Book Talk and Thoughts: What I’ve read, what I’m reading. Looking for inspiration and answers.

I’m so happy and relieved that I have a good book to look forward to reading. I really need it right now. How could I have forgotten how amazing and useful and essential it is to have a good book to read? How could I have forgotten? Isn’t that the story of my life?

I’m going through another existential, life-changing moment. But that’s what happens when you’re estranged from your family- a family that never really gave you much of an identity anyway. As always, I’m still figuring out who I am, and still striving to be who and what I envision myself to be. On top of having no extended family of my own, a flimsy sense of self and self-confidence, and no career- on top of all that- add the current situation in the country. Politics. It was rough this year. And it’s still going.
There’s a lot to think about. Maybe not for everyone, but for me there is. That’s just how I am. It’s who I’ve always been.
And like I said, there’s been a lot to think about. I think many of us have been shocked by the reactions of people we know and maybe we’ve even shocked ourselves with our own thoughts, reactions and behavior. So this has been a major opportunity for self-reflection and growth for me.
Why do I think the way I do? What is important to me? Can I have respect for the opinions of others? How should I react when others don’t respect me or people I’m close to? Can I continue to spend time with people whose opinions and beliefs seem so far from mine? Should’t I, as an adult, be able to spend time with a variety of people? But if I don’t feel like I can, isn’t that ok too?
But the most important question I’ve come to ask myself is- Why do I see myself as ‘lesser’ than others? Why do I discount myself? Why do I think and act as though everyone else is better than me, smarter than me, and has life figured out more than me?
It’s true. This is how I have always perceived myself. Over the years it’s gotten better. However, in the past few months it has been brought to light just how much I still perceive myself as ‘lesser than.’ And it’s more than I thought.
Which brings me to the other part of my current fluctuating existential/ self-identity issue– friends. I’ve been having a difficult time with friendships for several years now. I’ve purposely cut off all contact with two and I’m currently pulling away from another (or two), and it’s difficult meeting new friends when you’re nearly forty years old…..
This pattern of not being able to maintain long lasting friendships had me very worried. I don’t want to be the kind of person who cuts off relationships left and right. (That reminds me too much of my mom.)
However, my counselor pointed something out to me- it actually isn’t surprising (or bad) that as I grow and change the people I choose to have in my life changes as well. And, to take it a step further- If I was then the person I am now, would I have engaged in a relationship with the same people? Probably not.
All of my previous relationships were based on a faulty self-perception. The way a person perceives his or her self can definitely determine who they spend time with.
So now, with a new and better sense of self (and growing), I realize that I don’t need to feel bad for not wanting to be around certain people anymore, or at least not as much. If I don’t feel like being around someone- I should’t force myself to do it. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.
And the number one thing I have got to stop doing is thinking that everyone I meet is better than me in some way. I’ve got to stop it. I’m going to do it. I’m on my way.

So, needless to say, with all of this going on internally and externally; with the external world seeping into, influencing and infiltrating my internal world- I’ve been in need of some inspiration. So what do I do? Turn to books, of course!
I wanted more than just ordinary inspiration. With my current existential, identity, emotional, self-searching crisis I felt that I needed spiritual inspiration. I thought about going to church, but for various reasons I didn’t pursue it. I’m not Christian or Jewish or any other religion. I’m not religious at all. I even have a hard time believing in God- I want to, I try to, but I can’t honestly say that I feel anything the way some people seem to. However, I know that none of this prevents me from going to church. Churches love to welcome people who are searching for answers and wanting to have more faith in a higher power. Anyway, in the end I decided not to go that route.
I chose books instead.
The first one I stumbled across was The Snow Queen. Obviously it was the title that intruiged me. It’s also written by Michael Cunningham. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for his novel The Hours. (I haven’t read it but the movie was really good.) So I figured ‘Hey, Pulitzer Prize winning author. There’s a very good chance this book will be really good.’
The plot of the novel The Snow Queen also has a spiritual element. The main character, Barrett, is walking through Central Park one winter night when he happens to look up towards the sky and sees some sort of mysterious light. The light doesn’t immediately disappear, it hangs around for a bit and seems to be a conscious being that is “looking” back at him, or “regarding” him.
I was hoping that a profound meaning associated with this light would be revealed at some point in the novel. I was hoping (and it was implied) that witnessing and experiencing this light would lead to life-changing inspiration for Barrett. His experience does have an effect on him, but it doesn’t impact his life very much at all which was disappointing. In fact, I was disappointed in the story and the characters overall. I would go into detail about why but that’s not the focus of this particular post so I’m not going to do that.
I was also hoping to discover a more clear reason as to why the novel was titled “The Snow Queen”, but that didn’t happen either.
The novel does have a lot of good quotes though, so maybe I’ll do a post with those at a later time. The writing is amazing. Real critics have described it as poetic. Real critics liked the novel because they got it. Maybe if I read it again I would understand it more and therefore like it more. One last thing-  the novel refers to god as She at least once, which I really appreciated.

After I finished The Snow Queen I turned to Woman of God (James Patterson, Maxine Paetro). Now that title makes complete sense in relation to the story. Woman of God (by James Patterson, Maxine Paetro) is a great novel. For me it was a much better novel than The Snow Queen and lot more spiritually inspiring. However, I was a bit disappointed in it as well, but only because I was hoping for (and maybe even expecting) the plot to go in a very specific direction. It didn’t. *Spoiler alert.* The novel opens (first chapter or two) with rumors that the next pope might be a woman. Now that got my attention. Spirituality for me must include a female presence, not only male. This has been and continues to be for me the most difficult part of modern main stream religion- the lack of female representation. Anyway, I was hoping the novel would focus on that theme but, sadly, it doesn’t. That is a significant part of the novel, especially towards the end, but it wasn’t present for the bulk of the plot. Most of the novel takes place in war-torn South Sudan which I did not like. I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the type of novel I set out to read. Woman of God may not have been the super inspirational novel I was looking for, but I can see how it could be that for others. It’s a combination of Dan Brown and Danielle Steele. With one unimaginable tragedy after another it reminded me of Zoya, and the theme of the role of women in the Catholic Church reminded me of The Divinci Code.

