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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Home Girl

Home Girl by Judith Matloff

Judith Matloff is a foreign correspondent, who after years of covering violence in other countries, decides to live surrounded by it in West Harlem, a center of drug trade and racial tensions.

But her new home is also rich in history and culture, and she begins to understand that it might not be a bad place to settle down after all. She and her husband begin to restore a house, learn about Dominicans and start a family.

Matloff writes like a journalist--a good one--with concise sentences that lack no punch or element of description. She works humor, poignancy and deep thoughts about life throughout the book without ever seeming sanctimonious.

She is fair to her family, friends and neighbors--portraying the characters as complicated and fascinating as they are in real life.

Having a background in journalism myself, I was enchanted with Matloff's story and her writing style. She reminded me to look beneath the surface of houses, neighborhoods, books and, most importantly, other people.

Nice reminder here at Thanksgiving. I hope YOU have a happy one.

Favorite quotes...

The engineer walked through the house, grunting as he peeked behind pipes and trained his flashlight into holes. He started from the roof down, jumping on floors, flushing toilets, sniffing at the gas stove. The real estate agent looked away politely, like a nurse at a gynecological examination.

Turning up your favorite merengue on the radio is a way of showing the world that you're happy, of announcing your presence, of saying, "I just got paid!"

The city grew balmy...The muchachos shed their puffy jackets for the summer uniform: white T-shirts and running shoes. The multicolors of...discarded crack vials matched the spring leaves and daylilies that poked defiantly from the soil under the honey locust tree.

Other residents were already in the room where the meeting was to take place, including a well-dressed lawyer named William. Because he and I were both white, it was assumed that we were acquainted.

I puffed up my chest and in my best foreign-correspondent swagger explained about my past. No "I was stuck in crosssfire" was left out. I informed the detective about the time I had walked on a smoking mine dump in Luanda that had been blown up by rebels. I described how my plane in Zaire was stormed by half-naked looting troops. I told him about the close call with the Rwandan machete man. I was really on a roll here--the ambushes, the snipers, the howitzers, the dictators. I was one cool customer...After a long silence, and a strange look, the cop spoke. "You know what? You're a lunatic."

I hated them [the dealers] for profiting from the city's bereavement. Like the callous opportunists who suddenly jack up food and water prices in war zones, the muchachos were exploiting the tragedy for commercial gain.

We were all outsiders: the stubborn old-timers who stayed on in the neighborhood way after their friends left; a Dominican karate master who had resisted the drug tide; a bookish crack addict from Jamaica; a Zimbabwean writer who feared prison back home. The drug dealers...were also marginalized...And who could be more out of place than my husband, John, this solid Dutchman, who'd moved to Africa and then Russia and now here, and our little imp with the perfect Spanish. yet we all somehow fit in.

Linking Away

I've almost finished Home Girl, and (spoiler ahead) a rave review will be coming soon. I am loving. this. book.

Meanwhile, check out a Supa style giveaway by the most artistic blogger I know. I've actually been meaning to do a giveaway here, but life has been nuts. Perhaps post-Christmas?

And, how about a few more quick links to get you through the week?

Want to adopt a library?

Yowsa YALSA! Here's the latest report.

Out-Googling Google? Only a librarian could undertake such a daunting task.

Kroger Plea

Dear Kroger,

This is the first letter I've ever written to a grocery chain. But I must plead my case and respectfully ask you to please save me from Wal-Mart.

Because you do not carry Birds Eye Voila meals, which are easy, delicious (even to my somewhat particular husband) and shamelessly courting my business by giving away Peanuts DVDs, in order to purchase them, I must brave the atrocities of the evil empire.

What atrocities, you ask?

