April #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Check-In

May 3, 2016

Morning, all! It’s time to check in with one of my challenges: Andi’s Read My Own Damn Books challenge! If you remember, originally I wasn’t planning on joining. I don’t have gobs and gobs and gobs of books standing by, and so I thought it was a needless challenge for me. Why join, only to say “I did it!” ten books later. That’s not nice. But then I thought to myself, Self, you have about 20 books sitting on that shelf, half of which you’ve owned for more than one Christmas. It’s time. It’s half past time. So I joined Andi’s challenge to help nudge myself to read those books that had, for one reason or another, stopped seeming readable.

My goal: To read all of the books on my To Read Shelf, especially the ones I’d owned for more than a year.

My promise: To not buy any new books until I’ve reached my goal. (Jeepers, Katie!)

Here’s how I did in April (reviews are posted weekly on the blog, usually on Thursdays):

The Bollywood Bride, by Sonali Dev – Bought, but only because it was $1.99 for my ereader!
Crazy, by Benjamin Lebert – Borrowed from Kim
When I Was a Child, I Read Books, by Marilynne Robinson – Borrowed from the libraryLessons in French, by Hilary Reyl – Borrowed from the library
After Birth, by Elisa Albert – Borrowed from the library
The Listener, by Rachel Basch – Borrowed from the library
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi Borrowed from the library
Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman – Borrowed from the library
Re Jane, by Patricia Park – Borrowed from the library
The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin – Borrowed from the library
The Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaffert – Owned; It’s one of My Own Damn Books!
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – Owned; A Re-read, out loud to the girls
The Night We Said Yes, by Lauren Gibaldi – Borrowed from the library
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah – Borrowed from the library
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, by Kristopher Jansma – Borrowed from the library
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi – Borrowed from the library
Happy Are the Happy, by Yasmina Reza – Borrowed from the library
When Reason Breaks, by Cindy Rodriguez – Borrowed from the library
Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull – Owned! One of My Own Damn Books!
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten – Borrowed from the library
All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders – Borrowed from the library
Snowblind, by Christopher Golden – Owned! One of my Own Damn Books
The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, by Matt McCarthy – Bought, for the readathon. Whoops.
Twisty Little Passages, by Nick Montfort – Owned! One of my Own Damn Books
Prepper’s Complete Guide to Disaster Preparedness, by Scott Hunt – Owned!
The Beach, by Alex Garland – Owned! One of my Own Damn Books!
The Blackhouse, by Peter May – Owned! One of my Own Damn Books!
Alibis, by Andre Aciman – Owned! From my last Quarterly Box
Hearts in Atlantis, by Stephen King – Owned! A re-read from long ago
Burn, Baby, Burn, by Meg Medina – Owned! From my last YA Quarterly Box
This Is All I Have to Say, by Swapna Seth – Borrowed from the library

Foof. That’s a lot of typing. I read 32 books in April. Thirty-two books. I did buy two of them. Shame! Oh the shaaaaaaame! But 7 books were from my To Read shelf. That means I only have 11 more. The Readathon helped a lot – I read a good chunk of those 7 books in that one day. It kills me because I know theoretically, I could knock them all out in one month, easily, if I wanted to. I just don’t. And can’t seem to make myself. So onward we plod.

Good thing the challenge is about books and I don’t mind so much the plodding. Heh.

The birthday that didn’t chaos.

May 2, 2016

Every year I cringe. (I hope I cringe internally, but I think the girls – to some extent, at least – know how very much I dread the Birthday Party Chaos.) Every year the girls’ birthdays come around, and every year I am all MUPPET ARMS! LET’S CELEBRATE BIRTHDAYS! Birthdays are HYOOGE around here. But then after the actual birthday celebration comes the dreaded birthday party – kids and chaos and noise and spills and oof. I can barely stand the chaos after a rowdy indoor weekend with all of my kiddos, nevermind a sleepover with everyone else’s!

It probably doesn’t help that for the past two years, we had a joint party. All of Bee’s friends and all of Gracie’s friends piled over to have one giant, joint birthday party so I would only have to stand the chaos once. It was brilliant…except for the part where there were 20 girls at my house. (And Gracie’s best friend J., who is a boy. He stayed for a few hours, and then his mama [a bestie of mine, who came for moral support] took him outta the way so the girls could get a bit more girlie.) Two years ago, Kim flew down to surprise Gracie and to help me deal with all of that. Last year, I made Jeff stay over and help deal.Having back-up was a smart move on my part – everyone got out alive.

But this year, this year was different. Bee wanted to have a skating party because half of her friends wouldn’t be allowed to come to a sleepover since their parents don’t know me. Gracie’s sleepover would be solo. And she only inviting seven friends! Plus the Redheads – I don’t count them towards the tally, since we’re inviting them anyway. They’re half mine. Heh. Gracie ended up paring down the list a bit, and then two friends couldn’t come [one of whom I met at academic olympics and she’s darling!]. So Gracie had three friends from school, plus the older Redhead. Redhead the Younger paired off with Bee for the night and so it just naturally worked out that the “Big Kids” could watch movies and do their own thing, and the “Littles” made forts outside and stalked the Xman and caught frogs and stuff. It worked out really well.

