Sunday, August 31, 2008

Treasure Trove of Pictures

Part of my three weeks away from Minnesota was spent in Seattle. My dad grew up there and my grandparents still live in the city there. They moved to a retirement/assisted living community probably about 10 years ago. My grandpa is now 88 and my grandma 86. My sister and I decided that to see each other, we would meet up there this summer since my grandma's health hasn't been good and because we don't know when we will be able to see them again. Then, two other sisters and my parents also joined us, making it quite the family gathering. I left MJ and T with AJ's parents and flew there for an extended weekend.

Part of what I wanted to do while I was there was talk to my grandpa about his life. That didn't turn out too well. Mostly, it was just too chaotic. Even when there were just adults in their home, two people would be off on the side gabbing. I would sit right next to my grandpa and asked him lots of questions, but it was hit and miss and we didn't record anything.

But, another objective was to look through old family photos. They have a storage closet in the basement of their building, with boxes of pictures that I don't think anyone has looked at in years, if ever. We brought a scanner and laptop and convinced my grandpa it was worth it to get them out. And boy, was it worth it. We found sooo many great photos. There were several times I gasped in pure amazement and joy at our discoveries. The above picture is my grandparents on the their wedding day in 1945.

I was particularly interested in finding any photos of my grandpa's dad, Jocko--one of the Giacomos in the family. He came to the US when he was a kid, and always lived in communities of Italians. He was Catholic, at least on paper.

This group of men on their beer and french bread picnic is one of my favorites. It was probably taken in the early 1900's because my great grandpa (sitting on the left with the white shirt and suspenders ) looks so young. I love his curly hair--part of my family's heritage.
There were several pictures that it seemed like my grandpa had never seen. We found an exquisite picture of his parents on their wedding day in 1913. He snatched that one up so fast and then make several color copies of it because he didn't want it to be lost. Unfortunately, the scan of it didn't turn out too well because of the high gloss on the photo.

We took a bunch of stuff back to our hotel to look at one night, and the next morning, he asked us if we had found the small framed picture of his mother. It was taken when she was older and was in a pretty oval frame. Yes! we exclaimed. We had it, we could bring it to him. He was excited about it and wanted to put it up in his living room.

After we had gone through everything, scanned many photos, and were preparing to take it all back, my mom was looking for the framed photo of Mabel, his mother. She had set it out special knowing how he was looking forward to it. She couldn't find it. It wasn't where she left it. We all started searching. We search through the entire hotel suite we were all staying in. My mom called the front desk to ask about a lost and found. Was there any way she could have taken it to breakfast? We looked inside the sofa bed. We pulled the drapes back. We tried to get my sister's three year old daughter to cough out its location. Tempers flared and we snapped at each other. I was on the verge of tears because I was so upset about it and because I wasn't getting enough sleep. Finally, my sister found it tucked upside down in the corner of one of the drawers in her bathroom. It turns out that the box my mom set it on was just the perfect height for a curious 16 month old. He must have picked it up and found a special place to put it. I was just so grateful we found it and we all vowed not to ever tell my grandpa that it was lost for a while.

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Recent Reads

I'm not going to do justice to these books, but I am behind.

Supercapitalism by Robert Reich. Book group for August. Unfortunately, the meeting was postponed by a week, and I was already on vacation when it happened. Reich decomposes the logic of capitalism to explain the continuing globalization of world markets. Capitalism has expanded at the expense of democracy and the good of the citizenry. Everything, and he mean EVERYTHING, that a company does is centered on the bottom line and profits. He doesn't believe that corporate responsibility should be expected--it isn't built into the logic of capitalism--or that we should expect companies to behave honorably for the common good. Instead, he argues that we need government intervention to support the environment, fair labor and wages, and to reduce inequality. A pretty good read. The first part of the book was slow, I thought, but it picked up. It was long on the description of the problem, and short, though, on any kind of public policy or individual response. He does have some strong words about corporate lobbyists and the enormous influence they wield, and his soundest suggestions revolve around reducing corporate cash in the political system.

So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger. Wow, did I love this one. When I first heard about it, I wasn't too excited--the setting is the declining Wild West and two main characters are figures from an earlier time: the train robber, long on the run from the law, and the detective who has spent years of his life tracking him. But, I really liked Peace Like a River and so I decided to read this too. Enger is a master at characterization; the figures in the book were so real and believable. The writing is gorgeous. So many great scenes. I want to read it through again to cherish his turns of phrase and the way he makes his story sing. I liked this review on Amazon:
Monte Becket should have been happy, with a doting wife, adventuresome little boy, and a place by the river. Not to mention a bestselling novel to his credit. But something's missing and he can't seem to write a second. Then Glendon Hale shows up--courtly, charming, talented, and a self-confessed rascal--a man who walked out on his wife, the love of his life, many years before. Now he envisions a quixotic journey of redemption--to find his lost wife and apologize--and he asks Monte to go with him. So begins the road trip to end all road trips. Monte gets in deeper than he ever expected, and soon runs afoul of Charles Siringo, the detective/bounty hunter who has been pursuing Glendon for many years. Will they ever find the long lost Mrs. Hale? Will Glendon receive forgiveness? Wlll Monte ever make it home again? Or will both men end up in jail? Or worse? Of course, I won't tell you what happens, only that this trip becomes longer, darker, and more costly than Monte could ever have dreamed. And that both men suffer and lose a lot, and that they end up touched by an odd kind of grace.

Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. This was also a book with beautiful writing, but in the end, unlike Enger's So Brave, there is no grace, no redemption. If you read this, you must bookend it with cheerful books, because I was left feeling hopeless and depressed by the end. This is a book about inequality and the dividing and tearing consequences of globalization. Inequality as manifest within a country--both in the US and in India--and between countries. The NYTimes review of this is entitled Wounded by the West, and every character who experiences the west, both in Europe and the US is cut off from their Indianess and culture. Here's an example, from the Times review.
As a student, isolated in racist England, the future judge feels "barely human at all" and leaps "when touched on the arm as if from an unbearable intimacy." Yet on his return to India, he finds himself despising his apparently backward Indian wife.
Desai's descriptions of poverty and its attendants are gruesome and haunting. Her characters are disempowered and unable to shape their lives into something that satisfies them--they are unhappy, unmoored, and humiliated.

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers. This is a Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane mystery, written in 1936. I have heard good things about Sayers, but I didn't love this book. The characters were a bit wooden (save for the elderly spinster and her gang of single and efficient secretaries who do undercover detective work for Wimsey). The story seemed old fashioned and a little quaint. Wimsey's determination to marry Harriet so early in the story seemed strange. Eh, it was ok. I think I will still read Gaudy Night at some later point, but it didn't suit for a good vacation book. Oh, well. I had the cheaply made small paper back edition that fared well in spite of a diet coke spill in my bag and provided a diversion while I was standing with baby Z in the back of the plane.

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Back from Hiatus

Between being on vacation, the Olympics, and the DNC convention last week, my time has been sucked away. We are happy to be home, excited for the start of school on Tuesday for MJ and next week for T's preschool, and are generally doing well.

While I did not maintain the same level of Olympics obsession as my family, I did watch most of NBC's primetime coverage and I did manage to exhaust myself in the process, staying up far too late many nights. While there were many great moments, I especially loved the successes of Dara Torres, the 41 year old silver medal swimmer, in the 100-meter sprint freestyle, and Oksana Chusovitina, the 33 year old Russian woman who competed for Germany's gymnastics team after moving there for medical treatment for her cancer stricken son. She won a silver medal in the vault. Both, truly amazing.

In one of her post-swim interviews, Torres said, "You're never too old to live your dreams." Maybe a little cheesy, but in the mind set where I'm at right now, trying to define myself to some extent and lay out some plans for the next few years, it resonated. I got to cycle a bit on my brother-in-law's road bike. I'm still dreaming those plans for biker spandex.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Tender at the Bone

AJ's mom suggested this one for the second annual F Women's Book Group. It's a fun little memoir about a woman growing up with food and eventually becoming a food critic. Her mother's cooking was plain scary (it sounds like the family had iron stomachs, but the story of food poisoning an entire dinner party was hilarious in its recounting). All the recipes she included seemed too gourmet and complicated for my taste. Interesting and fun read, but it didn't stay with me much past the last page. Other books with food descriptions that I have liked more are Under the Tuscan Sun and Little Heathens.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Severe Mercy

We read this one for book group a while back. Here's some excerpts from a review:

A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, is a heart-rending love story described by its author as "the spiritual autobiography of a love." Vanauken chronicles the birth of a powerful pagan love borne out of the relationship he shares with hiswife, Davy, and describes the growth of their relationship and the dreams that they share. As a symbol of their love, they name their dream schooner the Grey Goose, "for the grey goose, if its mate is killed flies on alone and never takes another."

While studying at Oxford, Sheldon and Davy develop a friendship with C.S. Lewis, under whose influence and with much intellectual scrutiny they accept the Christian doctrine. As their devotion to God intensifies, Sheldon realizes that he is no longer Davy's primary love--God is. Within this discovery begins a brewing jealousy.

Shortly after, Davy acquires a fatal illness. After her death Sheldon embarks on an intense experience of grief, "to find the meaning of it, taste the whole of it ... to learn from sorrow whatever it had to teach." Through painstaking reveries, he comes to discover the meaning of "a mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." He learns that her death "had these results: It brought me as nothing else could do to know and end my jealously of God. It saved her faith from assault. ...And it saved our love from perishing."

