“Life is a spell so exquisite, that everything conspires to break it.” ~ Emily Dickinson

 

Virginia Woolf’s Writing Table, Monk’s House, by Gisele Freund

“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ~ Rachel Carson

Poets' Walk, Central Park, NY

I woke up speaking French again. Very disconcerting. However, as Corey pointed out, what would be more disconcerting is if I did not actually know French, but I was speaking it in my dreams. Granted, my conversational abilities are very limited, but for some reason, I dream in French occasionally.

It’s absolutely beautiful here today, a perfect spring day. That is, everything would be perfect if not for one thing: yesterday was opening day at the park that our house abuts. Opening day is exactly what it sounds like: the baseball season opening, which means lots of cars beeping their horns, the loudspeaker blaring at 9 in the morning, car alarms, and litter.  Every year, people park illegally in front of our house. I say illegally because of the no-parking signs and the fire hydrant, not because I don’t want them to park there. I try to warn people if I see them parking that they will get a ticket if the police happen by, but they usually just look at me as if I am being the neighborhood bitch.

Hello. Fire hydrant. Blocking it is a bad thing, remember? Oh well.

I’m very excited because season 4 of The Tudors premieres tonight. This will be the last season for the Showtime series, starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Henry VIII. In this season, Henry will marry his last two wives (Katherine Howard and Catherine), get old and fat, and go to war. So far, season 2 has been my favorite.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.” ~ T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Poets' Walk, Clevedon, UK

The news is full of sad things: the death of the Polish president and his contingent while en route to Smolensk, Russia for a memorial. According to news reports, the visit to the Katyn forest was to mark the 70th anniversary of the killing of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret security during World War II, an action that led to a huge rift between Poles and Russians.

In Comfort, West Virginia, the bodies of the four missing miners were found, bringing the total number of those killed to 29. The Upper Big Branch mine disaster is the worst in U.S. history since the 1970 disaster in Kentucky. Apparently, the rescue crews walked past the four bodies that first day, but could not see them because the air was so smoky and dusty.

A Tennessee woman put her seven-year-old adopted Russian son on a plane by himself. The plane was going to Russia, and the ticket was one-way. The mother claims that the boy, renamed Justin, terrified her family by threatening to burn down the house with everyone inside. Now the woman’s family is claiming that the Russian orphanage lied to her about the boy’s behavior problems. So many things wrong with this story, not the least of which is the fact that the woman wasn’t returning a broken vacuum to Wal Mart. The adoptive grandmother bought the ticket, and the family arranged to pay a man in Russia $200 to take Justin from the airport and leave him at the Russian education ministry. A note was sent with the boy that read in part, “After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”

And on another sad note, Dixie Carter, star of television series “Designing Women” has died at the age of 70. I loved wise-cracking Julia Sugerbaker. Like the woman who portrayed her, she was smart, attractive, and took no guff from anyone. Funnily enough, some of my friends used to compare me to Julia Sugerbaker, can’t understand why. Carter was married to actor Hal Holbrook.

“your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose” ~ e. e. cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled”

Poets' Walk, Red Hook (Hudson River Valley), NY

One of my blog friends is packing some books to ship to me. I cannot wait. For me, nothing is better than a box of books, not even a squishy black leather Kenneth Cole purse, if that gives you any idea as to how much I love books. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a Kenneth Cole purse, but since no one is offering . . . Anyway, Kelly is a bibliophile like myself, so she understands just how dispiriting it is not to have books to read, hence her very generous offer to send me some books. In the future, I hope to participate in the Goodreads Book Swap, which is a wonderful idea.

If you love books but have yet to visit the Goodreads site, I suggest you do so soon. Goodreads is a great resource for readers in so many ways. Go to http://www.goodreads.com/. You’ll be glad that you did.

My ex called me last night, just to talk. Wow. I don’t remember seeing the news that hell had frozen over. No really, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a conversation that did not quickly escalate into an argument. He even sounded relatively sober, another first. I did suggest, very gently, that he might want to try to spend a bit more time with his mother as there is no way of knowing how much longer she will be around. I am one of the few people who can get away with saying something like that to him. His sister has tried, but he sees that as her way of trying to tell him how to live his life. I had heard that his girlfriend is moving here from Chicago. He confirmed that she will be here in July. That should be interesting. His last two serious relationships went up in flames. I hope this one works for him.

