Dog Days


Summer is here and the living is… complicated. I had been hoping for lazy times, fruity drinks, time in the sun. Not so much.

Because Rick has had a series of disasters, I now have both kids all the time and a new (oldish) dog. I love them all, but life is suddenly much more full. I’ve worked miracles of fitting impossible quantities of things into limited spaces. Polly the dog has had her shots and gotten spayed. She is adjusting reasonably quickly to the new environment with its essential dog door, Cricket, and more stairs. Fortunately, Syd is Polly’s favorite person. (Syd has been a trooper through all of this, schlepping boxes, sorting out stuff, calming Polly, and more.)

For extra bonus points, we’ve had both my parents and Brent’s mom in town, Brent on call for work, and a Brent work trip.

Sanity is slowly returning. It is really good to have so many people I love right here. I always like clearing things out. And I have a whole pile of Syd’s rejected books to read. I’m ready for the lazy, sunny part now.

End of Spring Reading

Today is T.R.’s last day of school, so it is time to tally my spring reading. Not the world’s greatest totals this time around, but I have apparently been busy! Nineteen books for 7,583 pages.

I’ve written about most of them already, but here’s the quick scoop on the last few I crammed in. (Yes, I am too lazy to do links. But the books aren't hard to find.)

I sometimes like Ruth Rendell’s books, but sometimes they freak me out. Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter is one I liked. I think I’ve read it before, or else I’m getting better at figuring out who did it. I liked reading the whole thing anyway because she does have a lovely technique with words. It came as a hand-me-down and will go out as one.

Death in the Family by Jill McGown had great characters. The plot had slightly too many moving parts to work smoothly and one key piece of information, when revealed, made a few characters’ behavior questionable. I liked the detectives and would enjoy reading more about them on a beach somewhere, but the book itself, another hand-me-down, will continue to hand down.

I really wanted to like the stories in I, Richard, a collection of Elizabeth George’s short stories. I didn’t. Not even a token appearance by Thomas Lynley helped. I think it is partly in the nature of short crime fiction to be gimmicky; it relies more heavily on the sudden twist ending. For me, it meant that the story was secondary to the mechanics. If the characters had been at all sympathetic, I could have enjoyed the stories, but they were not fun to hang out with, either as guilty pleasures or as nice people. With luck, this means that there will be more novels instead. (Patiently waiting…)

Unfortunately, Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson is not my book. It was awesome. I want to investigate these writers more! Each of the tales drew me in and wouldn’t let go. Also, I like dragons, phoenixes, salamanders, and the like. The book was I-can’t-hear-you-I’m-reading absorbing with flexible, enchanting prose.

More than a few of my friends do not enjoy Gregory Maguire’s books. This makes me sad. I find him clever and subtle and funny. Out of Oz is, according to the jacket, the final volume in his Wicked series. Bummer. I also think it is the strongest in the series since Wicked itself. I loved it, I’m keeping it, and I think other people should like it, too, but if they don’t, I can’t make them.

Book Report: Bitterblue

A friend of mine was having a birthday, so naturally, I headed for the bookstore. A couple of years ago, she borrowed Graceling from me and loved it. She got Fire on her Kindle (which meant I couldn’t borrow it and had to get my own copy. Life is rough.). But there in the bookstore was Bitterblue! She got that and Pride and Prejudice because at 14, she needs to know that there is more to love stories than droopy vampires.

Anyway, I had to have my own copy of Bitterblue. It is awesome. Kristin Cashore writes about healthy young women who have both awesome power and serious problems. They are comfortable in their bodies and they don’t freak out about sex, just love, which makes much more sense. If I had girls, I would want them to read these books. I think T. would like them, too, but he’s got a long list of books he wants to read, so I’d have to wait and see.

What’s it about? Right. Bitterblue is a young queen. She became queen after her murderous, mind-altering father killed her mother and subsequently got killed. She has to figure out how to deal with not only her own scars, but the entire country’s scars. Striking a balance between acknowledging and atoning for the evil that people did under her father’s influence and overwhelming hurt and fragile people with guilt is a tough task made more difficult by advisors who keep her stuck in her castle and out of touch with her people. Bitterblue’s secret nightly escapes into the city around her castle show her a different sort of truth and a different sort of lying. She also makes some unusual friends.

