Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: The Mermaids Singing by Lisa Carey

“The Mermaids Singing” by Lisa Carey starts slow. Three women of different generations, Cliona, Grace and Grainne, provide the focus for this winding tale that switches between various points of view and points in time. By the fifth chapter, I was hooked and not wanting to pause for other things between chapters.

Lisa Carey’s first strength is an excellent portrayal of sensuality and sexuality. Her description of lust describes perfectly the feeling of intense longing brought about by that rush of hormones that accompanies desire. Beyond that, “The Mermaids Singing” exemplifies the strength of emotion caught in anticipation that typically becomes diminished by actual sexual contact. Underneath blatant displays of sensuality, we sense a drive for true connection to meet each person’s need to know and to be known.

As we get to know Cliona, Grace and Grainne, we see periods of both growth and stagnation in their lives. Their lives together and apart show three very different woman connected by fierce loyalties to their own personal values. Unfortunately, none are able to share themselves in a way to truly connect and understand each other.

In the end, themes of both family bonds and alienation work together to bring the individual story lines together in a way that shows the universal conflict between expressing one's individuality and experiencing personal growth while remaining a loyal and loving family member. I recommend this book to those who enjoy entwining tales about strong women, myths about the sea, and picturesque descriptions of quaint Irish villages.

Always Learning: Seals

This morning, Diana was looking at images of an art doll by Rosa Grueso that featured a seal. We got to talking about seals, and I was wondering if seals only live in saltwater so I decided to do some research. It turns out that there is one species of seal that lives in only freshwater, there are two subspecies of the ringed seal that have evolved to live in isolated bodies of freshwater, and most seals will chase prey into freshwater without any ill effects.

The Baikal seal is the only species of seal that lives exclusively in freshwater. This small species is found only in Lake Baikal in Siberia. It is the smallest species of true seal. It thrives in the lake which continually holds about 100,000 specimens in spite of its polluted state. Hunting of the Baikal seal is legal and common, but the numbers never drop. This may be due to the hardiness of the Baikal oilfish which is the seal's primary food source.

Baikal Seal

The freshwater sub-populations of the ringed seal include the Ladoga ringed seal and the Saimaa ringed seal. It is hypothesized that the subspecies developed when populations of ringed seals got trapped in freshwater lakes when pursuing prey. The Lagoda seal consists of a population of around 3000 seals in Lake Lagoda, Russia. The Saimaa seal, which is endangered, includes only around 300 specimens in Lake Saimaa, Finland. 

Because I am always interested in organizing and categorizing information, I also looked into the classification of the seal group in general. Seals are divided into two groups: eared seals which include sea lions and fur seals, and true seals which include ringed seals, spotted seals, harbor seals, harp seals, leopard seals and many other species. Together with walruses, they make up the clade known as pinnepeds. (A clade is a group of animals that is believed to have all descended from a common ancestor.)

Seals are closely related to both bears and musteloids. The musteloids include red pandas, weasels, otters, martens, badgers, skunks, raccoons and several raccoon-like animals that I don't know much about like coatis and olingos.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On the Table This Week

Thursday - spaghetti, salad, homemade cookies

Friday - party food: pizza, chips & dip, cider, diet soda, layer cake

Saturday - pumpkin pancakes, Polish sausage, fall fruit salad

Sunday - sauteed boneless chicken thighs, mashed potatoes, roasted carrots

Monday - chicken & stuffing bake, broccoli & cauliflower, muffins

Tuesday - chicken stroganoff over spaghetti, salad, french bread

Wednesday - chicken potpie, green beans, coleslaw

We are running out of meat. This week the plan is heavy on chicken which I hope they have at Price Chopper. Last week, there were some last minute menu changes due to having to get rain checks on sale meat items.

We are having a mini-Halloween party on Friday with Esme and Joseph as guests of honor. Josie and I have been in the mood for a layer cake so that is our dessert. We are also having Halloween-themed pizza, potato chips and homemade dip!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Menu Plan Thursday

Thursday - Fish Sticks, Mac & Cheese, Green Beans

Friday - Pork & Sausage Stir-fry w/Cauliflower, Pesto Pasta, Salad

Saturday - Baked Chicken Legs, Mashed Potatoes, Salad

Sunday - Leftover Baked Chicken Legs, Fried Potatoes, Roasted Garlic Broccoli

Monday - Spaghetti, French Bread, Salad

Tuesday - Creamy Mexican Rice w/Chicken, Tortilla Chips, Salsa

Wednesday - Hamburger & Potato Hash, Squash, Brownies

In our house, we make a lot of food for dinner. This is partly because we are three adults & two teens. It is also because we rely on leftovers for other meals and snacks. Another reason is that we don't all eat everything. Diana and I choose low-carb foods. The kids eat more of a variety. Everyone has some things that they just don't like. (For example, Josie dislikes peas, Lia would rather not eat fish, and Toni only has about 20 foods that make up 99 percent of his diet.) The last reason is that I do not enjoy cooking very much. I cook a lot to tide us over until I feel like cooking again. Once a day is pretty much my limit for preparing anything other than Diana's daily scrambled eggs!

