Thursday, March 31, 2011

365/74, 75 Laughing Baby

How can it not be a good day when you spend it with a laughing baby?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

thoughts on: Doomsday Book

Doomsday BookDoomsday Book by Connie Willis

Doomsday Book was Willis's first full length novel set in what is now called the Oxford Time Travel series.  However, it is the last I've read.  (Actually, we listened on cd, starting on our recent road trip.)  Each of the three books (I'm counting Blackout/All Clear, my favorite, as one book.) has a very different feel to it, different characters, some overlap, different periods of history, and need not be read in order.  The basic premise of the series is that historians travel back in time to study history.  So, yes, there is time travel, but it is also historical fiction.  Very well researched historical fiction. 

This is the darkest of the books, alternating between a young historian caught in the plague and her contemporaries in Oxford beset by an epidemic of their own.  I won't say more about the plot, because it would spoil it for you.  Often, when stories flip back and forth between two sets of events/points of view, I find myself wanting to rush through one to get back to the more interesting side, but that was not true here.  Both stories held my interest, and the flipping between times was irregular, which added to the sense of uncertainty the characters felt.

I will say that I wished I'd been reading not listening, because the narrator's voices got on my nerves.  Her Mr. Dunworthy sounded nothing like mine, and her whining voices were too authentically whiny.  She also slowed the pace.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

thoughts on: Olive Kitteridge

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

I always wait until the last week to read the selections for my book group, so they'll be fresh in my mind.  That means I often hear a bit about the books before I read them.  The words that I was hearing about Olive were ones like "sad" and "depressing."  After reading it, though, I came to a different conclusion.  I think it may be due to age. 

If I were young, I think I would have found these interwoven tales sad myself.  They certainly are not happy stories of lives full of promise, love fulfilled, relationships healed.  No.  They tell the stories of mostly older people, middle aged and elderly, who have loved imperfectly, sometimes quite badly, who have been hurt and who have hurt.  No marriage was perfect.  No parent without fault.  No one ever quite overcame their past.  Never.  Yet, they loved.  They reached out to help those who needed it.  They were bruised, but not beaten, not hardened against each other.   Not unwilling to love.

I think, to the young, that sounds just awful, like giving up, like settling for less.  I think with age, we recognize that our love is not perfect, and choosing it anyway is not settling for less, it is acknowledging our humanity and forgiving each other for it.  The hardships, both those we inflict and those inflicted upon us, can make us retreat from people or can create compassion for others in their sufferings.  Love need not diminish.  It does, sometimes, but it need not.  That, for me, is not depressing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

thoughts on: Penguins and Golden Calves, icons and idols

Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places (Wheaton Literary Series)Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places by Madeleine L'Engle
at comes from choosing books one had never before heard about based on a one sentence description.  I was expecting an exploration of how God is revealed through nature, how elements of His creation can be icons for us, how we can see God with new eyes when we marvel at the wonders of His creation.

In her opening chapter, L'Engle gives us her definition of an icon.  "My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it into words is to affirm that an icon, for me, is an open window to God.  An icon is something I can look through and get a wider glimpse of God and God's demands on us, el's mortal children, than I would otherwise."  A few paragraphs later, she continues, "If something does not lead us to God it is not and cannot be an icon.....True icons reveal more of God to me than I have hitherto understood."  This sounded very promising to me.

However, in the following chapters, L'Engle shares her thoughts on topics such as the Bible, family, our mortal bodies, God, and more.  The book is an exploration of her own deeply held theology, one with which I share the fundamentals, but on several points we diverge.  This, I must say, did not diminish my enjoyment of her writing, because she is a pleasure to read.  It is not that I did not understand her points, only that I was hoping for something different. 

I had been looking forward to reading about nature as icon.  I wanted the book to be something other than what it was.

365/73 Half Dozen

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Turquoise Traveler, Blanket 6

This one was knit on the road.  It's a much brighter color than I'd used for the others, but I'm sure there are those in the nursing home longing for bright colors.  I'm partial to vivid colors myself, though this isn't one I'd choose for myself. 