While the book is often funny and touching, there are some rough passages that a sensitive kid might have trouble with (um, strike that. Sensitive person. I had trouble with them.). I would give it to my kid, as I said before, but I have read the book myself and I know my kid. Other parents might want to do the same.

Overall, I am always pleased to read books written for the YA audience that are funny, smart, and thought-provoking. I hope there is another book soon!

Books: Orlando Furioso and The Serpent's Shadow

I have wanted to read Orlando Furioso for a long time, even before my friend Stephanie told me a lot of years ago that the kids she was watching needed a new game to play, so she gave them each a character out of the book to be, one with a magic sword, one with a hippogriff that could fly to the moon, and one with a blinding shield. At long last, I got around to it. I am so glad. I knew it was full of knights and the usual swords that cleave enemies from skull to navel, but I had no idea it was so funny! Lost wits can be found on the moon! The poet pokes fun at himself as a failure at love! Mad Orlando uproots a tree to use as a weapon as if it were a stalk of celery!

It is also remarkably pro-woman for its period. There is not just one damsel who can fight with the knights, but two. The knights that accompany them (and fall in love with them) recognize and praise their prowess. The stories of the faithlessness of women (a staple during the period) are both balanced by stories of the faithlessness of men and explained as sour grapes on the part of men.

The plots, for there are many, interlace, with many a “Meanwhile, back at…” to build suspense. I’m pretty sure that there are at least twenty most beautiful damsels ever and an equal number of most valiant knights. Within the obvious constraints of that kind of thinking, the stories do manage to vary considerably, at least in part due to unusual rulers and entertaining monster incursions. The book, as a whole, is kind of like a very smart and funny version of General Hospital on horses.


In other book news, Rick Riordan came out with a new book just in time for T.’s birthday. The Serpent’s Shadow is the third book of his Kane Chronicles and by far the best. Riordan is always funny and inventive. I find at least one thing per chapter that I wish I had thought of and written myself. This book reaches the level of The Lightning Thief, both in number of things I want to steal and in number of times I laughed out loud. Also: Jelly Baby Conspiracy. If you read the book, you will know what I mean. And you should read the book.

What’s it about? Oh, right. It is about two kids who are descendants of the pharaohs. They have magic powers, fight monsters, and generally save the world in the company of various Egyptian gods, a baboon who only eats things that end in O, and other interesting folks. Good versus evil, last-minute rescue, great triumph. Very satisfying.

Sorry about being too lazy to make links or pictures today...

Priorities at last

On Monday, I woke up with the kind of anxiety I often have when I feel behind even before I get my butt out of bed. We spent a lovely weekend in Disneyland celebrating the fact that some friends of ours have been married for twenty years and like Disneyland enough to decide to go there for the occasion.

While I was visiting the Small World and debating which Disney mountain is best (Matterhorn, but feel free to debate among yourselves), I was not doing laundry or shopping or yard work or cooking or anything else. Unfortunately, Tink’s magic doesn’t extend to my house (or, perhaps more to the point, Wendy wasn’t here to be Mother—I don’t think Tink is much for household management). Even before I left, I lost a day or so to the depression monster, so even more things to do had piled up. I also ate badly while I was gone and my body was letting me know it doesn’t like the abuse.

Since crawling back under the covers with my fingers in my ears was not an option that would get T. to school on time, I was faced with the task of creating order out of chaos.

I did create some order out of some of the chaos. No surprise. But what was different was that I began, at last, to figure out which chaos was the most important chaos to address. Here are my new priorities, in order.

One: keep breathing. Most people don’t find this much of a challenge. Me, well, that’s another story. In practice, this means that if my meds make me sleepy, I sleep because I have to take the meds. If dirty dishes are messing with my chi, they become the next most important task. If order needs to be restored to the universe by neatly writing crossword answers in the appropriate boxes, that is ok.

Two: be healthy. This is not the same as keeping breathing, although it is related. This means that, for example, riding my bike is more important than ironing. Having conversations with friends trumps weeding. I get to move enough, eat enough (but not too much), work enough, and play enough.

Three: take care of the people I love. This is where the cooking and cleaning go, because nothing says love like not running out of underwear or like restoring food at the end of a busy day. But it is not just about that stuff. It’s listening and flexing and cuddling and killing monsters and asking about homework and giving an extra snooze alarm.

