Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Film for Bibliophiles

Sunday morning, Ella and I were feeling under the weather, so we skipped church and watched You’ve Got Mail on TBS. I have You’ve Got Mail on DVD, but, as so often happens, I got excited about seeing a movie I love on the old boob tube and lazily settled into the couch to endure the commercials rather than dig out the DVD.

You’ve Got Mail is, of course, the modern remake to the James Stewart/ Margaret Sullavan 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner (which is also perfectly delightful.  A side-note:  That same year, Sullavan and Stewart also starred together in the film The Mortal Storm, the first American anti-Nazi film.  An excellent film- the characters never say "Jew," only "non-Aryan.") The Shop Around the Corner is set in Budapest, You’ve Got Mail in New York: New York in spring, fall, and at Christmas, beautifully shot so that when Meg Ryan bounces out of her Upper West Side brownstone to the small children’s bookstore she inherited from her mother, you see pink and white spring blossoms lining a historic street instead of cars parked one nearly on top of the other.

That it’s set in New York is just one reason I love this “chick flick.” Meg Ryan’s monochromatic yet whimsical wardrobe is another. Black jumpers in the winter and grey linen in the summer. Her pixie haircut. Her shabby-chic apartment. Shots of Manhattan’s flower district. The cheerless cashier in Zabar’s. Tom Hanks’ dog. The witty banter. (Witty banter!) The nostalgic soundtrack. Parker Posey. Dave Chappelle. (Yes, that Dave Chappelle.) Tom Hanks’ “American” family. Because it reminds me that I often imagine owning a small, used bookstore in Manhattan, one much like Pageant bookstore, which was featured in the film Hannah and Her Sisters. Someplace cozy, yet large enough to get lost reading e.e. cummings to your paramour amidst the stacks. 

The film opens with Meg Ryan’s boyfriend, columnist Frank (played by Greg Kinnear), who has just purchased multiple vintage electric typewriters. He is lamenting the onset of the digital age.

“Name one good thing, ONE, that we’ve gained from technology,” he says.

“Electricity.” Meg Ryan responds.

“That’s one.”

He leaves, and Kathleen- the Meg Ryan character- waits impatiently for him to completely disappear down the street so she can correspond with her online pen-pal, who she met in an “over 30” chat room.

Unbeknownst to her, her secret correspondent is actually Joe Fox of Fox Books, a large, big-box bookstore who has been taking out small, independent bookstores throughout the city. A Fox Books is about to open a store in the same neighborhood as Kathleen’s store, named The Shop Around the Corner. It is apparent early on that the enchanting little shop with the high-priced picture books is ultimately doomed.

The 1998 film, while prophetic, is dated. The character Frank foresaw the vast wasteland brought on by the so-called digital revolution, but not even he guessed that it would wipe out… books.

It’s 2011, and I think the fictional Fox Books is doomed. (Or maybe they came up with something better than the Kobo and are hanging in there, alongside Barnes and Noble. Oh, Borders. How could you be so behind? You break my heart.)

A while back, there was a string of used book stores along 4th Ave below Union Square. The street was aptly named Book Row. Pageant Books was one of the last of the smaller bookstores to hang on. Strand Bookstore, the independent giant, remains; it started on Book Row in 1927 as a small shop.

Back to Ella and I lounging on the couch.  John came home from church and I left the living room for but a moment and came back to Sports Center. So, I finished the movie that evening as John sat next to me, his face illuminated by the glow of his laptop.

I cried at the end. I always cry at the end. Through my sniffles, I said,

“Do you know why books will never become completely obsolete? Children’s books. Children’s picture books. You can’t read a picture book to a kid on an e-reader.”

“Also- the electronic apocalypse that’s coming,” said John. “By the way, I’m taking the Kindle with me to Albany.”

“WHAT? I just downloaded something. Why do you do these things to me?”

Pageant Books, by the way, is still sort of around. It has evolved into an e-shop.

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does." Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail.

And just because it's funny, enjoy a great scene from You've Got Mail:

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Jessie tagged me. And because I’m low on blog-post inspiration as of late, I’m being a good sport and participating. Here are some questions and my riveting answers.

