Thursday, October 27, 2011

Schadenfreude or you think you've had a bad day?

You know those days you want to declare a do-over? Or even worse, those days where you just want to move on and never acknowledge that they happened? The sort of day where the only potential it holds is to rival the worst day ever? Yeah. I had one of those days. Not a catastrophic day, but one designed to leave the participant (in this case me) weeping in her drink.

It all started out so very well. I got up and popped dinner in the crockpot. I remembered to unlock the door for the handyman. And I headed off to my tennis match. We lost. Then I walked out to the parking lot and ran across one of the pros. Now M.'s never been known for his warm and fuzzy motivational style. But today he was more like a warm fuzzy softball to the gut than ever. Since he had been giving a lesson on the next court over from our match, I teasingly asked him if he saw any of the good shots or if he only caught the bad ones. Then I joked that he made my partner and me nervous standing there watching (he did actually). He sort of shook his head at me so I laughed and said that yes, we were easily rattled. He kind of did a half laugh and started to walk off. Then he whirled around and delivered a rather scathing comment about my backhand and stumped off while I was still digesting. It was almost as if he was personally affronted that I cannot seem to pull myself together and execute what he wants me to do. He can't possibly be more frustrated with my playing than I am. :-P

On that positive note, I hopped in my car, still sweaty and gross, and noticed I was going to be late to my doctor's appointment. Have you ever noticed that when you are late, everyone on the road is determined to drive in the wrong lane and at speeds that would make a turtle dissolve into hysterical laughter? Yeah. So I called and let them know I was running late. They were not best pleased. Meanwhile, the phone rang again. The handyman's wife was calling because he was locked out of the house. Remember I said I'd unlocked the door? Well, I apparently unlocked the deadbolt and not the handle. Figures! And given that I was 30 minutes into an hour drive (and already late to boot), there was no way to go home and let him in. ::sigh:: Huge apologies given and accepted (at least until we need him for the next thing and he decides I'm too much of a flake to deal with).

I got to doctor's and after signing in, discover that I had an e-mail from dance essentially accusing me of being delinquent on my bill. Took a deep breath and e-mailed back that I had indeed paid and included check number and all pertinent details. Received response that asserted that I couldn't be more wrong. Took several more calming breaths and politely re-asserted correctness. Heard no more from them. Saw doctor and headed home. I decided that I had enough time to sneak home for a shower before picking R. up at school to take her to dance. When I walked into my house, it was clear there was something wrong. No smell of dinner perking along greeted me at the door. I detoured into the kitchen to find that although I had turned the crockpot on, I had not plugged it in. Makes it sort of hard to cook that way. Mind you, it is now 2:30pm and there's no prayer in hell that my beef burritos would be coocked in time for dinner. Weep quietly in the shower.

I picked R. up and got her to dance early so I could follow-up on the missing check. They now remember me writing it so I am officially not a deadbeat but they can't find the check itself. (I no longer care at this point.) I start home from South Carolina (not the state we live in, incidentally) and have the presence of mind to call W. and tell him to remember he has tennis clinic and that I won't make it home in time to take him given the rush hour traffic. Luckily he can bike there. Unluckily, the phone rang again and it was him letting me know that I had driven off with his tennis racquet. Par for the course today!

Day's tally? Lost tennis match. Absorbed hurtful criticism from tennis pro. Late to doctor's appointment. Locked out the handyman. Dance lost my check. Didn't plug in the crockpot. Took W.'s tennis racquet with me to SC. And the day is not over yet. Really, it's been enough to piss off the Good Humor Man today. Now don't you all feel better about your day?

Review: Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

I freely admit I am a bit of a Jane Austen addict. And that addiction happily extends to sequels, prequels, and other Austen inspired writings. My shelves groan under the weight of books written by other Austen lovers. So when I saw this book was being published, I knew it had to find a home on my shelves.

This is a varied and entertaining collection of stories, many of which are written by the biggest names in Austen sequel writing. The stories are linked thematically by their Austen inspiration but they range a wide gamut aside from that initial similarity. There are stories that use Austen characters, some that use Austen (or her ghost) herself, and some that are modern retellings of classic Austen. They run from mysteries, to romance, to paranormal, and everything in between. As is the case in collections, there were stories I enjoyed more than others but even those that I expected to find less than appealing kept my attention and made me smile. Never once did I want to walk away from the book, reading voraciously through each story, enchanted by the so many differing and wildly inventive ways in which the authors had imagined their Austen inspirations. A fun and pleasurable read, this certainly earned its spot on my keeper shelves amongst the other Jane Austen related writings.

