Monday, April 30, 2007

Linky dinks and a recap

Just a few things worth mentioning:

The latest issue of Estella's Revenge is all ready and very spiffy-looking. You can read my review of The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, here. Congrats to Andi and Heather on another terrific issue!

I can't remember if I've mentioned Daily Lit, a site where you can sign up to receive daily excerpts of various works by email. Last night, I got so caught up in the reading of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself that I kept sending for excerpts until I'd read 15 of them. And, then the 16th didn't show up because of an email snafu, so I took a bath. While it's a little uncomfortable reading off a computer screen for long, it's a nice option.

Here's a recap of what I read in April:

The Moon on a Stick - Valerie-Anne Baglietto
In the Cut - Susannah Moore (not recommended)
20th-Century Ghosts - Joe Hill
The Sex Lives of Cannibals - J. Maarten Troost
Start Late, Finish Rich - David Bach (not recommended, although certain portions are useful)
Don't Kiss Them Goodbye - Allison DuBois
Earthly Joys - Philippa Gregory
The Secret Lives of People in Love - Simon Van Booy
The Ladies of Grace Adieu - Susanna Clarke

Most were very enjoyable reads. I have recently added a link to my 2007 reads in my sidebar and plan to eventually update the page to include books read in 2005 and 2006 and, hopefully, add a bit more information. At this point, it's just a list that includes title, author and number of pages.

The animal life avoided me, today, apart from a lizard. Darn. It was a really cute lizard, though. Here's a closeup of his cute little reptile face:

I love that shade of green. There is another lizard hanging out with this fellow in or around our herb garden (a light brown one) and I'm guessing they're a couple. Awwww, how sweet.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Five Favorite Restaurants and other jazz

I've been tagged by the lovely Nat of In Spring it is the Dawn for a Restaurant Meme, so I'll write up my meme answers before sinking into chatter mode.

The rules:

1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you. Include the state and country you’re in.

Nicole Tan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
bookfool (Mississippi, USA)

2. List out your top 5 favorite places to eat at your location.

3. Tag 5 other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.

I can tell you, to begin with, that there aren't any places at all, locally, that excite me like . . . say, like a good book. So, I'll go with our area, as a whole, and throw in one restaurant I like in Vicksburg (but which doesn't make me jump up and down, oh well).

My five favorite restaurants:

1. Taylor Grocery in Taylor, Mississippi - Even after 20 years in Mississippi, catfish still turned me off till recently. Something about the idea of catfish being "bottom-feeders", possibly. But, Taylor Grocery (Taylor is near Oxford, home of the University of Misssissippi and Faulkner's Rowan Oak) reformed me, forever. The food was so melt-in-your-mouth good, the catfish so perfectly crispy and tender at the same time . . . seriously, I could imagine myself as Meg Ryan in the diner scene of When Harry Met Sally, but the ecstasy would be real instead of fake and over food instead of a guy. It's that good.

While writing this post, I've realized that atmosphere and service are absolutely critical or I'll ditch a restaurant, no matter how terrific the food. Taylor Grocery has excellent service, a down-home country atmosphere and even live music. It's worth a cross-country drive. But, I
only have to drive about 3 1/2 hours to get there.

2. Madre in Oxford, Mississippi (no website available) - Bear in mind that we're still discussing places that require a three-hour drive from my home (close enough). Madre is a Mexican restaurant situated on Oxford's lovely town square. If you order guacamole they bring a little rolling cart with a drawer of ingredients from which you can choose, so your guacamole is specialized with just the right amount of various spices. Cool. At right is my a photo of my husband's meal from our last visit to Oxford: fish tacos. Excellent. I stole a bite, of course

3. Bottletree Bakery in Oxford, Mississippi (no website) - Of course, the baked goods are to die for, but the surprising food at Bottletree is the soup. No matter what kind of homemade soup they whip up (and I promise you, Bottletree is not a can-opening type of place), it is just flat amazing. Unfortunately, you have to get there at just the right time to get soup. Too early and they haven't finished cooking. Too late and it's gone. Well, of course. I used to think I hated soup. Not if it's from Bottletree. The interior is very quirky and artistic, another thing I tend to love in a favorite restaurant.

4. Keifer's in Jackson, Mississippi - Again, I can't find a website, but I see that Keifer's is described as "Greek-American food with a Southern bent". Oh, my. Is that a weird description, or what? Maybe it's the greasy cottage fries that lend it the "Southern bent" bit. Definitely not the place I go for healthy food, as we dip our cottage fries in some kind of heavy cheese sauce that makes me drool just thinking about it. Keifer's typically has excellent service and they have the advantage of a choice between seating inside (the interior has a lot of Greek memorabilia and some old travel posters - kind of cute) or outside on one of two decks. We almost always sit outside.

5. Billy's Italian Villa in Vicksburg, Missisippi- I was going to write about a local hotel restaurant with a French chef and then I started the entry and realized . . . oh, my gosh . . . it could never be a favorite because the atmosphere is cold-shoulder, crappy-service supremo. Okay, so ditch that and let's go with one that has tremendous service. Billy actually lives just down the block from us and the restaurant is a little thing tucked into the corner beside the office of our outlet mall. Before Billy's arrived, many other little establishment's came and went in that mall corner, usually with awful food and sassy service. Billy runs it with family and a few other hires. The food is consistent and probably very, very bad for the hips but absolutely delicious. And, the service is tremendous. The atmosphere is bland but there's so little we like locally (especially with reasonable service) that we always enjoy going there.

I just recently began taking photos of food and interiors of restaurants, so there aren't any photos to go with #'s 4 and 5, sorry. Now for the tagging:

Tag! You're it! Okay, yes, I'm being lazy because I'm a little under the weather and don't feel like doing a lot of blog-hopping, this weekend.


Still having a little trouble concentrating to read, so I'm halfway into three books. I'm enjoying all three. It's fun revisiting Victoria the vampire slayer in Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason, I love JoJo Moyes' writing and am thoroughly hooked by Foreign Fruit, and Hank has some fascinating little tidbits of life experience to share in A Spoonful of Humor. So, while I'm not doing a great job of concentrating, I'm reading some very good books.

Just walked in: Pressed Pennies by Steven Manchester, a book to review for Estella's Revenge. It looks great and I see he's written about his war experiences in Desert Storm, also. Uh-oh. You know how much I love those war memoirs.

Due to the fact that I've slept off most of the weekend, I've hardly taken any photos at all. That is a strange feeling, I must say. I think I also forgot to mention that the newspaper published a second one of my photos, so they've printed 2 out of the 3 that I sent them for consideration. Last week's was a photo of wisteria dangling over bricks, which some of you may remember from one of my Wahoo! Wednesday posts (not the same one, but I took several). Unfortunately, I didn't bother to correct the misspelling of my name because I figured they wouldn't print any more. Oopsy.

