Wrestlers, degenerate reporters and a president on this week’s reading list

This post is part of the Sunday Salon, which is a group of bloggers who join together one day of the week to share what they’re reading, watching or simply what’s up in their life, although it’s mainly about what they are reading.

I’m finally finishing some books I started months ago and either wandered away from when a new and shiny book caught my attention (squirrel!) or simply filed away in the Kindle because it didn’t hold my interest.

shawnFirst up this week to finish was something I don’t normally read – the autobiography of a professional wrestler. Shawn Michaels, also known as the Heartbreak Kid, or by his real name of Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (no, really, that’s his real, non-showbiz name), wrote this second autobiography, “Wrestling for my Life: the Legend, The Reality, and The Faith of a WWE Superstar” several years after his first (that’s what you write when you’re too lazy to look up the date of his first autobiography)  and after becoming a Christian.

The book goes into some detail about how Michaels got his start as a wrestler, but not as much as a first autobiography would. Instead, this book is more about how his faith changed him and became the focal point of his life, seeping into every pore of his being, including professionally.  He writes about his struggles to learn what it means to be a man of faith, the stumbling steps he took toward kicking an alcohol and pill addiction and becoming a better man for his devoted wife, a former wrestler herself, and his children.  This is definitely “light reading” but as a practicing Christian myself, I see a lot of depth in Michaels’ words about his Christian walk.

lincolnA book I’m still plowing through, but haven’t yet finished is The Last Trial of Lincoln, which is about – ummm – the last, um, trial, of Lincoln. Hence the name.

But seriously, it’s a book about the final trial Abraham Lincoln served on as defense attorney before running for president. The basic plot is that Lincoln is defending a young man accused of murdering another man during a knife attack. The question is if it was premeditated or accidental. Much of the book is seen through the eyes of scribe Robert Hitt, the real-life scribe to the trial, whose handwritten manuscript of the trial was discovered in 1989 and is the basis of the book.

The full name of the book is actually “Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to The Presidency.” The author is Dan Abrams, chief legal analyst for ABC News and the book is often as wordy as his book titles (according to Amazon his last book was titled, “Man Down: Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.”)

The book is good, but it’s so chocked full of words and legal jargon and flashbacks that help to paint the picture of who Lincoln was as a lawyer, that I’m finding myself needing breaks from it to rest my poor, less-intellectual brain. I don’t want it to sound like the book is so deep it is unreadable, however, because it is actually entertaining. It’s simply that there are so many flashbacks that I am halfway through it and wondering if we will ever get to the end of the trial before the book ends. I’ll let you know if that happens or not.

A book I just started and read when I want something a little lighter, with quick to the point sentences, is the second book in the Fletch series, Carioca Fletch by Gregory McDonald. Technically, according to my husband, who really should be writing blog posts about books, this is not the “second” Fletch book but it is the book that follows the first book chronologically. In this book, Fletch is in Brazil, having escaped from his past adventure with his life and some money (I won’t spoil that book for you) and is confronted by an old woman who believes he is the reincarnation of her late husband, who was murdered. Now Fletch’s new Brazilian friends, if not Fletch himself, want Fletch to solve the murder and release the soul of the already deceased man.

Since I just started the book, I’m really not sure where it’s going to go but I have a feeling, based on the first Fletch book, it’s going to be a twisted tale where Fletch’s lack of empathy and humanity is going to be showing.

The people in it are pretty sad and without feeling so far, but for some reason, I can’t tear myself away, maybe because Fletch is a crooked journalist and I worked with a few of those during my time as a small town newspaper reporter at four newspapers in Pennsylvania and New York.

When I really need light reading, I turn to something very simple and lighthearted that doesn’t require any intellectual capability at all and for the past few months that has been the Paddington Bear series. Thank you, Michael Bond, for transporting me into a second childhood late at night when I’m trying to take my mind off of the screaming outside word. I’m currently on my third Paddington book – Paddington Abroad.

x400Writing this I am now realizing I’m, again, reading about a British bear, though the other book (Enchanted Places, the autobiography of Christopher Milne) wasn’t necessarily about the “bear” but the boy who was a friend of “the bear” (Winnie the Pooh). I guess there is something comforting to me about bears and the British, maybe because I still have the Teddybear I had as a child and … I have no idea about the British thing since I have no British family members.

So how about you? What are you reading this week? What’s inspiring you? What’s comforting you? What’s making you think?

