Sunday, March 27, 2011

dad again

A little less than a year ago I told you that my dad was dying.  And he was.  He is.  but not quite as quickly as they predicted.  They gave him 4-6 months last April, at best.  But then they started him on an experimental protocol, one of just eight people in the country who was trying it.  the others are now gone, but dad responded remarkably.  His doctor even used the word miraculous.  He was doing so well that he made it to our family reunion last summer, and got to be there for many more occasions in his grandkids' lives.  Every one was a gift.

But several weeks ago, things started going downhill again, and he spent much of last week in the hospital.  The last two nights, I've dreamed about him, dreams where I'm saying good-bye, and it makes me wonder if the end is close now.  That's the main reason for our trip south next week.  It won't be easy.  Things with my dad are never easy for me.  But it will be good.  Send some positive vibes my way if you think of it (what are known as FGBVs among some of us), with some extras for my dad, his wife, and my sisters.

Friday, March 25, 2011

late breaking pictures

OK, here is the bamboo:

and here is the bland-tan carpet.  That glove looks kind of vaguely alive.  Sort of like Thing from the Addams Family.

there.  aren't you glad you stopped by?  Aunt BeaN's Blog, more value for your entertainment dollar.
As if you would pay money for this.  :-)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

hair today, gone tomorrow

Two of my most favoritest blogs have had entire posts dedicated to hair this week.  Coincidence?  I don't think so.  So I've been trying to come up with some interesting way to blog about my hair.  But you know, I just don't think I can do it.  I might be able to work up a paragraph.  Here goes.  If it's boring, it's Julie's and Melanie's fault, because I would never do this if they hadn't gone first.

I finally have hair love in my life after an entire lifetime of hair hate.  Although my hair is a nice color, it is utterly impossible.  (Of course, since I turned about 43, said nice color has been a chemically enhanced color, but let's leave that aside for the moment.)  It is thin, baby fine, limp, and perfectly straight.  Which is not to say that it hangs perfectly straight, like hair that has been straightened, because it does have a bit of a bend around my ears and I have two cowlicks.  By "perfectly straight" I mean that there is nothing on God's green earth you can do to get the ends to curl, or even curve.  Believe me, I spent many hours in high school trying everything I could think of.  Then spent the better part of my twenties with a perm, which made it frizzy and apparently thicker, but the ends still would not curl.  And thin?  When it was long enough to pull into a pony tail, it was about as big around as my index finger.  I had to buy ponytailers in the children's section to get them small enough. 

(Hey!  Second paragraph!)  Then about five years ago, I was introduced to the amazing, wonderful world of hair product.  Now I use my amazing shampoo, followed by a dab of any old conditioner, smoosh in a little mousse, blow it dry with a metal round brush, and voilà!  Curved hair.  It ain't cheap, but it has changed my life.  For the first time since junior high, I love my hair.  Not every day.  I still have hair hate days.  But there are many days when my hair makes me happy.  So just in case any of you out there are dealing with the thin, fine, limp hair problem, may I just tell you this:  Ojon Hydrating Thickening Shampoo.  It's expensive, but I don't drink lattés anymore and it's less expensive than a thrice-weekly latté habit.  And you don't have to use it every day.  No, I did not get anything from them to say that, but if they should happen to come across this post and want to send me a year's supply, I won't turn it down.  Just sayin'.  Same goes for Nexxus Comb-Thru hair spray, which is not especially expensive but equally amazing..  Much happiness on planet BeaN. 

And before someone tells me to stop using conditioner, I'll say in advance that I've tried that.  But my tresses are so thin and fine that if I don't use at least a little bit of conditioner on them, they get all static-y.  I look like I have a tesla coil in my pocket.  Or maybe I'm just glad to see you.  Wait.  Did that work?  It made me laugh, anyway.  And I called my hair "tresses," just as if I were Rapunzel.  (and while we're on that topic, I will remind you--because doubtless you already know this-- that Tangled comes out on DVD next Tuesday, and it is worth watching.  Much fun.)

