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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Log - January 2015

  • Beyond the Sunrise, by Mary Balogh (adult fiction)
  • The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (audiobook, narrated by Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward; non-fiction)
  • How Jesus Became God: the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (audiobook, narrated by Walter Dixon; non-fiction)
  • Misquoting Jesus: the Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman (audiobook, narrated by Richard M. Davidson; non-fiction)
  • Stranger at the Wedding, by Barbara Hambly (audiobook, narrated by Anne Flosnik; adult fiction)
  • Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer (audiobook, narrated by Scott Brick; non-fiction)
  • The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer (audiobook, narrated by Ruth Sillers; adult fiction)
  • Neverhome, by Laird Hunt (adult fiction)
  • The Great Greene Heist, by Varian Johnson (middle-grade fiction; DNF)
  • The Serpent's Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey (audiobook, narrated by Michelle Ford; adult fiction)
  • Danse de la Folie, by Sherwood Smith (audiobook, narrated by Heather Wilds; adult fiction)
  • Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith (audiobook, narrated by Emma Galvin; young adult fiction)
  • Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein (audiobook, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskill; young adult fiction)
  • Cesar's Way, by Cesar Millan (non-fiction)
  • Cesar's Rules, by Cesar Millan (non-fiction)
  • K.I.S.S. Guide to Raising a Puppy, by Liz Palika (non-fiction)
  • Training Your Superpuppy , by Gwen Bailey (non-fiction)
  • 15 Minutes to Great Puppy, by Kevin Michalowski (non-fiction)
  • Unlock Your Dog's Potential, by Sarah Fisher (non-fiction)
  • and many more dog books
  • Son, by Lois Lowry (audiobook narrated by Bernadette Dunne; young adult fiction)
  • All the audiobooks of the Hurculeah Jones series by Betsy Byars (middle-grade fiction)
  • All the audiobooks from the series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (children's fiction)
  • All the audiobooks of the Herculeah Jones series by Betsy Byars (middle-grade fiction)
  • How To Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell (audiobook, narrated by David Tennant; children's fiction)
  • Meet the Austins, by Madeleine L'Engle (audiobook, narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed; middle-grade fiction)
  • Where There Is No Doctor, by David Wermer with Carol Thuman and Jane Maxwell (non-fiction)
  • Weirdos From Another Planet: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, by Bill Watterson (graphic novel; fiction)
  • Babymouse: Queen of the World, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Our Hero, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Beach Babe, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Puppy Love, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Babymouse: Mad Scientist, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Happy Birthday, Babymouse!, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm (graphic novel; children's fiction)
  • Something Under the Bed Is Drooling: A Calvin and Hobbes Collection, by Bill Waterson (graphic novel; fiction)
  • The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson (graphic novel; fiction)

Sometimes the Movie Is Better Than the Book

We book lovers can be very vocal in our defense of beloved books and downright scornful of any attempt at reinterpreting an author's work. In this post I won't go into the irritated befuddlement I feel over a really bad interpretation, in which they (meaning Hollywood) ruin a delightful story (Ella Enchanted - 2004) or change the story so much that the book seems to have been used only for its title and a few very basic story elements (Cheaper By the Dozen - 2003, Mr. Popper's Penguin's - 2011.)
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes the movie maestros make a movie that is as good as the book, even when they change a few elements of the original story. (I'm thinking of Lord of the Rings and the BBC's Wives and Daughters.)
On a rare occasion, the movie is better than the book, although admittedly this might not be the same for everyone. Here are a few movies that in my subjective opinion surpassed the books on which they were based:

BBC's North and South1. BBC's North and South (2004) - based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel of the same title.

While I like the book, the TV serial is so much better, and the characters much more realistic, less wooden, and it gives the main characters a worthy, swoon-inducing reconciliation, while the novel's scene of reconciliation is incredibly anti-climactical and boring.

The Magic of Ordinary Days2. The Magic of Ordinary Days - based on Ann Howard Creel's novel of the same title.

I just couldn't like this book. I wanted to and fully expected to because I loved the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. It just didn't happen. The main character was annoying, snobby, whiny, selfish, uncompassionate and she didn't improve. And the man she marries has the personality of a wet dishrag. I think the book suffers from want of some serious editing, and too often the author goes into annoying, long history lessons. The movie, on the other hand, has a marvelous screenplay, having removed the junk from the book and cut it down to the basic story: a pregnant, cultured, smart, standoffish young woman makes a marriage of convenience with a Colorado farmer during World War II. His simple ways and quiet devotion to their marriage and the coming baby (which is not his) teach her some much-needed lessons in compassion and unconditional love.

The Princess Bride3. The Princess Bride - based on William Goldman's novel of the same title.

The movie is much more charming, swashbuckling, adventurous, interesting, and humorous than the book, and it gave us fabulous quotes to spout: "When I was your age, television was called books." "Inconceivable!" "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." "Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." "They're kissing again. Do we have to read the kissing parts?" "My way's not very sportsman-like." I didn't dislike the book, I just felt that the movie made the story better; it cut out all the superfluous.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992)4. The Last of the Mohicans - the 1992 film based on James Fennimore Cooper's book.

This lush production is very different -more intense, exciting, romantic - than the 1826 novel, thank goodness. I've tried to read this book for years and each time I give up out of intense boredom. I'm content with just enjoying this movie version.


