Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Spark

Wrapped up reading another book today that I have been reading off and on for a few weeks. The Spark is by Chris Downie, found and CEO of Sparkpeople.com. The book is touted as "The 28 day breakthrough plan for losing weight, getting fit, and transforming your life."

What I especially like about the book is that it is motivational, rather than dictating what you can and can't do or eat. It is divided into 2 parts with Part I being The Fuel for Improvement System and Part II is The SparkDiet.

Part I starts with The Fuel for Improvement System. Part I is 5 chapters, each building upon themselves. It tells some of Chris Downie's own story and how he got to where he is now. Very impressive and down-to-earth. The 5 chapters are: The Fuel for Improvement System, Focus, Fitness, Fire, Positive Force.

Part II begins with The SparkDiet. Again, 5 chapters, which are: The SparkDiet, Fast Break, Healthy Diet Habits, Lifestyle Change and Spread the Spark.

As I said, the book doesn't tell you what to eat or not eat. It encourages you to set goals, small and large and work toward them. Their concept is positive and motivational and makes good sense.

It's a book that I will pick up now and again when I am in need of motivation. I use their web-site daily so I am very familiar with The Spark (go to : sparkpeople.com) and very impressed with the whole concept. I like the positive motivational attitude that prevails through-out the site.

Lord knows, we all need some positive motivation going on!

THE GIRLS WHO WENT AWAY The Hidden History of Women who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade

Ann Fessler, the author of The Girls Who Went Away, wrote this book after working on interviewing women who surrendered children for adoption. She was doing an audio and video project on the subject, and apparently, the topic grew into a book! Ms. Fessler is also an adoptee, who after years, decided to search for her birth mother.

I found the book fascinating. I have worked with women the past 20 some years, counseling in a drug rehab program, so I have had a lot of experience working with women, both as adoptees and as mothers who have given up children or as women trying to decide what to do once they find they are pregnant. I had never read anything that has come close to actually touching what these women have gone through, until I came across this book.

The book consists of interviews of women of all ages, who "gave up" their babies. I will never be able to hear the term "gave up" in the same way. These women did not "give up" their babies. In almost all cases, the decision was made for them, they had no say in it, and they most certainly did not willingly give up their babies. Incredibly sad.

I was struck by many things in the book. One was how secret everything was kept, especially up to maybe the 1970's. The older women who were interviewed who had babies in the 1930's and 1940's spoke of the absolute secrecy that was imposed and instilled in them for the rest of their lives. Once the baby was born, the family never, ever spoke of it again. And the mother was expected to never, ever tell another living soul that she had a child that was given up.

Even some of these women who went for therapy for their depression later in life never told the therapist about having the baby. Ms. Fessler wrote:

"The symptoms described by the women I interviewed are precisely the same as those of the surrendering mothers chronicled in professional studies of their grief. Many women had experienced several-and some nearly all-of the following symptoms: depression; damaged self-esteem; persistent guilt, shame, and self-loathing over 'giving away' their child; an enduring sense of emptiness and loss that is not erased by having other children; persistent loneliness or sadness; difficulty with intimacy, attachment, or emotional closeness; lack of trust; anger; severe headaches or physical illnesses that cannot be explained or diagnosed; and occasionally posttraumatic stress disorder, characterized by extreme anxiety, panic attacks, flashback , and nightmares."

And yet, the women walked around in their everyday lives never sharing the biggest loss that anyone could ever experience.

A few of the women spoke of how shortly before their mothers (or someone close to them) died, their mother had apologized or at least acknowledged the fact that the woman had had a baby, and how just that little bit of acknowledgment lead to some tiny healing for them.

I have come across some instances of adoption in my genealogy work, and have found it incredibly frustrating. One of the frustrations is that as the book points out, the women were did not use their real names while in the maternity homes so that no one would later know who they were. And the other hard part is that everything is SO secret! Even 60 years later, an adoption will not be acknowledged. Unbelievable!

The book does an excellent job telling the pain of losing a child, not through death, but through adoption, knowing that the child is out there somewhere.

I know that there are a lot of thoughts on whether mothers and children should try to find each other and those are tough calls. Hopefully, open adoptions address some of these hard issues. But if there is one thing that needs to be learned after reading this book, is how important it is to address the shame and secrecy of giving up a child for adoption. Just because the baby is gone, none of the feelings are gone.

