Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Al Franken Story

In honor of Al Franken's victory (woohoo!), I thought I would relate a little Al Franken story for you.

First of all, my mother has an unusual name. My grandfather's name was Eugene and my grandparents wanted to name my mom after her father. However, Eugenia struck them as old-fashioned. So, they dropped the "eu" and changed the spelling. The end result: Jeania.

My family used to be huge Saturday Night Live fans. None of us watch it anymore but we used to tune in religiously. As we are also good liberals, Al Franken has always been one of our heroes. So, when I heard Al Franken would be cruising through town on a book tour many years back, I decided to go and get a book signed for myself and my mother. The bookstore had a very strict policy about only allowing one book signed per person. So, I recruited my good buddy Greg to get a book signed for my mother. I neglected one small detail in this scheme. I did not tell Greg how to pronounce my mother's name. This will be important later.

When we arrived at the book signing, we were given a post-it note and asked to right out the name we wanted for the inscription in order to save time. You were then asked to place the post-it note on the title page and queue up in an orderly fashion. Greg and I were the last ones in line. The ever-charming Mr. Franken was signing the book in a different way for men and women. I think my copy says "fondly." After my book had been signed, I dutifully stepped forward and made way for Greg.

Mr. Franken looked at the unusual name written on the post-it and asked Greg if the book was for him. Greg said yes. Franken said that it was an unusual name. Greg improvised and said that it was Finnish. (it's not) Franken then asked how to pronounce it. Greg looked panicked for a moment and then let out a barbaric yawp that sounded like "Zhean-yah!" As a little spittle from Greg's mouth hit Mr. Franken's shocked face, I sidled to the door before security could be called.

I believe that to this day, Al Franken has not done another book signing in Denver.

The end.

Monday, June 29, 2009

BAD MOTHER by Ayelet Waldman

I have been putting off this book review because I'm not sure how I am going to review it. Reading this book became a very personal experience for me and my impressions of the book may be skewed.

I loved this book. It could be that BAD MOTHER is just what I needed to read right now. I thought it was going to be another one of those books in the "not now Sweetie, Mommy needs a martini" genre. You know the ones. All those mommy bloggers who complain about being a mom in a snarky "fun" way. This book does not fall into that category.

Waldman recently came under fire for claiming to love her husband more than her children. People had very strong reactions to that statement. I have no real opinion on all of that controversy either way. I was just curious to see what else she had to say. Waldman clearly loves her family. She does not sentimentalize motherhood nor does she present it as a burden. She is simply a mother trying to navigate the complexities of our modern world.

When Waldman talked about the challenges she faced with many bloggers and online mom "support" groups, I nodded my head. A giant lightbulb went off in my head when she used the example of attachment parenting. People seem to be able to disagree about a lot of things in life and move on but parenting doesn't seem to be one of them. Why is that? Waldman points out that parenting is a belief system for people. It becomes a point where people either subscribe to your view or they don't and there aren't a lot of grey areas. What a simple idea and how true!

I cried when Waldman discussed her struggles with breastfeeding. I was so committed to breastfeedings when I started out and I nearly drove myself crazy trying to sort through all the advice I was given. Northern California is filled with attachment parenting/breastfeeding/anti-immunization/co-sleeping advocates and heaven help you if you don't do those things. People made me feel like the breastfeeding issues were all my fault. I managed to breastfeed for seven months and would have done it longer if I could. To this day, I still feel like a failure.

I cried even more when Waldman shared the horrible circumstances of the abortion of her third child. It takes a very brave person to share a story like that. I thank God that I have never been put in that position and I can't imagine what it would be like.

I appreciate Waldman's openness and her no-nonsense approach. I found myself nodding my head quite a bit and thinking about how I would react in similar situations. The truth is that we all simply do the best we can and hope for the best!

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This book may not have much to say to individuals who are not parents but it does offer a unique perspective on many issues facing moms today such as why we seem to have trouble simply supporting one another. I have a feeling I will be referring back to this book in the future and I look forward to Waldman's next literary effort.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Weekend Plans

We are going to the county fair tomorrow after our swimming lesson. This will be our third swimming lesson and so far so good! Noodlebug loves the water but is having too much fun to understand how to close his mouth. I figure that this year will just be an introduction to the water and we'll focus on technique next year when he is two.

