Saturday, April 4, 2020

Books Read in the Last Two Months

I reported my first month's books on February 6th.  Here's what I've been reading since.  The *starred* ones I think my mother (and you) should consider reading.

**Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E Harron.  I wrote to one of my favorite bibliophiles: “This is the book I will always regret not being able to write.  The snark/voice I strive for with 100 times the talent.”  This is a Story, deserving of the capital S.  Read it. [Note: Kyla agrees with me.]

*A Murderous Relation (The 5th  Veronica Speedwell, by Deanna Raybourn.  Veronica!  Stoker!  The fifth adventure. The prince of England, intrigue, and excellent verbal repartee.  The only character I look forward more to this year is Lady Charlotte Sherlock, but that is an extremely high bar. 

*Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, by Peter Allison.  Super fun read! This was recommended after we booked our Kruger National Park safari (that will get rescheduled after travel opens up again) and I shared chapters with hubby and children as they were around. I loved the sense of place, and this guy can tell a funny story! The right amount of self-depreciation, humor, interesting facts, 'round the campfire tales--I'm picking up more of this author's books.

*Planet Earth is Blue, by Nicole Panteleakos.  Wow, this is a bit of my childhood. I was in 5th grade during the Challenger launch, and [Super]Nova is in 6th. I can't wait to finish this story with my kids (we've listened to the first half), as it is an important story with no early spoilers about the launch, and it tackles full on some topics dear to me: foster children, autism, special education, siblings. It even throws in mental illness, loss, heaps of facts about space, and "mental retardation" without feeling preachy or overstuffed. There are so many things to talk about here, and the author's note at the end adds to conversation. Very well done. The only part that brought me out of the story is the foster parents who seemed to have perfect understanding and patience for a nonverbal girl with severe autism. Wish we were all that good!

*Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. On a librarian-friend's recommendation, I checked out the audio of this graphic novel, a bit of a paradox. But I'm so glad I listened to it, particularly once I head all the recording notes. A lot of love, thought, and community went into this production, but an equal amount of work went into the graphic novel, so I will now need to eye-read this book as well.

First of all, this is truly a well done memoir. Its whole title is "How I Lost my Mother, Found my Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction". This is one I have to keep for a while from the library, because I want my kids to hear it, too. It's a book well written for both generations. It's probably even worth my mother reading it!

**In a Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson.  I had first heard of this author, famous for his Walk in the Woods memoir of the Appalachian Trail, years ago but ignored urges to read it. [Note: I’m currently listening to it well walking miles a day in our neighborhood woods.  It’s dated and the author shows improved style in the five years between Walk and this newer book.]
This book made me fall in love with 1) Australia, and 2) Bill Bryson’s writing.  Our planned 3 weeks in Australia is not going to be enough, and I am already planning a second trip before our first trip is even off the ground…so to speak.  

I love Bill’s excellent research—he has read some really dry books about Down Under so that we don’t have to—and he relates it a way that is interesting, relevant, and humorous.  I can’t tell if at heart, if Bill is a historian, a journalist, a travel writer, a humorist, or just a gifted story teller. 

From Strength to Strength, by Sara Henderson.  I read this famous Australian’s memoir in conjunction with Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country, and the comparison is not flattering to this book.  This author earned her fame fairly after winning the Businesswoman of the Year in 1991. After reading Bryson, it is not fair to compare her inferior, self-conscious writing style as her many talents lie elsewhere, and what she lacks in talent, she makes up for it in absolute Outback strength.  She has more incredible stories to tell than Bryson, but even if they were told better, it was hard to get beyond her husband, who on a good day, was a jackass, and averaged out to be a multi-dimensional scoundrel.  It was hard to read about “oh, but I loved him”.  She gave up any control of her own life when she married, but after decades, wrested it back and came out well in a life not of her choosing. 

Here is my summary of reading these two Aussie books:  When they die, good Americans become Australians.  The bad wind up in the Northern Territory. 
I want to be a good American!

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green.  Wow.  Green is hit or miss with me, but I always get something out of his characters.  This time, the teenage protagonist suffers, literally, from OCD, something the author also has lived and struggled with his whole life.  Mostly, it makes me truly grateful that my own headspace is a pretty fun place to be in.

