She Is Too Fond of Books ~ The Kool-Aid Flavor of the Week

The Kool-Aid Mom's award

She Is Too Fond of Books

This week’s Flavor of the Week award goes to Dawn at She Is Too Fond of Books

A week or so ago, Dawn posted about Kiva.org, a micro-lending organization that hooks up people like you and me, with people overseas to help alleviate poverty and to provide them with self-sufficiancy.

The presentation I attended last fall inspired me to make a small loan via Kiva.  I looked at several entreprenuers’ profiles, searching various parts of the world where Kiva lends, and looking for someone who was working in a field that spoke to me (sectors include agriculture, arts, transportation, health, and about a dozen others).  I felt strongly that I wanted to lend to a woman, and I was able to search on this criteria as well.  It’s very humbling to read of the modest requests made, and the business plans of the individuals.

Evelyn is a 52-year-old mother of six who lives in the Phillipines.  She makes a living sewing and selling curtains, and was looking to improve and expand her business with the purchase of additional fabric and materials.  Evelyn has already begun to repay the loans made by the seven microlenders (that’s me, microlender!).  When the loan is fully paid, we can choose to make another microloan, or to withdraw the funds.Now, with gift certificates in hand, my children have the opportunity to choose which venture they will help to fund.  It’s a great lesson in charitable giving, economics, and risk-taking.  A gift certificate with Kiva is a gift that keeps on giving.

After reading her post, I was inspired to join in microlending, as well.  I would also like to lend to a woman, and I’d like to loan to someone in Vietnam, but there’s none available right now (perhaps Kiva doesn’t have partners there?)

Since you can withdraw the money after it’s been repayed, I think giving a person a gift of a gift certificate with Kiva is the best of both worlds.  Sure, there is the wait for them to get the money you give them, and it might feel a bit like their being forced to be charitable, but I suppose you can give them a gift card to their favorite store along with the Kiva gift. 

From the site: Your recipient chooses the loans, receives repayments, and can choose to lend again and again!

 Currently, the site boasts a loan every nine seconds, and is having the really cool problem of not having enough loans for lenders as it’s getting some good press.  Check out She is Too Fond of Books, the Kool-Aid Flavor of the Week, and be sure to sign up at Kiva.org (signing up is fast and free, and the first step to giving 😉 ).

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryTitle:  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Author:  Roald Dahl

Paperback:  176 pages

Published:  1964

ISBN:  0140328696

acquired:  I bought it at our St. Vincent DePaul thrift store.

Challenges:  Welsh Reading Challenge

“I stood there shouting, ‘Burp, you silly ass, burp, or you’ll never come down again!” -Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, page 112

For me, this was either my second or third reading of Roald Dahl‘s children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I remember reading it a few years ago with the kids, but I’m not sure if I read it by myself as a kid.  But whatever the number of reads, it is easy to say this book is fantastic fun… especially to read aloud with a child.  As Mags and I read it, we took breaks at the departure of each child to watch the particular scene from the Tim Burton’s movie adaptation (and occasionally from the Gene Wilder version, as well). 

Most people know the basic premise of the story:  Charlie Bucket and his family are very poor, barely having enough money for food, let alone candy.  Little Charlie gets one chocolate bar a year for his birthday, which is falls a few days after Willy Wonka, greatest candy-maker EVER, announces that he has placed a golden ticket in just FIVE of his candies, and these tickets will grant the winning child and up to two parents entry into his mysterious and fantastic factory, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate.  Charlie and Grandpa Joe hold out hope that they have just as much chance to get a ticket as anyone, and when the first four tickets are found by beastly, spoiled, selfish children, they almost give up.  But then Charlie spots a dollar bill half buried in the snow, and rushes to buy a couple of Wonka’s Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights, saving the rest of the money for his family, and finds the ticket in the second bar. 

Roald Dahl creates a world in which children aren’t safe, which I think appeals to kids because they DON’T feel safe.  In their particular position, they’re subject to the whims and fancies of the adults around them and have very little control over their lives.  Readers, particularly young readers, see these over-indulged children who get everything they want which, at first blush, is something most kids would love.  However, as the book progresses, we watch as each child suffers an accident which their own self-centeredness is a direct cause.  Violet rips the meal-in-a-gum from the drawer and chews it, ignoring Wonka’s warnings, and ends up a giant blueberry.  Veruca Salt refuses to take NO for an answer, in fact is inflamed by being told she can’t have one of Wonka’s squirrels, and goes in the nut room to claim one anyone, ending up tossed into the garbage chute by leader of the squirrels who judges her to be a “bad nut”.  In the end it is the considerate and well-behaved Charlie who is rewarded.  Even when Dahl shows the children leaving the factory in one piece, they are still not escaping unscathed, but instead will retain some scarring for the rest of their lives.  Violet, for instance, is still purple, while Mike Teavee has been over-stretched and is now very tall and thin, about whom Wonka makes an almost-callous remark that every basketball team in the country will want him.  I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could fit in the fable category, as it is a cautionary tale with a lesson.

