Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Books of 2009

This is the first full year that I haven't been in school, so I decided to try to read 50 books. Done. I'm copying Bridget and publishing the list, with my favorites in red. Also, I tried to give you credit if you recommended a book. Here we go:

Juvenile Fiction
Gideon The Cutpurse, The Time Thief, Time Quake, Linda Buckley-Archer, recommended by my SIL Chantel. I liked this series. I read the first two early in the year, and then had to wait for the third to come out later. Because so much time had passed between numbers 2 and 3, I was pretty confused as the author doesn't rely on that age-old device of explaining the whole plot of the previous book in the first chapter. So, read them all at the same time.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, Jessica Day-George, recommended by Allison. Cute. Compelling.

Graceling, Kristin Cashore
Fire, Kristin Cashore, recommended by GoodReads. I quote my original review:
I read this book in 1.5 days, much to the dismay of my family. I think Bridget said it best (although she was talking about a different book):
The point here is that Catching Fire is one of those lovely, delicious books that sucks you into its world and makes you want to ignore every other responsibility in your life, every other engagement, commitment, or member of your family, even the tiny helpless ones, and just READ. As much as I love reading, this particular kind of book doesn't come around very often (the Twilight series and some of the Shannon Hale books come to mind as other examples...)

This book did remind me a lot of Goose Girl in style and the mythical world milieu but edgier and it didn't end quite how I wanted it to end. But, I couldn't put it down, and will probably read the companion prequel, even though the review says it has dragons in it, and I usually draw the line at dragons. And Fairies.
Fire did have dragons, but it wasn't so bad. Not as good as Graceling.

The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forrest Born
, Shannon Hale. Check 'um out. You'll probably like them, even if you have to pretend you don't to keep up your rep.

The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins, recommended by Bridget by way of Stephenie Meyers. Hunger Games: don't start this unless you have at least 20 hours of free time. Right then.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare
The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin, recommended by Myriah. Both books from my childhood that I wanted to read again to see if they were still good. They are.

The Calder Game, Blue Balliet. I only grabbed this one because of the title. It was lame.

Harry Potter #6, Harry Potter #7, J.K. Rowling. Always a good time. We re-read #6 to prepare for the movie, and then had to read #7 for closure.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley. Another Goodreads recommendation and a right good one at that. I liked this book so much, I read it twice. I can't wait for the next Flavia book to come out in March.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fannie Flagg. Not as funny as everyone says it is.

Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale. I like Shannon Hale, ok?

A Year Down Yonder, Long Way From Chicago, Richard Peck. When Allison told me to read these she said, "I want you to read these so I can say, 'hey, wasn't that book funny?' and you'll say, 'yeah, it was.'"

The Girl Who Could Fly, Victoria Forester, recommended by Bridget. Fun at the time, but mostly forgettable.

The Host, Stephenie Meyer. I think of this book almost every time I see Picacho Peak. (Which Tyler and I for a long time pronounced it peak-a-chu, because we didn't know better, and we thought it was funny. Our real estate agent informed us it's pick-aw-sho, or even slightly pick-aw-sha. So now, you won't make the same mistake as us.)

The Thief, The King of Attolia, The Queen of Attolia, Megan Whalen-Turner, recommended by Lu. I had the same problem as Bridget as the author's mind's eye worked differently than mine, and I often had trouble visualizing rooms, or how people were situated in relation to each other, which meant I had to re-read complicated passages more than once to figure out what the heck happened.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg. For book club.

Replay, Sharon Creech. Not as good as Walk Two Moons.

Peter and the Sword of Mercy, by David Barry and Ridley Pearson. A recently discovered FOURTH Peter and the Starcatchers book. How exciting. I hope they write more, they are so much fun to read.

NPR Books
(which I heard about on NPR, or Tyler did and then told me about it.)
*You Are Here: Why we can find our way to the moon, but get lost in the mall, Colin Ellard, recommended by Tyler. I didn't quite finish this one by the time it was supposed to go back to the library. It was really interesting, but I couldn't quite digest all of what he was saying between all the baby vomit and potty training.