Now don’t be that way. I’m being sincere. As much as we have our problems—and boy, do we have our problems—I do wish him well. If for no other reason than the fact that when he’s happy, we get along better and can actually have adult conversations that don’t devolve into name-calling. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Eamonn gets along with a new stepmom.

On that note, I think that I’ll close for today with an appropriate quote from Barbara Kingsolver:

“April is the cruelest month, T.S. Eliot wrote, by which I think he meant (among other things) that springtime makes people crazy. We expect too much, the world burgeons with promises it can’t keep, all passion is really a setup, and we’re doomed to get our hearts broken yet again. I agree, and would further add: Who cares? Every spring I go out there anyway, around the bend, unconditionally . . . Come the end of the dark days, I am more than joyful. I’m nuts. “

More later. Peace.

The one and only Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind.” Classic.

And for those of you who loved “Designing Women,” here is a classic Julia Sugerbaker moment:

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“Young cat, if you keep your eyes open enough, oh, the stuff you would learn! The most wonderful stuff!” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham: My Favorite Dr. Seuss Book

 

“Think left and think right and think low and think high.”

“Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!” ~  Oh, The Thinks You Can Think, by Dr. Seuss

One of my regular readers recommended a site that she thought I might find interesting. It’s called Goodreads, and it is a social network for readers. With over 1.2 million members, the site provides a way for members to create their virtual bookshelves.

Dr Seuss Oh The Thinks You Can ThinkAt first glance, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to expend the time or energy on yet another social network. Within three minutes, I was hooked. I have spent the last two days on and off the site. My current pain level, which is hovering between 7 and 8 (out of 10), is making it pretty nigh impossible for me to sit for extended periods (another reason for the laxity in my postings).

Goodreads has proven to be a wonderful balm to my brain. Essentially, it works like this: The site contains the information on over 49 million books (yes, that’s million). By information, I mean everything: the publishing date, the ISBN, information n the publisher, author, genre, number of pages, etc.

Members of the site can search by genre or by lists that are generated by site members. For example, I jumped on lists called “The Book Was Better Than The Movie,” “Books You Must Read Before You Die,” “Best Books Ever,” “Best Science Fiction,” and many, many more. Then I did some searching by genre: classics, biography, crime. As you read through the lists, you rate books that you have read, which automatically adds the books to your personal shelf. You can also highlight books that you want to put on your “to read” list, as well as books that you are in the midst of reading.

If for some reason Goodreads does not contain a book that you have read or in which you are interested, you can add a book. You need to know as much about the book as possible, as in, have it next to  you when you are adding it so that you can consult the publication information page.

I have to admit, though, a few books that I thought that I wouldn’t find were actually already listed.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss I Can Read With My Eyes ShutOne thing that I did not do a lot of was to create reviews of the books that I added to my shelf. At first, I added a few short reviews here and there, but then I decided that I wanted to save the reviewing until after I had completed my first pass at compiling a semi-complete list. That way, I can spend some time on the reviews and add thoughtful comments.

The reviews are intended to help other members in evaluating whether or not they might want to read a book. Since I read book reviews all of the time, I think that this is a great idea. Of course, these reviews are not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, they should be on the short side, something quick and dirty, so to speak.

Another aspect of the site that I haven’t checked out yet is the whole idea of “friends.” I’m not sure how you make them, if you have to make them, if you appear hostile if you don’t actively search for them. Whatever. But apparently, the whole idea of creating a virtual bookshelf is so that your friends can see what you are reading, and check out what you have to say about it. I suppose I’ll get to that sooner or later, as well.

“It’s high time you were shown That you really don’t know All there is to be known.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss On Beyond ZebraI have a feeling that I am going to like this site. It’s somewhat of a bibliophile’s dream site: pictures of books, lists and lists of books, opinions of books—everything but the book itself.

Just in my few short visits, I have already added 653 books. And that doesn’t really reflect all of the classics that I haven’t gone through, or biographies, or poetry, or . . .

I checked out all of the site information (posted at the bottom of the page. Goodreads offers advertising opportunities for authors who want to promote their book(s), allows giveaways, etc. There is also a site blog that is maintained by the individuals who work on the site. In addition, Goodreads posts job openings for their site for anyone who might be interested and qualified. And of course, there is a method for contacting the site with questions or comments.

