Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Historian

Well, I finally made it through The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. With the intensity of this new job during these current weeks, I didn't have much time or energy for reading. It took me about 3 weeks to plow through the book. I've always had an interest in fantasy literature, and especially after reading Edgy Mama's review of the book - thought I should go ahead and escape from all the work with a good read.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I appreciated the fresh approach to the Dracula story, felt like I gained some insight into Cold War Eastern Europe, and gained some more theological insights into evil in the world (as in, why does someone want to live forever - could have some interesting connections with the debate surrounding Terri Schiavo.)

And for the most part, I enjoyed all the history in the book. I agree with a number of reviewers, in that towards the middle of the book - I wanted a little less history and some more action. Could it be that Hollywood movies have forever ruined me? As to my enjoyment of all the history (or most of it, at least), it's probably just that I have always been a history buff. I even spent a period seriously considering getting a Ph.d. in Church History (still have to wonder if that would have really accomplished anything good in the world... or if I'm accomplishing any good right now).

My one big issue with the book - I felt the character development was a little thin. There were certainly some very interesting characters, but I would like for them to have been a little more three-dimensional. I would like for them to have grappled a little more with the issues of good and evil (does not each one of us have some good and bad aspects to our personalities and desires?). And one more thought while reading the book - "If this woman puts one more "pure" love story in this book, I think I'll puke!" The first (in a timeline) love story would have been far more interesting without the cop-out of "ambrosia" (puh-leese). And I have worked with far too many teenagers and college students over the years to believe that any relationship is pure in its love (it certainly can be in part, but there are always a number of motives in pursuing or acting upon a relationship).

That said, I enjoyed the book overall and would recommend it. My grade - B.

Too bad I don't have book group around anymore to listen to my rants and raves!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Viva la book group!

I have been so fortunate in this move that my two buddies, Katherine and Margaret, are down here in the Triad with me now as well. Wild how all three of us ended up moving down here this summer... We were all parts of the renowned Book Group back in Asheville. (I actually was a founding member about 8 years ago.) We didn't always all read books - our best attended monthly meetings were usually when we met somewhere for dinner! But - these were some of my wonderful friends - and something I really enjoyed in life.

So Margaret and Katherine and I decided to have "book group." We have been joking about calling it the Eastern Division of Book Group, but E.D. for a name is probably nothing with which we would want to associate (unless I get paid like Bob Dole, of course!). We met last night at Margaret's new home - with no book to discuss - but since a couple of us have been reading French Women Don't Get Fat, we decided to bring food to eat like Frenchwomen. (and did we ever! - Margaret even made homemade apple and pear tarts from her newly inherited fruit trees in her yard!)

We did end up discussing this best-selling book. I had never bought a "diet" book before, but after hearing the author give an interview - this book sounded different - and I thought, "What the heck?"

Mireille, the author, is a keen observer of society, and quite a theologian as well. We all know the problems associated with food in our society - mass obesity, rampant eating disorders (even growing among young men these days), supersize eating, sedentary lifestyles - the list goes on and on. Mireille connects part of the problem with food in America as dealing with sin and guilt (something foreign to the French). She is so right. We spend so much time desiring something we think is "bad for us" - then give over and binge on it, and then feel guilty and sinful. And if we enjoy something delicious (like a really good piece of chocolate), we either feel bad afterwards or have to do penance by starving ourselves or killing ourselves at the gym.

Until reading her book (which is really a lifestyle book, not a diet book) - I thought most of the food problems had arisen with the advent of fast food in the 50's and Twiggy type models in the 60's. Yet, I now think it might go back to our Puritanical roots. If we can't see food as a gift in life, as something to be savored and appreciated - if it's just a sinful indulgence - we are going to abuse food in some way or another. Another insightful take on this line of thought is from the now deceased Caroline Knapp in her memoir, Appetites.

I try each day to be thankful for the things in my life. I normally say Grace before a meal (and have taught my children to do this as well) - but I think Mireille is teaching me to go beyond the basics of thanksgiving and truly to appreciate good food for the divine gift it is. I can deal with sin and guilt in plenty of other areas in my life :)

So - we have decided to revise our "book group." We have decided to form a "Knitting group." (no catchy name yet) We'll meet every two weeks - they will teach me how to knit (since I'm the novice among the three of us!), and we will keep eating like Frenchwomen (especially drinking champagne!) and might even discuss some of the books we read in our lives.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

why i like angelina jolie

One of the difficulties of moving to a new town is finding a good radio station (not that I was crazy about any particular station in Asheville). I like an eclectic assortment of music which only my friends Beth and Tracey seem to understand. Thus far, one station in Greensboro seems to fit me the most - 98.7 Simon. It's not perfect, but it suits my purposes.

So today I am in my car and they give a celebrity update. They tell how Jennifer Aniston is hanging out with Brad Pitt's mom and sister, and Brad's family likes her SO much better than Angelina. I don't really care about this state of affairs - there are far more important things to report about in the world today - so I just shake my head. The celebrity update is followed by an annoying commercial that has been on way too much of late. It is from the North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine. It is a heart-wrenching commercial meant to play on the emotions of women who have struggled with infertility. Having personally heard the stories of women, and lived through it with some, who have struggled with this - I could only become angry at such a tactic employed to make women become customers and give money (and lots of it) to the NCCRM. It made it sound as if there was nothing else on earth compared to having biological children - anything else would be less.