Again, really good book! One of those books that I found in the sale aisle at Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe has been on my "interested in reading" list (in my head) for a long time, so when I saw it at the library the other day, I picked it up. It turned out to be a quick read.

The book is the story of Harvard graduate student Connie Goodwin, who has just earned her Masters degree and is ready to begin her PhD program. She planned to spend her summer doing research for her doctorate, but plans changed when her mother asked her to go clear out her grandmother's old home near Salem. The house is hidden away, rather falling apart, with no electricity or phone. Connie goes to spend the summer there and while going through things finds an old note that sparks her interest. The note has the name "Deliverance Dane" on it. Connie assumes that it is a person's name, so begins to do some research trying to learn who that might be.

I loved this part of the book, because this is where Connie starts doing some genealogical research. And, as would be suspected, giving that the story takes place near and in Salem, Mass., the Salem Witch Trials come into play.

Most of the story is about Connie trying to find Deliverance's book. She isn't sure what kind of book it is. On probate records, it is listed as a "receipt book". It takes quite a bit of detective work to locate where an over 300 hundred year old book might be.

I found the book fun to read, but rather predictable. Certainly not one of the best books that I have ever read, yet, I would recommend it for fun, light reading. And I love the cover of the book!

Friday, February 12, 2010

What another book club has read...

I received an e-mail from my mother's 1st cousin, Joan, who sent me a list of what her book club has read. It is a very interesting list and there are definitely some books that I want to read myself, especially after reading her comments on them! Isn't it fun to see what other book clubs have chosen?

Joan and her husband moved from here to Massachusetts after her husband retired. They have been out there about 20 years (maybe?). Joan and my mother grew up together and were always close. I love Joan! She was always an adult that I could connect with when I was a child. I love that we still have such a connection and enjoy many of the same things. Joan is what I aspire to be: an interesting person!

Anyway, here is the list that she sent me:

Hi, Sue, Here are some of the books my book club has read in the past couple
of years. I thought you might be interested. ... Newest read on top.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracey Kidder (very pertinent right now)

When Everything Changed by Gail Collins (loved this, loaning it to all my women friends)

Readings on the Women's Suffrage Movement (Eighty Years and More by E.K. Stanton) (This was read on-line)

Banquet at Delmonico's by Barry Werth (not great)

The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel (wonderful)

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason (don't remember it much)

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (wonderful)

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (wonderful)

Free Lunch by David Cay Johnston and/or (don't remember it much)

Swimming Against the Tide by Jim Hightower

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed (very long and not well written)

Brain Rules by John Medina (didn't read)(or the other brain book, I don't have the name of)

The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (interesting)

Still Alice by Lisa Genova and/or Everyman by Philip Roth (read both)

Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (informative)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (read something else instead)

The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky (about Gloucester and fishing industry)

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama (wonderful)

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (interesting)

The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin (about the supreme court, well-written)

Circling my Mother by Mary Gordon (haunting)

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (the following are before I joined the club)

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt

Salt by Mark Kurlansky

Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Rembrandt's Eyes by Simon Schama

The Inferno by Dante (Robert Pinsky translation)

Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Thucydides: An Introduction for the Common Reader by Perez Zagorin
Don Quixote by Cervantes

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang

The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time by Jonathan Weiner

Daughter of Persia by Sattareh Farman Farmaian

The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss

Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

So, what books on this list inspire you to go out and read? I especially am interested in reading When Everything Changed and Circling My Mother. More books for my TBR list!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Blue Orchard

I saw this book while cruising through Barnes and Noble one day and the topic caught my attention. The book is a novel based on the author's grandmother's life during the first 50 years of the 20th century. Jackson Taylor's grandmother (Verna)was born to Irish immigrants and was raised in poverty. At the age of14, Verna had to leave school to help support her family. She was hired out to live with a family and do housework, etc. The man of the house began taking liberties with the young girl and Verna ended up pregnant. As her family realized that she was "in trouble", she was offered ways to end the pregnancy, and the baby was "spontaneously" aborted. Sadly, in the next couple of years, she becomes pregnant again and desperately wants to marry the father of the baby, who finally admits to her that he is already married. Verna had the baby, but asked her mother to raise him while she continued to work at her various positions.

