Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

by Lisa See


With much consideration, I give this book 4 stars.

From the very beginning, I became enthralled with foot binding. Call it a morbid fascination if you will, but I longed to understand the culture better to know why this torture was done in the name of fashion.

The story flowed well and held my unwavering interest until the Rice and Salt years. I am sure I could have written this section much better. At times I found it choppy. This section alone, because of the dragging seemed to emphasize the “Oh, somebody died! Oh, something horrible happened!” undercurrent that plagued this book. Luckily, I was able to rise above that and see through to the story of life-long friendship.

Truthfully, if you can get past the doom and gloom that I’m sure accompanied this time period in China’s history, it’s a beautiful story about innocent childhood love, about finding your same-sex soulmate and how even though humans try to be completely open and honest with each other, it is in our nature to hide the painful and humiliating parts of our lives. And that as humans, we really don’t want to hear other people’s tales of woe, that even in deep, abiding friendships, we are perhaps not as compassionate as we could be, even to those we love.

Ask yourself this: When is the last time someone asked you how your day was and you gave a completely honest and open answer? Do you usually give the ritualized, expected pat answer of, “Fine”, because we all know that people really DON’T want to hear how you are? Or were you completely open and honest? And if you were, did people’s eyes glaze over or did they find an excuse to scurry away? Because, that is something that seems to happen often in our culture. We just expect everyone to say, “Oh, fine!” so we can carry on about our business, wrapped in our selfish, self-insulated cocoon we build ourselves and only concern ourselves with our own worries.

Apparently in China, way back when, it was different. Everyone acknowledged suffering. But EVERYONE experienced the same sort of suffering, which apparently made the suffering ok in that culture. Instead of the pat answer of “Oh, fine!”, women would complain to other women with standard answers about being unworthy, worthless and a disappointment. I’m not sure this is better than American culture today, but perhaps it was more honest. Perhaps if you were suffering and you knew that others were suffering as well, it made your burden more bearable. Where in comparison, “Oh, fine!” makes it sound like life is good for other people, and deep down we may feel our lives suck, leaving us to feel worse about our own life, because everyone else’s is apparently peachy keen!  (Hmm…  I wonder if there is a higher rate of teen suicide because of this practice per capita.  I suppose we can’t exactly go back and do a study now…)

Anyways, I liked the overall theme of the story, and I enjoyed the setting, even if the book itself was grim in many places.  It’s definitely worth a read to get a glimpse into another culture and learn about some not too long ago practices of their bygone eras.  I do not think I particularly want to see the film though.  Might be a bit too depressing.

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This afternoon, my study session with Dude was interrupted by a couple loud thumps on my front porch.  My house shook with the thumps.  When I went out to find out the cause, I found a small white box that the mailman apparently “dropped”.  (Cranky, maybe?)

Once inside, I opened the box (photo withheld to keep address private), and this is what I found:


Yummy Chummies for the dogs!

Books and keychains!

Did you get a close enough look at the cheese?  Well, look again:


Thank you, AKPonyGirl, this is one of the most touching gifts I’ve ever received.  We will think of you with every bite!

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I recently finished Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: Family, Friendships, and Faith in Small-town Alaska by Heather Lende.

Here’s my quick little blurb I left as a review on Goodreads:

Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs is the last message anyone received from the author’s mother before she passed away. After her own near fatal accident, author Heather Lende writes about her thoughts on life and death in small town Alaska.

I loved that this book brought a piece of my home state back to me, Alaska, even though I’ve never been to the southeastern part of the state. Additionally, this book cleared up a mystery for me as to why a large percentage of Alaskan Natives don’t know a lot about their culture. It was interesting to learn that missionaries, most notably the future governor, John Green Brady, worked hard to eliminate the “heathen” cultures. I was happy to hear that some native culture, most notably Tlingit culture survives today.

My favorite lines in the book are where the author is talking about a woman, a resident of Haines, AK named Mimi, who had recently passed away in her tenth decade of life.  Mimi’s story is interesting as her husband invested in a closed military base as their new home and Mimi moved to Alaska aboard a steamship with her two children and retired opera singer mother-in-law in 1947.  (What a story already before life in Alaska, I bet!)

