Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Jane Eyre and the Eyre Affair

Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am very glad I read Jane Eyre--it is a wonderful, complex classic novel, with gothic themes of class injustice, morality, disability, and religion. I found it hard to put down, and I found myself thinking of it when I wasn't reading it--signs of a great novel!! I didn't LOVE it the way many other readers have, however.

Hailed as a great feminist classic, I couldn't get away from the unsettled feeling I had about Jane's love for Rochester. 20 years her senior, and he treats her like crap, at least initially, and doesn't even try to defend her when his "friends" are horrible to her. I found it very difficult to understand what she saw in him. Essentially, he was the first man who took any kind of interest in her. And although it is clear that Jane very much wanted to be an independent woman (and did stick to her principles at all costs), I found their relationship to be condescending. He kept talking about how tiny she was, and she could not help but call him "sir" and "master." It seemed much more like a father-daughter relationship than one of two lovers.

Also troubling was the madwoman in the attic. I am curious to read Wide Sargasso Sea, which is a "prequel" to Jane Eyre, about Rochester's marriage to Bertha Mason. As such a tragic figure (and it's also interesting to note the frequent [racist?] references to her Creole heritage), I wanted to know more about her story. What made her go mad? She was depicted as a villain...but having read enough stories about mental illness and women, I couldn't help but wonder what caused women in that era to go mad. Perhaps it was the likes of Ms. Ingram and other such shallow snobs!

I also found it very interesting to discover that Charlotte Bronte scorned Jane Austen (one of my favorites). Austen's books are funnier and lighter, and do not offer as much social commentary as Jane Eyre. I found an interesting article about types of literature in view of enneagram personality types. My enneagram (2) tends to prefer romantic comedies. Another article I read theorized that Bronte was a "4" on the enneagram, the type of person for which depth of feeling is the most important pursuit. I'm not generally one who is drawn to deep, dark tragedies--I was happy that the movie "The Piano" had a (sort of) happy ending.

Here are the links to the articles, in case you are interested in enneagrams and literature:



Given the complicated themes in the novel, isn't it interesting how things are all neatly tied up in the end, and there are some amazing coincidences going on? In summary, I would recommend that everyone read Jane Eyre. It's a classic.

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
We have three of Fforde's books, and I was looking forward to diving into what sounded like a great book. Last year I opened the front cover and began reading. Before I got very far, I ascertained that I had never actually read Jane Eyre. (As an English major, I read many classics and had read Wuthering Heights, but never Jane Eyre.) So I decided that I needed to read the source book first. I think its reputation as a classic led me to be a bit disappointed when I finally read it. Read my review for details.

Onto Thursday Next. Knowing my history with this book, I hope you will understand why I was disappointed. I had read Jane Eyre in preparation! Throughout most of the novel I kept wondering when we were going to end up in Jane Eyre. It didn't happen until the last section of the novel.

I am not a great lover of fantasy; I loved the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, and others but I gave up halfway through the second in the Lord of the Ring series. I love historical fiction and time travel, and as mentioned before, I was an English major. I also read thrillers occasionally. Seems like I would be the perfect reader for Fforde's fiction.

Instead I found my mind wandering, wondering when the plot was going to move along. The book was cleverly written--but I found Fforde to be too fascinated with his own cleverness. The characters were one-dimensional and I didn't particularly care about any of them, even Thursday Next. I certainly don't care about her enough to read any more of Fforde's novels, and I was relieved to be finished with this one.

Granted, the book did get more interesting when Next FINALLY went into Jane Eyre, but I found many bits of the book just too strange for my liking. Japanese tourists in Jane Eyre?

The one redeeming feature of the book is that Bertha Rochester is a hero!

View all my reviews >>

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Thoughts and Photos

Funny story of the day:
The joke is on me! I bought a bag of dark chocolates so I can treat myself occasionally. But I have to hide them from Mike, who has no willpower when it comes to chocolate. I hid them in my bedside table with a bunch of books. Today when I went to op...en the drawer, it had stuck shut! He had to help me open it. Ha! I gave him a chocolate for his troubles, but now I have to find a new hiding place! :)

Random comments on the day:
I don't like passive-aggressive or flakey behavior.

