#100HappyDays: Days 71-80

Another installement of my happy days. These 10 days actually reflect a crazy, chaotic, up and down week in my life so I’m thrilled to still have recogzined a moment of happiness each day.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images.

71Day 71: that’s his face when he contributes to the win with an RBI double — at Baseball Alley.

72Day 72: Still as handsome as ever, just with braces.

73Day 73: at the Berwyn Oktoberfest awaiting #16candles #whyberwyn #myboys

74Day 74: 20 years ago I directed these amazing actresses, and beautiful women, in Mill Fire — still one of the best experiences of my life. So thrilled to reunite tonight.

75Day 75: Pat took the boys to Wrigley for the Cubs vs. Dodgers game. Happy boys. Happy mom.

76Day 76: Pre- bed quiet time with Book 12 of Ranger’s Apprentice. #amreading

 

77

Day 77: Nothing better than watching father help son as he learns about music. #band

78Day 78: At Antico Posto, celebrating with my love.

79Day 79: I loved having Pat and his friends as Naz shadows today. I can’t believe the next school day he spends there will be as a freshman!

80Day 80: Class of 1989. 25th high school reunion. Wow — what a night this turned out to be.

 

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

Glad I Read: The Free by Willy Vlautin

The FreeIn this heartbreaking novel, Willy Vlautin offers up the delicate balance of beauty and sadness. The three main characters are not exactly intertwined, more like tangentially connected in the way all lives touch upon similar struggles and experiences.

Leroy, Freddie and Pauline are all struggling to stay afloat, to break free to overcome their demons – emotional, spiritual and physical. Vlautin does a wonderful job of presenting their circumstances and strengths even in light of their challenges.

“The first thing I learned is that you can be and do whatever you want. You just have to get up each morning and try to get there.”

Most of the writing is straightforward, almost like an essay designed to tug at our heartstrings. I appreciated how the author let me come to know Freddie and Pauline slowly and honestly. But, then there’s Leroy, the injured Iraq war vet, struggling with a debilitating brain injury. His opening scenes are dramatic and terrifically compelling. Then, most of his story is told as a semi sci-fi story taking place in his fractured mind. While I admire the writing skills in this approach, it severed some of the emotional connection for me. I found myself glancing ahead to see how many of these pages I had to get through until I returned to what, for me, was the “real” story.

Overall, I loved how much I came to care about these characters and their journeys. I rooted for them and cried for them. I felt how easily our lives can slip beyond our grasp. I practically clapped at the ending, which trusts readers to form their own conclusions.

Without melodrama, he tells a compelling story, one that could be mine or my neighbor’s. Recommend.

Read alikes
We Are Called to Rise
The Facades
We Live in Water
The Burgess Boys

#100HappyDays: Days 61-70

I already feel like I am drawing to the end of my #100HappyDays Challenge. It hasn’t really been a challenge at all as I am now in the habit of stopping to capture a moment of happiness, which is the ultimate challenge. I am truly, consciously, intentionally aware of happiness and I am very thankful.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images.

61Day 61: Watching these two boys cheer on the @nazarethlgp Roadrunners! It’s so great to be able to take them to work with me and get them excited about high school. #GoNaz — at Nazareth Academy.

62Day 62: Sunday evening on the deck with the perfect combo — beer, pretzels & book. Such a great way to spend an hour. #amreading — at Bistro 3513.

63Day 63: Posted by Random House today, this one made me smile.  #booklove #booknerd

64Day 64: boys, books and baseball. One of my favorite combinations. #fallball #amreading— at Baseball Alley.

65Day 65: Cooler weather is fine by us. Boys are still in the yard for some sunset sports. I love this time of year.#brothers #family — at Bistro 3513.

66Day 66: My day started with a beautiful card from a friend. Feeling so lucky & blessed to have her in my life.

67Day 67: A lovely long lunch with my mom and Jane. We toasted my dad and talked & talked & talked. — with Jane St Pierre Murguia and Karen Skinner.

68Day 68: Buona means good. Sunday lunch with my guys at one of our favorite spots. — at Buona Beef.

69Day 69: Some days it’s the smallest thing. By luck of the draw, I get a  parking spot until the end of October.

70Day 70: The saxophone has arrived. Matty has joined the band. — at Bistro 3513.

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

Glad I read: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

“There are small blessings, tiny ones that come unbidden and make a hard day one sigh lighter.”

Good writing is one such blessing. I ordered this book based on my mom’s rave and spent a wonderful few days entranced by Mira Jacob’s wonderful debut novel. It’s the rare book that continues to get better as it goes on, but in this case I couldn’t put the story down once I was into the second half.

The plot is nothing remarkably new. Amina is a thirty-something who has to return home to deal with a sick parent. Of course her family is fractured, with buried secrets, tragedy and misunderstandings; but on top of the predictable, Jacobs layers an Indian immigrant’s story. Then, she goes a step further, through Amina’s career as a photographer, to highlight the ideas of isolation and belongingness. Without being overwrought or sappy, she breathes life into this family and into her themes in a compelling way.

