Monday, July 16, 2018

Carmel Excursion With My Cousin

When my cousin Karin wrote to say she would be coming to Indiana in July, I began to eagerly anticipate her arrival. Karin is not just a cousin, she's a marvelous friend. She's the type of individual I feel instantly at ease with. Moreover, she has the most encouraging and positive spirit of anyone I've ever met. What a privilege to spend a few days visiting together!

As soon as she arrived on Friday afternoon, we relished our chance to reconnect (the last time we got together was almost nine years ago). We took her out to our favorite Mexican restaurant and then talked more, well into the night. On Saturday, she and I ventured out for a shopping excursion in Carmel, Indiana's Arts and Design District. We had a splendid time together!

We stopped in the tiny art galleries and shops along the main road and found a wide assortment of interesting pieces. I had never been before, but now I will make a point of it when Christmas draws near, as we found so many unique gift items. Karin ended up buying a small ring and a beautiful painting of a bee. In the antique mall on Main Street, I purchased an adorable vintage Samsonite overnight case in a beautiful marbled blue:

We loved viewing the art on display in the various galleries. When we arrived at the Hoosier Salon Gallery, I noticed a sculpture made of ash wood. It immediately brought to mind a Welsh folk tune called "The Ash Grove" and the lyrics The Salvation Army often uses with that little tune - "He Giveth More Grace as Our Burdens Grow Greater." I am obviously thoroughly at ease with my cousin because I burst into song right there in that little gallery and the acoustics of the room were astounding.

We were thrilled with the Norman Rockwell-esque sculptures found along the streets:

My favorite part of the day was our lunch at Woody's Library Restaurant (Karin's treat). The large brick building with an impressive front stairway was built in 1913 with monies from a grant from the Carnegie Corporation as Carmel's Public Library.

The restaurant, with a pub and outdoor patio, boasted charming library decor and gave me the thrill of eating (and talking openly) in a library. Our server graciously snapped a photo for us to commemorate the event:

Whenever I eat out, I tend to scan the menu in search of food made with spinach. I was thrilled to find and order the grilled cheese florentine with a side of buttered broccoli and a small serving of potato chips. The sandwich was delicious (think a BLT altered to a BST). To round out our dining experience, Karin ordered two of the dessert duo samplers and thus we were able to try four different desserts from the menu (we tried the Baked Peach Crumble, Chocolate Mousse, a Mississippi Mud Brownie, and - my favorite - a Vanilla Crumb Blondie).

It was a fabulous day for walking and window-shopping. The food was delicious and the company delightful. I can't wait to visit Carmel's Arts and Design District again. If you live anywhere near Indianapolis, I highly recommend this unique experience. Take your favorite cousin. You will have a marvelous time!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Book Review: Dearest Dorothy, Are We There Yet?

On the lookout for a wholesome audio experience, I selected Charlene Ann Baumbich's Dearest Dorothy, Are We There Yet? I didn't even remember this author's name (I had enjoyed her book, Stray Affections, several years ago), but immediately knew I had to recommend her book to my mother-in-law. It almost felt like the book was written with my mother-in-law in mind. I really hope she seeks it out because she will relate to so many aspects of the novel.

Like my mother-in-law, the main character, Dorothy Wetstra, is in her late eighties, lives in a small Illinois town, and is contemplating a move upon the sale of her beloved farm. She begs "the big man upstairs" for His wisdom and guidance. She's a spunky old soul, just like my mother-in-law, but is still hesitant to set all these changes in motion. How will her beloved town fare if she sells her farmland to the bidding developers? Can she make the move away from everything that is familiar and safe?

