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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Distracted By Craziness--Here's My Overdue List of Recent Reads



How can it be that I haven’t shared my book list for almost a year? Let me take the high road and blame my crazy dogs rather than those much crazier debates on television. Hope you find these books as entertaining as I did. 


    

The Probable Future
Alice Hoffman

If you enjoy reading stories about “good witches” or fairy-tales spun from the history of secret gardens and unrequited love, you’ll like this complicated tale about an Angel of Sorrow who appeared in 1682. The child who wandered from the wilderness was Rebecca Sparrow who seemed to portray magical powers such as: she never felt pain and when she whistled, sparrows brought her berries. This book is about modern women in Massachusetts—three closely related generations of the Sparrow family who live in an old mansion called Cake House. Each of these women has inherited a special-paranormal gift such as: dreaming other people’s dreams or being able to tell when someone is lying. The youngest, Stella, recently found out she had the supernatural ability to see the circumstances leading to a person’s death.  This troubling ‘gift’ creates some unintended drama and added family anxiety, taking Hoffman’s novel into unique territory. I enjoyed the book, especially the romantic parts but disliked the way the author intentionally jumped into varying perspectives, racing across town from the library to the lake and from Boston to Unity or across centuries past, the point of view sometimes changing not only in the same chapter but also on the same page. I’ve read other books by this author and usually breeze through them but have to admit this one loaded me down with details like snowdrops, snapping turtles, reeds and roses—all spectacular details for a patient reader. Lastly, if you enjoy mystical adventures filled with love, you’ll want to read this book.

All He Ever Wanted
by Anita Shreve


I really wanted to love this book. I’ve read other books by this author and didn’t expect the old-fashioned tone in the writing, which by the way she did in an exemplary fashion, channeling Edith Wharton in its melancholic prose. The title made me wish and hope for a different outcome and without giving away anything or spoiling the ending, I simply felt like the ash that floats up after one of Shreve’s symbolic fires. A sadder me, mulling over the obsessive side of love and the amazing characters in this book. Clearly historic and well researched; the author describes everything from the temperature to the type of vehicles people drove at the turn of the century, somehow putting fate and circumstance on the same track with literary eloquence and style.


The Stranger
 by Albert Camus


The beginning of this novel is a simplified translation for “American readers” with short, simple sentences in order to hold on to our limited attention spans. Though easy to read, I thought the rather bland beginning made a solid foundation for the much deeper second half. The main character, Meursault, is a pitiful, detached person living from one day to the next—uninspiring and uninspired. He’s like a zombie going to work and trying to stay out of any major upheavals in his apartment building. His blasé attitude attracts the lovely Marie but unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst on a hot day at the beach. Could it be the sun? Heat stroke? What made him pull the trigger and does he really care about the consequences? While reading The Stranger, it reminded me of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, except this guy doesn’t feel remorse and doesn’t understand why they are making a big deal out of it. Meursault’s hidden truth relies on the premise that death doesn’t really matter. Or does it?


Broken Angel
by Sylvia Ney

This is a true western filled with horses, cowboys and the difficult life of a family on the prairie. I enjoyed reading it and found the twist at the end very satisfying. If you're looking for a short story to read aloud to a group or if you're short on time and don't want to crack open some long winded saga about the old West, you'll love the way the writer wraps up the tale in less time than it takes to watch a rerun of Bonanza.


Kihivas: Alone at the Ends of the Earth (Nonfiction Sailing Adventure Memoir) by Istvan Kopar

I love books that take the reader on a journey but usually stick to reading fictional adventures rather than non-fiction but this remarkable tale of heroic achievement didn’t disappoint. In fact, this is a very exciting book that takes the reader around the world in a one-person sailboat. First, the writer describes his maritime past and his future dreams about circumnavigating the globe. For a young man living in a land-locked country his far-fetched ideas sound remarkable to everyone he meets until he constructs his own boat, the Salammbo. After some evening practice sails on Lake Balaton, Istvan sets his course toward Gibraltar, the official beginning of a long, arduous voyage across the Seven Seas. Besides the obvious coordinates and entries into his Captain’s log, are the emotional and physically grueling challenges thrown upon him during immense storms. Storms that tested his courage, determination and his mettle while making him question his sanity. The sensitive addition of reading material, bird-watching, radio chatter with friends and family had entertained Istvan on board, while the waves tossed the vessel through the Indian Ocean and Pacific. Careening through the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, Salammbo took a beating from giant swells, ice and incredible heat. By the time he reached the Trade Winds on his way home, he had pulled me into his story so deeply that I myself felt slightly exhausted. KIHIVAS-Alone at the Ends of the Earth is an incredible, true story of one man’s solitary triumph and an inspiration for all who set their sights on dreams that sound impossible.