Another big thing happened – I let Gracie and her friends walk to the park in our neighborhood without an adult. I was a nervous wreck the entire time, even though there were five tweenaged girls and the likelihood someone would try to snatch them was low. If you read as many books about kidnapped tweens, you would worry too! I warned them all that they HAD to stick together, no pulling pranks, no running off, and if I heard that anyone did, they would face the WRATH OF GOD. I didn’t even care if I was embarrassing Gracie with my stern admonition. But they were cool. I got nervous when Gracie wasn’t answering my texts when it was time to check in – boy, did she get yelled at for that! – and they were almost 10 minutes late. But they were alive and all aglow with getting to do New Things. Adult Things. They even woke up early the next morning to do it again! It must have been a Big Deal to them, and that is adorable.

And that was really the worst part of the evening – worrying about whether they were alive or kidnapped for those 10 minutes. Because the kids were quiet and amazing and respectful and pretty much the opposite of chaos. We did cake right after the park:

MollyBday1

Corrie came back by after she and John went to dinner, and Jeff and I hung out with her and had a few drinks. Just a few.

MollyBday2

Really. That’s just us being us, because Jeff was really about to go put the Xman to bed and read stories. (Hence the books.) The Xman did fairly well staying away from the girls like he was told 192080932 times before the party. The Littles let him play with them for a bit. Then Jeff and I took turns keeping him occupied while we kept an eye on things at the party. Mostly, the big kids were self-sufficient. I brought them snacks and things. Showed the girls were the cups and drinks and things were (and then told them to have at it and make themselves at home). It was just…chill.

The girls settled down to watch movies pretty soon after. And that was really the last we heard of them.

MollyBday3

The Littles had camped out in the front room, planning pranks and such. Nothing permanent, no going outside, don’t make anyone scream. Those were my rules. They ended up throwing paper airplanes(ish) that said “Stay away, dummies” and “cuckers”. Which, um, okay. Adorable, and I kind of busted a gut when I found them!

MollyBday4

The big kids soon spread out their blankets and figured out where they were sleeping and then Gracie asked if they could do nails. I had already relaxed my No Drinking Anywhere But The Kitchen rule, and I was hella nervous about nail polish and nail polish remover ending up on my floor or (newish) couches, but I took a deep breath and said okay. Gracie said she could tell I was wicked anxious when I came out to check on things a couple thousand times, and said she made the younger Redhead do her nails on the ratty wooden table instead of the couch, which was a great move considering all the nail polish the kid got on her feet and hands, and generally kept an eye on things. I love that Gracie-girl. I think I’ll keep her.

MollyBday6

After that, it was fairly quiet. Jeff and I had moved into our bedroom after Corrie left, just watching movies and eating key lime pie in bed. Oh, and alcohol. I took alcohol.

MollyBday5

All in all, it was a good, good night. No one went home, no one got their feelings hurt (other than the Littles when I kicked them back to their front room at midnight). Even no one was cranky the next day! I WIN! It was really the perfect sleepover. I invited all of the girls to sleep over whenever they wanted. Really, really. The only thing that happened, was this:

MollyBday8

A tired Gracie parked her butt on the couch on Sunday and pretty much didn’t move all afternoon. Except to help out with chores, voluntarily, because apparently tweenagers know how to say thank you. Not sure that will last, but I’ll take it!

Happy birthday, Gracie-girl. I hope you loved your party as much as you did. And good job on choosing your new village of people. Your mama is feeling pretty good, knowing that you know what you’re doing.

Mini-Reviews: Unlikely heroes, goosebumps, and low men of all varieties..

April 28, 2016

Morning, all! It’s been a good reading week, thanks to Dewey’s 24-hour readathon! Let’s unpack the monster list of books I burned through, shall we?

Book118The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B, by Teresa Toten (2015, Delacorte Books, 291 pages, library hardcover). I’m a sucker for YA fiction about mental health, and wow did this one really ring a lot of my bells. The story is about Adam, a teenage OCD boy, who has his hands full with his weekly support group, falling in love for the first time, a mom who may need help herself, a remarried (and somewhat absent) dad, a little half-brother who adores him but may be more like Adam than he would wish, and finding friendship in the oddest of places. I liked the cultural and socio-economic diversity; characters flirted with stereotypes, but didn’t always fit them. The same with plot twists: what you thought was being broadcast didn’t always happen. The whodunit aspect wasn’t too overplayed, but kept the second half of the novel moving. And not everyone gets better. 4 of 5 stars.

Book117All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders (2016, Tor Books, 316 pages, library hardcover). Mix the apocalypse with a secret school of magic and rabbit holes filled with kids who can talk to animals… it sounded so promising, but I couldn’t get wrapped up in any of it. The writing was almost formal and a bit stilted – think British kids’ lit, a la Secret Garden – and I had a hard time connecting without any warmth to leech onto. 1 of 5 stars.

Book116Snowblind, by Christopher Golden (2014, St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, paperback). I tried a few times to get into the story before it caught for me…and then I fell so deeply into it that I froze my behind off, even though it was 80+° outside! Seriously – I almost screamed several times and when Jeff asked how it was going, I “joked” (no really ha ha) about putting it in the freezer. Stephen King blurbed the book and it’s likened to King’s early works – for good reason. A classic horror story of a snowstorm that mysteriously killed more than a dozen people…only those killed somehow return during an eerily similar blizzard fifteen years later. The author did a good job balancing a townful of characters without sacrificing their individuality. The New Englandisms felt genuine. And I don’t care how big an area it covers – a blizzard creates a locked-room mystery, no matter what. Once I got 30 or so pages in, I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t read it fast enough. You guys HAVE to read it! 5 of 5 stars.

