A Midwestern Truth – Food + CRM Review of Meg Little Reilly’s “We Are Unprepared”

I think it’s the perfect way to say thank you, or I’m thinking about you, or I care about you. I guess it’s a way to comfort the soul and share something that you love with those outside of your family. (Of course, it may also be a way to try recipes on people outside of your family.)

A couple of months ago we were in Breckenridge, Colorado on vacation. I was buying a lift ticket from the girl in the ticket book, and she starting telling me what to expect. “I worked in Beaver Creek (Colorado) for a few years — I even did what you do for two summers,” I told her, stopping her from giving me the spiel on riding the lift.

“Oh, so you know,” she said. Then, “where do you live now?”

“Ohio.” I answered, pretty much knowing where the conversation was going.

“Is that where you’re from?” (Because no one living or working in a Colorado resort town is from Colorado. She was from Oregon. And no one would leave for OHIO.)

“Nope. I grew up in Colorado. Moved there after we got married.” (I was the exception to the working-in-a-resort-and-not-being-from-Colorado rule.

“Oh.” (I know she was thinking ‘why?’) “Do you like it?”

“We really do. We live in a nice, smaller town. And everyone is so nice.”

She smiled knowingly. “My roommate is from rural Illinois. Here mom came out for Thanksgiving. She was so nice. And she cooked o much good comfort food.”

With that, I laughed. “YES! That was the first thing we learned. EVERYONE brings food to EVERYTHING!”

And that was one of my first lessons about living in the Midwest. Food is always the answer.

And it’s wonderful.

When someone is down and out–food. When something good happens–food. When you invite someone over for coffee–food. Playdate? Food. Football game? Food.

The answer is always food.635286884175114123emma-stone-gifs-eating-cutie-cupcake0406.gif

And, 99% of the time, it’s good food.

Appetizers. Desserts. Side dishes. All cooked or baked with love and thought.

I think it’s the perfect way to say thank you, or I’m thinking about you, or I care about you. I guess it’s a way to comfort the soul and share something that you love with those outside of your family. (Of course, it may also be a way to try recipes on people outside of your family.)

It’s feeding those you care about, and food is love. It’s feeding the soul by filling the belly. It’s the ultimate definition of comfort food.

tumblr_ls21ykW84r1qkmpj8o1_500.gifWe’ve learned, through time, not to put out so much if we’re having a party. If we don’t have time to make a dish for a potluck, it’ll be okay, because everyone else will make a dish (and it will more than likely be better than anything I could come up with on a moment’s notice.)

So here’s to the Midwest region of the United States. The breadbasket of the U.S. means great fall festivals, wonderful harvests, and bountiful covered dishes made with love.

Okay, onto my thoughts on Meg Little Reilly’s We Are Unprepared.


Once you go there, you’re already living in a state of emergency. You’re praying for the reckoning just to make all your efforts worthwhile. It’s a fine line between being prepared and letting the fear run your life, but you have to respect the line.

Meg Little Reilly, We Are Unprepared

The Premise

Ash and Pia are those irritating types of millennials — the hipsters that decide to live a genuine, natural life.  These two take a bit further, deciding to move to a small farmhouse near Isole, Vermont, a Northern town surrounded by forest and mountains.

At the opening of the book, Pia gets devastating news when her doctor tells her it’s going to be tough for her to have a baby. It’s on the ride home that they hear about the impending winter and its series of storms that could devastate the world.

Once it’s announced, it seems obvious. Climate change and global warming are causing he summer to last longer, and then winter to land like a flat basketball. The President and other governmental officials are alternatively warning of a bad storm and holding back on the severity, in an attempt to preserve the order of the United States.

The couple takes the news differently. Ash, we learn, is not so much a hipster as a Vermont boy (he was raised in the state) who fell into the hipster life because of his age, his career (he’s a graphic designer), and his choice of clothes (coming from Vermont, he’s prone to flannels, jeans, and work boots). His upbringing makes him want to become part of the community, and he falls in with the city government-types. He’s also the first to want to jump in and help their floundering 7 year-old neighbor August, the son of parents with mental and (possible) drug problems.

