Tuesday, March 24, 2015

making horrible things funny--is it possible?

Here's a terrific analysis by Emily Nussbaum of Tina Fey's new Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, published in the New Yorker.  Is it a rape-survivor sitcom?  Good question.

The show certainly alludes to dark places, but also comes off as sparkly, quirky, and very funny.  My 15 year old daughter is watching it, and I know that the rapid-fire dialogue and references to life in the bunker and "weird sex things" have escaped her.   Why does Kimmy have a fear of Velcro?  Why did the plastic surgeon comment on her gorgeous skin, untouched by the sun, but marred by scream lines?  Sophie has been enjoying the show largely because of some familiar characters from 30 Rock who are there, and also because Kimmy is so darn cute and upbeat.

This makes me think of other survivor stories in literature.  There are not too many that are humorous and play on so many current topics, tabloid obsessions and viral memes like Kimmy.  I recently read Lena Dunham's new memoir, Not That Kind of Girl.  I wouldn't call it a rape survivor memoir, but there is a scene in it where she discusses her own sexual assault memory.

She discusses a rape experience in college (analyzed here in an article published in ThinkProgress about why it is important she wrote about this), one that was clouded by poor judgment and alcohol.  The more we hear about these things, the more it is reported, and the more that we discuss it with our daughters, the better. 

It's been 2 weeks since I finished this book, and I have changed my mind about it.  I wasn't that impressed with it the first time I read it, and blogged about both in this recent post, but many of her stories and memories have stayed with me.   I do believe there is value in women sharing their shameful experiences in order to prevent them from happening over and over again.  I now think this book is more important than I thought it was the first time I read it. 

The struggle I have now is how to broach these subjects without instilling fear in my daughter that all men are potential rapists, and danger lurks around the corner at every unchaperoned party, and later down the road, fraternity party.  All men are not predators.  All parties are not dangerous.  But for crying out loud, please let's teach our daughters how to avoid dangerous situations.  I know kids who are afraid of their own shadows, and I certainly don't think this is a good parenting goal.  I am so thankful that I was able to convince my friend to hold a self-defense class for teenagers this winter.  We left Sophie alone for an evening, but she was totally comfortable with it, and had her pepper spray she bought at the self defense class on her bedside table!  But that's a whole other blog post . . .

Sarah Silverman, the extremely raunchy comedian, recently reposted on March 21 something about her tongue-in-cheek "rape prevention tips for men" that offended a lot of people.  Here it is if you want to give it a read.    Is this treatment of a serious and violent crime funny?   I leave it up to you to be the judge of that.  Of course, I would love to her your thoughts on the matter of making light out of serious topics as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

4th-6th grade wilderness survival book picks

We have been reading a lot of Gary Paulsen around here lately.  Jack read his biography for school and borrowed copies of several of his books from his teacher. 

Gary James Paulsen is an American writer of young adult literature, best known for coming of age stories about the wilderness.   Perhaps you are familiar with the title of one of his more famous books:  Hatchet

A three time Newbery Honor Winner, Paulsen has written over 175 books, but Hatchet is probably his most famous.  In this novel, the protagonist is a thirteen-year-old son (Brian) of divorced parents. As he travels on a Cessna 406 bush plane to visit his father in the oil fields in northern Canada for the summer, the pilot suffers a massive heart attack and dies. Brian tries to land the plane, but ends up crash-landing into a lake in the forest. He must learn to survive on his own with nothing but his hatchet—a gift his mother gave him shortly before his plane departed.  The story is an account of his summer--and final rescue (somewhat far-fetched). 

Since the publication of the book, readers have been writing to Paulsen and complaining about the ending.  In response, Paulsen wrote 2 more books in the series.  Brian's Winter explores an alternative ending--what happens to Brian if he isn't suddenly rescued?  How would he survive a winter alone in the wilderness?

Paulsen says, "Since my life has been one of survival in winter — running two Iditarods, hunting and trapping as a boy and young man — the challenge became interesting, and so I researched and wrote Brian's Winter, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued."

I recently read this book because I chose it for a 5th grade boy I am tutoring and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's highly accessible and exciting.  Chapters are fast paced, and the writing is clear and descriptive. 