Dear Lord, I’m boring.

If I could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?

This isn’t a healthy question. It leads to ruminating.

If I could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

Since we’re so insistent on dwelling on the past-

I’d just try to be better- a better sister, daughter, friend, student, girlfriend, wife, citizen of the United States, Gap customer, and high school band participant. Better.

What movie/tv character do you most resemble in personality?

Sleeping Beauty. Minus the beauty.

If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would it be?

Billy Fucillo (of the HUGE commercials.) I don’t want him to get hurt; I just want him to go away, please.

Name one habit you want to change in yourself.

I don’t have any regular habits. I should probably get some.

Describe yourself in one word.


Describe the person who named you in this meme in one word.


Jessie is a talented writer, a mom, a friend, and an owner of I think 2 dogs. She also has a new jewelry business; here is her Etsy website: http://www.cobblestoneroad.etsy.com/.  She sells these cool tree-of-life necklaces:

Why do you blog?

It’s easier than preaching it on the streets.

Name at least three people to send this meme to and inform them.

Nah. But if you want to play- you should go for it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A More-Than-One-Word Book Review: The Waiting Place by Eileen Button

In The Waiting Place: Learning to Appreciate Life's Little Delays, a collection of essays by talented and lovely Eileen Button, motivated Eileen tries hard to dispose of an 185 pound statue of the Virgin Mary that came with the house her family has just moved into. After all, she is a Protestant pastor’s wife, and Mary really doesn’t fit into her garden d├ęcor.

Unfortunately, and I didn’t realize this until I read the book, it is rather difficult to unload the Virgin Mother. (I mean this in the literal, not symbolic, sense.) She recruits and leaves her father-in-law to break the statue into pieces and then haul it off, only to come back and find he has superstitiously buried Mary in the ground.

“Shouldn’t she be buried a little deeper?” I ask, kicking the protruding piece of concrete.

“Trust me, kid. She’s fine.”

After the dog digs Mary up, Eileen stores Mary in the garage, tries donating her to the local Catholic church, and attempts to have the man who hauls away their junk take the statue.

“Listen, I’ll take just about anything, but I don’t mess with the Blessed Virgin Mother.”

So Mary gets a new paint job and is replanted back into the garden. Eileen's Baptist neighbor is perplexed.

The statue is closer to her property now, so I add, “Hope it’s okay with you.”

“Well…,” she says, hesitantly. “I guess it’s all right. As long as you don’t pray to her or anything.”

“Hey, you never know. I just might.” This is the part of my personality that always gets me into trouble. I like to shake things up.

And this is what I love most about Eileen: her willingness to shake things up. (And it’s possible that the part of her personality that gets her into trouble is the part of my personality that always gets me into trouble.)

The Waiting Place is for “those who wake up one day and find themselves repeatedly sighing and thinking, ‘this is so not the life I dreamed of living.’”

No one who has these thoughts is alone; however, they are the thoughts we don’t like to admit having- the ones that fester within us and make us bitter and resentful. While we wait for the next part of our lives (which will surely be better than whatever we’re living now), we miss out on what the present has to offer. With humor and honesty, Eileen lets us have a glimpse into the waiting places she has lived in. Whether waiting for her grandmother to take her next turn in Scrabble, waiting for an important letter to arrive in the mail, or waiting for her newborn baby to either live or die, Eileen ultimately reconciles herself to waiting, and not only to waiting, but to learning how to “live life deliberately” while caught up in the waiting place.

I think we might actually be the same person. I’m looking into this. She grew up in East Rochester, I in Rochester and then Greece. (Which is a suburb of Rochester and not the land of Socrates. It’s shocking how many times I’ve had to explain this to people.) Our parents broke up around the same point of time in our lives. Our fondest memories with our fathers are our childhood trips to the Adirondacks. We both made out furiously with our (respective) future husbands on the same college campus. We each purchased a house with a chain-linked fence in the backyard, guaranteeing the eventual acquirement of a puppy. Our youngest children were each born with physical malformations.

We both like to shake things up.