Pia, on the other hand, becomes slightly obsessive. An artsy type without a center, with parents who seemed to indulge her without helping, Pia seems to be a bit unbalanced (and maybe a little bipolar?). As Ash tells us more and more about her, she seems to have some great artistic talent but no ability to see it through. She’s also beautiful.

But when she finds she can’t have children, and then the impending storm, Pia goes off the deep end. She turns into a full on anti-government prepper. And the storm will be her salvation or her death.

As the threat of the storm disappears, the town relaxes a bit (but not Pia!). A relatively warm February has everyone letting down their guard, especially during their annual winter festival. Then suddenly the alerts start pouring in: two weather related events are going to converge, causing the storm of the century.

As the town is first socked in by feet of snow and extreme cold, and then by the sudden thaw that causes massive flooding, Ash and Pia’s relationship is put to the test.The choices that they make will determine the fate of their marriage, and their lives.

My Thoughts

I have quite few thoughts on We Are Unprepared.

Meg Little Reilly worked for the Obama administration, and in her author’s notes she tells readers “while I was proud of the unprecedented environmental steps taken by the Obama Administration, I was frustrated by the pace of progress and the tyranny of corporate interests.”

While I don’t doubt her thoughts and experiences, it makes it obvious that she had a bit of an agenda going into writing We Are Unprepared. It’s apparent in the gist of the story. The town of Isole seems to be a microcosm of D.C. in Reilly’s eyes.

All the politics aside, the story is good. I was hooked; caught in the story and unable to put it down without a struggle.

Ash was a likable character, although a little blind and naive to everything and everyone around him. He is earnest and wants to do the right thing, but seems to have been willfully blind to his wife’s craziness, instead seeing only her beauty and her passion. He’s caught up in the secret arm of Isole’s government because he wants to do the right thing. But overall he’s a good main character, and his honestly in his naivety makes him a pretty reliable narrator.

Pia is on the nutty end of the spectrum, from the moment she’s introduced. She’s a nice counterweight to the incredibly balanced Ash. And she provides a bit of an inside look into the preppers.

The story is the story of how the world, the whole world, would react to a cataclysmic event, especially one with warnings. There would be those in government trying to do right for everyone by keeping their agendas secret and not letting them decide, and there are those that only think about themselves and not those around them. And, of course, there is the balance, the ones who try to see both sides and make the world work for everyone. Isole is a smaller version of the world.

The story and the storm gripped me. BUT the ending, it was a little too perfect for Ash. As a reader, I always hope that that’s the way things will end, until they do. I wish Reilly would have just ended the book before telling readers everything, leaving a little mystery and letting my imagination wander.

But, all-in-all, this was a great read, very interesting. I give it 4 stars.

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Letting the Little Angers Go + CRM Review: “The Unseen World” by Liz Moore

For Katy, a hug is real. A smile is real. Those are the things that should matter, and do matter to her.

10689830_10204796102963790_4910210136918653776_nOur Katybug is a bit of a Zen master. She’s very good at helping us put things into perspective. She has a way of forcing us out of our everyday rat-race cycle–you know, that whole groove that your life gets into? That groove, that when One. Little. Thing gets in the way or goes wrong, and you lose it because that One. Little. Thing just slowed your roll.

I call them

THE LITTLE ANGERS

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Those little eruptions that cause you to use the bad words under your breath. Those things that ruin you day just a little.

Katy’s world is very people driven. It isn’t about the ‘things’ that get in her way–she doesn’t let them ruin her moments. for her it’s all about how to make the day better, how to make herself and those around her happy from moment to moment.

(Note to all: There is no stereotypical individual with Down syndrome. There is no one individual that fits that stereotype “they’re always happy!” That includes Katy. She has her ups and downs, and she cries quite a bit. But her personality is more happy than not. That’s just her personality.)

Lately (since about this past summer) she’s been taking larger and larger exceptions to our little angers. When we trip over the shoe in the hallway or can’t get the remote to change the channel and let the bad words spew from our mouths (and we might get ‘angry eyebrows,’ as she calls it). When we get upset, she gets upset.

Katy (after an eruption of little anger): “Are you mad at me (or anyone else in my immediate vicinity)?”

Me (or whoever has erupted): “No, I’m mad at the (shoes, remote, t.v., whatever  . . .)”

Katy: “Oh, okay.”