Alphabet Juice: the energies, jists, and spirits of letters, words and combinations thereof; their roots, bone, innards, piths, pips, and secret parts; with examples of their usage foul and savory, Roy Blount, Jr. I wish I owned this book so I could dip into it every now and again when I need a pick-me-up.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith. Or, as Tyler called it, Pride and Prejudice and Not Enough Zombies.

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann
American Buffalo: In Search of A Lost Icon, Stephen Rinella. I had the word vomit about both these books. I couldn't stop telling people about the worms in the Amazon that live right under your skin that tormented early explorers until they learned that the indigenous people could whistle a special way to make them pop their head out for easy removal. Or, I told more than one person who didn't want to hear about it how buffalo weren't over hunted until there was a breakthrough in the tanning process that allowed both the winter and summer coats to be processed, thus not allowing their numbers to bounce back in the winter months. Both were really interesting, I thought.

Cutting For Stone, Abraham Verghese. My attempt at reading serious adult fiction. It was ok.

How We Decide, Jonah Lehrer. I read this book before, except it was called Blink and it was by Malcolm Gladwell. The two books are different to a certain degree: How We Decide was much more focused on how the brain works to make decisions, while Blink focused on the types of decisions we can make without thinking.

I thought it was interesting enough, the writing was pretty good, and it made me understand why babies make me so superstitious. The author uses the example of slot machines and explains that our brains are addicted to making predictions and then being right and that slot machines are so alluring because our brains can't figure them out (because they operate on a complicated random number generator). This is exactly like babies with colic, to me anyway. My brain can't figure out what is wrong and all that trial and error is very taxing. So, when you make a prediction like, 'the baby will stop crying if the swing is set to level 3' and it works, you hold on to it with all your might.

The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment, A.J. Jacobs. Funny, impressive. Inspiration for my own unitasking experiment, which is floundering, but that's a different post.

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, Ammon Shea. Ammon Shea and I are completely opposite in temperament and ideology: he is a painfully introverted, psycho-leftist whiner, and I'm normal. He had something negative to say about every word concerning marriage (as in it's an outdated fascist-Nazi institution perpetuated by the unwashed masses who have yet to become enlightened on The Better Way To Live) and children (as in they are screaming brats who do nothing but annoy and take away your freedom to do whatever you want. Which, in the author's case, seems to be complain about sitting in the library for 8-10 hours a day.

I liked the words he found, but his commentary on them made me want to punch him in the face.

Two words I especially liked:
1. Minimifidian: (n) A person who has the bare minimum of faith (in something). As in, you assume movies will be horrible before you see them (but then they turn out great so you are always pleased and never let down).

2. Obganiate: (v) To annoy by repeating over and over and over again. See: my 3-year-old daughter.

Something Cleverish, Various. Good cause, clever-ish, but not clever. Actually, kinda lame sometimes.

Outliers, Malcom Gladwell

The Places In Between, Rory Stewart, recommended by Carrie. This guy is gutsy, and a little crazy, and probably very smart.

Braniac, Ken Jennings, recommended by Bridget.

*Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, Cheryl Mendelson. Every homemaker should read her essay on housework and homemaking. So good. I like her empowering view of housework as a part of homemaking, even if I think her views are a little extreme (I mean, she insinuates that if I don't do my dishes as soon as dinner is over or dust weekly, my family will fall ill and die). The asterisk is because this book is like 5,000 pages long and I've just been skimming what I feel are the relevant parts. I mean, I don't really need to know how to care for antique furniture or marble statues.

Adult Fiction

The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway

Tomato Rhapsody: A Novel of Love, Lust, and Forbidden Fruit, Adam Schell. I won this book off Goodreads and I liked it... mostly. One too many mentions of bastones for my taste, however.

The Actor and the Housewife, Shannon Hale. Lame ending.
Austenland, Shannon Hale. Eh.

These Is My Words, Nancy E. Turner. This book really struck a chord with me. Maybe I read it when I was all hopped up on post-partum hormones, maybe I was feeling really lonely here in Tucson (just like the main character), but I loved it.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I think the movie is also excellent.

