Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book Review: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

What price will you pay to be true to yourself? What price will you pay to let your child be who he/she is? Where should our loyalties lie first? Loyalty to faith vs. loyalty to family vs. loyalty to self. These are all themes explored in Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev. I first read this book almost a year ago. I felt emotionally wrung out by the end of it (in the best way), and didn't have the power to review it. Even now, I know I'm going to struggle to find the right way to talk about it. This post is going to go through many iterations before it finally makes it to print. There's so much I could say, but this is one book I don't want to spoil by saying too much.

I came into this book completely blind: I had no idea what it was about. I wanted to read something by Chaim Potok, and fortunately chose this as my first foray into his books.

My Name is Asher Lev is the coming of age story of a young Ladover Hasiddic Jewish boy, Asher Lev, who is driven by his need to make art. He needs it like he needs air to breathe. He feels about art the way his father feels about his faith. When he is young, this isn't a problem, since the young are allowed to be foolish. But as he grows and the passion grows with him, it becomes a problem with his parents and with his community, who say that a Hassidic Jewish boy should be pouring all his passion into studying Torah. To his father and the Hassidic community, art has no value. At its heart, this is the story of a boy who's passion/vocation for art run counter to his religion's dictums and mores, and the impossibilities of bridging that gap. But it is also the story of a family and the relationship between parental expectation and a child's need to live their own life, on their own terms.

Asher is an art prodigy, and as such is a slave to his art. That's something average Jills like me can't fully understand. But I feel fortunate that I got to live it vicariously through Asher. For a brief while, I got to be inside the mind of a genius. It was exhilarating, and depressing. I love how Potok was able to show the price of genius that those who have it agree to pay, not because they want to, but because they have to; they have no choice, else they die inside. It really captured what I think must be the euphoria and despair that live in symbiosis inside the artist.

Chaim Potok's writing in My Name Is Asher Lev is quietly breathtaking. It's subtle and complex, with a deftness to his turn of phrase that is magical: simple, powerful writing.  I feel like it is his literary masterpiece. I have not read another of his books, so far, that I like nearly as well. (Sadly, even this book's sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev, didn't have the deftness, caliber, or emotional impact of this book. I decided to next tackle The Chosen, because it's probably Potok's most famous, and widely read book, but I was disappointed in it.)

I'm wondering - and this is pure speculation on my part- if Potok felt dissatisfied on some level with his first book, The Chosen, which has very similar themes and situations, and he felt the need to revisit the same themes from Danny's perspective. But since Potok himself was also a painter, and knew the world of art, he decided to make the story about an art prodigy instead of an intellectual prodigy like Danny was.  My Name is Asher Lev was the kind of book I'd hoped The Chosen would be and wasn't. It has a depth of thematic exploration and nuance that never gets fully explored in The Chosen.

(My 13 year old came upon me sobbing -and I am not given to sobbing, as a general rule- during a particular, emotional scene in the middle part of the book, and wondered if she might read it. I am strangely reluctant for her to read it, not because of anything I object to in the book, but because I think this is the kind of book that's "wasted" on the young. She doesn't have enough life experience to grasp the depth of the themes, and I want her to read it for the first time when she's ready for it. But of course, ultimately that is not my decision.)

There are so, so many themes to explore in depth, but I won't, here. Go read the book.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Getting Rid of Lice The Non-Chemical Way

I know first-hand the shuddering feeling of ickiness when you discover that your child has lice.  
Lice are a pain in the never-mind-where, but there's no need to resort to dangerous chemicals. The method I'm teaching here catches the adults and nymphs and prevents them from laying more eggs. 
So take a deep breath, and know that you've got this. You are going to need:
  • Lice combs with metal teeth are best. Make sure you have the set that contains two sizes, like this one for example.
  • De-tangling spray, Suave or Johnson & Johnson
  • A black garbage bag. Yes, black. You'll see why later.
  • A roll of toilet paper.
  • A comfortable place to sit, but not in your living room, with it's cushioned couches. A stool, a kitchen chair, or an exercise ball is preferable, where you can put the first four things within easy reach.
  • Either a book or electronic device that the child can read/do while this all takes place. It'll take twenty minutes to a half-hour for long hair. Much shorter for short hair.
First things first: Get your de-lousing station set up, with the black garbage bag spread open near right by where your feet will be when you sit down. Don't sit yet. 

