Monthly Archives: August 2012

I’ll Take Paul Ryan’s Playlist

As you know, I’ve been searching for new music for a while, and although I have found some, I had to applaud Paul Ryan’s account of the difference in his and Mitt Romney’s taste in music. He said that he hears Mitt’s music on hotel elevators, while his iPod goes from AC/DC to Zeppelin. Yes! But it is funny that the media hail this as evidence of the “younger generation.” Paul Ryan is 42, not 24, and Led Zeppelin was a huge hit before even I was old enough to listen to them. I guess politicians are so busy that they’re a decade or so behind in cultural happenings.

Speaking of Paul Ryan, I was disappointed when Romney chose him as his running mate. Although I knew he was really smart, I thought he was a nerdy little squirt with no personality, and there is already a personality vacuum on the ticket. However, since I saw a picture of Ryan in his workout shirt, I have become a devoted fan. (No, I will not post the picture for you, ladies. You will just have to Google it.)

Far on the other side of the musical galaxy, I recently ordered Hymns Ancient and Modern, by Passion, with an Passion: Hymns Ancient and ModernAmazon gift card that Michael gave me for my birthday. Passion seems to be an assembly of individual artists, rather than an actual group, which gave me an opportunity to hear several people I thought I didn’t know. Turns out that I have already heard most of these arrangements in our most excellent church, so they were very familiar. I originally found the CD while looking for the Matt Redman version of “Here Is Love, Vast as the Ocean,” which our church had sung that Sunday. When our worship leader did it, the song had an Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? flavor, but imagine my surprise when Matt Redman turned out to be a Brit! He sang, “Here is love, vahst as the ocean,” and I thought, “Oh, no! It’s ‘sing along with Downton Abbey!’” However, I still love the song and am growing very fond of the entire CD, which also features the David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin (already a fave), Christy Nockels, and others. One interesting feature is that they recite “Phos Hilaron,” a hymn dating back almost to the time of Christ. Since we do not know the original tune, they have a big group of people, including children, reading out the words, followed by a musical adaptation by Chris Tomlin. Very affecting.

Until Paul Ryan posts his playlist on the internet, I guess I’ll go dig up some old tunes in the CD cabinet. Or, hey! I forgot that we got our turntable back. Maybe I’ll flip through those old vinyl LPs.

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Splendors and Glooms

The Brothers Grimm could not be grimmer, but it was definitely splendid. Two orphans rescued from London’s dark streets, only to land in a different kind of darkness. One sad little rich girl, the only child of her parent’s five children left living, wishes for a different life and gets her wish. A puppeteer whose talent goes beyond human ability, the witch who controls him, and her most treasured possession that is burning her to death. Since A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, Newbery Award winner Laura Amy Schlitz has shown herself to be a master of the gothic mystery. Here, she spins a terrifying tale in which all of the characters are longing for light and freedom. For anyone with a night light aged ten through adult.

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Hot Harvest—With Recipe!

David went out today and picked every last habanero, red chili pepper, and jalapeño left in the garden. A co-worker who hails from New Orleans had told me that you could cut them up and freeze them beautifully. I think that NOLA folks drink in this knowledge with their mother’s milk. I wonder what those of us who were bottle-fed drink in?

Here’s the haul:

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My sister, Karen, came up with a recipe for stuffed jalapeños a few months ago that has been used many, many times by my extended family since then. I’m pretty sure that she found it online somewhere, so with apologies to whoever originally created the recipe, here are Karen’s Jalapeños:

20-24 fresh jalapeños, depending on size

1 lb. Jimmy Dean regular sausage (or similar)

1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, softened

½ cup shredded parmesan cheese

½ cup shredded Monterey Jack, cheddar, or 4-cheese mix

Cut the ends off the peppers, slice in half lengthwise, and clean out the seeds. Gloves are essential here! Cook the sausage in a skillet, crumbling as it cooks, until all pink is gone. Mix the sausage and the cream cheese together in a bowl. Add remaining cheeses and mix thoroughly. Place a spoonful of the mixture into each pepper half and arrange the peppers in a large baking dish. Bake at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

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These are great dipped in ranch dressing, and I like to make up the dressing from the packet for a nice, fresh taste. If you’re worried about the nutritional value, each pepper has about a thousand calories and a billion grams of fat. Double that if you use the dressing.

Enjoy these end-of-summer treats!

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Getting the Communion Wine

In Holy the Firm, the brilliant writer Annie Dillard relates her experience when she was asked to pick up the winImagee for communion. As she bicycles home with the wine in her backpack, she feels that God Almighty is radiating through her, and everything around her glows with new and deeper meaning.

