Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Scandalous Women

Wow – Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, self-professed “history geek” and noted blogger of the popular website about scandalous women in history has me as guest blogger!  Click here to read my latest about Fanny Fern and to check out other amazing books recommended by Mahon.  Find out more, too, about Mahon’s well-received book, “Scandalous Women – The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women.” 
Click on the link below to go to this site named one of the 100 Most Awesome Blogs for History Junkies by Best 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Heifer International

I know, I know. Friday was Black Friday. Today is Cyber Monday. I know, I know, I know. I shake my head at merchants putting up Christmas trees during Halloween, cringe to hear Christmas carols playing on the radio while I’m making my Thanksgiving pies. “The Season” has arrived and, at least during these weeks, it doesn’t have much to do with anything but retailing. Merchandising. Materialism. Capitalism. You label it how you want to.
Now, of course, I don’t want people to fail in business and I’m all for a recovered economy, but it seems that the glitz and hoopla descends earlier and earlier, crashing through any meaningful attempts at peace and renewal the season might offer. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I like presents. And, yes, I like giving other people presents, too. But, I’m trying to regroup, simplify, make more conscious choices. In the process, I’ve discovered (through a gift given to my husband and me), the world of Heifer International.

Heifer International takes your tax-deductible donations and purchases chickens, goats, cows, vegetable seeds and other goods for impoverished families to help them start businesses that support themselves and their communities. Through your donations, you help to pull people out of poverty and give them the greatest gift – the gift they really want – self-reliance. The best part? You can make donations in someone else’s name and give two gifts at once.

For the people on your list who really don’t need anything – and you know who those people are – why not explore Heifer International, or one of the other many charitable opportunities out there?

Check out Heifer's website:  Heifer International

What are your favorite charitable organizations? Do you have suggestions for charitable holiday giving?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome

Have you ever heard of Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome? It is a medically-recognized condition where people collapse with the stress of hearing sudden good or bad news. Apparently, women are much more likely to be affected by this syndrome than men are.  The results of such a collapse are not good – heart attack-like symptoms that can take weeks to recover from, and, in rare cases, death. So, those stories you hear of a woman getting bad news and collapsing are more true than not. Researchers are trying to figure out why this syndrome affects women more often than men and think it might have to do with heart size and the amount of stress hormones flooding the body.

It all reminds me of Kate Chopin’s famous story “The Story of an Hour,” which I’ve linked here for you. It takes about 3 minutes to read – so go ahead and enjoy it.

Then, if you’re still curious, check out the link about Sudden Broken Heart Syndrome and see what you think. Perhaps there is sense in the notion that people should sit down and breathe deeply before getting big news?

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Sketch of Fanny Fern
Today, I am honored to be interviewed on Smoky Talks Authors, a blog dedicated to showcasing emerging and small press authors. Blogger Smoky Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores (formerly titled Redeeming Grace) and The Cabin, and two nonfiction books on writing. She is also the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. Smoky did an impressive job with my interview, as she does with all of her interviews. Her website provides a lovely space for “chats with small press authors about writing and books.”

To see what Smoky asked me about Fanny Fern and Shame the Devil, click this link: Smoky Talks Authors

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Winner!

I don't usually do two book reviews in a row, but today is a definite exception to that way of thinking. I just read (devoured, is probably a better word) Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree and absolutely loved it! It seems I'm not the only one -- Weisgarber's book won the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction and the Texas Institute of Letters' Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction, not to mention being a finalist for the Orange Prize for New Writers.
Weisgarber's book tells a story you think you already know -- about the hard-scrabble life of Homesteaders in the early 1900s -- but includes information you didn't even know you didn't know -- about the experiences of black Homesteaders. Consider the narratives put forth by books like The Little House on the Prairie. Rich in detail, readers gobbled up those stories that rarely allowed people to fall too hard. Sure, crops failed and children got sick, weather raged and fancy dresses were rare, but neighbors helped each other through hard times and, in the end, everything worked out (and there was usually a barn dance). There's little prairie romance in Weisgarber's tale -- not only do crops fail, but people starve.  Not only does weather rage, but people, white and black alike, die because of it . . . and, ultimately some of them give up on the land and go back to the cities where they could usually score basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter.

