Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Tuesday, 21 July, 2009

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I found this book at my favorite used book stores the other day. Used to, if I wasn’t at home, I was at Katy Budget Books. I started reading it on the 1 ½ hour drive home. I’ve had a hard time putting it down to participate in life.

Amazon.com Review
Jacob Jankowski says: “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” At the beginning of Water for Elephants, he is living out his days in a nursing home, hating every second of it. His life wasn’t always like this, however, because Jacob ran away and joined the circus when he was twenty-one. It wasn’t a romantic, carefree decision, to be sure. His parents were killed in an auto accident one week before he was to sit for his veterinary medicine exams at Cornell. He buried his parents, learned that they left him nothing because they had mortgaged everything to pay his tuition, returned to school, went to the exams, and didn’t write a single word. He walked out without completing the test and wound up on a circus train. The circus he joins, in Depression-era America, is second-rate at best. With Ringling Brothers as the standard, Benzini Brothers is far down the scale and pale by comparison.Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob’s life with this circus. Sara Gruen spares no detail in chronicling the squalid, filthy, brutish circumstances in which he finds himself. The animals are mangy, underfed or fed rotten food, and abused. Jacob, once it becomes known that he has veterinary skills, is put in charge of the “menagerie” and all its ills. Uncle Al, the circus impresario, is a self-serving, venal creep who slaps people around because he can. August, the animal trainer, is a certified paranoid schizophrenic whose occasional flights into madness and brutality often have Jacob as their object. Jacob is the only person in the book who has a handle on a moral compass and as his reward he spends most of the novel beaten, broken, concussed, bleeding, swollen and hungover. He is the self-appointed Protector of the Downtrodden, and… he falls in love with Marlena, crazy August’s wife. Not his best idea.

The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there’s trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the “revenooers” or the cops, and losing all your hooch. There is one glorious passage about Marlena and Rosie, the bull elephant, that truly evokes the magic a circus can create. It is easy to see Marlena’s and Rosie’s pink sequins under the Big Top and to imagine their perfect choreography as they perform unbelievable stunts. The crowd loves it–and so will the reader. The ending is absolutely ludicrous and really quite lovely. –Valerie Ryan

Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult

Wednesday, 15 July, 2009

Even though I’m still reading Nora Roberts’ Vision in White (every time I open the book to read it, I end up falling asleep shortly afterwards due to exhaustion and my sleepy pill working really fast!), I have read Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult.  I LOVE her stories! I can’t say it enough, I la-la-la-love them! 

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Synopsis from www.jodipicoult.com:

Shay Bourne – New Hampshire’s first death row prisoner in 69 years – has only one last request: to donate his heart post-execution to the sister of his victim, who is looking for a transplant. Bourne says it’s the only way he can redeem himself…but with lethal injection as his form of execution, this is medically impossible. Enter Father Michael Wright, a young local priest. Called in as Shay’s spiritual advisor, he knows redemption has nothing to do with organ donation – and plans to convince Bourne. But then Bourne begins to perform miracles at the prison that are witnessed by officers, fellow inmates, and even Father Michael – and the media begins to call him a messiah. Could an unkempt, bipolar, convicted murderer be a savior? It seems highly unlikely, to the priest. Until he realizes that the things Shay says may not come from the Bible…but are, verbatim, from a gospel that the early Christian church rejected two thousand years ago…and that is still considered heresy.

Change Of Heart looks at the nature of organized religion and belief, and takes the reader behind the closely drawn curtains of America’s death penalty. Featuring the return of Ian Fletcher from Keeping Faith, it also asks whether religion and politics truly are separate in this country, or inextricably tangled. Does religion make us more tolerant, or less? Do we believe what we do because it’s right? Or because it’s too frightening to admit that we may not have the answers?

Send a blessing

Friday, 10 July, 2009

A few years ago I came across this article from wikiHow.  I needed it then, and I need a refresher course on it now. Since we all come across freakin’ ignorant people and their totally lame-o actions that need our forgiveness, I thought I would share it with you here.

