Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mixed Media


I love books. And TV. And music. Here's my take on a few offerings from the first two categories. I'm going to save the music piece for a second post as this is getting quite long.


Synopis from Barnes & On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story that unfolds over a quarter of a century in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night.

[The book]...explores the way life takes unexpected turns, and how the mysterious ties that hold a family together help us survive the heartache that occurs when long-buried secrets burst into the open.

I was fairly disappointed with this novel. It had a lot of elements that interested me, a very big lie and secret that was carried for a long time, a family member with a disability (who was supposed to go to an institution), photography, etc. However, the book is choppy, mostly because the author skips forward in time four or five times and picks up the stories of the characters again. She beats us over the head with the facts over and over, making sure we don't forget that this girl's mother and brother think she died while the husband suffers the consequences of keeping the secret. One huge element missing from the story is the daughter herself -- while crusading for her rights and education, the author missed the boat by not giving her her own voice amidst the others. Two out of five paws from me.

Synopsis: In this follow-up to his popular debut The Kitchen Boy, Alexander again mines the considerable lore of the Russian imperial family. Rasputin, the legendary mad monk, is also a family man raising two daughters in 1916 St. Petersburg. As he ministers to the tsaritsa and her royal brood during the last week of his life, 18-year-old Maria strives to understand the menacing aura surrounding her father. She is both loving and rebellious, but her adventures are limited to a flirtation with a young man who will betray her in a plot against her father. Alexander's wild-eyed romp through a period much studied for its contradictions and cruelties will be a staple of most historical fiction collections.

I knew going in this was a "young adult" book, but I enjoyed it well enough. I've read and seen a lot of documentaries on the fall of the Romanovs, and Rasputin certainly did his part in their fate. The book was compact in size and scope, covering the last week of Rasputin's life, and written convincingly from Maria's perspective. Three out of five paws.

Synopsis: Just as the smell of popcorn and the allure of fiery sword swallowers and exotic animals once drew spectators to the big top, readers will be drawn to this story of life in a traveling circus during the Depression. After Jacob Jankowski's parents die in a tragic car accident, the bank repossesses their home, which had been mortgaged to finance Jacob's veterinary studies. Jacob jumps a train carrying the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth and is hired on because of his veterinary skills. The circus world is not all glamour and glitz, Jacob soon learns, but a hardscrabble life where both animals and workers are exploited and often mistreated. The author brings alive the circus culture with historical details and a wonderful menagerie of characters, including Uncle Al, the unscrupulous business manger; Kinko, a bitter dwarf; Marlena, the beautiful horse-riding star of the show; and Rosie, an elephant with personality and a secret. The story is told in flashback, through the eyes of Jacob, now ninety-three years old and in an assisted-living facility. His memory is jolted by the arrival of a circus in the parking lot nearby and his mind wanders back in time. The book's many complex layers-adventure, love, history, suspense, and a surprise ending-and Gruen's sensual prose are enhanced by period archive circus photographs at the beginning of each chapter.

I really enjoyed this book, in fact, it's the best book I've read in a while. The vocabulary isn't extraordinary, but the writing is solid, the characters are interesting and the period details convincing. Anyone who can write in the first person in the opposite gender to their own has some skills in my opinion. Some reviews have said the ending is contrived, but I disagree -- I loved the ending and felt satisfied as I closed the book on the last page, something I've missed greatly recently. Four out of five paws!

Next on my nightstand is Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. I wanted something I could really sink my teeth into. Last year I read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, my first Eco read (where have I been?) and I discovered many words I never knew existed, never mind knew the meaning of. I'm thinking this is going to beat the pants off of Dan Brown.

What are you reading?