Thanks to Laurel Ann for sending me a copy for review.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Holy Ghost Girl by Donna Johnson

I always thought tent revivals were the stuff of movies or of a time long since disappeared. And in some ways, I'm not wrong. Charismatic Holy Roller preachers are not terribly common any more, their ministries smaller. This memoir is the story of a woman who grew up in the shadow of one of the remaining tents, whose mother chose to follow the magnetic David Terrell around the country, and who has written a clear-eyed, compassionate, balanced story of her life growing up in this world set apart.

Johnson was only three when her mother, a gifted musician, packed Donna and her younger brother into a car and followed David Terrell as the revival organist. Johnson details her early years traveling with their evangelical family, falling asleep against her mother in the back of a car as they drove from one town to another. She captures the moments of childish rebellion, the sliding into sleep as the prayers lasted for hours into the night, the amalgam of people who formed the inner circle, and the wonderment and love that she felt towards Terrell. She chronicles faith healings and an exorcism. She describes the faithful evenhandedly. And she shares the heartwrenching moment when she and her brother and Terrell's children are left behind with a follower while the adults continued on the circuit.

As Terrell's fame as a preacher and faith healer grows and her mother's affair with him (which resulted in three children) becomes more intense, their lives change from the open hardscrabble existence that they once knew to a more secretive but fixed and financially secure lifestyle. Less visceral than her early childhood experiences and not as comprehensive about her experiences, Johnson chronicles this time in her life when she loses much of her faith, marries at the age of fifteen, and leaves her family for the first time. Despite her ultimate questioning about the paradoxes between Terrell's ministry and life of affluence, she never declares him a charlatan.

Her upbringing was unusual and despite the fact that she lives a life outside the one that she knew when she was young, this is not a complete repudiation memoir. The chasm between the life that Terrell leads on the back of his followers' assets and the lives that they lead, destitute after giving him their money, is a huge one. But Johnson manages not to demonize Terrell. She questions his morality and confronts his obvious sins but she also acknowledges the great draw of the miracles he's performed and does not dismiss them as manufactured for the revival believers. All in all a fascinating and balanced look at an unusual childhood and the ministry that pervaded every aspect of it.

For more information about Donna Johnson and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Salon: Book Fair

I am coming to the end of my reign as middle school book fair queen. This past week marked my very last fall book fair. And I only have the spring book fair to get through before I pass the mantle to another sucker mom.

I have learned a lot chairing the book fair. I've learned about the kids. I've learned about the school staff. And I've learned valuable life lessons (more on these later).

The kids:

1. Middle school kids start out enthusiastic about the book fair. By the time they hit 8th grade though, all they want to buy (if anything), is a barnyard animal eraser. Even my own daughter (an 8th grader to be sure) does her book fair shopping under cover. She shops when we arrive to open the fair before the other kids are allowed in the building.

2. Flirting and hormones make everyone awkward. Book fair is prime time to flip hair enticingly, giggle breathlessly, and bat eyelashes. And that's just the boys.

3. Within 5 seconds of the class' arrival, it is possible to pick out the kid who will be loudest and most obnoxious during their stay at the fair. It is not possible to backhand this child (usually a boy) as deserved but he will accelerate your eye twitch in no time flat.

4. All middle schoolers have a maid. This is the only explanation I can come up with for their complete disregard for the mess they leave in their wakes.

5. No middle schooler ever listens. Again, this is the only way I can understand how multiple children ask me how much a certain poster costs less than a minute after I annouce to the assembled class that all posters cost $4.50.

The school staff:

1. You will learn things about staff that you should never know if you are sitting quietly and minding your own business. And what you learn will drive you closer to homeschooling than anything else in this world ever has. (For instance, there's the school's literacy coordinator who not only uses the work "like" every 5 seconds but who also heaps scorn on people "who use big words." Yes, I wanted to cry.)

2. A certain teacher must apply her make-up in the dark because she ends up having green skin. OK for Elphaba but rather disconcerting under plain, old, unflattering enough fluorescent lighting.

3. Some teachers have zero control over their classes. Others rule with an iron fist. This has no bearing on whether the kids like the teachers or not but as the book fair mom I can certainly tell you which ones I appreciate more.

4. The new librarian listens as well as the middle schoolers (see above). When asked to leave certain rooms unlocked so we can pack up and put things away at the end of the fair, she will blithely lock all doors and bug out for the weekend.

General life lessons:

1. Threats work. When I started threatening classes if they so much as poked one person with the hand pointers, they did not even try to poke each other again on the sly. (Perhaps the lesson is actually that I am scary. I prefer to think it's the threats work thing but I'm not ruling out scary.)

2. Boys don't want their purchases handed to them in a Justice bag or a Jewel box bag or any other girlie bag. They would prefer you bag their erasers and pokers in a Gamestop bag. Much cooler, thank you very much!