The characters were delightful and the story was light and fun. I'm only sad that it seems to be the only audio title for the series in my library's collection. Still, they do have six from the series, if I'm willing to read the others in print copies. If you are seeking an uplifting and clean story featuring an older protagonist, this book holds great appeal. The series has apparently been compared to Jan Karon's Mitford books (small town North Carolina), so perhaps I will seek out more from that series (I've only read In the Company of Others and Shepherds Abiding).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Book Review: The Hypnotist's Love Story

When your desire to read has left the building, it is often wise to return to a tried and true author. Liane Moriarty has always held my interest and even while I don't agree with the morals of many of her characters (bed-hopping without marital commitment), I can count on encountering good writing and an enticing story certain to bring up the question, "what would I do in those circumstances?" Once again, I was sucked in (as anticipated) by The Hypnotist's Love Story and happily stepped into the shoes of someone very different from myself.

When the man you've been dating for a brief spell opens the conversation with the dreaded line, "There's something I have to tell you," your mind automatically wanders to a million unwanted scenarios. Is he already married? Is he breaking off the relationship? Does he have some deep, dark secret he feels he must unburden?

As soon as hypnotherapist Ellen O'Farrell hears Patrick Scott say these words, her mind begins to reel. It doesn't help that he excuses himself to the restroom, as if steeling himself to unload the worst. Will he tell her that he is still in love with his deceased wife? The big reveal is anticlimactic. His ex-girlfriend has been stalking him for a number of years and he wants Ellen to know that it will probably spill into their relationship. Instead of feeling threatened, Ellen is overcome with curiosity.

As the book unfolds, alternating between a first person narration from Saskia, the stalker, and a third person narration of Ellen's experiences, the reader enters the mind of two very different women who, at heart, have very similar wants and needs. Indeed, you might even sympathize with both sides of the equation. But how dangerous is this stalker and will Ellen's relationship with Patrick survive?

I enjoyed the book. I had no problem continuing to read. While I did not like it as much as other Moriarty books like Big, Little Lies, The Husband's Secret, or What Alice Forgot, it was still an absorbing and entertaining story. I learned much about hypnotherapy and a great deal about the type of fracture that causes a person to become a stalker. I loved the honesty of both characters and appreciated the chance to live inside their heads temporarily. It even recharged my reading batteries.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Review: Letters About Literature

What a fun little find! Letters About Literature: 2017 Winning Letters by Indiana Students offers up 100 letters written by 4th to 12th grade students to the authors of inspiring books. Not only will you enter into the minds of young readers to learn what connections they are making to the literature they read, but you will also get a feel for what books are popular with today's students. I was thrilled to find that the very first letter in the book was addressed to one of my favorite authors, Gloria Whelan, for my favorite of her books, Listening for Lions. Some of the books I had read, and others I hadn't. I came away with at least one suggestion for my middle son (who is a reluctant reader but loves books about football players). I plan to mention this reading-writing contest, sponsored by the Indiana Center for the Book, to my sons' teachers next fall, in the hopes that our small community might be represented in a future book. I'm just thrilled that I stumbled upon it. Since I could not find a cover image, I used this image taken from the site. I imagine that many libraries carry the small volumes containing the winning letters for their state. It was a very interesting read and I plan to seek out the two other volumes in my library's holdings (2015, 2016). Always great to see how literature makes a difference in people's lives.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Book Review: The Bolds

Some moments just call for a book, like when I take my boys to the high school pool for the summer open swim time. The chaos of the environment precludes serious reading, so I turn to lighter fare, knowing my head will be popping in and out of the book quite frequently. With those particular needs in mind, this children's book by Julian Clary seemed perfect.

The Bolds are a family of hyenas disguised as human beings. They live in a suburb of London and carefully guard their secret from their nosy neighbor, Mr. McNulty. Being hyenas, they love to laugh. Mr. Bold's jokes are amusing and I did have to share two boy-friendly ones with my sons:

"Why did the toilet paper roll down the hill? - To get to the bottom!"

"Some thieves broke into a police station and stole the toilet. The police are investigating, but for now they've got nothing to go on."

