Thursday, August 25, 2011

Roast Beef, Medium. A book review.

Roast Beef, Medium. By Edna Ferber.

I had high expectations for this book going in. I was disappointed. I've always heard that Ms. Ferber was one of the original feminist authors and wrote books with strong female characters.


Pretty much nothing happens in this book. Although I like the heroine, Emma, I found her life kind of boring and stereotypical. She's thin, beautiful, well-coiffed, well-dressed, young-looking for her age (36), and good at her career. In her spare time she sews the buttons and snaps onto her clothing before they have the chance to fall off. Really? The most daring and radical thing about her is that she's divorced and has a nearly grown son. Scandalous!

I suppose that when this book was written - 1913 - there weren't a lot of women who worked outside their homes, and even fewer who were divorced. Those two things alone may have made this book "feminist". I found it kind of sad that Emma:
  • had to be beautiful to be good at her career, a traveling petticoat salesman. (Petticoats? Really? I find that hilarious.)
  • uses the fact that she's a woman against her male competitors when waiting to call on store's buyers. She not only allows them to always let her go first because she's a lady, she counts on it. So is she truly good at her job, or did she just get in the door first?
  • longs for the simple joys of home and kitchen.
  • has these close women friends who understand her, and so indulge her wholesome desire to put on an apron, a kerchief over her hair, and really get after it with a rag and bucket of soapy water.
Even the title, Roast Beef, Medium refers to the "truth" that when traveling it's better and safer to stick to something that will agree with your digestion, like roast beef, medium, rather than experiment with any fancy sauce or exotic new dish. Better to stick with familiarity and tradition than try something new. This is feminism? Maybe in the early 1900's the "natural order of things" demanded even a feminist writer to declare that if a divorced woman found success and satisfaction in a career outside the home, in her good, womanly heart she secretly had to want to be a homemaker.

Not that there's anything wrong with being a homemaker, mind you. I am one. But it's my choice to do this, and not because it's my place.

Does that make sense? We certainly have come a long way, baby. But do working women today really secretly wish they could be at home tending babies, washing dishes, and shaking out throw rugs?

There was one other character in the book that I found interesting, Blanche LeHay. She is the female lead in a burlesque show, and one conversation that she has with Emma when Emma thinks to pluck Blanche out of her seedy and dis-respectable life is the most insightful part of the book. Emma offers Blanche the opportunity to leave the burlesque and work in the office of her employer, T.A. Buck Featherloom Petticoats. Blanche tells Emma that she is unfit for such a job, in fact she "couldn't hold down a job in a candy factory", and is doing the only thing she's capable of - the burlesque show. Is Emma wiser, or is Blanche? Do women work at those kind of jobs because they are truly unable to do anything else? I don't know but it's the one part of the book that I'm thinking about still, days later. I want to mention that even Blanche, when given the opportunity to have some rare time off, would rather peel a bowlful of potatoes than do anything else. Seriously.

I think I'll need to read more of Ferber's books to come to any conclusion about her other than that she is a product of her times, like all of us. If nothing else, it's interesting to see what was expected of women a century ago.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This whole world

My whole world is wrapped up in one person - my Mr. Dub. Without him, a whole lot of things in my life just don't matter that much.

That is never more apparent to me than when he is feeling under the weather.

I have to remind myself constantly not to hover - Mr. Dub doesn't like to play Twenty Questions when he's feeling poorly.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is it possible... have too many projects on deck at once? I got a new quilting catalog yesterday, and every time I look at it to remind myself of the price of the ONE project I'm contemplating, I find at least two others I'm likely to talk myself into ordering.

Do you think Mr. Dub would notice if I spent his whole paycheck on quilting supplies/kits?

I think I need someone to talk me down from the ledge. It's not like I don't already have approximately ten or twenty projects either already started or waiting patiently in the wings.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Virtuous Woman

I finished A Virtuous Woman, by Kaye Gibbons.

It's fiction, the story of Jack Stokes and his wife, Ruby. (You get it, right? Ruby? The price of a virtuous woman? )I really liked the book in the beginning. The author uses an interesting technique to let each of the two characters voices be heard, and I thought it was cool, and a mark of her skill as a writer, that each voice is so instantly recognizable.

The story is sad and ends sad. The two main characters have a happy life that contains, as all people's lives contain, some sad and hard things. I don't really like a sad book, because I see enough sadness in the real world around me that I don't want to see more of it when I'm escaping into a book. I know that there have to be sad stories, I just don't want to think about sorrow and grief and despair during my vacation, you know? I guess I just never feel so happy that I need a sad story to bring me back down to reality. I'm usually in the mood to be cheered up and amused. A sad story doesn't make me feel better. It just makes me sad.