Searching for Sylvie Lee, by Jean Kwok. Hmm, I’m glad I read it.  It was interesting to read the plot twists and the back and forth chronology, but the book’s aftertaste was from the characters, most who seemed real and hurting

Trickster; Native American Tales, a Graphic Collection.  Fairly interesting and a quick read.

The Home Edit: A guide to organizing and realizing your home goals, by Clea Shearer and Joanna Tep Yawn.  Slap me, friends, if I ever become this person.

The Book Charmer, by Karen Hawkins. This book was charming. I think it fell short in many ways, but I loved the idea of books being able to tell a certain gifted person what people should do, in the bossiest way possible. The book dealt gently with make-your-own families, and friends, and dementia, but in a way that never made me get lost in the story. But I will probably look up the next book when it comes out. Let's see where this goes, shall we?

Room to Breath, by Liz Talley.  She could have had a hot affair, no harm to anyone, with a 24 year old really into her. Squandered. What's the point of fiction, people?  Southern lady contemporary fic is not my first choice genre, but I was gladdened to see personal growth in the female characters.

Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen. It's fun when both Kyla (age 13 going on 35) and I (age 45) both read the same book. I was engrossed in the book, and Kyla and I had fun discussions about the characters, their dilemmas, parenting decisions, and even why the token black character was pretty one-dimensional. All said, I couldn't stop listening to it, and when it was over, I mostly forgot about it. However, I am not the target audience, so I don't hold that against the book.

The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James.  Another book not really appropriate for my 13 year old promiscuous reader, but that didn't stop either of us from obsessively listening to it until it finished! It was an interesting mystery, ghost story, history lesson, and enough love story to make it interesting. I'd read this author again.

Dig, by A.S. King. Perhaps reading a deliberately surreal book in a very surreal time (COVID-19 work from home week 2) was not the best idea. Somewhere, I had read an intriguing blurb on the book and put it on hold. I will say that I kept coming back to it, and wasn't able to not finish it. I do think that had I eye-read the book, I would have followed the different characters better than listening to the audio. And I'm glad I stuck with it through the ending. Overall, glad I read it, but I didn't save the hold so my kids could also read it. 

Total Titles to Date: 36 (in 3 months).  Good enough.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Just a Day in this New World

The night before, we had yet another hail storm (at least one I wasn't out walking in, this time).  We were playing Settlers, but the kids ran out to have a feral moment. 

The next morning, Art Gecko was shedding his skin, which I thought was interesting. (You have to catch him shedding it, because once it's shluffed, he eats it.)

Wes had a Lego class before school that switched to online Zoom meetings to conclude.  On Friday, as a bonus project, Wes made a self-portrait. I thought the exercise was interesting, but I am not very good at abstract art.  Wes says he is wearing sunglasses and his hair is covering up one of his eyes.

Later, Dwayne and I went for a walk. As is the rule, we cannot do a family activity that all 3 kids want to participate in.  Wes was the full-body pouter this time.  But if you look closely, you'll notice all the kids are wearing headphones and listening to music or a story as we walk.  This both annoys me and makes me glad that Dwayne and I can chat uninterrupted. And it gave us extra entertainment as we walked home as Wes started boogying to whatever he was listening to, oblivious to the world around him.  That kid loves to dance!

 A new tree has fallen across the path in the last week.  No bear was caught underneath. 

 Oh, Patient Kyla!  Wes loves being Wesley-sized--he can jump on anyone and just hang on like the tumor he is.  Kyla encourages this.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Marching Out

Kids and Dwayne have been working at home for all but two days of March, and we have at least another month to go.  Here's how we wrapped up the month.

Kyla brought me more bouquets (and filled the vase she made for me last Christmas!).

We had a few beautiful days, and the kids noticed some great clouds.

Piper did cool art with a new friend.

Wes built a weapon holder out of scrap wood.

This two can get along really well when they are both being extra silly.  Here they are playing "Who wants a tiny piece of cheese?" from one of the many movies about a dog getting lost and traveling thousands of miles back home.  

