Friday, May 09, 2008

Mother's Day

This picture of my mom qualifies as a glamour shot in my book. I think it is her high school senior portrait, but to me she looks like a movie star. Mom always had an inner beauty but in this photograph it shines straight through and comes out as physical beauty. She's gorgeous and not just because she's my mom. There's something of a young Elizabeth Taylor about her -- all pale skin and dark hair and soft shoulders.

This picture is rivaled only by one from her wedding day. In it, she is in the back seat of the wedding car. We see her in profile while my dad looks at her with pride and love like I've never seen on his face. And it's no wonder when, even in profile, my mother glows with such hope for the future.

I wonder if marriage was a disappointment. My dad couldn't have been the Prince Charming he seemed that day. I know from my time at home he wasn't. He wasn't an ogre, but he certainly wasn't a prince. But still, pictures of her holding her newborns show a beaming smile full of pride. Later pictures of her with her grandchildren show a similar happiness.

Her children and grandchildren were obviously a source of joy. She wanted to be a teacher but wasn't allowed because her father didn't believe college was for girls (thank goodness my parents didn't feel the same way). She would have been a great teacher. She was a great teacher in her way. Many things I learned from her I didn't realize until much later. Chief among them is how to care about other people.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What I'm reading: "Ironweed" by William Kennedy

"Ironweed," by William Kennedy, not only won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1984, it creates a world that is sad and achingly beautiful.

Francis Phelan is an ex-baseball player, a self-described bum and a sometime repentant murderer. Set in 1938, "Ironweed" relates two nights in the life of Francis, his buddy Rudy and girlfriend Helen Archer. Haunted by ghosts of past acquaintances, Francis makes his way through the city of Albany, NY, burying the dead, collecting junk and trying to make peace with himself.

Kennedy paints a bitterly cold, dark, bleak picture of Albany in the late '30s. Yet somehow the people and places are alive and vibrant with color and character, from Francis's parents watching him from their graves to Helen.

"Helen has had a lifetime of sadnesses with her lovers. Her first true love kept her in his fierce embrace for years, but then he loosened that embrace and let her slide down and down until the hope within her died. Hopeless Helen, that's who she was when she met Francis. And as she stepped up to the microphone on the stage of The Gilded Cage, hearing the piano behind her, Helen was a living explosion of unbearable memory and indomitable joy."

Francis's nearly uncontrollable temper and love of the bottle almost get the best of him. But Kennedy creates a character in Francis that you can't help but root for. He's a violent man with a violent past, but also a deep devotion to those around him -- even the dead.

"He had a vision of Gerald swaddled in the silvery web of his grave, and then the vision faded like the stars and he could not even remember the color of the child's hair. he saw all the women who became three, and then their impossible coherence also faded and he saw only the glorious mouth of Katrina speaking words that wer little more than silent shapes; and he knew then that he was leaving behind more than a city and a lifetime of corpses. He was also leaving behind even his vivid memory of the scars on Helen's soul."

This book was on my list to read because of its award-winning status. I can't say I've liked every award-winning book on my list. But I really enjoyed Ironweed and highly recommend it.

For more -- and more articulate -- book reviews, head over to Kate's Web site.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Martha Stewart I'm not

But I can cook a mean pot roast. I don't think anything says Sunday dinner like a pot roast. This is probably one of the nicest, yet simplest meals I make. Thank god for crock pots.

This particular meal was made with 1 1/2 pound rump roast, 4 medium carrots, 2 large russet potatoes, 1/2 medium yellow onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon of Better Than Bouillon (or 1 cube beef bouillon), 2 cups water and parsley, salt and pepper.

While the roast browns in a large skillet, cut up the potatoes and carrots and slice the onion. Place vegetables and water in crock pot. Place roast on top of potatoes. Add bouillon, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook on low for 8 hours.

After a day out hiking or doing yard work or slaving at the office, you come back to a house filled with the scents of home. Pot roast is one of my ultimate comfort foods.