“It wasn’t that she doubted their love or intentions, but the weight of that love would be no small thing.”

I understood Amina, but more importantly, I liked her. And I adored all the surrounding characters, especially her parents.  They start out as the typical stereotypes of overbearing mother and ambitious professional father, but their stories evolve to become complex and emotionally touching.

“Why is it that fathers so often ensure the outcome they are trying to avoid? Is their need to dominate so much stronger than their instinct to protect? Did Thomas know, Amina wondered as she watched him, that he had just done the human equivalent of a lion sinking his teeth into his own cub?”

Amina’s relationship with her parents held special resonance for me as they faced many quality-of-life decisions. What is real? What is right? Who controls the outcome? All of these questions (and more) come to play in very honest ways, bringing me to tears on several occasions.

Across the board, Jacobs does a terrific job of fleshing out every character she introduces, admirable given the fact that this novel stretches almost 500 pages, three decades and two continents. As the story comes to its beautiful ending, I found myself completely satisfied.

Highly recommend.

Read alikes:

The Lowland

The Namesake

Sister of My Heart

And the Mountains Echoed

Anatomy of a Disappearance

AP, you broke our hearts

photo (1)It’s been a bad week for the NFL. Injuries, scandals and even arrests are nothing new for the multi-billion dollar sports/entertainment business, but this particular week seemed to tip the scales and, in our home, broke one little boy’s heart.
The news of Adrian Peterson’s arrest on charges of child abuse rocked our youngest son hard. His fascination with “AP” has become almost a private joke among family and friends. Certainly he’s withstood his fair share of jeers and comments about wearing #28’s jersey, or the giant AP Fathead above his bed. He even has an AP pillow.

Matt & APWe had no choice but to tell him the facts, at least as much as we know. The news is crawling across every station. We wanted him to hear from us and be able to ask questions. My husband held him close as our little boy absorbed the story of a man he admired beating a child with a tree branch. It’s truly terrible. Later our son went up to his bed and just stared at Peterson’s image, tears in his eyes.

I know there are people out there thinking “Shame on you” for letting a child idolize a sports star. (I know this because I philosophically agree.) It’s just not that simple. Of course we try to keep it in perspective. We’re always talking about the irony that guys playing with balls are making millions of dollars while teachers and police and paramedics struggle to earn a fair wage. We don’t call athletes heroes. We talk honestly about cheaters and drug users and the culture of sports entertainment.

But have you ever tried to dissuade a child from his passion? I don’t care if it’s dinosaurs or animals or spaceships or football, when a boy has an obsession, it’s tamper-proof. Years ago, our son watched AP run, and smile, and do his dance, and he decided on his favorite athlete. He has since waited through injury and withstood the haters to cheer on AP week after week.Matty vikings

Now he’s crushed. And he doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s in his own head and his own heart grappling with disappointment.
I’ll leave it to others to write about the culture of violence surrounding football, the illusion of impenetrability that accompanies celebrity, and the potentially deeper/darker issues plaguing Adrian Peterson. The best I can do is go and offer open, loving arms to my hurting baby boy.

Flashback Friday: This is Where I Leave You

This is Where I leave youWith one week (and impatiently counting) until the film release of This is Where I Leave You, I thought I would suggest, beg, demand that any of you who have not yet read Jonathan Tropper’s outstanding dark comedic novel should do so before seeing the movie.

Need more persuasion? Here’s my review from August 3, 2012.

I can’t remember the last time a book made me laugh out loud, but this one did. It also made me blush, got me a little choked up at times, and introduced me to another author whose work I will actively seek.

Forced to take part in a traditional Jewish 7-day shiva for his father, Judd Foxman ping-pongs between his hilariously dysfunctional siblings, his larger than life newly widowed mother, and the agony of his failed marriage. By using the shiva as a tactic to force intimacy (or at least proximity) on his characters, Tropper provides the perfect background for high drama.

“Childhood feels so permanent, like it’s the entire world, and then one day it’s over and you’re shoveling wet dirt onto your father’s coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything.”

Tropper brilliantly avoids overplaying his dramatic hand. Instead he inserts some borderline slapstick comedy for Judd and his family. I wasn’t sure in the opening chapter, which contains the funniest version of marital infidelity I’ve ever read (burning testicles and all), if Tropper could maintain that level of pitch-perfect dark comedy, but he does.

He finds the humor in life’s tragic situations, without ever lessening their importance.

“…the first thing you do at the end is reflect on the beginning. Maybe it’s some form of reverse closure, or just the basic human impulse toward sentimentality, or masochism, but as you stand there shell-shocked in the charred ruins of your life, your mind will invariably go back to the time when it all started. And even if you didn’t fall in love in the eighties, in your mind it will feel like the eighties, all innocent and airbrushed, with bright colors and shoulder pads and Pat Benetar or The Cure on the soundtrack.”

As I was reading, I could picture the film version, cast with the finest 30-somethings in Hollywood, a kind of Big Chill for the 21st Century. I believe Tropper is already at work on an adaptation. I sure hope Hollywood doesn’t manage to wreck the brilliant balance of a little raunchy, a lot funny, and perfectly heartfelt that Tropper has achieved.