Well that was THREE paragraphs, although the third one was short.  Let's see, what else can I tell you.  The floors are done, as of about 6:00 this evening, and I did take pictures although I haven't figured out how to load them on here yet.  I remember I put pictures on here once about three or four years ago, but I have no idea how I did it.  So now we just have to put the house back together-- literally, since we moved all the furniture, took the beds apart, took the doors off rooms and closets, etc.  So guess what we will be doing tomorrow?  Had the meeting with the tax guy today, grumble and groan but at least that is done except a couple of little details he wants us to track down.  And since we are leaving the middle of next week to go South, I only have one class next week, so although I have TONS of studying I could and should do, the only thing I have to do in the next four days is read half of Emma.  Dang.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday, Monday-Riffday again

For many years I wrote an annual post griping about how much I hate spring in the Northern Rockies.  I think I skipped it last year, though, and the year before I think I just linked to the one from the previous year because nothing had changed.  Winter I don't mind, but "Spring" is hardly deserving of the term.  It's cold and gray and a typical day may include rain, fog, sleet, freezing drizzle, and/or snow.  It would not be unusual to have all of the above.  But it's going to be in the 40s today, and therefore--after months of temps below freezing-- in the minds of the natives, it is Spring.  My sisters in the South are wearing shorts and t-shirts and complaining about the heat, raving over the flowers in bloom, and generally being irritating.  We won't even have green grass here for six weeks or so.

But I must have crossed some magic line over the past couple of years, because although I think "Spring" here will always rank as my least favorite season, it seems right.  This seems like what spring is supposed to be like:  raw and muddy, with everything sloooowly coming back to life.  The good thing is that you appreciate every little nuance.  The crocuses will be blooming soon, and then there will be daffodils and tulips.  This morning when I went out to drive MadMax to school, I could hear birds singing for the first time in months.  By mid April you can plant pansies and peas.  And then eventually it will be so riotously green and gorgeous that it makes up for it.  We just have to hang in.

(Also we are cheating for a week and going South for spring break.  I just got off the phone making shuttle reservations from the airport and I can't tell you how nice it was to hear that Southern drawl.  I felt mine coming right back (comin' raht back)-- it's like having pudding in your mouth, or warmed honey, and your jaw moves differently, like it's loosening up.)

Next up:  We're getting new flooring this week.  We've had the same (awful) mauve carpet in our bedroom for the twelve years we've lived in this house.  I've hated it the entire time, but it was brand new when we moved in, and there were other far more important things to spend money on.  And since I'm not a particularly visual person, I can pretty much ignore it.

hmm, I'm realizing I have to back up a little to finish the new floor story.  How much did I blog about trying to sell the house?  I can't remember what I've told you.  The short version:  as part of my midlife crisis, I really really wanted to move.  I'm kind of a seven-year itch person anyway, and we've been in this house for twelve years.  So we put the house on the market for about six months in 2009, and then for another six months last year.  But the market around here (as in many other places) was pretty dead, and it didn't sell.  So I told dh I would be willing to stay here if we could do a little upgrading.  So we're getting bamboo in the living room, and a sort of basic-tan-ish carpet on the stairs, the upstairs hall, our bedroom, and Nell's bedroom.  MadMax is getting "Granite" colored carpet.  He wanted a dark color, and that was as dark as I was willing to go.

So the floor guys are here this week, and we spent a good part of the weekend clearing out closets, moving furniture etc.  I was planning on staying home to study today, but it is considerably louder than I was expecting.  Considerably.  I may have to go somewhere else to get any studying done, and I have a LOT to do today.  Deconstructionist criticism, which is always the hardest for me to wade through, and lots of work on the Joyce project.  I finished Mansfield Park on Saturday, so that class is done.

Nell is now safely arrived in the Netherlands with her boyfriend and visiting his family there.  She's been there four days now and seems to be recovered from jetlag.  I am jealous, but she is being pretty good about e-mailing (so far).

and:  this is not worth an entire post.  But what is the deal with books that cost exactly the same in their digital version as their print version?  I understand that the physical book is only a part of the cost of producing a book, editing it, marketing it, etc.  But it should be SOME cheaper--they're not paying for paper, ink, glue, shipping, or shelf space.  Obviously there are people who are paying $7.99 for a Kindle "paperback" because they are selling, and some of them are selling pretty well.  I want to tell the people that are buying them, just stop.  You're only encouraging them.  I'm not doing it.  I'm just too cheap.  Especially since I can often get that $7.99 paperback at Target for $5.70 with my Target card, or for $6 (averaged out) on Amazon with their 4-for-3 promotion if I wait a couple of weeks. 