Except one day, not too long ago, when I was particularly upset about the dishes not fitting JUST RIGHT into the dishwasher. This was the moment Katy did her Zen thing and put it all in perspective.

“Mom, the dishes can’t help it. Just do what you can and deal with it.”

DUH!!!

She’s right. All those Little Angers just raise the blood pressure and do nothing to alleviate the situation.

See-Zen. For Katy, a hug is real. A smile is real. Those are the things that should matter. I’m in charge of the dishwasher. The dishes can’t do anything — they can’t change their placement or their size or shape (or color for that matter–but how cool would it be if they COULD!!!).

Of course, she doesn’t see that sometimes getting angry at the dishes in the dishwasher is just a way to redirect the anger I feel at someone else. A boss, a client, a spouse. Sometimes it’s nice to vent over that door that won’t close right rather than the ruin a relationship that you need to remain intact. In other words, screaming at an inanimate object is much safer than yelling at your boss.

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But, beyond that, I’ll try to take the lesson. I’ll stop getting angry at the remote or the dishes or the door. At least while Katy’s around.

Now, onto my thoughts on The Unseen World by Liz Moore.


“Only humans can hurt one another, Ada thought; only humans falter and betray one another with a stunning, fearsome frequency. As David’s family had done to him; as David had done to her. And Ada would do it too. She would fail other people throughout her life, inevitably, even those she loved best.”
Liz Moore, The Unseen World

The Premise

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, computers and what the could do were the future. And David Sibleius was in the forefront of this new world.

And he’s raising his daughter to understand it all. As a single father, David teaches takes her to his computer lab at a Boston university, where he sort of home schools her. She’s part of the lab, understanding their research and mathematics at an early age. More comfortable with this group of adults than children, Ada longs for friends her own age, but is content in her cocoon.

One of the lab’s projects is a computer program called Elixir, which is a very early form of artificial intelligence. Throughout their lift together, both David and Ada use Elixir as a sort of diary, chronicling their lives, but there is so much more that it is learning to do.

At 12 and 13, Ada starts to notice cognitive changes in David. He starts forgetting basic things, gets flustered and angry more easily, and disappears for longer periods of time. After prodding by his friend Liston (a lab assistant and a single parent herself), David sees a doctor, and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His condition deteriorates quickly, and soon after he’s placed in a nursing home.

Suddenly Ada is forced into the world. She moves in with Liston and her three boys. She’s thrust into Catholic school, where she must learn the rules, both written and unwritten.

Ada also starts to realize that the few things she did know about her father are not real, and that she has no idea who he is. While coming of age in a new world, Ada must also unravel the mystery of her father.

With the help of the lab and Elixir (where David left clues to his true identity and his life before Ada), Ada attempts to unravel the story of her father. Where The Unseen World can finally be seen.

My Thoughts

The Unseen World is a beautiful story. Multi-layered and multi-dimensional, this book has so many facets that blend beautifully.

At its heart, The Unseen World is a coming of age story for the most socially awkward of teenagers. But it’s got a bit of everything: history, illness, family, love.

The computer science component is fascinating, taking readers back to a time when being ‘online’ was fantasy, and the precursors for the things that run our lives were being imagined and created from 0’s and 1’s.

The Unseen World also gives readers a glimpse at the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s, and the fast decline that can come from it.

But mostly this is a tale of Ada and her difficulty in adjusting not only to the ‘real’ world (as a young teen!), but also the mystery of who David really was, and hows and whys of how he became to be David Sibelius, the father of Ada.

Set mostly in the 1980’s, this book jumps forward with Ada to 2009, and backward with David to his earlier years.

I  loved The Unseen World. It’s different and smart, but with a lot of heart. Ada is a great character, and David’s great mystery brings it all together.

spicoli-awesome5 stars. Intelligent, heartfelt and original.

 

 

 

 

 

Overwhelmed in Motherhood + CRM Review of “Leave Me” by Gayle Forman

It’s in those overwhelming moments when THAT one taboo thought goes through my mind :

I wish I could just run away.

 

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I’m a mom. And it’s hard.

You know what makes it harder? Deciding that “no one else can/will do it, so thank you very much I’ll just do it myself. No, I don’t need help. No, you’ll just do it wrong. No, you don’t understand. It has to be done THIS way. Just–I’ve got it.”