Book115The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, by Matt McCarthy (2015, Crown, 336 pages, paperback). I maybe broke down and bought this the night before the readathon because I worried that I didn’t have enough “lighthearted” reading to cleanse my palette. Yes, I’m the weirdo who finds reading about ER visits and death-defying surgeries “relaxing”. If you like tell-alls and behind-the-scenes glimpses and medical dramas, this book won’t disappoint. But don’t be squeamish about your protag making a mistake, because ours? Makes plenty. 3 of 5 stars.

Book114The Beach, by Alex Garland (1996, Riverhead Books, 448 pages, paperback). This book has been on my To Be Read list for a long time, and on my shelf since Christmas. Backpacking in Thailand isn’t normally my thing, but crazy islands are. I thought I’d be way more into this, and maybe I would have if I had’ve attacked it any other time than at the end of my readathon. It’s not that it’s all dark and twisty – that doesn’t happen until the very end – but the very idyllism and over-the-top Daffy just…nope. Nope nope nope. Couldn’t work for me. Couldn’t buy it, no matter how I tried. 1 of 5 stars.

Book113Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere, by Andre Aciman (2011, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 208 pages, paperback). This was one of the books included in my last Quarterly Box, and I was delighted because personal essays are my jam. Aciman didn’t quite get to Anne Fadiman level, but his lyricism was really a wonder to behold. His essays covered nearly all of Europe, it seemed, and were as varied as my mind on a particularly ADHD afternoon. Different wheres, different whens, and all with that soft, nostalgic gauziness of memory overlapping everything. Looking for a collection of essays for your Read Harder challenge? Look no further! 3 of 5 stars.

Book112Hearts in Atlantis, by Stephen King (1999, Scribner, 523 pages, paperback). This was the next book up on my Great Stephen King Re-Read Project, but I wasn’t too happy about it. I didn’t remember Hearts with any fondness, for all that the main novella had to do with the Dark Tower. The Low Men creep me out. Like, bad bad. …Maybe because I believe they really exist, but that’s neither here nor there. I ended up enjoying the re-read more than I thought, due in large part to how comforting King’s writing is. It’s like slipping on a favorite sweatshirt that still smells like home, or wrapping up in your favorite afghan and finally feeling warm. 4 of 5 stars.

Book111Burn, Baby, Burn, by Meg Medina (2016, Candlewick, 356 pages, hardcover). This was one of the books included in my last Young Adult Quarterly Box, and I was super excited to find it! It was a starred addition to my TBR – a story about two teens in Queens during the summer of Son of Sam and all those arsons? Yes, please! Our Latina protag, Nora, is worried her abusive brother and his hella-creepy best friend/dealer might be behind the arsons, she’s worried she and the new hottie at her deli job might be targeted as they make out in cars, she’s worried for her mama who just lost her job, and for her friend’s mom and her cohorts who are very active in the women’s rights movement. But for all that going on, I can’t say a single memorable thing happened. I loved the diversity of characters and class, and the family dynamics were incredibly interesting in their tiny little details that made them in ways the rest of the book didn’t. Otherwise…meh. I’m disappointed to say it was a take it or leave it story for me. 3 of 5 stars.

 

The StitchFix with all the shoes.

April 27, 2016

I love when my StitchFix comes early! But by the time I remembered to check the front stoop Monday night, it was far too late for StitchFix shenanigans. (I mean, do you think these photos just take themselves?!) So last night, before the birthday girl and her sidekick got back from dinner with Dad, I peeked through my box and made plans for the photoshoot I’d somehow sneak in after cake and presents.StitchFix5a

I had requested black pants suitable for going out. I have so many cute tops andonly either jeans or work pants to go with them. Oh, hey, or black capris. I also asked for some blue shoes to match the clutch I got a few Fixes ago. And if my stylist had any of the tops or dresses or other spring fashions that I had added to my Pinterest board, those would be fab, too! Surely that would be enough direction to avoid my last structure-less StitchFix disaster.

Shall we see what arrived?

The box was heavy. I suspected shoes. And I was right. In fact, there were two pair. My stylist noted that she wouldn’t normally send two, but she had both a pair of blue sandals I had pinned, and a fancier pair of gold peep-toe strappy heels.

I adore the heels! I don’t have any gold shoes, they go with everything, and they fit perfectly! The blue sandals… Well, I’m not a big fan of suede. I didn’t notice they were suede when I pinned them, and they look even more casual in person. The cork is killer hard and inflexible, and my heel falls just off the back of the shoe. Plus, ZOMG the price!

There was a pair of black pants, just like I asked. And ohmyheavens, they fit just like a dream! Sexy and comfortable! Now that’s what I don’t mind shelling out a little extra for. And as far as StitchFix pants go, they weren’t at the top of the price list, either. Sweet.

I paired the pants with the first of two tops they sent.

StitchFix8c

Yeah. Not crazy about the color – I am not really a deep rose kind of person. Especially not in a solid. But I like to branch out and try new things and somethings those new things surprise you. But this shirt ain’t one of ’em. I look so totally boxy! An unshaped block of wood: that’s me. The flutter sleeves, I love. The rest…not so much. I even uploaded my picture to my Pinterest board so my stylist can see how these creations look on my body type. Whatever helps, right?

Okay, on to the next shirt. In kelly green, half of my new favorite color combo!

StitchFix8d

Super flattering fit, right?! And again, I love the color! But…silk? Eh. I should have taken a picture of the back of the shirt – it’s a racerback and really very cute. I loved the clean lines it made with my new favorite pants. But I’d sweat through the shirt in a hot Texas minute. And when I looked at the price? Ain’t no way I’m paying $90 for a racerback tank top! Maybe if the piece was unique, or if I’d loved everything in my Fix and could justify it as my “free” item, but no way. I could find this shirt anywhere else for at least half – if not less! – than what they were asking. It might not be silk, but that’d actually make it better! So. It fit great and it was in a color I’d been begging for in my pins, but I don’t actually make enough money to justify spending $90 on a top, so my stylist is on crack.