While Paulsen's oeuvre is immense, I highly recommend the Hatchet series for any adventure loving boy or girl in grades 4-6.

Monday, March 9, 2015

couch potato

Wow.  I am not quite sure where February went.  All I know is that I got caught up in A LOT of drama, luckily screen drama and not real life!  Let's see:  there was Downton Abbey, the first several episodes of Better Call Saul, and then House of Cards in ONE WEEK (thank you snow days!). 

Now Sophie and I started watching the new Tina Fey Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  My reading lifestyle has really take a back burner.  This show is adorable, not really like 30 Rock, but quirky and charming.  It's a modern day Bewitched!

But I did go to the library several times, largely for reading material for Jack.  He is enamored of Jeff Shaara and is plowing through his historical fiction.   There is no doubt this boy is going to major in history in college.  The awesome librarian at our main library saved the new book for him. 

I was thrilled to spot a less intellectual book on the "new books" book shelf:  Lena Dunham's  memoir.

Again, more fluff but what can I say.  I read some critical reception of her memoir and it all strikes me as ridiculous.  Sure, there's a lot of graphic language about sex and all things related to it, but whatever.  There's nothing offensive or scandalous here.  Trust me.  I like her show Girls on HBO, but it isn't anything really to write home about.  The book is the same way.  She's a straight talking feminist with anxiety issues, which I can appreciate, and it's entertaining.  It's not going to change the world.  What I did truly say AMEN to was her advice to young women about who to go to bed with/not go to bed with.  From page 20: 

"Here's who it's okay to share a bed with:  Your sister if you're a girl, your brother if you're a boy, your mom if you're a girl, and your dad if you're under twelve or he's over ninety.  Your best friend.  A carpenter you picked up at the key-lime-pie stand in Red Hook.  A bellhop you met in the business center of a hotel in Colorado.  A Spanish model, a puppy, a kitten, one of those domesticated minigoats.  A heating pad.  An empty bag of pita chips.  The love of your life."

"Here's who it's not okay to share a bed with:  Anyone who makes you feel like you're invading their space.  Anyone who tells you that they 'just can't be alone right now'.  Anyone who doesn't make you feel like sharing a bed is the coziest and most sensual activity they could possibly be undertaking . . . Now, look over at the person beside you.  Do they meet these criteria?  If not, remove them or remove yourself.  You're better off alone."

My 15 year daughter has a serious boyfriend, and one of my best friends is insistent that I discuss safe sex with her.  Can I just hire Lena?

My brain has turned to mush this winter, what with kids home from school for what seemed like forever, a crazy dog who still wanted to run in snowstorms, and the usual chaos that comes from raising a tween and a teenager.  Escapism was my SAVIOR.  Thank you Netflix, PBS, and AMC.  Thank you internet shopping.  Thank you Lena.  Let's hope spring ushers in less tv/internet related survival skills. 

SO, how did YOU survive winter?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

your turn

I went to bed at 830 pm (house is soooo cold) and was up at 730.  There is a snow storm going on outside.  There's really not much to do here.  I'm supposed to be hosting supper club for 4 couples tonight but really don't see how that is going to happen without going to the store.  And that's not happening any time soon.
Would someone please tell me something funny/shocking/scandalous/mundane about what they have been up to recently?  Leave me a comment.  About anything.  I would greatly appreciate it.  (Out of books, out of movies, out of tv to catch up on, finished with laundry, no more closets to clean, etc. )

Friday, February 20, 2015

snowed in!

SW Virginia doesn't really DO snow.  The schools have been closed all week.  Today the schools are closed not because of dangerous road conditions, but because of the cold weather (it's 1 degree out there!).  Which is all fine and dandy in my world!  We have had a lovely week of sleeping in, reading, watching movies, organizing, venturing out for a few snowy adventures, and eating.  Yes, I have been cooking up huge breakfasts and making casseroles right and left.  I got out on Tuesday before the temps dropped to strap on my skis.  A photographer from the local paper was out snapping pictures of people out and about.  We made it into the online paper!

picture of me cross country skiing with a friend

My kids were in heaven this week, and I gave no thought to other people who might not be enjoying the week off as much as we.  So imagine my surprise when I was on facebook last night and saw a post the our public school system is delivering lunches today at several schools to feed the children who normally have a free or reduced lunch.  "How nice," I thought.  But then I looked through the comments.  The judgmental posts about deadbeat welfare parents who can't seem to put a meal on the table were disgusting.  The criticism of this school district decision quite surprising!  The ignorant comments were plentiful.  I can scarcely believe there are people opposed to providing a bagged lunch to children who probably haven't been eating this week.  But there are. 