Charms for the Easy Life, Kaye Gibbons

Playing For Pizza: A Novel, John Grisham. Yeah, he should stick to thrillers and stay away from regular fiction.

The Hour I First Believed: A Novel, Wally Lamb. People really like this, I didn't.

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz. Won the Pulitzer so it must be good, WAY too much swearing for me to handle.

Paper Towns, John Green. Not interesting enough, too high school-y.

She's Gonna Blow!: Real Help For Moms Dealing With Anger, Julie Anne Barnhill. I'd say (from what I skimmed) 80% of this book was the author's experiences with her own anger and trying to deal with it. And from what I could tell, the 'real help' was "pray more," which is not helpful at all. Ok, well, probably a little helpful.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Stealing my own Christmas

Being sick has totally made me Grinchy about this Christmas. Where does one find the extra energy to actually bake things? Make my own wreath? Are you kidding me?

I did find myself in possession of some extra energy and volition yesterday, so I thought I'd bake snickerdoodles and fill up the cute Martha Stewart goodie bags I bought for half off at Michael's. Tyler always complains when I bake things just to give them away (although one time, he told me that this was one of the things that attracted him to me... maybe because I was giving them away to him?), so I was going to bake a double batch. Turns out though, I didn't have enough cream of tartar for double. That cream of tartar, although I'm fairly sure it has other uses, I think I've only ever used it for snickerdoodles, which I usually only bake at Christmas time. Every 3 years or so, I run out and it always surprises me.

Anyway, we got the cookies baked and wrapped up, but failed at delivering them. We were only 2 for 4 at finding people home and/or remembering exactly what house they lived in once we got there. We'll get the rest of them. Don't worry. Then for extra holiday spirit, we drove up to Winterhaven to check out the lights. Every place I've lived has had that one neighborhood that goes all out for Christmas. Eagle Hills. Vine Street. Winterhaven. It was a lot of fun, until Nora started screaming and wouldn't stop. That part, not so much. But, I especially liked the Harry Potter house complete with Whomping Willow, Harry and Voldemort locked in mortal combat, and Bellatrix LeStrange up on the neighbor's roof shooting hexes. Also, I liked the Festivus house which was simply decorated with a Festivus Pole and a sign that said "A Festivus for the rest of us!"

At the risk of making this post extra extra long, I want to briefly tell about our two firsts that I had this weekend.

First first: My mother-in-law very generously and very unexpectedly gave Tyler and I a sum of money for Christmas and I used my share to buy a Shark Steam Pocket Mop. I used it, and I loved every second of it. It cleaned my floors wonderfully and I found all the complaints of online people completely unfounded. My one complaint is that it didn't clean the grout very well, but neither does my regular mop. Actually, my other complaint is that because it just uses water, it doesn't make my house smell pine-sol fresh. How are other people supposed to know I put in all this hard work mopping if they can't smell it? Maybe I'll make a button: "I mopped today, thank me!"

Second first: I usually only wash my hair every other day. I have a lot of hair, like a lot, a lot, and it's very time consuming to wash it and style it. And I dislike doing it, mostly because I'm not dedicated enough to get up before my children to shower, so it's likely I have small children hanging on my legs, whining and complaining about how I'm taking too long. Which, I get that it's my own fault. Anyway, I read this article which was completely liberating. It talks about how dermatologists recommend only washing your hair 2 or 3 times a week. Fabulous! On day 3, which happened to be Sunday, a day I'm normally crunched for time because church is at 8, I put some cornstarch in a salt shaker, shook it all over my hair, concentrating on the roots, let it sit for a bit, then brushed it out. Granted my hair lacked the volume or bounce you get with a wash and a blow out, but it didn't look greasy at all. I curled it like Stacey London and I actually got a lot of compliments on it. Little did they know it hadn't washed it in 48 hours! Ha! The only word of caution I have about this is that it will only work on blonde hair. Sorry brunettes, I guess you're stuck showering like a sucker.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday Reminiscences: In which I remember throwing up

I've been throwing up... a lot... um... recently, so I thought I'd tell a throw up story.