This novel, Woman of God, I recommend as a good read. Very worthwhile.

Well, my search for inspiration continues.
Next up, Victoria. I’m very excited about it. I think I’m going to find a lot of inspiration in this one- maybe not spiritual inspiration, but I fully expect to be inspired. The novel is about (as you may have guessed) Queen Victoria. It’s written by Daisy Goodwin and is apparently very well researched. Daisy Goodwin is also part of the PBS Victoria TV series. So I’m thinking that this novel is the real deal as far as historical fiction goes.
Based on what I’ve read on the book jacket, Victoria and I have a lot in common- both of us trying to figure out who we are, having to determine who we can trust and who we can’t, struggling to believe in our worth and abilities despite being told otherwise. Maybe through reading Victoria’s story I can learn about and absorb her strength. Maybe I can stop having so much self doubt and stop thinking that everyone knows more than I do, that everyone except me has life and success figured out. Maybe Victoria’s story can inspire more trust in myself- my talents, my abilities, my experience, and my intuition.
I’m always looking for answers in books. And honestly that’s actually worked out pretty well for me.
I’ll let you know how it goes this time.

: )

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Halloween 2016

Autumn
Fall

Happy Halloween!

Today is going to be a good day. The weather is perfect for Halloween- cloudy, slightly breezy and a bit cold. I love it. And for possibly the first time ever in my parent career all celebration is taking place on October 31st. My daughter’s class party is this afternoon and Trick-or-Treat is tonight as well. So much fun!

I am such a nerd.
(Oh well!)

I aslo have other plans to enhance my Halloween/ quintessential autumn experience today. I’m going to take a walk at the local university, enjoy the cooler air, listen to the crunch of the leaves as I stroll through the campus. Ahhh…. So peaceful, so lovely…
So cliche! But I don’t care if I’m unoriginal, I’m happy!

laughy face

After my walk I’m going to the grocery store to get hot dogs and crescent rolls to make Mummy Dogs for dinner. I might also do “witch/zombie fingers”. Those are just mozzarella cheese sticks with diced bell pepper pieces as the finger nails. Use a butter knife to slice little lines in the cheese stick to create more “finger-like detail”.
If I have time I’d also like to sit and watch some more Halloween themed TV and movies on Netflix and Hulu.
Just as I suspected, my Penny Dreadful phase came to an end, but it happened much sooner than I thought. I made it into season 2, just to the episode where it goes into Vanessa’s backstory and her finding out she’s a witch. And I think that may have been my favorite episode. Maybe that’s why I stopped there.
I’ve also watched a few episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Witches of East End, three of the Underworld movies, The Addams Family movie, and Jane Eyre. You might be thinking,  Jane Eyre?
Yes. Jane Eyre. I don’t know about the earlier film adaptations but the one from 2010 is a good Halloween choice. The book is even better for Halloween. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself.
Today I’d like to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, Halloweentown, Jane Eyre, and/or Corpse Bride. Last October I constantly had on Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride or Jane Eyre- even just as background while I went about my chores and stuff. But, sadly, this year Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t on Netflix so I haven’t got to watch it. ; (
However, I did get to at least listen to it via YouTube. That was pretty cool. Maybe I’ll do that again. That way I’ll actually get some things done- laundry, dishes, cooking, vacuum, dusting, etc. Corpse Bride and Jane Eyre are still good options too.

Whether I get to sit (with the cat on my lap, of course) and enjoy a movie this morning, or at lunch, or later tonight with the kids- it’s already a good day. I’m doing this blog post and feeling good about it, I helped my daughter do her hair for her class party- she’s a “zombie cheerleader”- so cute!  I walked her to the bus stop and we were actually on time. And I’m about to take my husband to work because we are currently down to one car. I kind of like that I get to take him to work right now because I feel needed and like I’m actually adding value. Sometimes that’s a feeling that’s hard to come by when you’re a stay-at-home parent.

Even though I’ve spent several paragraphs talking about Halloween, the truth is I’m very ready for Christmas! It’s crazy, I know. Oddly enough I think it’s because of the unseasonably warm weather- it sent me over the edge. I’m so tired of heat and sunshine! All it did was make me want clouds and cold even more.
For several days now I’ve had to fight the urge to turn on Christmas music! But tomorrow- it’s on. Christmas music all day!
I am going to hold off on the Christmas decorations though. Tomorrow I’ll take down the Halloween stuff but leave the fall things for the next few weeks. I’m going to try to make it until  November 21st before putting up the Christmas stuff, but I might end up doing it the week of the 14th. And I’ve already got some Christmas movies lined up on Netflix and Hulu. I’m so excited!
But for today I’m going to focus on staying in the present moment and season.

Happy Halloween
I sincerely hope you’re having as much fun as I am today.

 

Striving For Beauty and Completeness

Two things.
One, I went off on my son last night.
And two, I’ve been watching Touch on Netflix the past week or so.
I’ll tell you how these two things fit together.

Touch is a really cool show. I liked the earlier episodes more than what started happening in season 2. The earlier episodes had a more positive message. The episodes in season 2 are increasingly more tense and violent but still good. One of the episodes we watched last night (my son watches it too) had an incredible line of dialogue regarding a deeper meaning behind numbers- specifically the number known as The God Sequence. On the show it’s also called the Amelia Sequence. Amelia is one of the show’s main characters. This is how she explained the number in her own words:

“The numbers define the recurrence relation of interconnecting parallel and distributed systems– systems that strive for beauty and completeness, that permeate all structures, forms and proportions, whether cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic, acoustic or optical. The magnetic resonance of the spins in cobalt niobate crystals proves their existence at the atomic scale. But I believe the proportions are evident in human genome DNA. The systems appear in recognizable biological settings, too, like the branching in trees, phyllotaxis, and the fruit sprouts of pineapples.”