3. It's probably politic to leave all Total Wine bags at home regardless of how sturdy they are for holding books.

4. Eating out for lunch every day not only affects the number on the scale, it affects the amount of money you've actually spent at the bookfair. And by all rights neither number should be anywhere close to that large!

5. Sitting on your butt with nothing to do all day will make you more tired than an honest day's work.

6. Buying a book called The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Gross Junior Addition will add immeasurably to your children's poop vocabulary and you have no one to blame but yourself when one of them announces to you that he is henceforth going to call poops "butt biscuits." Just another proud mom moment brought to you specially by the book fair.

Although book fair week is a long one, I have to admit I was pleased to see just how many books the kids did ultimately end up buying (and I don't just mean my kids). I got some quality reading time in myself (finished three books) in between classes. And I've done my volunteer duty towards the school for the first semester, allowing me to be completely guiltless when declining other thrilling opportunities. Win win all the way around.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Salon: Parenting and books, in short

Parenting and books. Not parenting books. My babies didn't read the latter, ergo neither did I. So this isn't about those kinds of books. This is more about various unclassified books. Random books and kids, really.

You know how you fail daily at this parenting thing? OK, well, I fail daily even if others don't. But occasionally there are moments that tell me I sometimes, when the moon is blue and the stars are aligned and the force is with me, really succeed at it too. The moments when the waiter compliments one (or more) of my kids for being so polite, when we all have a dinner that is filled with teasing and laughter, and when we go to the bookstore. (Please don't tell my husband that I took the kids to the bookstore! Let Mastercard tell him in their own way and their own time. It'll give me a chance to flee the country before he sees the bill.)

It might be self-evident that a reading mom would have great bonding time with her kids over books but I know plenty of readers whose kids won't read at all. However, I got lucky and my kids are readers. They begged to go to the bookstore because it was flat painful that the newest Rick Riordan had been out for over a week and we didn't own it yet. They had already decided on the family reading order (some pretty intense, hotly contested bouts of Rock, Paper, Scissors determined this) and they were like addicts needing their fix. Best yet they knew I would never say no to a bookstore trip--or a book for that matter. What can I say, I'm easy! Amongst us, I do believe we've driven B&N stock up for this quarter, buying 3 books, 3 books, 5 books, and 7 books each. Shockingly, the 7 booker was not me. I'm so proud!

But that moment you know you've done something right? That moment you are certain they will never have to re-enact during lengthy therapy sessions? The drive home from the store. 2 of the 3 immediately opened their books and started reading. The third didn't simply because she already has 3 books on the go at home and didn't want to add a fourth (yet). The car was silent all. the. way. home. It was the most blissed out silence ever. And I, occupied by driving as I was, was a little jealous. Now they're each draped over a couch or chair, deep into their books, deep into different worlds, deep into their own imaginations. So the only thing left to say about today? And we all lived happily ever after, no parenting book necessary. :-)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

5K race thoughts

My current half marathon training plan is not just limited to sitting on the couch thinking I can run 13.1 miles or playing tennis (which includes running so it's legitimate, right?!) although both of these are indeed a vital part of my current training. I have also started running a few of the local 5K races, especially when they benefit good causes, to judge just how brutal this half next month is going to be. Last month I ran the Rock and Read 5K to benefit local libraries. It taught me that not running at all to train was about the dumbest idea I've had in a long time, probably since I decided that 3 kids was a good idea. So yeah, it ranks right up there amongst the dumbest ideas ever. It was also the slowest 5K I've ever run in my life. On the plus side, it lit a bit of a fire under my rapidly expanding butt. So this morning I ran another 5K to see how the latest change in exercise habits was treating me. The Big South 5K benefits middle school sports and although neither of the two older kids have played middle school sports (they prefer to do things that involve us having to pay large sums of money rather than the token amount school sports require), it's a good cause and better yet, it was close and I knew much of the route from my marathon training 3 years ago when I wasn't so fat and out of shape.

When I first woke up this morning, I have to admit I was not pleased to think I was going to have to drag myself out of bed and actually run. In fact, I laid in my toasty bed and seriously considered ditching the race. After all, I had paid the money and picked up my packet already. Who on earth would it hurt if I didn't run? Furthermore, this particular race didn't have shoe timing chips that would ultimately need to be returned to the timing folks; it had strips across the back of the race numbers and that strip is mine to keep forever. So I wouldn't even have to have forked over the postage to return the chip if I chose to luxuriate in my cocoon of blankets. It was a tough call, let me tell you! But I did eventually roll out of bed and head out into the chill morning.

