Remembering Mom

love-you-momMother’s Day is quickly approaching — May 10th, in fact.  No doubt most of you have already planned your brunches and  bouquets in celebration of dear old Mom, and those are always appreciated.  Still, when I think back over the years, the mother’s day gifts that I most loved were those which were homemade: the cards with crayon pictures, the lilacs picked fresh from the garden, the attempts at breakfast in bed.  Still, one thing I never did for my own mom s-daughter1(or mother-in-law) was to write a thank you letter.  Now that they are both gone, I’m wishing I had.  Wishing that I’d worried less about fixing  a fancy meal with the good china and the white tablecloth in the dining room, wishing I’d spent less time looking for some sentimental card at the Hallmark store, and wishing instead that I had taken a few moments to write down in my own words how I felt.  To say thank you, to share a funny story, even, perhaps, to tease a little, but just doing it would show I cared.

If you think you might like to write your own letter to Mom, here are some books that might  give you some inspiration:

I Love You, Mom! A Celebration of our Mothers and Their Gifts to Us. This includes essays from celebrities like Larry King and Daisy Fuentes.

I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace with Mom Before it’s Too Late by Iris Krasnow.

May is National Barbecue Month!

bbqJust in time for warmer temps (really, one of these days – it’s going to get warm, maybe even hot) the month of May is a great time to plan your barbecue strategy. There are lots of big reasons to fire up the grill this summer – Father’s Day, 4th of July, family reunions, graduations – but you don’t really need an excuse to get cooking. If you’re looking for tips or fresh ideas, stop by the library – we have more barbecue/grilling/outdoor cooking books than you can shake a barbecue brush at.

Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking by Adam Perry Lang

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by Chris Lilly

Wood-fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace and Campfire by Mary Karlin

500 Barbecue Dishes: the Only Barbecue Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Paul Kirk

Bobby Flay’s Grill It by Bobby Flay

Jerk from Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style by Helen Willinsky

Barbecue Nation: 350 Hot-off-the-Grill, Tried-and-True Recipes from America’s Backyard by Fred Thompson

Rachel Getting Married

rachel-getting-marriedWeddings are  joyful occasions, but they’re also often fraught with emotional upheaval as adult children struggle to find their role in the family and come to terms with old resentments and tragedies from the past.

In Rachel Getting Married, Kym is home on a weekend pass from a drug addiction recovery program to attend her sister’s wedding. Rude, self-absorbed and sarcastic, she immediately stirs up trouble and tries to shift the focus of the weekend to herself. She’s also obviously fragile and damaged and desperate for love and understanding. Rachel is hesitant to reach out to her – Kym’s addictions have had far-reaching consequences and led to a tragedy that tore the family apart. Yet the bonds of love and family, though strained and frayed, hold strong and by the time Kym leaves they’ve reached a deeper understanding of and love for each other.

The various scenes of the wedding and the celebrations and events leading up to it are wonderful, often funny, sometimes heart-wrenching – a chaotic, multi-cultural extravaganza of music and traditions (the dishwasher-loading contest is especially funny) In the end, the lesson is that forgiving yourself may be the hardest thing you do, and that love can save you.

Anne Hathaway earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress with her riveting performance of Kym.

Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

belong-to-me

Having grown up in Philadelphia and lived in New York City, Cornelia Brown believes the suburbs will be a piece of cake. Turns out the slice of the American dream that Cornelia and her husband Teo move to is just as full of drama, heartache, secrets and joys as anywhere else.

Early on in Belong to Me, Cornelia struggles to find a place among the women and families of her new neighborhood. When Piper, the “leader” of the local social network, takes an instant dislike to her, it looks like things will get ugly. But then by chance Cornelia meets Lake, also new to the area and they begin to form a bond. Not everything is as it seems – we learn that Piper is caring for her terminally ill best friend and is not quite the dragon she presents to the world, that seemingly perfect marriages have cracks and that Lake has secrets that will affect them all.

de los Santos writes about the daily living with family and children and events both large and small with grace and clarity, but she is especially good at revealing the intricaces of the friendships of women; there is a lot of emotion here, but no sentimentality. Characters are complex, with flaws, but also hugely likeable, people that you’d like to know and have over for coffee.