Can't think of anything else.  Y'all have a good Monday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

sin revisited

What I started to talk about a couple of days ago was sin, always a favorite topic.  Apologies in advance that I will not be describing any lascivious sins in detail, which would make this post much more interesting, but even though I'm way less neurotically private than I used to be, I'm not that open. Yet.  Stay tuned, it could happen.

So, anyway, I'm sitting there in the Ash Wednesday service, which is specifically about repentance--among other things, but that is a major theme.  And I couldn't do it.  Not that I have no faults anymore.  But I couldn't separate out specific actions or attitudes anymore.  I used to be able to do this.  In that old post about sin, I talked about how even though I'm not sure I believe in God anymore, I use the time of silent confession at church as a sort of internal housekeeping-- a time to reflect on actions and attitudes of mine the previous week that I regretted or wasn't happy with.  I would acknowledge them, release any guilt or shame I felt about them, and resolve to do better in the future.

But this time, I was sitting there waiting for stuff to come to mind that needed to be confessed, and I realized that I can't split off specific actions (or attitudes) from who I am anymore.  It's all one piece, if that makes any sense.  If anything, I'm way more aware of my faults now than I used to be.  (And even the word "faults" still sounds like something that's separate from the "real" me, which isn't what I mean, but I can't figure out how else to word it.)  I think in a way being able to enumerate "sins" in the way I used to do it was almost a way of absolving myself of responsibility for them-- like they were actions I had done that were unrelated to who I "really" am, like I had just made a mistake or been caught off-guard or was tired or whatever.

I find that I can't do that anymore.  Yup, I'm overly-analytical and drive my poor spouse to distraction.  Yes, I get absorbed in what I'm thinking about to the point of neglecting my kid.  Yes, I get overwhelmed in social situations and just leave, prompting the poor, nice people around me to wonder what they said to drive me away (I just did that this week, as a matter of fact).  But those are all parts of who I am.  I can't separate them out and "let them go."

that may sound like I'm letting myself off the hook for those kinds of actions, but in fact, it's the opposite.  This way makes me feel more responsible, more aware of what I'm doing that hurts others.  I want to say, more aware of the need to change, but I'm not sure that's the right response.  This is brand new, I'm still figuring this out.  It's entirely possible that this post doesn't make a lick of sense, but I tried.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

after 18 years, I may sign on

When I was in my twenties, like many people, I huffed and puffed that I didn't need church to be in a relationship with God.  Now I'm not so sure I believe in God, but for the most part I'm OK with church. Or at least, I'm OK with our church, and I think there are a pretty good percentage of churches that are like ours.  They're not perfect.  There are things about ours that I don't like.  My spouse is on session right now (meaning he is one of the Elders, or leaders, of the church), and the bad thing about that is that you hear a lot more about the things you don't like than you would if you just showed up for church on Sunday mornings.  But generally speaking, our church is doing the kinds of things I think a church should be doing-- actively participating in the community, doing our best to help people that need help, puzzling over what it means to have faith. My life is enriched by being a part of a community of people that comes together to support each other in their faith (or lack thereof, I suppose, might be more appropriate in my case)

But one of the things I've never liked about our church is its exclusion of members of the GLBT community (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons) from positions of leadership.  It's a PC-USA church (which is one of the varieties of Presbyterian), and the language of the Book of Order (which is sort of like the constitution for PC-USA churches) states that candidates for ordination must "live...within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman...or chastity in singleness."  And since in PC-USA churches pastors, elders, and deacons are ordained, that means not just that there are no GLBT Presbyterian pastors, but also none can serve as Elders or Deacons, the positions of lay leadership in the church.  (Women have been able to be ordained in the Presbyterian church since at least the 1950s, and we have many female elders and deacons, and also a woman lay pastor.)

