Going Gray: What I Learned About…

going-gray-book

Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty,Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Really Matters, by Anne Kreamer. Originally published in 2007. 224 pages.

This is another one of those books which caught my eye as I was perusing the library shelves. I almost left it there because it would probably be best to finish the stack of books in the queue before adding another one to it. However, since the topic is one that interests me for a number of reasons, I picked it up. I’m glad I checked it out. Despite the fact that it started to go off point at about the half way mark, the first half was worth the time I spent reading it.

Kreamer started out with an excellent premise after being taken aback a bit by a photo of her 49-year-old self with her dyed brown hair. She wondered about the authenticity of the choice she’d made many years earlier to start dyeing her hair, since she began to gray a little earlier than usual. This epiphany of sorts led her not only to begin the process of letting her gray hair grow in uncolored, but also on an exploration of the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s of a culture where 2/3 of women over aged 40 dye our hair.

I color my hair as well, but just as my greater journey towards health led me to stop chemically straightening my hair, I have recently begun to wonder if I should stop coloring it also. I haven’t gotten off the bottle yet, but the urge to do so is getting stronger and stronger the healthier and stronger my body becomes.

The best parts of this book are to be found in the first 100 pages. Kreamer starts with the day she embarked on her journey, and then transitions into the history of events which have gotten us to where we are today. She explores the beginnings of the cosmetic and chemical “advances” that put hair coloring within the reach of average women:

Three or four decades after the baby boomers’ countercultural transformation of the culture, we have held on to the hedonistic forever young part of our Woodstock dreams much more tenaciously than the -open-and-honest-and-authentic part. p. 38

She continues:

Our present era of mainstreamed artificial hair color began in the 1950s and 60s. But the tipping point came, I believe, during the 1980s–when the oldest baby boomers entered middle age and the grand illusion of permanent physical youthfulness really became widespread and almost obligatory. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a man with *impossibly black hair in his seventies (as well as glowing, ruddy skin) blithely and belovedly presided over the country during that decade. p.39

She touches on the technological advances in mass media that give average women hope that they can look youthful until the day they breather their last. She uses her Hollywood insider contacts to get the take of those whose livelihoods depend on appearances. She interviews many friends, acquaintances, and relatives of all ages to get a read on the thoughts, fears, and motivations which compel them to color (or in a few cases NOT color) their hair. The passionate engagement she documents-on both sides of the issue- serve to reveal the emotion bubbling beneath the surface on the topic of our hair, aging, and what our hair represents as we age.

Most of the women I talked to for this book admitted that their number one anxiety about letting their hair go gray was not a fear about how quickly they were closing in on their actuarial death dates–rather, it was that they’d instantly be seen as sexless, grandmotherly old ladies.

There’s an entire litany of responses I could offer up to that quote, but this is a book review. It was this part of the book where Kreamer goes off on a weird tangent which I found unnecessary for a woman happily married for more than two decades, whose children are all grown up. I appreciate that there are many women who approach their 40s in relationship situations far less idyllic than myself or Mrs. Kreamer, but her foray into the bar scene and onto Match.com left me cold. I didn’t see the point and because of it I found those parts of the book less satisfying as it moved forward.

Near the end of the book, Kreamer delves more into the practical realities for those women ready to take the plunge and dump the dye. She talks about appropriate clothing, colors, and the wardrobe overhaul necessary so that she didn’t in fact, look like a grandmother. The end of the book, like the beginning, was far better than the middle. She also delves a it into  how gray hair is viewed in the professional realm.

Overall, because of the subject matter and historical context, I enjoyed the book. It isn’t a grand slam, but it was enjoyable enough, and written in a conversational tone which enabled me to read it in two days. I am not a fast reader, so that’s saying something.

On a personal note, it was a good and revelatory experience for me to embrace the truth that the coloring of my hair is an exercise in sleight of hand. Because I have the ethnic advantage of wrinkling late while spending the majority of my time during the week with people of different ethnicities, there is a certain boost that comes with hearing, “You don’t look that old!” Letting the gray come in might certainly interfere with that vain enjoyment. I’ve gotten into the habit of enjoying photographs which remind me that we are simply not the 40-something women of our grandmother’s generation, for better or for worse:

beautiful-gray

That’s my personal take on my journey to embracing the skin I am in. As for the book, I give it a grade of C.

Content advisory: Frank talk about sexuality, including two or three bits of profanity from interviews Kreamer conducted.

*My 92-year-old grandmother is only about 50% gray so it’s not necessarily true that everyone of a certain age has a completely white head. Graying is genetic.

 

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

the-glass-castle The Glass Castle: a Memoir, by Jeanette Wells. Originally published in 2005. 289 pages.

