Book Review – Second Nature

Second Nature: A NovelSecond Nature: A Novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a Jacquelyn Mitchard fan.  I’ve read most of her books, and this one did not disappoint.  It’s a continuation of the saga of the Cappadora family Mitchard made famous in her novel, “The Deep End of the Ocean.”  This books follows Sicily Coyne, who is burned in a church fire when she is 13 years old.  Half a life-time later she is given a second chance when she is offered a face transplant surgery.  Sicily’s life intertwines with the Cappadoras when she asks Beth to document her transformation with her beautiful photography.  What happens next changes Sicily’s, and the Cappadora’s family, lives forever.

Beautiful.  Powerful.  Mitchard is a master with words.  Like most of her novels, I wanted to read, read, read and never come up for air.  This novel is engaging and makes the reader appreciate having a normal face that so many of us take for granted.  The ending, again like most Mitchard books, left me wanting more.  Mitchard knows how to write about life in such a real, but poignant way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and hope that Mitchard writes more about Sicily Coyne and the Cappadora family.

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Happy 67th Birthday, Mom

As always we are  missing you this day

A photo collection of a few pictures of my Mother on her 67th Birthday

Mom as a baby
Mom at 13
Mom in her 20s in Washington, D.C.
My most favorite picture of my Mother
My parents shortly after they were married
My parents on their wedding day in Rockville, MD in 1971
My mom and my sister in 1972
My mom and a baby me and my big sister in 1978
My Mom and my brother in the early 90s
My Mom and Dad and their dog, Minni
Me and my parents at my college graduation in 2007
The last picture I ever took of my mother, on my daughter’s birthday in 2007

This is the fifth birthday we’ve celebrated without you, Mom. The last birthday you had on earth was your 62nd. Unfortunately you were sick that day and we never got to celebrate it. I’ll never forget it because it was the night of that horrible Trolley Square tragedy. The siblings and I always get together on your birthday to talk about you and to celebrate your life.  We have lots of funny stories to share.  You always made everyone laugh.  Whenever I tell a “punny” joke, I think of you.  

I got to be honest, this time of year is hard for me.  Sometimes I get so angry because I don’t understand why you had to go.  It’s in these moments I hate cancer so much.  Losing you has had a profound affect on my life.  I can never go back to the person I was before your cancer diagnosis.  She is gone now too.  Sometimes I look at the women around me who are about my age who take their mothers for granted and I just want to shake them and ask them if they know how lucky they are.  The thing that hurts the worst, though, is that I feel the years slipping away from the last time I was with you.  The other day I was reading some emails from when you were sick and they just felt like it was such a long time ago.  And if that was a long time ago, that means it was a long time ago that I had a mom.  That I had you.

Whenever I read a good book I know you would enjoy, I wish I could give it to you so I could call you up later and we could talk about it, like we used to.  I miss your guidance and direction in my life.  I miss your unconditional love and support of me.  You used to tell me that I was as smart as I was beautiful, and I would believe you when you said it.  I wish I could call you up and tell you your only granddaughter started piano lessons this week, carrying on our family tradition.  She practices on the same piano Poppy played, that grandma left to me when she died.  I wish I could tell you the funny and/or cute thing your littlest grandson namesake did.  I wish I could tell you how my oldest son is addicted to video games like his father, and you would laugh and shake your head.  I wish I could tell you how smart, funny, and sweet all your grandkids are.  How great it is that the cousins are forever friends.  You would be so proud of them.  

I wish you could wrap your arms around me when I cry when people are big meany heads or when life seems too overwhelming sometimes.  All of these I took for granted when you here, alive and well.  Back when life made sense.  I have faith, mommy, that I’ll see you again and that you’re watching over us right now as our own personal guardian angel.  But like M’lynn says in Steel Magnolias, “maybe I’m just selfish because I’d rather have her here.”  