Besides "So You Can Think You Can Dance", my favorite program with my least favorite name (who's the marketing genius who thought that up?), summer television can be a trying mish-mash of insipid reality shows and re-runs. This summer has been better than most. Here are three new shows, none of which are on the big networks, that I think are worth checking out:

Mad Men
The Setting: In 1960, advertising agencies were an all-powerful influence on the masses. Personal and professional manipulation and sexual exploits defined the workplace and closed the deals. The high profile Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency created advertising campaigns – from cigarettes to political candidates -- better than anyone. It was a time of great ferment. Women had barely begun to come into their own. Librium and birth control were on the move. Ethics in the workplace, smoke-free environments, sexual harassment and ethnic diversity were workshops of the future.

The Premise: The series depicts the sexual exploits and social mores of this most innovative yet ruthless profession, while taking an unflinching look at the ad-men who shaped the hopes and dreams of Americans on a daily basis.

I've seen two episodes now and I am hooked. On, of all things, AMC (American Movie Classics), it isn't surprising this series is great, considering that executive producer and writer of "The Sopranos" Matthew Weiner is behind it. They get everything right here, you are in a totally believable Manhattan in 1960, from the hairstyles and wardrobe to the seatbelt-less cars and the incessant smoking and drinking. New episodes air first on Thursdays at 10, but repeats are on almost every day.

DAMAGES is a legal thriller set in the world of New York City high-stakes litigation. The series, which provides a view into the true nature of power and success, follows the turbulent lives of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) the nation's most revered and reviled high-stakes litigator and her bright, ambitious protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) as they become embroiled in a class action lawsuit targeting the allegedly corrupt Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson), one of the country’s wealthiest CEOs. As Patty battles with Frobisher and his attorney Ray Fiske (Željko Ivanek) Ellen Parsons will be front and center witnessing just what it takes to win at all costs, as it quickly becomes clear that lives, as well as fortunes, may be at stake.

My friends at FX have come up with another winner! Only the home of Nip/Tuck could come up with a legal thriller with so much bite. Both Glenn Close and Ted Danson are perfectly cast as the opponents on this battlefield. New episodes air on Tuesdays at 10, but again, repeats are on several times during the week.

Saving Grace
In her television series debut, Hunter stars as Grace Hanadarko, a tormented, fast-living Oklahoma City police detective who, despite being at the top of her field, takes self-destruction to new heights. After seeing tremendous tragedy in her life, both professionally and personally, Grace lives life hard and fast. She drinks too much, sleeps with the wrong men and defies authority. Grace has a tender side with her 22 nieces and nephews, but that is a side that most of the world doesn’t get to see. It all catches up with her one night when, as she’s driving too fast after too many drinks, she hits a man who is walking along the road. In an uncharacteristic moment, Grace asks for help, and she gets it – in the form an unconventional angel named Earl (Leon Rippy, Deadwood). Earl tells Grace that she is in trouble and running out of chances, but he wants to help lead her back to the right path. The journey, for both of them, will not be an easy one.

I'm not sure about this one. I am a huge Holly Hunter fan, and her character is so flawed that it's probably almost as much fun to do the part as it is to watch. Being an agnostic threatening to out myself as an atheist, the fact that the "unconventional angel" is a redneck, tobacco-chewing Billy Bob Thornton lookalike gives me a bit of hope I can keep watching. And Grace is, to say the least, initially skeptical, but by the end of the first episode she's already changed her mind about believing in God. The show is a tug of war between good Grace and bad Grace, but I'm not convinced it works fully. Fans of Hunter's gritty performance will roll their eyes at Earl, and viewers who warm to the show's spirituality might be turned off by all of Grace's drinking, cursing and screwing. I'm hoping they can make this work. New episodes air on TNT (which explains a lot) on Mondays at 10.

What are you watching?