My camera is occasionally doing something terribly hinky. Here are two photos which the camera claims were taken at the same shutter speed and aperture, but obviously something went very wrong on the first exposure:

This has happened several times, now, but in the other cases I simply got a black frame - totally black. Hmm. The only other photos I've taken, this weekend, were a few that I took of the husband mowing the yard. I wanted to practice panning a little, as I haven't done that in a very long time. Here's my favorite practice shot:

In case anyone is wondering, I didn't touch up the color. Our yard really is that green. Mississippi is a very colorful place.

Hope everyone has had a great weekend! I'm off to stick my nose in a book.

Cheers from Bookfool

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Thursday Thoughts

No thirteen for me, today. Instead, just an anecdote and some other chatter.

I completely forgot to mention yesterday's best moment! I rushed to move a tipsy planter and some other items I thought were likely to be damaged if an approaching storm produced the seventy mile-per-hour winds predicted. As I stepped inside, our black cat, Spooky, ran out the door. "Oh, no you don't!" I said, and swooped her up to keep her out of the imminent downpour. I opened the back door, once again, and Sunshine ran out. So, without putting Spooky down, I ran and snatched up the other cat. I had a black cat under my left arm, an orange cat in my right and the black cat was hissing at the orange but we made it inside and two minutes later the sky cracked open and let loose a deluge. Spooky jumped up on the windowsill and I said, "See! See! That's why I brought you back inside!" She gave me the blinky look of contentment. More than likely, the cat already had forgotten she wanted to go outside just minutes before, but who knows.

Still reading verrrrry slowly. It will probably be a few days before I post a book review.

Just arrived from Paperback Swap:
A House in Corfu by Emma Tennant
Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II
The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Just FYI:
Some of my books are also going out the door.

Kind of comforting knowing:
The youngest is taking lifesaving. You know, just in case one of us someday clutches his or her chest and collapses or starts to drown. Again, you never know.

I am migraine-free, today!
Thought you'd like to know and thanks to those who posted well wishes!!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

It's a little harder to do a Wahoo! Wednesday post when it's raining and you have a migraine; so, I'm going to just think positive and use the rain as a jumping-off point.

Things (and people) I feel like saying Wahoo! about, today:

1. Rain. Oh, how hard was that? No, seriously, rain gives me a day off from watering the plants. It usually gives me a day off from swim runs (apparently, not so with lifesaving). And, a rainy day is a fantastic excuse to curl up and read, of course!

2. I am so, so thankful for modern medicine - particularly painkillers, right now. I went many years without any kind of relief for excruciating migraines and while medication doesn't always work, it often does. Modern medicine has also kept my mother alive for 17 years; she was declared completely cured of one cancer and is in remission from a second. That's pretty freaking amazing, if you ask me.

3. Wahoo for the crazy dog, above, who made us laugh, yesterday.

4. My two kids - I'm grateful that they are proving themselves to be decent, hard-working, well-adjusted people. And, they both love to read! I feel so privileged to be a mother to my boys.

There were several other things I wanted to say and poof!, they are gone from my brain. I have no idea what they were. So, I'll just make this another short post.

Happy Wednesday!

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories
Bloomsbury (hardback)
Copyright 2006
235 pages

Mr. Aubrey is writing downe all that he can remember of the customes of former times. He smells of brandy and chalke and is finely spotted all over with Inke. He haz pieces of paper in all his pockets on which he is writing his Histories. He is a Member of the Royal society. He is my deare Friend. He is putting down all the lives of Great and Ingeniose men so that their Genius may not be forgot. Mr. Aubrey sayz that he is like a man plucking out spars and relicks from the Shipwreck of Time and tossing them upon the sand. But, sayz Mr. Aubrey, the Waters of Oblivion have the best of it.

--From On Lickerish Hill

I picked up The Ladies of Grace Adieu from my library on a whim. It was on the "newly released" bookshelf and it rather jumped out at me. I'd read a review or two but really didn't know what to expect. Short stories about fairies and magic? I thought that was what I remembered; but, if anything, it was the old-style cover with charming pink flowers that clinched the deal. I didn't even look inside.

At home, I read the first and title story: The Ladies of Grace Adieu. The story of three magical ladies charmed me so completely that I was actually a little nervous about reading the next short story. That's the problem with an anthology; you just never know whether the next story is going to be as exciting, interesting, or awful as the last one. But, then I read the second story, On Lickerish Hill - about a young woman who needs a fairy's help but has no idea how to get herself out of the tangle of his requirements - and I was completely hooked. Add to the charm and magic of Clarke's stories the stunning illustrations by Charles Vess and you have a book that deserves a place on the good shelves and a few rereads.

Darned if it didn't have to be a library book. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for a copy of my own. I'm not going to go into great detail except to say that I thought the stories were incredibly inventive and captivating (because it's raining, here, and that means the migraine has returned). There was only one story that I felt left me hanging and I decided to just give it my own mental ending; just a quarter-point off for that tiny bit of dangling.


Coming up: A Wahoo! Wednesday post . . . and I still need to write a Chunkster Check-in post.

This week and next may be a couple of light-posting weeks because the kiddo is taking the Red Cross Lifesaving Course and attending after-school swim practice with the high school team. Lots of driving and sitting poolside for Mom. There is gunk in my dryer from a piece of gum the youngster left in his jeans pocket, so I have a backlog of wet beach towels that I need to get to; but, first I have to figure out how to remove gunk from a device that heats without blowing up my home. Suggestions are welcome. More later!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Look what Gavin taught me how to do!

Thanks Gavin!!!! That's Gavin of Digital Life, if anyone's wondering. I begged my eldest (who is in IT) to teach me how to put text on photos for months. This is one thing I love about all you wonderful bloggy people! I'm learning new things!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Booked by 3 Meme

I was tagged by the very cool New Orleans Chris to do this meme. And it's a hard one!!! I've been thinking about it for days and still don't feel like I quite know what to say, but I'll try.

Booked By 3 Meme:

Name up to three characters...

1. ....You wish were real so you could meet them:

Ellie in Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden (and the rest of the series, set in Australia). She fascinates me; she's so resourceful and tough.

Liesel Meminger of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a unique little book-addicted girl.

Eugenie Desiree Clary - The heroine of one of my all-time favorite books, Desiree by Annemarie Selinko. Just to hear about how she got to hang out with Napoleon before he became full of himself.

2. ....You would like to be:

Meg of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle - for the chance to travel to different worlds.

Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, but only if Mr. Darcy looked like Colin Firth.

Stephanie Plum of Janet Evanovich's One for the Money, etc., series. Because who wouldn't want two dark, gorgeous hunks following her around and protecting her?

3. ....Who scare you:

Okay, this one's rough because I try to avoid scary books, but . . .

The Button Boy of Best New Horror by Joe Hill - terrifying, utterly terrifying blind person who is not what he seems. There are several really scary characters in that story, actually.

Those Scary Things that Suck the Life out of You in the Harry Potter books - can't remember what they're called, but death somethings . . . ???

The fat man in Joe Hill's The Black Phone. Ew, ew, ew!!! Bad, bad scary man!

Obviously, Joe Hill is a great at coming up with terrifying characters that continue to haunt a reader long after the book has been closed.

Next thing . . . tag three people. They don't say you have to desire to torment the three, but this was a hard one, people!!! Still, I had fun once I got going.

1. Kookiejar of A Fraternity of Dreamers
2. Andi of Tripping Toward Lucidity
3. Wendy of Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Tag, you're it!

Finished, this morning: The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke, but the kiddo is about to take over my computer. Review later on, maybe tomorrow.

Just beginning to read: Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason

Two books that walked in the door, this weekend:
My Favorite Earthling by Susan Grant
Birds without Wings by Louis de Bernieres

In my backyard, this afternoon:

It's a mourning dove. My husband said something to the effect of, "Big woo." I'm very proud of myself for not swatting him (the husband, not the dove). He's going to Italy without me, so he deserves to be swatted. Do you think I'd fit in a suitcase?

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Earthly Joys
A Touchstone Book, by Simon & Schuster
Copyrighted 1998
516 pages - all right! A chunkster!!!!

Earthly Joys is the story of John Tradescant the elder, who was the gardener to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury at Hatfield House, and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. It takes place during the early 17th century in England, from the years 1603-1638. And, what an eventful time that was! Among the events described are the Gunpowder Plot and a failed attempt to aid Huguenots at La Rochelle.

John Tradescant was not merely a gardener, he was an expert naturalist who worked first for a man who was a royal spy and confidante and then another who was the favorite of two kings. The book describes events from the perspective of Tradescant. As such, it goes into his travels, his personal life, the planning of gardens at several large estates and his relationships with those who employed him. He was sent to Europe, The Levant (on the Mediterranean Sea), Algiers and Russia to collect bulbs, trees and other plants and bring them back to the two gardens, collected rare objects, and is described as having been privy to inside information on political events as confidante to both of his masters (that is where I'm guessing that Gregory may have played a little with Tradescant's status).

As you can see from the links, I dashed over to Wikipedia to read up on the characters, places and events described in the book. I'm unfortunately history stupid as my education in history was jumpy, at best. King James was, as far as I knew, the guy who had the Bible rewritten and King Charles I the man who was ousted by Oliver Cromwell during the first English Civil War and then beheaded. And, I only knew about Charles' beheading because of an English couple I chatted with while visiting the village of Farnham, where Charles spent the night and left behind a beaded cap as thanks (also the place I met a ghost, but we won't go into that).

The book doesn't actually cover what little I knew of Charles' troubles and King James' changes to the Bible are barely even mentioned. So, the historical background of Earthly Joys was almost entirely new to me. When I picked it up and read the cover, I was a little hesitant. A book about a gardener? How interesting could that be? But, it was a group read and I've wanted to read something, anything by Gregory for quite some time. Amazingly, I was quickly sucked in.

I can't compare the book to any other title by Philippa Gregory, since it's the first of her titles that I've read. But, I will say that there were times the events were fascinating and the pages flew and other times that the book dragged. In general, I disliked John Tradescant. He was described as devoted to his masters to the point of placing them second to royals, who were considered on a level just beneath God. Often, Tradescant would rhapsodize about his love for Buckingham and his physical beauty, which was hard to comprehend because Buckingham - at least as described in this book - was a narcissist and a con man, only out for himself and willing to act as a se*ual plaything for two kings. There is even a point at which Tradescant's love carries him away, the result being a graphic se* scene that I wish I'd started skimming just a bit sooner. Regular readers of my blog know that graphic se* is not my thing. I prefer that an author tippy-toe around such things without describing in detail.

Apart from that bizarre turn, I enjoyed the book enough that I never considered setting it aside. The history was particularly enjoyable; I love a book that teaches me something. And, Tradescant did become a less objectionable character toward the end of the book. Someday, I would really love to visit Hatfield House and see the gardens, which are still in place. Have a look at this knockout photo of the knot garden.

3.5/5 - above average, sometimes slow, and there wasn't a single passage that I marked for purposes of quoting.

At 516 pages, Earthly Joys has just become my third chunkster and counts toward the Chunkster Challenge. Wahoo! I was starting to feel a little pitiful, being the host of a challenge and only halfway to my goal. Just one more chunkster by June 30 and I'll be finished.

I've always liked the way Literary Feline Wendy and Book Nook Les add pertinent details about the publisher, length and genre at the top of their reviews, so with this review I've decided to begin adding those details whenever possible.

And speaking of the Chunkster Challenge, I've tried to visit some of the participants and found that a few of the links are now dead. So, I'll be writing a check-in post, next week and I'll see if I can find something to give away to one of the people who check in. Another drawing! Won't that be fun?

While digging for books for the Non-Fiction Five, I discovered that I have the sequel to Earthly Joys, which describes the life of John Tradescant the younger: Virgin Earth. I'm probably not going to get to that one right away, but I do plan to read it and was excited to find that I already owned a copy. Yes, I have quite a few books.

I finished The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy, last night. This is another book that I'm reviewing for Estella's Revenge, so I'll post a link to the review on or about May 1. The book is a May release by Turtle Point Press, an anthology of short stories about love in various forms and a mere 154 pages long. It's probably very telling to note that The Secret Lives of People in Love has more post-it notes sticking out of its pages than any other book I've read, so far this year, and I read the book very, very slowly to absorb each sentence.

Look what's growing in my garden (yum!):Hubby and I worked on the herb garden, today. We now have tomatoes, basil, strawberries, sage, French lavender, Spanish lavender, lavender cotton (seriously, I am a nut for lavender) and yarrow growing in the herb garden and planters. About to be added: rosemary and chives.

Off to read. Happy Weekend!

Look what I saw at the library!

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Favorite Type of Writing - a Meme - and other stuff

I still need to do the meme Chris tagged me for, but since Andi of Tripping Toward Lucidity and Heather of A High and Hidden Place both also tagged me for a very short meme on favorite writing types, I've decided to go for the writing meme first. It's easier on my little brain. You get to see all sorts of stupid links to my writing, in this one. Oh, goody.