Lillian was 4 months old. My husband and my friend Stephanie's husband were in the same program at Cal Poly, and I think they were working on their senior projects, or their theses, or something to do with airplanes that was taking up a lot of their time, so we decided to take a day trip down to Santa Barbara and leave the men folk to their eigenvectors.

As you travel south from San Luis Obispo, about an hour away, 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara, is Solvang. I'm not really sure why this place exists, but it's a Danish tourist trap. All the houses have Danish architecture, they have statues of Hans Christian Andersen strewn about, you can buy Danish pastries at every turn... you get the idea. I had been there when I was young and if I was more dedicated to this post, I would have found the picture of me with my siblings behind this wood thing and put it up for comparison. But, I'm lazy. Also, I didn't know Lillian was chewing on the wood at the time. I was just trying to get her head over a body while holding her out sideways from me, which was very tiring.

We decided to stop there for lunch.

I had a chicken sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes, and it was delicious. As I was eating, I realized I couldn't see my food very well as there were bright flashes across my vision. And, anyone who gets migraines with aura knows what's coming. I took two Excedrin and tried to lay down on a cold stone bench in front of a bookstore. Stephanie took Lillian for a walk around while I prayed that the Excedrin would kick in before the headache.

No. Such. Luck.

After laying down for approximately 10 minutes, I felt a rumbling in my tummy. I sat up and quickly figured out that I couldn't make it to the bathroom in the bookstore as I didn't know where it was in the store, or even if they had one. I turned around, and threw up my chicken sandwich with sun-dried tomatoes (and probably the Excedrin) into the bush behind the bench. I felt really bad doing it because it was a shallow planter at about shoulder level if you're sitting, so there was no hiding what I had just done.

Stephanie came back and I said that we had to leave and that she had to drive us back to SLO. She was really nervous about this because 1. She had never driven our car and didn't like driving anyway and 2. We had to get gas for the return trip and she's from Oregon, the land where you don't pump your own gas, so I don't think she'd ever done it before.

We got back just fine but I couldn't eat sun-dried tomatoes again for at least a year.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Operation Unitask: Day Five

Wow, this is tiring.

The computer has been moved upstairs which, I've found, is good and bad:
Good - I engage with my children much more often, like when Nora's eating breakfast, or when Lillian is picking up her blocks. Little bits of time that I used to spend checking my email.
Bad - I moved the computer into the office upstairs which is the most un-kid-friendly place we have in our house. Nora has spent the last five days upending my sewing box, going through the craft drawers, taking out all of my check books, finding and chewing on stray staples, pulling all our year books off the bookshelf, and trying to pull all the electronic equipment down onto her head. Maybe I should spend less time in here. I'm just saying.

The thing about so much engagement, is that you have to actually find things to do to fill up all that time. We spend a lot of time at home because Nora's 2 naps perfectly straddle Lillian's nap, so during the day, I most always have at least one child asleep. All this home time is a perfect recipe for stir-craziness and a complete exhaustion of all the activities our house has to offer. I've tried pushing Nora to stay awake and take one nap the same time as Lillian, but 80% of the time, this ends in disaster and at least two of us in tears. She's just not ready. Coming up with enough things to do to fill in those hours is a lot of work, and as I've been feeling under the weather lately (hint hint), we end up watching a lot of Disney Princess Sing-A-Long Songs.

Time for a new objective: Make (and try to stick to) a schedule. We don't have many house rules, mostly because Lillian's pretty obedient, and we don't really have a set schedule because we don't really have a whole lot that has to get done during the day. But Supernanny says that a schedule will organize our family and make us awesome, so I'm going to try it. I'm not sure what exactly I'm going to put on this schedule (see above and how I don't know what to do with my kids all day) but I'm going to make one.

