I paddle my own canoe

For as long as I can remember I have been someone who has done my own thing. I am not exactly a rebel, but I like to chart my own course, find my own answers, and do not love to just follow someone else’s lead. That does not mean I cannot follow directions or stay the course as needed, I am just less interested in following others. I am not usually one to read a book that everyone is reading. Instead, if the right person shares a nugget that resonates with me — that is when I decide to read the book. Not because everyone else is doing it. I like jewelry that is a piece of art and potentially very few individuals have that piece.

Having been a fan of “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed I was eager to read her next book: “Brave Enough.” Until I learned that it was basically a book of quotes. I am not usually one to sit down and read a book of quotes, and then I thought, it is a small book, it will be a quick read — and it was. She also shared some great ideas. One particularly resonated with me, it is not hers but a proverb of sorts that she shared, and it was the first time I had heard of it. It made me realize that I have always been one to “paddle my own canoe.”

“Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.” page vii

Later on the same page she says:

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.” Page vii

Right on sister. I know I think about that often. Yesterday Chris and I were chilling on the couch while the turkey was cooking away in the oven, and I came across an email between my sister and me from 2010 about my mom, and whether I was mothered. As I read it to Chris I was getting choked up. My sister and I were remembering the good, bad, and ugly from our childhood on the anniversary of my mom’s passing. The beginning of the email my sister says: “Thinking about you tonight – and about mom and how she has been gone for half your life.” That was five years ago, and my mom has now been gone for 21 years, and yet all that I have been through over the years only serves to allow me to see the light.

I have definitely seen darkness, but I have also seen years of light and love. Thank you, Cheryl Strayed, for the reminder that I paddle my own canoe, and that I live in the light.

Falling from the 1%

It has been a while since I have read a book that I could not put down — until this past weekend. I read a book titled: “After Perfect: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Christina McDowell. It is about the Prousalis family and their demise. Think Bernie Madoff. Think scandal. Think fraud. At first when I started to read it I thought this is going to be an annoying book. It will be all about the 1% that had it all and so much more and lost it due to lies and deceit. And it is, but also about so much more.

The book is told by Christina, Tom Prousalis’s daughter. It is her story. It is how she learns about her father and his crimes. He goes to prison for three years after taking a plea deal. They lose everything and she and her sisters and mother must learn how to live. Her mother has never had to pay a bill and Christina realizes that her mother has been taken care of for so long that she does not even know where to begin to pick up the pieces of her life that is now in shambles.

It gets worse. Christina finds out that before heading to prison, her father had taken out multiple credit cards in her name and racked up debt to the tune of $100,000. She believes that he will fix her credit and pay off her debt. He makes her believe on the infrequent calls and letters from prison that he will take care of her. It takes her years to learn who her dad really is, and to truly understand the lies, and deceit, until eventually he literally vanishes from her life.

You might look at her story and think she is a child that had it all. She lived in such extreme wealth, she had things most others did not. Yet, in a lot of ways she was just the victim all along. She did not know about her father, the kind of man he truly was, she knew only what she knew. Her 20’s turned into a period of abuse. She lost the footing of who she was and turned to drugs, alcohol, and sex. Until she had enough. She came clean and searched for the truth. As painful as it was to find. She changed her name, and set up a new identity, free from the past, free from her father.

“After Perfect” was a page turner. It makes you see into the world of the 1%, and those that fall from that world. How they deal with it, how they do not, and in the end they are people just like the rest of us. If you are looking for a book to read (especially a memoir) I highly recommend it.

Loyal, rotten food, and finding your way home

Loyal. Yes, I am loyal when it comes to good authors. If I really love a book, I usually try to read everything else they have written. Ruth Reichl is one of those authors. Tender at the Bone, being one of my favorites. Quote: “food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.” This is a perfect summary of Tender at the Bone, where she grows up watching food and people, particularly her strange mother, and the often rotting food she serves to her guests.

I relate to Riechl, not so much that my mom served rotten food, but that I feel I am a starer. I love watching people, learning about them and what makes them tick. Growing up in the midwest, I was a product of the 80’s. Yes, jello mixed with whipped cream, or pears molded into jello. I could go on, but what I’ll say is that I agree with Riechl, you can definitely learn about people by watching what they eat.

I just finished Riechl’s newest book and I could not put it down. Sunday morning I woke up early and decided to snuggle up against Chris and read as much as I could before my stomach made such loud growling sounds that I would wake Chris up. 100 pages later and I still another 100 pages to go (380 pages in total), we decided to finally roll out of bed. I silently geared up for my run later in the day where I could finish the book. The book? Delicious by Ruth Reichl. This quote stood out to me the most from her book, especially the part about food and finding their way home.

