Sunday, April 14, 2013

New Spring by Robert Jordan

Though this book has been out since 2005, I'd not read it. At first, it was because I'd put the series aside for a while. When I started up again, Robert Jordan had died, and the series was being finished by another author, with the able help of Team Jordan. I decided to save New Spring to read until I'd completed the final book, so that I could end my Wheel of Time with Robert Jordan's actual writing. And I also wanted to read it before this year's JordanCon, which happens next week. Mission accomplished.

I did love the filling in of details to the beginning of the Wheel of Time story, especially since it involved some of my favorite characters. (Note: the first time I put the series aside, it was when Moiraine disappeared and Lan went off.)And I loved stumbling into some of RJ's catch phrases. So much fun, especially since I know the end of the story and who really is Black Ajah/darkfriends. :)






Ah, Jim, I miss you. As a friend, as an author, as the creator of a world that has brought so many people into my life through love of your writing. Thank you for sharing your vision with the world, and letting us into the world of the Wheel of Time. You are loved and missed.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio (ARC Copy- Release Date May 28, 2013)

The Last Camillia twists two separate tales, divided by time, together into a one story. There's Flora, who left her home in New York City, on the eve of WWII, to go to England. Though her family believed she was headed to work in horticulture, she was really a pawn for an international flower smuggling ring. Her task was to find the last known specimen of a rare camellia, thought to be in the gardens of a country estate. Posing as the nanny for the children of the household, Flora digs up real dirt, in the form of criminal activities happening on the estate, above and beyond the caper with which she is involved. Add in romance, and mystery, and Flora's story is rather compelling, as she tries her best to unravel the intrigue and not become tainted by evilness.

The modern day thread revolves around Addison, a successful garden designer, who, frightened by the ghosts from her past, escapes with her husband, to the English country estate his parents recently purchased. Once there, while trying to keep her own history a secret, she begins to try unraveling the mysteries of the manor, and just why locals think the place is trouble.

The tales were well told, though a little abrupt/choppy in places. I never particularly warmed to several of the main characters, and at least for Addison, wanted her to talk to her husband directly, to be honest. But then there might not have been a story. Ah well.

For a while we had a garden design business, plus living in Charleston, where Camellias are plentiful and adored, I was interested in some of the botanical and horticultural aspects. That one of the main characters was from Charleston was sort of fun, but the references to the city captured none of the flavor. In fact, one reference, (which may be gone in the final edition, since what I read was the ARC) jarred me enough that I lost the train of the story. But I slipped back into the worlds of Flora and Addision and walked with them as they tried to find truth, and keep clear heads and hearts.

I will keep my eyes open for more of Jio's work, for even though I wasn't entirely swept away by the novel, the journey I did take was pleasant, and has given me a bouquet of thoughts.  And that's a good thing to come away with when reading.

Many thanks to LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program and the publisher for sending me this copy of the book.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Clover House; by Henriette Lazaridis Power (Release date April 2)

Books take me places. Sometimes the journey is through time and memory; sometimes it's to a distant place, bringing the flavor of the land or the scent of the wind to me through words. Sometimes the journey is internal, echoing an experience of my own. The Clover House is the rare novel that braided these three types of journeys together for me, and bound them neatly inside its cover.

There are two threads of story in this book. One follows Callie Brown, who heads to Greece to receive her inheritance left to her by her beloved uncle, who has recently died; the other is the back story of her mother's life as a girl in Greece. The relationship between Callie and Clio, her mother has always been intense, difficult, and distant, though seemingly, Clio's relationship with everyone is fraught with tension. There is brittleness and bitterness in both women, the tension a palpable element in their relationship as well as how they relate to the close-knit kin who live in Patras. The damaged relationship with her mother has made it difficult for Callie to accept closeness and love at all, and she determines to try and sort things out with her mother, as well as discover her real feelings about Jonah, her fiance back in the US.  Plus, she is determined to unravel the mystery of what fractured her mother's ability to love, and fractured her family as well.

What made this book so vivid for me were the descriptions of Carnival in Patras, and the picture drawn of Greece during Clio's childhood, how the approach of WWII and the days that followed.  I visited Greece once, over 40 years ago, and still can recall the quality of light on the hillsides, and a special kind of earthy reality to the land. Power's writing helped transport me through time and space, to revisit, and also learn more about this land she so clearly, and so dearly loves.

