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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

A Bittersweet Ending and Blue Skies Ahead

Most of you know that Bill and I spent the last school year babysitting two of our grandchildren. Our “assignment” ended a week ago, and I’ve enjoyed time to reflect. This past year has been as fabulous as it has been draining, and now that it’s over, I feel a bit lost, as if the babies are leaving us behind.

phone Nov 4 295

Each one of the benefits is worth the whole year to us:

  • We know the little ones almost as well as do their parents.
  • They act excited when they see us.
  • We were privileged to spend each morning with our son and DIL, getting the day off to a good start. I’ll never forget arriving before dawn, letting ourselves in, hearing the baby fussing as he awoke. Then a few minutes later, us four adults chattering in the kitchen as everybody rushed about. I’d get the toddler to the table for her breakfast while Bill gave the baby his bottle. Dan and Amy got organized, prepared lunches and did minor chores. We felt like the extended family of yore, when multiple generations worked together for a family’s success.
  • Dan and Amy appreciated our contribution to their family’s welfare.
  • We have a new understanding of and compassion for parents of small children.

Mothers Day 2013 009

The challenges have been significant:

  • The toll on our bodies, most of which is temporary. Not temporary are the surfer’s knots I acquired on my knees from crawling (happily in and out of large boxes turned into forts, for example. Or changing the baby on the floor, because he’s so wriggly and strong we don’t dare change him on an elevated surface.)
  • The time away from marketing Dakota Blues, and from the world of writing in general.
  • Finding time for doctor, dentist, and other appointments – just like working people!
  • Concern that, as parents, we shouldn’t be so intimately involved in the lives of our kids. Our son and DIL benefitted, for sure, but they gave up a ton of privacy for the duration.

Bill and Andrew June 2012 3

In spite of it all, the babies came through okay. They are now 14 months and two-and-a-half years, bright, happy and healthy. Dan and Amy completed another year as elementary school teachers. Bill and I are already feeling like our old selves again, although we feel guilty for being so free, and we wonder almost every minute how the little ones are doing. We miss them! But fulltime parenting is for younger bodies than ours.

Professionally, I’ve managed to keep up with our Friday visits here at Any Shiny Thing; sales of Dakota Blues have been fantastic, thanks largely to good reviews and an award for women’s fiction from Next Generation Indie Book Awards.  I also found time for five public speaking gigs and three book signings during that period. I’ve drafted some short stories and put together a compendium of my best blog posts for an ebook, Sometimes You Feel Like a Sandwich: Reflections on Caregiving, that I hope to release by Thanksgiving.

I wrote this post today to celebrate a milestone – that Bill and I are returning to our normal life after taking a one-year detour for the good of our family. We feel so blessed, but we’re also sobered by having lived the life of young adults trying to balance career and child-rearing. As a result, our lives are fuller and we have much more appreciation for the younger generations. We are back to being retired and the skies are a brilliant blue.

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. If our daughter ever asked us to do same, I say to myself, after reading your tribute, would I say yes? I know I would say what Susan says, but in my heart, would I say yes? I think I would, says the little engine that would. Or was that could?

    Reply
    • I think there is a cutoff date for this kind of help, Bob. I believe I’ve reached it. I know Bill has. And it depends on the age of the kids. At a certain point it can hurt you. There’s a reason Mother Nature favors the young for procreation.

      Reply
  2. Adrienne LaCava

     /  June 7, 2013

    What a gift you’ve given your children too, Lynne. The peace of mind and vast but intangible value. Those babies benefitted hugely from your loving participation, too. Wow. Congratulations on completion of a giant and meaningful project! And I agree, there’s a reason we have babies when we’re young…

    Reply
    • Thanks Adrienne. My son and DIL were very gracious and appreciative, so that felt good. We do feel we did a very good thing that we can always remember, no matter what stupid mistakes we might make in the future!