"What's Your Favorite Type of Writing?" And I should mention, your favorite type of writing to do as opposed to your favorite type of writing to read.

Actually, that's a little harder than I thought. Sigh. I think my strong suit in writing is probably the most outwardly boring thing on the planet: writing book reviews and articles. I only really enjoy writing them if I have the freedom to write casually, in a style that I consider chatty and conversational, hence the decision to begin blogging, last year, which gave me the option to post a serious review on my somewhat staid listserv and then talk more freely about my feelings at length, elsewhere. Writing columns or articles is my most heavily published area, as I used to write articles on writing (which were published in various newsletters) and have been involved in writing for two ezines, now (shameless plug for Andi and Heather's cool new book ezine: see Estella's Revenge). My old ezine column was a slice-of-life humor column called "Signs of Life" and the columns are still archived. You can read my third column, which is among my personal favorites, here.

I think my favorite type of writing is anecdotal, but I get the most satisfaction out of completed creative writing, probably because it's something I really have to work hard to finish. I've "won" National Novel Writing Month, twice, but only actually wrote "The End" on one of those two books. And, I've had exactly one short story published. My friend, John, used to rib me about the fact that I had exactly five rejection letters and one published story. He thought that was a pretty good percentage, I guess. In five years, I still haven't altered those statistics. How sad is that? That's because I really haven't written much fiction, apart from those NaNo novels.

Gosh, I hope that didn't put you to sleep. I tag Canadian Chris of Book-a-Rama and Jessica of In Search of Dessert to continue this meme.

Just finished: Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory. Finally. Review forthcoming.

Almost done with: The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy

Didn't get around to: Posting a Thursday Thirteen. But, I thought about it and started a list; I wasn't actually sure if it was . . . . I don't know, relevant? I was just going to mention thirteen beautiful things from my walk in the park, yesterday. I think I'll just give you a quick list, right now. Here you go.

13 Beautiful Things I saw, heard and smelled in the Park, Yesterday (and a few small pics of some of them, which kiddo and I took, later - 'cause New Orleans Chris asked to see photos):

1. A fuzzy vanilla-colored caterpillar in a hurry (he was hauling - it was so cute).
2. Purple-flowered weeds that are knockout gorgeous.

3. A hawk lazily circling above me and then landing in the top of a tree.
4. Male and female cardinals - a couple - flying together.
5. A jogging mother pushing a dual stroller (one baby, one toddler) with a gorgeous dog on a leash, running at their side.
6. An angel tombstone in the Jewish cemetery (a really interesting old cemetery that borders the park near its exit - you can read about people who died in the yellow-fever epidemics during the 19th century on some of the tombstones).

7. My friend, Tom, leaning on a pickup truck to chat with someone. He never fails to turn to say, "Hey, Nance, how ya doin'?" or wave if he's farther away (or driving past - he works in the park).
8. Bluebirds nesting in a cannon.

9. Three yellow butterflies that swirled around my legs.
10. Mystery snow - really, I don't know what it was, maybe something like cottonwood seeds or insects swarming? Whatever I saw, it was from a distance, back-lit, and looked like falling snow. It was beautiful.
11. Honeysuckle! I love the smell, taste, and sight of honeysuckle!
12. This other plant, which has a powerful, cloying smell but is very attractive:

13. Our flag at half-mast. It's a sad sight, but also a nice symbol of solidarity during a time of grief for many.

I chopped those photos down thinking they'd be good to stick at the top of future Thursday Thirteens (you can click on any of them to see a larger image). Anyone who can teach me how to add lettering to a photo, would you, please please please? I could use some help. I've asked the spouse and he just says, "Photoshop. Need to learn Photoshop." Okay, yes. But, the only course I've seen advertised locally is a night course in Jackson and I can't do that because Mom Chauffeuring is the priority.

Just bought: Some camouflage clothing so I can try not to freak out the wildlife when I want to get a bit closer. Seriously. My husband thinks I've lost it. We'll see if the camo works. I'm pale and blonde, almost luminous in the spring when I have no hint of a tan. Shoot, I'd be frightened if I was a bird and saw a bright thing like a Bookfool heading in my direction.

Hope to get that review posted, tonight. Happy Friday, everybody!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

I thought it was going to be really difficult to come up with reasons to say "Wahoo!", this week but I was wrong. There are always things to be grateful for and I think we probably all need to reflect on them even more during those days that watching the news brings tears.

1. I'm grateful for every single person who survived Monday's horror and for those who had the presence of mind or courage to do something to protect themselves or save others.

2. I'm grateful for little growing things, peeking up through the spring soil. Wahoo for new life!

3. I'm so glad to have a crazy, dairy-addicted cat who makes me laugh. Last week, she knocked a slice of pizza down onto the floor while I was busy walking my husband to the front door after lunch. I heard the crash but ignored it. By the time I got to the kitchen, she was chowing down. What a hilarious sight it was to see my cat munching on her own personal slice of pizza. She loves milk, cream cheese, sour cream, that cheesy crap from Taco Bell - you name it. Tonight, I kept telling her that my fish sandwich was all gone and it was just the spirit of the sandwich that remained, sorry, nothing to share. I was sure she wouldn't be interested in my fruit and yogurt parfait. Guess again, lady. Some time, I'll have to have my son hold a yogurt cup up to the cat's nose so I can get a photo of her licking up the yogurt remains. What a riot! Wahoo for goofy, lovable pets!

4. We're finally out of red beans and rice! Wahoo! It was good, but I was right. I did get kind of weary of red beans and rice after the first couple of days (see the bottom of this post, if you missed the story).

5. Two weeks and my orchid is still thriving. Wahoo!

6. I just peeked at Chris's blog, Stuff as Dreams are Made on and I see I've been tagged for a meme, so I guess that will be my next post. And, what the heck, Chris is a big Wahoo! I love his upbeat posts and enlightening reviews. I keep forgetting to ask exactly where one finds such a thing as a poppet. They're cute, but I sure don't remember ever seeing one prior to seeing photos of poppets on his blog.

7. Possibly a very silly wahoo . . . maybe . . . I'm grateful for toilet paper. Geez, what a weirdo. No, really, I am. I spoke to my mother, the other day, and talking to my mom always makes me think of bizarre things to be thankful for because she was born during the Depression, the child of one of those men who couldn't support his family so he abandoned them. I never knew my maternal grandfather, but his absence meant a childhood of deprivation for my mother and I hope I've learned to appreciate simple things a little more because of her experience.