Life goes on.  Your death taught us that.  You left a great legacy behind you.  Children who love and miss you.  Grandchildren who are proud to be yours.  You left a piece of you with all of us.  I can feel you in so many moments.  Tender moments with my children and I flashback to a time of you and I together when I was a child.  Every time I finish a book.  Whenever I wear a piece of your jewelry.  Whenever someone laughs at one of my jokes or tells me I look like you.  I feel you in those moments.  Recently Jessica’s mom said that I look like you and I was so proud in that moment.  What greater legacy can you leave me than your face in mine?  Your eyes in mine?

I hope that I make you proud as a mother and as a daughter.  I’m who I am today because of you.  I’m trying to instill the lessons and values you imprinted on my heart into your grandchildren.  They are kind and that’s what matters to me most.  You might be gone, but you’re still a part of my world.

Happy Birthday, Mom…


Your Girl Baby

(Edited to add:  my kind friends let me write up a post on their blog in tribute to my mother about taking her endowments out as her proxy a few years ago)

15 Albums that Changed my Life

I like making lists. So here is a list of 15 albums that had a significant impact on my life and why.
 “Abbey Road” by The Beatles
Frankly, all of The Beatles’ albums have had a profound effect on me. I came to love The Beatles in high school and they are by far my favorite band. They are musical geniuses. Their melodies and harmonies are amazing! And how they constantly changed their style over time, which is extremely hard to do. They have influenced every band that has come after them. I could never fully articulate what their music means to me. I heart The Beatles!

“Little Earthquakes” by Tori Amos
Tori Amos wrote this music as her recovery from a horrific rape. This music is hauntingly beautiful. It also helped me during a very dark time in my life. Tori is a gifted artist and proves that from tragedy can come amazing triumph and beautiful art. “Silent all these years” has become an anthem for abused women everywhere. Tori has never stayed silent and has always spoken her truth.

“Weezer” aka the Blue Album by Weezer
This came out in 1994 and sounded different than anything I had ever heard before and I LOVED IT. Here were kids that were the weirdos in high school and rock harder than all the “cool kids.” Weezer will always be one of my faves.

“Songs about Jane” by Maroon 5
I could listen to this entire album over and over again and not get sick of it. I was at a point in my life where I never thought I’d ever hear any new music again and love it. I was wrong! Unfortunately their sophomore effort wasn’t nearly as creative or meaningful.

“August and Everything After” by Counting Crows
Words cannot explain how much I love this album. Another album I could listen to from beginning to end and never get sick of it. Like “Little Earthquakes” this is a album that helped me work through some tough times. Because, ’round here, we always stand up straight. I have new favorite songs off this album every time I listen to it.

“Pieces of You” by Jewel
I hated the first single off this album, “Who will save your souls?” but when I heard “You were meant for me” for the first time, I became a Jewel fan. I’m still amazed that a homeless girl living out of her van in San Diego wrote this beautiful album. The most profound line in the title track is, “do you hate her ’cause she’s pieces of you?” Those songs still touch me.

“Stadium Arcadium” by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers Honestly, the best work done by the Chilli Peppers in their 20 year career. I could listen to both discs over and over again, ad infinitum, and they would still sound fresh and amazing. Like a fine wine, the Chilli Peppers just get better with age.

“Taking the long way” by The Dixie Chicks
I was not a Dixie Chicks fan until 2003 when they had the courage to stand up against the whole world and declare that dissent is patriotic. Their words on “Not Ready to Make nice” helped me heal the wounds I had suffered at being called every name in the book for being against the Iraq War. Five Grammys and a few years later they were proven right. Also, the song “Silent House” makes me cry every time because I think of my mother. “And I will try to connect all the pieces you left. I will carry them on and let you forget. And I’ll remember the years when your mind was clear. All the laughter and life filled up this Silent House.” Amazing.

“Tragic Kingdom” by No Doubt
My first introduction to No Doubt. Simply amazing from beginning to end. I remember seeing the video for “Just a Girl” on 120 Minutes on MTV and thinking they were like nothing I had ever heard before. This album basically defines the summer between my senior year in high school and frosh year in college.