Well me being the word lover that I am I thought this was just absolutely beautiful and stunning. In fact, after my daughter was in bed I spent an hour searching for that episode just so I could hear that quote again. And as it turns out some of those words and the idea they convey really helped me out as the night went on.
My anxiety was elevated again. This time it was due to my concerns regarding my son. I am really, really, really frustrated with him. He has learning disabilities and impulse control issues, but the impulse control manifests itself mainly in the form of lying, so it could be worse, but still….. it’s exhausting. However, that isn’t what was really bothering me and keeping up into the early hours of morning. What was really bothering me was how I had reacted to him earlier in the evening.
Like I said, I went off on him. I told him I quit. I give up. Do what ever the hell you want because you don’t listen to me anyway so what is the point of me continuing to put forth so much effort into doing what’s right for you? I said all that and then some.
And then some more. And then some more.
Oh, he was freaked out all right.
He asked me why I was freaking out.
What?….. What?!…. WHAT?!!?  Why am I freaking out?!!? 
Because, damn it! You don’t do ANYTHING unless I make you do it!!!!!!!
It’s exhausting.

He’s fifteen and he still has almost the same hygiene issues that he did when he was 11!! Why is it taking so. many. YEARS! to teach this boy to take a shower?!?? How is that possible?!!?
Same thing with brushing his teeth. I’ve been teaching this boy to brush his teeth since he was TWO!!!
All of this is stuff my 8-year-old daughter can do on her own- stuff she’s been able to do for at least the past year.
And added to the hygiene issues is the school issue. I have to keep a constant eye on his grades, but slacking on classwork and studying is more typical teenage behavior.
But hygiene?  My husband and I just cannot figure that one out. Our family counselor was a bit baffled by it as well.  But I’m starting to see the answer– he’s lazy. That’s it. He’s just that lazy. It’s pathetic. He doesn’t want to do anything that doesn’t have something to do with video games.
I swear sometimes I just want to punch him in the face!
I don’t of course. Cussing him out is bad enough. I don’t go off on him like that all the time. It’s not something that I want to do. I don’t want to be that kind of parent. But sometimes I lose control. Like I did last night.
I stand by the main points that I tried to get across to him, but I don’t stand by how I said it. I could have and should have been more calm about it. I wish I would have been. Sometimes I am. But not yesterday evening. And as the night when on and I was sitting in the living room alone with my thoughts, reflecting- I regretted losing control like that.

So that’s what was keeping me up past midnight last night. Years ago I would have mentally berated myself for this, but I know better than that now. I’ve also learned that you can’t just make yourself stop thinking certain thoughts- you have to replace them with different thoughts.
So as I was trying to come up with better thoughts for my anxious brain, as I was searching for a reason and asking myself Why do I act that way, small snippets of the Amelia Sequence dialogue calmly materialized in my mind.

interconnected systems….
systems that permeate all structures, forms and proportions…
cosmic or individual, organic or inorganic.
Systems that strive for beauty and completeness….

It was that last one that struck me. Suddenly my reaction to my son made more sense.
I thought to myself  Oh my gosh! That’s IT! That’s why I got so upset with my son. It’s not because I’m a bad mom or a bad person. It’s because I’m a human being striving for beauty and completeness. I may not always achieve that, but it’s what I’m always moving towards.

Because that’s what we all are, aren’t we?
Individual organic systems striving for beauty and completeness.
That’s why I worry about my son.
(And freak out when I feel like I can’t help him.)
That’s why most of us do most of what we do-
We’re striving for beauty and completeness.

I made a mistake in the way I handled things with my son last night and I regretted it. But remembering those words, striving for beauty and completeness, really helped me move on. Hopefully the next time I make a mistake I can use those words again. Maybe they can even help me avoid the mistakes a little more often.

Strive for beauty and completeness.

Why Harry Potter means so much to me

Inspiration.
Where would I be now had I not believed that my life could be better? 

I didn’t read the first Harry Potter until a year or two after it was first published. I kept hearing about this amazing children’s book and I eventually decided I should read it just to see what all the fuss was about. As it turned out, I was pregnant with my first child when I finally made the time to read Harry Potter. Those wonderful books provided me with a much needed way to escape. I was young, unmarried, and broke. And very, very scared. That was almost 16 years ago. In fact, tomorrow, August 1st, will mark the anniversary of the day I found out I was pregnant. I have never been so scared in my life. I was terrified, petrified. I felt humiliated and so, so alone. I wanted to crawl into a dark hole and never have to come out.

Well, obviously I had to carry on. It was a physical, emotional and financial struggle for many years.  J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter helped me get through it. Naturally, Rowling’s personal story was very inspiring to me. I remember how shocked I was when I found out that she had started writing Harry Potter when she was a broke single mother. I mean, I just couldn’t believe that I had something like that in common with an author whose books I was starting to adore- whose books the world was adoring.
It helped me feel less humiliated.

And all through those days of struggle when my son was very young and I was feeling lower than ever, I never let myself forget that J. K. Rowling -the author of Harry Potter, for god’s sake!- had once been where I was. It gave me hope. Her personal story helped me believe in possibilities at a time in my life when the word IMPOSSIBLE was stomping and marching through my mind every minute of everyday. Lack of money, lack of love and affection, a job I hated, no college education, no confidence left in myself- these were my dementors!   And J. K. Rowling’s unexpected super-success was my patronus. Her success gave me hope and helped me believe that “astonishing” things can happen.
So I carried on.

Then, of course, there was Harry Potter! Those books are so much fun to read! I had never read anything like it- who had?! The adventure and imagination in those books is incredible. Reading Harry Potter is like literally jumping into another world, it’s the ultimate escape- an escape I truly needed at the time. ‘Books can take us places when we have nowhere else to go’- I read something like that recently. And that’s what it was like when I read Harry Potter. For just a few moments, I left behind my poverty and other single-mother woes and stresses, and went instead to beautiful, mysterious, ancient Hogwarts castle where I got to learn about magic. I got to go to another place, a place that came to feel like home, and it lifted my spirits immensely.
Escaping to a better place is what made me fall in love with reading in the first place. Being scared and pregnant, and then a depressed, stressed-out single mother: these were not the first times in my life that I wished I had a better place to go to. When I was little I used books to escape my life. I used books to escape my homes that were not homes. My childhood was not good- that was one of the main reasons I was so freaked out about having a baby! I couldn’t let happen to him what happened to me and my brothers. Books got me through a lot growing up. Sometimes they were the only thing that comforted me or made me smile.