I finished my second knitted washcloth, but I had to look for a video on "binding off" on youtube, because I doubted myself and my Stitch 'n Bitch book. I'm not sure when I'll feel confident enough to try something beyond washcloths!

If someone has not been able to improve his/her performance so far, how can I help this person to do so in the future? Is it even possible?

Why do people have to be so hateful, and why do we as Americans allow this behavior? It seems that there is not enough outrage about all the racist, hateful comments about Obama.

I am a drill sergeant when it comes to helping Chris study.

Nick doesn't want to grow up--this preschool thing is hard for him. He keeps informing me that he is a baby.

Kieran can be so sweet...when he's not competing with his little brother for attention. But last weekend when Mike and David took the boys to a playground, Nick came down the slide, half hanging over it. Kieran swooped in and rescued him before Mike could get to him.

I desperately wish Chris would pass out of his wrestling obsession. He really, really wants me to like wrestling, but it is so far away from something I would ever like. I cannot pretend to like it, even for him.

Recent random photos:

Kieran, aka Danny Zuko, during his "Grease" phase...which has now turned into a "Hobbit" phase. I cannot keep up!!!

I bought him this leather jacket on eBay, thinking it could be for his Halloween costume. However, he now informs us he will be Bilbo Baggins for Halloween.

Too bad, because he made an adorable Danny Zuko!

Kieran, Nick, and Mike made the school newsletter!

Nicholas' obsessions have stayed a bit more constant--firefighting, Santa hats, and Cinderella (and princesses of many persuasions, thanks to his Grandma England!).

Kieran and Nick at back-to-school night at the gradeschool, putting on a performance in the Wildwood:

Kieran's all geared up for drama club, which starts one day a week after school in October. He can't wait!
Last Friday Mike took Nick to the zoo for the morning, so he could see his beloved Samudra the baby elephant.

Tonight he informed me that he was Dumbledore! (Notice Kieran in the background, desperately wanting to be in the photo)

What's that you say, Severus?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Dalai Lama, a Feminist?

“I call myself a feminist,” said the Dalai Lama. “Isn’t that what you call someone who fights for women’s rights?”

In a speech in Memphis yesterday, His Holiness declared himself to be a feminist.

Now how can we convince the pope?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Challenge Your Perceptions

This amazing artist has a way of presenting images that speak a thousand words. Take a look.

Doing the Monster Mash in Puyallup!

We spent a fun weekend in Puyallup with my sister Nadine and her family. The weather was fickle, but it turned out to be nice enough for us to eat al fresco both evenings: pesto salmon the first night, and stir fry the second.

Most memorable for me about the weekend was the opportunity to hang out with my sister. We were able to steal away for a few hours on Saturday to go shopping and out for lunch. Always a rare treat! Sunday we got to go have a cup of coffee while Kieran accompanied his cousins to their first day of Sunday School.

The kids indulged in lots of playing in parks, riding bikes, and celebrating Halloween a bit early. Chris' high point was a trip to Border's after all the little boys had gone to sleep! Nadine had made an outing to Michael's, where she purchased all sorts of fun Halloween crafts. Our nephews had a CD of silly Halloween songs, and the kids have become obsessed with "The Monster Mash" in particular--Nicholas in particular is hilarious singing it with his little accent! When we returned home, I discovered this tool that allows you to personalize the Monster Mash with your own faces--check it out!

Park time:

Four boys in a bath!

Playing firefighter with Daniel:

When we drove away, all the boys were crying! Nothing works better to make me feel guilty about leaving! They definitely love their cousins...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Every Day as a Gift

"Life is unjust and this is what makes it so beautiful. Every day is a gift. Be brave and take hold of it."

— Garrison Keillor

Perhaps you have noticed the quotations that circulate on my blog (right-hand side) each time you visit or refresh the page, "Marie's Favorite Quotes." Every few days, I post whatever quote pops up at random on my Facebook page. This was the quote of the day, today.

Synchronicity...because over the weekend we learned some horrible news. Mike's cousin's 20-year-old daughter was killed last week in a head-on traffic collision. We didn't know Jenna well, because we didn't see her often. We hadn't, in fact, seen her since 2004 at the last extended-family gathering. She was the junior bridesmaid (aka flower girl) at Mike's sister's wedding, and we first met her when she was an adorable, happy little baby. She loved her family and her friends, and she seemed to have a wonderful relationship with her brother Alistair and her younger cousins.