All told, I ended up keeping the pants and the heels. I’ll get a crazy amount of wear out of both of them! I made sure to give my stylist high marks for personalizing my Fix – she did find my pants and shoes (though I didn’t keep the blue ones, the others still match the clutch) and two “date night” shirts, even if they weren’t ones I’d pinned. I just hope the prices come down on the next box, or I’m going to have to say goodbye to my addiction!

The likes and dislikes of Gracie, at 12 years old.

April 26, 2016

Twelve. Twelve years old. This is the last year my oldest daughter, my first baby, will be a little girl (for all that I get to call her that). Next year she will be a teenager. You can already see the grown-uppish-ness peeking around the corner. My Gracie-girl is all awkward angles and in-betweens right now. It’s beautiful and heart-stopping watching an Emerging Person peek out from the Little Kid that my Gracie is leaving behind. Not that it’s without growing pains. But my gosh, Gracie – you are doing just fine, sweetheart. I am so proud of you!

As is tradition, I’ve captured just a few things that Gracie loves, and a few she hates, in an effort to help me remember her just as she is in this moment. Any parent of grown kids will tell you it all happens in an instant, and even those memories you think you couldn’t possibly forget ever could be gone in an instant. Memories and ghosts of children past are tricky that way.

[Good lord, I’m dramatic and weepy this morning. Anniversaries of becoming a parent! will do that to you, I suppose.]

10 Things Gracie-Girl Loves So Much She Would Get Up Early For Them (For Serious).

  1. Texting. Gracie was given cell phone privileges this year is quasi-middle school, and she lurves to text anyone and everyone. She will hold hour-long convos with me, from the next room even, if it means she can text them out. (I like to let her sometimes, because how much longer is she going to think I’m worthy?)
  2. When she’s my ally. Gracie-girl is walking that tightrope now between wanting to establish herself apart from the parentals, and wanting to be my right-hand man, still. She likes being in on the joke, on the secret, on the power and the glory. Unless she has something better to do. Still – I think Gracie’s leanings towards wanting to be a benevolent dictator mean I can use this to my advantage for a few years yet.
  3. Her sister. I love that Gracie and Bee have verrrrry subtly become closer over the past year. They’ll collude against me, join forces as The Big Kids whenever X-man is afoot, or create elaborate schemes to “play” on the weekends. Listening to them talk a mile a minute to each other after school (now that they’re in separate schools and don’t know each other’s goings on) warms my heart each and every time it happens. I’m not making a final prediction yet, but I think those two are gonna be alright.
  4. Obsessing over her latest Netflix show. Grey’s Anatomy. Bones. Her YouTube shows. HGTV. Fuller House. Gracie will pick a show and watch it non. stop. No, really – she gets honestly upset if you suggest four shows in a row were enough. Ugh.
  5. Primping. My child who would sleep until noon if I let her will voluntarily get up 30 minutes early to straighten her mostly-straight-anyways hair. She will straighten her eyebrows for hours. Apply lotion (that she obsessed over purchasing from Bath & Body Works, god help me). I still don’t worry about my kid becoming too vain because she would wear the same sweatshirt every day if I let her and could really care less about choosing an outfit. But the signs are there, god help us. A bona fide teenager is lurking around the corner.
  6. Showing off. I’m not one to throw stones in glass houses here. She uses it for good (smacking the pants off anyone at trivia) and evil (constantly one-upping her sister or proving she’s better, somehow), but she needs to do it. And getting her to quit it while her feelings are so delicate is not so easy!
  7. Music.ly. So the newest trend right now is creating music videos with an online app that lets you pick a song and then record yourself dancing or lip-syncing. Both girls are obsessed. And I am delighted! So much blackmail material! And hilarious moments. And peeks into their wickedly creative brains.
  8. Her geek flag. Gracie flies it loud and proud! She loves Dr. Who, Harry Potter, and all manner of sci-fi series and books. She loves being a math whiz. She proudly announced at dinner the other night that her career quiz found that she should be an engineer, an anthropologist, or a criminal investigator. I love that my girlie is so proud of who she is, because ain’t no way it’s changing…
  9. Quesadillas. Ohmygod, every “easy meal” I’ve made Gracie fend for on her own, the kid has made cheese quesadillas. Sometimes she’s too hungry and she’ll just zap a few in the microwave to melt the cheese. Other times she’ll get out the frying pan and toast some on the stove, now that she has free reign in the kitchen. The girl is straight up addicted.
  10. Having her own room. When Jeff and the X-man moved in, we had to make room somehow. And rather than deconstruct my entire guest room/craft room to accommodate a four-year-old who doesn’t know to not touch things, we moved Gracie into the guest room, and Bee and the X-man bunk together every other weekend. Otherwise, the girls essentially have their own rooms. They’re getting along better, for one. But also, we discovered that Gracie likes to nest. She’ll create little hidey holes in her room and watch videos or do god knows what. She loves having a place to retreat to when the rest of the world is pressing in on her and her tweenaged feelings. Bless her.