Next, you need to douse your child's head under the shower sprayer, or running tub water...whatever will get your child's head thoroughly wet. (Water temporarily immobilizes lice.) While your child's head is hanging dripping over the tub, loosely wrap a towel, turban style, around their head, to keep the water from drenching them when they stand upright.

Next, move to your de-lousing station. Make sure the child is sitting at your feet in a way that allows you complete access to all their hair. Lower the towel to drape around your child's shoulders while you spritz their hair thoroughly with the de-tangling spray. This accomplishes a couple of things: it makes combing through the hair a non-painful event and it keeps the lice wet and immobilized.

When you have thoroughly sprayed with de-tangler, pick up your roll of toilet paper and tear off a long strip and drap it over your non-dominant leg. This is going to be your comb wiping medium. Next, pick up your largest lice comb, and systematically comb through the hair. Every time you make one pass with the comb, firmly sandwich the comb with end squares of toilet paper, and firmly wipe down the tines. You can open your hand and check for lice in the square of TP you just used to wipe. (Don't worry; they're still dazed by the wet. The white of the paper makes it easy to see the adults and nymphs.) Fold over used square of toilet paper in a way that traps the lice, tear it off your long strip and put it in your garbage bag. Comb through another section. Try to think of your child's head as zones, so that you thoroughly comb through each part of their hair, wiping on a new stretch of toilet paper with each pass. Also remember to keep spritzing with the de-tangler to keep the hair wet and the lice immobile. When you get to the end of the length of toilet paper, pause and get yourself a new long length to drape over your leg.

When you have made a thorough pass with the large comb, which combs out any tangles less painfully and also grabs most adult lice that are currently alive, switch to the smaller lice comb and do the exact same thing as before. (The smaller comb catches the nymphs better.) Don't worry about getting the eggs out. It's impossible (despite what you may have heard), since they are glued on the hair. Using this process, you are waiting for the eggs to hatch to nymphs and combing the nymphs out before they can become breeding adults. So basically every time you do a comb-out, you are capturing all the new nymphs that have grown to the size that can be captured by the teeth of the smallest lice comb.

When you have thoroughly combed through your child's hair using both combs, gather and tightly cinch up your garbage bag and take it outside to sit in the sun. The black of the bag gathers the sun's heat and bakes the lice. But leave it outside all day. And then throw it in an outside garbage can.

Next gather your lice combs and put them in a bowl over which you pour boiling water and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Now you must deal with bedding. During all these days of your child's lice-infestation, wash their bedding (all of it) every day. It's not necessary to use the hot water wash, as long as you use the dryer to dry all the bedding. If you have duvets or things that can't be washed, gather them into a black garbage bag and let them sit for 40 days (tightly bagged) in the garage, to be sure that you are killing all the lice over their hatching and life cycle.

Some people say you only need to do the combing once a day. Me, I'm taking no chances. Do it morning and night and you'll be sure to catch those hatching nymphs before they can mature, breed and make more eggs.  

Continue the comb-out and bed linens washing routine until you have gone a few days without seeing any more nymphs during the comb-out, and you don't see anymore eggs. As long as there are eggs, you must keep up the routine.

Any questions?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Audiobook Review: Splendors & Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, narrated by Davina Porter

My thoughts after listening to this book: Wonderfully written (and very excellently narrated by Davina Porter), but way too long, especially given the nature of the book, and its unrelenting gloom. I have come to the conclusion that this is not a children's book: it is a book about children. The writing is beautiful and descriptive, but it took forever to get to the point (for a children's book.) This book seems to be more of an atmospheric character study, rather than plot-driven, which isn't bad for a book, but doesn't seem like a great idea for it's intended audience, 8-12 year olds. My two older daughters (ages 11 and 13) read it (or tried to, in the case of the 11 year old) before I did and were not impressed with the book.