Thus began the next 30 some years of Verna's working days. She continued to find positions as needed, but as the Great Depression worsened, jobs were harder to find. While helping out at a hospital following flooding, Verna met Dora who talked about wanting to become a nurse. Verna began to consider becoming a nurse herself and decided that she wanted to pursue it. She began to save money in order to pay for the schooling.

After Verna became a nurse, she learned that Dora was taking care of women at her apartment for a black doctor in town who was performing abortions. Verna eventually began helping Dora, until the doctor asked her to get her own place and start doing the same. The nurses made really good money doing this and the temptation was too great.

The book is really about vastly different relationships, including Verna's relationship with the Dr., her son that she did not raise, her husband, and her family. It is also about determination and "doing what is needed". The author did a really good job portraying the different relationships in the story.

I was struck with some of the author's writing...some examples:

After learning of a death of a friend who she cared deeply for: "There is no substitute for character and you never know where you'll find it. I weep at how many deaths we all endure before our own takes us."

Later, after the beloved Dr. had died: "When I was a child, loss was like an autumn leaf being carried downstream. I thought if one could just run swiftly enough, losses could be regained. As I matured the stream widened, the current grew stronger. Suddenly the losses weren't just leaves of branches but small bushes, one's innocent, my favorite schoolbooks, and even my ability to see; blind by the time I became an adult, I found that loss grew into a powerful, wide river; deep, swift, muddy, it swept away my past, my youth, and left me with a child who couldn't yet swim. Then I realized that there was no riverbank to climb up to, that what we're swimming in is not a river at all but an enormous gulf along the curve of a continent. I can and must choose either to get swept out to sea by the grief of it all, or to swim for as long as my body can endure.
All of a sudden I know that there is nothing wrong with me. It's just that my grief started early anticipating this season for mourning."

And at the end: "Already I know the baby has changed everything. There is something about finally seeing the proof that I am a grandmother that makes me stand prouder, as though the maturity, wisdom and hard work of my life have finally been tallied in my favor"....."I can't believe when I hold her small warm body in my arms how much she means to all of us. I can't help but think of all the unborn whose mothers don't know what to do with them, and here is one that has made such a difference. A baby can be a terror or it can be a dream. All I can do is weep for it all, the confusion, the mystery, and the bittersweet miracle."

This book is truly an amazing story. The author did a good job researching the events that occurred and made the story very readable.

I won't forget Verna for a long time.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Another 2 books

I finished 2 books yesterday. One was Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and the other was The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. Guess which one I liked and which one I wanted to throw in our lake? I will give you a clue. I LOVED The Time Traveler's Wife...Loved it...cried-hard-at the end of it.

Well, sadly, in my opinion (and apparently many others opinions), Ms. Niffenegger's second book did not live up to expectations. Not even close. I found it somewhat interesting at first, as it is about 2 generations of twins, which always fascinates me. However, it soon went downhill. I was VERY disappointed and quite confused. And really sorry that I bought it!

The book is a story about twin girls, Julia and Valencia, who inherit their aunt's flat in London. Their aunt Elspeth is their mother's twin, whom they do not ever remember meeting. The girls are from the Chicago area, so moving to London was thought to be quite an adventure. The aunt's caveat that the girls parents were never to be allowed into the flat was intriguing, at first. It turns out that Elspeth is haunting the flat and watching and learning about the girls.

Two other people live in the building; Robert lives downstairs and was Elspeth's (younger)lover. Martin lives upstairs and suffers from severe OCD. The two men become involved in the girl's lives.

From here, the story got bizarre and not well-written and confusing. I don't want to tell more of the story, in case anyone wants to read the book. If you do read it, let me know...I have a burning question...why did Jack call Edie "Elspeth" on the plane home? I didn't get it.

So, I think it is pretty well established that Her Fearful Symmetry was not the book that I liked!

The Pioneer Woman Cooks was a fun book to read, that I got from the library. It is basically a cookbook, but with pictures and commentary from the author who married her "Marlboro Man" and moved from the fast life to the country with him and 10 years later, had 4 children and was an established Pioneer wife! Recipes sound wonderful, full of butter and cream, nothing low-fat, as she is clear to tell the readers! I am anxious to try her Perfect Pot Roast!