So then I got an email from two friends who were organizing a very last minute blitzkrieg at the grocery store to supplement these bagged lunches with care packages to take home over the weekend.  The email said to forward on to anyone who might be interested in donating money.  Of course I forwarded it on to my book club.  This is a group of women whose compassion knows no bounds.  And lo and behold 30 minutes later I was at our book club meeting and one woman had already called to volunteer to work at the distribution site and another one brought money to drop off on our way home.  God bless those ladies who got up at 6 am to shop for other people's children.  Compassion matters.  I don't know how to tie this post into what my usual blog theme of relating everything to a book, but I guess this one is about stepping outside of your bubble and looking around at the world and actually giving a flying f*ck. 

Last night we at our book club we discussed The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

There was a quote that I had put a post it on to discuss with the group.  When we meet our main character, A.J., he is depressed and trying to drink himself to death.  His wife died and his book store is not doing well.  Then he wakes on day to find a surprise that turns his life around.  That surprise is an abandoned baby girl. 

A.J. watches Maya in her pink party dress, and he feels a vaguely familiar, slightly intolerable bubbling inside of him.  He wants to laugh out loud or punch a wall.  He feels drunk or at least carbonated.  insane.  At first he thinks this is happiness, but then he determines it's love.  Love, he thinks, what a bother.  It's completely gotten in the way of his plan to drink himself to death, to drive his business to ruin.  The most annoying things about it is that once a person gives a shit about one thing, he finds he has to start giving a shit about everything.

I love this quote for some reason.  Love can change one's whole perspective on life.  Maybe compassion works the same way too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Do you have an instagram account?  Do you find attractive men reading books to be sexy?  Then I suggest you follow this account.  The New York City Instagram account (anonymous) "Hod Dudes Reading" was created only a week ago and has over 75,000 followers to date.  I am one of them.  It features all types of good looking men reading books and newspapers while riding the subway.  It's harmless good fun!
a sample hunk with book

Monday, February 16, 2015

no stress book swap party

On Valentines Day I hosted an afternoon book swap with girlfriends.  It's such an easy and fun party to host.  Guests were asked to bring a few used books, and were given gift bags with favors (chocolate treats and a bookmark) to collect several "new to you" books to take home. 

The party involved minimal prep on my part.  All I did was clean the house (I like an excuse for housework), polish the silver, shop (I didn't bake anything), build a fire, and clear out the husband and dog.  I was thrilled that my new guest bathroom toilet arrived just 24 hours before the party.  Here I am super relieved that the bathroom is complete.  It took 4 weeks longer than I thought it would!!!  The darn toilet kept arriving cracked and broken.

new bathroom in background

tea and prosecco, what more do you need?

I served petite fours, cheese straws, toast with fig spread and goat cheese, tea, and champagne cocktails.

so pretty and store bought

a southern staple

Prosecco with sugar cube and angostura bitters -- my favorite

We were a small gathering.  I invited some people I don't usually see around, one of whom was the mother of Sophie's boyfriend.  It was great to get to know her.  After socializing for an hour, we looked at the books for grabs that were gathered on the dining room table.  Everyone left with some new books and a jump start to their evening plans, or in my case, lack of evening plans.  No one ate a lot, so I had leftover sweets that were incorporated into Sophie's romantic dinner.  Her adorable boyfriend came over to make dinner with  her. 

he's a keeper
They used my electric wok from 1985 to make Asian food.  However, he only showed up with carrots and broccoli, so I had to run to Kroger for them to supplement the stir fry.  I set the table for them in the dining room, lit candles and put out all the leftovers for their dessert.  Then she asked us to leave!  Rob and I went out and had a drink at a nearby bar and came home and ate their leftovers.  She said they tried to clean up and put dishes away, but the kitchen was a disaster.  I cleaned up the all the splattered sesame oil and soaking pans (4??).  Despite this, I couldn't have asked for a nicer Valentines Day.