One of our daughters asked me about 6 months ago if I had ever read The Glass Castle. I answered in the negative, but assured her that I would get around to it. I hadn’t gotten around to it as of a month ago, either. So when our local library dropped it on my doorstep I knew immediately who had ordered it and that I needed to get reading. Obviously the book had impacted her enough that she wanted someone to share her thoughts on it with.

If you don’t want to sink, you’d better learn how to swim.

This well worn axiom, uttered by Jeanette Walls’ father while he “taught” her to swim jumped out at me for several reasons. The first was that it is the way my husband described his father’s parenting philosophy. Second, was that the Walls’ kids had better learn to swim because if they found themselves sinking, their parents were in no way equipped to throw them a life raft, even if they wanted to.

As I began reading this memoir I was hooked from the first page, finding myself pulled in to a dysfunctional and chaotic life that was just another day at the office for Jeanette Walls, her parents, and her three siblings. Her recounting was equal parts astonishing and heart rending, but I was horrified enough that neither of those emotions were able to take root as I continued to read the book.

Rex and Mary Walls were highly intelligent and gifted people who were also far too eccentric and self-centered to be good parents. On the one hand they educated their children much more effectively than any school they attended or could have attended. But what good was that when the children were dirty, the family often went without food, and the children were reduced to scavenging dumpsters for a bite to eat?

They taught their children to be strong and make their way in the world by refusing to be overprotective. However, their utter refusal to protect their children when it mattered most revealed that any self-sufficiency they acquired was a result of that sink or swim dynamic I opened this post with. It certainly wasn’t a calculated parenting strategy.

My thoughts on the overall presentation of the book are mixed. Quite frankly, I have a pretty big wall of skepticism when it comes to recounting early childhood memories in vivid detail the way Walls does in this book. Whether it was that skepticism or the utter disbelief I felt that such gifted people could be such terrible parents, I often found myself incredulous and looking at the book as if I were reading a novel rather than a memoir.

The chapters were short, snippets of moments which one can assume must be those things that left the greatest impression on the author. That the children were able to escape, with three of the four experiencing unexpected levels of success, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Walls’ descriptions of her parents, despite their failings, are wrapped in the residual affection of a woman who as a young girl was awed by her father and fascinated with her mother. Her understanding of her parents’ clearly unbalanced nature softens the veracity with which she reveals the shortcomings which caused she and her siblings so much pain and instability throughout their childhoods.

Worth a read.

Grade:B-

Content advisory: Mental illness, domestic violence, alcoholism, instances of child sexual abuse (not at the hands of the parents)

 

 

 

 

 

El’s Rabbit Trails: Misinformation Overload 

A conversation had with my husband: 

Relative: “You all set to vote Trump?”

“I’ll have to sit this one out.”

Relative: “I thought you liked him. But you can vote for Hillary.”

“If I had to pick one of the two it would NOT be her. ”

Relative: “We can’t let him in there. He’s all mixed up with the KKK.”

“Yeah, because a rich New Yorker is way more likely to be mixed up with KKK than a woman whose husband grew up in an Arkansas trailer park.”

The Lion’s Paw

lions-paw-book

The Lion’s Paw, by Rob White. Published in 1946. 243 pages.

12-year-old Penny and her 9-year-old brother Nick live in an orphanage on the east coast of Florida. Nick doesn’t much remember living anywhere else and Penny just barely remembers a life before they came there. They hate it, and Nick dreams of running away, but his sister is terrified at the prospect. The orphanage doesn’t like it when kids run away and those who try are almost always caught and made an example of. She tries to talk Nick out of it, but he is determined.

Penny can’t let her little brother run off on his own of course so they escape together, running towards the ocean, hoping to find a boat in which sail away. They determined to start a new life away from the orphanage, which they referred to as the “eganahpro”, because they only ever saw the word written backwards through the wrought iron gates which held them captive.

After Penny and Nick make a run for it  and set off on their adventure, they have the good fortune of running into 15-year-old Ben on the wharf. Ben not only has the boat that he inherited from his father (an WWII Navy lieutenant  presumed dead after a year MIA), but life has thrown him a curve ball inspiring him to run away from his uncle’s as well. The three children set sail together on an adventure far too big for children of their age and station, yet rise to the occasion.

This is an obscure book which once enjoyed a passionate following among Florida readers and educators in the 1960’s and 70’s, and then was out of print for a very long time. I only encountered it because I was looking for books specifically about Florida and Old Florida life. Re-entering the market in 2004, The Lion’s Paw is again enjoying a resurgence among those who know enough to seek it out.

Make no mistake however, this touching, fast paced novel is good reading no matter where you live,where you’re from, or how old you are. C.S. Lewis’ admonition about the timelessness -and age defying quality- of a well told story certainly fits here. Rob White hits all the right notes as the children wrestle with trying to out run the adults searching the seas for their masterfully disguised boat, battle against nature, and grapple with their out fears and uncertainties about the future they face on a journey bigger than themselves.

