Friday, November 05, 2010

How excited am I? Too damn excited!

There's some exciting news on the horizon regarding the Wellness & Writing Connections conference.  Last night we had a conference call and the energy is flowing.  What's more, there are some opportunities coming up that I am chomping at the bit to share.

But the time is not quite now.

Soon there will be big news, opportunities, and more.  As soon as I am able, I'll be making all sorts of announcements for workshops, publishing of poetry and short stories, and so much more.

Call Me, Mrs Miracle by Debbie Macomber

Call Me, Mrs Miracle by Debbie Macomber is everything I typically tolerate in a holiday movie and loathe in a novel.  I don’t like romance but I love Christmas.  Take a mysterious albeit benevolent older woman, add a handsome heir apparent and a single woman who is sacrificing herself for the good of others and you have a typical romance cum Christmas novel.  Add a few recipes (for cookies, chicken, and a salad), toss in a few aphorisms that are too often trite and read like church signs rather than deep truths, and you have this novel.

But I didn’t hate it.  I think I would have liked it much more as a movie.  And apparently, Hallmark is doing just that–coming to a television near you, a sentimental bit of holiday schmaltz.  Wait, this is a sequel?  There’s already a Mrs Miracle movie out there made by Hallmark you say?  Why yes, apparently there is, which goes to show you that I may love Christmas but tend to avoid romance.

The thing is, this is not a bad novel.  It’s cute and, if you like this type of story, it isn’t disappointing.  A quick and relatively mindless bit of reading.  It reminded me of Holiday Affair and I could see where, had I watched this on television one evening or afternoon, I would have sighed in holiday delight.  So for these reasons, I’m not saying I hate the book.  Remove the Christmas stuff and I would have disliked it much more.  Remove anything else and I probably wouldn’t have liked it much more . . . a delicate balance suggesting the novel meets expectations, doesn’t exceed them.

Watch the movie if this is your cup of tea.  Or, if you love romance novels, give yourself an afternoon of holiday themed escapism.  As for me, I probably won’t watch this or the other movie.  Unless I am absolutely jones-ing for something Christmas and there’s nothing else around.  Given I have dvds and cds of my own, I doubt that will happen.  But you never know . . .

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Yoga of Spiritual Devotion by Prem Prakash

The Yoga of Spiritual Devotion A Modern Translation of the Narada Bhakti Sutras (Transformational Book Circle)The Yoga of Spiritual Devotion: A Modern Translation of Narada Bhakti Sutas by Prem Prakash is another in the Transformational Book Circle series which I have been trying to finish reading even though the circle itself, including the website, seems to be gone.  Although this book is focused on yogic teachings, it is not Hindu in tone.  Bhakti yoga is a school of teaching that focuses not on study or even on physical practice but on devotion, on experiencing love and compassion in, for, and through all things.  The idea that giving love increases the receiving and experience of love permeates the text.  Prakash draws on other spiritual paths to highlight the teachings of the original text making the overall text more ecumenical in its application. 

This is a very good book and there is another version of it in publication.  I would encourage anyone interested in reading the text to look at a different version because this one has some very careless editing in it.  There are Sanskrit words where a letter is replaced by a digit (specifically the digit 1), pages where there are hyphenations of words as if they were at the end of the line but are in the middle of the line, words dropped from sentences, and so many other sloppy examples of poor editing on the publisher’s part that I can’t encourage anyone to spend their money on this version.  Hopefully the other one is better edited and printed.

This book also comes with a cd of a conversation between Gay Hendricks and Barbara De Angelis.  Hendricks is the editor of the series, inviting other spiritual teachers to share their favorite inspirational books.  The conversation is pleasant enough, although it doesn’t add a lot to the appreciation of the text itself.  What I found most interesting is how Hendricks admitted that his approach to devotion had initially been intellectual while De Angelis shared how hers was rooted in the emotional and yet both ended up at the same place spiritually.

Anyone who is interested in moving their yoga experience in a more spiritual direction would probably benefit from reading the Narada Bhakti Sutras but I would definitely consider investing in a better edited version.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rob Looooooves Me

To be clear, Rob doesn't drink coffee.  Ergo, he does not need nor want flavored coffee creamers or egg nog for his coffee.  But this does not stop him from spoiling me, the coffee drinker in the family.  (Actually, my daughter's the coffee drinker but let's focus here.)

Caramel Apple, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Gingerbread, and Egg Nog.

That's right.  Coffee creamers.  Coffeeeeeeeee creeeeeeamers.

You're all invited to come over for a cup.

Show of Hands . . .

Did you notice that I've been posting the Poetry-A-Day Challenge from the Poetic Asides website, posted by Robert Lee Brewer?

Did you notice that I've been posting rough drafts of pieces in response to these challenges?