Happy Wednesday and thank you for visiting me!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Don't Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison DuBois

Once you get used to making a positive difference in others' lives, it's hard to accept that you cannot help all people. Sometimes injury or premature death is meant to happen in someone's life plan. Why? Because without some misfortune we wouldn't be forced to acknowledge how precious life is. What is even more amazing is that sometimes there is intervention from the other side and that prayers can be answered.

Don't Kiss Them Goodbye
wasn't on my agenda; I wanted to read it, but I didn't plan to do so for a while. Even though it appeared that the book would be a quick read at 193 lightly-spaced pages, I had other books ahead of it in the endless TBR queue. And, yet, the book just kept hollering at me until I capitulated. The timing turned out to be excellent. I read the introductory material on Sunday night and then felt compelled to read more on Monday morning. Without realizing it, I had begun reading the most comforting book that I could have possibly chosen on a day of incomprehensible violence, a book by a woman who claims that the spirits of those who die never truly leave us.

Allison DuBois begins with her own story, of the first time she saw a spirit and how her mother dismissed the incident as the whim of an imaginative child. This was frustrating for Allison because she understandably doubted herself and, for many years, kept her sightings of spirits quiet, aware that she would be laughed at, labeled odd or her comments dismissed. She gradually learned how to trust her own ability, though, and when she was tested as part of a program at Arizona State University, where her psychic skills were validated scientifically, her confidence grew. There are some other interesting personal incidents described, and she discusses her work aiding in the investigation of murders.

If you're not the slightest bit psychic and/or have no children who show signs of being psychically gifted, there is a portion of the book that might be a little bit dull. DuBois gives advice on how to encourage a child's psychic gifts and describes how she has done so with her own children. While it's interesting that a psychic has given birth two three little mini-psychics, that portion isn't relevant to everyone.

Probably the most interesting bits of the book are those where the author describes her own experiences at "readings". My understanding is that she relies entirely on what she sees (as opposed to doing something like reading cards or tea leaves - nothing of that sort is ever mentioned) and by "reading" she is referring to reading what a spirit is trying to get across to a living person, as DuBois describes each spirit as it appears to her, a visible image of a deceased person who shows her objects or gives her specific words in order to get a message across. She says the spirit of each person continues to live on, free from pain and often able to help the living in some way.

Whether you believe her stories or not, the book is fascinating. I've mentioned some of my own experiences in this blog, in the past, and they're quite different from those of Allison DuBois, limited to strong feelings, dreams, and an occasional waking vision. My husband learned to take my "feelings" seriously, early in our relationship, and I guess that makes us believers - if not in psychics who can actually see spirits, at least in the concept of a sixth sense. I appreciated the fact that she credits a "higher power" as that jibes fine with my own belief system.


Coming up: Wahoo! Wednesday

Apologies for the lengthy delay between posts and lack of visits to other blogs. I was quite honestly speechless after Monday's events and didn't feel like it would be wise to write during a time when I couldn't think of anything that would be of any help or comfort to anyone. My heart goes out to all who were effected by the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Didn't get around to mentioning (because I didn't post): Our local paper prints photographs taken by locals in the Sunday classified section and they chose one of my photos for last Sunday's edition. Nobody informed me, so it was a bit of a surprise to open the Sunday paper and find my photo of a red-headed woodpecker in print. Cool. Now, if only they'd spelled my name correctly. Apparently, I don't type clearly enough. Ahem. Cough, cough. Right. It was fun, though, seeing my photo in print.

Neato mail day: Yesterday, three books arrived in the mail. Don't you love days like that? Here's what I got:

An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum (snuck in with my Amazon order of Firefly and Serenity)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (for a group read with Our Coffee Rings)
A Spoonful of Humor by Henry L. Lefevre (looks like loads of fun - expect this one to be slotted in, soon)

I am utterly failing the 30-Day Organizational Challenge. The timing is just not right for me; we have cool weather for such a short window of time before the heat arrives that I feel obligated to take advantage and spend every possible moment outdoors - planting, weeding, and organizing the gardens, enjoying the air (and lack of mosquitoes), and sometimes just walking around to photograph the wildlife. I'm fine with that. It's not really a failure so much as a shift in priorities.

Hope to finish tonight (and review by tomorrow): Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory

Back later!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Non-Fiction Five and other stuff

Getting down to the wire with less than two weeks till May and I've decided to give in and join Joy's Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I've finished 2 out of 4 of my Spring Thing books and only need to read two more chunksters to make myself feel fulfilled for the Chunkster Challenge (one, Earthly Joys, is in progress). Plus, I went through my cabinets to see what non-fiction I haven't gotten around to reading and oh. my. gosh. I do read quite a bit of non-fiction but I have a lot of books I have put off, haven't gotten to, am dying to read, etc. So, hey, why not? The required reading number is a mere one book per month from May to September and maybe the challenge will help me knock out a few of the older books or get to some I've been anxious to read but have put off. So, here we go:

1. Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton - This one's been sitting on the shelf for so long I couldn't even begin to guess when or where I got it, but a good hint is that the copyright date is 1994. Ahem.

2. The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton - I started this one and was actually finding it tremendously helpful when I set it aside. Probably, I was just trying to balance too many books at once; I do that and then set things down and eventually return to them. It has some useful information on clearing out the clutter. I definitely need to finish it and, possibly, also pray for a miracle.

3. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn - This one was purchased on the recommendation of Nevada Barr. I attended a "Spirituality in Writing" workshop which she led in Jackson, Mississippi a few years back and, at the time, scratched down quite a number of book titles, wrote an article about the workshop, got it published, bought a few of the books mentioned and then . . . well, you know the story. There it sits. Gotta get to it.

4. If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende - A book about small-town life in Alaska, which just looks fun. Fun is good.

5. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W. Lawson - Purchased recently, but I want an excuse to slip in a war memoir.

I seldom actually stick to challenge lists because I'm moody and impulsive, so here are some alternates - warning, huge list (and not really complete - I reserve the right to be flighty):

Prescription for Adventure: Bush Pilot Doctor - Naomi Gaede-Penner - about Naomi's doctor dad's adventures in Alaska.
Marley and Me - John Grogan - about a naughty but lovable dog.
The Writing Life - Annie Dillard
The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman - recommended by two bloggers and likely to get shoved higher up the list.
Night Fighter - C. F. Rawnsley - a WWII memoir
South: The Endurance Expedition - Ernest Shackleton
Soldier Life in the Union and Confederate Armies - Ed. by Philip Van Doren Stern
Sleeping with Cats - Marge Piercy - a writer's memoir
Dispatches - Michael Herr - Vietnam war memoir
Extra Virgin - Annie Hawes - travel memoir that takes place in Italy
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary - Simon Winchester
C'est La Vie: An American Woman Begins a New Life in Paris and - Voila! - Almost Becomes French - Suzy Gershman
Loving God - Charles Colson - Supposedly a Christian classic on faith
Three Weeks with My Brother - Nicholas & Micah Sparks - can't stand his fiction, but I heard this memoir sort of explains his rough life (which possibly led to his choice to write tragedies)

Think that's enough to choose from? I could go on, but I think I'll stick with that list, for now.