If you have kids who might like a great story of children on an adventure at sea, you should try and get your hands on a copy of Robb White’s The Lion’s Paw. It might also be a great idea to print a map of Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway to track the kids’ trip from one side of the Florida peninsula to the other.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Mayhem and adventure on the high seas, but nothing the average 9-year old can’t handle. Lots of nautical terminology which provides a good opportunity for the kids to do some research on what it all means.

 

 

Yarn Over: It’s International Crochet Day!

crochet-day

I have to tell you…normally I find these obscure specialty holidays just so much silliness. They serve no purpose at all. Really, who cares? Very few, not even those who are fond of the craft, food, animal, season, sport, people, or disease being thrust into the spotlight of “awareness” even care about these holidays.

I must confess that in our house, we have been known to cook one or two (or ten) of the foods listed on The Kitchn’s National Food Holidays list. That however, is just because we love any excuse to get together in the kitchen. If the aim is to prepare something new exotic or different, all the better. Still, given that the origin of the word holiday is built around the idea of celebrating Holy days, the “every day is a holiday” thing rubs me the wrong way.

When my daughter sent me the link to International Crochet DayInternational Crochet Day, the only reason it resonated at all is because our two youngest are currently planning and crocheting Christmas presents for numerous family members- in earnest. Yarn is center stage right now:

crochet1

crochet2

So…even though I still think the “every thing deserves a holiday” thing is kind of stupid, my kids found the fact that today is International Crochet Day  kind of neat. Because they’re kids.

Edited to add: I just remembered a quotable literary quote that well explains my acknowledging a silly holiday while simultaneously decrying silly holidays.

How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.-Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Tell me again why more people don’t spend copious amounts of time reading if they can?

Quotable Literary Quotes #3

Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly. – Emma, by Jane Austen

This has always been one of my favorite quotes, although I am not sure I could tell you why that is. It is partly because of my own life and history, although I dare not try to unravel here the tangled mess which are my thoughts on that subject.

Mostly however it stays with me as a reminder: That it would do us all well to keep our eyes on our own paper, endeavor to do good and not wickedness, and leave most others (not all as there are people in our charge), but most all others to decipher for themselves what is folly outside of general truisms.

What a disaster it would be to offer counsel from our vantage point which is a stark contrast to what is folly from theirs.

Quotable Literary Quotes #2

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”- C. S. Lewis

Several years ago I don’t know that I would have appreciated the truth of this statement. However right now  I am reading through Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind and the Willows at bedtime with my kids and enjoying it immensely. I am as riveted by the adventures of Rat, Mole, and Toad as my kids are, so I can relate to what Lewis said above.

What passes for children’s literature today is in large part the reason why many adults bypass children’s literature. However, Lewis Carroll is a far cry from Annie Barrows. The latter my girls enjoy reading, while I could not care less for the Ivy + Bean series as a source of personal reading pleasure. There are those books which at least get them reading, and then there are those books that stay with them for a lifetime.

After reading one children’s book out of curiosity about a regional author, and yet another in anticipation of the class I am teaching this fall (review forthcoming), I am finding that I am drawn to well written children’s writing as much if not more so than the classic literature written for adult audiences. The artistry, skill, and language of Kenneth Grahame is just as deep and rewarding as the writing of Charlotte Bronte. And I have to say that The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, while unquestionably written with the young child in mind, is equally exciting to the little girl hidden in me.

If you don’t know quite what to read and are a bit burnt out on the current offerings, I strongly suggest that you all consider re-reading (or in many cases reading for the first time) some classic children’s literature.

We never really outgrow well written stories.

 

Honey For a Child’s Heart

honey-child-heart

Honey for a Child’s Heart (3rd edition), by Gladys Hunt.1989. 224 pages.

I am always trying to decide which books we should check out from the library, which books are worth spending the money to add to our personal library, and which books are a good fit for our children’s personalities, reading tastes, and abilities. A random trip to the local library overwhelms with staggering numbers of books on the shelves, purportedly to enrich children’s reading, and more are added every year.

One of the things I discuss quite often with other home school mothers is this very subject, and one of them asked me recently, “Have you ever read Honey for a Child’s Heart?” As it turns out, I had never even heard of the book, but I wasted no time getting my hands on a copy and read it in a much quicker space of time than is typical for me.

However, despite the wonderful thoughts inspired by the book, and there were quite a few, there were also portions I felt were unnecessarily pretentious. I couldn’t stop myself, at the end, from thinking that Anthony Esolen’s  10 Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child was much better executed and matter of fact while equally well written and eloquent.

Honey for a Child’s Heart is different in that it is an explicitly Christian book, with a strong emphasis on bolstering the Christians values that the parents are already imparting to the child.It also focuses primarily on reading while 10 Ways touches on various aspects of developing a child’s natural imaginative bent.