I probably know more parents who have outlived their children than most people. At any age, it is never anything but life destroying and tragic. I can't get her parents out of my mind--she had so much promise and hope yet to come. They had raised her to be a loving, fun young woman (judging from the many messages and photos posted on her Facebook tribute page by her friends). She was a teacher's assistant and had been training to be a preschool teacher.

Our dear friends Catherine and Doug were told at the birth of their 23-weeker, Parker, to treat every day with him as a gift. Parker lived for 7 days, and Catherine and Doug still view that week as one of the most precious gifts of their lives.

As if I needed another reminder, this quotation jerks me back again to that reminder to treat each encounter with my loved ones, each day I am healthy and active, each moment I am alive as gifts. May we constantly remind ourselves.

Jenna with her cousins in 2004

And more recently, as a young woman:

Return of McCarthyism?

This frightening video makes me concerned about the future of this country. It astonishes me that people actually listen to this vitriol and do not recognize it for what it is: a return to McCarthyist attacks without any substance. It's a witch hunt in the works. Where is the Edward R. Murrow of our time? Is it Jon Stewart?

Friday, September 18, 2009

I love my city!

This video shows the best of Portland and its surrounding area--it's a great taste of the city! It shows glimpses of most of my favorite places...such as the gorge, the beach, the Portland Farmer's Market, and Powell's. I love this place!

Book Review--The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal

The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jonathan Mooney, diagnosed dyslexic and ADD, after graduating from Brown University with honors and cowriting a book about his personal journey, decided to embark on another journey in a vehicle symbolic of all that's labeled outside of "normal." Short buses historically (and sometimes currently) transported students who were labeled with disabilities. Mooney's adventure takes him to meet all sorts of unusual people, most of whom were labeled with disabilities somewhere along the way.

He meets others of all ages with ADD and LD--some friends, some acquaintances, and some strangers, joins up with his sister and girlfriend (who he proposes to during the journey) among others, meets a blind-deaf girl who swears in sign language, gets to know a young adult woman with Down Syndrome who is far more normal than he had expected, meets a transgendered individual with a different type of reality in Kennebunkport, Maine, attends "Burning Man" in Nevada, gets to know an alienated 15-year-old named Miles Davis, meets a middle-aged man named Jeff who appears to have Asperger's or autistic tendencies, and reconnects with his extremely conservative and eccentric priest uncle.

Although he graduated from an Ivy League school (as he is obviously proud of, since he mentions it several times), Mooney still struggles with a lot of anger and identity issues. The short bus journey is his attempt to exercise those demons. Although he seems to want to embrace others who have been labeled with disabilities, he also sets himself apart and honestly talks about his discomfort with some of them. He seems to feel energized and redeemed by the whole experience in the end.

Mooney combined his adventure tales with historical facts about various disability labels, and he reveals his youth by getting drunk and swearing a lot. I was not aware that the first victim of eugenics (forced sterilization) was a woman with epilepsy. I am reminded of how my son might be if he didn't have medication to control his own seizure "disorder" (not to mention that he probably wouldn't have survived or at least done as well had he been born even 10 years previously, since he was born at 24 weeks gestation).

I'm also reminded of the way we treat people in our society who are not considered to be "normal"...the impact that a look, a comment, or a sneer can have on a person, especially in the formative years of childhood. So many people have been damaged by encounters with teachers, parents, peers, or strangers. Who's to say that we are not the "abnormal" ones?

View all my reviews >>

After taking on his short bus journey, Mooney went on to cofound Project Eye-to-Eye, a nonprofit organization that matches up kids with attention and learning differences with adult mentors who have "survived" the system.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gipsy Kings Concert

A couple of weeks ago Mike and I were lucky to score tickets for the Gipsy Kings concert at McMenamin's Edgefield. A guy at work wasn't able to go and he was selling his seats...they were in the 15th row and much more than we would typically pay for a concert. However, the Gipsy Kings RARELY come to Portland and they are a sentimental favorite of ours.