What movies are on your better-than-the-book list?

Book Review: Shadows by Robin McKinley

Synopsis from the publisher: Maggie knows something’s off about Val, her mom’s new husband. Val is from Oldworld, where they still use magic, and he won’t have any tech in his office-shed behind the house. But—more importantly—what are the huge, horrible, jagged, jumpy shadows following him around? Magic is illegal in Newworld, which is all about science. The magic-carrying gene was disabled two generations ago, back when Maggie’s great-grandmother was a notable magician. But that was a long time ago.
Then Maggie meets Casimir, the most beautiful boy she has ever seen. He’s from Oldworld too—and he’s heard of Maggie’s stepfather, and has a guess about Val’s shadows. Maggie doesn’t want to know . . . until earth-shattering events force her to depend on Val and his shadows. And perhaps on her own heritage.
In this dangerously unstable world, neither science nor magic has the necessary answers, but a truce between them is impossible. And although the two are supposed to be incompatible, Maggie’s discovering the world will need both to survive.

Some authors' books are automatic buys for me. Robin McKinley is one such author.
The story is set in a contemporary-ish, maybe future-ish alternate earth- a world that in many ways is familiar to the modern reader, but contains plenty of the unfamiliar. I was confused for awhile about the workings of the world of Shadows. McKinley uses unfamiliar words for things that aren't well-described at first. Only bit by bit does the reader glean the inner workings of the world in which Maggie, the main character, lives. I still don't feel like I have a complete handle on it.
McKinley writes people well. None of her characters succumbed to archetypical portrayals. They were all authentic, real, relatable people. I liked the slightly scattered but grounded voice of Maggie, the main character, who is trying to find her place in the world and in her family, now that her mom has married a man Maggie completely distrusts. She doesn't, strangely, seem to be thinking about the future. (I say "strangely" because she is in her last year of high school.) All her concerns are with the present, maybe because her stepfather and his shadows are seriously creeping her out and messing with her worldview. The stream-of-conscious narration was a little confusing at times, and I had to keep going back to reread passages because I felt like I had missed or misunderstood something. But as irritating as it could be, it also loaned authenticity to Maggie's teenage self.
I also like how she tied up the story, but left plenty of room for imagining what would come next for these people.

*This post originally published on October 2, 2013

A Dictionary For Book-Loving Kids (and Adults)

Book lovers tend to love dictionaries and also tend to have a few different copies lying around the house. (Our current number is five. I know. It might be a sickness.)  But a dictionary that contains a plethora of quotes from children's literature to help define the words? Guaranteed to become an instant favorite. Merriam-Webster's Elementary Dictionary (for kids aged 8 through 12 years) was an instant hit with my girls when they saw that quotes from books they've read and loved are used to help provide context for the definitions. This book never stays shelved. I find it lying all over the house. As a book-loving, book-pushing mom, this makes me so happy.

*This post originally published on August 17, 2013

Book Review: Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a very brief synopsis: Mena, an Evangelical Christian on the outs with her own Church, for reasons not made clear at first, starts high school as a social outcast, but getting assigned to Ms. Shepard’s biology class starts to change her world.
The book deals with themes of evolution vs. creationism, bullying, and prejudice. I was fascinated with Mena’s character growth in this very readable book. Sadly, I can foresee some Creationist-minded Christians trying to get this book banned from school libraries, which would be a shame, because Brande created characters who are ethical, caring, interesting and realistically normal at the same time. Some other reviewers on GoodReads have complained about the one dimensional characters of the religious kids, when the reality is that the attitudes and behavior displayed by the religious kids makes them seem pretty one dimensional, just as it does in real life when people behave similarly. Having witnessed first hand the mass ignorance and bad behavior displayed by so-called "intelligent" design (aka Creationism) fans toward those who disagree with them, I found the book very realistic in its portrayal of the characters and situation. (And yes, I'm aware that the situation could be reversed as well, but that has not been my experience.)
The part I thought wasn’t fleshed out well was Mena’s relationship with her parents.  She obviously loves them, but never seems to question why they wouldn’t support her or show more empathy toward her. Surrounded as she was by hate and vitriol on all sides, I’m surprised she seemed so calm (relatively speaking) and accepting.

*This post was originally published June 23, 2013

Book Review: Tales From the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird by Vivian Vande Velde

My nine year old daughter found this in the Junior Fiction section of the library. She tossed it disgustedly on the return pile a few days later, saying, "This book is dumb. I don't like the way the author redid the fairy tales." Since she's not a big fan of fairy tales anyway, I decided to read it to see if she was right, or if she just didn't appreciate it because of the genre.
The answer, I found, is a little of both. After reading this compilation of "twisted" fairy tales (and it's a quick read) it's clear to me that the book has been wrongly placed in the library: it isn't a book for the 8-12 age range, unless you've got a kid who's ahead of his/her years, irony-wise. The cultural references, dark humor, and general irreverence are more suited for teens and adults. The stories themselves are well-written, and amusing in places, (and secretly echo some adults' feelings about certain iconic fairy tales) but for the most part, I myself couldn't work up much enthusiasm over them. But I can definitely see a more appreciative audience out there for it.

*Originally published on June 14, 2013