The pattern, Emma, is from my trustworthy Quick Knit Keepsakes.  I've only one pattern left to knit from that leaflet.  Then I'll move on to a new book, for at least a couple blankets.  There are a couple I may do again in different colors.  Brighter colors, probably.  I'm thinking hot pink.  Same Lion Pound of Love for the yarn. 

I've now knit half a dozen blankets for our ministry.  Half way to my twelve blanket goal! 

thoughts on: Packing for Mars

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

I chose this book on tape for our recent road trip, knowing it would appeal to my husband, one of those former little boys who dreamed of traveling to outer space.  After listening to it, he declared, "I'm glad I didn't become an astronaut." 

Roach humorously explores the human side of space travel, what it takes to support humans in outer space.  Scientific studies of food development, sleep studies, lots and lots about the management of digestive functions and wastes, the long term effects of weightlessness, and other such topics most of do not consider.  There were often moments of TMI for me.  Often.  I could have skipped the entire chapter on sex. 

My husband, however, found the book hilariously funny.

Roach is relentless in her research, following all sorts of bunny trails.  She tracks down several rumors, some published, some not, to determine whether they are true and where they originated.  She quotes liberally from the transcripts of various space missions (note to all space voyagers:  everything you say is recorded), which were often the funniest pieces in the book.

Traveling companions

We've taken many family road trips over the years, but renting an RV was a first for us.  My husband, who loves road trips, and I, who love vacations of all sorts, have talked about buying one.  Our daughter said she'd like a hiking vacation, so spring break seemed to be a good time give it a try.  A learning experience, we said, and it was.    
Trixie is a fantastic RV camper.  She loved both  hiking and sitting in my lap on the driving portions.  It was easier to open the door and let her out in the morning than dealing with motel corriders and elevators.  I think well over half the campers had canine companions, and I can see why.  Dogs are fantastic. 

My husband found the trip relaxing.  He truly enjoys driving, so he did all of it.   Set up and clean up was very easy.  He enjoyed the quietness of the campgrounds.  Not having internet access, or even phone service, sometimes frustrated him, but even he realized that it was a blessing not to be in touch with work every minute of every day.  He would definitely like to buy an RV in the future, but not a gas guzzler like the rental was.  He'd like a truck camper. 

My favorite thing about traveling in the RV, as opposed to motels, was waking up in the morning and being in a park.  I am a morning person.  I loved waking up, eating a quick breakfast, opening my door, and taking a hike.  I am sun-averse, so the routine of morning hike, mid-day drive, evening hike suited me perfectly.  The drive time was used for knitting while listening to books on tape or chatting with my beloved.  My big complaint:  uncomfortable mattress.  If we buy, I get a real mattress.

Last night, my eldest asked his sister what had been her favorite part of the trip.  "Justin Beiber!" was her response.  She spent most of her time listening to cds and watching dvds.  With headphones, thank you very much.  She had no interest in her surroundings, or us, but was usually willing to go hiking.  She did not like not having her own room, though she had the most private space in the RV, the curtained bed above the cab.  Nor did she like eating every meal at the camper. 

It was, as we'd intended, a learning experience.  The not surprising conclusion is that my husband and I would enjoy owning and traveling in an RV some day, when it is just the two of us.   We did not like the parking lot style campgrounds at all.  We loved the state parks where each camper had its own space, maybe a picnic table, room for a longed-for hammock, a bit of privacy.  The public restrooms/showers were all nicer than I'd feared.  We enjoyed visiting places we would never have seen otherwise.

365/72 A bend in the river

My other favorite campground.  Very quiet, very pretty, up in the pinon pine forest.

365/71 Desert Lake

Man made, of course. 