Despite all of the parts of myself I found in this book, I know I am hardly alone. Though Eileen has an unmistakably fresh take on this thing we call “living," she waxes eloquently about universal experiences anyone- male or female- can connect with.

Eileen is a Christian who is a writer. (A writer who is Christian is different than a “Christian writer.” How? It just is. We had a discussion about this.) I only mention this because, while her faith plays an integral part in her stories, Catholics, agnostics, and Jedis are encouraged to pick up a copy. You will be blessed by it.

Eileen is a friend (well, we’ve never actually met, but we’ve talked on the phone, so I don’t think she’d mind me calling her a friend) who shares the same alma mater as I do, though she graduated a bit before I did. Well, a long time before I did. Because I’m much, much, much younger.

She is a columnist for the Flint Journal, a mother of three, and is currently busy working on her next book. Also, she’s a fan of my blog. Just thought I’d throw that in there.

This is my very first “More-Than-One-Word Book Review!” Only a truly exceptional book could pull me away from my lazy one-word book review ways. So, please buy a copy, buy one for a friend, and preferably do this through a link off my site, because I am an Amazon affiliate. (I am also just the type of person to ride the waves of my friends’ successes…)

And check out Eileen’s weekly column. That’s good stuff, too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Little Madness in the Spring OR Five Insignificant Complaints

Recently, I feel a great disturbance in the Blogger universe. As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I.e. Blogger was down. Everyone’s last post was removed, and although I got mine back, the comments remain lost in space.

Someone out there has to answer for this. Also- who do I contact to receive what I lost in AdSense revenue as a result of this debacle? Someone out there owes me at least 3 cents.

Yesterday, I had my annual singing gig. Joe (the saxophonist) and I are completely perplexed as to why, after last year’s significant press coverage, neither one of us have received one invitation to perform at any other event. This year, I really nailed “Orange Color Sky,” which contains music’s most memorable lyrics: Flash! Bam! Alakazam! I’d be happy to sing this at your graduation party.

I also sing the Star Spangled Banner at sporting events. I do Little League Games.

This week in Albany, two new bills introduced to the Senate seek to delegate an official New York State vegetable. The contenders? Sweet corn and onions.

This is bad news. New York, particularly upstate New York, has enough problems without being associated with a state vegetable that a) is not a vegetable or b) makes people cry. Don’t get me wrong, I love an ear of sweet corn and a good Vidalia onion; however, when I think corn, I think “Nebraska,” and when I think onion, I think “Texas.” (This association comes from the YA book, “Holes,” by Louis Sacchar.) When I think New York, I think “apple,” which apparently is the state fruit. I’m nominating it as state vegetable, as well, because apples are as much of a vegetable as starchy, unhealthy corn is.

This week, I said something cruel that I will never, ever be able to take back. In a moment of stress, I said these words:

“I don’t love you. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever loved you.”

I realize this admission guarantees I will be receiving some much-deserved hate mail.

Thankfully, Kiah is a dog and doesn’t understand most English. She understands SOME English, words like like “walk,” and “treat,” and “be really, really cute!” So, I didn’t crush her spirit with my false admission. She has not been moping around, nor will she require therapy in the coming days.

Of course, I didn’t mean it, but I was reeling over the sudden disappearance of my English muffin topped with homemade strawberry-rhubarb jam. It was the last English muffin in the house, hence my passionate response.

I wish my dog would stop eating my English muffins.

2 ½ years ago, we said goodbye to our village house and our porch swing, which the new owners demanded we leave. They were unmoved when I told them the swing was a father’s day present for John. I drive by the house, occasionally, and see them swinging, and I am filled with a melancholy nostalgia. (I have to do this surreptitiously, now- something about “stalking” and “making them feel uncomfortable.")

There are a lot of things I could complain about this past week like: the white fuzz in the air that makes me sneeze, the humidity that increases the overall size of my hair ten-fold, and the sugar ants that will have completely taken over the kitchen, effective Monday. But these are such small, petty, insignificant complaints when compared to the expanse of the robin’s egg blue sky, the vibrant green of the trees’ infant leaves, and sun that swathes the house in warm light. (The sun also exposes every one of my house’s many blemishes; but again- insignificant in comparison!)