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The town that lost its’ library

The day the library died in the tiny town of New Albany, Pennsylvania, rain fell from the clouds like a waterfall and didn’t stop. The already saturated ground gave way with nothing left to hold it in place. A week before the bottom floor of the library had taken on water in another flash flood, most likely weakening the foundation.
Volunteers were working to clean out the ruined books two days before the water rose again, sending water rushing up around the building as it had before, across the major highway running through town and toward the gas station in the middle of town.
This time the building couldn’t withstand the rush of the water. No one had expected it all to wash into highway it had sat next to for over 60 years, crumbling like a matchstick house, but it did, taking with it some of what one community member called “the dedication of so many to keep it going.”
The downstairs of the building, where the library was, was empty of people when the building collapsed, but a family upstairs was there and held on tight to each other as it fell and their apartment landed fully intact in the water rushing by. Neighbors and the local fire department helped to rescue them, pulling them out and across the rushing water to safety.
The building hadn’t always been a library. A few times it had been a store and above it was an apartment for those who ran the business downstairs. After it became the town library many volunteers, most middle-aged to older women who were retired or homemakers, filled it with books, organizing and categorizing and creating a gift for what some might call a dying town.
Inside its walls were whole new worlds; voices never before heard, thoughts never before thought, dreams never before dreamed, chances to be given, opportunities to be provided, and lives to be escaped for just a little while.
For some, a library doesn’t seem very important, especially in this modern age when books can be read on digital devices and smartphones. But to a town without much, a library can provide a sense of community, a sense of imagination, and even a feeling of belonging.
“Expand your mind” is the encouraging message added at the top of the library’s Facebook page, updated the week flood waters first damaged the library.
Who could blame members of the town if they felt a desire to give up a little bit more on the town when they saw the crumbled ruins of the library either in person or in photos. Some 30 years ago the only factory in town closed, and in subsequent years the town pool was filled in, the only local supermarket burned to the ground, the town bank closed, the elementary school closed, the population began to dwindle and hope began to fade.
The factory never came back but the store reopened and later became a mini-mart and gas station, there was still a post office, a beauty shop, a borough park where the pool once was, and a sense of community- if only one that hung by a thread.
While the town may be dying from an economic standpoint, there are some trying to keep the community feel alive by organizing family days, fire company fundraisers, and, of course, preschool storytime at the library.

Let’s be honest, anyone trying to keep the community feeling in a small town alive today should be commended since it isn’t the physical community that is dying in today’s society, but the idea behind what a community really is. Defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals,” the psychological idea of community is fading into a world where our primary form of communication is smartphones and social media, or anything that doesn’t involve actual in-person interaction.

When photos of the library smashed in the middle of Route 220 surfaced on social media last week a deep feeling of loss was expressed, maybe because so many remembered a simpler time when talking to people face-to-face was normal and days for reading and focusing on less than 10 activities at a time was normal.

 

Honestly, there isn’t much to the town anymore, in some ways. I grew up two miles from there and many of my days were spent riding bikes with my best friends, Julia and Sarah, on its’ streets. I attended the elementary school, swam in the community pool, walked to the local store for snacks, ate with my grandmother at the small diners that are now gone, and yes, even visited the library a couple of times.
For me and others, losing the library was like watching even more of the community break away. After the most recent flash flooding, the library won’t be the only building that will have to be torn down, a fact that only adds to the heartbreak.
“I can’t remember a time without the library,” one man said.
His mother, Doris, was one of the volunteers who worked to build the library’s collection. Now in a nursing home, she asks visitors from her hometown, “How’s the library doing?” Family and friends have decided they won’t tell her the truth about the building, but instead simply let her believe, as they’ve always told her, “It’s doing well.”
Another resident, Todd, said, “The library was a labor of love of so many people. There were many times when some thought it was not used and thus not needed, but these people persevered and keep it going. There were times when hardly anyone came, but they still were there during operating hours. The people were dedicated to keeping the library open, found ways to bring in new books and create programs for kids. And most recently, it became a place for local histories and genealogies. Breaks my heart to see it completely washed away. “
“I remember being very young and going to get a book. It was a big deal to be able to pick your own book out!” a cousin of mine, Gila, said. “I started volunteering at 16 with Doris. I’d stay a few years and then move on. I always came back.