Don't let my impressions stop you from reading it, or, better yet, listening to it. It may be right up your alley.

On the narrator, Davina Porter: I was so impressed with her narration. She did a superlative job with the characterizations, accents, everything. I will seek out more of her work.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Book Review: The Good Lie by Robin Brande

This book challenged me emotionally and intellectually. I'm going to start off by saying I did not like this story, because it made me extremely uncomfortable, which is why I'm going to highly recommend that you read it. Read it now. It is a brilliant, nuanced novel about a religious girl who deals with issues outside of and at odds with her religious experience.  I thought the author did an amazing job of both respecting religion through her main character's eyes while at the same time laying bare it's glaring weaknesses. It's a book that poses more questions than it answers.

A brief synopsis: Lizzie Aimes is living her life as a normal sixteen-year-old Christian teen. She's a good student, she loves her family (especially her little 8 year old brother) and is trying to live her religion despite her sexual desires and a massive crush on a certain boy, who seems set on sleeping his way through the school's female population. Up until the night of her prom, that was her biggest problem. In the weeks and months following, Lizzie life begins unravelling in all the worst ways imaginable, culminating in her need to tell "the good lie."

While it is a novel about a deeply religious girl, this is not a religious book. There are a lot of girls like Lizzie in the world. So many times I wanted to yell at Lizzie for her actions or inactions. But having been a conservative religious teen myself, and remembering certain situations I encountered that were outside my religious training, I can understand the moral quandary and torpor she finds herself in.

As I continue to ponder this book, a week after I read it, the biggest issue that I find myself circling back to again and again, is sexual repression. It is one of the most dangerous by-products of religion, in that it creates an atmosphere ripe for pedophilia to thrive in the religious world, as too many children have found out. It takes away children's voices; since they're never allowed to talk about sex, they don't have the words or knowledge of how to report abuse. One of the major themes of The Good Lie is that dichotomy of sexual repression and the conservatively religious teaching/drilling of sexual abstinence and purity of mind and body when it bumps up against the harsh reality of world scenarios, and how damaging it can be for women and children. 

So, go read this book and be challenged.

(Be aware that this book is for mature readers. It contains profanity and frank language regarding sexual functions and situations, and pedophilia. While none of it feels gratuitous, it can be shocking.) 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Peek at Life Right Now