Update: I watched the second episode of Saving Grace and I got bored half way through. I even got all the guys she's sleeping with mixed up, and Earl (the angel) just bugged me. I'm gonna stop watching it. But, I watched the second episode of Damages and liked it even more than the first episode. The third episode of Mad Men is on tonight.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Missy is officially lame. Even I could see she was limping quite badly on her left front today, so I guess the farm owner was right after all. *sigh* I hope she isn't getting an abcess in that foot, but whatever it is, we'll treat her with TCL and hope she gets better soon. I'm disappointed I won't be able to ride her for a while, but at least Willow has switched me from Huey, who takes a LOT to keep going, to my original mount, Angel (this picture of us was taken last year). Once Angel gets going she can be quite forward and requires a bit of steering, especially at the canter, so although she has a piddly little trot and canter compared to my Miss, she's a more comparable ride. Willow has started me going over poles at the canter while at a two-point! Oy. My thighs kill me after each ride but, no pain, no gain.

It's been a while since I took pictures of the babies and they are growing and changing so fast. Here's Katie and mama Sera playing in the sprinkler earlier today. Egads, this is a big filly! They're hoping she doesn't end up taller than 17 hands. Sera is 16.3 or 16.4, she's the tallest of the three sisters.

Ruby, on the other hand, is changing her color like a chameleon. Right now she looks like someone played the ole binoculars-with-black-paint trick on her.

She also has a good one inch growth of dark roots in her mane, as you can see here. She looks like a startlet who is in dire need of a trip to the hairstylist.

I'm working on a TV/books/music post, it's time for a little multi-media around here.

D is going to the east coast for work all next week, and I'm not looking forward to being apart for that long. I'm going to take that as a good sign, after living together for 14 years.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Current Events with a Side of Humble Pie

Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments on my last post. I too think about what will happen when my mother dies. Honestly, I have no idea how I will feel, probably seventeen different emotions at once. My aunt said of her (and my mother's) father: I went to his funeral to make sure the bastard was dead. At this point I don't keep that kind of anger inside anymore, but there are things that she's done and said that are unforgiveable and therefore, I cannot hand her a Get Out of Jail Free Card. The wonderful Helen over at Everyday Stranger is pregnant with twins. In a recent post she confessed that she's worried the babies will turn out just like her. I was always worried that if I ever became a mother I would end up just like my mother, a thought that sent me back into therapy after we started trying to have a baby.

*sigh* There are many more posts about her to come, I'm sure. Moving on.

I check out the celebrity news now and then, I enjoy pictures of red carpet gowns as much as the next gal and I faithfully read People every time I go to the hairdresser (every 5 weeks). But, I have to say, lately there's been a dearth of sponge-worthy celebrity/entertainment news.

Call me crazy, but I couldn't care less about:

  1. Britney

  2. Lindsay

  3. Paris

  4. Nicole

  5. Posh & Becs

and finally...*ducking to avoid the flying objects*...Harry Potter. I think I read the first 100 pages of the first book and put it down. I've watched the first two movies as they were playing at someone's house I was visiting and I thought it would be rude to leave in the middle. I know many of you and many people IRL who are as crazy about Master Potter as their kids. Even if I had kids, I wouldn't like the books, although I would be happy to see my youngster reading them. I think it's very cool for the kids that started reading the HP books when they were about the same age as the kids in the story, and that they've sort of grown up together. I also think it's wonderful that the first billionaire author is a woman who started from nothing.

And finally...for those of you who ride, you are painfully aware that it is a very humbling experience. No matter what level you're at, the minute you begin to think you've got something down pat, your horse will remind you that personality trumps technique every time, and humble pie is a dish best served cold.

Miss seems to have gotten through her dental adventure fine, but she's still fighting something. Whatever is going on in her system is moving through her legs in turn, one day she'll be off on the left front, the next day on the right rear. I'm not used to dealing with a creature who seems perfectly fine one day and the next can't be ridden for a week. It scares me to death when they throw around words like "crippled", but I guess in horsespeak that's a transitory state.

Last week I came down to lounge her before our ride and worked her pretty hard. At the very end Willow come over and asks, "Is she limping?" Immediately my heart is in my throat -- obviously she wouldn't have said that if she didn't think she was. Willow got on her for a few minutes, then let me walk around on her, but declared she was "pretty lame" on the front left. She looked perfectly fine to me. I felt so bad I was almost in tears.

