I come from a long line of optimists. My great-grandfather was a card-carrying utopian-socialist. (I have his card.) His daughter, my grandmother, was a Christian Scientist. My other grandmother believed in Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking.” You see, the art and habit of re-framing obstacles and looking on the bright side are in my DNA. Couple that with a rather Ozzie and Harriet childhood in the fifties and sixties, and you get relentlessly (doggedly, stubbornly) optimistic me.
Author Anne Lamott’s life and lineage were different (read: dysfunctional, self-destructive, a little crazy) and everything about her reflects that. Even so, she attempts to find grace no matter what life throws at her. Like most of us, she fails sometimes. This collection of essays demonstrates her struggle armed with her faith and intelligence as well as her sometimes dark and self-effacing humor. She is also that rarest of creatures (if we are to believe the media) a flaming liberal and a churchgoing, Jesus-loving Christian. Oh, and she swears a bit, too.
Small Victories starts with a critique of the Bible, saying what’s missing is a “Book of Welcome.” Come in, come in! It should say. God loves you! In her opinion, there’s way too much judgment and not enough hugs. Not nearly enough unconditional love, acceptance, and yes, forgiveness.
This collection also deals with grief. A lot. It seems someone is always dying. Family, friends, a beloved old dog. Life’s like that. To cope, Lamott takes long walks in the woods, prays, and attends church. She marches in peace rallies. She remains sober, binges on M&Ms, and tries online dating. She does all this while attempting to make her injured, angry little human heart forgive the people who have hurt or disappointed her. A few relatives and ex-Presidents are on her list. She reminds herself that if she–as imperfect as she is–is precious to God, then others–as imperfect as they obviously are–must be precious as well. Good stuff.
A few quotes:
“Forgiveness is the hardest work we do.”
“They say we are punished not for the sin but by the sin, and I began to feel punished by my unwillingness to forgive.”
“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”
Several members of my precious extended family–who run the gamut of religious and political persuasions, bless their hearts–agreed to read this as the first book in an online cousins’ book club. I think it was a good choice.
What should we read next?
Oatmeal Cake (a.k.a. Camping Cake)
from the kitchen of Fran McCormack and Libby McCormack Cooper
I’m not sure where the original came from, but Mom called it “Oatmeal Cake.” My girls call it “Camping Cake” since we always took it camping. Mom made it in an aluminum pan with a sliding lid, like the one pictured below, so even on camping trips it stayed wonderfully moist and un-squashed. No small feat. It is definitely not figure-friendly, but it does contain oatmeal, so perhaps Mom thought it qualified as healthy for that reason alone. Note: If you leave the knife in the pan, the cake seems to disappear by inches, not whole slices. Just sayin’.
1 cup oats
1 ½ cup hot water
½ cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 unbeaten eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
- Pour water over oats. Set aside.
- Cream butter sugars and eggs until smooth
- Add dry ingredients. Add oatmeal last. Beat well.
- Pour into greased 9×12 pan.
- Bake 30 min. @ 350
¾ cube of butter
1 T. milk
¾ cup brown sugar
1 ½ cup coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or almonds
- Melt butter in saucepan and add sugar
- Cook one minute.
- Add coconut & nuts.
- Spread on warm cake & broil. Watch closely!
- Cool completely before serving or covering.
This column for the Nevada Appeal is from five years ago when I saw school budgets erode when it came to things like class-size reduction, teacher salaries, counselors, and enrichment programs. At the same time, budgets grew (and grew!) for testing. Look around your state, your district, your school and tell me if anything has changed. Are we still spending more on testing than we are on teaching?
That’s the question author Bill Dedman tries to answer with Paul Clark Newell, Jr, a shirt-tail relative of the woman in question, Huguette Clark. Empty Mansions is well-researched and documented. They begin by telling readers the rags-to-riches story of Huguette’s tycoon father, W. A. Clark. From copper mines in Montana and the L.A. Philharmonic to how states choose their Senators, his impact is still being felt, even though I’d never heard of him.
However, Huguette, Clark’s youngest child is the focus of much speculation. She owned and meticulously maintained mansions around the country but rarely left her New York apartment, kept company only by her doll collection. The last years of her life were spent in a hospital room, even though she wasn’t ill.
She kept up a cordial correspondence with longtime friends, sending cash and presents amounting to millions of dollars. Her cadre of caregivers and assistants also received generous gifts. According to them, she was simply happier and more comfortable living by herself and limiting her personal interactions to those she knew.
Still, the circumstances raised suspicion. Had she been coerced or manipulated? Had she been kept isolated by the small circle of people she trusted and let into her life? That’s what a few long-lost relatives seemed to think when they contested her will.
I read this because it was a book club choice. I might not have picked it up otherwise. But I found myself charmed by Huguette and intrigued by the questions the book asked. And of course the glimpse into how the 1% lives is fascinating.
You might like visiting this site where the authors have placed some background information and photos.
This column from two years ago may still ring true. How about if we just Hold Common Core to a Higher Standard?