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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Me, Sarah Palin, and The Universe

I’d jump at the chance to sit down and have a beer with Sarah Palin, but that doesn’t mean I like her politics. Without outlining my political persuasions (which would probably take some research on my part!) let me just say I’m not a fan. I am not and have never been a fan of Sarah Palin.
And yet, ever since she became a household name, I have this recurring internal conflict. It’s like the Universe keeps tapping me on the shoulder, and every time I turn around some vestige of Palin is there. I’m not sure why this keeps happening. Maybe it’s the Universe’s way of reminding me that in this era of such intense political polarization, we are all more alike than I realize. 
Yes, Palin and I could probably sit down and talk about motherhood, fashion eyewear, and the media’s super lousy representations of women without getting into all that other stuff...But then, all that other stuff is what creates so much conflict for me when the Universe starts up with its Palin nudgings...
It started at a 2008 family Christmas party, when one of the Husband’s  younger cousins said what I had been bracing myself for, for more than three months. After election day, I had thought I was out of the woods. But then, on that Saturday in December, I heard it:
“Hey, you look like the Governor of Alaska.”
I was 7 months pregnant with the Bear and had just failed my first gestational diabetes test, which meant, according to the docs, no added sugar until delivery day. (Which meant, according to me, no holiday sweets...are you kidding? I will admit that I ate a small brownie and a single piece of fudge, but this, in the face of my in-laws' dessert buffet, was a Christmas miracle!)
Sugar-free me was no party (just ask the Husband), but I managed to keep my cool with the kids, who began calling things like Hey Sarah Palin! every time I was near.
Just to be clear, I don’t think I look like Sarah Palin. But I’m a brunette who wears glasses somewhat similar in style to hers, and at the time I was following the “don’t cut your hair while pregnant” rule (which I read about in the Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy) so my hair, which is usually short, was getting pretty long.  
All things considered, I think the glasses were my biggest problem. For the record, I purchased my silver rimmed Vogue eyeglasses in the Fall of 2007, long before Sarah Palin was on the radar of most people in the Lower 48. My chief concern, up until the Christmas party, was that someone would take a look at my glasses and think I was trying to imitate Governor Palin. (I wasn’t).  
The next spring I was at a family gathering when my grandmother cut me off mid-sentence with this remark: “You know who you look like, don’t you?”
I shrugged, thinking she would mention a family member as we were in a room filled with relatives.
“The Governor of Alaska,” she announced proudly.
If there was a smile on my face, it faded. “Really?” 
“She’s a very smart lady.” my grandmother replied quickly,  as if she sensed my discomfort with the comparison. “Very smart.”
I’d like to assert right now that I love my grandmother dearly, and I don’t have any particular beef with Sarah Palin, but I’m not sure she’s a very smart lady. I’m glad she’s not the Vice President (because, as suggested above, I disagree with a lot of her political positions and tactics). I’m also not impressed with her early resignation as Governor, but I don’t live in Alaska, so she was never my Governor to begin with. 
(And then again, maybe she is very smart. ABC News reported that she earned an estimated $12 million in the nine months following her resignation).
Look, I’m not writing this to call Palin an idiot. (After all, isn’t that Keith Olberman’s schtick?) It’s just disappointing that this history-making female politician (first female on the Republican presidential ticket, and all...), lacks the intellectual chops. I know this is why so many people like her. We can relate to her, they say. She’s one of us.
I guess I just don’t want “one of us” in the Whitehouse running the country, you know? I’d prefer to have someone who was better educated and in possession of sharper critical thinking skills than most of “us.”
And so, I find myself a little troubled by the idea that someone (anyone) might take one look at me, notice some physical similarities with Palin, and then make the leap and assume that these physical similarities translate to political similarities...Or (heaven forbid) assume that my likeness with Palin is a consequence of efforts on my part to resemble her.
A few months after this exchange with my grandmother, The Husband and I started watching Thirty Rock on DVD and by the end of the first season, he confessed “I think I might have a little crush on Liz Lemon.” 
So okay...maybe being compared to Palin is not all bad, especially when it aligns me with the likes of Tina Fey. 
(Just for the record, The Husband claims he never said he had a crush on Liz Lemon or Tina Fey...but I swear, he totally did! the time I was a bit sleep deprived, nursing my sweet young baby who refused to sleep through the night, so I guess you’ll have to decide who you want to believe...)