So, she's been off for 5 days and Willow tells me its OK to give her a light lounge today and leaves to get lunch. I'm just about done with a light workout with her when the owner of the farm comes over to stop me, saying that she looks quite a bit worse than she did the other day, finding a pulse in 3 of four legs. Again, she looked perfectly fine to me, maybe a little lazy, but I was purposefully not pushing her. I feel like I can't be trusted to take my own horse out without someone else looking at her first to make sure she is fit to work. Ugh. Pie anyone?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Killing Me Softly

There's been a lot of rainbows and butterflies on this blog lately, and rightly so, my life is enviable and I am very grateful for what I have.

Having said that, nothing else in my world is as big a killjoy as my mother. Like the anti-Mary Tyler Moore, she can take a wonderful day and suddenly make it all seem worthless. She is truly the definiton of toxic. With all due respect to Brit, I doubt she has any idea of the impact such a person can have in a life.

After alternating between trying to have some sort of actual adult relationship with her, to completely being out of contact (both of which have their pitfalls), she and I have settled into a superficial truce of 3 phone calls and 3 cards a year, all of which are interchangeable. She called me last week, violating this fragile agreement and putting into motion the depression that is soaking into my psyche, like a sponge in a mud puddle.

She would never call just to chat, and we had just talked a couple of weeks ago, (Donna's Birthday Call, #2 of the year), so I was surprised to hear her voice on the other end and was immediately on the defensive. "What's up?", I asked immediately after we exchanged greetings.
[Everytime I talk to her I have a parallel conversation with myself; its often the only way I can make it through without laughing, crying or hanging up. I've included these thoughts in blue.]

Suddenly it sounded like she was on the verge of tears. My mother does not do crying.

[Acting! It's called acting! She's such a thespian.]

"Well, I'm sorry to call you with bad news."

[Who died?]

"Remember when I got so sick two years ago? I thought I had the flu and couldn't get out of bed for two months, and nothing Dr. H did helped?"

[I'll have to look it up in my catalogue of Mom's Illnesses, I think that's in Book XXVII.]

"Well, after waiting for months to get some diagnostic tests done, I just got the results. It turns out I had a heart attack and didn't know it. Dr. H said the damage looks to be about two years old, so that's why I had chest pains. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, I didn't tell you when I talked to you last month because I didn't want to ruin your birthday or your anniversary."

[Like this news would have devastated me to the point where I would have cancelled my plans?]

At this point she stops for effect and sniffles a bit, clearing her throat. "I'm sorry to hear that," I say, at a total loss for words.

"I wanted to let you know so if you heard anything from anyone about my "condition" in the future you would know what they were talking about."

[The only person who talks to you that talks to me is my sister, and yes, I heard those air quotation marks. So now that you know you've had a heart attack -- not that I really believe anything you're telling me--it's safe to say that at any moment you're going to keel over dead and that will be the reason?]

"I also wanted to tell you because you and your sister are in your 40s now [no shit, Sherlock] and you both should be watching your blood sugar [lest we forget your beloved borderline diabetes diagnosis from last year] and your cholesterol."

"I'm fine, Mom, I have a physical every year and those things are checked."

[But thanks for the heads up, its always nice to have a list of things when choosing how one is going to die.]

"So now I have to be on blood thinners. I guess those baby aspirin weren't doing enough."

[Damn those Germans who make aspirin!]

"The prescription I got isn't on the list for my insurance, and I can't afford $120 a month for this medicine on my pension."

[If you think I'm going to send you money, you got another thing comin'. You sucked out 80% of Dad's pension in the divorce.]

"He gave me some samples but I am fighting with the pharmacy to get it added. People think in Canada you get anything you ask for and everything is free, well it isn't really like that."

[Yeah, I know, I lived there for 24 years, remember?]

Again at a loss for words, I say, "Well, I hope you get that sorted out."

Switching gears a little, she says, "How's D's Mom doing?" This is her not-so-subtle way of bringing someone else into the conversation that she can use as a mirror.