This is the gist of many conversations I’ve had with my husband. Sometimes when I’m just venting about something, sometimes when I sort of want his help, but don’t want him to vary from my way of doing things.

Basically, I make it hard on myself by not letting him help. And a little part of him has given up trying (and I’m pretty sure a part of him also says, ‘thank goodness, I don’t have to do it). But I’ve kind of taken it on myself, and not let him help me with it all that much.

It’s pretty much my own fault. And I know I’m not the only one who’s done this. To ourselves.

And there are times all of this just gets overwhelming. On those days when everything goes wrong and coffee can’t fix it and wine at 8:00 in the morning seems like an acceptable solution (don’t worry, I don’t drink at 8:00 in the morning. That sounds AWFUL).

It’s in those overwhelming moments when THAT one taboo thought goes through my mind:

I wish I could just run away.

Just for a weekend, or even a night. I wish I could get away from the constant need to do,  be, and go. And to never be appreciated for doing, being, and going constantly. (To my mom, thank you. THANK you!!!)

I know other mothers, other parents, have had these thoughts. Because it all gets really overwhelming. Having someone rely on you that much without a thank you or a second thought. Its all really difficult at times.

But I don’t, because the deep love for my family overrides my need to get away. Because I love them like crazy — they make me laugh (even while I’m crying). Their triumphs are my triumphs. All in all, even though they make me want to scream and run away, they also fill my days with laughter and love.

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Because of that, I’m 99% sure I’ll never run away. I would miss them all too much. BUT I’m not making any promises (I need to keep them on their toes!).

Okay, onto the book that started this whole discussion: Gayle Forman’s Leave Me.


 

“Would it surprise you to learn that one of the top fantasies for women is a prolonged hospital stay?”
“That’s absurd.”
“Not if you think about it. The exhausted, multitasking woman. A trip to the hospital, it’s like the ultimate vacation. A chance to be the nurtured one instead of the nurturer. Guilt free, no less.”

–Gayle Forman, Leave Me

 

The Premise

Maribeth is frazzled. Working at a women’s magazine in what’s supposed to be a part-time job, she’s also the mother of 4 year-old twins and wife to a music librarian who believes he’s overworked. The worklife/homelife balance just isn’t coming together, and Maribeth feels like she’s just not getting any of it right.

After a couple of days of not feeling quite right, she learns it’s actually a heart attack. A mishap during the stent placement causes her to need emergency bypass surgery. All of this freaks Maribeth out, and she realizes that she needs to take better care of herself and destress her life.

Except her family doesn’t get that memo.

A week after surgery, her husband’s wondering when she’s going to get out of bed and get back to helping him out with the kids, the food, and the house. Her mother, who’s there to help, is one more burden. Her twins want there mom, which is understandable, but no one is playing the buffer between her and the pain. When no one is getting the crystal-clear message that Maribeth needs time to heal, she snaps.

Drawing $25,000 out of a savings account (an inheritance from her father), she hops on a bus, getting rid of her credit cards and phone on the way. She ends up in Pittsburgh, partly by chance, partly on purpose.

In Pittsburgh she rents a cheap apartment and forms a network of sorts with people she that she doesn’t know, and who know and expect nothing of her. She hires a private investigator to locate her birth mother (she was adopted from Pittsburgh). Without everyday pressure and controls, she starts to come to terms with her anger and abandonment issues, and to heal inside and out.

My Thoughts

Leave Me was emotionally rough for me. It hit a nerve, big time.

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Not that I would I would ever, ever run. But I have felt stretched to a breaking point and unsure if I could keep going. Luckily, my husband gives me time to get myself back in mom-shape, and understands that I need to let loose sometimes.

 

Forman writes the stress of motherhood believably: Maribeth is pulled 17 different ways all at the same time, and no one realizes that she’s not made of rubber. While the heart attack puts life into perspective for her, no one around her understands at all, and keeps pulling. She finally breaks.

Although she doesn’t remember leaving the house all that clearly, she leaves in her right mind. It’s a hard decision, but one she feels she has to make in order to heal and to get her sanity back.

Forman digs deep into emotion and reality, and gets it right. Maribeth is floundering in a sea of ‘just getting by,’ and doing this seems like the only way she can think of to heal herself physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It’s extreme, but she needs something extreme.