How to Forgive 

One of the hardest, thorniest and most difficult things we humans are ever called upon to do is to respond to evil with kindness, and to forgive the unforgivable. We love to read stories about people who’ve responded to hatred with love, but when that very thing is demanded of us personally, our default seems to be anger, angst, depression, righteousness, hatred, etc. Yet study after study shows that one of the keys to longevity and good health is to develop a habit of gratitude and let go of past hurts.

Want to live a long, happy life? Forgive the unforgivable. It really is the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Your enemy may not deserve to be forgiven for all the pain and sadness and suffering purposefully inflicted on your life, but you deserve to be free of this evil. As Ann Landers often said, “hate is like an acid. It destroys the vessel in which it is stored.”

  1. Realize that the hate you feel toward your enemy does not harm him or her in the slightest. Chances are, your enemy has gone on with life and hasn’t given you another thought.
  2. Make a list of the good things that emerged as a result of this awful experience. You’ve probably focused long enough on the negative parts of this experience. Look at the problem from a completely new angle; look at the positive side. The first item on that list may be long overdue because you have focused on the negative for so long. See if you can identify 10 positive outcomes of this experience.
  3. Look for the helpers. Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) related that, as a little boy, he’d often become upset about major catastrophes in the news. His mother would tell him, “look for the helpers.” In your own nightmarish experience, think back to the people who helped you. Think about their kindness and unselfishness. Practice what you have learned from them.
  4. Look at the bigger picture. Was someone your “Good Samaritan”? In this biblical story, a traveler happens to come across a poor soul who was beaten up on the road to Jericho and left for dead. It’s a lot easier to play the part of the Good Samaritan than to be the poor soul who is left bleeding and bruised on the side of the road. Perhaps this isn’t all about you. Perhaps your trial provided an opportunity for others to rise to an occasion to provide you with help and support.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. If you’ve ruminated over this problem for a long time, steering this boat into a new direction could take some time, too. As you try to make a new path out of the dark woods of this old hurt, you’ll make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Be patient and kind to yourself. Extreme emotional pain has a profound effect on the body. Give yourself time to heal – physically and emotionally. Eat well. Rest. Focus on the natural beauty in the world. Give yourself permission to feel the emotions and process them. Don’t bottle up the pain.
  6. Learn that the Aramaic word for “forgive” means literally to “untie.” The fastest way to free yourself from an enemy and all associated negativity is to forgive. Untie the bindings and loosen yourself from that person’s ugliness. Your hatred has tied you to the person responsible for your pain. Your forgiveness enables you to start walking away from him or her and the pain. Forgiveness is for you and not the other party. Freeing yourself through forgiveness is like freeing yourself from chains of bondage or from prison.
  7. Stop telling “the story.” How many times this week did you tell “the story” about how badly you were hurt and how horribly you were wronged? How many times a day do you think about this hurt? It is a stake driven into the ground that keeps you from moving away from this hurt. Rather, forgive your enemy because it’s the kindest thing you can do for your friends and family. Negativity is depressing – physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.
  8. Tell “the story” from the other person’s perspective. Actually imagine that you are the other person (the one who offended you) and use the word “I” when saying what that person would say. You, most likely, don’t know exactly what s/he was thinking when this event unfolded but pretend that you do, and just go with the story that comes up in your head. Sit down with a friend, or maybe even the person you are trying to forgive, and tell the story as though you are that person. It is important to do this verbally and not just in your head. Realize in advance that this is not an easy exercise, but it holds great power. Your willingness to tell the story from the offender’s perspective requires an effort at forgiveness. Also, realize that this is not a contradiction to the preceding paragraph since this perspective will change yourstory.
  9. Retrain your thinking. When your enemy and his or her evil actions come to mind, send him or her a blessing. Wish your enemy well. Hope the best for him or her. This has two effects. One, it neutralizes that acid of hate that destroys the vessel in which it is stored. The evil we wish for another seems to have a rebound effect. The same is true for the good that we wish for another. When you make yourself able to return blessing for hatred, you’ll know that you’re well on the path to wholeness. The first 15 – or 150 – times you try this, the “blessing” may feel contrived, empty, and even hypocritical but keep trying. Eventually, it will become a new habit and soon thereafter, the anger and pain that has burned in your heart will evaporate, like dew in the morning sun. This technique forces your mind to overcome the cognitive dissonance between hating someone and acting with compassion toward him or her. Since there is no way to take back the kind gesture to agree with your hatred, the only thing your mind can do is change your belief about the person to match. You will begin to say to yourself, “S/he is deserving of a blessing, and indeed, must need one very much.”
  10. Maintain perspective: While the “evil” actions of your “enemy” are hurtful to you and your immediate surroundings, the rest of the world goes on unaware. Validate their meaning in your life, but never lose perspective that others are not involved and do not deserve anything to be taken out on them. Your enemy is someone else’s beloved child, someone’s employee, or a child’s parent.