Several weekends ago, The Bear spent the night with my parents and a pesky sore throat sent The Husband off to the doctor, leaving me with the opportunity to pull up the Sarah Palin cover article from October’s Vanity Fair, curl up with my iPad and a cup of coffee, and read quietly while the sun streamed into our living room.

This article, by Michael Joseph Gross, has been quite controversial since it hit the newsstands in early September. Even the Huffington Post called it “somewhat questionably sourced.” Still, I tend to have faith in the integrity of journalists. (Perhaps as a result of my B.A. in journalism?) I read Gross’s response to criticism of his article and also caught an interview with him on Morning Joe, during which he made the case for the integrity and accuracy of his reporting. And while I have no intention of defending Gross or proclaiming the veracity of his work (after all, I’ve never met him or any of his sources), I can say that I found both his response and his spot on Morning Joe highly plausible and compelling.

When I finished the Vanity Fair article, despite the fact that I am not at all a Palin fan, I felt something I wasn’t expecting to feel: sad. One paragraph in particular really tugged at me:

After starting her new career as a national figure, Palin disengaged from the community. When in Wasilla, she rarely leaves the house. At her favorite coffee shop, Mocha Moose, Palin has been seen only once in the past three months. On those occasions when she goes to Church on the Rock, she usually arrives late, leaves early, and sits in the back. For runs to Target, she waits until it’s almost closing time...Her Wasilla social circle has narrowed practically to nothing.

Despite my dislike of Palin the politician and regardless of my discomfort with being told I look like her, there is something almost heartbreaking about a woman thrust into the national spotlight without her community behind her all the way. A mass of Birthers, Deathers, and Tea Partiers has jumped aboard, but many of those nearest and dearest friends from her formative years are no longer on the bandwagon. It’s just a little wrenching...don’t you think?

Beside our house runs an alley that remains incomplete since our homes were built in 2006. Thanks to some gravel, it is passable, but it is not complete (if you’re reading this City of Louisville, step on it! We’ve been calling and emailing for years!). Last summer a mechanic opened shop in a garage that faces the alley, and he is a super nice guy who does quality work at a fair price.

But seriously, out of all the alleys and all the mechanics in all the cities and towns on this planet, it turns out that the guy in my alley is from...Wasilla, Alaska. 

Small world, huh? So someone who grew up in Wasilla and knows the Palins and considers them a “very nice family,” is now oh so close to my pin on Google Maps. How about that?

I’m not sure the significance of this. There is none, really. Still, I cannot help but think that the Universe is trying to tell me something.

Jaelithe, the Librarian @ Home

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: The Duchess

This weekend the Husband and I ate way too much pumpkin cheesecake, watched way too many episodes of The Office Season 6 (Confession: I teared up a bit when Jim and Pam got married), and dreamed way too much about owning lakefront property. We took a short trip to Kentucky’s Taylorsville Lake where we hiked, taking turns carrying The Bear on our shoulders while our feet crunched leaves underfoot. It was the perfect fall activity on a perfect fall day.
Nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed time outside with my two favorite people, occasionally I would feel a knot tighten in my chest. Ugh, why do I have such a sick feeling? I would wonder. Is this the Sunday Blues?
No, I soon realized, not the Sunday Blues, but a consequence of remembering the movie I’d watched the evening before: The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.

The Duchess
In my scorebook, the first measure of a movie’s quality is whether or not I think about it a lot the next day. And while I consider The Duchess a good movie, I’m not sure whether I was thinking about it during our hike or whether my body was simply recalling the physiological reaction I had to the film. 
In short, this movie is painful to watch. Despite skilled actors and exquisite costumes, viewing it was pure agony -- largely because of the 18th Century, aristocratic, English society that forced Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, to remain in a loveless marriage. Her husband, the Duke of Devonshire, blames her for being unable to produce a son. (Creep! As if this were something she could control!) and screws just about anything that walks. In one scene he takes Georgiana to bed just after she has watched a naked woman flee his room. (For heaven’s sake, man, change the sheets and take a shower before bringing your wife to your already sex-soiled bed!) One of the most “painful to watch” scenes of the film is when the Duke rapes Georgiana. As she screams, servants move about in earshot, helpless to aid their mistress.

