Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Sparkling Surprise

Jingle Dangle Earrings from LuShae Jewelry

I am not the sort who was ever chosen for teams or who wins things. I don't tend to stand out in a crowd (which is fine by me. Sometimes, although Fate may seem to be in charge, we carefully plot and plan what happens to us, and, being shy by nature, I can't stand to have all eyes on me, usually because it means at least one person will be commenting on how red I am), and I am pretty certain that I don't make much of an impression on people. This means I am quite envious of those of you who do get chosen for teams. In the world of book bloggers, that translates into being sent copies of books by publishers and authors to review on your blog. I know that this is such a common occurrence for some of you that you actually find it to be a bit of a nuisance. Oh, to have such "nuisances" in my life.

Imagine how happy I was when I was asked last year to review a couple of books on my blog. I patted myself on the back for somehow managing to draw the attention of Oneworld Publications, because, well, if you are going to draw the attention of a publisher, this is a pretty impressive one to draw. Somehow, I'd managed to show up on the radar screen of an international publisher, one that is quite classy. My little blog that pretends not to be a book blog while doing nothing but screaming "BOOKS!" must be doing something right.

If you can imagine how happy that made me, you now must imagine how completely shocked I was to open my email one day to find a message from Sarah with this subject line: "A quick idea to run by you." I thought it was from a friend of mine, so I was not expecting it to be from someone I didn't know at all, but I soon discovered it was. This Sarah explained that she had just been on my site and that this might seem like an unusual request, but could she send me some jewelry to review on my blog. Jewelry?! I figured she must have been thinking of someone else. Have I ever even mentioned jewelry on this blog? I mean books make sense, but jewelry?

Still, she must have read enough of my blog to know how insatiably curious I am. She knew I'd check out her site, LuShae Jewelry, and she was right: I did. Immediately. I soon discovered that I very much liked what I saw. Oh my! I got to choose any of these offerings free? How to choose. But really, even though I perused the entire site, I knew I was just wasting time. I knew that when it comes to selecting jewelry for myself, that no matter how beautiful a pendant is or how bangly a bangle, I am an earring kinda gal. I could have skipped all that other stuff and headed right to this page. (Well, actually, I did do that, but then I went back and looked at all the other stuff.)

I was sure this was too good to be true, but it seemed quite legitimate. I emailed Sarah, told her what I'd chosen (the jingle dangles you see pictured), and she sent me an online coupon that allowed me to order them for nothing. I didn't even have to pay for the shipping. I didn't have to give a credit card number. Then, I did what I so often do: I forgot all about it until this small box arrived in the mail one day.

To say I was pleased would be an understatement. I loved these earrings immediately. They are sparkly, but not too sparkly. They dangle, but not too far. They have lots of colors, so I can wear them with many different things. And they are nice and light. I don't like heavy earrings (my ears, like everything else about me, being delicate). I have only had them for about month, and I have worn them multiple, multiple times.

So, thank you, Sarah, for getting in touch with me. I will soon be back for more.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect Day (Part II)

Dedication: To poor Baby Smithereens, who after Part I was posted had to wait so long to hear the end of the tale.

So, there was Princess Emily, wondering if she would ever get in, wondering if she would ever find Princesses Marcy and Becky, wondering if The Perfect Day could be had. The Perfect Day was not to be eluded, however. Princess Marcy's own steed Jeep came bounding around the corner hot on Prius's tail to save the day. The darling fairy at the next gate did not pose impossible questions, very kindly telling Princess Emily that although, it was true, there was no room on castle grounds for anymore steeds, room could be found right outside the gates for tethering Prius. Princesses Marcy and Becky followed Princess Emily out, so she could dismount Prius and let them bring her safely back through the gates.

And then, The Perfect Day showed up in all its glory (obviously a much easier thing to find than a Perfect Husband). The Barnes Castle proved itself to be filled with Renoirs, one of Princess Emily's favorite (sad to say, she is not very original when it comes to art appreciation) and with many, many other dazzling works of art. Princess Emily discovered quite a few pieces of furniture that would look excellent in Princess Marcy's castle, but pillaging, they decided, is something best left up to knights.