“A great meal is an experience that nourishes more than the body. The feeling stayed with me. The next morning, when Mother, Mr. Jones, and I were walking through those strange, crowded downtown streets, where people were sticking their hands into pickle barrels, pointing to smoked fish, and eating sliced herring, I saw the scene in a whole new way. They weren’t buying food: They were finding their way home.” page 277

Delicious is about a girl who ventures to New York City to work for a food publication. She learns a lot about family, sisterhood, love, and so much more. Riechl has a way of weaving multiple stories into one. She shares a story between two sisters, a father and daughter, an employee and employer, and multiple co-workers, oh and somehow brings James Beard into it all. Weaved in with food, food history, and World War II. It is a definitely a book to read, and you will want to postpone your to-do list to finish it. Warning: If you liked her die-hard foodie books, this has a much softer side.

Oh, by the way, I finished Delicious on my run, and now I only wish there was a sequel. Ruth Reichl, you may have only been a non-fiction writer, but I think you just opened a world for yourself in the land of non-fiction.


Stories, reading, and my mom.

I never remember my mom reading books, and yet I think she would if she had the time. Often she worked all day, had a second job, helped us with our homework, made our meals, cleaned the house. As many moms out there know, it is a thankless job, and yet I never remember my mom complaining. She stayed up all hours of the night for months to make our Christmas presents so that we would have something to unwrap under the tree. I did not know that at the time, and yet thinking back on the gifts she made for us I know the countless hours it took for her to pull it all off. If she was purchasing the gift she would put it on layaway months and months in advance and diligently go and pay a little more each week until it was finally paid off. This was before she had a credit card so it was the only way she was ever able to get gifts under the tree.

She was the epitome of stretching things to make ends meet. While I never saw her reading books, I always saw her studying the Bible, our church books, and praying. She read those periodicals voraciously. She was adamant that we all read well and, while I do not remember when I started to read, I rarely got in trouble for staying up to read with the flashlight. She must have known that one day I would figure out that I could either get sleep and feel rested or not and pay for it the next day.

While I do not remember my mom pushing me to read, I think she gently encouraged reading and knew I escaped into a book often as a kid. My home life was not the greatest place, and somehow I would jump into the plot of a book, and I could transport myself into a whole different realm. We were her guinea pigs while she was getting her Masters degree in Education. We would read excerpts and have to answer questions and I absolutely HATED the reading comprehension tests she made us take for her classwork. I hated it just as much on the SATs. I like reading, but I hated regurgitating it later with a list of questions.

As I think about storytelling, reading, and the passion I have for stories, I have a smile on my face. My brother-in-law makes up stories for my 2 month old niece and I know that she will have the adventure of story in her life. While I will not make her take practice reading comprehension tests, I know she will carry on the tradition of voraciously reading, like her mom and my mom. Stories let us live an entirely different life, if even for just a few moments.

My mom was a badass. I only wish she knew it. Maybe she did, I will never know.

“Love You Forever”

I have spent a good part of my life taking care of other people, family members, and probably my favorite of all children. My favorite age is newborn, that are so cuddly, sleep so easily in your arms, and smell so good. (Well most of the time). However, I love the conversation and exploration that happens when you interact with toddlers and onward. The questions at times can get under your skin, and other days they say things that are so completely unexpected that they make you laugh so much you cry. Other times the words that come out of their mouths bring other sorts of tears.

Yesterday a Facebook friend shared this article “The Story Behind ‘Love You Forever’ Is Probably Not What You Thought.” Love You Forever is a children’s book written by Robert Munsch. Now let me tell you, over my 10 + years of marriage I have wanted to purchase baby items, and Chris has somehow won and halted this urge, which I understand. However, I started a bit of a collection of my favorite children’s books well before I met Chris. One on the bookshelf is, you guessed it: Love You Forever. Maybe it is the nostalgia of sometimes feeling like an orphan, or remembering childhood memories with my parents, but this book always brought tears to my eyes as I read it to wee little ones while babysitting, or while working at a day care center in college.

The article shares the true story about the background of this children’s book. You’ll want to read the article and watch the video, but know that it is a teary affair. I cried while reading this article based on not having my parents here to tell me they love me, and now to know that the words in the book actually speak to babies lost, makes it that much deeper. The song the mom sings in the book is:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

For those of you that have lost babies, born or unborn, or even your grown babies, this book is for you. I even think it is for those that have lost their moms or dads, as a reminder that they are loved. You are loved.