And then I thought of Angelina - an adoptive mom (like myself).

Yes, yes, Angelina's certainly not perfect. Billy Bob - ?!? EEEWWW! And I could probably list other things as well - but I don't know her, so it's not really my place to talk about any lack of judgment she may have had in the past. (would hate for someone to comment on my lack of judgment that I've shown at times)

Angelina is an adoptive mom - two beautiful children who would have spent lives in poverty, perhaps not even surviving to adulthood, if not for being adopted. They come from two economically struggling countries - Cambodia and Ethiopia. She has repeatedly said that she feels no need to have birth children when there are so many children who need homes. On top of this committment in her life, she has also given a ton of money to help these countries (and others) and given countless hours as a UN Goodwill Ambassador.

I'm sure Jennifer Aniston has given money and time to help others as well - but I can't help but like Angelina for giving herself - her life as a mother - to make the world a better place. I wish I could be like her - not just in how I look! - but in being able to adopt a number of children who need a home, and in giving money and time and setting up programs to help others.

I also wish that businesses out to make a buck would stop playing on the heart-strings of women, some of whom will not be able to have birth children - no matter how much reproductive technology or money there is. While honoring the gift of biological childbirth - let's have respect for all women and the children of the world - honoring that adoption is just as miraculous and wonderful and life-giving as biological childbirth.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

house blessing

Today was an important day in the Rio-Anderson household. We had a house blessing this afternoon. It was actually my Mom's idea in June. She knows our dear friend and my colleague, Tim, and one day as we were preparing for our big move, she said - "You should really get Tim to bless your house after you move." Seemed like a great idea - and she was right!

So, the house is all unpacked and things are where they should go. My parents and Granny came down from Black Mountain (about a two and a half our drive one way). We invited a couple new neighbors, our wonderful real estate agent and her family, a couple clergy colleague friends and their families, and one new coworker (more clergy!) and his fantastic wife. And then my two wonderful buddies who moved to the area - Katherine and Margaret - and their significant others. Some of Hubby's family also dropped by today.

We told people 3 o'clock, so people started dropping by then. We had some food out and it was great to see people meeting each other and making connections (it really is way too small a world!) and touring around the house. After a little while, Tim led us through the blessing. I asked Margaret and Katherine to be candle-lighters, since they represent our old home but are also now part of the new. Tim gathered us in the front yard (wonder what the other neighbors were thinking ?!), shared some general blessings for the new home and new community and our family. Throughout the blessing, Tim incorporated readings and prayers from Celtic Spirituality and from the Taize community. Margaret and Katherine lit a candle. We then went to the front porch and the front door was blessed. Tim led us into the living room - it was blessed and another candle lit. Our next blessing was the dining room and kitchen combined, with another candle lit. We then blessed the bedrooms from the hallway, and then proceeded into the backyard. Tim had one of my favorite pottery bowls (from Seagrove, NC) filled with water and with a branch cut from an evergreen in our yard. He gave the final house blessing, sprinkled water from the branch and gave an opportunity for our friends (old and new) to bless our house and family. So many wonderful things were said. I did particularly like Jennie's blessing - "May your first stitches here be your last!" - yes, I have already taken sonny boy to urgent care for stitches.

Tim told me today that this was definitely our home - it was exactly where he could picture our family - in this house, the way we have things arranged, and in this neighborhood and town. It still feels strange to me, and it will for a while, but today really helped me see this house as our new home. I do believe we will have many years of happiness here. Probably also many years of loud chaos as well (with an outgoing husband, two kids, two dogs, and two cats - what else could there be?) But this is our home now, and I do feel blessed to be here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Some of you might remember my post in June - to wear a blue jean skirt. It was about a wonderful mentor of mine, Ashley. I have wanted to be Ashley (or be a whole lot like her!) for the past 15 years. I have really missed her over the past month since our move. I found out today that she was in a very serious car accident this past weekend. She is expected to make a full recovery, but only after two surgeries this week and a long recovery and rehab period. I am so thankful she will live, but I really feel for her during these coming months. I also feel for her second child, a beautiful (both on the inside and out) young woman who is starting college next week. I know Ashley will always regret missing that time, and I pray her wonderful daughter will be able to adjust to such a huge transition while her mom is going through such a difficult time.

So on this day when I was thinking about what a role model and hero Ashley has been for me, and feeling so saddened by this news, I was given a recent newspaper article that was about a former student of mine. Jessie is really something else - one of the brightest people I have ever known. So many times I felt like she was teaching me things instead of the other way around! As I read this article, I saw a quote where she credited me for helping in her development as a person and particularly as a person of faith. So good to know that perhaps God can work through me to help someone along the way, just like Ashley has done for me. You can read the article about this incredible young woman in the Chapel Hill News.