That’s another reason Harry Potter means so much to me. I immediately related to him and his oppressive, intimidating home situation, especially eleven-year-old me. Eleven was a very rough year for me. Every year until I was sixteen was a rough year (to say the least), but eleven was particularly difficult. So even though I was twenty-one when I read the first Harry Potter, it tapped into that scared eleven-year-old girl that was still stuck inside me. When Harry finds out, on his eleventh birthday, that he’s actually a wizard and that his parents were a witch and wizard too- something happened to me. That eleven-year-old girl inside me got up. I will never forget that moment. I go back to the first book and read that part again and again.
As the story unfolded and became more magical
and more exciting with each passing moment, I felt my eleven-year-old self start to brighten and smile. And when Harry finds out that he’s also famous and his parents are heroes and they left him piles of gold- my mind was blown. The scared, timid, poor, nearly friendless little eleven-year-old inside me was thrilled to be reading this story, pretending and imagining that it was her who all of these wonderful things were happening to. And then to see so much of myself in the character Hermione (my favorite)…. that was the icing on the cauldron cake.
And I haven’t been the same since.

My life today is different in every way possible from what it was 16 years ago when I found out I was pregnant and scared out of my mind. That’s why the Harry Potter books and story mean so much to me. There were so many details that made it such a personal experience for me every step of the way. I related to the author and the characters.
J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter inspired me to believe in possibility, to believe that astonishing things can happen even in the least likely of places, to the least likely of people. Even when it seems that the odds are too far against you.
It is because I believed that my life could be better that it actually became better.
The Harry Potter books had a lot to do with that. They changed the way I looked at the world, they changed the way I saw myself.

Review: An Old-Fashioned Girl, final thoughts

So much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

I haven’t had time for blogging this past week. It’s very difficult to blog when you have kids at home all day. However, several weeks ago I did a 2nd, more in depth review of An Old-Fashioned Girl. It’s practically an essay! Only god knows why I do this, why I write so much… Why in the world would I write an essay that no one is going to read?! Why?!
But it’s a good thing I did, I guess, because I don’t have anything else to post nor time to come up with anything else.
So, here you go- my 2nd review of An Old-Fashioned Girl, written several weeks ago.

As I was saying…

So much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

I did a review of An Old-Fashioned Girl on June 30th, but in that one I focused more on a character comparison and analysis of Polly and Fanny, especially Polly.
In this review I will still have a few more things to say about Polly, but I will focus more on the novel itself and its themes.

I thought this story was going to be nothing more than Poor Girl and Rich Girl find that they can learn from each other. But it’s so much more than that. I was really surprised by how long this story was! It isn’t the longest book, in terms of pages, that I’ve ever read, but I think it seemed longer because it moves kind of slowly. It isn’t boring though, at least not to a reader like me who really enjoys 19th century novels.
The characters are entertaining and very distinct from one another, and a lot happens in the novel, but most of the events are minor and unfold slowly. There was, however, one plot twist at the end that I did not see coming. (Excellent!)
Another thing to note about this novel is that it is told in two parts. Part two begins 6 years after the end of part one, but in a way they seem like two totally separate books.

If you’ve read Little Women it’s hard not to make comparisons between it and An Old-Fashioned Girl. The length, scope, and pace of each story is very similar. The setting and characters and their interactions are also similar. Both books deal with regular day-to-day life events, as well as common milestones. Both stories are very tame, mild, and wholesome, and have several very clear opinions, themes, and moral lessons which are presented throughout the story . . .

The rich unfairly judge and snub the poor, love is more powerful than poverty, poverty can be a great teacher, self-improvement leads to a good life, hard work and purpose are essential for a good life, what you do is more important than what you wear, little girls shouldn’t grow up too quickly, one should strive to be as selfless as possible, doing for others is one of the keys to happiness, women should help lift each other up, the bond between women is very important and empowering . . . etc., etc., (I’ve also noticed that death and grief seem to be recurring themes in LMA’s stories.)
The brilliant part, and why LMA’s work is widely considered to be so enduring, is that these things are still very relevant today- as anyone who reviews either book will point out.

After reading An Old-Fashioned Girl I think that the theme and belief most important to Louisa was “work and purpose.” Time and time again this is directly stated throughout the novel, either by the narrator or the novel’s extra-perfect “little Polly.” I know this won’t go over well with some readers, but sometimes Polly was so perfect that it was down right annoying. She was like Mary freakin’ Poppins! “Practically Perfect In Every Way.”

However, Polly was likable, and even occasionally relatable- she has hopes and dreams, she cries and doubts. As I stated in my first review, Polly was an interesting character, but  not an entirely realistic one. She represents the ideals that LMA holds so dear, she is the story’s protagonist and catalyst.
Much more realistic are the members of the Shaw family, especially Mr. Shaw, Tom, and Fanny, who are so very flawed that they all eventually find themselves very unhappy, but they each achieve great personal growth and happiness by novel’s end. Personal growth and self-improvement are also major themes in Little Women.  Based on what I’ve read by LMA fans these themes are in almost all of her work.

Now, back to “work and purpose.” In the story, Polly, who is poor, is often much happier than her best friend, Fanny.  Despite the money, conveniences, and luxuries she has, Fanny is often dissatisfied with her life. Polly encourages her to try and find something to do. She tries to persuade Fanny that if she had a purpose she would be happier. As the story moves on, Fanny comes to believe this more and more, and to her relief and satisfaction it eventually happens.

” . . . feeling that at last necessity had given her what she had long needed, something to do.”

“I shall groan and moan by and by, I dare say, but . . . I’m half glad it’s happened, for it takes me out of myself, and gives me something to do.”

Through An Old-Fashioned girl, Louisa May Alcott adamantly declares that people without something substantial and meaningful to do will not be happy. Idleness leads to “listlessness,” meanness, and possibly a depressed-like state. Work and purpose make for a good life, they keep a person happy and healthy.