We first got introduced to the Gipsy Kings by Kath, the Scottish woman who introduced me and Mike. We listened to a lot of Gipsy Kings in Japan, and when we got married in 1990, we played their music at our wedding. I still remember Mike's brother--who had flown in the night before and was horribly jetlagged--dancing like a demon with Mike's sister (to the Gipsy Kings)...and then taking a break between songs by napping with his head on a table! The Gipsy Kings' music permeates our wedding video. Their music brings back wonderful memories...so we felt we had to jump at the chance to go to their concert.

Unfortunately, as the day drew near (the Sunday of Labor Day weekend), the forecast looked dire. We prepared by dressing warmly and bringing rain gear and blankets. Sure enough, we did get drenched in a downpour, but the crowd's spirit failed to wilt. The spirited crowd danced in the aisles and had a great, flamenco time.

In fact, we almost witnessed a fistfight as a bunch of people began dancing in front of the stage, but in front of the rows of reserved seats people had paid good money for. The security guards kept stepping in and asking people to sit down. Beer had been drunk, and these people wanted to dance. Gipsy Kings music is meant to be danced to. A couple of men started shaking their fists at the bodyguards, and at one point one guy put his hand in his pocket and I thought he was going to pull out a gun. Instead, he started pointing his digital camera and taking photos of the security guards, while shaking his fists at them. I thought the whole thing was pretty ridiculous...first of all that people weren't allowed to dance, and second that unruly people tried to pick fights! The Gipsy Kings even said (in Spanish): "No fighting; enjoy the music!" They didn't appear to speak much English but were able to communicate through their music.

McMenamin's Edgefield seemed to be a good venue for the concert--we felt very lucky to have reserved seats because of the rain. With the exception of the fights, most people had a great time--it was a great Oregon experience, Gipsy Kings in the rain! Watching the crowd was almost as fun as watching the kings.

My only regret about the concert was that it was short--about an hour and a half. I think it was the most expensive concert we've been to, per minute! I did comment to Mike that many of the fast songs they were playing would be absolutely exhausting to play on the guitar...and they took no breaks, except to play some slower songs. Flamenco guitar is apparently played without picks, too. So I don't blame them for not playing a longer set.

Here are two of their oldies, songs that I will always associate with our wedding! The kings are now much older than as depicted in these music videos...but boy, can they play!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rest in Peace, Mary Travers

Reading the news tonight that Mary Travers of Peter Paul and Mary has died, I am struck by nostalgia and sadness. As a folk music lover, guitar player, and singer, I've always loved Peter Paul and Mary. As a pacifist and progressive, I've always loved their music and their message. Noel Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow have written wonderful tributes of their musical collaborator and partner on their web site.

Travers had been battling leukemia for several years; I knew she was ill. But her death makes me so sad. Her message of peace, tolerance, and compassion is so desperately needed right now.

Here are some wonderful old videos of PP&M--one of my favorites, "If I Had a Hammer," which Pete Seeger wrote but PP&M made big:

Check out this great oldie with a VERY YOUNG Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Freedom Singers at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963:

And this one, in which the "real" meaning of "Puff the Magic Dragon" is explained:

My favorite Peter Paul and Mary song is "Light One Candle," which Mike and I sang frequently for meetings focusing on peace through our church...and we were also asked to sing the song at the funeral of two young people, Mark and Katie, who died in their prime, while on a hike in the Columbia Gorge. I will never forget that horrible evening...with two coffins at the front of the church. That song seemed apt for their lives, which were committed to peace and justice. Chris was just a baby then--and I remember him waving to everyone at the funeral while we were singing. Later, the grieving family commented that his waves cheered their souls.

I can't find the video (Peter Paul and Mary's web site is down), but here are the great lyrics.

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks that their light didn't die
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand
But light one candle for the wisdom to know
When the peacemaker's time is at hand

Don't let the light go out!
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears.

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts (chorus)

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died
That we cry out they've not died in vain?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail! (chorus)

Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!

Yay, Average!!!

