspicuously absent from these pictures.  As Queen of the Prissy Girls, I don't care for dirt, heat, sweat, bugs or much of anything else associated with trips to the lake.  I have driven the boat before and I spent a lot of time riding in Doc's boat just to be near Dave.  (Hint to the single ladies: Don't pretend to like everything a man likes just to get his attention.  He'll expect you to like it forever.)  But it's a long way from my favorite thing, so I'm always happy when the kids or friends want to go with him and I get to stay in the AC.

One of our retirement dreams is a house on a lake - where we can make a quick ski run in the cool hours of morning/evening without the hassle of loading up and driving.  Then we can spend the rest of the time fishing or just enjoying the beauty of the water and wildlife.  For now, that will have to remain on the Bucket List, but on July 21st, Dave will get to check off another entry.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Odds and Ends

Changes to blog:  For quite a while I've been feeling that I need to make a few changes on the blog for three reasons:

1.  I signed up with a couple of promoters to be part of virtual book tours.  I have tried to be selective about the books I chose to review, but sometimes I can't tell from a short blurb if it's something I'll be interested in.  I have ended up reading some books I did not enjoy - that I had to force myself to finish because I accepted a free copy.   I have received two self-published books that were so poorly written that I had to back out of reviewing them.   I could not give an honest review that said anything positive, yet couldn't publish something hurtful to the authors.  

2.  Since I began working at the library in 2005, I began feeling increasing pressure (self-imposed) to be up on the new trends, authors, etc.  so that I could make recommendations to patrons.  With the addition of the blog in 2009, the pressure increased (again self-imposed) to keep up with the other bloggers - read faster, read pre-release, read more "literary".  

3.  Over the 2 1/2 years of blogging I have occasionally, and with increased frequency, written about our family, our life, the comical - and sometimes the serious - happenings.  Those are the posts that get the most comments and hits.  I also find that when I'm reading other blogs I am a lot more likely to skim book reviews, but read posts that have to do with life.  

In light of these three factors, I am shifting focus.  Reading has been my favorite activity since I learned how, so of course books will continue to be part of the blog since they are a part of my life.  But no more book tours or reviews on request.  I love read-a-thons and other book-related events, so I'll still be joining them - but no challenges or other things that dictate what/how I read.

I wrote a post once before about how I felt I was losing the joy of reading - replacing it with the responsibility of reading.  I tried at that time to make some changes, but evidently not enough.  I want reading to be fun again.  I want it to be something I do because I can't think of anything I would rather do - like I used to feel.  I also don't want the guilt that comes when other responsibilities keep me from reading at the necessary pace.  So there will be fewer book reviews here - only when I'm excited about a book and really want to share.  And there will be more content about life.  Hope you'll hang around to get to know us better.

Book Buying Ban:  After just saying that I would not be joining any more challenges, I am accepting one - but not the usual type.  Instead, I'm joining Rikki at Rikki's Teleidoscope in instituting a temporary book buying ban.  The stack of unread books on my dresser and bookshelf is just plain silly - and most of them are books I purchased because I really want to read them.  Rikki threw out the challenge to refrain from any new book purchases until I have read twenty from my own shelves.  I gave myself an exclusion for a couple books that were already pre-ordered, and of course library books don't count as purchases, but they also don't count towards to goal of twenty books.  So far I've read four.

Movies:  I'm having so much fun watching old movies this summer, that I've added a few more to the original ten.
I've added:

  • Mary, Mary - starring Debbie Reynolds
  • The Three Musketeers - starring Gene Kelly and Lana Turner
  • Dream Wife - starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr
  • Going My Way - with Bing Crosby
  • On the Town - starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra
  • Christmas in July - Dick Powell and Ellen Drew
  • Send Me No Flowers - Rock Hudson, Doris Day