When my husband asked me to pick up the communion supplies for church this morning, I realized that I had never done that before. So, tonight after work, I dutifully made my way to the Wal-Mart juice aisle, along with several other shoppers trying to work their way around an employee restocking the shelves. I had been told that Great Value brand was alright, so I set out to procure this vintage. Unfortunately, I could not see GV grape; however, there was plenty of Cran-Grape. Would the congregation notice if they had Cran-Grape juice? Were grapes holier than cranberries? I decided that they were, since the Bible specifically mentions grapes, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen cranberries in scripture. I did find some Great Value grape juice, but it said “No Sugar Added.” Was that normal for grape juice, or was it diet? People would notice diet grape juice. I checked the Welch’s label for comparison, since Welch’s is the sine qua non of grape juice. It did not contain added sugar, so I plopped the GV juice into my cart, on through the cash register, and out to my PT Cruiser.

It did not glow. It did not radiate. The other drivers on the road were just as annoying as ever.

Now, I do not claim to be as spiritual or mystical as Annie Dillard, but yeah, it was just not the same experience. Perhaps I should have ridden a bicycle.

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Liar & Spy

Chances were very good that I would enjoy Rebecca Stead’s new middle-grade novel, Liar & Spy, since her earlier novel, When You Reach Me, won the Newbery Medal in 2010— and furthermore, was outstanding. The two qualities do not always go together, and we children’s librarians are extremely opinionated about these things. You will always find us logging onto the webcast early one January Monday morning, eager to be the first to hear the new winners of the ALA children’s media awards. If we agree, as we did with When You Reach Me, you will hear us squealing with delight, but if we don’t, we will immediately shred the entire Newbery Committee. As a matter of fact, my colleague Danielle, who recently left to have a baby, has promised to come to work next January, baby on hip, to watch the webcast with me. Yes, we are that nerdy.

However, the Newbery Committee has my complete permission to choose Liar & Spy this year. Ms. Stead has managed to deal with many serious issues in a voice that remains true to a twelve-year-old boy. Georges (“the s is silent”) and his parents have had to move away from their house to an apartment nearby when his architect father loses his job. He overhears his mom saying that she can pick up double shifts as a nurse at the hospital, and now he leaves messages for her on his night table using Scrabble tiles. His strange new neighbors are a homeschooled brother and sister, Safer and Candy, who live upstairs. Safer pulls Georges into a spy club immediately, which is both fascinating and scary, and in the meantime, Georges is dealing with some serious bullying in his middle school class.

Over the course of the story, Georges struggles with loss and goes through an excruciatingly rapid period of growth as he is disappointed by some people and questions whether he can trust anyone, including himself. I appreciate Stead’s depiction of Georges’ parents, who may not be perfect (which would not be realistic), but are dependably loving. Stead’s writing style is extremely engaging, written in first person in Georges’ voice. He is matter-of-fact and often vulnerable, working hard to be a tough guy while hiding his weaknesses. When his friend, Bob, who had explained to him the difference between hard G and soft G, wonders why he does nothing about the bullies, he thinks:

“It’s like the hard G and the soft G, is what I want to tell Bob. The hard G goes to school, and nothing can hurt him. And the soft G    is the one who’s talking to you right now. Except he’s only talking in my head. I used to know which one was the real me, but now I’m not so sure. Now it’s like maybe there is no real me.”

Rebecca Stead has produced that special jewel in children’s publishing: a story with genuine literary value that will also be a great favorite with middle-grade children. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I read a publisher’s hardcover gift copy that was given to the library system. The extended quote was taken from page 111 of this copy. The gift will be added to the collection, joining many other copies that were purchased. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

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Thank You for Not Sharing

Remember when Mr. Whipple squeezed the Charmin? We all agreed to believe that people would buy “bathroom tissue” that was soft because they were going to take it home to blow their noses or remove their makeup. Nowadays, I won’t buy Charmin—not that I ever did because it is so expensive. I do not want to see a huge, red Mama Bear peering into Junior’s undershorts and jumping back in shock. I absolutely do not want to see a huge, red Papa Bear playing X-Box with bits of toilet paper stuck all over his wiggling backside. And “Enjoy the go”? Is this greeting soon to replace “Have a nice day”?

I suppose it all started with feminine hygiene products. Many men—my father among them— were disgusted that commercials were now demonstrating the features of one brand over another, but you wouldn’t know what they were for if you were a young child. The lab technician would pour a scientific-looking glass beaker of blue liquid onto two pads stuck to a board. This was obviously just a science experiment, since there are no known human by-products that are blue, so we wouldn’t have to think about reality too hard.