I'm excited to go to our little local county fair because I can't wait to see Noodlebug's reaction to everything. I have nothing new to say on the subjects of motherhood and children but I will say that one of the greatest things about children is their capacity for wonder. Everything is new. Noodlebug will point at things that I would normally walk past without noticing. I happen to be one of those hyperactive multitaskers and it can be hard for me to sit still. I am trying to take a page from Noodlebug's book and slow down and notice the little things. As Ferris Bueller pointed out, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

So, I vow tomorrow that I will slow down and take in all the fair has to offer from funnel cakes to stinky (but wonderful) livestock.

Hope you all have a slow and wonder-filled weekend!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

UNIT by Ninni Holmqvist

I first heard about THE UNIT through a book talk session for librarians and knew I had to read it.

Dorrit Weger has created a simply but pleasant life for herself with a small home, a devoted dog and a lover. But everything changes on the day of her fiftieth birthday. Dorrit is required by law to check into a Reserve Bank for Biological Material. She will spend the rest of her days being cared for by the state and in exchange she will participate in "humane" experiments and donate biological material until the day of her final donation.

In this not-so-distant future, individuals without jobs deemed absolutely necessary by the state or those without children are sent to these reserve banks at the time of their 50th birthday for women and 60th birthday for men. They are considered "dispensible." The Unit itself offers every comfort imaginable. Every need is taken care of and the facilities themselves offer the dispensible population every possible luxury. However, the average life span of the residents upon entering is four years.

The complacency of the individuals is probably the most shocking. The reader is left to wonder why people would accept their fate so easily. While the individuals in the story struggle with great depression and sadness, they largely simply accept what is going on. Dorrit herself makes a number of close relationships that she never would have had in the outside world. While she is there, life becomes more precious than ever.

BOTTOM LINE: Recommended. This is a quick and engrossing read. The ending will take some readers by surprise. The book is thought-provoking if frustrating and leaves the reader wanting to discuss the themes and story further.


When reading a description of THE SPELLMAN FILES, it sounded to me like THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS if they ran a detective agency. I couldn't wait to read it.

For the Spellmans, detective work runs in the family. The agency works out of the family home and the children are started in the business early. 28-year-old Isabel "Izzy" Spellman is trying to navigate her life and find an identity outside of detective work. When it has been ingrained in you to do a full background check on potential mates and tail them for more information, it can been difficult to have a normal authentic relationship. The story follows Izzy's exploits while highlighting the eccentricities of this unusual family and their detective dynasty.

I was expecting a bit more whimsy and humor in this book. The characters are not particularly likeable. They intrude into the lives of others and respect no one's privacy. I know their extreme behavior is meant to be amusing but the whole thing left me cold.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. I found the whole book tedious and disappointing. It is impossible to develop any real empathy for the characters which makes their eccentricities annoying rather than endearing. The book is supposedly being made into a film and perhaps the actors will be able to bring the characters a little more humanity.

Monday, June 22, 2009

NO ONE YOU KNOW by Michelle Richmond

Ellie Enderlin's sister was murdered when Ellie was nineteen years old. At 19, when Ellie confessed her grief and feelings surrounding her sister's death to a professor, he betrayed her trust by writing a book about the tragedy. Ellie allows the book to define her sister as well as a possible killer. Twenty years later, the murder is still unsolved and Ellie has had to make a life in the aftermath of this tragedy.

I could not put this book down. Although it has elements of a murder mystery, the true story is about how we define ourselves and our lives. Do we allow our stories to be told through others? Can one defining moment truly change everything? Is it possible to overcome such tragedy? Ellie is an appealing and fascinating character and the way she grapples with her own story feels very authentic. It is a moving story of how one event can change lives and have lasting repercussions, often in unexpected ways.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. I read this book in two days. The story moves quickly and never lets go of the reader. I find the whole idea of your life as story that can be interpreted in different ways very compelling. I think this book will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Anniversary Reflections and A WINNER!!!

In honor of my six-year blogging anniversary, I thought I'd go back and read through all of my posts during my first two years of blogging. I started blogging a year before I met my husband. I seemed to whine a lot. About being lonely and hating my job. It seemed that everyone around me was going through life changes and I felt like I was staying in the same place. Now, six years later, I am living in California with a husband and a child and a very different job. I probably still whine a lot and depression can get me down. However, blogging has become more important to me than ever before. I decided to split my blog into two a few years back and focus my personal blog on life issues and book reviews. I created a separate blog for creative pursuits and little delights that I find. The new blog introduced me to a whole new group of blogging friends. The old blog focused my efforts and connected me to a wonderful world of fellow bibliophiles.