It's for this reason that although I've attended our church for 18 years now, I've never officially joined as a member.  It's a technicality, I know.  We volunteer at our church, we attend services on average 1-2 times per month, we give them money.  It's kind of lame to say that I'm protesting their stand on gay ordination by refusing to join-- especially since probably not that many people realize that I'm not a member, and the ones that do probably don't know that this is why I refused to join.  But there it is.  Although there are many, many churches in our town, there are only a few that even allow ordination of women, so when we moved here, we didn't have many choices.   

Last July, the PC-USA General Assembly voted to change the wording of the Book of Order to allow gays/lesbians to be ordained-- actually, what they did was remove the words about marriage and singleness.  They've done this before, but approval by the General Assembly must be followed by ratification in a certain number of presbyteries (regions), just like a certain number of states must ratify any amendments to the U.S. constitution.  None of the previous efforts made it past this stage.  So we're all waiting to see what happens this time.  I am cautiously optimistic.  And I told our pastor that if it passed, I'd join.  At this late date, the idea makes me smile.  We'll see.

Monday, March 14, 2011

procrastination gyration

I'm writing a paper again, and it's due tomorrow, so I think I can assure you that this will be brief.  It's the first paper I've written since the one that went so badly at the end of last semester, so I'm feeling a little intimidated.  And especially because it's for the same professor-- whom I like very much, I have no complaints about her.  I'm just intimidated by her red pen, so to speak.

The encouraging thing is that the system that I had worked out by the end of last semester for getting a paper together is working really well.  The depressing thing is that I can't understand why it always comes down to the last minute.  Why do I do this to myself?  I very consciously set out not to do it this this time.  I set aside the entire weekend to work on this paper exactly so that I wouldn't end up at 9:15 the night before it was due with two or three hours of work still in front of me.  But here I am.  There's something about my brain, about the part of my brain that blurts out words to be typed into a paper, that just refuses to function until the proverbial gun is held to my head and I have to do it.

This paper is only has to be 7 pages or so, so it's not as huge a thing as it was at the end of last semester, when I had three twenty-page papers to finish in the space of ten days.  If I had one of them done a week ahead of time, it would have made all the difference in the world, but I just couldn't make myself sit down and do it.  I think it's dread.  Actually, I know it's dread.  I'm just not sure exactly what it is that I dread.  That the paper will be horrible?  that I'll make a bad grade?  that I won't like what I've written?  maybe all of the above.  But I really, really need to get it figured out before the end of the semester.  I only have two 20-page papers to write this time, plus a 10-page report of work for my independent study, but that's enough. 

Do you procrastinate?  Do you have any tricks you can share that you use to get yourself to work ahead?

in which AB does not finish what she attempted to start

A long time ago, not long after I started blogging, I wrote a post about the idea of sin. I had recently talked to a friend of mine, who is not at all religious in the conventional sense of the word, about how much she hated to attend regular church services because of the emphasis on sin, a concept she had no patience with.  So the post I wrote back in 2005 was basically a defense of the idea of sin, and the way I looked at it in my life.  At the time I wrote it, I thought it was the best post I'd written up to that point, and for a long time when I told someone about my blog, that was the post I would send them as an example of the kinds of things I was writing about.

But I went to the Ash Wednesday service at our church this last week, and I discovered to my surprise that my understanding of sin has changed.  I should maybe detour for a minute here and talk about why I still go to church.  I haven't written much about religion or spirituality recently because not much has changed.  The post I wrote last summer-- in which I talked about how I both believe and don't believe at the same time-- still pretty much covers how I think today. I've grown used to the feeling now, the oxymoronic believe/don't believe combination.  It makes complete sense to me on an intuitive level. But when I try to put it into words, it becomes stupidly complex.  It starts to sound like double-speak, like talking out both sides of my mouth.  So I've taken the easy way out and just not written much about it recently.

But it's still something I think about all the time.  Daily.  An online acquaintance of mine calls it being a Spiritual Atheist.  I hesitate to use the term myself, because the word "Atheist"--although it certainly applies to some of my opinions-- conjures up a response in other people that has nothing to do with what I mean.  "Agnostic" still comes the closest I think-- not in the popular sense of the word, which seems to be "don't care enough to have an opinion," but in the literal sense of the word ("a- gnostic," can't know or don't know):  I believe in certain experiences that I've had that could be described as spiritual, but I don't know how to define exactly what they "mean." 