  • We recently returned from a family vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando. It was the first time at a Disney park for my kids. We went with my sister and her family and my parents. My sister got us a great deal on a condo for the week that was pretty centrally located. Despite uber sore feet each night (on my part), we enjoyed ourselves immensely. We stupidly, amateurishly packed too much into the week, going to a park per day, which ended up being way too much, and left no downtime for relaxing and enjoying each other's company. My poor dad came to Orlando on antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia, so I pushed him around the parks in a wheelchair. My niece also came to Orlando unknowingly with pneumonia, so she ended up on meds in a wheelchair too. We were sad when the week came to an end and we had to say goodbye.
  • We drove to Orlando, leaving our house at 11p.m. on the 10th of December and arriving in Orlando in time to pick up my parents from the Orland International Airport at four something the next afternoon. On the drive to Orlando, when it was my turn at the wheel, I listened to Chime by Franny Billingsley. Susan Duerden narrates fabulously. I've read it before but this is the first time listening to it. My kids and husband couldn't figure out what was going on and quickly went back to listening to their own things on their Kindles or sleeping, in the case of my husband. On the drive back a week later, Todd and I listened to half of Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham. Susanna listened to the first book of The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer at Karina's urging on the drive there, and On My Way and I'm Still Scared by Tomie dePaola (both part of the 26 Fairmount Avenue series) on the way back.  Karina listened to Summerkin by Sarah Prineas on the drive there and What a Year by Tomie dePaola (another 26 Fairmount Avenue book); on the way back. Olivia didn't listen to anything on the drive to Orlando, choosing instead to crochet. On the way back she listened to Tomie dePaola's I'm Still Scared because she couldn't remember it from when we read it aloud. (This series of books has been a favorite with all my girls. They make great read-alouds. The audiobooks make for fun listening too, because Tomie dePaola narrates most of them, and he is wonderful.)
  • I didn't get tons of reading done in Orlando, but I managed to complete one book: Ivory Ghosts by Caitlin  O'Connell. I appreciated the walk down memory lane, having spent four years in southern Africa, but I found the writing awkward and the story not especially compelling, though the subject matter is important. I've read O'Connell's compelling non-fiction books about her elephant research, and love them, but she seems uncomfortable as a fiction writer. That's not to say she can't/won't grow into it.
  • Olivia dropped her camera on the tile floor of the condo we were staying in in Orlando and it broke something inside. She was devastated, since she uses it all the time. When we got home, feeling she had nothing to lose, she opened up the casing to see if she could see where the problem was. She couldn't find anything broken, and on a whim, took a picture with the case open. The picture was normal. So she closed the case back up and the picture was bad again. She started to crack the case back open with the camera on, and as soon as she cracked one side, the picture on the display cleared up again. Long story short, she figured out that there is a wire that was jarred loose by the drop. Somehow she fixed it, and now her camera takes pictures as if never dropped. That's my clever girl.
  • Our dogs survived their week in the boarding kennel. The kids survived the separation too, though that was doubtful when we dropped the dogs off. Many silent tears were shed. Even by people who claimed to be relieved to be getting the break. The day we picked the dogs up, they saw us coming and got super excited. The staff provided us with a Santa picture in the out-processing paperwork when we paid the bill. Those perky heads mean there were treats involved.
    Wishbone is in front; Lego behind. Poor Santa thinking, "What the heck did I get myself into?!"
  • When we got the dogs home, they gamboled around in joy. They have developed colds, and are in turns more clingy and more standoffish than usual. Wishbone, who's quite the mama's boy, alternates leaning into me for extra loves and standing at a room's distance away from me, with his back to me, pretending to ignore me, but really looking at me out of the corner of his eye. He's gonna hate me for putting him back into the kennels in a few days when we go to Nashville. Lego just can't get enough love from everyone.
  • The girls were glad to get home, despite the fun they had in Orlando. The night we got home they disappeared into their rooms to their various activities: Susanna to her imaginary world with her posse of animal friends that she had to leave behind; Karina to clatter away on her typewriter, working on her spy novel; Olivia to crochet.
    Susanna's posse of friends: (L-R) Brisk, Ash, Katie, and Puppy.
    Brisk the stick horse and Ash the dragon are the ones she carries around all the time at home. Other friends join them occasionally.
  • For Todd's birthday, we went to see the long-anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was good, but also kinda disappointing. It seemed to have many story elements of the original Star Wars movie, and there was a lot of backstory missing. 
  • Christmas was low-key. Back when we planned and arranged the trip, we told the girls that Orlando was their Christmas, which they were fine with. The girls put up our tree on the 21st, two days after we got home. (They are solely responsible for putting up the tree each year, which they love. Todd and I come to ooh and agh when they're finished.) We did get them three small presents each, 'though we skipped the stockings this year. Karina and Susanna got two small Lego sets and a field sketch watercolor set. Olivia got one small Lego set, the Star Wars crochet kit that she'd been pleading for and the field sketch watercolor set. I loathe wrapping paper both for it's wastefulness and for how time-consuming it is on the wrapping end of the timeline. I opted instead to stack their presents on the sofa in a separate pile for each girl, covering the stack with a colorful tea towel. On Christmas morning, I just had them stand in front of their prospective stacks and counted "one-two-three-GO," upon which they pulled the towel from off their stack. (It is a family tradition that the family goes to the Christmas tree all together on Christmas morning, no early looky-lous, after Mom has first turned on the tree lights and Christmas music.) They declared themselves thrilled with their haul and happily went off to start their various Lego or crochet projects while I made French Toast for breakfast.
The mandatory picture on the stairs before they're allowed to go to the tree.
We actually got decent smiles out of them this year!
  • Here is the Chewbacca figure that Olivia has started from her kit. She still has to complete his arms and other small details. You'll notice the arm in the picture is being held on by pins until she gets a chance to sew it on (hence the trailing brown yarn.) She creates the hairiness by brushing the finished body and arms with a wire slicker brush.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Exploring Doll Making