"She's doing fine, she has her episodes but always seems to pull through."

Big sigh. "Well, I guess she's just like me...things start to wear out."

At this point I can't suppress my real voice and say, "Mom, she's 86 years old, you're 74."

"I know, I know," she says, with a hint of aggravation in her voice, "I just hope you girls don't have to go through what I have."

I honestly don't recall what she said for the next few minutes, I stopped paying attention, I think I actually started typing a response to an email. When she stopped talking I let the air be dead for a second, then she started in on the coda of every conversation:

"Well, like I said...[insert verbatim of earlier conversation here]...and I'm sorry to give you bad news."

I've yet to figure out what the bad news is here. I suppose it is a bit scary (to normal people) to find out that you had a heart attack and didn't know it, but she is fine now, albeit with some damage to her heart.

This turned out to be one of our better phone calls. I don't think she mentioned my late brother (The Golden Boy) once, unless it was when I wasn't paying attention, and she even refrained from bashing any family members. While my calls to my Dad always end in an exchange of I love yous, my calls with Mom end in a duet of Take cares, it's the best we can do.

I told D about the call that evening when he got home. He was also puzzled as to what the bad news was. I told him, she depresses and exhausts me. I don't think my feelings now have anything to do with the news of the call at all -- it was just her unexpected intrusion into my day that set off this wave.

The most disconcerting thing about all of this is, like Diana in A Chorus Line, I felt nothing. No compassion, no empathy. I have (successfully?) removed her from my heart to the point where I just don't care about her.

I know she is toxic. I know she doesn't really care about me or my health, she is the center of her universe and, like a deranged planet, her mission is to use her gravity to pull in as many smaller bodies as possible, to increase her power. She can't quite grasp (or doesn't notice) that I've left her sphere of influence and have changed my composition to deflect her efforts.

I recently finished reading Halfway House by Katherine Noel, a novel about a family with a daughter who is bi-polar. I've mentioned before that my sister is bi-polar, and has been on lithium for many years. I suffer from both depression and anxiety, but not in the extreme highs and lows that are the hallmark of the disease. A passage from Halfway House described exactly how I feel sometimes:

She could be knocked off balance at any moment. It could be something obvious, like Angie crying, or it could be something more oblique, like a girl begging change downtown. Worst of all, feeling glad at even the smallest thing -- an unexpectedly beautiful day, the taste of sharp cheddar -- would immediately remind her that she was sad. It was as though, between happiness and unhappiness, she'd discovered a trapdoor she'd never known was there, one she couldn't close.

I think of it more of a wormhole than a trapdoor, same premise though...happiness can slap me in the face and remind me of how unhappy I am. It's hard to explain to normal people.

I grieve for the loss of the mother I never had, which seems like an exercise in futility. I like to think that she has no power over me, but the way I feel today says otherwise. Maybe every time I go through this grieving process it will get a little bit better. I can only hope.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I'll Take Equine Dentistry for $200, Alex

Miss has been out of sorts for the past couple of weeks. One lesson, she was so dead I couldn't keep her head off the ground and literally rode her for five minutes before we gave up, thinking she was just having a bit of an off day. The next lesson we couldn't get her to stop and she kept putting her tongue over the bit. We started to notice that she was worse towards the right, picking up the wrong lead at the canter (something she never does), and throwing her head around. I kept telling my trainer I thought there must be something wrong in her mouth but she didn't really take me seriously.

She should have. After about a 10 second examination the vet said, "Her wolf teeth needed to come out." Ummmm, OK. What the hell are wolf teeth? Thanks to this site and a few others, I learned all about them.

For you non-horsey types: At the front of a horse's mouth are the incisors. At the back of the horse's mouth are the premolars and the molars. In between the incisors and the premolars is a relatively tooth-free space called the interdental space; this is where the bit sets. In the interdental space, there might be certain additional teeth call wolf teeth. These are very small teeth located in front of the second premolar and do not have long roots that set them firmly in the jaw bone.