Thank you to my long-time readers and my new friends. You all inspire me so much.

And now for the winner:

"Random Integer Generator
Here are your random numbers:


And lucky number 21 is:

"Mary Isabella and Kiley too! said...
WOW!!!!! I am glad you are doing some better!!! What a great give-away...m.

June 10, 2009 7:00 AM"

Mary Isabella has been a devoted reader of mine for awhile. She always leaves me supportive comments and prayers for me when I ask for help. Plus, she has a delightful blog herself. So, Mary....I will be contacting you soon about your win!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Life by Candlelight Anniversary Giveaway!!!


To celebrate six years of blogging, I will be giving away a prize package that will include the following items which represent facets of my life:

1) A signed first edition book (I have a few that I will allow you to choose from if you win)

2) A subscription to Sunset magazine

3) Some crafting goodies including ephemera and vintage pieces

4) a vintage children's book (or two)

5) some edible goodies

6) a crafty item made for you by me

7) a few surprises!!!

To enter, leave a comment here. If you blog about my contest, you will receive an additional entry. (just leave me another comment letting me know you posted about it) If you twitter about the contest, you will get an additional entry. (again...leave me a comment telling me you tweeted!)

You can start entering today. I will be drawing the winner on Saturday, June 20. Good luck!!!


This book sounded like it would have something interesting to offer about the blurring of class lines in the romantic realm. It didn't.

THE SERVANTS' QUARTERS chronicles a young girl's relationship with her wealthy neighbor over a span of 20 years in post-WWII South Africa. Cressida's family's fortunes take a turn for the worse after the war and Cressida catches the eye of her wealthy and disfigured neighbor who becomes her mentor. Their relationship developes and evolves over twenty years as Cressida's family goes through its own transformations. This book reminds me in many ways of Marguerite Duras' THE LOVER. You have a young girl being encouraged by her family to enter into a relationship that society doesn't approve of. However, Freed doesn't really develop the story well and the reader is left with little to no empathy for the characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Not recommended. Even though this book is barely more than a novella, I found it very difficult to get through. I didn't care about any of the characters and had a hard time understanding the author's motivation.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Matt Logelin Signs Book Deal

I have had Matt Logelin's blog in my sidebar for awhile now. I found him through one of those "six degrees of separation" situations. Matt and his beautiful wife Liz had their baby girl about a month before I had my son. Liz saw Madeline one time. She died of a freak pulmonary embolism 27 hours after Maddy was born. Matt has been chronicling his grief and his life with Maddy on his blog. He is honest and open and posts absolutely gorgeous photos of Maddy every single day. It is hard for me to read the blog sometimes. Since becoming a mom, I find my emotions can run high. I don't even know these people and yet I get so upset at the injustice of Liz never getting to experience this beautiful little girl with her loving husband.

Matt recently signed a book deal. Here is the announcement from Publisher's Weekly:

"Maddy & Me

Pitched as The Last Lecture meets Marley & Me, Matt Logelin’s Adventures with Maddy: A Memoir of Love, Loss and the Extraordinary Community That Healed Us, went at auction to Amanda Englander at Grand Central. Rachel Sussman and Eve Bridburg of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth brokered the deal for North American rights. In the book, Logelin, who started a blog and founded the Liz Logelin Foundation after his wife died 72 [sic] hours following the birth of their daughter, offers advice on, and his own experiences, dealing with grief and loss. Per Grand Central, the auction was “heated,” with seven publishers vying for the book."

I am so looking forward to reading it. Matt's blog posts make me laugh and cry every time I read them. I'm sure his book will do the same thing. Do yourself a favor. Go check out his blog.

Also, Matt has created a foundation for widows and widowers with small children needing financial assistance. He encourages people to donate on the 7th of each month. I feel so blessed that I not only have a beautiful healthy child but I am around to see him grow up and my husband is as well. That is all the treasure I need.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Forthcoming Reviews

I took Noodlebug to his first swimming lesson on Friday. Looks like he is going to be a water baby! It has been overcast and yucky over the past week so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine.

I managed to finish two books over the weekend and almost finished a third:

THE UNIT by Ninni Holmqvist

Reviews will be coming soon!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Living Mindfully

I worry sometimes that I do not take time to appreciate and be thankful for the things I have. I try and pray every day but sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle. I need to take time every single day to say "thank you" for my healthy beautiful child. For my loving supportive husband. For my mom who takes care of all of us. For my home and my job. For my own health. For so many things.