Strange things were afoot; or, rather, abox - I completely forgot to mention that we had a moment's pause when we unloaded the large cardboard box holding our 10 red beans and rice dinners. In the bottom was a packing slip. The word "biohazard" on that packing slip jumped out at me. Eeks. As it turned out, when I stopped to read the packing list carefully, I discovered the box previously contained red biohazard kickbucket liners. Whew! This is what you get for having a doctor mom as one of the swim club parents: a bracing biohazard moment.

Temporarily set aside: Of The Farm by John Updike. It's only 160 pages long and I know I could get through it quickly if I'd just concentrate. But, focusing on one book is not my strong point and I'm not sure I'm in the mood to shove myself through something that isn't thrilling me. So, instead, I'm going to get back to reading The Secret lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy and then move on to Rises the Night by Colleen Gleason (fellow blogger chick we all love), both advanced reader copies that I really need to review soon, anyway.

Just about finished with: Firefly, the complete series. And, I am just so utterly perplexed as to why the series was canceled after only 11 episodes. And bummed. I just don't get it. The actors were terrific, the characters nicely diverse with plenty of secrets that could have been slowly uncovered, the premise excellent, the action and humor endlessly fun. I loved the fact that only two of the actors were familiar to me; the same faces get a little tiresome, after a time and every one of them is (or, rather, was) utterly convincing in their chosen roles. The female characters were all intelligent, skilled, fascinating individuals. This may be justification for my continued lack of television viewing and discontinued satellite service. As soon as I finish watching the series, I'll view the movie, Serenity, and then probably go into mourning for a time.

I'd resume satellite service if they'd just bring the Firefly series back. Honest. Any network executives reading this?

Off to read or sneak in that last Firefly episode. Nighty-night!

Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach

I'm not quite sure whether to recommend this book or not. It starts out with a similar tack to Dave Ramsey's approach - take a long hard look at everything you spend your money on to discover where your "latte money" is going. By "latte money" the author means little, niggling daily wastes of money that you can easily eliminate and turn into savings. Instead of buying a daily coffee at an expensive coffee house, for example, assume you can save $5 a day and invest $150 per month. You'll pile up money faster if you turn senseless spending into investments. Makes sense.

Then, the author sort of loses his mind and tries to take you with him, in my personal opinion. Without naming names, he gives Ramsey a good-sized hand slap by claiming others will try to mislead you into getting out of debt before saving. Well, of course they will; debt is the biggest money-gobbler of them all. Bach, however, says that you should start saving at the same time you're paying down your debt because you'll have more set aside in the long run, banking on the time value of money. He then does some bizarre math that totally overlooks the fact that it would be almost impossible to save beyond what you'll lose to banks or credit card companies during the time you put off paying off loans or credit card balances. I strongly disagree with this particular concept. While I'm not in debt, apart from a mortgage, it makes no sense to me from a purely mathematical viewpoint.

The investment portion of Bach's book has some excellent advice and here, I must say, I think he excels over other get-rich-quick authors. He gives you specific websites to look at and advises that your life should be exciting, your investments boring. Bach claims the best way to split your investments is into thirds and he gives plenty of information on where to go in order to get started, how to choose mutual funds and IRAs, how much you can put away tax-free or tax-deferred and which alternatives are best for your income level. If there's a portion of this book that I think makes it worth the money, it's the section on how to invest. The only part of this section that I was uncomfortable with was his advice to put 1/3 of your investments in real estate funds, which he claims are safer and more profitable than mutuals. The URLs he listed all appear to be aligned to the same company. That alone is suspect, in my mind, but it's worth looking into.

Onward to how to start your own business so that you can make more money, thus allowing you to sock away more. He describes direct selling as an excellent opportunity, claims that the statistics on new businesses that fail are wrong, and suggests a variety of options including selling goods on eBay. Okay, I'm fine with that. What I'm not okay with is the suggestion that most people make a large amount of money in home-based direct sales. This has not been my personal experience, nor that of anyone I know who has attempted a home-based, direct sales business (the kind where the company sells forms to you and you sell via parties, cold calling, etc.). I may not know the right people, but it's true that I've seen a lot of people invest several thousand dollars and fail to make a profit at all. He does list five major downsides to direct selling and this is where I thought one of the quotes was most humorous:

You can have the good life, if you're willing to work for it. But, anyone who uses this approach to sell you on the business is, in my opinion, trying to "razzle-dazzle" you, and they and their business should be avoided.

I marked that quote because my personal opinion is that his entire approach is just what he describes in that comment. Loads of exclamation points!!! Hinky math!! You, too can get rich and build an ego as big as his!!! Oh, please. It takes a lot of guts, some connections, a huge amount of savvy and a willingness to profit off the misery of others in order to make money in the ways he suggests, particularly in the following portion of the book.

Next is a large section on how to make piles of money in real estate. The bizarre aspect to this section is that what he suggests you do is not only horribly risky but also, in many ways, immoral. The math gets even more bizarre, at this point, as the author has apparently only lived in places where mortgages and rents are huge, the opportunities immense, the rising cost-of-living so rapid that it's actually possible to buy a home and two years later make a large profit. He recommends leveraging (buying properties with other people's money), tying up real estate long enough to find an additional buyer and then "flipping" it to make a profit, taking out a second mortgage on your home to buy additional property. The headaches of becoming a landlord are only marginally addressed. Not to mention that leveraging is exactly what caused Dave Ramsey to go bankrupt and come up with his own financial recovery system. Yes, in the long run real estate is only going to continue to rise. But, if the real estate market collapses or a deal goes bad, you stand to lose absolutely everything you own.

Here's an example of Bach's insane math:

In 2003, people were buying homes in Las Vegas for $250,000 with down payments of just 5% or $12,500. Happily for them, over the next year, the value of the homes shot up by more than 30%. so now they were worth $325,000. the new owners then sold the homes at a profit of $87,500 each. Given that their initial investment was only $12,500, this amounted to a return of 700%!

But, wait! Hasn't he forgotten that he's referring to someone else's money? What about interest? Regardless of interest rate, there is going to be a payoff amount for borrowed money that includes some sort of profit for the lender. Hinky.