365/70 White Sands, Dunes

This time of year, winds are significant at White Sands, creating white out conditions farther into the park.  After walking the dune path, we drove through the remainder of the park, but I was not about to go out and be sandblasted.  Imagine a windy, swirling snowstorm on the plains, visibility about ten yards, but it's all sand.   That is the photo I did not take. 

365/69 Desert Hiking is not for dogs

Trixie is a enthusiastic hiker, but hiking the desert was hard on her paws.  Everything is prickery - barbed burrs, cactus spikes, thorns everywhere.  I saw one smart man whose dog was wearing booties.  I wish I'd thought of that for Trixie.  It would not have prevented her from colliding with a prickly pear and getting a leg full of two inch needles, but it would have protected her paws from the barbed burs, which bothered her much more than the prickly pear encounter. 

365/68 Dog Canyon, evening

Dog Canyon is at the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert.  
I think it was my favorite campground of the trip. 

365/67 All Used Up

Space Monkey

On our road trip through New Mexico, we were listening to Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, and learned that we would be near the memorial to Ham, the American Astrochimp, so we took Lumpy to see it.  He was thrilled as he imagined himself flying through space.

365/66 Rocket

365/65 Desert Haze

The haze is plain old dust lit up by the bright sun.  

365/64 A spot of color

In the desert, every spot of color delights.

Friday, March 18, 2011

365/63 Road Trip Essentials

thoughts on: The Mysterious Howling

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious HowlingThe Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

There are not enough wolf-boy stories in the tabloids these days.  It's all celebrity gossip now.  I remember decades ago scanning the black and whites at the grocery, always on the lookout for a wolf-boy found in India story.  They were always found in India.  Mowgli was not the only one, only the most famous.  So, when I noticed this story about children raised by wolves, who then get a spunky young governess, it seemed the perfect way to spend an afternoon.  (I'm leaning strongly toward light reads these days; Trixie's cancer is enough darkness for me just now.)

This would have been a fun read aloud, if I had young children.  It was funny, mysterious, explained idiomatic expressions and literary terms, and ended with the set up for the next book.  I'll read that one when it comes out; I'm second on the holds list at the library. 

If you have elementary students, I'd recommend this one for them.   The writing style seems somewhat influenced by Lemony Snickett, but without the gloominess or narrator as interested party.  I hope the series is not as long, either, because, though it might hold a child's interest for thirteen volumes, I doubt it will hold mine. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

365/62 Cake

thoughts on: Henrietta's War

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 (Bloomsbury Group)Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys

The Henrietta letters were originally published in Sketch magazine.  Written by Joyce Dennys, who life as a village doctor's wife mirrored her own, the letters were intended to remind the troops of life at home, and also to give Londoners a glimpse of life outside the city.  They were very popular, and continued throughout the war.  I wish I could read all of them, but those published in this slender volume, and it's sequel, Henrietta Sees It Through, represent only a sampling of the letters.

Written to a childhood friend serving in the war, Henrietta shares the daily goings on of their village.  Through relating the town becoming accustomed to air raid warnings; food rationing; sewing for the troops; hosting Londoners, both the upper classes renting summer cottages and evacuees from the West End; and the suppressed fear for her own son's safety, Henrietta reveals her own foibles and frustrations with self deprecating humor.

A light, enjoyable read that still gives us a window into life during WWII.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Non-Library

A few years ago, we had the opportunity to vote to pay for two new libraries.  I voted against it.  That doesn't sound like me, does it?  You've seen my reading lists; I love libraries.   Yes, I do, but not this one.  Before this vote, I noticed that the old branch I visited was selling off a lot of classics.  One day, they told me that, no, there was not an unabridged copy of Moby Dick in the entire system.  There used to be, but not any more.  So, when the issue came up on the ballot, for two new buildings to be built, with better tech, ie more computer terminals, I voted no.  I just had a bad feeling about the direction this library system was headed.