 

10 Things Gracie-Girl Hates So Much, She’d Sacrifice Bedtime To Avoid Them (For Serious.)

  1. Loud clothes. The girl picked out 10 different tshirts in various shades of grey this past spring. I suggested prints or colors and was met with such whining and “GOD, MOM!!!”s at the very suggestion. I maybe was a bit smug when she didn’t have anything blue to wear for spirit day the other day. Hmpf.
  2. When I’m her mom. For all that Gracie loves being my ally, my confidante, my right-hand man, she hates when she is reminded that I am, in fact, the mom. Her mom. And what I say goes, even if she doesn’t like it.
  3. Her sister. Are you noticing a pattern? That Gracie loves and hates many of the same things? Poor pitiful tweenaged puppy. Yes, her relationship with her sister fits into that category, too. For all that they love hanging out together, there are times when I threaten to send them to bed hours early if they can’t stop arguing, or being mean, or teasing each other. “Be KIND,” I’m always telling Gracie. I don’t think she necessarily means it, half the time; I just think she’s twelve.
  4. Newborns. It’s weird – Gracie loves kids. She loves her niece and other little babies we’ve welcomed into our extended circle recently. She bubbles over each one and begs to visit. But will she hold the baby? No way!! Not her niece several years ago, and not a single newborn this past year. I asked her why and she was at a loss.
  5. Being read to. We still read a chapter each night out loud as a family. We recently finished Ready Player One and have just started The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Gracie complains – loudly – each and every night. She yells any time I suggest an extra chapter (while her sister cheers me on), and yet… for all the complaining, she loves having finished the book and doesn’t exactly look like she’s having the worst time ever. I chalk it up to being with and against everything on principle these days.
  6. Being known or being invisible. Another one for our poor girl stuck in the land of in-betweens. Heaven help you if you act in front of Gracie like you know her (“I do NOT like Tay-Tay!”), or if get something wrong about her (“How could you not know that?!”) At least my pretty, pretty tweenager isn’t bottling all of her feelings inside? Eesh.
  7. Being coordinated. Gracie trips over her own feet. Bangs her toes/foot/knee/fingers against objects that I swear aren’t even there. Falls down for no reason. Yep, my baby’s a klutz.
  8. Running errands. Heaven help me if I actually make Gracie come to the store with me or suggest stopping somewhere on the way back from somewhere else. Once she was allowed to stay home alone, she thought she was exempt from having to go anywhere she didn’t want to. And hoo boy are the fights fun when she’s reminded that she’s not actually in charge.
  9. Bedtime. It wouldn’t matter if I told her she had to go to bed at midnight – my baby girl is a night owl who things imposed bedtimes are for whimps. I have to say I do like knowing her currency; it makes it easy when I have to threaten a punishment to wave going to bed early in front of her face. Compliance happens pretty quickly!
  10. The awkwardness of in-between. Navigating all of this isn’t easy. Gracie-girl feels it most acutely some days. She wants so desperately to establish herself as her own person and to distance herself from me and from the family. But the ways she chooses to do that, like with hurtful words, make her feel horrible when she sees the fallout. Growing up isn’t easy, and she hates it.

Aw, Gracie. I love all of it. All of the things that make you YOU. Even when you make me yell and gnash my teeth and wonder how in the world the two of us are going to survive, I still love every single tiny thing about you. I wouldn’t change a thing. …Except maybe if you could pick up your room from time to time. That would be awesome.

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon: A recap.

April 25, 2016

Whew! I’m still recovering from an awesome readathon on Saturday, in so many good ways! It’s the first time I’ve been able to participate in April (usually because of Gracie’s birthday, it just doesn’t work out), but so many of my favorite bits and pieces were still there, despite the date on the calendar.

My #readathon, my rules: I didn’t get to participate for the full 24 hours. I hardly ever do! Even with the girls at their dad’s house, I still have a little guy at home; a big, handsome guy (who did his very best to take care of everything so I could focus on reading); a puppy who was all wound-up and annoying; and a house to take care of. I got up and kicked off the readathon at 7am with the rest of the readers, but I called it a day after 13 hours. Still, I packed a lot into the time I had!

The books: I managed to read seven books in those 13 hours! Being a velocireader has its advantages! Of those, four were non-fiction (I find it hard to jump into too many fictional worlds in so short a time), and five were for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge. I was very proud of that particular accomplishment! There is a big dent on my To Read shelf now! Of the other two, Alibis was a book from my last Quarterly Box, and The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly was an impulse buy from date night at the bookstore on Friday night.

What worked: I started off with a book I wasn’t too sure about, but it ended up being my favorite – I highly recommend Christopher Golden’s Snowblind, especially for Stephen King. It was a delicious thriller set, you guessed it, in the chilly bowels of Maine. The setting was so well done, in fact, that I had to take a hot bath afterwards to warm myself up! The blizzards felt that real, you guys. I also loved Andre Aciman’s collection of personal essays, Alibis. It wasn’t as good as Anne Fadiman, perhaps, but his writing is so lyrical, and his essays both varied, with a subtle theme running deep underground.

What didn’t work: I had a couple of misses in the late afternoon that slowed me down and brought on the wall. It’s tough to rally and stay engaged when you’re not connecting with what you’re reading…even if you’re still feeling accomplished because at least you’re checking books off your list and movin’ ’em off your To Read shelf! Twisty Little Passages, The Beach, and The Blackhouse were all not particularly for me.

Location, location, location: I spent most of the morning at the kitchen table in front of my laptop. I was able to read and comment on social media, keeping up with the community. (All hail the #readathon community – I have never seen anything like it!) I made sure to get up and move around, to stretch, but the hard, wooden chair still wrecked my back in ways I’m still trying to fix. I took a bath, took a walk with an audio book, moved to the living room, and was expelled from the living room into bed for awhile so the little guy could use the wii. Having the house to myself for most of the day helped, for sure, but I was missing having the girls with me!