Kyla can eat her weight in jelly and Nutella. (Couldn't we all?)

Sometimes Piper is Very Unhappy about family walks.

We are getting to know our woods even better (I've even been doing 3 mile "runs", gasp!).  Piper, this time happy to be out walking, poses with the resident black bear. 

Dwayne is up to 25 very sexy push ups daily.  Wes, wiry boy that he is, can do push ups and pull ups all day long.  (I can watch him for about half a day.)  The next step, of course, was for Wes to do push ups on top of Daddy's push ups.
Dwayne is a saint.  A strong saint.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Non Voyage*

This morning, we should have caught the o'dark early flight to Lima, via Atlanta.

We would have started our adventure with a night in Lima, Peru, and maybe seen the amazing fountains in the evening.

We wouldn't have much time before heading to the Nazca Lines for three days, but these are some of the local sights the hotel boasts of. I'm kind of interested in the macabre skulls and burials.

We will make it eventually, as the trip has only been postponed for months or a full year. Earlier this week, we officially canceled the African leg (Safari in Kruger National Park, Cape Town, Egypt & Jordan tour), and are waiting for our SE Asia itinerary to cancel on us, so we lose less money. If anyone can predict the next 4 months, you know better than I if we can at least make Australia, NZ, and Fiji and take Dwayne's vacation time in Oceana as already scheduled.

Even though my suitcase is not unpacked, I'm not feeling too morose about it, as it the new normal has eradicated my trip mindset, and now we are living a lifestyle that is diametrically opposed to what we planned for this spring.
Bring on the social distancing!
*Brilliant title must be fully credited to Georgia Y, teacher, bibliophile, and friend extraordinaire.

If You Give a Pig a Paintbrush....

[Warning: While trying to be slightly entertaining, this post is really to answer the "Hey, Babe, when did we last fix ____?" questions that will arise in about 2025.]

Hopefully you have had the pleasure of reading Laura Numeroff's picture book, but basically all of them are about how one idea leads to another, exhausting, idea.  

We had our own pancake moment as we tried to do lots of tiny things to the house to get ready for another family to live in it while we traveled, and the momentum grew as our plans got canceled and we were forced to stay home exponentially more than we planned. 

It really started when Dwayne thought we should really fix the peeling ceiling in our shower.  Of the 3 showers in the house, the kids prefer ours, and occasionally one of them feels the need to spray the entire shower with water.  For the second time in ten years, I scraped, mudded, textured, primed, and repainted the ceiling.  And that is almost impossible to do without also doing some of the wall.  So I repainted the bathroom, walls, trim, and door.  And no reason to put up the ugly wicker shelf that I got used twenty years ago--the only thing holding it together was dust and cobwebs, so we bought a new cabinet.  And shower head (incapable of spraying the ceiling). And faucet. And non-rusty caddy. A good scrubbing, and the bathroom was done, just as the kids were entering their second full stay-at-home week.  

I already had the paint can out, and decide that I could openly be appalled by the upstairs hallway (read: Wes's and Piper's bedrooms doors).  So we painted those.  If it were easy, I could end this more quickly, but after Piper and I scrubbed and scrapped the front of her door, I looked at the back.  An army of Not Me's had been busily at work, punching holes into it.  There was not enough putty or patience.  So Dwayne and I bought a new door, which of course, was 1/8" too wide and didn't have cutouts for embedded hinges.  I did the heavy lifting and Dwayne did the technical work, and we got the new door on.  I painted all the doors and trim work while Dwayne put on new (oil-rubbed bronze, my favorite) knobs on.  So the hallway was done.

(And just because I love it, I'm sharing my Wall of Christmas Cards.  When I'm in a funk, relive our childful lives and appreciate the evolution of both my kids and my creativity!)

But now Piper's doorway looked so nice but her room looked like this:
Honestly, her room has bothered me for years and so we came to an agreement.  She wanted to get rid of the wardrobes, get a smaller dresser, and paint the room purple.  To make that happen, she had to shed a lot of crap.  If she could do that, we would find a craigslist dresser of her choice, paint the room together, and Dwayne and I would take out the wardrobes--its own Herculean task.  