The Mark of the Beast
Rudyard Kipling

I always enjoy Kipling and this one is no exception. Great short story taking place in India about the curse of a nude leper on a man named Fleete, in the temple of Hanuman or the Monkey-God. Kipling created drama while also making me smile. The irony of the English gentlemen defying nature and the symbolic imagery offered by the faceless leper who mews like a cat, adds to the mysterious tale. I liked it and suggest it to anyone interested in something short and eerie.



Very Valentine: A Novel (Valentine Trilogy Book 1)
Adriana Trigiani

There’s a lot to like about this book especially if you enjoy reading about Italian-American families. Adriani Trigiani writes from her heart, carefully placing it full of wonderful metaphors and tons of similes, to keep the family in this book far from the typical stereotypes associated with Italians in the Big Apple. This book made me laugh, cry and towards the end scream but I understand there’s a sequel and hopefully Valentine will realize there’s more to life than just achieving success and you don’t have to wait until you’re eighty to find true love. Or does she? Read about Roman the good-looking chef who knows how to cook but can’t seem to commit to a very passionate relationship. Enjoy the banter between siblings and a rivalry with her brother over the family shoe business. In fact, after reading this book, you may never look at shoes the same way again and you may begin dreaming of the moon in the mist over the Tyrrhenian sea where anything is possible.

Glimmer and other stories: Unusual and curious tales of magical realism, horror, mystery and suspense
Nicola McDonagh


These literary tales surprised me for many reasons but especially for the symbolic thread involving art that runs through most of the stories. A visual palette for the senses, her use of colorful language ties the reader’s attention to the art and then, when least expected, the canvas is torn or the stained glass is broken. My favorite line about an artist appears in Earnest Thirk, “Art was more than the object, more than the value of the piece. It was a way of giving himself to the world without actually having to be part of it.” Her quote might also apply to the artist, Nicola Mcdonagh, who created these riveting works of museum-quality words, thus giving herself to the world, one fearless story at a time.


Have you read any of these books? Do you think you might read one or more of these delightful tales? 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fiona's Concession Speech



RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA-We are happy to report that since our last post the drought in our usually photogenic state appears to be over! Hooray! The upcoming flowers, grasses and trees love every minute. It’s great weather if you’re a duck or if you don’t drive—but most small dogs-- don’t like it very much. Right now, the grass is soaked and clouds are hovering above promising more rain. The forecast is calling for at least another week of slippery slopes, mudslides and complaining pooches. Time to crank up the heat after making sure there’s a pile of yesterday’s newspapers or maybe a fresh puppy pad in clear sight.
 Breaking News!
Speaking of dogs, the candidates are circling three times before finding a comfortable spot to sit down. Let’s see if I can ask a question or two as they pass by entering the auditorium.
“Miss Fiona—Miss Fiona—I’m Eve with Intangible Hearts and our viewers had a few questions about the election. Do you think your views on abortion might have influenced some voters?”
“That’s a ridiculous question because my opponent and I are both rescues. Intangible Hearts? Who are you again?”
“I’m Eve with Intangible Hearts which has a division called PNN.”
“Pin? Not sure I’ve heard of you.”
“No, it’s mainstream—Pee-N-N.”
 "Go on."
“What about the wall? First, you wanted a fence that you and your friends could dig under and then you changed your mind? What happened?”
“The people have spoken-- the election is over so I don’t think it’s important.”
“Do you think wearing pants could have made a difference?” Ears twitching, she turned, yawned and adjusted her pink top.

Noticeably annoyed with my questions, she moved towards the podium to address the crowd.












"It was a long night. Everyone thought I was going to win. Everyone—even my competition—but alas I conceded to my opponent after what amounted to a long and arduous sprint for power. In the canine world, I’ll admit there does seem to be a bias regarding size that can bring down a campaign faster than a wiener dog race in a red state. After all, my ass-sniffing- technique is limited to the height of a drought-resistant blade of grass. Plus, unlike the winner, I don’t play games.

 Still, I have to raise my paw in awe. Though the competition was fierce, the snarls louder, we didn’t lower ourselves into a bloody dogfight. My ears were perked and listening to the entire charade. While my opponent groveled for tasty snacks, I had to beg for itsy-bitsy scraps not fit for a mouse. The phony ‘big eye’ technique worked to get them votes while I delivered speech after speech to the mailman, the gardener and anyone else willing to listen.  I take back some of my heated comments about my opponent's stinky butt. I'd take it all back but it's too late. 