Yes, the double standards of this time are physically sickening to this modern woman. Georgiana was forced to accept her husband’s lover into their household but forbidden to continue a relationship with her true love, Charles Grey (or else, the Duke threatened, she would never see her children again). Early in the film, Georgina is presented with the Duke’s illegitimate daughter and chooses to raise the child as her own. In contrast, years later he forces her to give up a child she conceived with Grey.
Georgiana: Duchess of DevonshireThis film is based on the nonfiction book, Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Oxford scholar Amanda Foreman, and because the film has left me hungry for more details about Georgiana’s life, I am certainly adding the book to my wish list. 
I wanted to watch this film largely because of my interest in aristocratic society during 18th and 19th Century England. Granted, this interest is not based on fact but fiction. I have been known at times to enjoy reading historical romance novels, specifically those written by Judith McNaught.  These guilty pleasures are most often set in the decades after Georgiana’s death, but involve characters who, like Georgiana, are members of England’s high society. Heroines often live a glamorous (albeit frivolous) life filled with fashion and parties, but very often find themselves hugely limited by the dictates of society -- much like Georgiana. 
But Georgina’s reality diverges quite sharply from these fantasy novels. For Georgiana there is no happy ending (at least not in the film), because she is unable to change her circumstances. Georgiana was imprisoned by her cruel, seemingly heartless husband, unlike the romance novel heroine, who might be imprisoned by social dictates, but is essentially set free by a kind, generous, powerful husband who (by the novel’s conclusion) is so in love with her that he will do anything to please her. 
I remember watching trailers of The Duchess when I still worked in collection development. (Librarians stay abreast of any upcoming book to film releases and, budget permitting, ensure there are plenty of copies when library patrons start asking for the book...Yet another reason why librarians are awesome!) Last week, when I added The Duchess to our Netflix instant queue, I recalled that the story did not end happily, but I presumed it was a love story, focusing on the relationship between Georgiana and Charles Grey. 
Just to be clear, this movie is not a love story; it is more of a hate story, focusing on the relationship between Georginia and her husband. So if you want a love story, consider checking out McNaught’s novels. (See my post script below).
Recommended for those who enjoy period pieces, who can tolerate British accents and unhappy endings, and who don’t mind experiencing the sudden urge to strangle Ralph Fiennes. 
If you have seen this film, I would love to hear your thoughts!
P.S. For those interested in Judith McNaught’s novels... My absolute favorites are:
Whitney, My Love
Something Wonderful
Until You
Once and Always

A Kingdom of Dreams

I think I’ve read most of these books three, if not four times. Be forewarned: McNaught's stories just might take over your whole existence. I haven’t read any of her books in years, because for me they are so transporting, so engaging, that whenever I’m in the midst of one, I seldom accomplish anything else! The Husband doesn’t really like this, and I can only imagine that The Bear and The Doodles would feel the same... If you are a JM fan, I would love to hear from you! For more information check out a fan’s website:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Plenty in the Season of Excess

The Bear meets a jack-o-lantern
Okay, so I know it's only October 11, but everywhere I turned this weekend, I saw people and places (myself included) gearing up for the holiday season. Pumpkin Pie. Newly hired seasonal retail staff in training. And me, thinking about what to get The Husband for his birthday next month.

And me, fortuitously scheduling a hair appointment in early December. (I always want a fresh haircut for all the holiday festivities, and I always think about it at the last minute. By then, my salon is booked solid, but this year it's in the bag. Score!)

Yes, the holiday season is just around the corner. Here in Kentucky it is unseasonably warm. And as much as I want to bring all my Halloween and fall decor up from the basement, I'm having trouble getting in the mood when it's almost 90 degrees outside. Is this weather indicative of global warming? Who knows. I think scientists can only point to longer-term climate shifts as evidence. However, a hot sunny day in October makes me think of our climate crisis and all the excess that has led us to this point. 

On Saturday, I went to Hallmark's Fall Ornament Open House, and as I was waiting to purchase my Switzerland Santa, I started thinking about the impending holiday season and making promises to myself about how I wanted it to go: 

I will not get too busy to enjoy it. I will not spend a weekend making five different candies only to give a little away and eat all the rest. I will not become a crazed shopper, studying the sale ads for hours, leaving the house at 6 a.m. just to beat the traffic and score all the good deals.