The best part of this book, in my opinion, was cuddling up with Maggie, who is ten and won’t let me do this much longer.  She’s in her last semester of Elementary school and will, no doubt, be “too cool” to lay in bed, snuggling and being read to by her mom.  Part of the book was also read at the library, which drew attention from a few people, which gave Mags the chance to tell them about the book.  I will always have warm memories of this book, which was even good enough to draw my 15-year-old into the room for her favorite part, which is the quote I included.  For all these things, and for making me fee like a kid again while reading it, I give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl 5 out of 5 candy stars 🙂

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This book is my first book read for The Welsh Reading Challenge 2010.  Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales, which is part of the Cardiff cosmopolitan area.  Roald Dahl day is September 13th, his birthday, every year. Check out The Official Roald Dahl website where you can learn more about the author, his books and even play games.  Mags and I did the Wonkanator, a math game, and the “find the differences” game for a while this morning before she left for school, taking the book with her.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title:  The Glass Castle

Author:  Jeannette Walls

Hardback:  288 pages

ISBN:  9780743247535

Dad came home in the middle of the night a few months later and roused all of us from bed.

“Time to pull up stakes and leave this shit-hole behind,” he hollered.

We had fifteen minutes to gather whatever we needed and pile into the car.

…An hour passed before we finally tied Mom’s paintings on the top of the car, shoved whatever would fit into the trunk, and piled the overflow on the backseat and the car floor.  Dad steered the Blue Goose through the dark, driving slowly so as not to alert anyone in the trailer park that we were, as Dad like to put it, doing the skedaddle.  He was grumbling that he couldn’t understand why the hell it took so long to grab what we needed and haul our asses into the car.

“Dad!” I said.  “I forgot Tinkerbell!”

“Tinkerbell can make it on her own,” Dad said.  “She’s like my brave little girl.  You are brave and ready for adventure, right?”

“I guess,” I said.  I hoped whoever found Tinkerbell would love her despite her melted face.  For comfort, I tried to cradle Quixote, our gray and white cat who was missing an ear, but he growled and scratched at my face.  “Quiet, Quixote!”  I said.

“Cats don’t like to travel,” Mom explained.

Anyone who didn’t like to travel wasn’t invited on our adventure, Dad said.  He stopped the car, grabbed Quixote by the scruff of the neck and tossed him out the window.  Quixote landed with a screeching meow and a thud, Dad accelerated up the road, and I burst into tears.

“Don’t be so sentimental,” Mom said.  She told me we could always get another cat, and now Quixote was going to be  a wild cat, which was much more fun than being a house cat.  Brian, afraid Dad might toss Juju out the window as well, held the dog tight.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, pages 17-18

This incident haunted my mind throughout the whole book.  I couldn’t help think, “If they could just toss the cat out without a thought, telling me we could just get another, who’s to say they wouldn’t do that to me, as well?”  Later in the book when Jeannette takes a tumble out of the moving car, the same thought occurred to her as she watches the family disappear down the road.  “What if they decide I’m too much trouble to come back for?”  It had to be a terribly difficult uncertainty to grow up with.

Not only is there the impermanence of home and things, there are virtually no rules nor supervision, as the Rex, Jeannette’s father, spends much of his time “researching” at the local tavern and her mom, a narcissistic enabler with some sort of mood disorder fritters her time and money away escaping reality in books and painting.  Too many times to count, the kids are forced to go hungry… or worse, dig through garbage to find food… while Dad drinks and smokes the money away and Mom sneaks nibbles of Hershey bars hidden under her covers. 

On the rare occasion the mother works, it’s the kids who have to force her out of bed and onto school where she’s a teacher, then clean her classroom after school, grade her papers and make out her lesson plans in the evenings.  After spending 8 weeks away from Rex and the kids, living in a dorm, eating regularly and taking classes to keep her teaching licence up to date, she comes home to report she’s had an epiphany.  She tells her teenage daughter who has been handling the bills, working and feeding her siblings, that she’s spent her whole life taking care of everyone else and now she’s gonna live life for herself… say WHAT?!

yeah….. m’kay.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a shocking and heartbreaking memoir of growing up with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother.  Over and over, I was stunned and even angered by the so-called adults complete and total lack of parenting skills.  At one point, Jeannette, who was 7 or 8 at the time, wakes up to find a strange man touching her beneath her covers, and when she tells her parents maybe they should shut and locked the doors at night so as to keep the creeps out, they tell her some crap about fresh air and not letting fear get the better of you.  In her teens, when Jeannette tells her mom that her uncle has been inappropriate with her, her mother tells her he’s just lonely and that “sexual assault is a crime of perception.”  Time and again, these two genetic donors (calling them parents is going too far, to be honest), show a complete lack of common sense and sheer laziness to step up to the plate.  I am amazed that the kids lived to adulthood, let alone to be anything close as successful as they nationally syndicated columnist and regular contributor to MSNBC.  Brian and Lori also made good despite their upbringing.