I noticed too late that this book is one of Oprah's Book Club books. The public library bar code was covering up the symbol on the cover. Rats. But this one is a bit different from her usual selections. Don't get me wrong - there's infidelity, abuse, rape, poverty, and despair, just like there is in all of Oprah's favorite books. (At least all the ones I've managed to struggle through.) This book's redeeming quality for me is that Jack and Ruby love and care for each other, and the bad stuff is mostly peripheral.

I'll share a quote from the book that rang so true for me, and has stuck with me for the last few days: "...sleeping and awake he had dreamt of Ruby. He needed relief from his night, but holding her pillow and crying as he had done other nights would not help him. His frustration and anger had rooted in and taken hold well below the place where tears start, and so would not be washed up nor out by them."

I've had sadness in my life that was washed away by tears, and I've had sadness that is better defined as anguish and despair, sadness that is below tears. I'm glad I read this sad story - it's helped me to remember to honor the pain I see in other people.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I've recently been overwhelmed with a desire to escape my reality. It's not been fun for me (or anyone else, either) and it's not been pretty (have you ever peered into your own dissatisfied soul? Ugh. Lame.). I have never been one to handle change and transition with any kind of grace, and I'm currently bombarded with change and transition.

I've realized that I have to have some coping mechanisms or I'm going to lose it and make everyone unhappy. Here's what I'm doing to manage my stress:

Movies: I used to love movies. I liked that about myself. I've lost that and I'm going to get it back. I watched The Bucket List for the first time the other day. I recorded it on my DVR several weeks ago and finally decided this week that it was time for me to check out for a while. I enjoyed the movie very much, and although it fed my temporary and seemingly desperate need to enact a complete and arbitrary do-over of my ENTIRE life, it was a fun movie. I'd like to make a bucket list. I think a bucket list is something I need in my life.

Books: I used to love to read. I liked that about myself. I've lost that and I'm going to get it back. In the last two weeks I finally finished the second half of The Half-Blood Prince which I started for the second time earlier this spring, and then re-read The Deathly Hallows in its entirety. I went to HP7II a couple weeks ago with my Mr. Dub, and having the scenes from the movie freshly in my mind helped me focus on the details in the book amidst the chaos. I went to the public library today and checked out a couple of novels that look promising. Can I say that leisurely wandering through the aisles of a library is good for what ails you? It has to be leisurely, though. Hurriedly won't do it. Currently on tap is Kaye Gibbon's A Virtuous Woman. So far, so good. I might read all day tomorrow. If my little Butter Butter will let me. : )

Crafts: I'm thisclose to finishing a knitted, pleated skirt for Buttercup that I've been working on for a few weeks. It's a self-patterning yarn in bright blue with small orange flowers - the flowers didn't quite turn out how they were supposed to but it still looks cute. All that's left is to sew down the waistband and insert some elastic and it will be done. On the needles now is an orange cardi to go with the skirt. The yarn is super soft and a bit shiny; the color is "Mango". It looks good enough to eat. I'm chomping at the bit and making lots of plans for other projects that will begin/continue when I'm not in sole charge of my beautiful little Buttercup.

Cooking: Because of my mostly grown and ever more expensive children, (Hello, college tuition and books. Hello, whole new post-mission wardrobe. Hello, moving van+gas and storage unit. Hello, horde of hungry adults. Hello, back-to-school clothes, shoes, and supplies. Hello, TWO new -used- cars+gas+insurance this summer.) because of all that, my grocery budget cannot be exceeded. I've been experimenting with all the food in my storage to come up with good, tasty food to eat every day. Because if it doesn't taste good I don't want to eat it. It's been a creative outlet for me and I'm happy and proud that we're eating well without going over my budget. Even though it's more work, cooking is something I enjoy if I make time to do it properly and I think I'm a little good at it. It's been fun to clean out the fridge and the pantry and turn that all into supper.

I have also been counting my blessings, which are numerous. That helps tremendously. I do know that I have much to be thankful for. I have a healthy, happy family who love me. They don't always appreciate me like they should, but they're perhaps still a little too young to realize that. I have a loving husband who cares about me and hangs in there with me with patience and love no matter how crazy and unbalanced I happen to be at any given moment. I have a home, security, assets. I'm fine, which is practically a miracle when so many people in our nation and our world are not.

I've realized that I don't need a do-over so much as I need to gain a perspective that allows me to see past the next five minutes or so of difficulty. Taking breaks from my work and responsibilities, and doing things for myself are also something that has to happen.