Where?  Well, there's a tab at the top of this page, just above the ever changing quotes.  (BTW, if you want to read more quotes just refresh the page and a new one will pop up.  They're mercurial that way.)

Dear Anais by Diana M Raab

Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems For You by Diana M Raab is a melding of memoir and poetry.  In tightly condensed free verse, Raab shares her childhood experiences growing up in New York City, ice skating, and early romance.  She moves the reader through marriage and moves, childhood to peri-menopause, and throughout uses imagery that is evocative and accessible.  When something is reiterated it feels genuine, the way the present is informed by the past and that one past experience can influence the present moment time and time again.

Although the poems are chronologically organized, each piece focuses like a laser on a singular place of Raab’s story so there is much left between the poems to be puzzled out. The poems read like personal love letters, diary entries designed to recall just this one event, defined as significant in that it is recorded.  How much of what we experience is lost because we didn’t take a moment to write them down?  In this collection of poetry, Raab invites the reader to listen to her memories.  Is it any wonder then that this reader found herself reaching for a notebook and remembering things from her own childhood and life?  Probably not.  And even though I can write about going to Horn and Hardart or what Jones beach feels like between my toes, I don’t think that a non-NYer would be any less inspired by Raab’s evocative verse than I.  

You can read one of the poems from this collection here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman

Elizabeth’s Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman is a very well researched look at the life and reign of Elizabeth I, queen of England.  Daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth’s childhood was filled with drama that could easily fill many books and most scholars have already pondered the impact of her mother’s beheading had on Elizabeth in her growing up.  But what about the step-mothers who followed (there were four more wives after Anne Boleyn’s death), Elizabeth’s step-sister Mary, and the many servants and aristocratic women both within and beyond England’s borders?

I was so excited to know that someone was going to explore such a wonderful moment in England’s history through the prism of women’s experiences.  Unfortunately, the feminist in me withered as most of the stories are told from a petty and nearly apolitical position.  The Spanish Armada is barely addressed and even when Sir Walter Raleigh makes an entrance, his volatile presence is subjugated to petty flirtations and exploits in the bedroom.  The man led a rebellion against his queen and was executed for treason and yet, after reading this book, I know more about his sexual intrigues than I do his political ones.

So in spite of the exceptional scholarship, I have to say that I would not recommend this as a primary look at Elizabeth I; rather, I would suggest anyone interested in her life read another book about her and then read this one as a compliment or a slightly different perspective.  And for those who are hoping to find loving and empowering relationship between women supported in this text, the few inspiring friendships Elizabeth seemingly had are very few indeed.  In fact, one almost gets the sense that her relationships with her male counselors and flirtations with various courtiers held more weight in Elizabeth’s life over all.

I would barely recommend this book, however, for in spite of the research the editing is so poorly managed as to be insulting.  I am appalled that the editor didn’t encourage Borman to use any word other than “ensured” (which in my edition is mis-spelled nearly every time as “insured”) because Borman clearly is enamored of the word and I literally had to set the book aside because I found it tedious to read.  The first time I read that Elizabeth was “incandescent with rage” I snickered at how the prose drew such attention to itself.  Given how often Borman uses clichés, why the editor didn’t just let her use “flew into a rage” again, especially after allowing the over-use bordering on abuse of “ensure,” I was further amused to find that this incandescent rage would manifest on the page more than once.  Really?  Can’t we find another way of saying Elizabeth was angry?  Or were we insuring that our reader wouldn’t notice how blatant it sounded if it were used more than once?

Other issues I had are editorial as well.  There is a redundancy of information that could have easily been revised so that the book would read more fluidly.  Before Mary, Queen of Scots, escapes to England the reader is told her son, James VI, would have her body properly buried long after her death.  But don’t worry because you’ll read this, dear reader, one more time before Queen Mary of Scots actually is beheaded and buried so just in case you don’t remember you’ve already been told about this Borman and her editor will make sure you read it one more time after the beheading.

So shame on her editor for not being more diligent and someone please give the author a thesaurus with the word “ensure” highlighted so she can maybe, just maybe, use another word.  Please.

So it’s a great idea for a book about Elizabeth, even one that is well researched but the execution is lacking and I would encourage and urge anyone interested in learning about Queen Elizabeth I to read another book first, even two or three others, before settling for this one.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Caldecott Medal Winners and a Bonus Book

One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian

This delightfully illustrated book tells the traditional Armenian story about a fox that drinks an old woman's milk and the repercussions of his actions.  Some of the pages are so expressive and the illustrations are wonderfully colorful.

For Further Exploration

  • Encourage the child to come up with a similar story of their own where the consequences of a single action create a domino effect of actions.  (There is an episode of M*A*S*H where the writers have Hawkeye trying to meet the demands of a long list of people to get a pair of boots for himself--S2E17.)
  • Read the children's nursery rhyme For Want of a Nail.  Compare it with this story.
  • It's a Wonderful Life is a sentimental look at how the actions or choices of one person can impact an entire community.  
The Funny Little Woman retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent

This is a cute book which tells a variation on the more familiar (at least in the West) muffin man story about a baked good that runs away.  In this case, however, the item is a rice dumpling that rolls underground where the old woman is taken by demons to serve as slaves.  