“Time Out” by Dave Brubeck
I took an Intro to Jazz class my frosh year and this is the album I love the most from it. It reminds me of my Grandpa and his love of Jazz.

“Ropin’ the Wind” by Garth Brooks
I remember hearing “Shameless” for the first time as a 13 year old girl and knowing that I wanted to love and be loved like that. The amazing thing is, the song was written by Billy Joel. I have every song Garth ever recorded on my iPod, but this one is my favorite. Garth’s the only country music artist I unequivocally adore. I went to see him live in 1998 and besides sitting in front of some psycho people, that concert was amazing. I don’t know what it is about his music that speaks to my soul, but it does.

“Luck of the Draw” by Bonnie Raitt
Who hasn’t cried while listening to “I can’t make you love me?” Or least had their heart break a little. The whole album is genius and Raitt’s voice is to die for.

“Come on Come on” by Mary Chapin Carpenter There are so many songs I love on this album. The song “Only a Dream” reminds me of when my sister left for law school and walking into her empty room and feeling her absence so completely. Recently listening to the title track, “Come on Come on,” really spoke to me as she describes looking at pictures of her parents on their honeymoon and saying, “now you’re older than they were then that summer night.” The longing, sadness, and her melancholy in that song is something I can identify with more than I ever thought I would listening to this album over and over again in junior high.

“Erasure Pop! – The first 20 hits” by Erasure
When I feel a little down, Erasure can always lift my spirits. I love their ABBA rip offs and their original music. This album helped me get healthy as I would wake up at the butt crack of dawn and walk 3 miles around my neighborhood with this in my Walkman. Yes, I said Walkman. It was the 90s and they were cool.

“Les Miserables: The Complete Symphonic Version” Introduced to me in Junior High, the story of Les Mis and Jean Valjean has touched my life. The words in this musical are truly inspiring. And they were translated from French! I’ve seen the stage production four times and anticipate seeing it again many more times in the future.  
“Take my hand, I’ll lead you to salvation. Take my love. For love is everlasting. And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.” Those were the last words I sang to my Mom a few hours before she passed away.

Book Review – Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Jaime Ford’s debut fiction novel.  The book is set in two time periods: the 1940s during World War II and forty-years later in the mid-1980s.  The story follows Henry Lee, a first generation Chinese boy, with very nationalistic and loyal parents to China, living in Seattle, Washington.  His father especially follows the war between China and Japan closely and considers any Japanese person an enemy.  Henry is caught between two worlds.  His parents send him to an English school to learn “his American,” and yet Henry feels the loneliness of being a minority. He’s not American enough for the whites kids, and not Chinese enough for the Chinese kids.  It’s here that Henry meets Keiko, a Japanese-American girl.  They quickly become friends, a friendship that could damage his relationship with his parents.  Through Keiko, Henry learns the harsh realities of war and life when Keiko and her family are sent off to the Japanese internment camps.  The adult Henry of the 1980s has just lost his wife to cancer after taking care of her for a decade and is looking back at his life.  He has an adult son he’s trying to navigate a new relationship with without his wife being able to bridge the gap between them.

Ford did a beautiful job intertwining the two stories of Henry’s childhood and later adulthood.  In this novel, he explores what it means to be both Chinese and American.  He chronicles the Japanese internment camps without judgement of what the United States government decided to do with it’s own citizens.  He could have turned this novel into a morality play, but instead chose to focus on how circumstances out of our a person’s control can have great alternating affects on their life and future.

It took me two weeks to read this book, when normally I can read a book in a week or less, because I would stop and think about how I would have reacted if I was faced with the same things Henry faced as a boy.  Would I have been able to reject my parents bigotry to befriend an “enemy?”  Would I be willing to make the sacrifices Henry made for Keiko, even as he risked losing her forever?

Most of all, this novel made me want to go to Seattle and explore the places Ford talks about in this book.  I already have Pioneer Square, Bud’s Records, and the Panama Hotel on my list of places to visit the next time I’m there.

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