Saturday, June 28, 2014

Remembering Ruthe 2014

Ruthe and her firstborn 1950
Remembering Ruthe 2014

I spent a long time looking for a yahrzeit candle to light today to honor a woman who was perhaps the greatest influence in my life. But like that woman often did, I squirreled it away somewhere so special and safe, that I can't find it. So, I improvised; Bumma would have approved, I am sure.

The other day, my grandgirl, who is with us for a bit this summer, said something that surprised me. She commented how I often am nice to complete strangers, saying things to them that just make them happy. (Undoubtedly to counter act the times I am utterly evil.) So I told her this story.

As a girl, I noted how my mother easily engaged complete strangers in conversation. She was quite inquisitive, and had the ability to chat with almost anyone. (Her eldest son also was very skilled this same way. My brother  Jim tells how he'd go into the same shop, weekly for years, and receive no special acknowledgement from the shopkeeper. Erico visited it once, and was recognized immediately ever after, on return, and Jim, the regular patron, became "Eric's brother.") 

As my mother got older, she grew even more charming, engaging, and rememberable.  Somewhere along the line, in my adulthood, I made a conscious decision to emulate the gift of making a complete stranger feel good.  I began slowly, maybe once a month saying something nice. I included it in my practice as a nurse, making sure I found something positive to say about the children I encountered. I worked with disabled children, and sometimes I was with a parent early on after their child's birth. I reminded myself that no one dreams of having a house with a white picket fence, a beautiful family, and a child with a disability, but you play the hand you're dealt, and you play it with all the skill you can. Sometimes it was easy to find that wonderful feature to focus on ("What beautiful eyes!"); sometimes it was tough. I remember one child, whose father had fled from the room unable to look as his baby -- whose mother looked at her offspring with dismay. I, too, was hardpressed, but then the baby began to cry, and I put my hand on its head, to comfort it. "Don't you have the most perfect set of lungs!" I said. "Listen to you!" The baby quieted at my touch, and I murmured, "See? You just want a little attention and loving. What a smart baby!" Mama's eyes lit up, and she took her baby in her arms for the first time. Yes, that was an odd looking child, but before my eyes, I saw love bloom.

As I grew older, I began making it a weekly, then daily event. Sometimes it is as simple as telling someone that a particular color they were wearing becomes them. Sometimes it is more. But I try to remember my pleases and thank you's. I try to complement good service. I thank police, firefighters, military folks for what they give to our community. Meter readers on the street are particularly fun to say thank you to, or to buy a cool bottle of water for on a hot Charleston day. Everyone usually shouts at them. 

One day, when I wheeling Bumma to the Hollings Cancer Center, in the last days of her life, she turned to me and commented how  I always found something good to say to someone, even if they were a bumbling idiot. My jaw must have dropped in astonishment, and if I had my wits about me, I might have said "apple, tree, not far" or "pot kettle black". She sat back in her chair and said, "I like that. Finding something to make someone else feel good. I think I'll try doing that."

Ah, Mama, if only you knew....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I'm not a short fiction fan, plain and simple. But given the opportunity to download this Hugo nominated novella by an author I like, I did just that, despite the lack of length.  MRK pulled it together with the style I've come to expect from her, but I have to say, my novel-loving soul wanted a longer story, even so. That might have allowed more of a connection to the Dorothy/Oz bit, which was a fun element, but didn't seem to really connect to the main story arc for me. However, I am a sucker for a love story, and that was the main delight in this tale of an aging astronaut, the first female astronaut to Mars, who is once again given the opportunity to head into space.  But her husband, the other half of her heart, is dying. What's a lady astronaut (of Mars) to do?

Thank you to Tor for offering <a href="">'s Original Fiction Hugo Finalists for Free</a>.  

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Police by Jo Nesbø

I am so mad at Jo Nesbø right now. He left us in such limbo after the last book, but I forgave him, because I knew Harry wouldn't die just yet. I didn't even mind the suspense and veiled leads in the beginning of this book, because once again, it was superb writing, character crafting, and plot unveiling. These characters are real, and each of them, with their peculiar quirks, strengths, and flaws, are people, rather than fiction, to me. And because of that, I am so mad at Jo Nesbø from about a little more than midway into this book. I can't say more, for fear of spoilers. Gah. I won't forgive Mr Nesbø until the next book comes out. And then, I'll probably get mad at him for something else. He's becoming a little like the GRRM of Nordic Noir. (5/5 star rating)

Interestingly enough, this was the first book I read on the new e-reader husband gave me for Father's Day. It's not as weird as it sounds, as I gave him his father's day gift early-- on Mother's Day, to be exact. We do things a little differently in the Czuk household.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Tsing Loh

I really thought I was going to enjoy this book a lot more than I did, especially after hearing Sandra Tsing Loh on NPR, and reading an excerpt of the book in AARP's magazine.  It's not that wasn't well written, because it was, but eventually it proved to be not something I was really interested in reading. I guess I thought it would be funnier, and believe me, menopause needs all the humor it can get. Unfortunately, I don't think menopause was the only thing driving Tsing Loh's depression and rage.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness blow me away: The Legend of #chuckformike

I have a friend who recently let it be known that he has acquired a rather significant tenant in his pancreas, who is not only a squatter there, but has staked claims elsewhere in his body. This is not Good News, but is being faced pragmatically, with humor, and with careful thought by Mike and his family.  Though he lives in Wales, and we've only seen each other in person a few times, Mike has been to Charleston, and by all appearances, loved the visit, even contemplated a return trip sometime.