Soon, it was time to leave Barnes Castle for the midday meal. Afterwards, Princess Marcy and Princess Becky had decided they'd mix with some commoners in Philadelphia's marketplace. Princess Emily, as we all know, does not frequent marketplaces often, but she will go anywhere when in the company of these two particularly charming princesses. What a relief it was not to have any other royalty around to tell them that it was not proper to mix with the common folk, as if they had not heard that a thousand times. These three are not real big on propriety.

Princesses Marcy and Becky are far more adept, of course, at navigating marketplaces, and they knew all the names above the stalls, many of which were completely unfamiliar to Princess Emily. Nevertheless, this was The Perfect Day (to prove it, the sun was shining brightly, and the princesses had been able to leave heavy cloaks and woolen capes at their inn just before happening upon some of the best pizza Princess Emily could remember having eaten in a long time). Because it was the The Perfect Day, Princess Emily was going to find herself enjoying the marketplace immensely. Every stall seemed to beckon to her with just the right article of clothing/book/delicious bar of soap.

She found a new dress. She found a wonderful hat. She walked into a store where a man complimented her on the dress she had chosen to wear specifically for this quest, which made her feel wonderful. And then she found The Perfect Boots, the sort of boots she'd been wanting for ages, and the operator of the market stall that sold them had marked them way down, especially for this day. The rest of the Royal Palace of Lancaster might be shocked to discover that she had bought clothing and shoes off the common street, but let them be (Princess Emily specializes in shocking the Royal Palace). By the end of the day, Princess Emily actually ended up with more wares than either Princess Becky or Princess Marcy. However, Princess Marcy was very brave and allowed someone other than her own Lady in Waiting to make up her face for her.

It was, by then, the cocktail hour. The princesses headed back to their inn for some drink specialties -- the sorts of things never drunk by knights, only by princesses. And then they were off for one more cocktail and a fabulous meal, mingling, yet again, with the common folk. Poor Princess Becky, worn out from all her travels, then had to get to bed, and The Perfect Day (alas!) drew to a close with Princesses Marcy and Emily chatting away until they could no longer keep their eyes open.

As the three princesses mounted their steeds the following day, after a proper diner breakfast, they were already making plans for the next big adventure. They are confident that many, many more Perfect Days are to be had. Princess Emily has heard rumors that one might even be hiding out in the Kingdom of Lancaster. The other two will soon come down to her castle to help her find it (but where will Princess Emily hide the Imperfect Husband while they are visiting?).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Word from My Minister

I promise I will give you the rest of the Princesses' story as they search for The Perfect Day, but I had to mark this most miraculous day (as far as I am concerned) when the U.S. has finally joined the ranks of all the other Western countries in the world, taking a huge leap torwards making sure all our citizens get the healthcare that should be a natural human right (especially in a country as wealthy as ours with the resources we have). I have decided to let you hear a different sort of Christian voice (not the sort you tend to read about these days, the sort that seems to be full of hate and "othering," but rather the voice that comes from those of us who are trying our damnest to live life the way we believe we have been taught to live it) tell you how we feel about this. Thus, I am sharing a quote from an email that Bob sent to a dear friend of ours tonight. I hope it speaks volumes and will help you understand that not all Christians are about hate and condemnation and judgment of others.

The bill passed. I stayed up to see if would, and it did. I realize there
are so many hurdles still ahead, all the political shenanigans that the Right
will use to weaken what has been achieved. But tonight a good thing was done,
one that I sincerely believe that the man from Nazareth, the Lord of my soul,
would have wished. We live in a country of rampant individualism, really, I
believe, in the end selfishness. This speaks to the care of the widows, the
orphans, and the poor [those of you unfamiliar with The New Testament should
know that the widows, the orphans, and the poor come up over and over again as
those for whom we should care]. This speaks to the words of the Beatitides
[again, a piece of the The New Testament that is all about loving and caring]. I
have not been so proud of this country since an election, oh, a year and five
months ago. How wonderful that this happened just before the holiest week of the

Christ's peace indeed.

