Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Show & Tell: Book Edition

I first met Carla, a fashionista with a flare for writing, several years ago when we worked together for a local newspaper. Remarkably, Carla's kept a record of all the books she's ever read -- you know, since some time in early childhood.

How revealing is that? I imagine that each time she looks back at her on-going list and picks a title at random, it must flood her with thoughts of not only the book itself, but also of who she was at the time she read it.

I've often thought about keeping a record of this myself; Regal Gifts even sells a journal meant just for this purpose. *cough* shameless-plug-for-one-of-my-entrepreneurial-businesses *cough* 

Admittedly, though, I don't have the time to read as much as I used to -- maybe five or six books last year? (not including those offering parenting help) -- and the ones I do find time for are often very quick reads.

So far this year I'm already below last year's average, but the (non-parenting-related) titles I've completed were fantastic:

Wild - by Cheryl Strayed

Seal Team Six - by Howard E. Wasdin

Rosina, The Midwife - by Jessica Kluthe

I read the first book above while on vacation in February, and it was so remarkable that I'm revisiting it again now. 

I have Wild uploaded into my iPod so that I can just listen to it as I'm on the treadmill each day at work, which is fitting given that this book is the author's memoir about the solo 1,100-mile trek she made along the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon. 

So, you know, when I feel like stopping from fatigue during my 30-minute treadmill session, I can suck it up for a bit longer listening to Strayed's tales of the long-distance hike she took. Alone. In the wilderness. With a massive backpack.

Ummm, just what are my excuses, again??

The first chapter of the book is actually really emotionally draining, because it discusses in depth the sudden death of her mother from stage 4 lung cancer.

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one - be it parent, grandparent, sibling, child, friend, or beloved pet - will relate. And it's devastating. 

The remainder of the book takes us along with Strayed on her wilderness trek, while reflecting some more on her mother and everything that brought her to the moment when she made the decision to hike the trail in the first place.

I wanted to revisit this book again now simply because it's a life-changer, and it makes me want to be better. Full stop.

Am I going to head out now and hike the Pacific Crest Trail by myself with nothing but a monster backpack on my shoulders? Ummm, no. But I can continue to improve on my own journey a little more each day.

"There's no way the SEAL Team Six guy who shot Bin Laden isn't hot. Right?"
- Natalie Maines, via Twitter (May 4, 2011)

The second book, all about America's elite Navy SEALs, is another fascinating read, but for very different reasons. I admit this book probably isn't for everyone -- it helps to have an underlying interest in politics and the military -- but it is an eye-opener regardless of your political stance.

And, no, this book isn't about THE team that took out Bin Laden, but rather it chronicles Wasdin's life and his career during the '80s and '90s.

The coolest part for me was hearing about the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993 and realizing that HE WAS THERE. He was one of those behind-the-scenes guys that was in on the action but never received any public acknowledgement (or any credit in the theatrical version of the battle, Black Hawk Down).

But I guess that's how these guys roll. They risk their lives and kill the enemy. There are no accolades or 'welcome home' parades, but there is an extraordinary amount of stress -- and this probably accounts for the staggering statistics that claim many of these individuals end up as divorced alcoholics who own motorcycles.

Okay, that's a broad generalization, and probably an unfair one at that, but it's not far off. I just can't imagine seeing and participating in the type of warfare known only to elite special ops. guys and then being expected to come home and live a normal life among mortals who complain about being stuck in traffic.

The SEAL Team Six guys really do live a different life than the rest of us.

The third book I read this year was just completed on my most recent trip to upstate New York earlier this month. And it was brilliant.

The author was a coworker of my husband's here in Edmonton and, like me, is of Italian descent. And her ancestors weren't just from any part of Italy - they came from Calabria, the toe part of the boot that appears to be kicking Sicily.

So, right off the bat, we have that in common.

This book is a beautiful, touching memoir for Kluthe's family. She spent several years researching their history in both Edmonton and Italy, and the main focus is on her great-great-grandmother, Rosina,

While I never had a grandmother who was an Italian midwife -- at least I don't think so, anyway -- this book touched me on so many levels. Though we're not related, I felt as though our families are the same because of all the other striking similarities (of which, I'm sure, all other Ital-Canadians could also identify to).

I remember when I was in school and being asked to generate a basic family tree for a school project; for most people this was probably a boring, mundane task. But for me this was always a challenge. I never knew my grandparents, and I barely even know their names now. There are just so many blank spots, so many unknowns for me, that I wish I could go on a soul-searching quest like this author did and uncover the truths of my own family's past.

The other part of this book that was just so incredibly cool for me were all the local references to Edmonton, Morinville, and our city's Little Italy community. I loved reading about the author's drives down Yellowhead Trail to visit her grandparents. And I could totally relate to the misery that is winter in this province.

All these things combined just make this a really perfect book for me. One that I wish I had written myself.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Up to speed

It occured to me that I make a lot of bold statements on here, but I rarely tend to follow them up in real life.

Example of what I might say on my blog: 
"I'm going to stick to my diet and work out like crazy so that I can lose some weight this year." 

Example of what happens in real life: 
"I'm going to get in my car and drive to McDonalds so that I can supersize some fries."

Given that this is (sadly) my nature these days, it actually feels pretty good to announce that I've achieved two of the things I proposed doing earlier this year. Well, sort of.

The first item worth mentioning is that I attempted to read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I say attempted simply because I just couldn't get through the entire book. I hate not being able to finish things I've started, but I made it through the third chapter and just wasn't interested enough to continue.

Sorry, Divulge with Dani. I know you wanted us to read this book together, but it wasn't meant to be for me. Not that it wasn't interesting or anything, but it just didn't hold my attention. The parts I read were depressing and bringing me down and, even though I knew there would be a happy ending in this book, I just couldn't do it.

It kind of reminded me of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren in that they were delivering similar messages. I read that book back in 2004, and it was given to me my someone who thought I really needed it at that time. And they were right. 

That's probably what made the difference for me between the two books: I needed The Purpose Driven Life, and so I of course loved it and the message it gave to me. But I just wasn't mentally or emotionally connecting with One Thousand Gifts at this time.

But who knows? Maybe it'll have different meaning to me if I try reading it again in the future at some point.

As for the other topic I want to touch on, my daughter and I made one of the items on my Pinterest to-do list today: the Melted Bead Sun Catchers.

And they're fabulous!!

Here's how it's done:

1. Go to Wal-Mart or Michaels or anywhere else that sells inexpensive translucent beads.

2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Celcius. 

3. Place one layer of beads along the bottom of a cake pan or muffin pan, depending on how big you want your sun catchers to be.

4. Bake beads for 20 minutes. (Open all windows in your kitchen, because melting plastic STINKS yo.)

5. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes.

6. Flip over the pans and VOILA, sun catchers.

7. If there aren't any spaces between your melted beads, you'll need to drill a small hole for the fishing line before you can hang them up. But if you're lucky enough to have some space where the beads didn't meld together, then you can just use that opening instead.

The finished product, complete with a little helping hand.

All we need to do now is run out and get some fishing line to hang them up. Can't wait!!