      Reply
  3. Vonnie

     /  June 7, 2013

    Sounds like a great life, Lynne. I don’t have any grandchildren yet and not sure I ever will, so I’ll live it through you for the time being. 🙂

    Congrats on all things “Dakota Blue”. You’re the ‘it girl’ in my book.

    Reply
    • I’m only half the equation, Vonnie. It would be nothing without you and the rest of my buddies to enjoy it with me.

      Reply
  4. I’m impressed Lynn. I know I couldn’t do that at this age. Of course, that’s maybe because I did it for ten years starting when I was 51, becoming a first time mom to my older brother’s two kids that he and his wife adopted from Honduras when they were babies–adorable twelve-year-olds, severely traumatized by the loss of each of their parents eight months apart from cancer. My brother died last from Agent Orange exposure during three tours in Vietnam (read more about him here http://bit.ly/11oW5ep).

    Anyway, after ten years of helping with homework, driving them to events most every night and weekend, building on an addition so they’d each have a bathroom (and Greg an office so he could be around more to help me) teaching them to drive, giving them each a gently used car (that they pretty much destroyed), shopping for prom dresses and guitars (I loved that part)–well, my body is pretty much destroyed, along with my finances. Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change a minute of it (well, maybe one or two when I raised my voice a bit too much) but I know I could never do it again for grand nieces or nephews.

    So, my hat is off to you. One question. What happens when school starts again and they have to return to teaching?

    Reply
    • Deborah, I’m sorry for your loss. As hard as it has been for you and your husband, you’ve got this: you KNOW you’ve done the right thing. Come what may for the rest of your life, even lying on your deathbed, you’ll know you earned your keep. It might sound crass but that’s my sense of it. I think we owe God or the cosmos some kind of repayment for this great gift of life, but how often do you feel like the deal is square? And you know those kids are grateful, and they deserved your love, etc. I could go on but I’d get all mushy. XOXOXO.

      Reply
      • My middle name should be loss, between family members and horses that I’ve buried (dogs and cats too, but that’s not so unusual). I’m grateful for all the great stories I have to tell. As for the kids, it will take a few years yet before I receive any kudos, though my friends say it should happen sometime after 30 years old. I think I learned more about myself from caring for them than they did from me, though I did try my best to teach them well. Twelve is a tough age to go through what they had to go through and then be shipped a thousand miles by people they only knew a little. It’s not what I planned, but that’s life for you. I had to let go of my art (mostly) but now I have my writing. By the way, congrats on the success of Dakota Blues. You go girl!

        Reply
    • Oh, PS Next school year, we’ll split duties with a good childcare provider and, for the toddler, a few hours a week of preschool. So we’ll only do 2 ten-hour days a week, but the babies will be older, too, so it’ll be easier. I have visions of me or my husband dropping off/picking up the preschooler and then the four of us enjoying lunch before naps. Very Normal Rockwell, in my mind.

      Reply
      • deborahlucas706

         /  June 7, 2013

        I love the image of a toddler crawling up your leg as you write. I hope you kept a journal. I’m sure you have lots of new and hilarious stories to tell. You’re a great Mom and Grandma. The world needs more just like you!

        Reply
  5. What a true win-win situation, Lynne! Kudos to you and Bill for helping out. The little ones always will carry a special bond with you because of the time and love you invested in them, and your son and DIL will be forever appreciative. Glad you didn’t have to “suffer” from taking time away from your writing, either — that’s a nice bonus!

    Reply
    • No, Debbie, I got it done somehow, although you have to picture me with a 12-month old trying to crawl up my leg as I steal 30 seconds to work my laptop on the kitchen counter. “Just a second, honey,” was probably burned into his little brain.

      Reply
  6. I enjoyed today’s lovely post. I’m lucky enough to be able to babysit my two-year-old granddaughter one day a week, and we have a great time. But I’m wiped out by the time she leaves! So I can really appreciate your five-day-a-week duties. Like you, I’m grateful for this opportunity to really connect with a grandchild. What a joy!
    Congratulations on the success of DAKOTA BLUES. I’ll be watching for your upcoming publications.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sandy. I have to admit we only did four days, but 10 hrs each. It’s funny; the first few weeks are really killers, physically, but then you adjust. I was amazed at how strong and limber I became. It was pretty cool.