And if you happen to think that's "unpatriotic," well, then, I am pretty sure that you don't know how to read and can't look up the word "patriotic" in your dictionary. Not that Bob and I give much of a damn about so-called "patriotism" anyway. God created the whole world. We are all God's children. After all, none of the stories in The Bible takes place in a country called America.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a President's speech I need to go hear.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Quest for the Perfect Day: A Tale by Emily Barton

The last time we saw the Princesses Emily, Marcy, and Becky, they were returning from their Quest for the Perfect Husband. Well, undeterred from that rather unsuccessful venture (after all, they are three quite intrepid princesses), they had agreed that the next time an irresistible quest presented itself they would set off again in the hopes of success.

Last December, they had meant to gather in pursuit of The Perfect Dessert. Emily had planned to mount her trusty Passat and head for the hills of Connecticut where Princess Marcy would welcome her into her lovely castle, while also welcoming Princess Becky (she of the delicious cakes and mince pies) from her nearby, neighboring kingdom, there to create the best dessert for the Big Company Holiday Event. But alas! Princess Emily had found herself plagued and bedridden on the day she was meant to set out on this quest (she is still convinced some evil fairy put a pea under her mattress). Princess Marcy was left to attend Big Company Holiday Event on her own.

Shortly thereafter, the snows set it, making it impossible for any princess to embark on any quest, no matter how important. But in the midst of the storms, Queen Judy (mother to Princess Marcy) declared that the princesses must, as soon as possible, set out to find The Perfect Day. Oh, and what could possibly be more irresistible than The Perfect Day?

The princesses, brave souls that they are, decided to defy The Farmer's Almanac prediction of a storm meant to leave Eastern Pennsylvania with 40 inches of snow by March 8th. It had been far too long since they'd been on their last quest together, and they were getting antsy (having, after all, spent months loving and caring for imperfect husbands, among other things). Despite Princess Becky being beckoned on another journey that would take her cross seas to the Land of Oxford mere days before their intended journey on March 6th, they still persevered in their Quest for the Perfect Day, and Princess Becky did manage to join Marcy and Emily (albeit somewhat dazed and confused and constantly wondering, "now where am I?").

Unfortunately, Princess Emily did not get off to an auspicious start and began to worry that this would be as futile a quest as The Perfect Husband had been. Two days before her intended departure date, the trusty Passat began to feel sickly. However, the Prius (always trusty, if not quite as comfortable and missing such accoutrements as CD players and seat warmers for spasm-y backs) sprang to action and volunteered to be Princess Emily's steed to the Kingdom of Philadelphia. After all, Philadelphia was but a short journey, and Prius would be extra careful to make sure Princess Emily did not suffer any unnecessary pain, because pain certainly would not be part of The Perfect Day. True to its word, Prius did manage to transport her to her destination without causing her sensitive, princess-like back to spasm.

But then, she arrived at the appointed meeting place to be greeted by an Ugly Troll. Obviously, those at Castle Barnes, where the princesses had planned to meet up in order to begin their search for The Perfect Day, immersed in beautiful art in a magnificent setting, do not really take kindly to visitors. The Ugly Troll was very reluctant to let poor, innocent-looking Princess Emily in (despite her obvious royalty), because a. she could not answer his nasty, tricky question about the magic number only Princess Marcy knew, which would open the gates and b. she seemed to be insistent on bringing in a steed whose spot had not been reserved.

Will Princess Emily be admitted to Barnes Castle? Will Princesses Marcy and Becky ever find her if she is not? Will The Perfect Day be as elusive as The Perfect Husband? Find out in the next episode of The Quest for the Perfect Day (all of which is a fancy way of saying "To be continued...)

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith, Patricia. The Talented Mr. Ripley. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.
(The book was originally published in 1955. This was this month's CT detective book club choice, which I suppose we need to change to the CT detective/mystery/crime book club. There are much better covers on other editions of the book than this annoying, oh-so-wrong movie one, but this is actually the version I read.)

The best place to read this book is in the bath, preferably with some delicious-smelling bubbly stuff and a rubber duckie to float around and keep you company. Afterwards, you can pour yourself a small glass of sherry and pretend you've been reading, oh, I don't know, Little Women or some such thing, rather than spending however many hours it's taken you to read 290 pages, immersed in the thoughts and feelings of a sociopath. You can try not to be disconcerted by the fact that you found yourself worrying about his predicament, maybe even rooting for him.