Thankfully, unlike so many Christians today, Mrs. Hunt recognizes the danger and deficit we inflict on children when we take the position that only those things explicitly marked “Christian” are of any value or worth. More than that, this mindset has in recent years resulted in a severe dearth of imaginative, creative writing from Christian writers:

Since words are the way we communicate experiences, truth, and situations, who should know how to use them more creatively than people who are aware of their Creator? The world cries out for imaginative people who can spell out truth in words that communicate meaningfully to people in their human situation. And of all people, committed Christians ought to be the most creative for they are indwelt by the Creator.

Yet tragically, Christians often seem the most inhibited and poverty-stricken in human expression and creativity. Part of this predicament comes from a false concept of what is true and good. The fear of contamination has led people to believe that only what someone else has clearly labeled Christian in safe. Truth is falsely made as narrow as any given sub-culture, not as large as God’s lavish gifts to men. Truth and excellence have a way of springing up all over the world, and our role as parents is to teach our children how to find and enjoy the riches of God and to reject what is mediocre and unworthy of Him.

The thing that I found most valuable in the book was, I assume, the reason my friend recommended it. The entire final 100 pages of the 224 page book is a bibliography of good books for parents to consider reading to their children or adding to their library. Broken out by age groups and topics of interest, Mrs. Hunt concisely listed hundreds of books which she believes meets the standard of both true and good, and most of them are not explicitly labeled Christian, though a  few are.

I also appreciated her emphasis on making time to read for oneself as well as to your children, even at the expense of a perfect house. It was a bit of comfort last night since I spent the better part of all my weekend downtime reading rather than catching up on the laundry. Reading is a lost art of sorts, and it is worth it to make time for reading.

Overall, it was a good book, and I’m sure that I am way behind the curve of the typical Classical homeschoolers in that I just learned of its existence a couple of weeks ago. If for no other reason than the book list  and the embracing of great literature of various genres, it’s worth a look.

Grade: B+

No content advisory required.

Another good place to find s list of “living books” is here on the Living Books List.

 

 

No Good

no good

No Good, by John Hope. Published in 2014. 137 pages.

No Good is the title character of this short novel I was introduced to when the author gave a copy of it to my husband to add to our library. Despite the fact that it is fiction, it took several pages of reading before I stopped experiencing the internal cringe I felt every time one of Johnny’s parents called out to him, “No Good…”

The interesting dichotomy is that No Good’s parent clearly cared about him a great deal,  but the prevailing sensibilities of our day were virtually unheard of in the time, space, and socioeconomic station in which No Good and his family lived. The cover photo illustration (logic dictates this is No Good based on the author’s description) no doubt offers an indication of No Good’s and his family’s situation. Pancakes and sausage are a luxury to get excited about, and a bath is a once week dip in a wash tub filled and placed in the center of the kitchen.

Since the reconstruction of Japan is mentioned,  I’ll estimate the era as the late 1940’s in the then small town of Sanford, FL. Since the climax of the story centers around the  murder of a white boy in which a Negro man is the prime suspect, the irony of Sanford as the center of all the action was not lost on me. I wondered if this were coincidental or by design.

I approached this book initially assuming that it was one I could pass on to our 10-year-old to read but as I delved further into it, I decided that it is best reserved for the early teenage reader. Some of the themes, which would have been digestible for a poor, more world wise fifth grader in the 1940’s, are too much for the average 10-year-old to appreciate. While the book was a delight to read, I don’t  yet want to explain the meanings of “the claps” or “bear-lesk”. This brings me to a portion of the book which I found thoroughly amusing.

When No Good, his adoptive brother with a bombshell of a secret, and a neighborhood girl decide to take the bus across town to the negro jail and investigate whether their friend had indeed been arrested for the murder that had gripped the town, No Good finds himself explaining how he even knew where to find the negro jail in the first place:

“How you even know about this place?”

“I helped my Uncle Travis take some trash to the dump a while back, and he told me all about it. Said it used to be a house of bear-lesk until the cops made it a jail for Negros.”

“Bear-lesk?” Josh asked.

“Uncle Carl said it was like a full service hotel.” I explained. “First class, I reckon.”

“How come they built a hotel next to the dump?”Jeannie asked.

I shrugged. “Guess that’s why it’s a jail now.”

I like this book. I like the setting, the fact that the author chose a class of people and a way of life that is largely neglected by fiction writers.  I like that a book with such sensitive themes, written with young readers in mind, is done tastefully and yet without shrinking back or sugar coating.

It’s worth a look.

Grade: B

Content advisory: Race related themes and terminology, boyhood mayhem and the violence which sometimes accompanies it (or used to before we decided in our infinite wisdom that boys should be neutered). Brief reference to sexual relations between No Good’s parents. Again, matter of fact and tastefully presented.