I'm curious: what does your daily schedule look like?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Good, Better

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a good mom. I tried doing some research to answer this question, but a lot of what is out there when you Google "good mom" is about giving yourself credit, not burning yourself out, not judging yourself by how clean your toilets are, and whatever else under appreciated, overworked moms need to hear. I'm not under appreciated or overworked, and I know I'm a good mom. But, I want to be an awesome mom.

How does one become an awesome mom? I started observing moms that I thought were awesome, and I started thinking about how it was mostly about making life special for your kids, which doesn't mean making making their desserts into dragons, getting them the greatest toys, or being cutsie-pie (because kids don't really appreciate that). But, what does that mean for me?

Then yesterday, I was reading The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs. In the book, he performs a series of social experiments in his own life. He decides to tell the truth for a month, live by George Washington's 110 rules of conduct for a month ("adjust not yourself in public"), do everything his wife tells him for a month, and he decides to unitask for a month. The unitasking chapter was a little bit of a revelation. Of course, it's humorous in the book how he describes tying himself to his chair so he doesn't get distracted, and wearing a blindfold when he talks on the phone, but the essence of it is that he becomes more mindful of what he's doing at any given time.

This is what I need.

So, I'm starting my own month-long unitasking experiment. Or, more like a Mindful Mothering experiment.

Day one objective: move the computer upstairs into the office. We have a laptop and I keep it in the kitchen, and in my minds eye, I can see the scene play out a million times in which I'm telling Lillian to do X, Y, or Z, and she's dilly-dallying because I'm playing on FaceBook or checking my email for the 20th time, and I get more and more upset with her because she's not doing what I'm asking, and then it's really time for us to leave and she hasn't got her shoes on, like I told her 10 times, but made no real effort to help her find them, or sort out which was right from left. I've tried to do this in the past (put the computer upstairs), but ended up hiding in there a lot, so we'll see how it goes. I'm hoping it will help me be more focused on my mothering tasks and not so distracted by the siren call of Ask Prudie.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Mormon Mafia

My friend Bridget posted this on FaceBook and said, "I can't stop watching this." I can't stop watching it either. The "moving my hips like 'yeah'" is so hypnotic. But, that's not what I want to talk about.

Both of us just know that this guy is Mormon. But how are we so sure? Sometimes I see women at the library or wherever and they look Mormon, so I casually look for clues. Nine out of ten times, I can spot some dead giveaway, like a Young Women's bag or a glimpse of their garments as they wrestle their kids.

It's not like being able to spot Mormon churches. One time, I was up in Half Moon Bay with Candie on a Sunday, and we were driving to church. I had never been to that building before, so we were driving along the street slowly, looking for addresses. I looked up ahead a little and saw it on the left and said, "oh, it's up there." It was probably 150 yards away and obscured by the building next to it, so Candie didn't believe me.

Me: That's it. Trust me.
Candie: But how do you know?
Me: I just. Know.

All the churches kind of have the same sort of architectural style with a steeple instead of a cross so once you've been to 40 or 50, they become pretty easy to pick out.

But, what about the people? Is it their squeaky-clean look? Their penchant for doing silly things like making a movie of themselves doing ASL to Miley Cyrus?

Or, is this my superpower?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

NaBloPoMo Roundup

Phew. It's over. Thirty posts in 30 days is tricky, especially since for approximately 27 of those days either one or both of my children, my husband, or I was sick, which I could have discussed, but I think it would have gotten really boring. I held back. I really did.

Instead, I discussed hot button topics like illegal immigration, 2nd amendment rights, and immunizations. Here's the stats on the rest of the posts:

Crafts- 1
Kids- 4
Mommy Madness - 4
Books- 2
Adventures- 2
Sickness - 3

Add a couple of Tuesday Reminiscences in there, plus a very successful De-Lurk Day! (even if the person from Montrouge, France never showed up), and you get 30 posts.

I'm sorry if the writing started going down hill towards the end, or the editing got sloppy, but I tried my best, and I did it.

P.S.- To all those people who, on De-Lurk Day wrote some variation of "I don't know if you remember me but we were in [whatever] together," I remember all of you! Thanks for reading.
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