Then here comes another blue product, this one for older men. I must say that my favorite of these commercials is one from a few years ago that takes place in a middle-class subdivision where dozens of fat, bald, middle-aged men come bursting out their front doors, bounding to the street to high-five one another over the picket fences. It just makes me laugh. This effort is so much easier to stomach than the gray-reducing hair product where the older man keeps picking up this younger woman and carrying her around the house while she kicks and giggles. Do younger women who date older men need to be picked up and carried? Is this a Daddy issue?

The least successful “little blue pill” commercial, to me, is the one where the man and the woman are in separate, narrow white bathtubs in the great outdoors. Someone, somewhere missed the point. One big, tacky, heart-shaped bathtub: yes. Two narrow, coffin-shaped bathtubs: not hopeful.

For the past two weeks, we have been served up what I sincerely hope is the worst possible taste with our breakfast news show: male catheters. Yes, there is now a long and informative ad for home health care for those who need help getting rid of their morning coffee. While munching my buttered toast, I was given the helpful information that they even self-lubricate, as an old man slides one into his front trouser pocket. End of breakfast.

Must we all be educated on such matters? If you need a catheter, won’t your doctor—or, as the current lingo goes, “health care professional”—tell you everything you need to know? I can’t figure out how we could talk about this euphemistically. If your little child asks, “Mommy, what is that man putting in his pocket?”, what do you say?

“It’s a funny drinking straw that he’s going to use for his soda at lunch.”

“Why does it have to be lubricated?”

“Is your homework done?”

Oh, take me back to the days of facial tissue and blue-liquid absorbents. I’ll squeeze the Charmin.  I’ll even wear pearls and heels to mop my floor.

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It Ain’t Natural

I just woke up from a lovely Sunday afternoon nap because of a nightmare that adds a new dimension to my already-strange irrational fear.

Spiders               I guess we all have irrational fears. If you don’t, you should acquire at least one quickly so that we all feel normal. Some people fear heights, some fear water, some fear dogs, and all sane people fear spiders. I also fear masks and disguises. The fear of clowns is, of course, a subset of this fear. Why do people pay clowns to perform at children’s birthday parties? Do they want them to be scarred for life?

My earliest memory of this condition is when I was about four or five and my older brother was having a Halloween party in our basement in Georgia. All of the teenagers were at the party, but a little costumed neighborhood friend came to our door upstairs with her mother. My mom was behind me, pushing me forward because I was backing up with dread. The girl saw that I was speechless with fear, so she pulled up her mask and said, “Look, Cheryl! It’s me!” I screamed and ran to my room. My mother still thinks that it is hysterical that I didn’t scream when the mask was on, but only when I saw her real face, but I get it. It’s as if there were two people in one, and someone I knew could turn into someone else. Real horror-movie stuff for a kid.

When I was a teenager in New Jersey, I knew the guy who played the gorilla at Great Adventure amusement park. I went there on a date one time (not with him), and even though I saw him put the suit on, whenever I saw him in the park, I went the other way. When I saw him in costume, my stomach clenched up, and I broke out in a cold sweat and felt faint. I can’t help it; costumes and masks creep me out.

                Although I cannot find a “-phobia” name for this fear, I know I’m not alone, since movie-makers play on it all the time. If you’ve seen Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, you know the scene where they’re having the masked ball. There’s a little snippet where they show face after face whirling around to show their masks to the camera. It always gives me a little frisson of chill: beautiful, yet nightmarish. Not to mention the entire movie of V for Vendetta.

Even the post office is getting in on it. I can totally sympathize with the frightened family standing out on the front porch, staring at the clown doll that someone sent them as a gift. When the super-sensible postal worker finally realizes that the clown moved while they were talking, he says, “Oh, yeah. That has to go.” I think, “Of course it has to go! It’s a clown doll! What took you so long?” Harlequin clowns are the worst. Someone gave me a hand-painted harlequin doll with a music box inside when my son was born. It was supposed to hang from the ceiling in his room. Seriously?

Well, now I have a new dimension to my phobia: people made of shrubbery. Have you seen those commercials? I don’t even know what they’re for, probably something environmentally friendly. This big, tall guy made of boxwood or something roams around being eco-conscious, helping people to make good choices. The only important part of that sentence is: “this big, tall guy made of boxwood roams around.” Yikes! In my dream, I was driving through a small town behind a car with a sunroof, and that shrubby guy is standing up in the car in front of me. I think he may be in a car in the commercial, too. In my dream, I am sorry to say, the car has an NC State license plate and NC State banners streaming from it. NC State insignia and leaves are falling off this guy as he waves to the crowds. I almost hit him as he stops in the middle of an intersection, and I get stopped by the police for speeding. Now, I’m as wolfie as the next SMOM, but how could I be speeding if he wasn’t? Anyhow, the shrubby guy gets away and I get a ticket.