My own relationship with my mother was almost diametrically opposed to the mother-daughter dyad in the book. But as Callie sorts through the possessions of a lifetime, left by her uncle, I was sorting through the remnants of my mother's life. It was a life I thought I knew fairly well, but the process of clearing out her possessions and souvenirs has opened new dimensions, shown me new aspects, and even told me new tales of a life well lived. Callie's experience so clearly shadowed my own task (when I was not busy reading) that at times I had to take breaks to remember which discoveries were hers and which were mine. I also learned, as Callie did, that the stories we grew up with may just be reflections of what actually happened. I wrestle now with the decision to maintain the stories my siblings and I were told, or do I go for historical accuracy? Or a blending of the two?

What is ultimately important, and what The Clover House weaves so well, is that the fabric of human existence, the story of our lives, is not perfect. We may have uncertainties, we may make mistakes, we may make bad decisions, but the outcomes are not final. We can reweave the pattern or mend the broken thread -- but to do so takes a strength of character, and a strength of heart.  This book is about finding that courage.

(After reading the book, I went to the author's website, which delighted me for many reasons, including her "about" note and the wonderful pictures of her family back in Greece. I can see where she got some of her ideas for the story, but the imagery that brought it to life for me was her own skill with words.)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lei-ing memories

Today, I had a flashback to my childhood. As I walked into the dance studio, I saw a friend was wearing a beautiful lei, which her husband had given her for her birthday.

I remember my parents dancing in our living room, in the days before Multiple Sclerosis messed with my mother's balance and strength.  At one point, my mother took up hula dancing. (I've written about that before, and am now republishing the post, and another one, on dancing with my mom at Spirit Moves, from an old blog to this one, should anyone care to read them.) The summer before I started kindergarten, my parents went to Hawaii, which I think sealed the deal for my mom and hula.

I looked at those purple blossoms gathered together, sitting lightly around my friend's neck, and suddenly, I was seeing my mother at my wedding. Months before Javaczuk and I wed, when I'd asked my mother what type of flowers she wanted to have as mother of the bride, she didn't even consider the traditional corsages.  "Can I have a lei?," she'd asked. "It will be like having your father's arms around me," How could I say no?

Heather and I adjust Ruthe's lei before the wedding ceremony; March 11, 1984

Today, as our group gathered in the wonderful Spirit Moves studio, I felt the soft petals of an invisible lei settle on my shoulders, and danced, once again*, with my mother.




Bumma's Bounty: Dancing with the Stars (Originally posted June 30, 2011)

All month, I've been experiencing the generosity of my mother's spirit by sharing memories of her and some of her bits and bobs she left behind with others.  I've made donations in her memory to some of the causes she loved, and to some that remind me of her, that she didn't know about in her lifetime.  I've shared her story with a number of new friends, including someone beginning the final journey with her own mother.  Hearing of how bumma's friends and family showered her with love in her final day, (what I've labeled in in my mind as <a href="http://www.postandcourier.com/news/2009/jun/19/memories_life_still_lived86418/"> "The bumma Love project"</a>), she's decided to try a version for her mother, and for herself, to help ease the sadness she is experiencing. This has given me happiness, as have the thank-you's that have come in from people Bumma's Bounty 2011 has touched.


Today, the last parcel I'm sending out of bumma's, for this year, was mailed.  It would have gone out sooner, but one thing I was looking for went missing.  I searched all over for it, but the gremlins seem to have stored it away for now.  Perhaps the recipient, as perfect as I thought, was not the real intended.  Perhaps it was for another reason -- that bumma wanted me to find something else instead. As I searched for this item, I found a necklace that Erico and Heather gave bumma for, I think, her 75th birthday.  It is a piece of pale turquoise, cradled in gold.  I'd forgotten all about it, and was blown away by the memories it evoked, seeing my mother wear it.  I slipped the chain over my head, and it nestled against my heart as I continued my search (unsuccessfully, I might add.)