Deeply cleansed, you will head off to bed, where your subconscience will bring out nightmare after nightmare -- sinking boats, murderers creeping up your stairs, rats biting at your ankles -- because it knows perfectly well what you've been doing and that it had nothing to do with a tender family of little women in 19th-century New England. That rat showed up nowhere in Highsmith's tale, but you know perfectly well that it scurried through a hole it had gnawed in the book in order to go rooting around in your brain.

Very rarely do I read a book that induces nightmares, but this one put on a grand horror show for me. Which is not to say I didn't like it. It was very well-written. It was well-conceived. It was a doozy of a page-turner, and it will stick with me.

I liked it very much, the same way I liked the movie Shutter Island (terrific movie, BTW, which made me -- guess what! -- want to read the book). I liked the suspense. I liked the horror of it. I liked the way it made me scared to think how little we know anyone, how easily I, as a twenty-something, could have decided to spend a weekend with a murderer and wind up dead, my parents having no idea what had happened to me. I don't need much encouragement to think about such things anyway.

Who (what?) is Tom Ripley? He is an absolutely despicable, and yet mesmerizing, character. Patricia Highsmith certainly knew a little something about psychology when she created him. He is a man, abandoned as a boy by his dead parents, sent to live with an aunt who certainly did not supply him with a warm, loving, sympathetic lap to nurse his wounds. He has evolved into someone who is desperately dying for acceptance and attention, while simultaneously shunning and despising it and all who might give it to him. Highsmith sums the latter up beautifully in this passage, one that comes after Tom has obsessively pursued and befriended Dickie, the young man he has been sent to Italy to bring home to his American father:

He stared at Dickie's blue eyes that were still frowning, the sun-bleached eyebrows white and the eyes themselves shining empty, nothing but little pieces of blue jelly with black dots in them, meaningless, without relation to him. You were supposed to see the soul through the eyes, the one place you could look at another human being and see what really went on inside, and in Dickie's eyes Tom saw nothing more now than he would have seen if he had looked at the hard, bloodless surface of a mirror. Tom felt a painful wrench in his breast, and he covered his face with his hands. It was as if Dickie had been suddenly snatched away from him. They were not friends. They didn't know each other. (p. 89)

But don't let this sympathetic scene of a confused and unhappy young man fool you. As the passage hints, Tom does not see others for who and what they are. And he is the one with nothing to see in his eyes. He is a shyster. He is obsessed with more than his friendship with Dickie. And he is -- as the cover copy on the book reveals -- a man capable of committing murder, certainly not stopping after only one. To me, the book would have been a bit more believable -- if less of a page-turner -- had he only committed one murder. However, I ultimately came to realize that he couldn't stop at merely one murder; it would have been too easy for him to get away with that one.

And we know he had to get away with it. After all, there are quite a few more Ripley novels after this one, and they can't all be about a man serving out his prison term or living beyond the grave (that's one of the downfalls of reading books published 55 years ago. You know what comes after them). They're not, as reading the blurbs at the end of this book will tell you. Tom will manage to make it through all this, so that he can star in the next book with his name in the title.

I, for one, am mesmerized enough to seek out that title at the library (perhaps when I go to pick up Dennis Lehane. Nothing like a couple of weeks spent in psychological horror). I will also buy some more delicious-smelling bubbly stuff for the bath (pretending I need an excuse to do so). After all, we have left Ripley nicely set for life, possibly owning homes both in America and on The Continent. What more could we want than to keep stalking him to see where he winds up next? Well, perhaps we could want an even longer bath and bigger glasses of sherry to assuage our guilt over rooting for someone who is "...as low as the lowest rat that scurried in the gutters of Athens..." (p. 279)

Huh. It seems my subconscience knew what it was doing after all when that rat began sniffing around its corner of my brain.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Only Time for Bullet Points

It's another one of those crazy busy times around here, a time when I have not been visiting the blogosphere too much. Just so everyone knows I'm still alive and well, though, I thought I'd present you with some random bullet points. I'd write full posts on almost all of these if I could, but I just can't right now (something's gotta give, and I would rather it be my blog than meeting up with Zoe's Mom and Ms. Musings in Philly tomorrow).

