Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring break bookshelf

I took the opportunity over the past week to indulge in one of my favorite past times - reading. I can honestly say that I love the written word - fiction, non-fiction... you name it and I will give it a try. I checked out my bookshelves this week and they are overflowing. I tend to buy books vs.check them out from the library- not the wisest fiscal choice but it is one of the few treats that I allow myself. I consider books an investment, often pulling them down to reread - or pass on like a treasure to friends. A review of my shelves this week found me going down memory lane with a few reads that I had forgotten that I own. I found themes among the titles, times when I have been fascinated by various cultures: tons of Asian authors from Ha Jin to Amy Tan to Jhumpa Lahiri (had a spell when I was fascinated with India), Latin-American authors,African- American writers and a number of works by Jewish storytellers. Here are a few of my favorites- by NO means an exhaustive list...just the first handful I came across on shelves one to three..

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver- one of my all time favorites. She is an amazing writer and her characters feel so real that you swear that you know them. This story of a missionary who takes his wife and daughters to Africa is one of her best. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different family member. I read an interview with the author who said that she wrote a version of each chapter from every character's position and then selected the one that best fit as the book came together.. Amazing amount of work and vision by this talented woman.

"The Lost Daughters of China" by Karin Evans..subtitled Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America and the Search for a Missing Past. A must read for anyone who has or is considering adopting a Chinese child. The writer is a journalist and mother of a Chinese daughter who defines the complex problem of abandonment of female babies and children and adoption - she does not oversimplify the issue or villify anyone in the situation. Published in 2000 - the year after I adopted Lily, this book answered questions, felt so familiar and is extraordinary.

"Expecting Adam" by Martha Beck - yes this is the same woman who now is a life coach and writes for O Magazine. This book is a memoir of when she was pregnant with her son Adam and she was informed that he would be born with Downs Syndrome. At the time, Martha had another child, was married and avidly pursuing an advanced degree at Harvard - known for intellectual pursuit and perfection. It was certainly not an environment where carrying this "imperfect" child to term and being excited about his arrival were widely accepted. The experiences that she has while expecting Adam were miraculous, other worldy and simply not able to be explained away by science or logic. He is a blessing beyond imagining in her life. An amazing book.

"The Joy Luck Club," "The Kitchen God's Wife," "Saving Fish From Drowning," "The Bonesetter's Daughter" - all by Amy Tan. Maybe it is because my children are Chinese, perhaps because they girls.. but I love her work. I get absorbed easily in her tales of family, Chinese culture, duty and love. When I crack open an Amy Tan novel at bedtime, I have to be careful because the next thing I know it is 3 am and I have been lost for hours in her words.

"Man's Search For Meaning" by Victor Frankl and "Night" by Elie Wiesel - what can you say about two amazing pieces of work about one of the most horrific times in history and human experiences- the Holocaust. How in the world do you survive such and experience with not just your body but your mind and spirit intact?

"The Secret of Jin-Shei" - by Alma Alexander - in the spririt of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: -this novel tells the story of connection between women in ancient China. Thought of as property, chattel, a nuisance and inferior, women bonded together to survive. This is the first time that I learned because women in ancient China were not allowed to learn to read and write, they actually created their own language, passed it onto their daughters and corresponded by writing inside of fans..

"Reading Lolita in Tehran" by Azar Nafisi - Reading in secret...learning in secret - why? Because you are a woman and the Islamic Republic of Iran has forbidden that you do so. As you read this book, you get drawn into the world's of the characters and their lives, there is so much more to these women than the political circumstances in which they find themsleves. Ultimately a story about triumph and the power of words.

"Many Lives..Many Masters." by Brian Weiss MD - Weiss is an Ivy League trained, very practical psychiatrist trying to help his patients overcome their fears and phobias. He uses hypnosis to try and find the root of his patients issues in childhood and in the case of Catherine finds that the hypnosis goes back further - to her past lives. The door seems to have cracked open and this cynical doctor finds his patients benefit from these past life regressions..but he benefits even more. Whatever your belief in reincarnation - this book is fascinating, actually makes sense and may leave you saying..hmmmm.

"Cane River" by Lalita Tademy- wonderful of those novels that are really hard to put down. It is about four women who begin their lives in slavery, survive war, injustice and prejudice. Based in Louisiana it is steeped in Creole culture and you will be amazed at the strength of the women portrayed in the book. I am always horrified when I read about slavery - especially from the perspective of women- and how easily families were split, husbands sent away and children sold away from mothers. How could any rational human being ever think that was OK?

"Thirteen Senses" by Victor Villesnor - what keeps a couple married for 50 years? This is a fabulous story of a family, passion, magic and the marriage of Salvador and Lupe. It is funny, sad, and told in a unique voice. I loved it.

"Daughter of Fortune" by Isabel Allende - while I love everything she has ever written, this is my favorite. It hops from Chile to California in the gold rush to Hong Kong. Her books are so detailed that you think you can see, feel and taste the experience. This book makes me wonder- what would I be willing to do for love? What chances would I be willing to take?