The moral of the story is: never trust someone who doesn’t look like what they really are. It ain’t natural.

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You Are Here. Be Here Now.

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I looked in on my 27-year-old son one evening. He lives in a cave we call his office with two huge computer monitors (one is his 52-inch flat-screen TV), a tower PC, a server, a laptop, a smart phone, and now a Nexus 7. He wears gaming headphones about 23 hours per day and yellow Gunnar glasses to reduce eye strain. Moving further into the room, I could see that he was doing homework on the big screen, with four different chat screens open around the edges. He had a movie going on the smaller screen, which he was listening to through the headphones. He often has the webcam on, too, and is talking to several people at once. I held my arms out to the sides, palms up in meditation position, and said, “Be Here Now.”

Do you remember that ‘70s book by Baba Ram Dass? It was all about experiencing your life as it happens, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Be aware of your environment and the people around you. Be fully conscious. All very Eastern spirituality and hippiness, and perhaps there were substances involved that would make his disciples not very conscious at all, but maybe we should think about the message.

I stood in line at the grocery store yesterday, and the guy behind me talked incessantly. Not to me, of course, but to an invisible person in his ear. I had seen him in the store earlier, and I saw him in the parking lot later. Always talking. Does he care at all about the people around him? We are making little tiny bubbles for each of us to live in, and yet we laud “community” all the time.

Reality check: Will you make it to the end of this post without checking your email?

Are you reading this with chat screens open? Are you watching TV at the same time that you surf the internet? Will you flip to a YouTube video to break up the reading? Do you check Facebook hourly or more? Are your friends really that exciting? Do you play games on your smartphone when there’s nothing new on Facebook? How many people are you following on Twitter?

What are your chances of getting through Proust? When was the last time you read a book as long as a Dickens novel? Or do you wait for the movies so that you can play Angry Birds at the same time?

Think of what this says about our upcoming presidential election. Many people will vote for someone because of a political ad that popped up before a YouTube video. Perhaps they will follow a candidate or campaign on Twitter and vote for the one with the cleverest tweets. There are a lot of people who get all of their news from comedians. Can a president be elected on the basis of stand-up comedy? Many people get very emotional about various causes, but how much depth is there in our philosophies?

When was the last time you prayed? Grace before meals doesn’t count. (Oh, now we’re gettin’ to meddlin’.) When was the last time you read the Bible and meditated on it? I am talking to myself here. We need to allow silence in our lives so that we can hear from God. (Those of you who are not Christians do not need to panic here. These are not the droids you are looking for.) How can we know what we think if we never stop to think?

Here’s something: let’s just try to notice how distracted we are. Try to spend some time every day “unplugged.” Play outside with your kids, or read to them. Try reading without having the TV on. If you’re interested in something, do some real research on it, and don’t accept other people’s opinions, no matter how many times they get re-tweeted. We can do this. We can be more thoughtful, well-informed, and peaceful.

Full disclosure: When I got to a tough spot while writing this article, I checked Facebook without thinking. FacePalm!

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You Need Therapy!

I had never even heard the term “bibliotherapy” until I went to library school, but as soon as it was explained to me, I knew that I’d been practicing it all my life. The idea is that a reader uses books to heal pain in her life or to cope with painful or stressful situations. There is the type of bibliotherapy in which the reader studies nonfiction books that instruct him about medical conditions or psychological issues, and I have done that at times, of course. My first response to any situation is to find a book about it. But that is not the sort of bibliotherapy that I practice most.

We have moved a lot in our lives—nineteen times for me, as a matter of fact. David and I moved about every five years in the first twenty years of our marriage, and one move could involve a couple of living spaces, such as from temporary to permanent as our previous house sold. I don’t need to tell you that there was a lot of stress involved. One of my first actions when we arrived in a new town was to find the local library and get a card. Once, we lived in a bed and breakfast for a couple of months, and the owner was nice enough to let me use her card until we had a permanent address. Fortunately, I raised a reader, so my son was happy to scoop up an armload of new titles, too.