“. . . Polly came to know a little sisterhood of busy, happy, independent, girls, who each had a purpose to execute, a talent to develop, an ambition to achieve, and brought to the work patience and perseverance, hope and courage. . . . All these helped Polly . . . for purpose and principle are the best teachers we can have, and the want of them makes half the women in America what they are, restless, aimless, frivolous, and sick.”

I agree wholeheartedly! I know from personal experience how true this is.
But you need love too, especially in childhood. True, LMA included the theme of love in this story- Polly’s family is very loving- but LMA did not directly state or emphasize the importance of love and affection to the degree that she did work and purpose.

I say that if love and affection are in place then, yes, bring on the work and purpose! These are absolutely necessary for human beings to be happy and healthy. This is true age-old wisdom going back thousands of years.

I have to say it again, so much wisdom encapsulated in an entertaining little story!

The following are some of my favorite quotes from An Old-Fashioned Girl:

” . . . she received, from an unexpected source, some of the real help which teaches young people how to bear these small crosses, by showing them the heavier ones they have escaped . . .”

 

” . . . that indescribable something which women are quick to see and feel in men who have been blessed with wise and good mothers.”

 

” . . . hearts are so “contrary” that they won’t be obedient to reason, will, or even gratitude.”

 

” . . . soon she had other sorrows beside her own to comfort, and such work does a body more good than floods of regretful tears, or hours of sentimental lamentations.”

 

“I can’t sell myself for an establishment.”

 

” . . . so she put her love away in a corner of her heart, and tried to forget it, hoping it would either die, or have a right to live.”

 

“Blessings, like curses, come home to roost.”

 

” He exaggerated his faults and follies into sins of the deepest dye.”

“He was either pathetically humble or tragically cross.”

 

“Why are bad boys like cake?”
“Because a good beating makes them better.”

 

“Everybody fell to eating cake, as if indigestion was one of the lost arts.”

 

“The gentlest girls when roused are more impressive than any shrew; for even turtle doves gallantly peck to defend their nests.”

 

“Occasionally a matrimonial epidemic appears…”

 

” . . . love and labor, two beautiful old fashions that began long ago, with the first pair in Eden.”

 

“I’ve had so many plans in my head lately, that sometimes it seems as if it would split . . .”

. . . which is exactly how I’ve been feeling about this blog.

 

Quotes: After Alice

When I share my (many) thoughts on a book I’ve read, one thing I really like to do- one thing I feel compelled to do- is list my favorite quotes. Because I have so many thoughts on Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and because I found so many interesting quotes, I decided it would be best to break it up into two parts, which will actually make it three parts as I already did a First Impressions review on June 26th. That was only about 16 or 17 days ago but feels as though it was months ago!

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A full review subtitled “Concluding Thoughts” will be posted next Sunday, July 16th.
This book was full of clever and witty quotes, but I had to narrow it down. The following lines are my favorite quotes from After Alice. Some of them are repeats from my First Impressions post.

 

” . . . where in all these enterprises of thought and institution is Lydia herself?  What is the character of Lydia, and where the soul of Lydia . . .

“And where, for that matter, is Alice?”

“It’s as if a botanical display and an athletic contest and a gypsy circus have all set themselves up in a hippodrome of some sort.”

“Up until ten minutes ago, Ada had not had much experience in the practice of imagination.”

“Miss Armstrong was aware that imagination, often a cause of temptation and unrest, could also serve the soul. . .”

” . . . . the tilting of an eyebrow. This was too obscure a hieroglyphic for the Vicar to decipher, no matter how Miss Armstrong concentrated the pure fire of her being in the muscles of her forehead. One day she would self-immolate . . . . Spontaneous combustion caused by an eyebrow left to smolder a moment too long.”

“The world pauses for royalty and deformity alike, and sometimes one can’t tell the difference.”

“Her gait was still lopsided, but so was the world, so she kept on.”

“Evolution a mighty power, could it yield up creatures capable of argument.”

“I have no use for tea, after all. My mother has died . . .  She is, consequently, dead. She had a big head like mine and Alice’s and it’s my opinion that it simply exploded.”

“The instinct toward panic, once experienced, cannot be unlearned.”

“The Queen of Hearts has a robust temper, you see. And anger gives one an appetite. So her edible guests do try to keep her from losing her temper.”

“I understand there is to be an execution.”
“What is to be executed?” asked the Lion.
“Manners and fine taste . . . .” 

They were going to the garden party . . . and we will be wanting to get there before long.” [Said Ada.] You may want that,” said the White Queen.I want peace among all nations. Either that or lemon drop, I can’t decide.”
(Lemon drop?  A nod to Professor Dumbledore? I suspect so, because the White Queen also has a magic cloak.)

“My,” said Ada, laying the dead rose on the peaty moss. “Life is a very cheap thing here.”
“Cheap and dear all at once,” said the Rose from her grave. “That’s the thing. You’ll figure it out sooner or later.”

” . . . the White Queen and the White Knight. Generally adults were a failure, but these two managed failure well.”

“All of life hinges on what one does next, until finally one makes the wrong choice. But was that this moment?”

“She had no intention of stripping to her smalls in a court of law, however deranged the audience.” 

Though usually a dreamer of commonplace notions, once in a while Ada had enjoyed dreams of flying. So she was hardly surprised to find herself not only capable but skilled at this . . . She moved upward in a spiral . . . She disobeyed earlier advice and looked up rather than down.

” [The] essayist’s point is about the urgency of not being dislodged from one’s deepest beliefs. No matter how beset one might be.”
“Perhaps we are meant and made to shift our beliefs.”
“If we are ‘made’ or ‘meant,’ then someone must have made or meant us.”

 

 

 

 

Review and character analysis: An Old-Fashioned Girl

I’ll be honest. The first several paragraphs of this post are me sharing my random thoughts and research about Louisa May Alcott, and the random things that happened leading up to me joining the LMA reading challenge. While I find my random thoughts to be most interesting, you might not.
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So if you’d rather skip to the actual review of An Old-Fashioned Girl, just scroll down until you come to the novel’s cover.