Glad I Read: My Salinger Year

My Salinger YearSometimes a book just picks me up in its pretty arms and carries me away for a while. Such was the case here. Joanna Rakoff picked me up and deposited me in a sort of timeless world where books and writing matter more than anything else. This is the year Rakoff accidentally fell into a job at a literary agency – a place stuck in the early 60’s despite a calendar which read 1996, a place where the obsessive reclusiveness of J.D. Salinger controlled behavior, a place where a young woman could discover her passion.

This is just the kind of memoir I love to read because I recognize so much of myself in Rakoff – the yearning, the confusion, the inability to take action when she should. Mostly, I recognize a kindred spirit in terms of book love. Along with her, I lament her boss’ inability to “get books.”

“She’d never spent entire days lying on her bed reading, entire nights making up complicated stories in her head. She’d not dreamed of willing herself into Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre so that she might have real friends, friends who understood her thorny desires and dreams. How could she spend her days—her life—ushering books into publication but not love them in the way that I did, the way that they needed to be loved?”

I love this idea that books need to be loved to fully come alive. I concur. It’s not what this memoir is about but it’s the background idea that drew me in and kept me engaged. Ironically, what pushed me away is that the book becomes more and more about Salinger and Salinger’s writing the longer it goes on. I’m just not in the Salinger Fan Club, so I automatically took an emotional step back just at the time I should have succumbed completely to the story.

But, really, it’s not much of a complaint. Rakoff is engaging and intelligent enough that even I could set aside my personal opinion to appreciate what she is writing. And, I love her retelling of her limited interactions with the man himself.

“Writing makes you a writer,” he’d told me. “If you get up every morning and write, then you’re a writer. Publishing doesn’t make you a writer. That’s just commerce.”

Ultimately a very satisfying memoir and one I won’t soon forget.

Read alikes
The Catcher in the Rye
Rules of Civility
Lit
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

Back with a new W…W…W…Wednesday. Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always a great way to connect.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

What are you currently reading?

The Sleepwalker's Guide to DancingLoving The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. My mom read it recently and has been on a campaign to get people to read this book. Only 100 pages in but so far she’s right. Fractured family. India. Generation gap. All good stuff. I was reading To the Lighthouse, but it was not suiting my mood. I really do like Virginia Woolf, but I’m not in the right place for dense, cerebral prose right now.

 

My Salinger YearWhat did you recently finish reading?

Over the weekend I finished My Salinger Year (another tick in the non-fiction column). Rakoff just carried me away with her story of a literary agency stuck in time. Although I’m not personally a Salinger fan, I still got caught up in this year in her life because of the engaging writing and her vulnerability. (Review to post tomorrow.) I also finished my audio book, Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel which was so creepy and disturbing and violent, that I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

FangirlWhat do you think you’ll read next?   

I have a huge stack of library books which I picked up yesterday, all of which demand to be on the top of the pile. My books include new titles from great authors, like Ian McEwan and T.C. Boyle. I also have Rowell’s Fangirl, which I hope will restore my love of Rowell. I might try to zip through that first.

Happy reading everyone!

 

*All book covers are images saved from Goodreads

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

 

#100HappyDays: Days 51-60

I can’t believe how quickly the past 10 happy days have flown by. Now that I am into the second half of this challenge, I’ve found it’s become a part of my daily routine. I am truly, consciously, intentionally aware of happiness and I am very thankful.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images.

51Day 51: Fall baseball, game 1 for Patrick. Playing on the big field. That’s him up to bat for the first time. I’m behind the iPhone with a lump in my throat. Where did the time go? — at Baseball Alley.

52Day 52: Admiring the sculpture outside the Berwyn Library with Connor. I was just going to take a pic of the sculpture but Connor insisted on getting it. It’s way better this way. #reading #booklove #publicart

53Day 53: out to dinner at Paisan’s Pizza. Ordered the sampler platter in honor of Aunt Therese. A bit of an inside family joke, but that’s OK.

54Day 54: Out to lunch at Lalo’s with great women and great margaritas. What could be better? Maybe the fact that one friend I’ve had for 20 years and one was brand new.

55Day 55: Pat & I celebrating the long-awaited marriage of our friends Tim & Tom. One of the most heartfelt and meaningful ceremonies I’ve ever witnessed. #love —  at St. Chrysostom’s Episcopal Church in Chicago.

56Day 56: Final tomato harvest + good Italian bread. Simply add butter, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. Thanks for breakfast Pat.

 

57Day 57:  A quiet living room and a free hour to read. What a delightful surprise. #amreading

58Day 58: The time a high school student baked cupcakes for our entire floor. Yum. I never fail to be impressed by the generosity of the students at my alma mater.
59Day 59: #tbt stolen from my mom. I want to focus on the cake (which was awesome) and the wallpaper (which still gives me nightmares) but I’m too freaked out about seeing Matty’s face so clearly in this pic.
60Day 60: I know it’s another throwback, but I forgot I had almost the whole Murguia clan in this photo from my wedding. #family

 

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.