I won't spoil the story line of this amazing book, but will just suggest that the harsh realities of the early South Dakota Badlands were even harsher upon the few blacks who drew up their courage and tried to carve out their existences there. Loneliness and racism do much to make harsh conditions almost unbearable. This story, the story of Rachel DuPree, shows that world and illuminates a narrator and character of incredible strength.

Read this book -- soon!  You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar remains one of my favorite novels – to read and to teach.  Published in 1963, just months before Plath’s suicide, the work is an autobiographically-based, witty account of female angst, depression and self-discovery.  Narrator Esther Greenwood is talented and smart, but feels pigeon-holed within the era’s gender roles and expectations.  Encouraged to succeed in college, yet given covert messages about the appropriateness of female ambition, Esther, understandably feels starved as she gazes upon the feast of her future potentiality.  Her dilemma?  If she chooses to have a career, it seems it will be at the expense of some future husband and/or children.  If she chooses to plan to be a wife and/or mother, she ultimately forfeits important career opportunities. 
This book always generates bountiful classroom discussion.  My students tell me that, in their eyes, things haven’t really changed!  Women are still “expected” to plan their careers around future children, families and husbands.  Men are still “expected” to shoulder the majority of the financial responsibilities.  Worse?  Women have a limited time frame to have children and that knowledge is like a time bomb that ticks ticks ticks.  Never mind that the young women haven’t even met someone they’d consider making a life with.  Never mind that they haven’t decided whether or not to have children – the awful social pressure is still there . . . and, like Esther, still threatens to smother their other career-based callings to affect humanity.

Perhaps this is one reason that women still make up only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and still account for only 16 percent of our elected political representatives.  Because of ancient gender expectations that women must be more responsible for the doings of all things connected to the home, even if they have a career, it is still harder for women than it is for men to pursue certain career paths – those that offer a lot of responsibility, not to mention a lot more money.

What are your thoughts?  Do women still feel this unspoken dilemma?  Do men? 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Women for Women

I recently heard about a fantastic organization, Women for Women, a group dedicated to helping female survivors of war and civil strife heal and rebuild their lives and communities. 

 Women for Women’s cause is justified and necessary. War takes an enormous emotional, physical and psychological toll not only on the military personnel who have to endure it, but also on the citizens who must cope with as much, if not more, war-induced trauma as soldiers do.

Women for Women’s amazing website is:   Women for Women International

Women for Women’s stated vision is:  “Women for Women International envisions a world where no one is abused, poor, illiterate or marginalized; where members of communities have full and equal participation in the processes that ensure their health, well-being and economic independence; and where everyone has the freedom to define the scope of their life, their future and strive to achieve their full potential.”

Take a peek.  See what you can do to help out a sister in need.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Spirit World

Do you believe in ghosts? Spirits? Things that go bump in the night? How about things that walk around your house in the broad daylight?

Yesterday (ahem, officially “The Day of the Dead,” according to my calendar), while I was sitting at my desk, deeply concentrating on my work, I heard footsteps. Oh, it’s just my husband walking to the kitchen, I thought, and then remembered that I was alone in the house. I looked up – in fact, had a perfect view of the kitchen and dining room – and saw nothing. The footsteps “walked” through the dining room and into the kitchen, then stopped.

I was a little freaked out. Okay, more than a little.

“Things” like this have happened to me occasionally my whole life, so, I must say that, yes, I do believe in ghosts/spirits/vibrations from another plane of existence. 

When I told my husband about it, he confessed that he, too, had heard footsteps in our house, once, when I wasn’t home. He investigated and found nothing.

Our house is over 130 years old. Word has it that one man both was born and died here.

“It’s a friendly spirit,” my husband said. “Don’t you think?”

I could only hope. And then it dawned on me that, yes, it must be a friendly spirit – a helpful one even. Why? Because as I was sitting at my desk, deep in thought, the topic I was thinking about was my next blog. This blog. What could I write about? Nothing seemed quite right. The footsteps interrupted my musings, shook me from a bunch of dead end topics (no pun intended) and pointed me, well, straight to this one. 

And, here I am, typing out a rather lengthy entry, all courtesy of the friendly footsteps and their inspiration.

What about you? Do you believe in “ghosts?”  Have you ever been visited by a spirit presence? What was your experience like?