Sunday, August 29, 2010

First Time Novelist Has a Winner

The Bridge at ValentineThe Bridge at Valentine by Renee Thompson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Romeo and Juliet in the Idaho Frontier

This is the very well written tale of a Mormon, Idaho sheep-farming family named Caldwell, which takes place in the late 1800s. Renee Thompson paints a beautiful visual portrait of the land and fills it with well-developed, three dimensional characters. It's a family saga, to be sure, with a Romeo and Juliet love story featuring the sheep farmer's daughter, Julia (or July) and the "gentile" cattleman's son, Rory. Filled with tragedy and triumph, joy and sorrow, heroes and villains, I felt transported by the lyrical prose and romance of the tale.

Brilliant effort by a first-time novelist. I highly recommend this fast read to those who enjoy westerns, historical fiction and, of course, love stories

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Friday, August 27, 2010

"Mommy! I've Been Dress Cut."

In September, 1967, my sister, Debra, walked through the doors of Riverside Brookfield High School for the first time. Having spent eight years in a Catholic elementary school, which required she wear a scratchy, wool uniform, imagine her excitement about getting to pick out a real outfit for school for the very first time.

Well, that excitement soon turned into humiliation. According to family lore, Debra was “sent home” on her first day of high school for a dress code violation. Her skirt was too short, they said.

For those of you with little fashion history knowledge, and particularly for those who believe the 1960s were all about mini skirts and go-go boots, the mini skirt didn’t come on the scene until 1966. Made popular by British designer, Mary Quant, mini dresses and skirts were set six-to-seven inches above the knee. The style was especially popular among the youth because they not only looked good in mini skirts, but mini skirts also gave them the opportunity to rebel against their parents and established dress codes. By 1967, mini skirts found their way to America and were worn nationwide.

Debra’s skirt was not a mini skirt. To my knowledge it was definitely above her knees and hung mid-thigh. And because our family genes have blessed all my siblings (and me) with long, slender legs, more leg is exposed because there IS more leg! The same skirt may have appeared a lot longer on a girl with a different body type.

Meanwhile, our ultra conservative and fashion-bashful mother thought Debra’s skirt was not only appropriate, but also “very cute.” She couldn’t believe it when the school called and told her she needed to pick up her daughter for a dress code violation. They may as well have called her daughter a “slut” for the imagined implications of this violation.

As if it weren’t stressful enough dealing with the first days of high school—particularly going into the public school system after years of parochial school—Debra had to learn to swallow humiliation and rebuild her self-esteem. Further, each morning she had to take extra care getting dressed for school, for fear of another violation. I’m sure those hours of concern would have been better focused on things like math and English and science—particularly for a young girl who would eventually become a talented physician.

How Far Have We Come?
When I entered the same high school in 1974, I spent the next four years in everything from mini skirts to hot pants to faded and patched Levis. I never once received a dress code violation. Choosing outfits each day enabled me to develop my own sense of style and certainly added an element to my self-confidence.

This is why I am disturbed and, frankly, pissed off that 36 years later, my daughter’s current junior high has exercised Gestapo-style, fashion police tactics in the first weeks of school by routinely “dress-cutting” the kids for what they deem to be “inappropriate” clothing. In only nine days of school, my 13-year-old has been dress cut three times.

Emily Gray Junior High in Tucson, AZ has a relatively simple policy regarding the required length of shorts. When asked, the children must relax their shoulders and let their arms hang straight. If their longest finger reaches below the hem of their shorts, it’s a VIOLATION. They are sent to the office and for the rest of the day are required to wear polyester gym shorts that hang to their knees. (And by the way, late passes are not issued for dress cuts, so in addition, they receive tardy strikes).

This dress code rule may seem simple; however, it does not take into consideration the fact that there is not simply ONE body type. I, for example, applied this rule to myself yesterday while wearing a pair of workout shorts. They measure 14” from waistband to hem and have a standard 4” inseam. They rise 8” above my knee (which in 1966 would have qualified them not only as “mini,” but perhaps even “micro-mini.”) Nevertheless, my bottom is completely and even generously covered. No one—expect maybe a Muslim or a Mennonite—would deem these shorts provocative or inappropriate.

Meanwhile, here’s the kicker: When I relax my shoulders and let my arms hang straight, the hemline meets the middle of my palm. So, in other words, “DRESS CUT, MOMMY!”

I’m told one member of the junior high fashion police sent a girl to the office because she said her “butt cheeks” were hanging out of her shorts. Now if this were the case, arm length or leg length aside, I believe these shorts are indeed inappropriate. But if I deem my daughter’s school attire to be understated, age-appropriate and not in the least bit provocative, I don’t want to hear about another dress cut just because her long arms stretch below the hemline.

These kids have far more important things to learn at school instead of taking constant hits to their self-esteem and self-image. And I think it’s ridiculous and narrow-minded to impose ONE BODY TYPE as appropriate for an entire student body. If I felt it important to dress my child in a standard uniform, I would have sent her to a private or parochial school.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

An Awakening Through a Journey into the Afterlife

By Joyce Laabs of The Lakeland Times

Based on a bit of fact and much fiction, Irish Twins by Michele VanOrt Cozzens (McKenna Publishing Group), is the fifth book by the author who, with her husband and two daughters, operate Sandy Point Resort and Disc Golf Ranch in Lac du Flambeau in the summer, while wintering in Tucson, Ariz.