-The giant parking lot, filled with grackles, which are the bain of my Texas existence. After I park (narrowly missing being sideswiped by someone as eager to leave as I will be) out in the hinterlands, I sit in the car and wait until I see a large group of people that I can walk with and that will sufficiently camouflage me from said grackles. This plan is foiled, however, when cars zip through the parking lot, refusing to yield right of way to pedestrians, and I am a standing, waiting target for their swoops, plunges and caws.

-Once safely inside the store, atrocities continue, as fellow shoppers carry the side-swiping trend to a new extreme cart level. I don't completely blame them, however. Unlike you, wonderful Kroger, this store has inexplicably narrow aisles that do not allow more than one person to comfortably browse.

-After spending almost an hour veering in and out of aisles, avoiding the crazy drivers and desperately searching for my list of items, it becomes clear that despite the plethora of Voila meals, Wal-Mart does not carry Greenies (a staple in Fred's household), my carpet cleaner or a decent selection of fruit.

-They do, however, carry dish detergent. Lots of it. So much, in fact, that it is no big deal if one of the extreme cart drivers drops a bottle of this, scattering its green goo across the aisle. No big deal. No need for clean-up. Or a sign warning someone like me, who is totally focused on her list and not on the floor, that you could slip. And slip I did, catching myself on the cart, which kept me from completely busting my tail, but which also propelled me forward, sending me skiing down the aisle, hanging on to the cart for dear life, leaving a trail of green goo in my wake. At least I provided some much-needed entertainment for the fellow extreme cart drivers.

-The atrocities culminate at the check-out. While you, Kroger, consistently have plenty of lanes open and move customers through quickly but without rushing us, Wal-Mart has approximately two lanes open on each end of its giant store, with lines stretching back to the green goo detergent aisle. (At least I had time to update my Facebook status with "Wal-Mart is the devil.") The cashiers, meanwhile, seem shocked--shocked!--by the use of one coupon and a new-fangled thing we call a debit card.


When I finally made my escape, I swore that I would do my part to avoid returning again to the store which will no longer be named. So, dear Kroger, if you will only start carrying these Voila meals, I will be able to do all of my grocery shopping with you and avoid the above atrocities. I will ignore your somewhat higher prices and slightly limited quantity of clothes and electronics and will pledge my undying loyalty and appreciation.


Respectfully yours,
Tiff

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Harvest of Miracles--Author Interview

I was so excited to chat a bit with Dr. Mike Thomas about his book A Harvest of Miracles.

Is this your first book? If so, why did you choose this topic?

The book is a collection of devotionals I published in a local newspaper over a period of 8 years, from 1998-2006. I started writing about my family but also interviewed others for their stories. I never intended to publish a book. It just finally seemed the thing to do. Many readers told me they found the stories encouraging and challenging.

Did you have a particular audience in mind?

Once I accumulated all of them, I saw a common thread, God working in the lives of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary purposes.

What is your definition of a miracle? Were the ones discussed in your book perhaps more "everyday miracles?" Do you hope readers take more notice of these in their own lives?

I'm not an expert on miracles and don't think there is a single definition. I just write about "God things" that come to my attention. Of course, everyone wouldn't see these as miraculous. I just took the 64 stories and tried to group them up thematically. I have to confess that until God showed me his part in these stories, I didn't think of them as miraculous either. As I wrote them, I began to see His hand, which was very encouraging.

Because of the layout, I thought the book would be nice to read in short snippets, such as with a daily devotional? Was this your goal behind the layout?

Some people have used the book for daily devotions. I would characterize the book as a collection of interesting stories about interesting people and amazing events in their lives. At the conclusion of each story, I make a spiritual point or application, trying not to sermonize. Mostly, I just like a good story, whether to tell it or to hear it.

Do you have anything coming up next?

I am a professor at Baylor University and am currently working on an academic book. I am however still collecting stories and writing thoughts for future reference.

You can read more about Dr. Thomas and A Harvest of Miracles at www.mikethomas.net.