Sheesh.  I really didn't mean to get off on this.  I guess that's what happens when you don't post about something for months and months-- you have a lot of catching up to do.   So if I'm an agnostic, or a Spiritual Atheist, or an oxyMoron ;-), why do I still go to church?  Well, honestly, the short answer is:  because if I don't go for three or four Sundays, I miss it.   We're not the most regular attenders.  We're certainly not there every week.  But if it gets to be more than three weeks, I start to yearn for it.  There's something about sitting in the sanctuary, a space dedicated to the acknowledgment of something vastly outside our piddly little selves, that is meaningful to me.  It would work for me to just go in to the sanctuary when it was empty and sit for awhile by myself, but I find it more effective and more meaningful when I'm there with the music and the readings, sharing the experience with others.  They may not be of the same opinions as me, but we're united at some level in spirit.  It's centering and restorative for me.  (That's the "short" answer-- the long answer is in the second half of this post). 

I haven't even come close to talking about the issue I originally sat down to type about.  But it's late and my brain is about to shut off, and as I've been typing, I've thought of several more directions this could go.  So maybe this will be another two- or three- parter.  More later.  Probably not till Wednesday at least, though.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

the jig is up, the news is out, they finally found me

The insanity of what I'm doing-- driving 500+ miles per week, at almost 50 years old, to take classes with a bunch of kids many of whom are less than half my age, so that I *might* be able to get a job that I'm not even sure I will like-- is always apparent to me.  But more so at some moments than others, and never more so than today, when I raced around (as usual) getting ready to go this morning, popped a couple of advil and a magnesium to ward off a headache and a couple of zinc to head off yet another cold, dropped my son off at school and drove two+ hours to UTown, walked the mile from the free parking lot to the building where my class is, sat down at an empty table to finish reading the last three pages of our reading assignment that I just could not hold my eyes open for at 12:30 last night, and then walked up the stairs for class only to find out it was cancelled. 

And oddly, I'm back into the student mindset enough that I couldn't help but feel a leap of happiness-- even more strongly than the frustration.  Woot!  No class!  So here I am, in the student center, writing a blog post, because I cannot get right back in the car and drive home.  On Thursdays I only have one class, and that was it.  Even on the days when I actually have the class, I can't make myself drive straight home.  I usually hang out in the student center or the bookstore for an hour or so, then go to the bagel place (no good bagels in our town), then head home around 2:00 or so.

So let's see if I can think of something interesting to say.  Hmmmmm... the long-stewing half-written post with further thoughts on feminism?  a summing up of why some people think Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century?  (which I never felt I could write before because I hadn't actually read it)(but NOW I HAVE!! yay!).  an update on the plans to visit our daughter in Prague in June? (we bought the tickets!! woo-hoo! but there's a long complicated story involved, including an explanation of the Schengen area, which might just bore you to tears).  An update on the audiobooks I've been listening to? (to which I've listened?)  a rant about how as soon as the temperature rises above 40 degrees around here, they start working on the roads? (with no warning, suddenly there was a five minute construction stop about halfway here). 

Oh, I know-- I never told you about DH's 50th birthday party.  It was a couple of weeks ago.  His best friend--whom we met in 1984, and who went through many years of professional training with dh, then spent a few years living in the Southwest, and now lives across the street from us with his wife and three kids--was born exactly one day before DH.  So his wife (the subject of this post) and I usually plan something together for their birthdays, and since this year was the big five-oh, we had been pondering the occasion for quite awhile.  At one point we were going to take a trip.  then we were going to rent a condo up on the ski slopes and have an après-ski party.  But shortage of funds nixed both those plans, so we ended up deciding to just have a party.  We invited about 80 people and I'm pretty sure there were at least 65 people there. 