      Reply
  7. Just love your post! I love your description of coming into your son and DIL’s home while the family was just stirring for the day. Wonderful experiences, wonderful memories, thank you for sharing. I’ve been told that grandparenting is a joy and I’m looking forward to the possibility of finding that out someday, myself.

    Reply
  8. Oh my gosh, how has it been a year already. WOW! Many changes have happened over the past year and it’s just a few months shy of when we e-met and you guested on my B&N forum. I’m happy that you got to experience the little ones so closely almost like parents with benefits you know :), it ‘s a time you’ll never forget and even as the kiddos grow up they’ll also never forge the year they spent with grammy and gramps.
    The older we get the more reflective we become, I guess it’s that old mortality song that starts playing in our heads. And yet this is really a time in our lives to really start to enjoy all that we’ve accomplished whether it’s successfully raising a family, a company or what ever.
    So what’s first on your finally free agenda?
    take care
    deb

    Reply
    • It’s always good to hear from you, Deb. I’ve had a facial, a massage and 3 acupuncture treatments! I went to Weight Watchers this morning and then on a lunch-and-a-matinee with my sweetie (we saw Star Trek. Snore.) Catching up on sleep. Doing some gardening. And babysitting tomorrow cuz I just can’t stay away!!

      Reply
  9. What a beautiful post capturing the highlights of a very selfless year. Your son and daughter-in-law are so lucky to have had you and Bill there for childcare. I remember how difficult it was raising my children abroad with no family within 1000 miles and most an ocean away. Congratulations on a shiny year, keeping it together, grandparenting, writing, publishing, marketing and connecting to friends and readers around the globe.

    Reply
    • Pat, after this past year I wonder how working parents do it with more than one child. We were blessed to help, but we know how much of a benefit it was. Thing is, it was NECESSARY. So, back to point one!

      Reply
  10. Hi Lynne,

    Sounds like you have had your hands full! What a wonderful gesture I’m sure your grandchildren benefited from having your input.

    You may or may not remember me Lynne but I read your book ‘Dakota Blues’ and wrote to you saying how much I appreciated your writing as well as the wider work you do for people in their latter years.

    The last time I wrote I said that I was planning to go travelling for a year. Well that time has come as I have resigned my post as a teacher in the UK put all my stuff into storage and have “hit the road”. I am currently in Spain walking the Camino Santiago after which I will continue travelling. If you are interested I have produced a blog that you can access and follow my travels both internally and externally. Here is the blog address:

    http://www.beyondthea64.wordpress.com

    Hope to hear from you…

    Paul Cleverly (UK but currently in Spain then….who knows!,)

    Reply
    • Paul, how wonderful that you’re able to go after your dream, actually making it come true! I have nothing but best wishes for you, and will go to your blog now and register for updates. Thanks so much for getting in touch. I’m eager to see how a fellow Boomer pursues a personal quest. GREAT for you!!

      Reply
  11. If not for an occasional detour in life, our route would be boring. I’d say this detour was a gift.

    Reply
  12. I have cared for two granddaughters, a shorter two days a week, since the oldest was born nearly 4 years ago. Exhausting and wonderful, all at once! How much faster time passes than when my sons were young. We are lucky grandmothers to have these connections.

    Reply
    • Bella, I felt remorse one evening recently, remembering how I rushed through the book-before-nap reading. I was exhausted and just wanted my little granddaughter to go to sleep. Later I thought how precious was that little face as she listened, and how in years to come she’ll be big, and I’ll remember that irretrievable moment.

      Reply

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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Still the Lucky Few

Reflections on Life as a Senior

Writing Contemplative life Essays

Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

Live & Learn

David Kanigan

ElderChicks

Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time

MIDLIFE MAGIC

Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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