" The Seat of the Soul" - hang on to your hats and open your mind - way open in fact-for Gary Zukav's unique take on the soul, God, our relationships to one another and to the greater universe. The combination of spirituality and quantum physics make this a fascinating read. In my because some chapters certainly require me to tackle them again to get a greater understanding of the concepts.

"Betty Crocker's New Cookbook- everything you know to learn to cook" - first cookbook I ever purchased and how I learned to cook. Frankly better than the Joy of Cooking due to the photographs so you know if what you concocted looks like it is supposed to.

For the beach - any book by Jennifer Weiner - while considered "chick lit" I think her books are wonderful - well written and completely absorbing.

Again, this is just taste of my bookself. Hopefully my spring cleaning will allow me to re-discover some more old favorites!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Lightening Up

I just finished reading amazing essays by two accomplished women - writer Elizabeth Gilbert and TV producer and writer Shonda Rhimes. Both were in a section in the latest O Magazine about happiness. They both resonated with me. They talked about our quest for having it all, self improvement and measuring ourselves by the accomplishments of others and our "lists for ourselves." It struck a chord with this woman on her reinvention journey. I do have a lot of plans and goals, many as of yet unrealized for my life.

That is not necesarily a bad thing,.... but how do you find "happiness" if you can never get it all done and meet those expectations that are often set by yourself. Elizabeth (I will call her by her first name since I have read all of her books- the most well known being "Eat, Pray, Love") wrote about how we women compare ourselves to one another and never feel like we are doing quite enough.

Here is a quote from the article that has stuck with me all day (O Magazine - May 2101 issue): "My sister Catherine, told me recently about a conversation she had with a sweet neighbor who - after watching Catherine spend an afternoon organizing a scavenger hunt for local kids- said sadly "you are a better mother than I will ever be." At which point my sister grabbed her friend's hand and said "Please lets not do this to one another OK". No seriously, please lets not. Because it breaks my heart to know that so many amazing women are waking up at 3 o'clock in the morning and abusing themselves for not having gone to art school, learning French or organizing the neighborhood scavenger hunt." She goes onto to write about how a quest for perfection can cause one not to take chances and make mistakes - which in itself is the biggest mistake of all. Because screwing up - marrying the wrong man, taking the wrong job, blowing your diet is how we learn and the "maps of our lives are created by our mistakes and lessons learned."

I have never been one of those ziplock baggie moms- the type who always had everything their kids might need -from diaper wipes when they were young, to crayons, bandaids and organic crackers- all neatly tucked and ziplocked in their purse for when they are needed. Thank God those wonderful women exist because I was the one borrowing what I needed from them. My kids watch too much TV, often sleep with me, aren't involved in as many extracurricular activities as others, went to daycare and probably eat more pizza than they should. I am not the room mom, don't buy only organic food or have a perfect house..they have seen me cry, fall apart, screw up, apologize and pick myself back up. Not the perfect mom..but a pretty darned good one. How do I know that? Because my kids are somehow turning out to be pretty great. They are smart, loving, kind and other moms always tell me how well mannered and polite they are - that part seems to happen outside of our house! We laugh, love, argue and enjoy one another. I want them to be strong, smart, make good choices in life and realize that no matter what happens -they will thrive through it.

Shonda's article (going with first name here because I watch the programs she created and produces - Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice) chronicles how easy it is to forget "our happy." Seriously, she states, "we live in a country where food is plentiful, we are safe, there is no malaria or genocide." Seems a little whiny to complain about traffic, 10- OK - 15 extra pounds- especially when you have so much. How many times do we say .. I would be happier..if I fit into those jeans, had a man in my life, wasn't struggling financially...

What if this is it? What if we need to find "our happy" right now with our lives just as they are? I think that is possible if we take the advice of both Elizabeth and Shonda and maybe lighten up on ourselves. We are not going to be perfect, it is OK to mess up, OK to take longer to reach a goal and make a mistake - date the wrong man in the quest for love, stand up to your boss, submit that imperfect manuscript. I still have my dreams and desires...but perhaps lightening up will make it a lot more fun to get there. Plus that inspires gratitude for my amazing life and allows me to find my "happy" right now..

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring, Easter and new beginnings

This is a gorgeous spring day, a beautiful Easter Sunday! Tulips, my absolute favorite flower are blooming in the yard, trees are awash with pink and white - eveything seems lighter, brighter and more beautiful. Even people's moods seem to be more cheerful.

It strikes me that with all of this new growth, beauty and change, perhaps Spring is the best time for beginnings, self-discovery, life altering decisions and the real time for "New Years" resolutions. Or perhaps the warmth; newness of the fresh, fragrant colors and sense of possibiity in the air resurfaces the dreams, desires and plans that have been tucked away. It feels like anything is really possible.

Now it is time to tap into that potential to move forward with some of my dreams.... writing, career growth or change, new or blossoming relationships. I can feel it in the air- the ripe potential of the future.