I loved her search for her birth mother. I have an adopted brother and cousin, and I related (as much as any unadopted person could) to Maribeth’s search, as well as her emotions and realizations. That seemed really grounded and real.

Leave Me is a book that was easy to fall into and get emotionally involved in. And I did. I loved it.

But there is the end — specifically the last third or fourth. There was so much in this book, and the end of Leave Me was trying to get them all to work out just right. It was a little too much and a little too contrived. I wish the book was a little longer, so she could delve into the issues a little deeper, and maybe spend some time on what was going on at home while she was gone rather than give it all to readers in one quick read.

But seriously, read Leave Me any way. There are so many good issues (a little too many) and she writes a great story. I was really emotionally tangled the whole book. Maribeth is every woman out there trying to balance marriage, kids, work, home, extended family, and life. Her near death experience makes her realize that she can’t be everything, and she needs to run away to find herself again as well as to show those around her that they don’t need her be everything (not her primary motivation, but it is a side-effect of her actions).

I give Leave Me 4 stars. It’s a perfect book club read.

 

CRM Review: “The Perfect Girl” by Gilly McMillan

It’s never easy to put the past behind you . . .

 

The Premise

At the age of 14, Zoe Guerin was a genius piano prodigy at the local private school on a scholarship, working hard to fit in and be normal. And then she drives when she shouldn’t have (she’s 14!), and the ensuing accident leads to the death of her three passengers.

After serving her time, Zoe’s mother, Maria,  has done her best to move the two of them into a new life. She divorces Zoe’s dad and took her to a new city (Bristol), where she meets a marries a new man. We meet this new family three years later. Zoe is now Zoe Maisey, living with Maria, stepfather Chris, stepbrother Lucas (also a piano prodigy), and new baby sister. She is doing her best to stay perfect for what she and her mother call their Second Chance Life.

And perfect is what she and her mother strive to be. Perfect McMansion perfectly decorated. Perfect food. Perfectly dressed. Just absolutely perfect.

And, as part of the perfect, Zoe’s mother insists that they not discuss the past. Not even with their new family.

The book opens with she Lucas putting on a concert. What they don’t know is that family of one of the victims has also moved to Bristol to start over, only to see a flyer of the performance. Unable to believe that his daughter is dead and Zoe is still playing, he confronts them at the concert.

And then at home.

Zoe and Maria are forced to tell the truth about her past.

And, in the morning, Zoe’s mother is found dead.

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My Thoughts

Told from alternating voices, The Perfect Girl is an addictive page turner.

The secrets seem to keep coming from all sides, from every narrator. All seem to have secrets that keep cropping up, making the story that much more delicious.

Zoe overreacts a bit following her mother’s death, immediately going to her lawyer, but she’s nervous, which is understandable. Throughout her first problems, Zoe maintained her innocence in how much she drank (it seems her drinks were spiked), only to be lied about during her trial. She was also betrayed in small and big ways during her time incarcerated, making her wary of everyone and everything.

Her stepfather Chris is a piece of work, and, from the beginning, it seems like he is at the least verbally abusive. Just the way Maria acts around him is a huge red light.

And then there is Lucas, who used his love of screenwriting to write a script staring his mother (who died of a brain tumor) and his father. He sends the script to Zoe and her mother, but asks Zoe to delete it after her mother’s death (she doesn’t).

The Perfect Girl  would be a great Hallmark movie, with secrets reveled or hinted to before every commercial break.

The characters were pretty well developed, especially Zoe. I’m not sure how much I liked her, but I did feel for her. None of the characters are beyond reproach, and all are very human. This makes them likable and unlikable at the same time–just like most people in the world.

Shifting voices adds to the tension and surprise in The Perfect Girl. Zoe and her past, which she holds very close to her chest. Tessa, her aunt, and her understanding of the story. Sam, her lawyer, and his involvement. Even Tessa’s husband Richard, and his efforts to stop drinking.

Everything is a little contrived and really DRAMATIC, but still a lot of fun. And the end seems cut and dried, until it isn’t. The twists and surprises are what make this book fun suspense.

I give this one 4 stars. This is an interesting, well-plotted, tense psychological thriller that you won’t be able to put down.

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