I had no idea I’d be reading a Louisa May Alcott novel this summer. There wasn’t one on my list. In fact, up until a few months ago I didn’t know about 99% of what LMA wrote.
So how did I come to read An Old-Fashioned Girl?  Well, about 2 weeks ago, Tarissa over at In The Bookcase invited me to take part in a Louisa May Alcott reading challenge. The challenge was to read 3 books either by or about LMA within the month of June. I couldn’t complete the full challenge because I came in and got started so late, but I wanted to read at least one LMA novel that I had never read before.
Since the only novel by LMA that I’ve ever read was Little Women I had tons to choose from. Louisa May Alcott wrote a lot of novels and short stories. She is definitely one of the most underrated, under appreciated classic authors. Her work, and the amount of it, should be just as well known and as much celebrated as Dickens and Austen. True, there is ample respect, admiration, and reverence for Little Women, but LMA did so much more!

So, as I was saying, there was a lot to choose from. Tarissa, as well as some others at In The Bookcase, chose An Old-Fashioned Girl as one of their reading challenge selections. I remembered coming across that title a few months ago when I did a little research on LMA after a chance encounter with one of her short stories, Ripple The Water-Spirit.
Also suggested on In The Bookcase: The Skipping Stones, a short story by LMA found in the book Faerie Gold, Jo’s Boys by LMA, March by Geraldine Brooks, Pedlar’s Progress: The Life of Bronson Alcott by Odell Shepard, Little Women Next Door by Sheila Solomon Klass, and Illuminated by The Message by Susan Bailey.
Susan Bailey also took part in the LMA reading challenge and is creator and host of the website LouisaMayAlcottIsMyPassion. And here’s an interesting little coincidence- I actually came across that website a few months back when I was doing my first round of research on LMA after finding Ripple The Water-Spirit. My review of that story is how Tarissa came to find me and invite me to take part in the LMA reading challenge. Talk about coming full circle! Wow! What are the odds that this would happen?! …..Amazing.

Well, back to the actual review I’m supposed to be doing…..
So, as I said, there were several good LMA options suggested on In The Bookcase. Through my own research I also came across Rose In Bloom and A Long Fatal Love Chase– one of LMA’s gothic novels. Apparently she wrote several somewhat dark and edgy gothic novels. Who Knew!? Again, something I was not aware of and very pleasantly surprised to discover. I am now very curious to read some of those and compare them to the more tame stories that LMA is better known for. However, I decided that I wasn’t in the mood for a gothic novel, so I narrowed it down to Rose In Bloom and An Old-Fashioned Girl. My final choice was Old-Fashioned Girl.

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No surprise, I really enjoyed reading An Old-Fashioned Girl–  memorable characters, themes to make you think, and that beautiful language! I absolutely love the “old-fashioned” language of 19th century literature. They just don’t write them like that anymore.

At first I thought for sure I was going to go with Rose In Bloom by LMA because I felt that I could relate more to the independent Rose rather than the “old-fashioned” Polly. In order to decide which book to read I read the first chapter of both books then slept on it. An OldFashioned Girl was the one that stuck with me the most. Even though I didn’t feel that I completely related to either Polly or Fanny Shaw, I wanted to see how things would play out in this story of “Old-Fashioned Meets (or collides with) Modern & Trendy”.
Besides, its clear that the personality of Polly and Fanny were somewhat exaggerated (purposely), so it was no wonder that I didn’t completely relate to either of them. No matter- a good story is a good story, and excellent writing is excellent writing. Also, it would be fun to see if I could find within myself a little bit of each girl/character. I suspect it’s true for most of us.

One thing that definitely struck me about Polly was her strong sense of self and her resolution in her beliefs and morals- and I admired her for this. She is shy, yes, and self-conscious at times, but when it came down to it she defended herself and her family, their “country” way of life and their values. That type of character was very new and interesting to me. In my reading experience, when a character compares herself to others, or finds herself in situations where comparisons are inevitable, she initially doubts herself quite a bit.
Polly was almost unshakable, even when she experienced moments of uncertainty about herself and her un-modern ways they were very brief, and she kept her doubt to herself. Again, I found all of this very interesting. I’m used to Jane Austen characters who either show their vulnerability at all times, or have at least one confidant to whom they admit their insecurities. I think this is what usually happens in real life.
Most of us experience a lot of self-doubt, sometimes even to the point of trying to be something, or someone, that we’re not. But Polly never did that. She has her own brand of confidence; a confidence that obviously stems from her loving family, the bond she has with them, and the respect she has for them- especially her mother.
I’m sure I read somewhere a comparison between Polly and Melanie Wilkes from Gone With the Wind. I definitely see their similarities, but Melanie always seemed to me to be unaware of how different she was, whereas Polly is aware of the differences between herself and Fanny, and Fanny’s friends. Speaking of Fanny, it is the character by the same name (Fanny Price) in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park that Polly most reminds me of. They would both be considered “goody-two-shoes” and old-fashioned, both have very high moral standards and stick to them even when faced with ostracization.

Polly is a unique and interesting character, but not realistic. However, maybe she wasn’t meant to be realistic; she represents an ideal, a model to follow- LMA said as much in her preface to An Old-Fashioned Girl.
I think I do have a little bit, just a teeny bit, of an inner Polly. My morals and feelings regarding some things probably would seem old-fashioned to many people today. In fact, I know they are because my husband tells me so! (Haha!) However, I do also have a wild side and I’m certainly not the most conservative person I’ve ever known. I’ve got a little bit of an inner Fanny Shaw too- sometimes I have a temper (like she did with her brother!), I make mistakes, sometimes I have to go back and apologize, and, of course, sometimes I like to dress up, go out, and have fun!
Like many others, I was definitely more of a Fanny Shaw when I was young but- I grew up. The older I get and the more I grow as a person, the more I become like Fanny Price, Melanie Wilkes, and Polly too- smart, kind, and confident.

 

Self-soothing my way through depression

Ho-hum. ; (

I’m a little bummed.

Sorry for the lame rhyme…

But I really am a little upset, maybe even more than a little- maybe a lot. I’m a lot upset! I’m mad and sad and frustrated and… I think, basically, I’m a little depressed. I’m sure lack of sleep has something to do with it, and a sinus headache…. But mostly it’s because I’m putting a lot into this blog and I’m not getting much in return. It’s very disappointing.