We can buy another porch swing for our smaller, slightly less charming porch. This time I’ll carve our initials right on the front, so no one else can claim it as their own. And I will swing, peacefully, and drink in spring.

Until one of my boys inevitably sprays me with the hose. (He was just trying to give the flowers in my hanging baskets a drink. This may have happened to me this week. Again- insignificant.)

A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown —
Who ponders this tremendous scene —
This whole Experiment of Green —
As if it were his own! Emily Dickinson

Thursday, May 12, 2011

An Education

I’ve taken up transcription work. I thought it would easy, quick, yet strangely lucrative work. I was, yet again, wrong. The last three days have been spent at my laptop, earphones attached to my head, where I am trying hard to transcribe the ramblings of an aging contemporary painter being interviewed by an art critic who is married to the words “um,” “uh,” and “like.” I’m trying to do this amidst the babbling of my four-year old sprite who has become obsessed with the idea that I have a juice box hidden somewhere in the house- a juice box I am cruelly withholding from her.

“Juice box!”

“Ella. There are no juice boxes. We are a no juice kind of family. I promise you, I don’t have any juice boxes in the house.”


“I don’t have a juice bo- do not touch my headphones! Those are my headphones! Mine!”

Working at home with kids is for the birds.

Also vying for my attention is Adam Sandler, who is trying to teach me all about the word “crunchy”. He is the guest-star on Sesame Street this morning, an honor that apparently is an even bigger deal than hosting Saturday Night Live. Cookie Monster’s cookies are crunchy. Poor Cookie Monster. The macaroons John brought me back from Albany are soft and chewy.

John has been suffering from the cholera for the past week and a half. Which is totally unfair. A while back, the two of us initiated a contest to see who could lose 15 pounds the fastest. Getting the cholera gives him an unfair advantage. He has lost 12 pounds and is looking a little like someone who is suffering from the cholera. Also, he keeps bringing me back the world’s most tasty almond macaroons from Albany- a cunning maneuver on his part.

I nibble on my macaroon as I listen to the aging painter whose ramblings are much like his art: abstract. I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time researching the proper spelling of various LA art locales, the names of prominent contemporary artists in the 1980s, and dinky towns in places like Japan and Hawaii. Who spouts off anecdotes about Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii? I’m beginning to think my artist friend is a tiny bit pretentious.

The good news is: I’ve learned a little bit about the origins of the Bauhaus architectural movement. Information that I’m sure will help me in a future game of Trivial Pursuit.

“Who designed the modern architectural landmark Disney Hall?” they’ll ask, and I’ll say, “Frank Gehry, b@#ches!” And they’ll say, “Holly. It’s not your turn. Please stop doing that.” And I’ll say… nothing. Because I’ll be quite embarrassed.

The twins are having baby carrots for a snack this morning. Carrots are “crunchy.” Between lessons from Adam Sandler and the aging painter, I’m getting quite the well-rounded education.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For My Mom

I wrote this poem a decade ago for my mom, but never showed it to her.  So, mama, I post it today, an ode to the awesomeness that is you, the classiest woman I know.  Happy Mother's Day!

My Mother Preparing Dinner

She pauses to say hello when I come in
But is unable to let herself slow down, as if she somehow has lost the ability,
Lost the long sigh that accompanies a longer break, a quiet space between time.
She no longer watches television, because it requires being still.
Her hands move in rhythm, patting and squashing, peeling and turning.
Her eyes see the children, running and yelling;
She calms them before they disrupt her cadence.
She listens about the play I saw; the blue opaque glasses are set next to the plates.
She listens about the day I was sick; her feet spin to keep up with her hands.
She listens and listens and scurries, and the evening carries me,
Sitting silently at the table, watching, basking in the little details,
Like the scuffed kitchen floor, the browning bananas, the copper skillet sizzling.
For twenty minutes we are across from one another
And then the room seems to close in on her,
Or perhaps it’s the night music
That makes her unstoppable, unrestrainable,
Dancing to the symphony of running water and tinkering silverware.

And I know you don't have a copper skillet, mom.  It's called "poetic license."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Who Wore it Best?