Anything else I do is gravy. Or perhaps I should say organic strawberries, since gravy is not particularly healthy.

Book Report: Five Smooth Stones

My reading list for spring is looking pretty sparse. However, I finished Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn last night. I’m feeling it lingering in my head.

The story is about the civil rights movement and in particular about a person named David Champlain. Despite having had a great-grandfather and a father who were both killed by white violence, David is one of the lucky ones. His grandparents raise him with love, an expatriate Scandinavian professor tutors him and prepares him for college, Harvard and Oxford teach him law. He is a man of two worlds, of poor New Orleans and educated Boston. When his grandfather also is killed by white violence, he chooses to work to free his people.

It could have been a preachy meditation on Bad Whitey, a take entirely justified by the facts. Instead it is a novel with well-drawn characters who have to make decisions in an insane world. Of course it was depressing, but it was also uplifting in a way, showing that love might not conquer all right away, but it can do miracles.

Thanks to Anneli for lending the book to me!
wonder woman

T.R. Gets The Shark

Yesterday, T.R. turned 15. In honor of the occasion, he received, among other things The Shark, a time-honored family tradition begun one Christmas when my father made the mistake of giving it to me in the first place. After the shark appeared by surprise in the bathroom, the refrigerator, the cabinets, and so on, I was informed that I was having too much fun with the shark. Naturally, I wrapped it up beautifully and gave it to my mom for her birthday. Since then, it has traveled between family members, sometimes hidden within other gifts, sometimes taking a holiday off to allow the family time to forget what a box of shark size is likely to contain.

Brent asked me if I had put fresh batteries into the shark. I said, "Of course not!" With batteries, the shark plays the Jaws theme and then sings the beginning of "Mack the Knife." T. will have to find new batteries himself before we have to hear shark-sounds.

There is no explanation needed for the Napoleon hat, is there?

I love this kid.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

This is social activist graffiti at its finest. I am more than used to seeing stop signs with further instructions (Stop Driving, is, I think, my favorite, although I’m still waiting for In the Name of Love) after so many years in Berkeley, but this takes it to a whole new and better level.

Much like the fire danger signs, this new form of graffiti is updatable! No more permanent records of obscure propositions from long enough ago that no one remembers which regressive or repressive issues they were about. No more dead dictators eternally remembered in spray paint!

Best of all: no actual harm to the sign. Your tax dollars are at work, after all, in providing the sign. I am sure that the person raising consciousness in this fashion will remove and recycle the topical portion once victory is achieved.
wonder woman

Guns, but no alcohol or tobacco

I am pretty much the standard-issue, pro-recycling, whole-grain-eating, Prius-driving Berkeley type. But on Saturday, I went with Brent to take the Basic Handgun Safety and Marksmanship class—that is, I went to shoot guns. Once before, I went to the gun range and did black powder shooting (like Pa! Like pirates!). This time it was all about Glock 9mm.

For a gun class, it was surprisingly light on NRA-type you-can-have-my-guns-when-you-pry-them-out-of-my-cold-dead-hands. I did learn, however, that just as hammers and saws are tools for building houses, guns are tools for freedom. Keep that in your mind while you’re singing, Arlo.

I had a great time, actually, once we were done with the eons of lecture. Let me summarize for you: Guns are cool. Don’t point them at people. If you hurt yourself or someone else, we are going to be very very mad at you. Blah blah blah historical and mechanical details. Don’t point the guns at people. Unless they are breaking into your house in the middle of the night and you grab your gun out of your gun vault, slide behind the bed for cover and blast the living daylights out of the perp who is threatening your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness as long as you are confident that you are in immediate danger and must defend yourself.

Brent got all competitive with me during the practice time with the pretend guns, so I decided it was on. The first time I pressed (note: not “squeezed.” It is bad form.) the trigger, I almost threw the gun, thinking, “Holy @$#%@! What was that horrible noise? Oh, wait, that was me.” Good news: I also hit the target. Here is the photographic evidence of my victory:

My target:

Brent’s target:


In other news, I now have the coolest shoes EVER. I admit that they are pinker than most things I usually select, but check these out:

And they come in a cool box:

Best of all: THEY LIGHT UP!