Yeah, yeah, yeah– I know I need to give it more time. It hasn’t even been a year. And I know there are other things I need to do in order to gain followers and readers. But I put a lot of hard work into “The Alice Coincidences” and “Ripple, the Water-Spirit”!
And for what!? I get zilch! Nothing! Nada!
And it isn’t fair. It’s good stuff- I know it is, and I think it deserves to be read by somebody. It may not be the best writing or blogging ever, it may not be award-winning, but it is good; and, like I said, I put a lot of hard work into it. And a lot of time! I deserve for it to be read, not ignored. (To be fair, I did get three likes on Ripple, the Water-Spirit.)

I’m sorry I’m whining about it but not talking about solutions, or even asking for them. What to do to make this blog more successful is not the point of this particular post, neither is wallowing in self-pity. Given my mental and emotional challenges (anxiety, depression) it’s best for me to not wallow in self-pity, it can snowball very quickly. Although “snow” isn’t really the best visual representation.

Wallowing in self-pity can get pretty dark pretty quickly. For example, all because I was a bit sleep deprived, had a headache, and was feeling disappointed about the lack of activity on my blog, I was ready to completely give up- just delete the whole thing and then cry about it. That’s probably not an entirely atypical reaction, I’m sure many bloggers have felt like giving up- especially when sleep deprived.
However, it got worse. From there I started to question my whole life! I started to become majorly dissatisfied with my house, with myself, with my position as a stay-at-home parent. I started to go down the path of thinking that I have no value at all, that I’m not good at anything, I’m pathetic, I don’t do anything “cool” or significant and I never will, my life is pathetic, I’m pathetic, everyone probably looks at me like I’m pathetic, why bother with anything- everything is pointless…

In other words, I was spiraling. I felt very, very sad and quite hopeless- that is depression. And it’s a problem. I shouldn’t start questioning and doubting myself so harshly just because a blog isn’t going the way I had hoped. It’s okay to be disappointed, but it’s only disappointment– a temporary emotional state. My perspective was obviously way off kilter. I had to remind myself that there were still plenty of reasons to be happy.

It was time for a little “self-soothing” and some left brain activities. So I made myself mentally list all of the little things that make me happy, and what activities I could do that would calm me down. I learned about self-soothing in one of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s books on Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I think it may have also been her book that talks about engaging the left brain when the emotional right brain gets too hyper. At any rate, they’re both about calming down when you feel yourself becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

So, like I said, I made myself think of what makes me happy.
What always makes me happy no matter what? What do I have that will always be there, solid and true, and can’t be taken away or denied?
Well, obviously my first thought was books– namely, Harry Potter and Jane Austen. Because, no matter what, I always have them.
At almost any time I can open a copy of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and poor, abused, orphaned Harry will find out that he is actually a rich and famous wizard. Every time I open a copy of Jane Austen, her beautifully written words will be there on the page- chocolate for my brain- and the heroine will prevail.
Harry Potter and Jane Austen make me sooooo happy.
My list got easier from there. Next thing I know I’m thinking about how much I like the light-blue interior lights in my car. I decide to wear my red stripped shoes because they make me happy when I look at them. The shoes make me think of my current favorite nail polish, Cherries in the Snow- a bright and cheerful pinkish-red.
Color therapy.
Cherries in the snow reminded me of my snowflake-themed adult coloring book, which reminded me of other color infused left brain activities, like card making and cross-stitching. I think about the Christmas cards or cross-stitch project I could work on. Or I could make a thank you card for my mother-in-law.
I keep going with the Christmas theme. Christmas makes me so happy!  I think about lighting my Holiday Garland scented candle, or going to that one gift shop at the mall that smells like Christmas year round. Or I could go to Macy’s and sample the perfumes.
Aromatherapy.

All very good ideas, but I ended up not doing any of these things. I didn’t need to. Just the thought of them, just simply knowing they were there as options, was enough. Reminding myself of what makes me happy saved the day!
I’m very thankful, and very lucky, to have been introduced to the work of Dr. Lineham and her concept of self-soothing .

What makes you feel better when you’re feeling low? What are your self-soothing activities or exercises? What’s on your Happy list?

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Must read: Ripple, the Water-Spirit

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I don’t know how in the world I didn’t know about this story before…

Back in February I bought myself a book at Barnes & Noble, The Snow Queen and other winter tales, a collection of 100 short stories. I’ve been working my way through the book and really enjoying it. There are some amazing stories in there, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit overshadowed them all. I was blown away! It’s amazing! Not only is the plot flawless, the writing is amazing as well. It’s an incredible story. Obviously, I’m very excited about it!  I had very high hopes for The Snow Queen and other winter tales, but still I was very surprised by Ripple, the Water-Spirit, it definitely exceeded my expectations. Even more surprising was the author- Louisa May Alcott. I did not expect a fantasy story from the author of Little Women.

All I knew of Louisa May Alcott was Little Women, I did not know that she also wrote and published a small book of fairytales Little Women is one of my favorite novels and is definitely on my ‘books-that-saved-my-life’ list. I was very influenced by its innocence and wholesomeness. I had never read anything like it, it was so tame, so sweet, so domestic and down-to-earth, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit is almost the complete opposite. It’s just as smart, sweet, and inspiring as Little Women, but far less tame, and definitely not at all domestic or down-to-earth.

“So farewell to the pleasant earth, until we come again. And now away, up to the sun!”

The story is about Ripple and the journey she undertakes to bring a little boy back to life because his mother is so bereft. Ripple is, as the title states, a water-spirit. In the story “spirit” and “Fairy” are used somewhat interchangeably so I gathered that a water-spirit is a sort of fairy.
In order to bring the little boy back to life, Ripple must get a flame from the fire-spirits. The problem is that the fire-spirits live next to the sun!