Sitting at my computer an ocean away from my friend, I am reminded how nearly 5 years ago, I reached out to the same community through which Mike and I met, when my mother found herself host to the unwanted tenant of metastatic breast cancer.  She told me that she didn't mind dying; she'd lived a good life. Her big regret would be not being able to hear what people said about her at her funeral. I turned to the BookCrossing community,  and to friends and family.  In return, they flooded her with love. It meant a lot to her to know she'd touched so many lives. I looked down at my hands on the computer and knew that though I live an ocean away, maybe I can do something that makes Mike smile, or teases that fabulous brain of his. And so, I wrote him: "Mike, my friend, what are your favorite place memories from Charleston? Don't ask why. Just give me a few places.  PS Tell that tumor to go to hell. I'm mad at it."

He responded with some of his favorite memories, and then I told him my idea: to take a special tour of Mike's Charleston for him, and to send him pictures and videos along the way.

Mike, that big hearted man, recognized that he'd be helping me, while I'd be amusing him. "I'd love that!" he wrote. "Can we ride in one of those horse buggies?"

"You betcha!", I replied. "Anything goes as long as it doesn't involve a strip club or drugs". And with that, I was on a mission: to show Mike the town he visited and loved. He thought Facebook would be a good place for the pictures, though I've put some in a BookCrossing book I had which he'd started travelling. (Sacre Bleu, if anyone's interested. The pictures there are not ones that have appeared on FaceBook.) So, I've been documenting on FB with the hashtag #chuckformike and #miketravels. Mike has let me renew the pact I made with my mother, to face the days ahead with courage, caring, laughter and love. I normally devote my June to mitzvahs in her honor; now her memory is in good company with Mike.

Now, on to Random Acts of Kindness.  The other day, I went to the City Market to take pictures for Mike, and see about a carriage ride. As I got closer to the carriages, I thought about it: most of the fun for a local is seeing friends react to this beautiful city. Taking a carriage ride by myself, even with Mike in my mind, seemed like not as much fun, plus I couldn't be sure I'd hit a district he'd want to see. (For the uninitiated, the carriage tours are strictly regulated as to where they can go, how many can go to a certain area, etc. They're also regulated about temperatures and hydration for the horses and mules that pull the carriages. It's all pretty humane, for what it is.) Plus, my wallet was remarkably bare. I figured that I'd wait until my granddaughter was here at the end of the month, and get some footage then. But in the meantime, I had this idea that I'd document a carriage ride without actually going on one. First, I got a picture from the seat of a carriage of a horse named Montague, and of the poop catcher the horses are required to wear (though adventurous poop occasionally escapes the diaper, something with which any parent is familiar) 

Then I told the ladies who do the lottery for which area carriages can go about Mike, and one of them volunteered to show the sorter for tour-route selection, as long as I promised not to show her face in the picture. I'm pretty sure she rigged it though, because the ball she is holding up is for the prized tour of South of Broad and The Battery:

I continued taking photos and walking in the market, planning the route I'd take for the pseudo tour route. As I walked, I realized I didn't have a picture of a carriage. Montague was out on tour, so I stopped at Old South Carriage Company on Anson St. and explained the situation to the tour guide, and asked if he could take a picture of his horse from the carriage view as well (a la the Montague picture). He not only welcomed a photograph, but invited me aboard.

Then he asked, "You got a video on that thing (my phone)? And a few minutes to spare?" When I replied yes, he invited me on a private tour around the Market, just for Mike! Wowzer! So, meet tour guide Shawn, horse Freddy, and an extremely grateful czukie, on a private carriage tour, just for my friend Mike. To paraphrase and rephrase Tennessee Williams, I am often overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. Blogger is having trouble uploading the video, so I will try an alternate route. It's a'coming, Mike, two items from your list: the Market and a carriage tour! (edited to add it is up on Facebook now, though my settings are for friends only, though I can change that if needed.)

Shawn did let me take one more picture, that of the markers used for escaped poop and piddle, dropped at the scene of the crime, and radioed into the persons with the worst job in the city: the horse brigade, who go out to clean up the waste. Wouldn't you just love to ride around scraping up excrement when it's 90+ degrees F?

What Shawn wouldn't do was take any gratuity, but I got him back. I left a tip with a co-worker and am wrote a 5 star review on Yelp. 

So Mike, know that not only your friends rooting for you, but strangers are, too. And you deserve it. Thank you, my friend, for travelling with me. Sit back and enjoy the ride!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Last Chinese chef by Nicole Mones

Clearly, with the exception of one memorable supper in San Francisco's China Town, orchestrated by a friend whose family is from Beijing,  I have been going about Chinese food all wrong. This book is a sensual blend of  words and tastes, with a dash of history and a good modern story thrown in. Read it, but not on an empty stomach.

I've now read 3 books by Ms Mones -- all different, all excellent.