We know spring has arrived when the most fashionably dressed begin showing off colorful headdresses, like this year's vibrant, minimalistic, and oh so chic basket hats.  The basket hats, complete with their signature chin "handle," (these hats defy those pesky spring breezes) are making a splash at popular social events like the Jennings family dinner. 

Last night, both Ella Susan and Kiah the Wonder Dog arrived to dinner with multi-hued basket hats from famous designer Wegmans.  Who do you think wore it best?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Albany Widow

I have a bruise the shape of Eurasia on my thigh. It is colored various shades of the earth: mossy greens and browns and slate grey.

Daniel came up to me the other day blubbering about a hangnail.

“I have a boo-boo!”

“That’s not a boo-boo,” I said in my best Crocodile Dundee voice (which admittedly is terrible.) I hiked up my pant leg. “Now THAT’S a boo-boo.”

Daniel inspected it closely.

“No blood. Not a boo-boo.” he said, and sauntered off.

What does he know. He’s four.

I banged my thigh into the corner of the oven in the dead of the night. I will dispel all rumors now: I was NOT up because I had a late-night hankering for a jello pudding cup. I was up because Kiah was barking and growling ferociously at the closet door. Again. Because the closet, apparently, contains some vestige of evil that can only be seen by her.

I’ve put Kiah in the laundry room at night because she is boycotting her crate. She refuses to come inside at night because she knows the crate is her final destination. Chasing her around the soggy backyard during monsoon season has not been a whole lot of fun, let me tell you. I think the neighbors get a kick out of me running around the backyard like a looney-bird in my pajamas and tall, rubber boots screaming, “Sit! Sit? SIT! Pleeease sit… Come back! No! KIAH!”

All of this would not be my problem if I were not an Albany widow. Because once John comes home, that dog is his responsibility. All of her quirks and her misbehaviors become his problem. If John is home and asks, “Did you feed the dog?” I respond, “She’s your dog, sucker. You feed her.” I think 30+ months of breastfeeding babies entitles me to this response.

Being an Albany widow is dangerous. I need John around to make sure I go to bed on time and to keep me from daydreaming too much.

“Holly. Are you daydreaming about Timothy Olyphant again?” (Timothy Olyphant is my new Viggo Mortensen.)

“What? No! She’s your dog- you feed her. Sucker.”

I turned the light on in the laundry room and stared at my dog, who for whatever reason, decided that was the moment she would obediently sit and look at me with submissive, beautiful puppy-dog eyes. I opened the closet door and let her sniff around until she was satisfied. I turned off the light, closed the door behind me, and immediately ran into the pointy end of the oven door. I shrieked, which stirred up Kiah of course, and swearing and barking commenced. (We’re working on Kiah’s potty-mouth. And apparently my barking when I’m upset is “weird.”) And that’s how I came to have a bruise in the shape of Eurasia on my thigh.

I felt very sorry for myself, so on my way to bed, I grabbed a jello pudding cup. And I ate it in bed.

And it was delicious.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Russian Sailor Songs

Last evening, both Caleb and Ben performed in the annual "Pops" recital.  You may not have realized this, but Russian sailor songs are making a comeback in a big way, which is why both of my boys played a different Russian sailor song last night.

"I have to play this very loud because Russians are ANGRY," Ben said. 

Ben has his own sense of how long a half note three-quarter note should last.  Other than that, both boys did a wonderful job. 

I put Ben in a bowtie because he's kind of a bowtie type of guy.  Caleb, on the other hand, is his father incarnate.

Yesterday, we took Caleb to get his haircut.  The hair stylist asked what we wanted, and John said to cut it short and brush it to the side.

"You mean, just like you?" I asked.

"Yes," he responded. 

My husband has newscaster hair.  When John was out of hearing range, I gave the stylist different instructions.  She went a step further, and gave Caleb a trendy, tousled-with-gel hairdo.  I thought it was adorable.  John nearly had a heart attack. 

My favorite part of the video is the way Ben looks back at me.  That kid makes me all gooey inside.

Sorry for the poor resolution.  Enjoy...