Most people voted yes, though, and now we have the Non-Library.  That is not its official name.  Its official name, however, does not have the name Library in it.  They are called Anythinks.  Clever way of telling us that this is not a real library, isn't it?  There are are no librarians in the Anythink.  They have concierges.  I know this because they wear badges with "concierge" below their name.  If you ask a concierge for assistance in finding a book, he hands you a map.  The maps do not help because the books are not cataloged like they are in a library.  No Dewey Decimal System.  No Library of Congress system.  No, none of that.  Why not?  We asked that on our first visit.  The Anything is modeled after Barnes and Noble or Borders, not a library.  Bookstores do not catalog books, therefore neither does the Anythink.

Oh, you may be objecting, but the books are still grouped for browsing in a bookstore.  Not so well as you'd hope.  I'm not sure who decides which books go where, but it seems like it might be a class of visiting third graders.  For example, novels with the word "knitting" in them will be with the (non-fiction) knitting pattern books.  Books taking place during a world war may be shelved in world history, American history, or military history.  You guess.  A book I recently read, A Voyage Long and Strange, was shelved like this:  audiobook, abridged, shelved alongside sociology audiobooks; large print copy supposedly with biographies, but I could not find it; and regular print book shelved in travel.  To heighten the mystery, things on those shelves may or may not be in alphabetical order by author or by title or a mix of the two or not at all.

Sounds fun?  No, not to me, either, so I try to circumvent this frustrating time drain by requesting books and letting the concierges pull them from the shelves.  However, the concierges must have the same difficulty finding the books, because many days after requesting them, they are still not waiting for me in the holds section despite the computer catalog stating they are shelved in that very branch of non-library.

My husband asked about a book he couldn't find a couple weeks ago and was told, "It was probably stolen."  I'm not sure if theft is astronomically higher at a Non-Library than at Libraries or if that is just what a concierge says when they can't find a book.  It may well be true; I don't know.  I do know that there are no fines at the Anythink, which sounds nice unless you are waiting for someone to return a book.  Without fines as motivation, a lot of people will keep books for months.  That would not result in the computer claiming the book is on the shelf when it is not, but perhaps it is indicative of the same sort of greedy book-thievery spirit pervasive in a place that is neither bookstore nor library.

I'm glad the Anything is not the only option near me.  The neighboring towns still have real libraries.  I hope their voters keep it that way.

Meeting a Namesake

Yesterday, we met one of our favorite authors.  My eldest and I have read and loved every one of his books.  The books are difficult to describe because they cross multiple genres.  Fantasy, mystery, adventure, humor, lots of literary allusions, just plain imaginative fun.  Nothing graphic, either - I know that matters to many of my readers, as it does me.  So you can imagine how excited we were to go hear Jasper Fforde in person.  He's on a book tour, talking about writing, reading excerpts, and signing books.

Two autumns ago, when I made my son a sock monkey, I named him after Jasper Fforde.  So I took Fforde (the monkey likes to go by his last name) with us, hoping for a photo op.  Being a good sport, he not only posed with his namesake, he even wrote a little note for us.  

We really enjoyed listening to Jasper Fforde, the author, talk about his books and his writing process.  It took him 13 years to get a book published, but we are so glad he persevered!  I loved how he responded to his earlier lack of success.  He said that it was freeing, in a way, to not get published, because it allowed him to write only for himself, and to be as ridiculous and random as he pleased.   It was the first of those totally absurd books that found a publisher - The Eyre Affair. 

He is currently writing two books a year, and we'll certainly be reading them. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

365/61 Baby in B&W

Circumventing the bad fluorescent lighting by going black and white.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Challenge of Incorporating Play into Family Life

When I was in Costa Rica, floating around in the pool, I began thinking that I want to bring vacation happiness into my everyday life.  Admittedly, I was mostly wishing I had a non-chlorinated pool in an incredibly private yard surrounded by flowering hibiscus and the climate to use it any day of the year......but it's just not going to happen.  My yard is small, openly viewed by several neighbors, and we have winters here.  Not to mention the money.