She was one of the main volunteers running the library, updating and rearranging it in the years and months before the flood destroyed it.
Volunteers aren’t yet sure if, or how, they’ll rebuild the library. A fundraising effort has started and the hope is that one day they’ll find a new home where they can again open a  small bastion of imagination, nurtured community and unvetted learning in a small, sometimes physically crumbling town.
Since I recently rediscovered my love for reading full books, and not only short excerpts, I’d love to see the fundraiser succeed and for the spark of knowledge to be lit again. And maybe through it, a desire to rebuild the other parts of town damaged or falling apart even before the flood.
To learn more about the fundraiser to rebuild the library click on this link….

The week in review: swearing preschoolers, more rain, and a little local history

When I got back from picking up a few groceries one day this week my 11-year old niece let me know that my daughter, who will be four in October, had been placed in time out while I was gone for taking the Lord’s name in vain. My niece didn’t call it that because my niece hasn’t been brought up in the church so she doesn’t know the Christianese my family does, but she felt that my daughter saying “Jesus!” emphatically several times in a row was not appropriate and so she made her sit in time out. My daughter didn’t mind sitting in time out, by the way, but what did send her into a crying fit was when she was told she couldn’t watch any cartoons for the duration of the time-out. Her time-outs are three minutes so it’s not like not watching a cartoon for that duration is the end of the world, but I suppose it’s a big deal when you are almost four.

Now, in my house I have said “Jesus” several times in a row but not as a swear word. I deal with some chronic health issues so I have been known to say the name Jesus when I can’t think what else to pray. And sometimes I even say it emphatically. I thought maybe this is what my daughter was imitating but I didn’t really have time to try to figure it out at that moment because she needed a nap. I thanked my niece, took Little Miss up for her nap, and didn’t think much about it again until that night at bedtime.

We read The Oscar the Grouch book two times and then she told me she’d learned something that day.

I said, “oh? What did you learn?”

“I learned that geez louise is a really bad word,” she said seriously. “It is not good to say.”

I said, “is that what you were saying today with your cousin?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding and looking a bit bewildered by it all.

Though her brother says he heard her and knows she was saying “Jesus” I have a feeling she thought she was saying “geez louise” and never thought she was somehow swearing at the heavens.

I let her know that geez louise isn’t necessarily a polite word but in our house, it isn’t considered a swear word. After that conversation, I felt relieved my daughter hadn’t picked up an offensive way to speak about Jesus and looked forward to the day her articulation is more developed.


It rained all week again, which left the little town I grew up near dealing with some flooding. I live about 40 minutes north now and we escaped any major damage but we were ready for some sunshine and a change of scenery by the weekend so we traveled to a historical site near us called French Azilum.

It’s touted as the place where Marie Antionette was going to live if she had escaped France alive, which, of course, she didn’t, instead losing her head to the guillotine. A group of her servants traveled on ahead, however, eventually settling the land in the area along the river before some of them eventually returned to France and others left the settlement and founded other villages around the county, including the village I grew up in.

One of the main highlights of the site is the Laporte House, which was built in 1836 by John Laporte, a son of one of the original French settlers. The home is original and provides a look at how life was lived in the early days of our country. Mr. Laporte was a US Senator, a state representative, his family name was carried on in the town name of the county seat of our neighboring county, Sullivan County, and apparently, he was also a very tall and large man at 6′ something and 300 some pounds. A tour of the home and where his family would have lived is something that I had never experienced before, despite living in the area my entire life and having visited the site more than once over the years. My mom has told me I did tour the house at least once, as a child, and though I don’t remember that tour, the house did seem vaguely and eerily familiar to me, which I figured was simply because I grew up in and around very old houses.

A Civil War encampment had been set up on the grounds, unrelated to the historical site, and we were being given a tour by the local historian and camp commander when he was called away to a cast iron frying pan throwing contest. Yes, you read right – a cast iron frying pan throwing contest.

 

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We decided this wasn’t something we wanted to miss so we headed to a field to watch women in long dresses toss cast iron pans toward the camp commander to see how far they could throw. I believe the longest toss was about 37 feet and it was a young girl with a wicked pitching arm. Apparently, the tossers normally have their husbands or intended stand out in the field as a “bit of motivation” for their throw. This time they had the local historian instead and luckily he came out unscathed.

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I was asked to participate and I declined, a decision I now regret, because, as I told my sister-in-law later in the day, I don’t feel you’ve fully lived until you’ve tossed a cast iron pan at a man in a field. If I’m ever asked to toss a pan again I’ll definitely take them up on the offer.

