Remember the Sweet Things, by Ellen Greene
He did it again. Even though he knows it irritates you and makes you want to scream, he persists in doing that which really bugs you. Is he doing it on purpose? You wonder.
Once upon a time, his silly habits were cute. His quirky little rituals made you smile. You bragged to your friends about his peccadilloes. You barely remember those days. Now, it’s all fighting and ruffled feelings. What happened between “I do” and “I won’t?”
Just so she would never forget, author Ellen Greene wrote down the treasured moments with her husband Marsh: the wonderfulness of his personality and the special quality of their relationship. In a new book, “Remember the Sweet Things,” she recalls that yearly list.
Growing up as a shy, relatively sheltered girl in Wisconsin, Greene longed for something different. Following graduation and despite parental consternation, she moved to Costa Rica, where she met Carlos and married him.
Although the union produced two children, it didn’t last. The couple fought often and Greene felt shut out from her cold husband’s life. “Me hizo comer hielo,” Greene says, evoking a Spanish saying. “He made me eat ice.”
Following her divorce, she entered into another failed relationship with a man from West Africa, whose culture and expectations were vastly different from Greene’s. That relationship, too, failed.
Looking for some stability for herself and her children, Greene, who had moved to Massachusetts with the West African, began searching for a new life. She found one working with a tall, older man who faintly resembled Paul Newman. Before long, they fell in love. Marsh was a born-and-raised New Englander, resourceful, gentle, intelligent and sea-loving. He was in a marriage that was slowly dying, yet Greene loved him enough to let him go. He came back.
In the infancy of their relationship, Greene says she began to write down a list of all the sweet things her boyfriend-cum-husband did. For 21 years, she wrote down “funny, thoughtful things” she noticed: his patience in teaching her kids to ski; the way he loved them as much as she did; cooking on Mother’s Day; rescuing Greene from snakes; planting a cactus garden at their new home in Mexico; reciting prayers in local Mexican dialect; and holding hands in the hospital.
At a time when watching the news can put you in a bad mood, it’s nice to have something in hand that reminds you to cherish the small stuff. “Remember the Sweet Things” is perfect for that.
Although it would definitely be tempting to depict Marsh as a saint, Greene doesn’t do that. She lovingly lists a few of his faults, as well as a pile of her own. She’s willing to disclose their disagreements, but they’re bracketed by those “sweet things” that will make even the most hard-hearted reader’s heart melt.
Bring a box of tissues with you when you read this book, especially if you need to make a sweet list of your own. “Remember the Sweet Things” is a book you’re not likely to forget.
Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz, by Stephanie Stein Crease
Imagine a world with no iPods and no MP3 players. There are no CDs, no VCRs, no DVDs, no video games and, in fact, no television in that world. Roads aren’t paved, because there aren’t any cars to drive on them. Computers don’t exist and indoor bathrooms are rare. There are no telephones and even radio is a few years away.
The main entertainment for families is based around — are you ready for this? — a piano. Now, imagine becoming a famous musician in a world like this.
Sounds kind of impossible? Well, that was the world into which Edward “Duke” Ellington was born more than 100 years ago, but Ellington loved to embrace new technology and that made him a star. Read more about the his life by grabbing “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz,” by Stephanie Stein Crease.
When Ellington was born in 1899, Washington, D.C. was an exciting place for African-Americans. The neighborhood where Ellington was born, the “Uptown District,” was close-knit, and residents were proud to live amid black-owned stores and restaurants and the finest schools. Washington was segregated then, as were many cities, but young Ellington still had a childhood like most boys of his time.
Early in his life, Ellington, nicknamed “Duke” by his best friend, was fascinated with baseball and was an awesome artist. His parents were afraid he’d be hurt by the sport and so they encouraged his artistic talents. But everything changed when Duke was 14 years old: he discovered the piano.
Ragtime music was very popular and Duke was obsessed by the syncopated beat. He studied it day and night and practiced the piano. Soon, he was playing music with his friends and other musicians.
For more than 50 years, Ellington embraced new technology and made music. By seeing the advantages of radio and record albums, movies and telephones, he was able to bring his innovative compositions and experimentation with new sounds to people of all colors. You can still find the Duke’s music on CD and the Internet, and maybe on your iPod.
While “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz,” is a good book and quite interesting for a grownup, it’s meant for kids 9 and up, which is curious. In the first chapters, Crease draws parallels between Ellington’s life and that of children today, which gives kids a bit of a reference point.
By the middle of the third chapter, though, Crease has gone into territory that could tend to lose a kid’s interest: band members, who played where and other information better suited for the child’s grandparents, rather than the child.
Yes, the activities are kid-friendly (and may be great for a rainy-day grandparent-child project), but this book is, for a 9-year-old, a little too much, unless said 9-year-old is a music fiend with a propensity for jazz.
Having said that, if your older child – say, 12 to 17 — loves a variety of music, this book will quickly become a favorite. For them, “Duke Ellington: His Life in Jazz,” is out of this world.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.