One thing I can say about reading this book is that I can say with 100% certainty that I’m not that bad as a parent.  It’s done a lot to make me feel better as a parent… at least I shut the doors at night and feed my kids and make sure they bathe regularly.  I make sure they’re fed before I feed myself and I’d damn sure have food in the fridge AND pantry before gnawing on a Hershey bar.  I feel guilty if I decide not to share my candy bar.. or Lindt truffle balls, nom nom nom…  but that’s because they’ve ate plenty and had dessert, and By GOD, this is ONE thing I kept for myself.  And I feel guilty for THAT!  I can’t imagine the utter self-centeredness, truly clinical narcissism, the mother wallowed in.  Also, I can say with certainty to my kids that they’ve never gone hungry.  They may not like what’s in the cabinets, but there IS food… it’s just not ready-made junk for them to snack on. 

I read a few reviews of The Glass Castle, and one reader dinged the book because the author conveys such neglect and abuse in a very unemotional manner.  How could anyone suffer such a life without feeling a sense of indignity and injustice?  To this I must point out that Walls is a professional journalist, and relaying information in an objective, matter-of-fact way is part of the job, so I wasn’t surprised by that at all.  Also, I think it’s a normal part of the coping skills of an abuse survivor to learn to be able to talk about it with some distance and disconnection.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a great story of resilience and survival.  I don’t recommend it to be read in one sitting, as it can get emotionally overwhelming, but definitely a worthwhile read.   If I could ask Walls one question, I’d want to know how she thinks her life might have turned out without public libraries and books to turn to.  At times, it seems the only escape the kids had and a part of her best memories.  I give The Glass Castle 4 out of 5 stars.

Dough: A Memoir by Mort Zachter

A Memoir

Title: Dough: A Memoir
Author: Mort Zachter
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publish Date: 2008
ISBN: 9780061663413

What would you do if you found out your uncle, the one who wears the same suit he did when Reagan was inaugurated (the first time) and drives around in the same junkyard escapee that looks like an accordion for the last thirty years, had over 6 million dollars? While you’ve struggled to make a family and pay bills, your uncle’s been sitting on a mound of cash, never offering to help and always saying how broke he is.

That is what happened to Mort Zachter, grandson and nephew of Jewish Russian immigrants. “The Store”, as it has always been referred, was the family owned and run bakery. Began by Mort’s grandparents as a pushcart vendor that graduated to a Lower East Side 9th Street storefront, the Wolk family sold day old breads and cakes to the neighborhood. A beloved fixture for over forty years, it almost never closed… not for sabbat, high holidays, weddings or blizzards… Zachter’s uncles and mother moved the merchandise. They never went hungry, but they never were rich… or so Mort thought.

When his father’s illness requires Mort to take care of his uncle’s affairs, he discovers his uncle is loaded, to the tune of six million dollars. Dough: A Memoir takes the reader on the journey of discovery, realization, understanding and forgiveness. How could you not pity a man who has done without everything because he is “poor”, but has three brokerage accounts each with over a million in them?

I liked this book. It’s a short, fun and funny, touching read that is both a retelling of a life and a lesson to enjoy life now. This book is rich with texture: the smells of the bread and Suzy the cat in the bakery, Food Stamp Passovers, and complicated people. Uncle Harry wasn’t just a selfish bastard, but he was also the joking uncle who pulled people in, a Jewish Tom Sawyer who got people to work for free, oddly generous at times, and always his own man.

Harry Wolk had his faults, but he was a larger than life figure, overall, loved and well-known by customers. Zachter conveys this story without hatred, bitterness, or condemnation. One particular scene it in the book sums up how bad the uncles’ hoarding had been. While cleaning up Uncle Harry’s apartment, Mort finds boxes and boxes of unused, unopened appliances, cutlery, cookware and other stuff. The question is asked why they’d have bought stuff and never used it, the answer:

…It had to be a freebee… I was remembering the full-page savings-and-loan advertisements in the New York Post when I was a kid. Open your passbook savings account with us and receive your choice of the following gifts absolutely free… I plunged my hands deeply into the drawer and pulled out its contents over and over again. Bankbooks flowed from my fingertips, reflecting the maelstrom of New York City’s ever-changing financial history… Multiple accounts existed for each bank. All the accounts were closed…

My grandma was like Uncle Harry. She save-save-saved, even taking her own children’s pay and 4-H prizes, and never enjoying her life with it. She would manipulate others to her own purposes, and would tell her overburdened children “You’ll inherit it when I’m dead,” if they ever spoke up for themselves. The trouble is, she is now in a nursing home, dementia has taken her and her life’s savings. It’s such a waste that she didn’t enjoy life more and spend that money on her and her families happiness. At least SHE would’ve gotten the benefit of it. Now it’s all gone a golf bag and a down payment on some doctor’s second summer home.