For a long time, the genre that got me through the greatest stress was cozy mysteries. I worked my way through books that have become good friends, such as Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Lord Peter Wimsey” series, Ellis Peters’ “Brother Cadfael” series, and random Miss Marples, by Agatha Christie, and Agatha Raisins, by M.C. Beaton. It wasn’t until later that I discovered Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth. A dishy detective, like Lord Peter or Hamish, is always a plus. Brother Cadfael does not fall into this category, but when I told a friend in Georgia about this series, she called me a week later and said, “Thanks a lot for telling me about Brother Cadfael. I haven’t washed a dish or vacuumed a floor in a week. I just keep driving to the library for the next one.” What’s great about cozy mysteries is that you come to care a lot about the characters and their town/village/monastery, there is a puzzle to solve that will require a good bit of your concentration, and all of the problems they have can be solved righteously in less than 300 pages. This takes your attention away from your real-life, interminable problems that don’t have such neat solutions.

Furthermore, a series is a comfortable, old friend. Next time you want to see them, there they are, just as you left them. No awkward breaking of the ice, no wondering how they feel about certain subjects. Just jump in and have new adventures together, and they’ll still be there when you leave. So reassuring. And as long as the author is alive—and sometimes even if they’re not— you’ll know there is always a potential for more books!

Just recently, life got tough for me. Finances are always nerve-wracking when one spouse is a realtor and has intermittent income, and the other is a librarian and is therefore paid much less than she deserves. As a result of all sorts of bureaucratic snafus, a nice check that David was supposed to get did not arrive. Also, a much-loved colleague resigned last week, citing some nonsense about staying home with her baby. When weekend came and I dutifully turned to the next advance reader copy by a fine author whose work I was going to review, I just couldn’t read it. She’s a great author, and I won’t mention the book, because I will get back to it, but I needed bibliotherapy. So I picked up the first volume of Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series, a prequel to her “Mortal Instruments” series that I had read last year. It was new, but familiar, and I dove right in and have loved it from the start. Not only are the stories packed with adventure, but nobody does heroes with Witty Banter like Cassie Clare. And what is a hero—be he ever so handsome—if he cannot keep up a running stream of Witty Banter?

Fantasy has been my bibliotherapeutic genre of choice for the past few years. I select young adult and children’s books for a living, so many of my new favorite authors are YA authors. From a foundation of reading The Lord of the Rings as a teen—over and over—I’ve gone on to love Megan Whalen Turner’s “The Queen’s Thief” series, Melina Marchetta’s “Lumatere Chronicles,” Kristen Cashore’s “Graceling” series, N.D. Wilson’s “100 Cupboards” series, and—dare I say it?—Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight Saga.” I can see that I am going to love the series following Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, even though there has only been one book in each series so far. In grown-up books, Jasper Fforde has been a favorite for a long time with his “Thursday Next” series, and I loved his Shades of Grey (no, not that one). If only he would write a sequel! For a fun romp, Gail Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series is hilarious.

But enough about me. I’m sure you’ve been thinking of all of the series and books that have come to your rescue in hard times. What has helped you to escape, laugh, or be comforted?

And now I really must go. I’m on page 203 of Cassie Clare’s Clockwork Angel, and I need to how Tessa Gray will survive a soiree full of vampires and live to be Will’s One True Love.

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Love Those Raven Boys

Once I got to chapter two in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys, I could not stop reading until I got to the end. The heroine, Blue, is the daughter of a psychic who lives in a house full of women—some related, some not— who are psychics, witches, or just extremely strange. Blue has no such power, but seems to be an amplifier for other people’s powers. Blue goes to public school in a town with a very upper-crust boy’s prep school, Aglionby. She never mixes with boys, though, since it has long been foretold that when she kisses her first love, he will die.

Blue’s life becomes entangled in the lives of the boys at Aglionby when she sits out on St. Mark’s Eve with one of her aunts to see the ghosts of those who will die in the next year walk by. One of the ghosts is an Aglionby boy named Gansey. Days later, she meets the living Gansey and his friends in the pizza restaurant where she works. His shy friend, Adam, wants to talk to her, but she doesn’t want to know him better—what if he is doomed to be her first love? Then Adam and his friends show up at her mother’s house for a psychic reading, and it doesn’t go well. Gansey’s obsession is finding the tomb of an ancient Welsh king, Glendower, who will come back to life and grant the one who finds him one wish. What would a handsome, wealthy young man like Gansey have to wish for? And why would he die within the next year?

There are four Aglionby boys in the story: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Each of them has deep secrets in his life, some dark and some shameful. The story is fascinating, although quite frightening in some parts, but the brilliant action of the story was secondary to me. Getting to know the characters better was the driving force that kept me turning the pages. Stiefvater skillfully exposes and conceals the complex layers of each boy’s story. You may love them or hate them— or maybe just be horrified by them— but you will not want to leave them alone. Thank goodness this is the first of a series.

Disclaimer: This book will be released in September. I read an advance reader copy supplied by the publisher. Views expressed are, as always, solely my own and not those of my employer.

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