  • If you are planning on walking into my local Starbucks one day with a gun hooked to your belt, while I am there trying to relax with a latte and a book, please don't expect me to have any thoughts other than these two, "Man, you must be really tiny. Hope this compensation thing is working for you," and "You must be fucking nuts. Only a lunatic would care about doing such things." I'll keep my thoughts to myself, though, because, well, after all, you'll be carrying a gun, which is, I suppose, what you really want: to scare people into leaving you alone (see second thought). Note how sexist I am, because I am assuming it will be a man walking in with a gun and not a woman.
  • Man, I feel so sorry for those people at Blue Cross/Blue Shield who are only making a mere $1.5M a year salary, like the woman I heard testifying on NPR. And, yes, you read that right, I said "salary," not "bonus." There's a bonus on top of that. I can see why they must raise their monthly health insurance premiums for those slobs out there who are merely making $40K (I mean, those people just don't have any gumption. They should pull themselves up by their broken bootstraps and make something of themselves). I can also see why it is necessary to refuse to pay for whatever care those slobs might need that the company decides it's in its best interest not to pay. I mean, she needs that $1.5M to support the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed, and she certainly deserves it. How can she possibly keep that salary if rates don't go up and the company actually reimburses people for their healthcare? We wouldn't want her to have to suffer, she who works so hard, unlike that woman who is holding down two jobs and trying to raise two kids on her own. After all, that woman got herself into such a predicament, didn't she? She could have jumped on the opportunity to work for a bunch of power-hungry, greedy bastards who make their money off other people's fears and miseries. We just can't have healthcare reform in this country. We can't let poor Ms. $1.5M down.
  • One thing I have realized I really do not like about living in PA is entering parking lots for huge shopping centers and immediately having all entrances and exits from them disappear, so that once in them, you can never get out of them. This phenomenon becomes even worse when there are mountains of plowed snow left over from two 15+-inch snow storms.
  • Speaking of phenomena, I've recently noticed an interesting nighttime phenomenon. I don't know what it is about the setting of the sun and the darkness of the night, but somehow it turns a tiny,11-pound cat into a monstrous lion, who when he jumps up on the bed for his nighttime slumbers, becomes a dead weight of about 250 pounds, almost all long legs and huge paws and feet, that takes up 3/4 of the bed, leaving mere inches for the two human occupants.
  • You know how months ago, I was surprised that one of the characters in The Novel announced that she wanted to go to boarding school? Well, she's not. I think she's going to get a horse instead. How did she fenagle this? I don't know. I think she's got me wrapped around her little finger. Or, it may just be that I decided it was funnier for her to get a horse.
  • (This one actually will become a full blog post, over on my alter-ego blog where I review books for my local library.) Am I the last person on earth to have discovered the fabulous Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick? There I was, doing my volunteer gig at the library last weekend, and it sprung out at me from its display in the children's section. I couldn't resist it. I also couldn't resist going online and looking it up once I was at home, something I wish I hadn't done. It gets nothing but high praise, but all those who write about it seem to be determined to ruin the magic for those who have not yet read it. It's a book best approached knowing absolutely nothing about it. One shouldn't even read the jacket copy. It's also a book that shouts, "No matter what you might be able to accomplish electronically, there is no substitute for the magic of a beautiful book." But 'nuff said. If I was not the last one on the planet to discover it, go find a copy and read it (especially if you are both a book and an old movie fan).
  • In more reading news: I'm moving along with my TBR challenge. Expect posts soon on both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Hilary Mantel's The Giant, O'Brien. After reading the gruesome latter, I definitely needed something sweet and turned to an old standby, Miss Pettegrew Lives for a Day. I'm also in the middle of The Talented Mr. Ripley for our detective book club. Read Franny and Zooey for my other book club, and now I am J.D. Salinger (and the Glass family) obsessed and am waiting for my friend Dianne to finish her copy of his daughter's memoir, so I can borrow it from her. I read The Help and was completely surprised by how much I liked it and by how much it made me think, having been born when the book takes place, into a Southern family that had that sort of hired help. And also, I am very excited to have just got from the library Marilyn Johnson's This Book is Overdue. Anyone heard about that one, the subtitle of which is: "How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All"? Thanks goes to my friend Linda for telling me about this one just before a bunch of people at work started talking about it, and then it ended up in the NYT Book Review.
  • So, has this been random enough for you?