“It is far, far away, high up above the sun, where no Spirit ever dared to venture yet…” 

Even though some try to dissuade her, Ripple is still determined to keep her promise to the grieving mother. She leaves the sea and comes to dry land in search of someone who can tell her the way to the fire-spirits’ home. One by one, Ripple encounters the four Seasons of the year- first Spring, then Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The personification of the seasons is some of Alcott’s best work in the story.

Soon she saw Spring come smiling over the earth; sunbeams and breezes floated before, and then, with her white garments covered with flowers, with wreaths in her hair, and dewdrops and seeds falling fast from her hands, the beautiful season came singing by.

 

“Now I must seek for summer,” said Ripple…
“I am here, what would you with me, little Spirit?” said a musical voice in her ear; and, floating by her side, she saw a graceful form, with green robes fluttering in the air, whose pleasant face looked kindly on her from beneath a crown of golden sunbeams that cast a warm, bright glow on all beneath.

 

…with bright wreaths of crimson leaves and golden wheat-ears in her hair and on her purple mantle, stately Autumn passed, with a happy smile on her calm face, as she went scattering generous gifts from her full arms.

 

…Winter, riding on the strong North-Wind, came rushing by, with a sparkling ice-crown in his streaming hair, while from beneath his crimson cloak, where glittering frost-work shone like silver threads, he scattered snow-flakes far and wide…
“Do not fear me; I am warm at heart, though rude and cold without,” said Winter, looking kindly on her, while a bright smile shone like sunlight on his pleasant face, as it glowed and glistened in the frosty air.

Each Season gives Ripple a gift to help her on her journey. From Spring she receives a breeze that will “never tire nor fail”, from Summer a sunbeam, from Autumn a yellow leaf, and from Winter a snowflake that will never melt.

“Now, dear Breeze,” said Ripple, “fly straight upward through the air, until we reach the place we have so long been seeking; Sunbeam shall go before to light the way, Yellow-leaf shall shelter me from heat and rain, while Snow-flake shall lie here beside me till it comes of use.” 

Each of the first three gifts has an obvious use- the breeze is her means of transportation, the sunbeam is to light the way, the leaf is for shelter and comfort, but what about the snowflake?

At this point in the story I was both very excited and on the verge of being a little disappointed. I was thrilled that Winter gave her an eternal, never melt snowflake- I love the idea of a magic snowflake! But I was disappointed because it didn’t seem to have much use. You see, I have a thing for snow. Some people have a thing for hearts or roses, dolphins or sea turtles, tigers or butterflies- I like snow. I even have a snowflake tattoo on my wrist. So, I wanted the snowflake to be special. I wanted it to be the best of all the gifts that Ripple received. Snow never gets to be the best! It’s always the sun! And for a minute there it looked like that was going to happen again. When Ripple laid the snowflake to the side I got concerned that it was going to play only a minor role, or not appear again until as an after-thought in the end.

Well, in this story, snow got to be the hero for once. Finally!
That’s probably one of the main reasons I adore this story. There was just so much about it that was unexpected. In the end, it is the snowflake that saves Ripples life. Winter’s magic snowflake is the final and most important piece she needs in order to complete her quest. And I noticed something else interesting about that. Ripple is a water-spirit and she’s saved by a snowflake, i.e. frozen water. That detail wasn’t lost on me. I don’t really know what it means, if anything at all, but it does seem significant. Although, I will admit that because I have a thing for snow I might be focusing on the snowflake more than most people would.

In less the twenty pages Louisa May Alcott created multiple worlds and told one incredible story. The settings and plot are unique, and just when you think the story has come to its logical conclusion it takes another turn and surprises you yet again. The writing is excellent because the language and detail are rich but concise. I was, as I mentioned above, very impressed with Alcott’s description of the Seasons, but I was most impressed with her depiction of the fire-spirits, especially considering it was published in 1854! But maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe these long-ago authors are exactly who I should expect such deeply imaginative stories from.
Check it out,

“…little Spirits glided, far and near, wearing crowns of fire, beneath which flashed their wild, bright eyes; and as they spoke, sparks dropped quickly from their lips…”

And, believe me, that is only a taste- only a fraction!- of what Alcott wrote about the fire-spirits. I don’t want to give it all away! I really want people to read this incredible story for themselves.

Mother’s Day Poem/Prayer

By Rev. Maureen Killoran – 2009
Copied from worldprayers.org

Mothers come in many shapes and sizes.

There are warm mothers, soft and round, likely to be found
with flour on their nose, and always ready to pour
you a glass of milk to go with the cookies on your plate.
These mothers are increasingly rare.

Some mothers are like bubbles of champagne; they
surprise your senses, leave you giggly, but when you least expect it
they erupt with an unexpected ‘pop.’

There are sharp mothers, all edges and not easy to hold on to.
They don’t mean to, but it often seems like, when you need them,
their hands come up to ward you away.

Then there are grouchy mothers, stressed mothers, exhausted mothers,
their faces lined with worry and their spirits tired and grey.

Other mothers are wise and reliable;
they are not prone to many words or to a lot of noise,
but in your heart you know, that
when you need them, they’ll be there.

There are fierce mothers, the ones you count on to be on your side
and to love you even when you’ve gone wrong.

There are absent mothers, whose memory shimmers in the air, so that
it seems you’ll catch them if you could just be quick enough to turn around.

There are distant mothers … cruel mothers … loving mothers … giving mothers …
there are walk-away mothers … save-the-world mothers …
too-busy-to-bother mothers … mothers you cry for because you lost them,
and mothers who make you cry because you can’t …

May we hold in our hearts the mothers we have known …
those who loved us … and those who tried …

May we forgive the mothers who didn’t get it right … and release
the knots of disappointment … anger … grief … pain.

And may we remember always
that mothering — nurturing — is a task
not just for some, but for us all.

Whether you are young or old … female or male …
may you make extra room for nurturing in your heart …
may you hug a baby … smile at a stranger …
May you hold back just a little in traffic and, just this once,
let an extra pushy driver squeeze right in.

May you say something real to a harried store clerk …
pat a kitty … give a co-worker a genuine compliment …
take time to listen deeply to a friend.

Mothers come in many shapes and sizes.

So does “mothering.”

May there be room in our hearts, to receive nurturing, and to give.