So, still floating, I moved beyond that thought (though I am still open to it, if anyone wants to gift me a pool and the house to go with it), and began thinking about how I could, realistically, implement some vacation goodness into Real Life.  Not just for me, but for my family.  I want them to have vacationy feelings at home, too.  I had some random thoughts swirling through my brain, but they were all knocked out of it when I arrived home and Real Life smacked me upside the head. 

Then, yesterday, I read that book, Play:  How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  According to the author, Stuart Brown, there are eight "play personalities."  Most people will recognize themselves in more than one of these styles of play.  They are not mutually exclusive, just a means of describing how we like to play.   As I mentioned in my other post, Brown suggests we look at our own "play history" to see what has brought us joy in other phases of our life.  I'm also thinking of it in terms of what we enjoy in a vacation.

These are the play types:
Explorer (can be physical, emotional, or mental)
Director (enjoys planning and executing events, organizing things or people)
Kinesthete (enjoys movement)
Storyteller (also includes all imaginative play that involves creating an ongoing storyline)

He includes descriptions in the book, but I think you get the idea.  Looking at this list, I immediately see three that are me, three that I think describe my husband, and three that are my daughter.

Here is where Real Life swerves into my lane like an SUV driven by a 20something on her cell phone.  Our styles of play do not match up.  My daughter is not an explorer.  It bores her when we take her places where we can see and learn new things.  She'd rather stay at the hotel and swim all day than go sightseeing.  My husband is not a creator.  He is incredibly patient, but not really interested in hanging out with us while we do crafts.  He'd rather lounge in a pool.

On the other hand, I rarely laugh at his jokes, and, as much as I love to travel, I barely participate in the advance planning.  He pours over maps every evening, re-plotting our route, but I'd rather daydream while I walk the dogs.  My daughter loves amusement park rides, skating, biking, etc, while I get motion sick and am a complete klutz.  Where she sees a collection of treasures, I see clutter that will require dusting.

My conclusion?  We need a pool!  It is the one thing we all like. ;)

Seriously, I'm still pondering this.  I see play as being a powerful agent for bonding and relationship building, and as we are entering the teen years, I'd like to do all I can to reinforce those feelings within our little family.  I don't want to lose the opportunities I have with my daughter, but I'm not certain how to create play all three of us can enjoy.

365/60 Cattails

365/59 Funny place for a nap

thoughts on: Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the SoulPlay: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown

What is not to like about a book that encourages me to do what I naturally enjoy doing? 

This was a light, enjoyable read, that gave good reminders of the importance of play, both for proper childhood development and for happiness throughout life.  I found most interesting the research about brain development and play (and sleep, another thing which I love and have long believed is necessary to growth and healing).  Brown shares research in both animals and people which shows that the role of play (such as rough and tumble play fighting) is not skill based (ie, learn to be a better hunter or fighter), but it is essential to learning adaptivity.  Childhood play prepares us to respond to unexpected changes in our environment and teaches us social skills.  During play, brains are being rewired.  In a good way.  (He also shares stories and photos of animals playing, which always make me smile.)

Good reading for parents, especially those who might be surrounded by a culture that does not see the value of free time and free play in a child's life.  Brown also discusses play culture in hiring practices and the corporate world, showing that time spent in free play as a child does impact one's problem solving skills and creativity in a way that programmed activities do not.

Brown's book is not limited to childhood development.  He also discusses the role of play in the lives of adults.  He demonstrates that play, in its proper place, leads to a greater sense of well being and health.  He suggests, for those who feel their lives lack play, that they recall their own "play history."  He breaks different styles of play into eight categories, which have more to do with why you enjoy something than with what the activity is.  For example, one person might love riding a bike because of the sheer physical joy of movement, while another enjoys competing for best times.  So your "play history" is not just what you did for play, but what did you enjoy about that?   For me, the joy of riding my bike was having the ability to explore my world, riding to parks and areas I'd not been before, even seeing a different style of house was exciting to me, growing up in a homogeneous Levitt development.