What I wish I had gotten to: I was going to go to the library to change out my books (whoops) and maybe scroll through some Kindle selections, but that never happened. I also wanted to dip into Carolyn Kepnes’ You, but I ran out of time.

All in all, I’d say it was an awesome, deeply satisfying reading day. Seven books, 2,272 pages, 13 hours, and 1 badass reader. Yep – awesome covers it pretty neatly.

Five for Friday.

April 22, 2016

I got no intro in me today, so we’ll go instead toooo…..

1. Is anyone talking about anything at all other than Prince? The depth of his brilliance, his character, his refusal to be pegged – we still needed him. Our country is in the middle of a gender-identity meltdown and we need people like Prince to soundtrack the way. Kim was a bigger fan when we were growing up. She was the one playing the music over and over and over. I showed up to the party rather late. Because I thought he was just another rocker. It wasn’t until I saw the multitudes he wore, refusing to any one anything that I started paying attention to the music. If we could all just love ourselves a little more, be as confident in ourselves as Prince always seemed to be, I think we might be a lot closer to all right.

2. Enough with the rain! It’s been flooding here this week. Not as bad as Houston, but the river by the house is still only a foot below spilling over the bridge. That doesn’t sound like it would be good. So maybe let’s ease up on the rain and save some for May. I don’t like these binging rainstorms that have been clustering together this year. No rain, no rain, no rain, ALL THE RAIN! It’s like some twisted game of duck, duck, goose! that Mother Nature is playing.

3. I’m a little nervous about my StitchFix coming this week, you guys. Remember how I sent the last one back? My stylist contacted their customer service department, who emailed me, all to say that if I wanted to exchange the cargo jacket for a different size, to contact them directly next time. But that they had one if I was still interested. Um…huh? I did complain that it was too small, but I did not ask for a new size. My confidence is dwindling. If this fix isn’t smashing, I’m gonna bounce.

4. Tomorrow is the #Readathon! I’m pretty excited! I don’t really have a stack of set books I want to read (other than everything on my shelves), but my library books are due tomorrow, so I’m going to stop in the morning and refresh my stacks. I’ve found that getting out twice during the day (whilst listening to an audiobook) helps break things up. Otherwise I get all sore and tired of sitting around. I never make all 24 hours, but that has never been my goal, so it works out just fine for me! Who else is participating?

5. Lastly, a big shout out to Kim who is having the last (I think? I hope?) of three godawful root canals this morning. They gave her a few pretty heavy anti-anxiety meds, not realizing that Kim is hypersensitive, so thank god she called to check with me last night. I reminded her to make like Alice and just lick the side of one of the pills, otherwise we’d never hear from her again. But if you could let me know, Rhi (or Kim!) that everyone went okay, afterwards, that’d be swell!

Okay, you guys – let’s go get Friday taken care of so we can weekend!

Mini-Reviews: the one with breathing until you can’t, getting lost and found, and a pretty good out-loud book.

April 21, 2016

When you hit a bloggy slump, sometimes the only things that can rescue you are books. So what did I read this week?

Book110Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (Random House, 2011, 374 pages, paperback). I first devoured Ready Player One last fall, reading so fast that whole sections of the end piece sounded unfamiliar this time around. I thought the girls would like hearing about a teenager living in the not-too-futuristic USA where resources are so few and living is so miserable that everyone chooses to stay logged in to a virtual reality called The Oasis. Especially as there’s now a multi-billion dollar prize to find. The girls loved the adventure and pacing and I loved explaining all of the 80s references the book is stuffed chock-a-block with. It’s a great read-aloud book and I had just as much fun reading it this time around as I did the first. Maybe even more because I could relish the girls’ reactions from this side of But how does it end?!?! 5 of 5 stars.

Book109The Night We Said Yes, by Lauren Gibaldi (HarperTeen, 2015, 294 pages, ebook). I was hoping for “a fun, romantic read” just like it’s billed, but the story of how a teenaged girl was planning on getting over an Ex, graduating, and getting the hell outta dodge just didn’t resonate with me. There didn’t seem to be anything special to distinguish it from every other YA book out there. I can forgive a lot as I’m settling into a book, but I was always hyper-aware of dialogue. It wasn’t bad, per se, but it never felt less than forced. I just couldn’t get anything to really work for me. Unfortunately. 1 of 5 stars.

Book108The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin’s Press, 2015, 440 pages, ebook). I was wary about reading this one. I’m not Hannah’s biggest fan – she bugs. Everything seems overly simplified or romanticized and shades of gray are hard to find. But I did want to read why so many people liked the book. And it was available. So I dove it…and really, I should have waded. Because – no depth. Yes, I love me some WWII stories, but this read more like Jodi Piccoult does WWII instead of Markus Zusak or Sara Novic or even like the David Gilham’s City of Women that I think it wanted to be. I recognize that there was good material here. I just also know that if Hannah can’t do it for me in a WWII setting, she likely can’t do it for me in any setting. And that’s okay with me. 2 of 5 stars.

Book107The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, by Kristopher Jansma (Viking, 2013, 251 pages, ebook). If we had been able to join Gatsby as he journeyed around the world, growing and taking note of everything non-Daisy, this could very likely be the novel that came about. The writing wasn’t as lush as Fitzgerald’s (you don’t say!), but there is the same regalness of air, and madcap adventures. The narrator is unreliable, but delightfully so. Still, I know that isn’t everyone’s cuppa, so beware. You also have to be able to forgive a healthy amount of arrogance in the narrator, but I think I covered that with “like Gatsby”, did I not? 3 of 5 stars.