I will not! I will not! I will not!

Instead I will focus on quality time with my family. I will go to church every week of advent. I will shop early and gift wrap soon after. I will not get too busy to exercise. I will not bake too much, and above all else, I will not eat like it's my last month on earth!

Spring Mill
Yesterday I recalled these intentions for a simple, sane holiday season when The Husband, The Bear, and I visited the Pioneer Village at Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana. This had been a frequent destination of my youth, and I was excited to share it with my family. I don't believe I've visited this village for the better part of a decade, and for the first time ever, I basked in the history of the place. (I probably have my stint as a local history/genealogy librarian to thank for that!)

The Husband kindly followed The Bear around the mill, showing her corn husk dolls and wooden toys. (Read: keeping her from doing any damage to herself and/or the place!) while I listened to a man in period garb discuss all the complexities of the engineering, all the time and sweat and money invested into a design that moved water from a creek to a wheel, that in turn moved other wheels, all to make one giant, 3,000 pound stone grind corn.

There's no doubt, pioneers had to devote a lot of resources just to complete what we would now consider simple tasks. This morning, without cutting down trees, building a mill, diverting a stream, and then slowly hauling a giant rock from North Carolina, I was able to grind a half cup of coffee beans in about 20 seconds. (And I didn't have to grow the beans myself, either!) Modern conveniences leave so much room for excess, and at times, I think I could be the poster child: Too much coffee, too much food, too much stuff! And then...during these final months of the year, it all goes even more overboard.

Still, this is my favorite time of year! I love the multi-colored leaves, the smell of pumpkin pie, the pleasure of a crackling fire. I love how it leads to Thanksgiving and then on to Christmas. I love the food, especially the sweets like bourbon balls and rocky-road fudge. And I love, love, love the shopping, love working my way through the mall crowds, eggnog latte in hand. I get on a holiday high, and I want to eat it all up before it's gone, which usually leaves me overstuffed, overwhelmed, and exhausted.

But this year, I'm hoping to be different. I'm hoping to be better. I will be tempted to overindulge and to overspend, but I'm giving myself one word to help me through this season: plenty. 

I have more than plenty, and this year, I intend to live like I know it.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Librarian NOT @ Home: South Dakota (Bibliography)

Books We Purchased BEFORE Our Trip

 The Husband ordered these two South Dakota travel books from Amazon, so I had no hand in their selection. It is possible there are better travel books on this area of the country...Regardless, these served us well, especially because we had assumed we would use our iPad to get directions and other information, but found the reach of our AT&T network somewhat lacking in the more remote parts of these hills. (Stupid city folk!)

What we really needed, that we could not find in either of these books or in any visitor's center, was a more detailed map of some of the smaller tourist towns, like Keystone and Custer.

South Dakota: An Explorer's Guide (Explorer's Guides)

South Dakota: An Explorer's Guide

About two days into our trip, I started referring to this book as the "good" book. (Not to be confused with the Bible, of course).

"Hand me the South Dakota book," I said to The Husband, who tossed me the book pictured below. I shook my head. "No, no, this is the bad book. Hand me the good book."

"I didn't realize one was good and the other was bad," The Husband answered...and he was right. This one really isn't any better or worse than the other; both have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Nevertheless, during our trip I relied heavily on this guide, largely because its contents were organized by town. So, for example, when we were passing through Spearfish, SD, I could turn to the section on Spearfish and find all the information on dining, lodging, entertainment, shopping, and family friendly activities right there in one place.

Had I been the one selecting the books, I might have bypassed this title, because it covers travel in the whole state of South Dakota and we were planning to spend most of our time in the Black Hills.  (I'm guessing I would have seen other options focused primarily on the Black Hills and assumed these might be more thorough.)

A few of the restaurant reviews made places sound a lot better than they actually were, but this might have more to do with the fact that The Husband and I, on occasion, have worried that we just might be  food snobs. Black and white photographs break up the text and offer readers a glimpse of the area. Recommended for travelers, particularly those who want an overview of the entire state.