I found it a little uncomfortable that when she is being grabbed by the demons she giggles: te-he-he-he.  Although the funny little woman giggles throughout the text, this moment especially made me step back, if you will.  The violence of being kidnapped, a small woman by a large and clearly masculine demon, should not be met with dismissive giggles but with horror and fright.  I would imagine feminist readers or those who are fighting the idea of "rape culture" would find this part alarming.  

Even without that odd giggling moment, I probably wouldn't highly recommend this book.

For Further Exploration:
  • Oni and Jizo are Japanese words used in this book and looking up their meaning would be a fun and easy exercise.
  • There are so many stories about the runaway muffin man, gingerbread man, biscuit.  Perhaps go to the library and see what other versions of this traditional story you can find.  Compare this book with one of those stories.
  • For the older child, compare this story with the myth of Persephone or other stories of journeying into the underworld and emerging with a treasure (which can also be "merely" knowledge or greater self-awareness such as Luke's entry into and emergence from the cave in Star Wars Episode V:  The Empire Strikes Back.)
  • Bake something with your child--a dumpling, cookie, etc.--and then while eating the food, make up a story of your own about an adventure you and/or your child (or both of you together) might have chasing your runaway food.
Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott

This book is so gorgeously illustrated that it is a pleasure just to look at it's brilliant images.  The story is a retelling of a traditional story that includes a quest as a boy searches for his father.  Both the story and the images are inspired by the Pueblo Indians.

For Further Exploration

  • Read other traditional Pueblo Indian stories and create your own illustration for one of the stories.  Or create your own picture book.
  • Look for images of traditional Pueblo Indian crafts online or look for books at your local library.  (They are known for their pottery, among other things.)
  • Research individual tribes (ie. the Hopi and/or Tewa, etc.) and learn something about their individual cultures.
  • Compare and contrast this story with Telemachus, the son of Odysseus who also went in search of his father.  (Also notice the virgin birth aspect of this story that is similar to many religious traditions if this does not offend.)
A Story A Story: An African Tale by Gail E Haley

This is one of a plethora of Spider stories, a traditional theme in African tales.  From the very first page, introducing how the story teller would introduce the moment for story-telling, I was enchanted.  The artist uses woodblock prints to illustrate the story.  

For Further Exploration
  • Make your own print blocks.  The easiest are made from potatoes.  For the more ambitious, you can make linoleum or even wood printblocks but these would require investing in more material.  
  • Research other spider stories about Anansi and perhaps read and illustrate some of your own.
  • Create a Family Story-Telling Tradition that includes a intro and outré, a phrase that you would use before the story's beginning and at the story's conclusion.  
  • Talk about how repetition is used and how onomatopoeic words are used to create rhythm and sound. Read this book with other books that use the same devises (ie Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears which I reviewed here.)

The Red Shoes by . . . well, not Hans Christian Andersen and illustrated by Gloria Fowler

This is a pretty revision of Andersen's fairy tale.  I thought it would be at least close to the original and even questioned my memory to some extent.  Gone is the violence and the theme of redemption, replaced with a "positive message," or so says the jacketflap.

Because this story is altered, the violence removed altogether, this book will be a safe one to read even to young children.  The illustrations are lovely (although I confess I thought that the shoes would be colored in a bright red).

For Further Exploration

  • Read the Hans Christian Andersen version and compare the two stories.  What stays the same and what is changed?  Think of another story and rewrite it to either be less violent or more contemporary.  
  • For much older children, compare this version with the original and discuss the changes from a sociological or feminist perspective.  
  • Watch Hans Christian Andersen which is a charming movie in which Danny Kaye plays the author, sings some amusing songs, and even makes a pair of red shoes for a ballerina.
  • The Red Shoes is a classic, a film that inspired (and continues to inspire) many young girls to learn ballet.  Not a story for little children, it is interesting to compare this with the original story to see how the original tale informs the movie.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Sunday

The other day, my friend Rossana dropped by bearing wedding gifts.  Okay, so the gift is clearly more for the coffee drinkers in the household than for everyone but still . . . now I can make more than a cup at a time.  Yay!

She also lent me a book so double yay!

I was terribly tired from the conference.  Tired but also inspired.

After talking to Rossana, however, I'm having second thoughts.  You can read about the conference here and here.

I've become the poster child for "Better Safe Than Sorry."  Not sure if that happened because I grew older or just got tired of the bullshit.  Or maybe the truth is that I'm still scared of the hurt my words can cause.  Either way the end result is the same.

Yay coffee and books!