As I said, what is not to like about a book that tells us to enjoy playing around?

Friday, March 11, 2011

thoughts on: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (Thursday Next, #6)One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

I have read all of Jasper Fforde's books and always anxiously await his latest, so I was thrilled to win this advanced reader copy.  It arrived at my house while I was on vacation, and today was the first day since arriving home I've had time to sit and read.  So I did.

Fforde's writing is so delightfully wry.  I love how every genre, plot device, character type, and cliche' are simultaneously used and mocked.  Neither icons of literature nor fan fiction escapes Fforde's wit.

In this latest installment of the Thursday Next series, the protagonist is not Thursday Next.  At least, she is not the Thursday we've enjoyed in earlier books.  This Thursday is the written Thursday, the kinder gentler protagonist of BookWorld.  So we get a whole new cast of characters and see more of the interplay between fact and fiction.  We also learn such important things as why Toast is so often mentioned in earlier books.

This only makes sense if you've read the earlier books, which if you like literature and fantasy, you should.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

365/58 Spring is in the Air

We have enjoyed a couple of warm days, and, though the landscape is still brown, find ourselves looking everywhere for signs of spring, or, in Trixie's case, sniffing for them.

365/57 Stillness

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trixie has cancer.

Trixie has had what we thought (and our regular vet thought) was a fatty cyst since last July.  It had grown very little since then, and I'd planned to have a needle aspiration done at her regular appointment in March.  It turns out, it is a mast cell cancer.   Yesterday, we visited an oncologist and learned that the cancer has already metastasized into three lymph nodes.

Because of that, removing the tumor would not stop the spread.  Because of the position of the tumor, just under her tail, radiation would present other risky issues like major nerve and tissue damage.  Chemo is the least effective treatment, but its side effects are identical to the side effects of this type of cancer (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea).  So chemo it is.  She is on a three week course of prednisone and palladia.  If the tumor visibly shrinks, and Trixie can tolerate the meds, we will continue.  If it does not, we will talk about whether to pursue other drug options.

The vet was fabulous - professional, compassionate, and so loving toward our little Trixie.  Unfortunately, she will be out of town at our next visit, so we will be seeing another vet then.

She said this type of tumor is like a time bomb.  Trixie may seem fine for a while, then one day she just won't.  The tumor will eventually release a huge quantity of histamines, causing inflammation and pain.  It is impossible to know when that will occur.  Right now, she is her usual happy self, snuggled up against me as I type.

Thank you so much for lifting us up in prayer.  As those of you who know me realize, I have been crying a lot.  I am so sad.  God has used Trixie to bless me mightily over the past four years, and I know He cares about her.  He truly is a God of all creation, and I am trusting in Him to give us wisdom and comfort and to ease Trixie's final days when they come.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bumpy Skies, blanket 5

Bumpy Skies, because I knit about half of this on flights for my recent vacation, all of which either encountered turbulence in the air or high winds on landing.  Bumpiness, which also describes the texture to this blanket.

This is my least favorite pattern from the Quick Knit Keepsakes leaflet.  I decided to knit it anyway, just so I could show you all six of the blankets in that leaflet.  Why is it my least favorite?  No special reason.  I just don't like it as much as the diagonals or lacier designs.

365/54, 55, 56 Beach Dogs

I'm still looking at my vacation photos, deleting the awful among them, and decided to share the happiness expressed by dogs on the beach.  The beach, if you are wondering, was amazingly clean.  Despite dogs being at the beach all the time, the only trace they left was their paw prints in the sand.
As you can see, all these dogs have collars.  There were also a few "stray" dogs who live at the beach, but they were the most friendly and healthiest strays I've ever encountered.  They are the ones that are called "beach dogs," and I'm told that when they have litters of pups, the pups are usually adopted by families living nearby.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

365/53 Lunch Peppers

I dip them in a Greek yogurt based jalapeno dip I buy at Costco.

365/52 Time for a Trim