I walked up to my building today and debated on taking the stairs up to my office or the elevator. I felt tired and out of sorts and started to head for the elevator. Then, I thought to myself about how lucky I am to be strong and healthy and ABLE to take the stairs. I shouldn't squander the opportunity because one day I might not have the option. I took the stairs.

I want to live mindfully. I want to be aware of all the blessings in my life. At the same time, I need to let go of some of my neuroses. Part of being mindful for me is that I can easily spin out of control such as not wanting Noodlebug to go to bed because I fear I am losing time with him. I hear other people's stories and I become painfully aware of how quickly everything I have can slip through my fingers. But...in this moment...right now...I am very very blessed. It's good to be aware of that.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

What is Marriage?

From the mouths of babes....

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Thank you to the Boston Bibliophile for honoring me with the following awards:

"Naida of The Bookworm created the award, and made this adorable button with a picture of her dog wearing one of her own hand-crocheted creations. So cute."

"Blogs that received the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers."

Thank you Marie!!! You honor me and you made my day.

In other news, my beloved cat won the Fabulous Feline Photo Contest in our little town!!! Our friends took this photo of his win:

And finally, I was blessed by three awards at my annual Junior League dinner. I got a US Presidential Service award for putting in over 100 hours of volunteer service over the last year. Then, I was surprised to receive "Committee Member of the Year." The most shocking moment came when I won one of our League's two biggest awards--The Bunny O'Brien Award. I have to admit I teared up quite a bit. It is so humbling to have your small contributions recognized. Especially when surrounded by such amazing women.

These awards have been just the boost I needed!


I have a big milestone coming up. At the end of this month, I will have been blogging for six years. Hard to believe.

In honor the big event, I will be hosting a giveaway. Stay tuned for details...

Monday, June 01, 2009

OF BEES AND MIST by Eric Setiawan

I was given the opportunity to read this forthcoming title through Barnes and Noble's First Look program.

I minored in Spanish in college and have always been a fan of Latin American magical realist fiction. When I found out that Setiawan's book would be following in this literary tradition, I was really excited to read it.

OF BEES AND MIST is a family saga with a twist. Meridia grows up in a loveless house surrounded by cold and mysterious mists. In an attempt to escape a world where she feels invisible, Meridia marries her first love at the age of sixteen only to trade one difficult life for another. For the next several years, Meridia battles with her mother-in-law Eva in an epic struggle that affects all of the family members. As the battle wages on, family secrets are drawn out into the open and mysterious occurrences plague the two families.

Setiawan was born in Indonesia to Chinese parents and didn't move to the United States until 1991 but I felt as if I was reading a work by Garcia-Marquez. Setiawan skillfully creates a world that exists outside of time and place. It could easily happen anywhere at anytime. While I visualized it occurring in a Latin American country, my friend saw it taking place in colonial Indochina. This imaginary world is filled with the impossible that simply becomes a part of the characters' everyday lives. Swarms of bees harrass characters into acting against their natures. Individuals fade into ghosts rather than dying traditional deaths. Marigolds take on supernatural properties as they choke the life out of a rose garden. This is no ordinary world that the characters inhabit. Even houses themselves become living, breathing characters in the book.

This book will be released in August 2009.

BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. Setiawan skillfully evokes the Latin American magical realist masters while making the genre his own. The reader is swept into the family drama and held there until all the secrets are revealed. I found the book difficult to put down and the ending was very satisfying.

John 1:5

I have to be honest. My family is in crisis right now. I don't know what the future will hold but this past weekend we worked on healing. Life often develops in unexpected ways. Truths that you hold onto sometimes turn out not to be true in the end. Expectations fail to be fulfilled and daily pressures create fissures. It can be increasingly hard to hold things together and sometimes you simply can't.

I still believe in the power of prayer. Some of you know how my father died. At the moment of his death, a traffic helicopter owned by a local Christian radio station happened to be circling overhead. The pilot said over the radio that he was witnessing an accident and that it looked to be bad. He asked listeners to pray for the individuals involved. To this day, I believe my father was carried away on the prayers of strangers. So, thank you for your prayers and well wishes. You don't know what it means to me.

I may be a bit sporadic in my posts but I am here and I am reading all of your blogs. Thank you!