The illustrations were cute and the story was lighthearted. I don't think I'll seek out any more of the series (three more books to date), but if my boys were younger, I could see them eating this series up. A dash of imagination to uncover a story about being an outsider.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Book Review: Penny from Heaven

After wincing every time my husband entered the room for my last audio book (a book with fairly graphic child abuse content), I determined to seek out a clean read from the tween audio book shelves at my library. The front cover of Penny from Heaven indicates that the author, Jennifer L. Holm, is a Newbery Honor-Winning author. Thus, I expected to be sucked in more quickly to the story. Alas, my interest flagged for the first several hours, but did finally pick up toward the middle of the story and I ended up liking the book a lot.

11-year-old Penny is an Italian-American girl living a decade following WW II. She dreams of an uncomplicated summer, but confronts a host of problems instead. Despite an extensive close-knit family on her father's side, her mother doesn't seem to trust Penny's Italian relatives. Nobody is willing to talk about her deceased father and Penny bristles against her mother's restrictions. Then, as if life isn't hard enough, she faces further loss and a devastating accident.

As the back cover proclaims, "Penny from Heaven is a shining story about the everyday and the extraordinary, about a time in America's history when being Italian meant that you were the enemy. But most of all, it's a story about families - about the things that tear them apart and bring them together." I fell in love with the characters and felt shattered for them when the truth about the past was revealed. I rooted for Penny to overcome her challenges and for the families to get along, because love covers a multitude of wrongs.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Book Review: She Has Her Mother's Laugh

I do, in fact, have my mother's laugh. Moreover, when listening to a message I had left on our home answering machine, I recently discovered that I have my sister's voice. Of course, when I hear myself normally, the hum of my vocal chords sounds far different to my ear, but there it was, blaring out through the machine, the sound of my sister's voice and I knew it was me. I was startled. My sister and I are, in many ways, carbon opposites. She is dark-complected while I am fair. She is taller, trendier, more driven, and more extravagant. Yet, if you look at this photo snapped at her wedding, you can see that, despite our many differences, we still resemble one another quite a bit:

That is the beauty of heredity. We share the same genetic foundation and you can tell that we are related. But, heredity is quite a mixed bag. I may be happy my mother passed along her wit and intelligence, but will I be happy if she passes along her dementia, as well? Carl Zimmer's book, She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity is a weighty tome exploring these concepts. (Indeed, if it weren't for my passionate curiosity about genetics and eugenics, I might have left the hefty book on the shelf. 574 pages is quite an investment when your reading mojo is flagging.) But the writing is easy to understand and follow and the subject is fascinating.

I devoured the history of our understanding of heredity and recognized anew its influence on social, political, and economic aspects of life. Every single page seemed to hold something fresh to discover and digest. I hadn't known that Pearl S. Buck had a mentally-challenged daughter (who was later diagnosed with PKU) and that her need for funds to institutionalize this child drove her writing. I learned about freemartin cows and was further intrigued by tetragametic chimeras and how such individuals might not bear the same DNA as their offspring, despite being able to prove they gave birth to them.

As the book went further into visions of the future, my concerns and hesitations multiplied. Things like preimplantation genetic diagnosis, genetic engineering, experiments in mutagenic chain reactions (splicing in artificial DNA to trick the host into copying new genetic patterns), and the ethical questions of releasing such genetically altered organisms into our world all made the hair stand up at the back of my neck. Will we one day live in a world where couples with means will be able to tailor-make their children to their specifications (enjoying genetically enhanced intelligence and health)? Will our attempts to eradicate genetic diseases eliminate the diversity of humanity? Will desires to crush malaria induce scientists to release genetically-modified mosquitoes that will eventually alter something in our ecosystem or food chain? Who knows?

Zimmer presents lots of mental fodder. If you don't buy into evolutionary theories, his discussions might annoy at times, but he still offers up a gigantic mass of information and knowledge about the subject of heredity. Plus, he does so in easy-to-consume, bite-sized pieces so the new knowledge is absorbed effortlessly. Indeed, the inside cover declares that the book reads like a novel. It clearly has a story-teller's structure. So, don't let the heft discourage you. As we enter this brave new world of technological and scientific advances, you will want to be forewarned and forearmed. Heredity, as we know it, is changing every day. This book explains the history and the potential future with gravity and clarity.