Tips

  • Put your best mental energies (perhaps first thing in the morning) into visualizing the new life you want. See yourself – in the future – as free of this pain and suffering.
  • Keep the following quotes in mind if you’re finding it hard to generate positive feelings for the person:
    • “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
    • “Those who are the hardest to love, need it the most.”
    • “Follow peace with all men, and holiness,” -Hebrews 12:14.”
    • “As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.” -The Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
    • “Hating someone is drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it.”
    • “If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    • “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – The Golden Rule
    • “Be kind, for all you meet, are fighting a great battle.”- Philo
    • “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”
  • Sometimes it helps to think of how others have forgiven under incredible circumstances. Ask friends for support and examples to motivate you toward forgiveness.
  • Forgiveness is a choice. When you say, “I can’t forgive that person,” what you’re really saying is, “I’m choosing not to forgive that person.” If you say it the second way instead, you’ll find yourself forgiving soon.
  • You need to keep these four points in mind when forgiving someone:
    • Do not bring up the situation to yourself.
    • Do not bring up the situation to the offender.
    • Treat the offender as if it never happened.
    • Do not talk about the situation to others. 

Vision in White by Nora Roberts

Friday, 3 July, 2009

ANOTHER book from my book worm friend…. she sure knows how to pick ’em!!  I’m only about 1/3 of the way through this book, and so far it’s been a great read.  I love weddings, even though I’M DONE with that sort of thing. The fairy tale is still alive…….

 

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Prologue

 

By the time she was eight, Mackensie Elliot had been married fourteen times. She’d married each of her three best friends — as both bride and groom — her best friend’s brother (under his protest), two dogs, three cats, and a rabbit.

She’d served at countless other weddings as maid of honor, bridesmaid, groomsman, best man, and officiant.

Though the dissolutions were invariably amicable, none of the marriages lasted beyond an afternoon. The transitory aspect of marriage came as no surprise to Mac, as her own parents boasted two each — so far.

Wedding Day wasn’t her favorite game, but she kind of liked being the priest or the reverend or the justice of the peace. Or, after attending her father’s second wife’s nephew’s bar mitzvah, the rabbi.

Plus, she enjoyed the cupcakes or fancy cookies and fizzy lemonade always served at the reception.

It was Parker’s favorite game, and Wedding Day always took place on the Brown Estate, with its expansive gardens, pretty groves, and silvery pond. In the cold Connecticut winters, the ceremony might take place in front of one of the roaring fires inside the big house.

They had simple weddings and elaborate affairs. Royal weddings, star-crossed elopements, circus themes, and pirate ships. All ideas were seriously considered and voted upon, and no theme or costume too outrageous.

Still, with fourteen marriages under her belt, Mac grew a bit weary of Wedding Day.

Until she experienced her seminal moment.

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