When Chris was born 24 weeks early, he weighed 1 lb, 6 oz, and was only 11 inches long. He wasn't even on the growth charts pediatricans use to ascertain whether a child is growing "normally." Now they have growth charts for preemies, but 13 years ago they did not. Even if they had, I suspect that his "micropreemie" status would have still kept him off the charts, since the vast majority of preemies are not nearly as little as he was. He didn't even get to the BOTTOM of the growth chart (1st percentile) until he was well over 3.
The first year of Chris' life he had horrible gastroesophageal reflux. He vomited several times a day, usually all over us, when he was eating. I gave up breastfeeding and pumped for 15 months total instead because it seemed to cause him to vomit. On my first Mother's Day, I ended up in frustrated tears because not only was he not interested in drinking his bottle, but he was also not interested in solid food. The doctors were worried about "failure to thrive" and several suggested a g-tube, which we resisted. The kidney doctor wanted to put him on human growth hormones!! (We resisted that, too, based on the fact that said kidney doctor was as tall as a giraffe, and he seemed to think that Chris' life would be irreparably damaged if he were short!)

Earlier this year Chris grew taller than me. That is not too difficult to accomplish, given the fact that I am only 5'0"--but it was a milestone!
Today he had his 13-year checkup this morning, and unbelievably, he is now at the 50th percentile for height! Even more unbelievable is that he's just under 50th percentile for weight...since he's still mighty skinny.
He eats like a horse. He's now discovered our favorite Trader Joe's ginger granola, which I measure out every morning because of its calorie content, and he's eating it all up rapidly. We call him "the bottomless pit."
Average is a HUGE milestone in our lives. Hip, hip, hooray!!!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Longer a Baby--Nicholas Turns Three!

We returned from Toronto late on Wednesday night (September 2), and two days later was Nick's third birthday. I took the day off work (ha! after a week and a half of vacation!) and we went to the Enchanted Forest for the day, my parents in tow. Nick (and everyone else) thoroughly enjoyed himself, as you can see in the photos below. His only disappointment was that he was too short to go on the big log flume! Kieran, Mike, Chris, and I went, though, and enjoyed getting soaked to the skin.

One of our favorite things to do at Enchanted Forest, theater lovers that we are, is to watch their VERY SILLY plays. Here's Kieran posing with the actors of "Snow White and the Seven Dorks":

My dad was such a trooper! The western town has a teepee with a tunnel that goes underground and comes out across the little street. He followed Nick into the tunnel, wonderful grandpa that he is! Here they are looking out at us from the maze inside the wall:

And more great lookout points in the castle to pretend to be a scary creature!

With some of the classic nursery rhyme scenes:

Notice Kieran acting like Jack falling down the hill:

Looking at Snow White sweeping the dwarves' house:

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile...

After returning to Portland that evening, we took Nick to the Spaghetti Factory to celebrate. Honestly, the part he cared the most about was the ICE CREAM! (When we asked him where he wanted to go to celebrate his birthday, first he said "Grandma and Grandpa's House," and when we asked about a restaurant, he said "Baskin Robbins!")

Three-year-olds have such simple tastes. His gifts from us were a few books (Donald Duck's adventures in Canada and a Cinderella pop-up book), a birthday shirt that said "Nick 3" (that he's wearing in the photos), and a firefighter backpack with his name on it.

That big carafe of wine wasn't for him... :)
Grandpa's winning way of making him eat his mac 'n cheese (threatening to eat it himself!)

At last, the ice cream!!!

The next day, we had Nick's godparents and a few other special friends over to celebrate. Some of his favorite presents were--a framed photo of Samudra (the baby elephant at the Oregon Zoo):

An elephant watering jug and a lego school bus:
And a wonderful, unique Santa hat!! (He LOVES his Santa hats!)

Our Seattle friends Nancie and Dave, who happened to be in town, and were able to help us celebrate (and were the givers of the Santa hat!):

I just had to take this photo of my mom, who was being ever so helpful and had a little incident with the coffee grinder:

Since Nick only cares about ice cream (and does not go for cake), we had pie to go with the ice cream (and to put a candle in):

Yay! More ice cream!!!
And today, Nick started preschool! He's going to a very short class (1-1/2 hour) for 2-1/2-year-olds, since he turned 3 after the cutoff. It was a very successful first day!!

No longer my baby!!!