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Why I didn’t want to tell my son about the death of Anthony Bourdain

I didn’t even know him.

Not really.

But yet it was almost like losing a close friend.

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Photo by the Wall Street Journal digital artwork by Lisa R. Howeler

I’d had a crappy night of sleep with two sick kids and I had reached for my phone to see what time it was. There it is was on my screen- a note from my sister in law expressing shock to the obituary story she had attached.

“No. It isn’t possible.”

I thought this over and over in my bleary-eyed, not fully awake state.

The man who had taken me around the world so many times without me even having to leave my house was dead. I typed out the word “nooo!” to my sister-in-law, as if that word would stop it from being true.

I felt numb and sick to my stomach. It must have been his heart, I thought.

Or something he ate.

He was always eating weird things and something finally got him. Or a car accident or his plane went down while they were traveling to somewhere exotic.

My heart sank when I clicked the link. I was in shock when I read the words.

Suicide?!

Suicide?

Suicide.

It’s like the word wouldn’t even make sense to me.

Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide.

I follow him on social media and recently I had noticed he was looking thin and tired but he travels a lot so I figured he was exhausted. It had been a stressful couple of years. A whirlwind break-up followed by a whirlwind romance and then all that traveling.

Now all that traveling I loved to watch him do was over and the only trip he’d most likely be making was a one-way flight back to the states to be buried.

Suicide.

I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the horror of it all and the horror for Eric Ripert, his best friend, to find him that way. And his daughter. Oh, my heart ached and my head felt funny at the thought of her being told.

I’ve never been a traveler – partially because of finances and partially because I’ve lived a life of fear. Tony made me want to live a life of courage in my small world and if I couldn’t go to all those fancy places just yet I could at least watch him visit them. My son learned about much of the world from a very young age while his dad and I traveled with Tony.

We let him watch episodes we probably shouldn’t have at 4 and 5 and he was introduced to death on an episode where a pig was slaughtered. Granted, this was the age when “No Reservations” was already streaming so we could fast forward the scene, but my kid is wise beyond his years and he knew what was happening despite our attempts to shield him.

We haven’t been able to shield him much these last couple years – not from heartache and anxiety and death. First, the big loss was our dog of 14 years, the dog that had always been his. Then it was a 17-year-old cat, again there all his 11 years. Then the worst blow came four days after Christmas this year when he lost his great-aunt, who had lived with his grandparents since he was four. His head was spinning. School pressure was mounting. Panic attacks were becoming the norm.

We’ve walked through it with him with every loss, every question, every tear, and every crying storm. All the advice says you have to tell your child directly and bluntly about the person who has died so they don’t feel they are being lied to or misled.

When I told my son about his great aunt I was apparently too blunt. I was so nervous because I’d never had to tell him something so hard – not even the death of his dog could compare to this. I blurted out “Dianne died.”

Died. I used the word died because all the articles I found on Google told me to. “Don’t use the words ‘passed on’ or ‘went to a better place,’” the proverbial “they” said. “It needs to be clear to the child the person is dead and never coming back.”

I was so numb from the sudden loss I really didn’t think it through because that advice was for young people, not 11-year olds who clearly know the meaning of the word “dead” but would also understand the term “passed away” would mean the same thing.

He clearly knows what death is and here I was that morning knowing I needed to rip the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death off like a band-aid but, ugh, crap and darn it all to hell, I simply didn’t want to. Especially because I had to add the word “suicide” to the ripping.

“For a little while today I’ll shelter him,” I told myself. “We don’t have cable so he won’t hear it there.”

And all the traditional advice says the news of death must come from someone the child loves so I knew I couldn’t shelter him for long.

The ripping started with the lifting of the edge and then just one fast, hard pull. When I told him he said “oh that’s sad,” but he didn’t take it as hard as I thought. He did, however, express the same denial I did when I told him they thought he’d taken his own life.

“That’s just not possible,” he said. “I don’t believe that part of the story.”

We both agreed it wasn’t possible and we comforted ourselves in our denial of it all.

What Anthony Bourdain taught me

“[When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”
― Anthony Bourdain

I’m not sure how healthy it is to cry off and on for two days over the death of a person you didn’t even know but this week I have done that.