This is a follow-up to de los Santos first book, Love Walked In where we first meet Cornelia and Teo and learn how they got together.

Weirdest book ever!!!

geek-loveGeek Love by Katherine Dunn is by far the weirdest book I have ever read. My good friend who read this for his book group described it which immediately appealed to my fondness for the extreme and freaky.

Geek Love is about the Binewski family of sideshow carnival freaks. The parents decided it would be truly special (and lucrative) to produce their own freaks. Lil, the mom ingests different toxic substances (ie. arsenic) during pregnancy to get the best all around results. The first Binewski child came in the form of Arturo the Aqua Boy who was born with flippers instead of limbs. Second and or third in the birth order is/are the Siamese piano playing twins Electra and Iphigenia. Next comes our narrator, Olympia who is a bald albino humpback dwarf. Lastly, is Furtunato aka “Chick” who at first appeares devastatingly normal. Chick eventually exhibits extraordinary telekinetic abilities and is wonderfully good hearted. Need I say more?

Only that the plot and story lines are as weird and compelling as the characters. Oh, and amazingly very well written.

Stitched in Time by Alicia Paulson

Still looking for the perfect gift? Try making something handmade – it doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, it simply needs to come from the heart.

You’ll find lots of inspiration in Stitches in Time by Alicia Paulson. Alicia gently encourages you to keep memories alive and part of everyday life through your own handcrafts. For instance, after going to see The Nutcracker ballet with her niece, she created a Clara doll (seen on the cover of the book) Other ideas include taking a child’s artwork and creating a stuffed toy (such as the adorable Molly the horse), making a pillow using family photos or creating a baby’s mobile using cards given at the baby shower. Alicia encourages you to take her ideas and projects and inject your own special touches; for instance, she shows several versions of the Clara doll and suggests that you create your own doll to look like a favorite book character or family member.

Alicia celebrates the domestic and the homemade, urging you to look for alternatives to manufactured perfection. Basic sewing and embroidery skills are all that’s required and clear and detailed instructions are included. The writing in this book is fun too – Alicia writes with a warm and personal voice and you’ll soon feel like she’s a close friend.

Be sure to check Alicia’s popular blog at Posie Gets Cozy where you can follow her ongoing stories of her family and crafts.

National Day of Listening

Today is the first annual National Day of Listening, sponsored by StoryCorps. The purpose of the day is to encourage you to listen to and record a story from the life of a relative or friend. The day after Thanksgiving is ideal since many people have the day off from work, and many families gather for the long weekend.

Capturing memories is beyond any price and you – and your children and grandchildren – will be glad you did. History taught in school may be about dates and big events, but the real flavor of history is in how people lived every day and how those big events affected them. Recording the story of how your Dad rode his horse every day to the one-room schoolhouse, or how your grandmother cooked elaborate meals on a wood burning stove not only brings them to life once again, it keeps them alive for future generations. Find out how your Uncle Bill felt when he returned from the war in Iraq, your Mother’s stories of moving away from home for the first time to go to law school, of the time your cousin broke his leg playing on the swing set or how your brother managed to flip your Dad’s car – twice. Listening may be the greatest gift you can give both to the storyteller and to yourself.

StoryCorps website has some excellent resources to get you started – how to get ready for the interview, how to actively listen to the speaker, how to record the stories (either in writing, on audio or on video) and even offer a Question Generator to help you get started. They also encourage you to share your stories through their website and list several that are available to listen to for inspiration.

For more information about StoryCorps and their goals, visit their website or check out Listening is an Act of Love by David Isay, a collection of some of the most inspiring and moving stories that have been recorded so far. You’ll be motivated to not only record some of your family’s stories today, but to make it an annual holiday tradition.

Thanksgiving Traditions and Turkey Notes

That wonderful day is coming when family is around, turkey is on the table and football is on the TV – Thanksgiving day. Thanksgiving was not always celebrated on the 4th Thursday in November nor were the main foods always turkey, sweet potatoes and green bean casserole.