Though not all wolf teeth are troublesome, veterinarians routinely remove them to prevent pain or interference from a bit. Normally, contact with the opposing tooth keeps biting surfaces equal. When cheek teeth are out of alignment, hooks can form. Hooks on the upper cheek teeth can interfere with bitting. Hooks on the lower cheek teeth can force the horse to chew up and down; causing stress on the jaw muscle. Your equine veterinarian can remove these small hooks to stop unnecessary pain.

Miss also had a few of these little hooks, so she must have been very uncomfortable. Poor thing. He gave her a good healthy dose of tranquilizer, then lidocaine in her gums, but she was very good (thankfully) and they were able to do it all at the farm so we didn't have to trailer her to the clinic.

Good thing this happened, because I hadn't spent enough money on vet bills lately. Seriously, I'm glad we took care of this right away, so we can get back to having happy riding experiences for both of us.

Here's a recent pic of Daddy and Miss, aren't they both just so darned cute?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Fantasy Island

As I swelter in the heat of this 4th of July, suffering through my first period in three months, I'm wondering why I have to have a period at all. I'm doing research on this topic that will end up being another post soon.

In the meantime I'll write about my vacation plans (since I know you are all dying to know what they are). Unfortunately we won't be making it to Ireland this year, but we definitely have a trip in the works.

In August we are driving down to Pasadena for five days to attend the Drum Corps International championships. Despite the fact that I've lived in California for almost 20 years, I still consider myself to be a weather wimp. Temperatures over 90 make me wilt. So, why, you ask, would you go on holiday to southern California in August? We scored tickets in a box suite at the Rose Bowl for all three days of competition, so I'll not only be in the shade, I'll have someone bring me food and drinks as well. Now, that's how to watch a drum corps show!

More exciting than Pasadena in August, our big vacation this year will be spending the first week of December on the beautiful island of St. Lucia (pronounced Loo-sha, which wasn't my first try either).

Click to enlarge maps.

We used the same travel auction site that we used to book our trip to Belize in 2003, and saved about 40% over the retail price, based on the website of the resort. If you want the name of the travel site, email me or ask in the comments, since it wouldn't be hard to figure out which resort we're going to and for some reason that makes me a little nervous. This will be our first all-inclusive, couples-only resort, but it isn't one of the Big Name companies. When I went to the site I wasn't looking for that specifically, or even St. Lucia specifically, but for some reason this package called to me. I really had no idea it was so far south: 1,500 miles from Miami and only 500 miles from Caracas, Venezuela.

If any of you have any good tips or stories about St. Lucia, I'd love to hear them; if you have a horror story I'd rather be kept in the dark. When I told a co-worker we were going to this island she was very excited and said, "Oh! My daughter's college roommate worked for the peace corps there! She loved it..."



longer pause

"...she was attacked and raped on her way back from a party one night."

WHO THE HELL SAYS SOMETHING LIKE THAT TO SOMEONE GOING THERE ON VACATION?? Geez. Then, my mother tells me my late brother and his second wife (who I hate more than him, if that's possible), went there and it was "their favorite island". Right there I knew she was lying, as there is no fricking way they've been to more than one Caribbean island, let alone the one speck of land that we've chosen. It really pissed me off for a few days, thinking I would have the thought that he had been there the whole trip, but I've mostly gotten over it. My mother is an evil genius when it comes to knowing just what to say to inflict the most damage, delivered with a spoonful of sugar, of course.

My first question after we booked the trip was, do they have horses on the island? As it turns out, they do, mostly creole horses, and you can ride them from the hillside right down to the beach and even into the water. Here's a short video if you want to check it out.

I hope all my American friends had a great 4th!

Monday, July 2, 2007


Seven years ago today I put on this beautiful dress and glanced through this portal towards my future.

Yesterday, through a series of fortunate events, I found myself on the other side of that door, holding the hand of my future as we attended a summer wine tasting and music concert on the very lawn where we were married.

Happy Anniversary, baby.