Soon, it was time for me to head to my dance class.  I have to say that I've never considered myself a dancer.  I took some sort of dance with a formidable woman named Batya Heller  when I was 4 and 5.  She scared the living daylights out of me, and carried a stick she thumped on the floor to count out rhythms.  My main memory of her is that she proudly told us she even slept with her toes pointed.  I dreamed of pink tutus and toe shoes, and secretly covered the classy carrying case one of my classmates had for her ballet slippers.  What I got was Batya Heller and her stick.  As a little girl, I remember watching my mother practice hula in her room.  She swayed gracefully to the music, her hips and hands telling stories.  (I've written about that <a href="http://bookczuk.blogspot.com/2013/04/aloha-oe-originally-posted-july-04-2005.html">here</a>, previously.)  One of bumma's last requests to me was that I try something new, and be good to myself.  Last year, I decided that I would honor that promise by starting yoga, which bumma loved.  At the studio, I was introduced to <a href="http://nianow.com/">Nia</a>, which was a type of dance that I could gallump through and feel good.  Over the past year, I've seen how my body has responded to the freedom of movement it experienced through dance, so much so, that I find myself heading off to the studio 3 or 4 days a week to dance, and have even added belly dancing into the yoga/nia mix (wouldn't Bumma have <i>loved</i> that?!)

As the music started, today's dance began with some gentle arm movements and hip-swaying, reminiscent of hula.  Suddenly, the air around me was filled with my mother's scent.  It startled me so, that I almost began to weep.  I looked around, expecting to see her face.  But then I realized that the gold chain and pendant I wore must have carried a little remnant of her perfume.  As I danced, and my body heated up and moved, it was released.  I danced in the arms of my mother.  Bumma found a way, two years later, to send out her essence and embrace me. I danced with a star.

Aloha Oe (Originally posted July 04, 2005)

I am the youngest of three.  There was  a two year gap between the birth of child number 1 and child number two in our house, but at the ripe age of 34, six years later, Bumma found herself expecting for a third time.  Bumma, for 84, is still a lovely looking woman, but in earlier days, she was absolutely stunning.  She had a healthy, earthy glow about her, totally natural and fresh (especially given the fashions of the 50's...)  My elder brother recalls how kids in the neighborhood would come to our house just to look at her and bask in her warmth.

I wasn't a terribly big baby, but as the days moved into summer, Bumma recalls how graceless and cumbersome she felt.  Her body was not the slim shape she was so accustomed to.  Summers in the Washington DC area are sticky and hot.  She lumbered through her days, feeling slightly elephantine and clumsy, and even recalls that she couldn't fit through some doorways if she was sideways.  She's a little slip of a thing--5'2' at her peak, maybe 100 pounds soaking wet.

One evening, she and my father were out with friends, when they saw a Hawaiian dancer.  Bumma was captivated by the flowing motions of the dance, the gentle sway of the woman's hips and enchanting movements of the hands and arms as the dancer danced her story.  The hula clearly called to my mother, a daughter of Jewish immigrants, who was born and raised in Brooklyn and Brighton Beach.  The soft music of another beach and the islands ensnared her heart. 

And thus, after I was born, my mother learned to hula dance.  She and her friends met to take lessons.  Mildred Kushner became so entranced that she formally changed her name to Milanii Lee.  Bumma didn't go to such measures, but loved the dance.  She was never brave enough to dance in public, but would dance at home, for my father.  Each day, she'd practice in front of the mirror.  I still remember sitting on the floor watching her...the long mirror in her bedroom, the rays of sunlight streaming through the window, dust motes dancing in the beams--and my beautiful mother swaying in the rhythm of the music.  On rare occasions, she'd take out a grass skirt she had acquired somewhere and dance in that.  The fronds had a swish and whisper that added to the cadence of the dance.  It was magical.

Bumma recalls how she'd look down at her youngest child, a golden headed girl, sitting on the floor next to her.  And as Bumma moved her arms and hands to tell a story, the little girl at her feet also waved her little arms in time to the music. 

It was one such day that the phone rang while Bumma danced.  The call came from her elder brother.  Her beloved mother, Ida, was ill--comatose.  Years later, when Bumma was telling the story of her mother's death, I asked her if that was the time she stopped dancing and cried on the phone.  I was two.  I still remember.  Bumma left that day to be at her mother's side. 

Ida died that weekend.  Bumma never danced the hula again.

ALOHA OE

© 1878
Lyrics & Music: Queen Liliuokalani; English lyrics © 1923 arr. By Chas. E. King

Despite the common story that the Queen composed "Aloha Oe" while imprisoned in the Palace during the overthrow of the monarchy, George Kanahele in Hawaiian Music and Musicians states it was common knowledge at the time that she wrote the song during a horseback ride to the ranch of Edwin Boyd in Maunawili, inspired by the giving of a lei to one of her party by a Hawaiian girl at the gate of the ranch.