“Mimi’s story is both whacky and typical of twentieth-century Alaskan pioneers.  They were not what you’d expect.  It is no doubt as to why Alaskans, especially women, remain so hard to pin to a stereotype.”

Thank you, Heather Lende.  God did break the mold when he created Alaskan women and future Alaskan women.

For me, this book was a little trip back home for this transplanted Alaskan girl.

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Book List 2011

For the last 2 years I’ve set my reading goal to be 35 books.  I surpassed that goal last year, totalling 43 books.  Before the end of this year is out, I’ll have reached more than 50.  (I’ve discontinued my book pages here in favor of the Good Reads button on the side).

I’d like to change things up a bit for next year and make more of a challenge.  I plan to read 15 classics and as many other books as I choose.  I have not defined this challenge for myself beyond that, yet.  I’ve thought about making it 5 modern classics, 5 poetry or essay type classics and 5 pre-war classics.  But, as of yet, I’m undecided.

I’ve also thought about selecting the 15 books ahead of time, as a “mandatory” list.  Or, I could just wing it as read whatever classic I feel like reading at the time.

Any suggestions, thoughts or ideas?  Any book suggestions?

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A couple months ago, I won a book over at Stone SouP.  Katrina, blog owner and dear friend, has a weekly book giveaway.  This was the first time I’d won after entering nearly every week for the last two years.  During that time, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Katrina, talking sustainable farming and horses, reading book reviews and happenings in her life.

The drawing I entered and won was for a book of my choice.  I chose Mini-Farming- Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre by Brett L. Markham, as we have less land and less space here in Georgia.  Of course, I chose this book before finding out the LL would not let me put in a garden at all!  However, I still read and enjoyed the book.  After all, there’s always something to learn and store away for future knowledge, right?  Right!

One of the first things you notice upon picking up this book is that it’s hefty in weight and filled with photographs.  Author Brent L. Markham covers nearly every topic under the sun for how to make your land self-sustaining on just a quarter of an acre.  Hard to believe you could do such a thing on such little land, I know!  He delves into the realm of square foot gardening, traditional double digging, the pros and cons of various fertilizer and other money saving tips and techniques.  Mr. Markham even talks about growing and processing your own grains, something which I had never considered or thought could even be accomplished on less than an acre before.

Mini-Farming talks about the pros and cons of each type of crop, how to get the most bang for your buck, what fruits might produce the best and provide the largest crop, how to amend your soil, even how much food to grow per person in your household.  Additionally, this book gives ideas of how to even generate some additional income with the crops you grow.

*If you are at all squeamish, please skip the next paragraph.

Mr. Markham does a wonderful job walking the reader through how to raise your own chickens for meat and eggs.  He discusses tools of the trade, shows a photo of a cone set up for butchering, and once plucked, how to cut up your food.  He even includes plans for a homemade chicken plucker, something I appreciate if I ever get the chance to raise any of my own food again.

However, he does not discuss raising rabbits, which are prolific breeders and not overly expensive to keep.  Nor does he mention that their droppings can be immediately applied to the garden as fertilizer, not having to “cool” as other manures can require so as to not burn the roots of plants with the nitrogen content.  (Yes, this is something I’ve considered recently).

I love that this book walks you through putting up and storing your produce.  From canning to freezing, drying and saving seeds, the methods are shown in photo and explained so they can easily be followed by anyone.  To me, some methods of canning have always been intimidating after growing up hearing horror stories of what can go wrong with pressure canning.  But here, Mr. Markham directly addresses those fears, leaving one feeling confident enough to try the techniques he discusses.

In short, I think this book is a wonderful education guide for anyone looking to grow even a small part of their own food but feel intimidated to try.  Having read a lot of other books on this topic, I feel this is the most user and beginner friendly book I’ve seen so far.  I highly recommend it to anyone interested in sustainable farming.

