Sunday, August 16, 2009

Borders Books, Half Price Books & Lake Harriet,

After a hurried morning of packing, errands, and wrapping up loose ends, we headed up to the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area. Our family has a thing for book stores. So, these spots were high on our list. Ryan had a gift card for Borders/ Walden Books that he wanted to spend. And of course, Half Price is an especial favorite.

Our evening was spent at the Lake Harriet band shell listening to instrumental and vocal jazz. The evening was warm, but not muggy; people were swimming, having picnics, eating ice cream and swing dancing. A great way to spend a summer night.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What to do in the Twin Cities?

With 5 of our children gone, we decided to take the 2 youngest kids for a short mini-vacation in the Twin Cities. We found a Country Inn hotel with not only continental breakfast and a pool, but also a slide. To help our planning, we googled "Things to do in Minneapolis" and found a number of helpful sites.

We set aside 3 days and 3 nights and decided to fill about half the time with activities. The rest of our time we wanted to spend just hanging out at the pool or in front of the TV. (We don't have cable at home, so those multitudinous channels were quite a treat.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

If you're looking for a light, encouraging book as a good summer read, have I got the book for you! The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, by Terry Ryan. Ms. Ryan, the sixth of Evelyn Ryan's ten children wrote this biography about her amazing mother who writes jingles, poems, and 25-words-or-less compositions. She wins hundreds of contests that save her family from destitution.

In the 1950's and 1960's, "contesting" drew a surprisingly large number of housewives who used the small to large prizes to supplement their family incomes. Beginning with the roadside Burma Shave rhymes, Evelyn's contesting career required her word skills, wit, and originality. "Luck" she always said, "has nothing to do with it." (p. 22) She developed an elaborate system for filing food labels, collecting entry forms, and varying the names on the forms (variation on her name, her children's names, even fictitious names.)

A magnificent competitor, Evelyn won cash rewards, shopping sprees, automobiles, trips to Europe, gold watches, TVs, radios, a fridge AND a freezer, a washer-dryer, and a host of smaller prizes which she squirreled away in her "Closet" for that proverbial rainy day. Who knows? Someone just might need one of the 3 pairs of Arthur Murray dance shoes.

The poignancy of the story is not in the many wins by this clever, indefatigable woman, but that her humor and joy are sustained in a difficult situation. We can all agree that the task of raising 10 children on a single income is daunting. Evelyn's husband, Kelly, was the source of the growing tension in the family. Kelly Ryan's "problem drinking," dark angry moods, and resentment over his wife's success often brought the family to the edge of eviction and poverty. As the years progressed, less of his paycheck came home and his violence increased.

Suze Orman writes her forward to the book:

"How could such a woman show her children that live is not cruel, but bountiful? How could she possibly keep them, all 10 of them, afloat, much less teach them abundance, grace, and courage in the face of grinding poverty and adversity? ... Richness of spirit can dwell in the most desolate places and it pervades Evelyn's household like a healing balm." (p. 11, 13)

One reviewer of the book became an instant fan of Evelyn's and called her the "goddess in a girdle."

Not only do I highly recommend the book, but the movie by the same name is also a "winner." Starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson, this film is an accurate representation of the book.