This week we are going to my sister's for a Halloween/Birthday Party on Sunday so I may not make that meal at all. We shall see how hungry we are when we get home! Also, I do not want to stop at Wegmans on Sunday since we are busy so I focused our menu plan on sale items at local stores. Luckily Price Chopper has a decent selection of meats on sale this week, and Aldi is featuring several produce items with rock-bottom prices.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon

Lately, nearly every book I read leaves me in tears as it draws to a close. This seems to happen regardless of the quality of the book or even the type of story. I have tried to analyze the feeling so that I can explain it to others, for it is not quite something so simple as not wanting the story to end. It is more a feeling of sadness for the characters in the book. The inevitability of their lives. Their moving on, regardless of which direction they are traveling in.

This book left me in tears for those reasons, but on top of that it was an amazing book. I am not sure I liked it. I am not sure it is the kind of book that I like in general, but it was definitely amazing. The author drags you along through a multi-dimensional story with a desperate and lonely cast of characters, all of whom come across as real to me.

The central characters in the story are identical twin brothers Hayden and Miles Cheshire. A twisted timetable garbles events in such a way as to keep the reader reeling without losing any one thread to the point of confusion. The overarching theme is the adult Mile's search for Hayden who has a history of mental health problems. All the rest would be spoilerish to share. (Some may think that spoilerish, but I think that much does not take away from the elements of intrigue in the plot.)

Besides the intrigue, the twists and turns, and the characters, the themes of dealing with desperation, isolation and loneliness pulled me along. The author does a great job of showing how these things drive people to make decisions that are difficult for others to understand. The story pushed me to explore my own identity and ultimately my own purpose in life. I thought deeply about my ability to create myself, my priorities and the interplay between my identity and my desires.

After all was said and done, this is the type of story in which not much actually happens. The point being that often, no matter how hard we try, not much happens in each of our lives, and yet, we affect so many other people. Then again, perhaps the point was that nothing we do really matters because when we move out of anyone's life their life goes on regardless. It is a tricky circle, and I will probably be thinking about these themes for awhile.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday Discussion: Columbus Day

Pretty much everyone has a somewhat negative opinion of Christopher Columbus in spite of a U.S. National Holiday in his name. It is now common knowledge that he didn't discover that the earth was round and that he didn't discover "America" and that he was a brutal leader. Some states even call Columbus Day something else to de-emphasize his relationship to the holiday.

Although I have my own doubts about having a holiday in Columbus's name, it does exist, and I do believe that we can learn lessons from nearly every situation. I set aside some time today to learn about any good traits or actions or lessons available from the remaining historical account of Columbus's life. Here I present the results of my reflection and study.

Lessons from Christopher Columbus

1. After failing to receive funding for his proposed voyage west, three times, from Portugal, France and England, Christopher Columbus just kept trying. He was refused each time because educated advisers to the various monarchs stated that Columbus was underestimating the distance to the West Indies and that he would fail to get there before running out of supplies. It turned out they were right about the distance, but nonetheless, Columbus's relentless pursuit of funding eventually panned out in Spain regardless of the misgivings presented by their royal advisers.

Lesson - Determination can get you what you want.

2. In 1503, Columbus found himself and his crew stranded in Jamaica. Although the natives were at first friendly and helpful, after the sailors proved untrustworthy and thieves, the natives decided to stop helping them. Christopher Columbus had access to an almanac and knew that their would soon be a lunar eclipse. He used this upcoming event to scare the natives into providing further help.

Lesson - Books sometimes contain useful information that can help you out of difficult situations.

3. For most of his life before his landing in 1942, Columbus studied about the lands of the East: the East Indies, India, China, etc. He was not classically educated, but he studied much on his own about those things that interested him. He was well versed in what things he would find in the Far East and was eager to experience everything firsthand. When he actually landed in the Caribbean, his eyes searched for those things he expected. He was often upset that he did not know the right names for things in spite of his study. He doggedly believed until the day he died that he had landed in Asia. At this point, most educated Europeans were quite sure that the place Columbus and others sailed to was actually a new place, not Asia, a closer place. They were of course right. The evidence was right there in Columbus's face, but he chose not to face it and to instead overlay his expectations onto the situation.

Lesson - Keep an open mind. No matter how much you study and think you know, the information may be useless in a novel situation.

I have read a lot more and thought a lot, and really do not have time this day (which is a work day for me) to write things out neatly. I would like to add that Columbus was certainly an excellent sailor and navigator. Also, although he was a cruel leader in the West Indies to Europeans and natives alike, things went further downhill for the natives when his tribute system of leadership was replaced with a system where natives and land were more fairly distributed to settlers.

Probably the biggest other lesson that I had reinforced during my period of study and reflection was to beware of ethnocentrism and to welcome freedom in all its trappings.