Though titled Irish Twins, it is the story of a family as it is witnessed by the Irish twins' mother, Anne, who was herself an Irish twin.

For those who don't know what Irish twins are, as I didn't, they are two children born in the family within a year.

The novel begins on the day of Anne's death from a stroke while waterskiing on Mitten Lake in northern Michigan at the age of 80.

It is her journey into the afterlife--a place called Ohr--where her own Irish twin, Molly, who met an unexpected death at a young age, greets her and acts as her guide as Anne faces her judgment and witnesses her life and the lives of her surviving husband and five children. However, it is Jenny, her elder Irish twin and Caylie, the younger twin on whom she focuses her attention.

We learn all the family's secrets through Anne's journey.

"It is a lovely story, told only as Cozzens could. I have read all her books and her maturity as a an author is outstanding."

I found the book to be a compelling read. The reader feels as if they have become part of the family, and shares their concerns, decisions, mistakes and triumphs.

It is emotional, and as you review your own life, you find you are able to forgive yourself for the major mistakes and bad decisions (which most of us make).

I like Cozzens' vision of the afterlife before reaching heaven, particularly following your family's fortunes.

We learn the most about the Irish twins. Jenny is happily married, has two children--but is having a problem facing middle age. Caylie has three boys, is divorced, and faces loneliness and despair. Of greatest concern to Anne is that their relationship is falling apart.

When I began reading I thought the book might be depressing. I was wrong. It is a lovely story, told only as Cozzens could. I have read all her books and her maturity as a an author is outstanding.

Irish Twins is a beautiful read and you will like the insights about death. I would certainly recommend it--and not just to the Irish--but to everyone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Have a Little God in Me . . .

From the opening chapter of Irish Twins:

I have a little God in me. It’s a power I use to keep watch over my children, who are still on earth. I played many roles during my eighty years of human life, but the one role I couldn’t shake in spite of passing on, was the role of mother to my five children.

We say once we’re mothers we’re always in mother mode—even when our kids are grown and gone and having kids of their own. Now I know it’s true even when we’re dead. And from my vantage point of three hundred and sixty-degree Light, I see all. I see my five children as babies, as adolescents, teens, college students, newlyweds, young adults, and parents.

I didn’t share much about myself with my children when I was still alive, although I gave them everything. I gave them hot breakfasts and bagged lunches. I gave them corn beef and cabbage, boiled potatoes and chicken on the spit. I gave them clean laundry pressed to perfection and thin ankles. I demonstrated what it meant to be a dutiful wife and I taught them faith by example. I gave them all full heads of curly hair, which I inherited from my own mother.

Unfortunately, none of my children knew my mother. She died before they were born.

For everything I gave them, they gave so much more in return. They kept me young. And seeing the world through their eyes gave me the higher education I didn't have as a young woman. I didn’t go to college because during the Great Depression all luxuries came to a grinding halt. Higher education was definitely a luxury—especially for girls. I vowed it wouldn’t be the same for my children.

My children had all the benefits of the baby boom generation, including the finest educations we could afford on my husband’s blue-collar salary. They attended Catholic school. And today, as I watch from my vantage point in a place we don’t call “Heaven,” but rather, “Ohr,” which is Hebrew for the word “light,” I see that only one of my five children still attends church on a regular basis. But she’s no longer a Catholic. Jenny, my fourth child and one of my Irish twins, is an Episcopalian. The rest of them are just busy.

It really doesn’t matter, however. In Ohr, there’s no such thing as organized religion. Here we do not recognize our differences, because we are all alike.

We are all in the image of God.

Please visit my website for more information and early reviews of Irish Twins.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Generations of Love

A really lovely review of Irish Twins by the incredibly talented author and musician, Robin Meloy Goldsby. How lucky am I to have this amazing woman in my life?

Generations of Love
By Robin Meloy Goldsby, author of Piano Girl and Rhythm

In her newest work, Irish Twins, Michele Cozzens weaves a tapestry of beautiful images with intriguing characters. With lyrical prose and a hefty dose of charm, she tells the unforgettable story of two generations of sisters. The result is enchanting and uplifting—a tonic for the heart.

Jenny and Caylie—one set of Irish twins—and the older generation of sisters, Anne and Molly, learn to love and lean on each other in life, in death, and in that in-between place that all of us wonder about. Cozzens tackles serious themes here, but, as is typical of her writing, she whisks just the right amount of humor into the story. Cozzens's opening scene details the waterskiing accident that causes Anne's death, and the lovely mix of humor and tragedy left me breathless and longing to know more about Anne. Anne, it turns out, has a lot to learn about herself.

I'm a big fan of Cozzens's work. She keeps changing the game, bouncing from memoir—I'm Living Your Dream Life: The Story of a Northwoods Resort Owner—to romance—A Line Between Friends—to stylized comedy—It's Not Your Mother's Bridge Club. With Irish Twins, Cozzens enters new territory, presenting a touching story that includes humor, whimsy, and elements of magical realism.

This is a novel that will stick with you. I don't think I'll ever drink a cup of tea without remembering these four women. Thank you, Ms. Cozzens, for a really great story!