Book106When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi (Random House, 2016, 228 pages, ebook). You guys – this has been one of the most talked-about books of the year for a reason. Everyone I know has been talking about how gorgeous the writing is (so true), how clear-eyed and philosophical it is without getting bogged down (enviably so), and how much it will destroy you when you finish it – but that it shouldn’t be missed for all that (again, yes). You know Dr. Kalanithi has been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastasized lung cancer before you even crack open the book. You know he will not survive. And yet the quick romp through his childhood, a hop and a skip through his internship and beginnings of his residency, and then a huge portion of his marriage and travels through his final sense of self will cut you open and lay you bare. You are the one left gasping by the end, as you read his wife’s own gorgeous prose wrap up the end of their story. It’s a book that has changed who I am as a person and a reader, and it’s only a matter of time before this is on every recommended reading list from high school English to college philosophy to Best Of lists. 5 of 5 stars.

Book105Happy Are the Happy, by Yasmina Reza (Other Press, 2015, 160 pages, ebook). A quick novella about a dozen or so characters leading “ordinary”lives that should expose how we survive with only grit and laughter. Maybe it would have worked (though I doubt it) if I had read it any other time, but coming right off When Breath Becomes Air, I mostly just wanted the characters to grow up and stop whining. Ain’t nobody got time for that in our reading lives. 1 of 5 stars.

Book104Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull (Dutton, 2012, 384 pages, paperback). I got this book for Christmas, read the first chapter, was a bit unsettled about whether I Santa maybe should have bought it after all, and then left it on my shelf. My #readmyowndamnbooks challenge finally guilted me into reading it and I am so glad! It’s the twisted fairy tale of two young sisters – the titular Summer and Bird – who wake up to find their parents missing. A cryptic note takes them to a handmade gate into the woods, and off on a very fairytale-ish sort of quest. It reminded me of Alice in Wonderland meets John Connolly’s Book of Lost Things and I cannot wait to make my sister read it. 4 of 5 stars.

Five for Friday.

April 15, 2016

Good morning, everybody! It’s going to be a glorious Friday! We have plans, lots of plans for tonight. They involve watching cartoons and Sesame Street – for reasons you’ll hear about shortly – listening to music for a secret project of my own, wrapping presents, and frostening cake. Why?

1. It’s Jeff’s birthday! Birthdays are a terrifically big deal at Casa de Katie, so we started the morning right with blueberry cake for breakfast. We used the same mix as we do for blueberry muffins, so it’s not any worse. Also: BIRTHDAY!! We’re finishing his “real” birthday cake tonight (white cake with buttercream frosting) in preparation for a celebration tomorrow night. Yes, we’re throwing parties all weekend long, because BIRTHDAY! …and also because the X-man gets in around 9 pm tonight and we’re not singing happy birthday and eating cake after he’s in bed, or giving that sugar-sensitive kiddo cake and then forcing him to go to sleep. So. Birthday parties all up in here this weekend!! Bring a fork and crash the party parties!

2. Kim started a project of compiling stills from favorite Sesame Street songs and clips. She’s creating the most epic adult coloring book ever. And I’m helping by creating a YouTube playlist with the bits we want to use. Alligator King, the Ladybug Picnic, Doing the Pigeon, the YoYo Master… God, how trippy was Sesame Street in the 70s and early 80s?! I love it! So hit me with your favorites! We need lots of ideas!

3. We’ve been playing a game in the car where you pick a rare color car – orange, yellow, or green – and then everyone watches for a car of that color. It started out as a way to ween the Xman off of watching movies on his car tv (!!) or playing his tablet (!!) in the car. The kid didn’t know what to do if he wasn’t being entertained by a screen. So, the color game. Except it’s evolved as everyone has gotten more into it and now it’s…rather competitive. Pick-up trucks count, but tractor trailers don’t. Tractors don’t count. Or any type of farm equipment. (Yes, I’m serious. I had to make a rule for that.) School buses don’t count. Pink or purple cars (really purple cars, not maroon, not plummy-red) are worth 5 points, at any time. Although sometimes the purple car rule is de-activated because the girls argue over it so much. Oh, and did I mention the first person to see the car gets a point? Super-competitive. When the arguing gets too bad, the game ends. Because the grown-ups don’t believe in mercy. When we’re playing, we’re all in! And I thought we were bad – my Ex has become either so annoyed (I’m guessing) or so amused by the game – because of course the girls carried it over to his house – that he’s making up new rules now. Green cars don’t count. Except on odd days, and when Gracie complained that those are only Tuesday and Wednesday (??), he changed it to days where the second letter is a consonant. Cops are 20 points. School buses count, but only if they’re moving. Red cars count sometimes (I forget the qualifier), and convertibles are worth 10 points. It’s crazy! And highly amusing to me because Gracie has no idea they’re being messed with. I love it so hard.

4. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but Bee is a bit of a picky eater. No steak, no pork, roast beef is fine, no fish, seafood was okay, hot dogs are okay, and on and on. She was consistent about it, so on those nights, she could eat her side dishes and veggies and a hard boiled egg, or she could have cereal. I had thrown my hands up and surrendered, letting her be her own person, but still, honestly, a bit annoyed at the chaos it created at dinner time. Now, after months and months and years of being almost a vegetarian, and eating fewer and fewer dinner options, Bee has decided she likes something new. I made a pot roast in the slow cooker the other day; one of the days when the girls had dinner with their dad after school. The girls arrived home just as I was clearing my plate and Bee was standing next to me. “What is that?” she asked. I told her and offered her a piece. “It’s like steak, but it tastes way different,” I told her. She tried it…and liked it! “I would eat that,” she told me. And the angels did sing!! The apple bourbon sauce might helped, but I don’t even care what did it. We will be eating winter meals at my house all year long now.