The fact of the matter is that everything Bach suggests, which is reasonable and useful, can be discovered through a little personal research. How do you invest safely in mutual funds? Look up Morningstar's ratings online or in newspapers and ask for a prospectus from any company you're considering placing your money with. What about the confusing job of figuring out the best avenues to avoid being heavily taxed on your investments and retirement funds? Again, information is readily available. For those who are nervous about looking such things up without a financial expert to help translate, there are always investment companies. They'll charge you a percentage, but it might be worth the cost in order to get a little help. The book may or may not help you feel more confident; I think that depends heavily on the individual. As a reference guide for websites on investing, the book is excellent - bearing in mind that things do change rapidly on the internet and a good portion of what he recommends can be discovered on your own, particularly information from the government.

Oh, and this is only a book that is of any value if you're a resident of the United States.

I have to admit that I finally decided I needed to just get the reading of this book over and done with. The author's ego trip was immensely tiresome, his stories of how he advised friends into wealth annoying and his last-ditch attempt to sound moral by throwing in a tiny section on "giving back" appalling.

In general, there is some good, solid information in this book and a great deal of what I consider nonsense. I don't doubt there are people who've become wealthy using these principles; in fact, I know some who have made loads of money by becoming landlords or buying properties and "selling up". But, it's not a "no-fail plan" as the subtitle suggests. Of that, I'm certain. Upon consideration, I can only recommend certain portions of the book and for that reason I'm going to leave it off my recommended list entirely. In fact, I found it so frustrating and the math so misleading that I'm not even going to rate the book. Instead, I'd advise anyone who is interested to flip through, decide whether the information on investments is worth the price of the book, and make your own decision. I question the author's integrity, but I'm also far from wealthy and hesitant about real estate. Of the investments my savvy and careful accountant father had upon his death, exactly 25% returned pennies on the dollar. Guess what that 25% was invested in? Yep, real estate that went bust. Okay, I'm a little biased.

Not recommended, although I'd advise flipping through the book for starting points to do your own investment research, if you feel like you don't know where to begin.

And, for a little levity because this was a highly negative post, I give you Red Beans and Rice: It's what's for dinner . . . and breakfast, and lunch.
This is what happens when you change your email address and forget to open a statement from the local swim club during the month they're having a fundraiser. Oopsy, we were supposed to sell 10 red beans and rice dinners but I didn't open the envelope with the tickets billed to our account until it was too late. So, shoot, might as well just throw 10 dinners' worth in a plastic container and eat it ourselves, right? I'd never heard of red beans and rice before moving to Mississippi and I have to admit I was skeptical when I first tried it, many moons ago, but it's delicious so I didn't mind being cornered into buying 10 dinners. I may get a little tired of eating the same meal repeatedly, soon, though.

Happy Weekend!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday Five Foolery: Five Favorite Things

Today was another one of those days that I just couldn't stay indoors because it was so lovely outside. So, I'm going to revert to another former feature of mine, Friday Five Foolery, mostly out of sheer laziness but fractionally due to time constraints brought on by the urge to do yard work and walk around taking photos.

Five favorite things:

1. Favorite old photo that's been hanging on my wall forever - a photo I took when we were new to Mississippi and the eldest child was a diapered toddler (of my husband with the little one), taken on the pier at Biloxi, MS. Pardon the scratch marks - it's been in the same cheap plastic frame, forever, and I didn't remove the photo from the frame when I photographed it:

2. Favorite sign - taken in Taylor, MS a few weeks ago:

3. Favorite filthy cat photo - Our black-and-white cat, Spooky, after rolling in the dirt and pollen on the back patio:

4. Favorite paragraph from a book:

Miss Tobias raised an eye-brow and said, "She says that she is Mrs. Winbright. But Captain Winbright says that she is not. I had not supposed it to be a point capable of so wide an interpretation."

From The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clarke

5. Favorite lousy photo that shows action so I like it, anyway - of a mockingbird dive-bombing one of the neighborhood cats:

Wishing everyone a terrific weekend, full of great reading time and beautiful moments.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - Thirteen Great Reasons to Read

I tried to come up with thirteen and failed. Then, I dropped it to ten and, lo and behold, I kept going. Weird. So . . .

Thirteen Great Reasons to Read:

1. To learn new things.

2. You can travel without leaving home.

3. It's addictive, yes, but not in a bad way like alcohol or caffeine.

4. Reading doesn't cause cancer.

5. Because you can.

6. Unless you read outdoors, you're probably not going to stir up a lot of pollen reading so it won't make you sneeze.

7. It's a great excuse to curl up with a pet.

8. It keeps the old brain neurons popping (as opposed to drugs, which kill them).

9. Time spent waiting in lines, riding trains, or sitting in doctor's offices becomes enjoyable and productive.

10. Reading builds muscle. Eye muscle, that is.

11. You can do it just about anywhere.

12. It's a great way to escape from everyday life.

13. Books are calorie free.

What other reasons can you think of to read?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wahoo! Wednesday

There's an awful lot to be grateful for, today. Really, that's true every day but some days it's just more apparent than others, isn't it? Here's my list of things I feel like saying "Wahoo!" about, today:

1. The internet, the great equalizer - I've been thinking about this a lot, lately. If not for the internet - blogs, listservs, email - I would have missed out on meeting some terrific, fascinating, thought-provoking, like-minded people merely because they're not in my age range or, you know, on my side of the world, etc. I'm so truly grateful for all the wonderful people I've met thanks to the internet. I don't mean the winged guy above left.

2. Bird song - The sun is out and I've been outside potting some more flowers. The sound of the birds singing was just magical. It was a joy to listen to them while I was spilling dirt all over the patio. I didn't say I was a tidy person. Okay, here's where the photo comes in. The bird photo at left was not taken here - I snapped him in Alaska, last year. I just thought he was cute and I wanted to throw in a bird photo.

3. Bathtubs and running water - Because I got really sweaty and filthy potting the plants. I did get some of the dirt into the planters. Just thought you'd like to know.

4. A reasonable teenager - This is not something to take lightly: I have an even-tempered, well-mannered teenage son, just a really nice kid. I cannot even begin to tell you how immensely grateful I am to be his mother. I've been thinking about how much I appreciate my youngster, today, because the youngest son's claim to rebellion is his hair. He has this huge mop of mildly wavy auburn hair and he likes to grow it out longish, sleep on it wet and then not comb it, so that he kind of looks like he's stuck his finger in a light socket. He thinks it's funny and on an ordinary day he can't be persuaded to do anything to settle the hair down. But, today he had a music festival to go to and I thought he needed to be a little more presentable. So, last night I told him I needed to cut his hair and he should do his best to comb it into tidiness, today. He said, "Okay." Do you know how cool that is? He made a funny comment with a little squeal about all that beautiful hair on the floor, after I trimmed him up, but this morning he got up and combed his hair. Yes! The band director even thanked him. I just love that kid. I was going to paste a photo of him, here, but I seem to be having a little trouble with Picasa. Well, at least you got to see a cute bird.