"We Feted Her With Fetid Feta at the Hellenistic Fete"

The bachelorette party was awesome...but I forgot my camera. So you'll just have to take my word for it that we spent the evening eating Greek food, touring a church and listening to a lecture on theology. Really.

But there might have been a purple boa, Greek coffee and some very limber dancers involved as well.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched

Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot

Meg Cabot (of The Princess Diaries notoriety) has written another classic tale in the genre of chick-lit. (Not the gum...but the fiction marketed to young women.) :)


This is generally not my favorite type of book because of all the romantic angst, Paris Hilton-ish characters, label name dropping, falling in and out of love with hot guys and dishing about it all with good friends. And, don't worry, this book has plenty of all of that.


But it's also well-written. The characters are actually extremely likeable, with realistic vices and virtues. I also love the history of weddings tidbits, wedding tips and quotes Cabot includes at the beginning of each chapter.


Lizzie Nichols seems to have everything together--great job, great clothes and a great fiancee. She is starting to make a name for herself in the wedding gown restoration business, and her commitment-phobe boyfriend has finally come around and proposed. So, what's the problem?


The problem is that Lizzie finds herself less interested in her guy and more interested in his best friend. Also, she takes on a "skanky crack whore" (but an extremely wealthy one) as a client. Her boss then has a heart attack, shaking the certainty of her job and her apartment. Tough times for our Lizzie.


I will say that I would have enjoyed the book more if I had started with Queen of Babble (the first in the series). But if you can't start with that one, you'll still catch up quickly. And it's worth catching up on this one.

Favorite Quotes

It's kind of funny how, before I'd gotten engaged, all I'd ever done was sit around and planned what my wedding was going to be like. And now that I'm actually having one, whenever I try to imagine it, my mind just goes blank.

My mouth takes over from my brain, and the words just come spilling out before I can stop them...All it took was a few thousand miles of separation, the stripping away of all but the rawest of emotions, and the death of one of the people I love most in the world.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Harvest of Miracles

A Harvest of Miracles by Mike Thomas

I started reading A Harvest of Miracles with a certain definition of "miracle" in mind...namely, "a marvellous event manifesting a supernatural act of a divine agent." I was thinking miracles along the lines of snake handling, paralytic healing and seeing Jesus in a UFO.

Much to my relief and delight, Mike Thomas was referring more to everyday miracles or "any amazing or wonderful occurrence."

The book is largely an account of amazing, wonderful, insightful and interesting occurrences from his own life. These are actually the kinds of miracles that happen in all of our lives, but which we often seem too busy to notice and appreciate, as Thomas has done here.

He talks about his faith, his relationship with his family, his thoughts about war and other topics. Nothing sensational or angst-filled, but usually clever and always thoughtful. He has organized the chapters thematically and further broken down the "miracles" into short snippets that would be perfect for a quick, encouraging read if you find yourself with a couple of minutes to spare.

Favorite quotes...

Two thousand years ago, Jesus called two fishermen...In a sense, the Lord used their background and training; He just shifted the focus for them, as He did for me. They continued catching fish after this, but they also learned to cast out spiritual nets.

We Christians have run to the cross for salvation, but we often run away from the cross that we're called to bear.

Apparently Christians from very different church traditions can cooperate under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

NaBloPoMo...Nope

So...I briefly considered doing NaBloPoMo again this year but decided against it. Actually, I didn't even remember it was NaBloPoMo until Monday...two days after it started. Oops.

So here's a rundown of excuses...um, reasons...or, well, just things I'm doing instead...

-Reading and reviewing for my other blog

-Following the presidential election

-Creating homemade Christmas presents. This is a first for me, so I'll post pics depending on how they turn out. :)

-Taking pictures (yes, sometimes of my feet)


-Designing invitations



-Making holiday travel plans (can't wait!)

-Taking Fred to the vet (he's fine...just a checkup)

-Jogging (really!)

-WorkingWorkingWorking (but I love it, so no complaints here)

Read from the beginning...