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I am currently falling in love with a sci-fi/fantasy novel.  It’s called Sunshine by Robin McKinley.  Honestly, I bought this book because I loved the cover.  It appealed to me in a dark sort of sense.  The book is loaded with vampires, which I’m rather tired and burned out on, except in this case.  I’m loving it for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Shadowrun like qualities of this world the author has created.  Whereas, it is both fairly modern and yet post apocalyptic.  There are no orcs or trolls running around, but there are werewolves and magic users.

Yes, I’m geek enough to know what Shadowrun is and miss it rather dreadfully as a roleplaying game.  You see, once upon a time, when I was in high school dating The Marine, I learned to game.  The agreement was that he would tolerate country music if I learned to game.  I learned and enjoyed it, but he always found a way around listening to country with me.  Or any other music I liked for that matter.

In high school, I was Country, when country wasn’t cool.  While most kids were wearing MC Hammer pants or going for the grunge look, which was just coming into style for the guys, I wore my Wranglers and boots to school because often, I’d go riding after school and it was convienent.  I stood out in a crowd.  When I wasn’t dressed like a hick, I was preppy or rather goth, though Goth wouldn’t be a term used at my school for at least another 5 years.  You never knew what you were going to get when I arrived each morning.  Often, what I wore depended on my mood.

Oh, there was the black and white plaid, pleated skirt complete with tights, flats and a sweater, if I felt like dressing up a bit.  Or, the black harley shirt and skin tight black jeans (did I mention I dyed my hair nearly black to hide the red during this time?), or a mix there of.  I never fit in, but I was wholy me in dress.  I listened to alternative and country.  In their early days, Nirvana played my home town before making it big and changing the face of music.  I liked them well enough, but I was much more of a Toby Keith and Trisha Yearwood kind of girl, sprinkled liberally with Danzig, The Cure and Marty Stewart while everyone else was listening to Warrant, Mariah Carey, Cypress Hill, Run DMC and Boys II Men.

I didn’t fit in with any particular crowd, though I was friendly with all of them.  A couple years later, I’d ran into one of the most popular girls at school in the grocery store, complete with The Marine and a three year old Kitty in tow.  She gushed at me and said how excited she was to see me.  I must have looked very puzzled when she said she was surprised I remembered who I was.  My response was that why wouldn’t I?  She was popular and well known by EVERYBODY.  It was at that moment she told me she was jealous of ME back in high school.  Me, who didn’t ever feel like I fit in, who was never elected for homecoming court or prom or anything else, ever because according to her, I was the popular one, had so many friends and was well liked by everyone.

I was flabberghasted.  Was this a trick?  Was she being mean and hurtful?  How could I be so popular?  I spent my free time with my horse while The Marine was off at Basic Training and then on for schooling.  I spent my waking hours away from school either working, at the barn or home, alone.  I wasn’t busy being invited out to join anybody doing anything.  I’d always felt like the odd duck out.  Just me, unique, but like a square peg that doesn’t sit just comfortably in round hole it’s placed in.

Looking back now, I see that perhaps I was a bit of a trendsetter.  After all, I wore my Ropers and Wranglers for years.  It was only my senior year that anyone else started to wear them, and then it was the Wanna Be Cowboy group with their overly large belt buckles that talked of playing with steers riding bulls.  I remember laughing at them or sneering with disdain because I knew they’d never sat a horse.

So, that was me, back in high school.  Not a Nerd.  Or a Geek.  Or one of the Alternative crowd.  Or a Stoner.  Or, or, or!  I was ever and always am, just me.  Sometimes, it’s still not really comfortable.  But it’s always really, really real.

We’ve always been told not to judge a book by it’s cover.  But sometimes, if you do, what you find beneath that cover is really out of the ordinary and beyond whatever you imagined it held within.

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I recently stumbled across an article that talked about how West Marion High School in Foxworth, Mississippi banned the book Farenheit 451 in 1998 from it’s English classes.  For years, this book had been part of the curriculm, but a parent complained that “God damn” appeared in the book.  While I understand that this language may offend some people, it is a phrase that is commonly heard out in society today.

I find it highly ironic that this school banned the story that talks about what a society that bans books might be like.   Really?  This one?  Did the parent complaining not bother to read the story?  Or are they no better than the fireman in the story that confiscated books and burned them?