This is a pretty good summary of the book. There is a lot of interesting material to think and
talk about. The thing that I have kept returning to is the story of their love. They were married for 15 to 18 years, and were able to keep their love alive and fresh and vibrant all that time. They dreamed big, and then went out and made a way for their dreams to come alive. They studied together, read together, and talked and talked about everything. It was inspiring to read about.

I was really taken by their devotion to each other and their ability to work hard and maintain the freshness of their love. The women in my book group seemed to pooh-pooh this though. They said that their love needed to mature, and that all loves have to move past their springtime. Some of them thought that their relationship seemed suffocating: they were so often together and shared so much that it seemed that they had no separate lives. There must be a balance though and I think that life gets so busy and you have kids and they demand a lot and sometimes it seems hard to remember what it was like in the springtime of a relationship, so distant does it seem from where you are now.

I was particularly frustrated one night when I was trying to talk to AJ about something. Just a small thing I had heard or read, I don't even remember what it was now. MJ came demanding attention, the conversation was lost, and I felt resentful. I got angry. And then when AJ said, "Ok, what did you want to say?" I couldn't remember. It feels like that happens often. And when we do have quiet time, sometimes it's hard to find something to talk about besides the kids and the schedule.

Anyway, the book was great. The story of their relationship with CS Lewis and their conversion to Christianity was remarkable, and Davy's illness and death and Sheldon's mourning were heartbreaking. Highly recommended.

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Funny Words from T

Could you ever imagine that a boy could carry in 4 bags of groceries at once?

If I sing my song now, will I interrupt them?

To AJ: Here's your good morning hug and kiss! Here's your good morning head butt! And here's your good morning kick butt! (We're trying to get him to use bum instead of butt, but it's probably confusing to him why he can say "head butt" but not "kick butt")

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Friday, August 01, 2008

Cyber Stalking

This week, I picked up a book at the library. It's just been published and is in high demand right now, so the copies are circulating quickly between all the branches. Inside my copy, I found a bunch of receipts from whom I am assuming was the previous person to have it checked out. I quickly glanced at them inside the library, and was immediately intrigued. This could give me a little glance into the places this book had recently gone. While a book that I purchase new at Barnes and Noble has a fairly boring life, going from the bookstore to live on my shelf for probably a long time, a library book has a much more adventursome time of it, jaunting about from here to there, going on vacation or to the doctor's waiting room with someone. Especially a book that lots of people want to read. I thought of People of the Book and wanted to construct a story around this book.

But, then I got home and started googling and got totally freaked out about what I could find out about this person and his family in a matter of a few short minutes.

Mark left 5 or so receipts in this book. One was from the airport and then there were a few in Spanish. It turns out this man had been on a trip to Mexico. At first I thought that he had gone on vacation with his family, but examination of the dates showed that it was a short trip, taking only a couple of days. The receipts were mostly standard: there's one from Applebee's in Morelio (seriously, you're going to eat at Applebee's when you're in Mexico?!?) with the card number information mostly x-ed out and no real identifying information about the person. But, the kicker was a receipt from an unknown company. Maybe Mark was buying some pottery or something else to take home. The dealer took a print of his credit card, complete with his number and his name. A local phone number was also scrawled on the receipt.

And from there, I started my search. I typed in Mark's name, and immediately got quite a few hits. I found his job information on a professional networking site, and found out that in his job at Big Company, he is a Director of Sales and Latin America Marketing. Aha! It was a business trip. I got his results from a 5k run he did last year. This also told me his age (44) and his residential location (Edina). I'd already made the assumption that he lived in Edina, since the due date slip, also left inside, was from the Edina branch. And, along with his race results? I got the results for his wife and two daughters. He and his 11-year old daughter Grace ran and completed the race together, and his wife (42 years old) and 13 year old daughter Madeline, faster runners, completed the race together.

From there, I googled his family members. His wife is a competitive racer. I found her results for many races, including a marathon.

I assume they have a grayhound, because I found her name in a special hound newsletter.

I found the name of the private school that the girls attend, as well as some of Madeline's extracurricular activities. I saw a photo of Madeline snowboarding.

I also saw a photo of Mark at a black tie charity event.

So, now I have a picture of the person who previously had this book checked out. And I have a remarkable amount of information about him and his family. I'm sure that if I wanted to, I could find his address.

One key to my ability to gather all this information about him is that Mark has an unusual last night and I could zoom in to his personal information easily, without having to sift through extraneous web pages. Still, it really creeped me out. I felt like a cyber-stalker. And if someone was doing something similar to me and I knew about it, I would really be freaked out. I immediately typed in my daughter's name, but didn't get any hits. She's only 6. Then I typed in my name to see what popped up. It was just a bunch of academic stuff from papers and conferences--nothing too personal.

I thought about calling him to see if he needed his receipts back, but that is kind of creepy too. Instead, I think I will just throw them out.

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