Insiders' Guide to South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands, 5th (Insiders' Guide Series)

Insiders' Guide to South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands, 5th edition

Okay, so this book doesn't deserve to be called the "bad" book. Not at all. But as I alluded to above, the "good" book was organized by town, which I found useful, and this book was not, which made me a little nuts. In this book all the dining recommendations were in one chapter, all the attractions were listed in another chapter, and so on and so forth.

Nevertheless, by the end of our week in South Dakota, this book was my favorite. The dining recommendations were a little more in line with our tastes, and I really enjoyed the "Area Overview" and "History" chapters. I think this book's focus on the Black Hills and Badlands area gave the authors more room to go into detail. In addition to the historical and cultural overview, the book also informs those planning to move to the area with chapters on relocating, retirement, and child care. Furthermore, there is a chapter that discusses faiths practiced in this region of the country, including Christianity, Judaism, and Native American spirituality.

Recommended for those traveling or relocating to the Black Hills, particularly those with an interest in learning more about the region's culture.

Books We Purchased DURING Our Trip

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

I have to admit, I've never been all that interested in Native American cultures. I respect these cultures, but I've never wanted to sit down and read, read, read all about Native American History.

And then, something about this trip changed all that...I'm not sure what or why, but I found myself very interested and yearning to learn more. Of course, there was little time to delve into this while we were traveling, and although I wanted to visit the Wounded Knee Museum in Wall, SD, a pamphlet warned that its exhibits were not appropriate for young children. (I will have to spend some time on their webpage, which looks to have quite a bit of content.)

We were browsing the bookstore at Wall Drug, when The Husband pointed out this book and mentioned he'd like to read it. At the time, I had been skimming the back of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which also appears to be an interesting read. A few days later, we were at the Crazy Horse Memorial when I saw both books again. I wanted to purchase something in the gift shop (so we could do our part to support the organization). Naturally, I decided to buy a book.

I selected Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee because I knew The Husband would read it. In all honesty, I cannot say whether I will ever read either title mentioned above. (I do most of my reading before bed and am usually way too tired for anything too intellectually stimulating!) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee is currently on The Husband's nightstand, so I will have to give you his review (especially if I cannot provide my own).

Who Carved the Mountain?: The Story of Mount Rushmore

Who Carved the Mountain?: The Story of Mount Rushmore

I bought this for The Bear  in the gift shop at Mount Rushmore. I wanted her to have a keepsake of her trip to this national monument, especially because she will not remember it. This book is not at all age appropriate for her now, but when she is in elementary school, it promises to be a tool for her to learn about this treasured monument and these four presidents. Unfortunately, the book does not address the fact that many Native Americans believed the white men who dynamited and carved into the Black Hills were defiling sacred ground...but I suppose Mommy will have to fill in those blanks.

America's First Ladies Coloring Book

America's First Ladies Coloring Book

This keepsake is another purchase at the Mount Rushmore gift shop. I have been known to store items like this in an archival box because... "I just know it'll be worth something some day!" (Yep, I'm that person. I also own President Barack Obama Paper Dolls). When I first showed this coloring book to The Husband he said, "No fair! You'll never let The Bear color in it." And he's right. I won't.

Books We Purchased AFTER our Trip
Film We Viewed AFTER Our Trip

Dances with Wolves - Extended Cut (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)

Dances with Wolves

We instant-Netflixed this our first night home from South Dakota. All week we had come across information about the filming of this movie, and Kevin Costner's role in the revitalization of Deadwood, SD, so I wanted to watch it.

I had seen the film at some point in the early 90's when I was probably about 13, but the only thing I remembered was the hero and heroine riding off at the end.

I really enjoyed watching Dances with Wolves as an adult. The scenery and the story were beautiful. The three hours did not seem never-ending (as I have often heard it told!), but perhaps my experience was clouded by my post-vacation reunion with The Doodles, who snored peacefully in my lap the entire 180+ minutes.

During the opening credits I said to The Husband. "Well, is this a classic or is it going to be dated? If it's a classic, we'll really believe it's the late 19th Century. Otherwise, we'll be able to tell it was filmed in the late 20th Century."

Truth be told, there were a few cheesy, early 1990s kind of moments, and by the end, Kevin Costner is sporting a mullet, but this movie is definitely a classic. It is the kind of film you think about a lot the next day. I highly recommend a revisit for those of you who haven't seen it in a decade or two.