The event was well set-up and there were 1000 runners; not bad for a two year old race. A flash mob of cheerleaders from one of the local middle schools busted out in a dance before the start. Runners as a group seem to be singularly unimpressed with such stuff right before the start of a race. I personally don't do perky in the morning. Ok, I don't do perky ever, but definitely not in the morning. But good for those girls getting out and doing that. My children didn't budge from their cozy beds to come out and run, walk, or cheer (they are mine after all). The race itself was through neighborhoods and very pleasant and after the first mile, slow starter that I am, I actually felt good. I managed to feel good through the entire race. So a definite improvement on last month (and my time was over a minute faster this time too).

I enjoy listening/eavesdropping on other people both before and during short races like this one. When parents are running with children and offering them encouragement, it helps me. But there are just some truly entertaining comments that I'd chuckle over if I wasn't breathing too hard to laugh. As we headed down the first slight downhill, a guy with good legs but a beer belly told his young daughter, "Pick up the pace downhill. When you're fat, you have to roll down as fast as you can." They sped off and left me in the dust. I was still plugging along at my usual pace when I came up behind two young boys, maybe 9 or 10 years old, who were walking together. The one turned to the other and said, "OK, let's run to the front now." And they took off and left me in the dust too (probably did make it to the front too, the little buggers). My favorite though (and it's only my favorite because it was said as I was passing them instead of the other way around) was the two teen/pre-teen girls in goofy stripey socks who stopped to walk at about 2.5 miles. The one said to the other as they were being passed by people behind them "Look at all the people we're going to have to catch now." I can't swear to it, but I'm pretty sure those stripey socks never did end up passing me. :-)

Casual races like this can be fun provided you don't get run over by a runner pushing a jogging stroller. I used to be impressed by these people but over time, I've noticed that they are all incredibly fit and thin. So pushing a jogging stroller is really no big deal for them. It's the roly poly runners like me who have to lug the weight around *all the time* who should be more impressive. Fit running mom or dad can ultimately hand that kid off to someone else and revert to their gazelle like nature while we hippos have no choice. I've got it way harder. Of course, they probably don't carb load the night before the race on mint Oreo cookies either, but I'm just trying to honor the spirit of the thing on my own terms. And I never did claim to be a real runner. Jogger, shuffler, dilettante, occasional slug, yes. Real runner, in my dreams.

I did feel good for the majority of the race (minus the amount of time that it takes me to get into my stride) and I managed to average under 10 minute miles so I'm doing better than I was. I still run with the heavy runners at the back of the pack: heavy as in weight, heavy as in heavy on their feet (you should hear some of the pounding footfalls), and heavy as in heavy breathers. The latter is me and apparently I'm a heavy and loud enough breather to scare people who are wearing iPods given the number of over the shoulder startled looks I got as I plugged along today. I will never be one of the front runners, not the 5-6 minute mile runners who finish their entire race before I hit mile 2, but I'd love to get back to my sub-nine minute pace. Not thinking that's likely for this half next month but maybe for the half in January if I do remember to get out and run sometime again before then.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

The week started off well on the reviewing front but tapered off into reading only. Baby steps! This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Wishmaker by Ali Sethi
Stay by Allie Larkin
Tassy Morgan's Bluff by Jim Stinson
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
The Vagabond by Colette
Let the Great World Spin by Colm McCann
This Is Just Exactly Like You by Drew Perry

Reviews posted this week:

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
The Silver Boat by Luanne Rice
Twelve by Twelve by William Powers

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum
The Wedding Cake War by Lynna Banning
Dance Lessons by Aine Greaney
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
The Paperbark Shoe by Goldie Goldbloom
Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan
The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle
The First Husband by Laura Dave
Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
Next by James Hynes
Spanish Holiday by Kate Cann
The Little Woman Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas
Baby Don't Go by Susan Andersen
The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt
Unsaid by Neil Abramson
The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy
Harvest by Catherine Landis
The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Don't Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley
The Evil B. B. Chow and Other Stories by Steve Almond
Withering Tights by Louise Rennison
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson
The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker
The Embers by Hyatt Bass
Valeria's Last Stand by Marc Fitten
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker
River House by Sarahlee Lawrence
The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning
The Last River Child by Lori Ann Bloomfield
Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg
The Marriage of the Sea by Jane Alison
Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney
The Wishmaker by Ali Sethi
Stay by Allie Larkin
Tassy Morgan's Bluff by Jim Stinson
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst

Monday Mailbox

Just two books this past week but both should be good fun. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Last Blind Date by Linda Yellin came from Gallery Books..
A memoir about her love life, this happily ever after promises laughter along the way.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It edited by Laurel Ann Nattress came from Ballentine Books.
A collection of short stories inspired by Jane Austen? ::swoon:: This one is tailor made for my taste.

As always, if you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Savvy Verse and Wit as she is hosting this month's Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

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