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Photo from nuvomagazine.com

Cutting myself a little slack, I know some of the emotions from the death of writer and former “chef” Anthony Bourdain stem from the still raw loss of my aunt, and the unsteady feeling I now live with that my world is tilting a bit off kilter. Bourdain was a man who called himself simply a “cook” when others called him a chef and became well known after writing an essay about working in the cooking industry and even more well known from a show on the Travel Network called “No Reservations” and his recent TV foray on CNN called “Parts Unknown.”

I don’t like change. I never have. I’m a creature of habit and like my routines. I don’t like things to be different, no matter if it’s a change in my toothpaste to a change in who is in my life. I don’t mind spontaneous moments or last minute plan changes, within reason, but I don’t like when that change of plan includes the removal of people from my life.

Anthony Bourdain wasn’t really part of my life, yet he was. He was who I listened to when I needed to be reminded the world was bigger than this small town I lived in. He was who I went to when I needed to remember I may have had a cruddy day but there was always great tasting, delicious food available to be cooked and sampled to make it seem a little better.

My family watched reruns of No Reservations on Saturday nights and I cooked while the dishes Tony ate inspired me to try harder to create something worth eating.

When I say Tony reminded me there was food to help my day seem better, I don’t mean it in that unhealthy “using food as a crutch” way. It’s simply that food is good and good tasting food is even better. We are humans and we need to eat and if we are going to eat we might as well eat food that tastes good. Good tasting food doesn’t always mean processed, crap food, either, as Tony showed on his shows.

Yeah, sure he featured scenes of him gorging on some of the most disgusting processed, chemically-laced food you’ve ever seen more than a few hundred times over the years but he also showcased some of the most simple, divine and flavorful dishes on the planet created with some of the most delicious and healthy ingredients known to man.

To be honest, I didn’t see Anthony Bourdain living much beyond his 60s. I always thought he would die from a heart attack induced by some of the garbage he shoved into his pie hole, as he might call it. The thought of a day when he wasn’t around to watch do crazy things and eat even more bizarre things was always unsettling to me so I tried not to think about it. I knew it would come, though, but I thought it would be years from now and from a plane crash, a diving accident, food poisoning, a shark attack, not from his body hanging from the end of a bathrobe belt.

Anthony and I didn’t agree when it came to the spiritual world. He was an outspoken atheist, maybe sometimes an agnostic, and I have always been a Christian. There are lessons he taught with his life that I don’t want to learn from, nor or they lessons I care for my children to heed. By his own admission, he did too many drugs and drank too much (though he had been drug free for many years before he died) and he frequented places I never would have. Still, I learned a lot from Anthony Bourdain, and not just what not to do.

For one, he taught me to live fully and ironically he taught me this one even more so by his death.

Anthony definitely knew how to go out and experience every bit of life he could – traveling to every country you could think of, eating meals and meeting people wherever he went. I don’t experience every bit of life and it’s a change I hope I can make in the future. I want to experience freely and fearlessly, while recognizing the need to shield body and soul from things that could steal the joy of life from me.

Anthony showed me how to taste fully, breathe fully, feel fully, laugh loudly and immerse myself wholeheartedly in life. He did that and I wish I knew what made him forget how amazing that could be.

With all that traveling, much of it without his family, it’s clear that Anthony probably faced some very lonely nights. Lonely nights where he was trapped with his thoughts, fears, regrets.

Maybe he regretted not seeing his daughter more, of leaving two wives, of drinking too much, hurting too many. We don’t yet know what drove him to end his life the way he did but it’s really no surprise the demons he battled with finally overtook him and drowned out the voice of reason and hope and the love he’d always had for life. Some don’t believe in real demons, but I do. I believe in servants of the devil who whisper lies in our ears.

“You’re not good enough.”

“You will never realize your dream.”

“You’re a horrible mother.”

“You are unloveable and indescribably impossible to care about.”

“You’ll never be worthy of love.”

Who knows what lies were whispered in Anthony Bourdain’s ears that night. Whispers that grew to deafening screams that he only knew one way to drown out. I can’t save Anthony Bourdain. I wish I could. Oh, how I wish I could. But maybe we can save someone else. Maybe we can drown out the whispers with words of life. Words of hope. And the word of truth.

For we are all wonderfully made.

We were created out of love by an ultimate creator to be loved and to show love.

And you, and I, were created to life fully alive.

So let’s do that until God decides it’s time for us to live fully with Him.

I don’t know if living life fully is what Anthony Bourdain would have thought his life, and even his death, would have taught someone, but both were worthy lessons for me to learn.

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