“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you.” ~ Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

I just wanted to add one of my little bits of personal history here as it directly bears on why I think that Goodreads is such a great find:

Dr Seuss Oh The Places Youll GoWhen I left my job at the Museum (left is such a nice word: laid off because of severe budget cuts is more accurate), I decided to spend more time on my freelance writing and editing. A very good friend of mine at the time decided to expand his business empire (loose use of word) by opening a men’s clothing store. The idea was that I would work for him by managing the store, and he would provide an office in which I could work on my writing. The space he provided was very roomy, and it contained several built-in bookshelves.

I nested immediately, as I am prone to do in any space that I occupy. Part of that nesting included bringing in my writer’s reference books, and since I had so many shelves, I also brought in my poetry collection. In all, I had about 150 books in my office.

Now I need to stop here to insert a very important fact: the building in which the store was located was very old. The heater was this huge monstrosity that was mounted to the ceiling. I was always in fear that the heating unit would fall on me because it never looked very sturdy.

The usual routine was that I would open the store every day, and around 2 in the afternoon, after his restaurant’s lunch rush, the owner would come by to check on things. One afternoon, I was sitting in my office space, and the owner was on the sales floor. The two were only divided by a three-quarter wall that did not go to the ceiling. I heard my friend calling my name, but I was very engrossed in something, so I did not respond immediately. Then he called me again, and I detected a not of panic in his voice.

“The store is on fire,” he said. I just stood there frozen. Finally, he yelled at me that we had to get out. I quickly grabbed the pictures of my family from my desk, and one framed photograph that was very old. I took a second to look around, realizing that everything on those shelves was about to be obliterated.

My friend grabbed my arm and hustled me out the front door. We got outside, and someone called the fire department. At this point, I think that I must have been in shock because I grabbed the handle to the front door and opened it. All I saw was black smoke. One of the firefighters later told me that I could have caused a flashpoint and an explosion if I had let enough oxygen into the room.

“So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a great balancing act.” ~ Oh The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss Cat in the HatThey were able to stop the fire without much destruction to the building, which made the other tenants pretty happy. Once we were let back inside, the fire investigator was standing under the heating unit shaking his head. It was pretty obvious what had started the fire: the coil that attached the heater to the electrical source was old and bent, and as a result, it had sparked, and since the store was full of lots of burnable material, that is, clothes, it didn’t take long for the spark to turn into a fire.

After the firefighters had declared it safe to go back into the building, I walked through the piles of wet clothes on the showroom floor towards the door to my office. I had remembered to close it when I walked out. I admit that I was completely paralyzed by the image of what might lay beyond that closed door. Amazingly, none of my books or pictures had burned, but everything was severely smoke damaged.

In the end, many of my books were able to be saved because I used my homeowner’s policy to cover my personal damage. The insurance company sent someone out to my house to evaluate the status of my belongings. Fortunately, there was a process that the cleaning company used whereby they wiped every single page of a book with some kind of wipe that removed the smoke smell and soot from the pages.

The other good thing was that I had kept an inventory of all of the books that I had taken to the office, so I was able to reconcile my inventory with what made it out of the burned store.

“Oh the things you can find if you don’t stay behind.” ~ On Beyond Zebra, by Dr. Seuss

Dr Seuss One Fish Two FishI mention all of this for two reasons: First, I have never updated my book inventory. I have plans to do so once we finally finish the remodeling of the house, and I have the built-in bookcases that Corey promised me.

Second, and this is very significant, I can now use Goodreads to create an online inventory of all of my books. I cannot recall every book that I own from memory, but by scanning the site’s inventory, I will be able to create a very good online inventory.

How will it be accurate, you ask? Well, I may have mentioned that I’m a bibliophile, and I am also a hoarder of a few things, one of them being books. I buy every book that I read, and I never give away books unless I absolutely hated them. So just about every book on my virtual bookshelf will be a book that I have in my possession, even though in possession at the moment means in storage containers.

“If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” ~ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss

So, if you love books as much as I do, be sure to check out Goodreads. You can click on the link in the paragraph above. And if you decide to join, don’t forget to friend me (friend as a verb? appalling), or whatever it is you do to let someone know that you visited.

Seriously though, it’s a great way to spend some time immersed in book titles long forgotten.