It was a lot of fun, even for me, the anti-social one.  DH had a ball.  The party wasn't a surprise, but I bought a plane ticket home for dear daughter, and that was a surprise, which was fun.  We had it at their house, which made my life much simpler.  If you aren't a party person yourself, DH's BFF's wife is the perfect person to give a party with, because she is amazingly awesome and did about 75% of the work.  My contributions were a) the invitations, which were way cool if I do say so myself; b) to clean up our house and provide kid-friendly food so all the kids could hang out at our place while the adults were across the street; and c) to come up with an iPod playlist for the party music.  b) ended up being something of a bust because the kids didn't want to be across the street, they wanted to be at the party.  So we ended up with a clean house and a bunch of kid food out of that one.  And c) the iPod playlist was useless because it was so noisy I never even plugged my iPod in.  So a) the invitations were pretty much my only contribution.

But putting the playlist together was like a trip right back to high school.  DH and I had pretty different taste in music back then (we didn't know each other yet, we met our jr year in college)-- he liked Kansas, REO Speedwagon, Styx and Journey; I liked... oh, dear, am I going to admit to this in public?  all the pop stuff-- Elton John, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Ohio Players (Rollercoaster! of Love!), and.... Barry Manilow.  I can still sing all the way through on "Weekend in New England" (although now I crack up when I get to "with YOU there's a HEAVEN, so earth AIN'T SO BAAAAD!!")  When I was in college I retroactively changed my taste in 70s music to Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and Clapton, but at the time I even liked Olivia Newton-John.  It shames me to remember, and I can't believe I just told you.

So anyway.  I listen to the Stones and LedZep and Clapton all the time, but I hadn't listened to all that other stuff in a very long time.  So my new 70s playlist has been on near constant rotation while I'm driving.  Lorelei let's live together, and can't smile without you, and if you leave me now and so HERE I AM with OPEN ARMS hoping you'll see what your love means to me.... Ah, the good old days.  Just kind of makes you want to grab somebody and sway gently under a disco light while plastered to each other's sweaty bodies , doesn't it?  (Those weren't on the party playlist, of course, because they aren't exactly party music, not like *ahem*  YMCA and Sisters Sledge.)

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

aaaaaand it's done

I finished it!  finally!  the last chapter (of Ulysses) is about 40 pages with no punctuation, all told from the point of view of Bloom's wife.  It actually wasn't as hard to read as I thought it would be.  yay!  *happy dance*

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reading Report: Feb 2011

March 6th it is, and I'm just now posting the reading report.  It's been that kind of week.  I've been buried in academic reading, so you may not get any good recommendations, but here 'tis.

Jane Austen-- Lady Susan, Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice.  It's like Nirvana, yes?  Oh, damn, I have to read Sense and Sensibility this weekend.  Poor me.  Lady Susan, which I'd never even heard of before this semester, is an early novel, written in epistolary style (i.e., the whole thing is letters that the characters write back and forth to each other).  It has an extremely rushed ending, but other than that, it is surprisingly good for an Austen novel you've never heard of, and in some ways funnier than her later stuff.  And it's short.  Worth picking up if they have it at your library and you need a quick snarky read.  Northanger Abbey is a parody of the popular romances of the time.  I found it the most tedious read of the ones we've done so far, but it still had some great moments.  I suspect it would be funnier if I had read Castle of Otranto or Mysteries of Udolpho (which were the popular romances of Austen's time), but I haven't, and I didn't have time.  I already wrote about S&S, and P&P... well.  It's brilliant.  There was a thread on Facebook recently between a friend of mine and a bunch of her other friends about how they'd never been able to get through it and they couldn't understand why everyone loves it so much.  I don't understand how you couldn't.  It's not exactly a quick read, especially not at first while you're getting used to her slower pace.  And unfortunately, she has a habit of leaving out the scenes that turn into the best scenes in the movies  (In the movie of S&S, when Emma Thompson totally loses it when Hugh Grant comes back?  (which has to be one of the most brilliantly acted scenes ever) Not in the book.  Not kidding.  the Emma Thompson character is so overcome with emotion that she runs out of the room before she can break down.)  So I suppose if you saw the movie first and then tried to read the book, you'd be disappointed. But I'm not.  I adore these books.