It’s banned book week (Sept 26- Oct 2, 2010).  What is your favorite banned book and why?

Mine is simple.  It’s Fahrenheit 451.  I can’t imagine what life would be like without books.  And I hope I never have to find out.

Not sure what’s been banned?  Here’s a couple links for you:

Banned Books (A-I)

Banned Books (J-Z)

Books banned in the United States

American Library Association Top 100 Banned Books for 2000-2009

In honor of Banned Book Week, won’t you please read a banned book?  I’ll be reading A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle with Dude.

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I have to admit, I thought this clip was put together rather well.

When I saw the commercial stating that Eclipse was one of the best movies of the summer, I began to worry that didn’t bode well for other movies coming out.  Not if Eclipse was the standard being used.  To me, the cgi even seemed hokey.

I still don’t get the whole Twilight lust going on with women.  Tweens, yes.  Adult women, no.  Women fought so hard for equality, yet many adult women are willing to throw it all away for a pompous, over-bearing jerk like Edward?  Really??

I am still seriously considering burning my copies of the series.  Considering, as actually burning a book may cause me great anguish.  (After all, my elementary school librarian always said that books are our friends, a lesson I took to heart).

However, the Twilight saga is still the biggest piece of drivel I’ve ever read.  Poor writing, lack of research and then tampering with accepted lore in such an outrageous way!  I’m pretty sure my 9 yr olds could write a more entertaining and better written tale.

Really, my friends, I know several of you just love Twilight.  I don’t get it.  Why?  Why is it so appealing?

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Bereavement.  What does it look like?  What does it feel like?  How do you go forward and continue on with life?  Simply put, it will be different for each person.  In Losing Charlotte, Heather Clay makes an admirable attempt to portray the answers to these questions with her main characters, Bruce and Knox.

When new mother Charlotte passes away suddenly right after the birth of her twins, her husband, Bruce, and sister, Knox, are left behind, trying to pick up the pieces and move forward for the sake of the newborn babies.  The grief and the coping mechanisms each use look different, feel different.   Knox looks back and idealizes growing up with Charlotte.  Bruce, goes numb, barely functioning with the schedule he set for the twins and cloistering himself away from life.  But yet, life goes forward and each of the characters grows from the tragedy, learning something about themselves, Charlotte and each other along the way.

This book looks at how adults cope with the sudden, tragic loss of a loved one and the stages gone through until each can come out the other side better, stronger and capable of carrying on.   Heather Clay does a great job showcasing the numbness that seems to be required to carry on with life after a great loss, although at times the book seems to be a bit weighed down by it and is slow to move forward.

Any book about bereavement is a tough sell, let alone tough to write.  Portraying maternal death is even tougher.  Due to the subject matter, I sometimes found this book tough to connect with.   I give props to Ms. Clay for her willingness to tackle such a tough situation.

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In Honor of Dexter…

I thought I’d do a book giveaway!

First, let’s talk Dexter!  

It’s been 12 days since he came home.  During those 12 days Dexter has:

learned to walk on a leash

learned to master the stairs 

began to seek out human contact

decided to sleep under my desk during the day

ate! That’s a huge accomplishment since he didn’t really for the first few days!

Has only pottied outside

decided that Maddie is not a dog-eating monster

sniffed noses with Mo and Sloan

has come to accept that doors are walls that move and aren’t going to eat him

All of these things are HUGE accomplishments in such a short period of time!  We still have a long, long way to go though.  We’ll get there, I’m sure.  

Dex is also still nervous with the other dogs.  He snapped at Copper once and hasn’t come out to investigate any of them.  We’ll do some on leash introductions this weekend.  

Now, for what you’ve all been waiting for!

I am giving away one copy of The Dogs Who Found Me: What I’ve Learned From Pets Who Were Left Behind by Ken Foster.  

This will ship to the winner directly from Amazon.  

Please leave a comment telling me about a rescue pet that touched your life in order to be entered.  Contest open to all residents of the US and Canada.  I will draw the winner’s name on Friday, Feb 12th, 2010.

Next time you’re looking for a pet, I hope you consider your local animal shelter.  Save a life, adopt a homeless pet!

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