See you around the bookshelves.

You’ll get mixed up of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
And remember that Life’s a great balancing act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

~ From Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss

More later. Peace.

“Most people do not consider dawn to be an attractive experience – unless they are still up.” ~ Ellen Goodman

woman-sleeping-by-sandor-liezen-mayer-1867 

 “Woman Sleeping” by Sándor Liezen-Mayer (1867)

“The worse thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s 5 a.m. Do you know where your good night’s sleep has gone?

sleeping-on-keyboardOkay, so it’s been one of those nights. I fell asleep relatively early for me, around 12:30, but then I woke up around 1:30 and haven’t been able to recapture the bliss of a good night’s sleep since. I finally decided at 5:30 to get up and make myself some tea and begin my day by reading some regular blogs. I also thought that if I went ahead and began today’s post that I might be able to lull myself to sleep with the rhythmic sound of the keyboard.

What I did achieve was waking up Corey around 5:45 who wanted to know what I was doing. Nothing. Go back to sleep. And he promptly did.

I hate nights like these. I dose for a few minutes, then toss and turn, but never manage to get into REM. I listened to the sound of the fan, the sound of the toads, the sound of the birds. I let the dogs out twice (they were very confused as they normally only go out once around 3 a.m.). The reality is that I haven’t actually slept through the night since Alexis was born, but I do know how to stumble out to the dining room to let the dogs out (Shakes initiates it) and then still go back to sleep.

Not this morning, though. There was no sleep for this woman. Of course, that didn’t keep Shakes from curling into my side and snoring loudly.

When I let the dogs out, it was lovely outside: cool air, the sounds of nearby birdsong drifting in. Of course, it’s supposed to get up to 91° today. With any luck, I’ll be able to sleep later this morning for little while at least.

I read a post on Maureen’s blog (White Orchid), and she’s getting snow. Of course, she’s in Australia, so her seasons are the opposite of our seasons. With 91° expected here, I think that I might actually enjoy some snow. It’s like I said, we just don’t get much of a spring, which is unfortunate because I love spring.

“For the economy I want workers and consumers to have control over their own economic lives. I want everyone to have fair conditions that fully utilize their talents and potentials.” ~ Michael Albert 

golden-books-tugboat
Classic Golden Book: Scuffy the Tugboat

That would be a nice change for him, for all of us, actually.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself (ourselves?). Corey is being cautious as ever. Can’t say that I blame him though.

“With the changing economy, no one has lifetime employment. But community college provide lifetime employability.”  ~ Barack Obama

After all of my anticipation yesterday, I was too tired to watch Law & Order Criminal Intent. Good thing that it’s recorded. I had never planned to watch it live. I prefer to watch the recorded show so that I can speed through all of the commercials. In particular, all of the car commercials.

It seems that every car company in existence is offering incredible deals, which really bites when you need a car but cannot possibly purchase one. I was just reading that used car prices are down by about 17 percent, 9 percent since January of this year (Consumer Price Index). New car prices have dropped about 3 percent. Great for consumers, bad for car companies.

In fact, the article was discussing those things that have gotten cheaper versus those items that have gotten more expensive since last year. The price drops are pretty predictable: homes, cars, electronics, airfares, alternative energy, toys, and clothing. Prices are on the rise for food, medical care, prescription drugs, college tuition, gasoline, garbage collection (huh?), and beer (too funny) (http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/SaveMoney/7-things-getting-cheaper-7-that-are-not.aspx?Gt1=33009?slide-number=1).

So let me get this straight. The things that we really need (except for beer) are getting more expensive. The things that we might like to have but don’t need to survive are getting less expensive. Makes perfect sense.

“Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection.” ~ Pindar

Now I have to take exception with another article that I read on MSN Money: “Gift Cards Are Not Gifts,” in which  the contention is that giving someone a gift card is a faux pas because gift cards are not truly gifts . I believe that this statement can be both true and false.(http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/FindDealsOnline/GiftCardsAreNotGifts.aspx)

rack-of-gift-cardsFor example, someone who doesn’t have a clue about shopping and doesn’t particularly care about personalizing usually relies on gift cards. This can be seen as being lazy, or it can be viewed as better than nothing, particularly when you know that the card came from one of those all-purpose gift card racks at a convenience store.

“Hey look. One-stop shopping, and I can get my beer, too.”