OK.  I think I've gushed enough over Austen.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.  I read this when it came out twenty-ish years ago and thought it was way too depressing and didn't particularly care for it.  But I had to read it for my FemLitCrit class this semester and loved it this time.  It's definitely not a feel-good, cheerful novel-- it's about a young woman who has been convicted of a grisly murder, and the psychiatrist who tries to cure her of her amnesia so she can remember what happened.  But it's far from the dark, despairing novel that I remembered.  I'm not sure why I read it that way twenty years ago.  In fact, probably my main objection to it this time is that it ends a little too neatly.  I can't say anything more than that without spoilers.  Highly recommended.

Ulysses update.  Yes, I'm still reading it.  It goes on and on and on.  It's basically the story of one day in the lives of two men, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.  During the day, Stephen has various deep conversations with different people and ends up drinking with medical student friends at a maternity hospital.  Bloom, who has spent the day going to a funeral, eating lunch, and masturbating on the beach as he watches a beautiful young woman, has also been avoiding going home to his wife, whose lover has been to the house during the afternoon.  Bloom goes to the maternity hospital to check on a woman he knows who is delivering there and ends up sitting with Stephen and his friends as they get progressively more drunk--although Bloom himself imbibes very little.  Bloom, feeling protective of Stephen, follows him to the red light district of Dublin, where there is a long, astonishingly inventive dream sequence that takes place in a brothel.  Now Bloom and Stephen are sitting in a cheap coffee house.  Bloom is hoping Stephen will sober up a little, and he is still avoiding going home and avoiding even thinking about what happened during the afternoon.  It's brilliantly done, but it isn't easy to read, and I can't possibly recommend it.  You'd kill me.  But if you're determined to read it, let me know and I'll let you know my strategy (for what it's worth, which may not be much).  It involves two commentaries, a paraphrase, a dictionary, and the book itself.

And on a more fun note:  (sorry, this is getting long).

Dream a Little Dream, Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  I've read enough SEP novels to know that I almost never like the way they begin and the way they end, but the in-betweens are good enough that I keep reading them.  This time, I figured I could get the setup off the back cover, so I started reading on about page 75, which worked really well.  The story is about Rachel Stone, who is the widow of a corrupt televangelist. She returns with her young son to the small town where they lived, where almost everyone hates her for the way her husband (and by implication, her) fleeced them out of all kinds of money.  She is so broke that she and her son are living in her car.  She has to find the last bit of her husband's fortune, which she's convinced is hidden in the house where they lived.  Their house has been sold, and Gabe Bonner, a widower who has unwillingly hired her to help him renovate an old drive-in movie theater, just happens to be the caretaker of the house.

There is also a secondary romance between Gabe's brother, a local pastor, and his church secretary. As with most of Phillips' novels, the secondary romance is almost more interesting than the primary one, although in this case it may have meant more to me because of my background.  The brother-pastor is questioning his faith, and has an ongoing conversation in his head with God, in the persons of Clint Eastwood, Oprah, and somebody else whom I'm forgetting.  It's a little weird, but I thought it worked pretty well, and his moment of resolving his faith--although hardly an in-depth analysis of faith issues-- worked well enough that I could buy it.  It will remind you of The Shack, if you've read that, except that it is about a gazillion times more believable than The Shack was, partly because rather than stretching the metaphor till it breaks, Phillips lets it be a low-key, not-too-serious sideline to the main story.

But where the story really got me is the relationship between Gabe and Rachel's son.  I was sobbing by the time they got it resolved.  I thought it was beautifully done, and believable.  And that's where I should have stopped reading.  Because once again Phillips managed to write an ending that all but ruined the book for me.  I could go on and on about what bugged me about it-- tantalizing details that are thrown out and then dumped without resolution, a tacked-on crisis that serves no purpose, big moments that fizzle (after a long, tense night, Gabe's brother volunteers to keep the kid so Rachel and Gabe can go home and talk things out. So what do they do?  in the next scene, Rachel is TAKING A NAP and Gabe is out working in the yard).  When they finally do have their big talk, Rachel insists that Gabe talk about how much better she is than his dead first wife.  Not kidding.  Suffice it to say, yuck.  Now that it's been a couple of weeks since I read it, I will say that the middle 300 pages is good enough that I'd still say it's worth reading, especially if little niggling details don't bother you as much as they bother me.  But if you talked to me the day after I read it, I would have told you to burn it.  Next time I may not only skip the first 75 pages, but also stop reading 50 pages before the end.