5. You might have noticed that today is One Boston Day. April 15th. Boston Strong. And I still did Five for Friday. Here’s why. I thought about doing an entire blog post about the Boston Marathon bombings. I have a lot of feelings still about that day. But I don’t want that yahoo to think I am giving him any smallest bit of my time or attention. I don’t want to add to what he sees as his immortality. If I did, he would no longer be just a local footnote. And that’s what I want: for us all to turn our backs on him. So I will raise a glass to all of the survivors – those injured, our first responders, those who witnessed the events, both there near the finish line, and those of us who witnessed it on television or via social media. We were all scarred, and maybe scared, but not forever. We’re Boston Strong. Drinking our Dunks and keepin’ on. Running marathons, having birthday parties, and refusing to ban backpacks at the marathon on Monday. You know why? We refuse to change our lives for what might happen. We decide how to live. How beautiful is that?

There you go, guys. Go run, go read, go send me suggestions for my coloring book! Go live gloriously today. Because you can.

 

Mini Reviews: People who are NOT Jane, books without coffins, and one with all the feels.

April 14, 2016

Good morning! It’s Thursday, and that means a look at the books I devoured this week. It’s an incredibly light week because I didn’t read a single word the entire weekend. It was just that kind of vacation when I took a break from e-v-e-r-y-thing! That and two of my friends had babies (BABIEEEEES!), so I spent some time snoogling them and making dinner and running over with various things. Really as an excuse to hold the baby again, but hey! That’s what friends are for!

The bottom line is that I only have three books to tell you about this week. Let’s look at them…

Book101Re Jane, by Patricia Park (2015, Pamela Dorman Books, 352 pages, library ebook). I was so high on this book after I read the book flap. A modern retelling of Jane Eyre, with a POC protagonist? YASS! Bring it on! Jane, our “heroine” leaves her uncle’s groceria, where she’s been helping as a dutiful, orphaned niece would, until she takes a job as an au pair to a hoity-toity professors over in Brooklyn. Jane gets caught up in their life, and is about to begin an affair (gag!) with the dude, but a family death calls her back to Korea, where she becomes reinvested in her family and her past. Cue identity issues. That are neatly resolved(ish), by the way! This book bugged. The narrator bugged. I couldn’t care less about Jane or her foibles. I was mad when she fell into them, sort of bumping into them sideways, but not because I was invested in her at all. Just because that’s what a person does when they see a wrong about to happen. It might be more for you than me, but… eh. If you’re super-invested in Jane Eyre retellings, maybe give it a whirl. Otherwise, pass. 2 of 5 stars.

Book102Tiny Coffins of Little Hope, by Timothy Schaeffert (2011, Unbridled Books, 272 pages, hardcover). I found a used copy of the book online for $3, and I had to give it a try. Yes, yes – I broke my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks pledge. Again. And it wasn’t even worth it. A girl goes missing in this sleepy little town (was it Southern? The book had a Southern feel to it). A great-granny, the town’s rather famous obituary writer, is asked to write her obituary, even though no one knows if the girl is dead or missing or both. There’s the question of whether the missing child had really ever been there at all – or was she a delusion? a hoax? Meanwhile, Great-granny is busy raising her granddaughter with her son. The girl’s mother had run out when the girl, Tiff, was seven-years-old, only to return mid-book, causing quite a scene. Family drama ensues. Schaeffert was trying to look at the strength of family, how badly it can mess up, and whether family can ever truly welcome you back and forgive for sins committed. He was trying to look at loneliness and the desperate measures one will go to, over at the missing girl saga. And also at the power of society and rumors and pop cultures because, oh yeah! there’s also the last book of a terrifically popular series being secretly printed on the small town’s newspaper presses. There was just too much going on, honestly, and Schaeffert doesn’t pay nearly enough attention to any of them. Everything felt old and flat. The strings he tried to bind us to the story weren’t strong enough, or interesting enough. I just didn’t care. Bypass, good friends. Wave off. 2 of 5 stars.

Book103The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin (2015, Little, Brown, 352 pages, library ebook). Oh. Oh, oh, oh. I’m buying this paperback for my girls. A friend recommended this book to me for both myself, and Gracie, and oh. The feels. I was warned, yes, but… This book was so unexpected. The protagonist, a girl entering middle school, has just learned that her best friend has died. She’s not the most popular girl, our protagonist Suzy, and she’s having trouble transitioning from the ugly duckling phase into awkward tweenager phase. Which, okay, no majorly identifying with Suzy going on over here! (Lies, all lies.) As the story unfolds, we find out that Suzy and her best friend who died, they had a gradual falling out in the most awful way, and I just ached for Suzy, who’s realizing the hard way that you can’t take everything back. You can’t fix certain things. And middle school really is the worst place on earth when you haven’t got a friend to help you keep swimming. This is a great book for parents of tweens and almost-tweens to read to know what to talk to your kiddos about with regards to coming transitions. And for said tweens and almost-tweens because they need to know how not to act, and that they’re also not alone even if it feels that way. Oof, middle school. 4 1/2 of 5 stars.

So the moral of the week is don’t bully people, even in tiny, seemingly insignificant ways! Read The Thing About Jellyfish! And maybe buy a box of tissues.


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