Sunday, January 25, 2009

Unprecedented

No, that's not one of our vocabulary words this week, but it is true that multiple blog posts in one week is unprecedented for me.

I have two book reviews to blog about, so that's the first order of business. Earlier this week, I finished Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark. I've always been a fan of Clark's suspenseful tales. I've read nearly all of her books. As a result, I've learned a lot about her writing style. It didn't take me long to figure out how this one would go. Carolyn Mackenzie's older brother disappeared ten years ago under very mysterious circumstances. She commits herself to the task of finding him, but instead opens a huge can of worms. Because of her investigation, her brother becomes the main suspect in a series of murders. Carolyn works to clear her brother's name, but someone doesn't want that to happen. In typical Mary Higgins Clark style, the heroine faces almost certain demise, but is ultimately rescued by her love interest. The bad guy turns out not to be any of the red herrings thrown out to muddy readers' judgement, but instead, the "least likely" suspect, a supposed good guy who has been harboring a deep dark secret for years. It was a good, quick read, even if it was a little predictable. Great for curling up with on a cold winter night.

This morning, I finished my re-read of Pearl S. Buck's classic The Good Earth. I read it for the first time in high school. I'll admit that I didn't get much from it at that time. It's not an easy read, and that was more my style then (hence the aforementioned affinity for Mary Higgins Clark). However, I assigned it as a novel that some of my freshman Honors English students would read, and I decided to reread it. I was richly rewarded for this decision. Wow. What an awesome tale Buck spins. The novel follows Wang Lung, a Chinese farmer, from his wedding day to his death in pre-revolutionary China. Wang Lung is a simple man, and a good man, but he is flawed, just as we all are. He is vain, as we see time and again from his youth throughout old age. He trusts nothing more than the land, and that pays off. He works hard and suffers greatly as a young man, but becomes known as Wang Lung the Rich Man when he is old.

One of the things that my students find appalling is the seeming degradation of women throughout the novel. O-lan, Wang Lung's wife, is described as ugly, which makes her better suited for marriage since she'll be less likely to nag. Other prominent female characters, such as slaves and concubines, are treated as commodities. Clearly, sons are prized far above daughters, though Wang Lung does love his mentally retarded oldest daughter, the "poor fool." The attitude toward women merely reflects the social tenor of the time. Upon closer examination, one can see that O-lan is a symbol of great faithfulness and selflessness and serves as a strong contrast for Wang Lung's greed. She is a woman to be admired- resourceful, efficient, and wise.

I know my students are having a hard time loving this book, but I'm certainly glad to have had the chance to revisit it. I found it to be a compelling look at a culture diametrically opposed to the one in which I live. However, the truths revealed in Buck's novel are timeless.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Exonerated

I chose to title this post "Exonerated" as that is one of the most missed vocabulary words on the Honors English I test I graded today. (They got it confused with "extricated." )That, and it's relevant. In my last post, I revealed a deep and troubling secret: I have sinned against the library gods. My conscience got the best of me today and I decided to inquire as to how to absolve myself of said crimes. Turns out, when you return the material, you are forgiven the debt. COOL! I don't owe PSPL $40. I can show my face in the library again. And I did...this afternoon, in fact.

I have been.....let's all say it together, kids....exonerated of my library crimes. My fines were mitigated (another oft mistaken vocab word). My joy is quite conspicuous. I can no longer be considered incorrigible.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In an effort to keep the blog up to date...

I'll share some random news from the Gilbert household. I've spent the morning clipping coupons, searching for recipes, planning menus, and making a grocery list. Yes, trying to stick to a budget at the grocery store and not eat out so much requires advance planning. I'm good at advance planning. I am NOT good at sticking to said plan. I do okay for a day or two, then I roll in from school really tired and think, "Hmm...wouldn't it just be easier to load the family up in the old minivan and head to the Monkey? Sounds like a plan." And just like that, I'm derailed. I am totally undisciplined. I'm working on it though. The first step is aknowledging you have a problem, right? So, I'm on the right track.