The first US Thanksgiving was held between September 21 and November 11, 1621 in Massachusetts by 50 Plymouth Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag neighbors. The meal consisted of seafood: cod, eel, clams and lobster; and fowl: wild turkey, goose, duck, crane, swan, partridge and eagles. There was pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, radishes and carrots with plums and grapes for fruit. After this first Thanksgiving, the holiday was held fairly randomly. It was used to celebrate a good harvest or making it though the winter. It wasn’t until President Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill on November 26, 1941 that Thanksgiving was established as the fourth Thursday in November.

Davenport has its own unique Thanksgiving tradition – the Turkey Note. A Turkey Note is a simple 2, 3 or 4 line rhyme that is wrapped in a tissue paper, tied at both ends and given to friends and family. Turkey notes go like this:

Turkey Brown

Turkey Baste

Turkey dinners

Go to waist

If you went to grade school in Davenport, it’s likely you’ve written a few Turkey Notes yourself. What was your favorite? Or try your hand at writing a new one, whether you’ve written one before or not – they’re fun! Get in the holiday spirit and share it in the comments!

You can find out more about Turkey Notes and other unique aspects of Davenport history in the Richardson Sloane Special Collections Department located in the lower level of the Main library.

An Alternative to Parades and Football

For those who don’t like parades or football, try a Thanksgiving movie:

Alice’s Restaurant (1969) – Arlo Guthrie

Arlo Guthrie’s song is converted into a motion picture. Arlo goes to see Alice for Thanksgivng and as a favor takes her trash to the dump. When the dump is closed, he drops it on top of another pile of garbage at the bottom of a ravine. When the local sheriff finds out a major manhunt begins. Arlo manages to survive the courtroom experience but it haunts him when he is to be inducted into the army via the draft

Home for the Holidays (1995) – Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft

After losing her job, making out with her soon to be ex-boss, and finding out that her daughter plans to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend, Claudia Larson has to face spending the holiday with her family. She wonders if she can survive their crazy antics.

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)

Peppermint Patty invites herself and her friends over to Charlie Brown’s for Thanksgiving, and with Linus, Snoopy, and Woodstock, he attempts to throw together a Thanksgiving dinner.

Pieces of April (2003) – Katie Holmes, Oliver Platt

April Burns (Holmes) invites her family to Thanksgiving dinner at her teeny apartment on New York’s Lower East Side. As they make their way to the city from suburban Pennsylvania, April must endure a comedy of errors – like finding out her oven doesn’t work – in order to pull off the big event.

Ice Storm (1997) – Kevin Kline, Joan Allen

In the weekend after Thanksgiving 1973, the Hoods are skidding out of control. Benjamin Hood reels from drink to drink, trying not to think about his trouble at the office. His wife, Elena, is reading self help books and losing patience with her husband’s lies. Their son, Paul, home for the holidays, escapes to the city to pursue an alluring rich girl from his prep school. And young, budding nymphomaniac, Wendy Hood roams the neighborhood, innocently exploring liquor cabinets and lingerie drawers of her friends’ parents, looking for something new. Then an ice storm hits, the worst in a century and things get bad…

Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski

A story of growing up and searching for one’s identity, Eddie’s Bastard by William Kowalski is bound to grab you from the first sentence and not let go until the end.

Abandoned on his grandfather’s doorstep with the note “Eddie’s Bastard” pinned to the basket, Billy Mann grows up without parents but surrounded by the love and family stories of his grandfather Thomas Mann. Living mostly in isolation on the decaying family homestead (Thomas lost the family fortune when he invested it in ostriches in the 1940s), Billy faces the ups and downs, tragedies and joys of growing up with humor and a positive outlook. There are lively subplots about the family curse, the identity of Billy’s mother, and the diary of Billy’s great-great-grandfather but the relationship between Thomas and Billy remains central to the story.

Beautifully written – you will feel as if you are part of the Mann family – Eddie’s Bastard is bittersweet yet surprisingly uplifting. This is one book you’ll wish would never end.