This is what the living room looked like with all her crap stored there while we painted.

A little glimpse of the "before and during":

I will never forget, in spite of my best efforts, of teaching Piper to paint a room.  (She started by putting paint on the roller, using her hand a spatula.)  But she looked so darn cute wearing a set of my paint clothes!

We started Wednesday removing the wardrobe, and by Friday night, the room was put back, carpet shampooed, and touch ups completed.  She loves it, and I really appreciate how much less stuff she kept.  In fact, along with the wardrobe, we were able to deliver her outgrown toys and art supplies and dresses to a single mother with foster kids, in addition to the Ikea wardrobe we no longer needed.  

It still needs a new set of curtains, but we're close to the final touches.  

That project pretty much used up my project energy, but Dwayne still had a little more.  The gaps in our beautiful kitchen floor are a results of not doing the entire upstairs remodel at one time, and needing to use click-in planks instead of glue-down--and of course, of actually using the kitchen.  No other place gets that much foot traffic, and a board in every row was gapping significantly.

Of course, this time it wasn't as easy to just take off the trip closest to the gap and crowbar it into place, as the flooring went under the very intractable pantry.  After some head-scratching, Dwayne thought using friction, a large mallet, and his foot to close the gap one plank at a time over about 20 feet of flooring.  But nothing he tried held well enough. Finally, he turned to his friend, Bing, and found that others had used double-sided sticky tape.  Eureka!  While I was shampooing carpets (because the shampooer was out, and that pig still had that darn pancake), he fixed the floors and knows how to do it in another few years when they spread out again.  

I think we've satisfied that pig for a while.  However, if we come out of this stay-at-home without a cleaner, more organized home (and garage!), I will consider this time wasted.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Day 20: Three Insights that Have Resounded with Me during "Stay At Home"

And the people stayed home.
     And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply.
     Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. 
     And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
     And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed to images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed."
                         ~Kitty O'Meara

*            *             *             * 

NPR had a newsletter with a blurb I identified with right away: Anyone else failing miserably at homeschooling their kids? We started out very Dumbledore, but now we’re definitely heading toward Snape — maybe even a little Umbridge.
     Kids learned from Snape, right?  Potions, DADA, and maybe some regular life lessons about unfairness and mean adults.

*           *             *             *             * 

And something a both Profane and Profound:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Wow-- Family Night WORKED!

Instead of doing the standby movie night, or even Uno or cribbage, I wanted play a board game that we'd all enjoy.  Settlers of Catan isn't particularly complicated, but I haven't played it since BC (before children), and Wes doesn't always "get" things before Kyla is bored and ready to go back to her book, though he is the kid who most likes playing games.  I usually don't get to reflect and see all the things that went right, but this night was so perfect, I need to record for posterity.

Things Mama did right to make Settlers a success:
  1. Set up the board before dinner in the middle of the island (which is almost meta...'cuz Settlers is an island...our island is our kitchen table...yep, deep).
  2. We ate dinner while studying the board and discussing the different resources and chances of earning them.
  3. Once we had the basic idea, we started the game by setting up our pieces. By this time, the kids were really excited to put their pieces on the board.
  4. Once dinner was over and the game was ready to really play, I announced it was make-your-own sundaes night while we played.  
  5. The kids LOVED it!  Dwayne and I kept catching each other's eye, as if to say, "Are these our children?  Why is this going so well?  Three out of 3--this is unprecedented!"  
The night was a smashing success, and math next day for Wes was figuring out the possibility of each role of the dice and graphing it.  Spoilers:  There is a 1 in 6 chance two dice will roll a 7; there is a 1 in 36 chance a  2 or 12 will be rolled.

I will float on this success for days....

*          *          *          *          *

The Settlers of Catan

Multiplayer Board Game
The Settlers of Catan
Catan, previously known as The Settlers of Catan or simply Settlers, is a multiplayer board game designed by Klaus Teuber, and first published in 1995 in Germany by Franckh-Kosmos Verlag as Die Siedler von Catan. Players take on the roles of settlers, each attempting to build and develop holdings while trading and acquiring resources. Players gain points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points, typically 10, wins.