5. Electricity - Because I've been thinking about The Sex Lives of Cannibals (review below), I'm particularly happy that I can switch on a light (even if it blows out at 5:00 in the morning, while I'm stumbling across the floor to answer the phone), refrigerate and zap food (I'm not much of a cook), and . . . probably most important . . . turn on the air conditioner!!!

Recently walked in my door:
Don't Kiss Them Goodbye
by Allison Dubois and
The Secret Lives of People in Love
by Simon Van Booy (short stories; an advanced reader - I read the first story, this afternoon, and it was a sweet, smile-inducing story).

Two of the best things I've read this week:
Kookiejar's post on Thin Mints versus Grasshoppers
Bellezza's post on why Sometimes Empty is Good

Totally forgot to mention: My list of books read, this year, was getting too long so I've moved it from my sidebar to a separate blog. So, now there's a link instead of a list in my sidebar. Ignore the photos, if you go there. I took photos of some of the Firefly actors off the TV, yesterday, and wanted to see what they'd look like if posted small enough that you couldn't see the pixels as easily.

Happy Wednesday!

The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost

Like many air travelers, I am aware that airplanes fly aided by capricious fairies and invisible strings. Typically, this causes me some concern.

Onward to the power station, which was a diesel generator in a small tin warehouse capable of meeting the electricity needs of, optimistically, three average Americans, provided that they didn't use a refrigerator and a hair dryer concurrently. We waited patiently for the clerk, who was lying prone atop the counter, to arise from his slumber. He lay there like an offering until a chorus of throat clearing elicited unembarrassed consciousness.

It was in the Marshall Islands where scientists finally discovered what, in fact, constitutes a coral atoll. . . . [Proving Darwin's theory] was incidental, however, to the purpose of the drilling. Enewetak was being canvassed as a sight for testing the hydrogen bomb and the drilling indicated that the atoll was suitable for obliteration. Shortly after dawn on November 1, 1952, a bomb called Mike was detonated, and an island, a home, an ecosystem was blown up, irradiated, and poisoned, leading many to wonder what is the point of having Nevada.

It often happened that we were asked to sing. The I-Kiribati are unself-conscious about singing. This is because they have the voices of angels. When I sing, however, small children begin to cry, dogs whimper, and rats scurry to the water and drown themselves. Sylvia, who is ravishingly beautiful, possesses a formidable intellect, and whose very existence illuminates my life, sings like a distressed cow. Entire villages scatter into the bush when we sing together. I tried to explain this to Tawita, but she was having none of it. "You must sing. Do not be shy."
And so we did . . . .The theater troupe drowned themselves in the lagoon before we could finish. Actually, they didn't do that. Rather, they drowned in tears of laughter. It began with a snicker that turned into a titter which led to guffaws and soon the group was convulsing in hysterical laughter.
"Stop!" Tawita cried. "That was very bad."
"Yes," I said. "We are aware of that."
"You must never sing again," she said.
"That is how we prefer it."

J. Maarten Troost was a 26-year-old, bored and not particularly thrilled with his working life, when his girlfriend, Sylvia, asked him if he'd like to move to a remote equatorial South Pacific atoll named Tarawa in the Republic of Kiribati, also known as the Gilbert Islands. One of 33 small tiny islands spread over an ocean expanse the size of the United States, the entire Kiribati landmass is around the size of Baltimore.

On Tarawa, Sylvia would work for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific (FSP) and Maarten would basically hang out, maybe help out a little, write a novel and sell some articles or edit to make pocket money. The idea of moving to the other side of the planet and leaving everything behind sounded hopelessly romantic and Maarten agreed, assuming he would be moving to an island paradise. Instead, he found himself in a home with dangerous water and sporadic electricity on an atoll where subsistence living meant frequent deprivation, the diet mostly fish. Islanders battled hunger, intestinal parasites, poor health care, a disinterested government bureaucracy, disease, poverty, and almost constant drought.

A swim to cool off in the Pacific on the first day revealed an even worse problem for Maarten: the natives used the reef behind their house to defecate. At low tide, the stench of the polluted ocean was horrific, the heat constantly stifling. There was nowhere to throw out trash, most of which came from outside the island on unreliable boats, so it was tossed in the ocean or piled around the atoll. Sylvia's predecessor in the FSP said, "I just can't take it, anymore." She was ominously thin and pinched. And, yet, the natives of Tarawa were a surprisingly laid-back and happy people.

Maarten and Sylvia settled in and adjusted to the rhythms of the island, learning the local customs and becoming friends with a unique and often hilarious cast of characters. The Sex Lives of Cannibals is Maarten Troost's memoir of their two years on Tarawa, in addition to descriptions of the much-overlooked history of the island (who has heard of the bloody WWII Battle of Tarawa where over 1000 U.S. Marines died?), and the tangled mess of "aid" and abuse from other countries. The book could easily have been a sad and whiny diatribe about the plight of islanders, but Maarten Troost has a terrific sense of humor and a willingness to explore and adapt. And, the result is a delightful, informative read with laugh-out-loud moments.

I acquired a copy of The Sex Lives of Cannibals because of the many positive reviews I'd read and I was not disappointed. Troost balanced the elements well: the stories describing their experiences, the history, the traditions of the people and the contrast between life on an equatorial atoll, where people sleep during the worst heat of the day, with the constant energy, tension and consumption of life in the U.S. A fascinating, eye-opening read. I'm anxiously awaiting a copy of Troost's second book, Getting Stoned with Savages. The one and only disappointment in The Sex Lives of Cannibals: no photographs. Darn. I couldn't find any on the internet, either, although there are a few scattered photos of Troost at writing events.


Coming up: Wahoo! Wednesday (Wow, already?)

Is it still raining? Only occasionally. How's your weather?

Funniest thing the eldest kiddo did over Easter weekend: Loaded up on food and necessities at his father's expense and then left the paper towels in Mom's trunk.

Most recent violation for which the youngster got after-school detention: Sleeping in English. Oops. I have to tell you, I really enjoy it when he gets in trouble for reading his novels and forgetting that he's in school. It's better than punishment for an untucked shirt.

Worst moment, this morning: When the alarm clock went off at 5:00 a.m. (youngster had to get to school early to catch a bus for the music festival), the phone rang, and the overhead lightbulb blew as I staggered to the phone with the alarm blaring in hand. But, you have to admit that it sounds pretty funny in the retelling.

Back later!