By Olivia

One of my favorite crochet books is My Crochet Doll by Isabelle Kessedjian. I found it while browsing at Barnes and Noble and thought the patterns were super cute. The problem that I had was that this book is written in UK terminology so I had transpose the stitch terminology (for example, double crochet in the UK is single crochet in the US). Using the book I have made three dolls so far. The first one was a present for my younger sister's 8th birthday, along with the Little Red Riding Hood outfit and a little purple fabric quilt and pillow.

The first one took me 3 months because of the hair. I attached the strands one by one so it took forever. I used a G/4.25mm hook with Red Heart Super Saver yarn in Buff for the body color and Caron Simply Soft in Black for the hair.

Then I decided to make a second doll with crochet thread and a 12/1.00mm hook just to see if it was possible to do.  It turned out to be far trickier. It took me 2-3 weeks. The hardest part was sewing the limbs together, especially sewing the scalp to the head. It was so hard I had to use a magnifying lamp. I wish I could accurately portray in words and photos how much time, skill and coordination it took. I mean, you can barely even feel the hook, much less see it. Most of it was done by feeling the hook and stitches. I accidentally dropped a few rounds but it came out better for having done so.

(Just for size comparison, the big doll is 14 inches and the small doll is 4 inches.)

For the third doll I used the same hook and skin color as the first doll but used Red Heart Super Saver in Pale Yellow for the hair (with the same skein as before for the body.) This time I knew what I was doing so it only took me a week. The hair and scalp only took 5 or 6 hours to do instead of taking 3 months because I changed my technique. (The book gives no instruction on how to actually do the hair.) This time instead of attaching the hair strands one by one with a needle, I wound the yarn around a piece of cardboard and attached the hair strands 2 or 3 at a time with a smaller crochet hook.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Review by ten-year-old Karina:

It's about a ten year old girl named Ada, a London evacuee during World War Two. Her mom keeps her locked up all the time because she has a crippled foot and her mom is embarrassed about it. She is physically abused by her mom: locked in the cupboard when she does something bad, and hit a lot. She wasn't supposed to leave London, but she sneaks out with her little brother when he goes to the school on evacuation day. When they get off the train in the country, Ada and her brother, Jamie are sent to live with a woman named Susan Smith. At first Susan Smith doesn't like the kids, because she didn't even want evacuees to stay with her, and they didn't trust her, but eventually they learn to like and trust each other. Under Susan's care, Ada's world expands a lot.  She gets regular baths. She gets crutches to help her walk. She learns to ride a pony, and then helps care for them. She's given the freedom that other kids enjoy. Susan never hits her, but at first Ada is fearful of her, because she's learned to dodge her mother's fists. It takes Ada a little while to learn that Susan isn't trying to hit her, she is trying to help her when she reaches out to her. I won't tell you the rest of the story so you can have the fun of reading it yourself.

I don't normally read historical fiction, but when I read the description and saw it was about a ten-year-old girl (like me) I decided to give it a try. Plus the description of the story sounded like it might be interesting, so I decided to give it a try. My mom says I have to give a book a chance for at least 50 pages, but I was hooked before 50 pages. Even though I don't really like historical fiction, it was interesting to read about something that happened to a girl that was my age, during World War Two. It was an eye-opener for me, and I learned a lot from the book: I kind of knew that women helped out in the war, but I didn't realize the big role they played; I didn't know that superstitious teachers tied kids left hands to their chair if they were left-handed. The book made me feel sad and happy at the same time. Now it's on my list of all-time favorite books. I would definitely recommend this book. I bet if you read it, it would be one of your favorites, too.