ALOHA OE
Queen Liliuokalani


English

Proudly swept the rain cloud by the cliffs,
As on it glided through the trees
Still following ever the "liko"
The "Ahihi lehua" of the vale...

Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow'rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.

Thus sweet memories come back to me,
Bringing fresh remembrance of the past
Dearest one, yes, thou art mine own,
From thee, true love shall ne'er depart.

(Chorus)

I have seen and watched thy loveliness,
Thous sweet Rose of Maunawili,
And 'tis there the birds oft love to dwell
And sip the honey from thy lips.

Proudly swept the rain cloud by the cliffs,
As on it glided through the trees
Still following ever the "liko"
The "Ahihi lehua" of the vale...

Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow'rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.

Thus sweet memories come back to me,
Bringing fresh remembrance of the past
Dearest one, yes, thou art mine own,
From thee, true love shall ne'er depart.

(Chorus)

I have seen and watched thy loveliness,
Thous sweet Rose of Maunawili,
And 'tis there the birds oft love to dwell
And sip the honey from thy lips.

Monday, April 1, 2013

On Wellness

The Springtimes of my childhood were filled with forsythia and dogwoods, the soft velvet of pussy willows, the return of robins, hungry for worms after their their long flight north. The days were marked by the greening of the trees, and by daffodils, pushing their heads up from the thawing ground. Spring brought a cleansing, as homes around us cleaned and cleared in preparation for Pesach. Being ecumenical in the approach to life, my friends and I dyed eggs, while wondering where the Afikoman would be hidden, if we we would be the one to find it, and what our prize would be.

In the springtime of my fifth year, my mother took me downtown for a special girl's day, to buy a new dress to wear for the holidays. It was fabulous to have my mother all to myself, not having to share her with big brothers, father, dog, and whatever else could grab her attention. We were headed to Hecht's, waiting for the light to change to cross the street. There was a bus at the corner, loading passengers heading into DC.

Red light to green, and a flashing walk sign; look right, then left, then right again. I pulled on my mother's hand to cross the street.

"Not yet, Mamele, let both buses pull away from the curb. We don't want to step between them. The driver of the second might not see us."

I looked again. There was only one bus. What I was witnessing was one of the first manifestations of my mother's Multiple Sclerosis. It's called Diplopia, or double vision. The disease that would hound her heels, but never conquer her, had grabbed the brainstem, creating lesions, and causing problems for her cranial nerve.

Over the years, my mother's MS tried various ways to take over her life. But she was amazing. She charged forth, living her life fully and with flair. People used to say to her her how hard it must be to be sick. "I'm not sick. I'm one of the healthiest people around. I just happen to have MS".

Of course, the same knuckleheads would ask me if it was hard having a mother who was "crippled", because she used canes, or braces, or walkers, or wheelchairs to help keep herself mobile. What a ridiculous thing to ask! She was my mother; we rode the curves life threw us together. That was the life we knew. Any other type of life was not reality. I grew up with her coming to terms with what living with MS meant, but not being defined by it. I knew no other way. She was my mom, and she was terrific.

These thoughts recently came to mind in two conversations with an old friends, who found me online. For one, it was after a gap of close to 50 years, but she found articles that led her to me. She remembered the vision trouble my mother had in those early days of MS, back in Silver Spring. She said, when we reconnected by phone, "I know she was sick, and had such problems seeing, but there was always a twinkle, a sparkle in her eyes. Coming to your house was coming home. Like walking into your brain and feeling just right."

The other friend and I reunited via Facebook. He is  living with a life-altering disease. From what I can tell, he is facing it with courage, and reaching out to help others who suffer from severe neurological insults. In my mother's last days, when she was ravaged by the cancer that hastened her demise, we made a pact to face life with "courage, caring, laughter and love." It was only after she passed that I realized that was how she faced all her days.

Apparently, courage, caring, laughter, and love are a legacy she passed on to her offspring. I see it in my brother in great abundance; it was a way of life, too, for my elder brother before his death. And with my wonky health challenges, I do my best not to be defined by the condition. I'm not always successful, but even if I have to curtail an activity, or adjust to accommodate and stay safe, I try to keep going. It's not that I'm strong, or special, or smart, or wise, or any of that crap. I'm Ruthe's kid, and I'm living life as she taught me to do. I try to look twice before I cross the street, to not step between buses, and to walk forward, with a twinkle in my eye.