In other news, Audrey has moved up to the four year old class at First Care. She's loving it. It's hard core preschool, though. No more leisurely days of play. All her papers are returned to her with comments like, "Please practice writing name." She's FOUR, for crying out loud. I think it's a little much to give her homework. We think she's brilliant anyway.



I went to book club last night. We chose to do an author study for our next meeting. We'll each select a novel by Joanne Fluke, the author of the Hannah Swensen mysteries. All the titles in the series reflect the name of a yummy desert. There are recipes included in each book, and each book clubber will be selecting a sweet to prepare and share. I need to order my book, since I'm on the naughty list at the local public library for overdue audio-visuals. It's cheaper to order the book than pay my fine.

What an exciting life I'm leading these days! Can't think of much else worthy of sharing, so I guess that's all for now, faithful reader.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult's books are always chock full of drama and plot twists. Sometimes, they are a tad over the top, but I always enjoy them. Keeping Faith was no different. Seven year old Faith's family is torn apart by her father's infidelity and her mother's resulting depression. Suddenly, she begins to have visions of a female God and recite scriptures that she would have no way of knowing. Faith also seems to possess the power to heal others. She becomes the focus of a media circus, scrutiny from the Catholic church, and a nasty custody battle. Picoult also weaves in a love story between Faith's mother and a man who is a self-proclaimed professional atheist trying to debunk the hype surrounding Faith.

Part of what makes Keeping Faith so compelling is the way that Picoult makes readers think about the connection (or lack thereof) between spirituality and religion. Faith was raised in a nonreligious home, which causes many church leaders to question why God would choose to communicate with her. To me, it is her lack of religious training that makes her an ideal vessel. Faith's complete innocence is part of what ultimately turns many sceptics to believers, yet it stands as a stumbling block for those who consider themselves closest to God. Interesting.

I enjoyed this book, although there were parts that seemed to drag on a little longer than I would have liked. It evoked many theological issues that could really lead to great discussion. As is typical of Picoult, there were twists and turns in the plot that kept me wondering what would happen next. I appreciated the originality of the topic and the unpredictability of the story. Picoult's writing style is always enjoyable. It was an easy read, but it made me think, too- a great choice to start fulfilling my New Year's Resolution!

Resolutions

Since 2009 has officially begun, I suppose it is time to make and post some resolutions for the year. Some may call me a cheater or a resolution weenie, as I only make ones that involve doing things I enjoy, therefore I am more likely to keep them. I figure I'm just setting myself up for success that way. In the spirit of true change and challenge, I've decided to try to include some tougher resolutions this year. So, here's to a year of new beginnings and good intentions.

1. Read more. I always pledge to do this. I don't know if I really read more, but I have become more intentional about choosing good books in the past year or so. To go along with reading more, I think I should also resolve to post reviews of what I've read to keep me accountable and help me keep track of what I have read.
2. Maintain my weight. I have NEVER been this thin. I came by it the hard way, but I think, with just a little effort, I can keep the weight off.
3. Write more. This one is hard for me. I am scared of writing. Someone needs to push me on this one.
4. Crochet more and document my creations. I made scarves for my mom, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law for Christmas. Two were original designs. Did I manage to get a picture of them? Nope. I really need to be better about this.
5. Be more organized. This means at work (ugh...couldn't be less organized there), at home, in terms of food/cooking, financially, etc. I don't really want to think about that one for long.
6. Become more involved in my church in ways that fuel my passion and help others. I think that I will rejoin choir (that doesn't really help others....but, it is fun), become part of United Methodist Women, and work in our prayer shawl ministry by crocheting/delivering shawls and financially supporting the ministry. Also, John and I are going to commit ourselves to joining a Sunday School class. We've been very hit-or-miss about this and that needs to change.
7. Be more creative. I can do this through writing, crocheting, cooking, and in my teaching.
8. Be a better wife to John. He's such a good man. He does so much for me. I need to stop nagging him so much and treat him with the love and devotion he deserves.
9. Have more fun with my kids. Seems like I'm always rushing them around and snapping at them to do this or that. I seldom take time to laugh or play.
10. Be a better friend. That would mean that I am more thoughtful and caring, and less self centered.

So......there you have it, folks. I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing as the year goes on.