Getting a gift card from a significant other: big no-no. Reeks of ‘I asked someone to pick this up for me because I just didn’t want to take the time to put any thought into a special present for you.’ Can you imagine being presented with a gift card to a jewelry store instead of the jewelry? Ooh. Not good. Kind of like getting a toaster on Mother’s Day.

And let’s face it. What is a five-year-old going to do with a gift card? Get her a talking book so that she can learn to appreciate books from an early age.

However, I honestly believe that there are several situations in which buying a gift card for someone is better than buying a gift. Big example: teenagers. Try buying a shirt for a teenager. Chances are very good that unless said teenager was with you during purchase, the t-shirt will never be worn. You will receive a half-hearted thanks, and the t-shirt will be consigned to the never going to wear pile.

Buying a gift card for a teenager is truly akin to giving him or her money, but the gift card is more responsible. Money will be frittered away in the late-night drive through at McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but a gift card to a store that you know they like and can use is a different story. And trust me, a gift card from a favorite store will get you a big smile and a sincere thank you. If nothing else, a gift card from Target is multi-purpose: consider make-up, cd’s, dvd’s, doo-dads for the car . . . you get the picture.

Another instance when a gift card would be a good idea is you have an elderly person for whom you are buying. Consider a gift card to a grocery store or a gift certificate to a cleaning service or a service that does yard work or washes windows. Elderly relatives do not want another vase, nor do they really need a box of chocolates because chances are they are on some kind of regimented diet. But I advise the gift card to the grocery store with a caveat: offer to drive them. Then you can unload the groceries, and the gift card becomes more personal.

Another person who will appreciate a gift card is a bibliophile like myself. Personally, I would much rather have a gift card to Barnes & Noble than just about anything else from people who do not know me well. With that little piece of plastic in my hand, I can go to the bargain book shelves and peruse for hours, or I can purchase that new title that I’ve been anticipating.

A particularly good gift card for someone who is starting out in the workforce is a gas gift card. Chances are good that this person has not factored in the cost of commuting yet and will be surprised when the gas gauge begins to drift towards E faster than usual.

A good gift card for a co-worker is one for a restaurant that you know he or she likes, or, as in my case, to Starbucks. One year a sales rep gave me a gift card to Starbucks, and she made me happy for a week. If she had given me a box of imported cookies or chocolate, I would have felt compelled to share them and to eat them.

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I think, though, that that pretty much exhausts the justifiable situations for giving a gift card. In situations with immediate family members, I take a lot of time and care in selecting presents that are personalized. Sometimes I’ll buy a frame and insert one of my better photographs. My mother-in-law has received a few of these, and she really likes them.

Other good personalized presents include favorite things like gourmet hot chocolate mix for Eamonn, who can’t get enough of the stuff in the winter. Or socks, yes socks, for Brett, who seems to eat them because they disappear so fast. All of my children look forward to their package of new underwear and socks at Christmas. Go figure.

But really, it’s the presents that are made or bought with the heart that count the most. The first year that Corey and I were together, I made him a decorated journal. I used to do this for special occasions for people. I take a big blank journal, and then I paste in pictures that I have collected out of magazines, postcards, cards, quotes that I have typed, photographs—things that remind me of that person.

cigar-boxWhenever I come across an interesting-looking picture in a magazine, I’ll cut it out for future books, and I usually store my pictures in old cigar boxes, or if those are overflowing, I find larger decorated boxes, especially for the larger pictures. I have a lot of images from my collages stored in these boxes as well.

It’s actually a pretty labor intensive project, but it is so rewarding once I have finished it and given it to the person for whom I have made it.  I made one for my therapist when she had her first child. I made one for Alexis when she graduated from high school. I plan to make one each for Eamonn and Brett for their graduations. Presents such as these finished books cannot be found in any store, and, I hope, they reflect all of the love that I feel for that person. 

The bitter irony of this is that I began making my decorated books years before scrap booking was a verb in the lexicon of arts and crafts. My therapist asked me if I thought that there was money to be made in such an endeavor, and I told her that I didn’t really think so since the decorated journals were so personalized. Well, we all know how wrong I was about that. I could have been on the forefront of a new wave. Oh well. It’s really just as well. I probably couldn’t handle all of the fame.

On that note, more later. Peace.