Of course now that the election is over, I’m not disappointed with the results. Seriously, my constituents are smart—they know loyalty when they see it and now that I’m retiring from politics--, they will hopefully back the winner so I can go back to taking long naps."

(Intangible Hearts does not endorse any candidate and this post is intended strictly for fun.) 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Grateful

How do we start thanking God for all his blessings? I'll admit I am rather insecure, but do you ever feel your prayers aren't long enough or good enough? Will it ever be enough?

I imagine the tradition of leaving cookies and milk for Santa began because children wanted to show appreciation for the forthcoming gifts. Since ancient times, farmers planted bulbs in autumn so the beauty of God's spring would manifest itself in gardens with bold colored tulips and daffodils. Symphonies by famous composers give homage to God and His wonderful works. Every grandma baking a cake for others is serving slices of love and parents who spend time teaching children how to ride a bike or swing a bat are naturally sharing gratitude with their family.

Here in California, we have just suffered through a giant drought and right now, we're thankfully up to the fourth inch of rain this month. Speaking of suffering, this has been quite a year, hasn't it? But it's almost over and many of us, just like an overgrown and gnarly rosebush, survived in spite of all the year’s difficulties.Besides praying of course, I choose to write poems of thankfulness. How about you? 
  

Mercy Rain
Eve Gaal
(Previously published at Christian Poets and Writers on Facebook)



To the prayer caught in my throat.
The Heimlich maneuvered gasps of spiritual praise.
Me, the spec of dust imbued with His touch,
part of His plan.
Me, drooling
on bended knees,
head down
pathetically waiting and shaking.
Typical textbook.
He won’t yawn,
He is the Master of My fate.
The spring,
the summer
even winter and orange leaves in fall.
He is the thrill of the beginning and the best ending.
The excitement
both outside and within my soul.
Who am I that He brings me doves and flowers?
Who am I that He soothes my tired nerves
placing roses and endless beauty along my path?
I inhale,
gurgling—embarrassed by spittle as I try to get my words out.
What can my lowly heart do to show my love?
Breathe, I tell myself.
Do not fear.
Grateful tears run down my cheeks
I bow,
feeling His hand pulling me up
moving me towards the window

where the ashen sky  looms with a chance of showers. 



Here's wishing all of you a Happy and Healthy 2017!!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Re-Post of Not So Secret Rum Ball Recipe

 My Secret Rum Ball Recipe

(First published on Dec. 15, 2011 at my previous blog The Desert Rocks)
Easy Holiday Rum Balls
These make a perfect hostess gift and will be
 remembered long after the sugar cookies, date nut bread, even the fudge has been scarfed down and forgotten. I’ve made them for years and often hear people on wobbly legs, leaving with their designated driver saying things like,
“Who made those rum balls? I have to get the recipe.”
Five years have passed and I figured you might want to try these again. After all, it's been a tough year and rum might help numb some of the pain or anxiety but please don't use rum balls as a gateway to the harder stuff like Bourbon Truffles or Brandy eggnog cocktails. Try the rum balls and always use caution when operating machinery.  

1 cup powdered sugar
3 cups crushed vanilla wafers (The best part of this recipe is that
you can use up older cookies or cakes instead of the vanilla wafers)
Typically, I use graham crackers but one year I used
Leftover chocolate cake and oh my goodness they were fantabulous!
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
3 tablespoons Karo syrup
½ cup Bacardi rum and three secret drops of German rum flavoring because regular rum evaporates rather quickly. The rum flavoring I mention is more potent and delicious than the stuff in our local  grocery stores. The Dr. Oetker Rum flavor will take your rum balls to a whole new level. It is available in most European delicatessens.

Chocolate sprinkles for decorating
Powdered sugar for decorating
Anyway, add ingredients to your bowl one at a time, stirring between each addition. Size-wise I roll them into one inch round balls.
Then roll half of the rum balls in powdered sugar and the other half of the balls in the
chocolate sprinkles.  Set them on wax paper and try one. I said one. Then, refrigerate them before you place them into cute little gift boxes or onto serving trays.
Super easy and fun too! 
Have you ever made these?
 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bleeping Our Way to Heaven

Is it Newton's third law? For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.



A friend of mine recently posted incredible photos involving his jump from a plane. I imagine he had it on his bucket list and wanted everyone to see this amazing, but not surprising achievement. I say not surprising because this is someone who does the inconceivable on a regular basis. In fact, he may even be on one of those waiting lists to ride a rocket into space or he’s currently hiring Sherpas for his hike up K2. Anyway, this post is about a joke he made under his photos about the word he used all the way to the ground. His jump was on a sunny day with favorable conditions and another jumper held onto him with the parachute. In other words, he had a 99% chance of surviving the jump and thank goodness, everything worked out fine. And yet--I can’t really blame him for this but he shouted the word--the f-word—all the way down.

I told this story to another friend of mine who told me that most of the garbled speak on the black boxes they fish out of the ocean or dig out of the ash-filled rubble have nothing but curse words on the tapes. This of course, made me wonder, how I would react, had I jumped from a plane or had landed upside down in a cornfield. When a truck is coming at us, crossing the center divide and it looks like we’re ready to meet our maker, will we use the worst profanity we know how to utter?  Is this subject too morbid to think about or should we address this dire situation before it’s too late?

I pushed my devout friend and wondered how she would react. We both laughed and agreed, that instead of asking the Lord to forgive our sins or perhaps taking those last precious moments to beg for His divine mercy before committing our weary souls to Heaven, we’d be cursing like sailors. So I asked her if she had any ideas about how to deal with our last minute situation, to which she replied, “We need to practice.”

Practice? This left me in a quandary worse than before, when I naively thought my two Chihuahuas would stop fighting some day and peace would reign over the entire world. How do you suppose I should practice? I’ve listened to the clap of thunder hit close by and felt my body shake uncontrollably with fear, while my brain knew I was safe inside a building. Even the logical aspects couldn’t control my severe subconscious response. At least with thunder, there’s the comforting time lapse of one-Mississippi- two Mississippi- three, etc. to reassure us the storm is heading farther away. This doesn’t mean I don’t use expletives but as I age, my response to the thunder controls some of the shaking. Google says that the chance of being hit by lightening in California is 1 in 7,538,382, odds strangely similar to the California lotto. But let’s not digress because this is serious.


 I’m assuming prayer or meditation is part of the “practice” equation but still, isn’t it asking too much of the human brain to stop a normal fear of death during an emotional goodbye? The Bible tells us to “Fear Not,” over three hundred times but our brain synapses can detect danger, which in turn sends impulsive warnings to our vocal chords. Even if we logically and faithfully say we don’t fear death, can we train ourselves not to curse in our final moments? After all, doesn’t it sound like a good idea to be heading to the Pearly Gates without vulgarities flying left and right? Do you have any suggestions?

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Catch-up Post



1.       Sorry, due to circumstances beyond my control, I haven’t been reading or writing many blog posts lately. Don't worry, because the force that's controlling me away from blogging is building character and giving me more material to write about later. I’m very sorry and hope to be back to reading my favorites soon. In case, this takes me longer than expected, please have a great December and Merry Christmas.

2.       My short novella, The Fifth Commandment is now available in Portuguese and Spanish. Plus, right now it's on sale! Oh--- and the most exciting news is that my humble, faith-based novella reached bestseller status in Australia! By the way, I need some reviews for this one!
           The Fifth Commandment
3.       Penniless Hearts has a gorgeous new cover! Have you seen it? This is the third one. What do you think?


4.       I need to update my website: www.evegaal.com (soon).


Sunday, November 13, 2016

17 Ideas for Dealing With Negative News



If times seem tough, it's because we're exposed to much more information than all our combined predecessors saw in their lifetime. Poet Thomas Gray once wrote, 'ignorance is bliss' and while that doesn't sound responsible in today's world, doesn't it sound tempting to act like an ostrich with his head in the sand?

How about these suggestions? Do you think they might work?
17 ideas for blocking out the negative noise 

Could you cancel your cable?
 
Hide your Smartphone? (Once you've picked the kids up from school)

Stop your wireless?

Toss the newspaper subscription? 

Move off the grid? 

Hike a giant mountain without cell reception? 

Start a photo journal using a real camera?

Fly to a remote part of the world? (Enticing, huh?)

Visit a senior center where Twitter refers to the sound of a pacemaker. 

Leave phone at home while feeding/cleaning up after the homeless?

Volunteer for the Thanksgiving Parade?

Join, or at least visit a monastery? 

Teach someone to sail and avoid busy ports?
 
Host a craft class--allowing only emergency interruptions?

Teach scuba or take lessons. It's so quiet down there. 

Hammer your own noise for Habitat for Humanity. 

Plant vegetables and watch them grow in a community garden?


The point I'm making is that by helping others we help ourselves and in the process we clear our minds. Of course, you could also go for one of my favorites, which is to just barricade yourself in a room full of wonderful books!