Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Sunday, December 6, 2009
I don't like being scared and I think I don't like short stories, so it surprised me when I picked up an Edgar Allen Poe collection. I was even more surprised to find many of the stories were not creepy scary (although, as a reader of Wuthering Expectations, I shouldn't have been). The analytical mysteries ("Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Gold-Bug") may or may not be nearly as good as the creepy stories ("Masque of Red Death" "The Cask of Amontillado") but I found them great fun after having read two buried alive stories in a row (and I skipped Tell-Tale Heart). I'm excited to have read "The Gold-Bug" because yesterday, out of the blue, I was given The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers. Now I'll have some idea to what it refers.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Say you want to go on a ecotourism trip to Haiti. Or you want to contribute something so that young people in Haiti will have bird knowledge and the ability to keep their watershed clean and get jobs leading bird tours. In either case, you should definitely contact Debbie Baker through her Zwazoyo Blog.
If, on the other hand, you need rangering services in Britain, Stephen Mason could bash your rhodies, help plan your restoration, or lead a fantastic ethnobotanical hike. (I've heard he also has a charming accent but that is neither here nor there).
Need an eclectic collection of really good short stories? Daniel A. Hoyt's Then We Saw Flames should fit the bill (Amazon link here).
Need some recipes utilizing plants from the semi-arid West? Check out Alma Snell's A Taste of Heritage (note that the editor and photographer does not receive any royalties from sales of A Taste of Heritage, she just thinks that, seeing how she spent four years working on the book, it should stay in print a while).
Know a musician in the Denver area with joint pain? Massage therapist and bassist Brock Chambers specializes in massage for musicians.
She's booked at least through the holidays, but in the new year Prairie Quilter could use her long-arm quilting machine to transform layers of fabric into an artistic three-dimensional quilted masterpiece.
Harpist and composer Phala Tracy (a friend of a friend, or, more precisely, the unrequited high school interest of my college interest) sings and plays harp on Critter Songs, a collection of silly ditties with lovely music.
If you just happen to have a small business owner needing branding and graphic design work, Stephen Weis Illustration is who you should contact to talk about giving the gift of good design.
And if you need something translated English to German or German to English, I have two fabulous sisters-in-law to recommend. If I've misssed you, let me know. In the meantime,
happy gift giving and happy huntin' week.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Rascal the book, is, of course, a sentimental story of a boy and a raccoon. It's an autobiographical account of 11 year-old Sterling's year living with an adopted raccoon in a small town in Wisconsin, and I can totally see how fourth grade me read the book as a raccoon story. While Rascal, the raccoon, does drive the "plot" of the book, the book is about so much more. It's about the end of the carriage era and the take-over of the automobile. It's about World War I. It's about a middle aged man coming to grips with his family: long-lived absent-minded father, mother who died when he was 7, hard-working aunt and uncle fulfilling traditional farm roles and relatively conventional siblings. It's about growing up (to the point that the wikipedia entry calls Rascal "a prose poem to adolescent angst"). The me of now at age thirty seven read it as a book about wildlife conservation*.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
Had I not had a 2 1/2 month old on my lap, the first book of the series Magician: Apprentice, would have made fine plane reading. As it was, however, I didn't finish M:A and the accompanying Magician: Master until I returned here. Overall, I enjoyed the set: not enough to dive into the third and fourth book of the series, but enough to think that I will someday read them. Potential readers should be forewarned that Magician was written as a single book, and starting it means committing to both volumes. They should also be warned that the pacing is, well, unusual at best. At least two thirds of the book feels like it is set-up, and there are at least fifty pages post climax, post reasonable denouement, most of which are outlining a political intrigue that doesn't materialize. Having said that, the voluminous set-up is interesting and the worlds described are fascinating (if the full history in the middle of the second volume a bit unnecessary). I was bothered that there was a bit too much "European-like world good: Asian-like world bad" until I realized that one big point was that despite superficial differences, people and governments are all alike and all both good and bad.
I was reading Magician during unsympathetic character week at Wuthering Expectations (starting here), and noted that as soon as one character became a demi-god, the reader stopped seeing his story from his point of view, I assume because at that point he was unsympathetic. His story was then given from the point of view of one of his past small-town acquaintances (Martin), and we could feel Martin's keen sadness at the demi-god's loss of humanity. Unsympathetic Week highly recommend, Magician recommended only for those who already enjoy fantasy series.
At the Mister's influence, I recently re-read all of the Harry Potter series. I actually like it much better upon the third reading, which is saying something because I am a fan. One aim of unsympathetic character week was to push readers beyond stating "I liked the characters" and "I didn't like the characters" although several commenters mentioned that likes and dislikes are a great starting point for more thoughtful analysis. Applying this to Harry Potter, I honed the reasons for my preferences. One aspect of Harry Potter I like is that each book ends and is a self-contained story. Interestingly, the exception to this is Half Blood Prince (6), which remains my favorite. I think I like 6 the best because it has a wonderful mixture of levity, romance and fighting of evil. While reading recently, the Mister commented as to how wonderful the Felix Felicis scenes are, and I couldn't agree more. 6 also contains the only true plot twist in the series, and, even though I knew it was going to happen, I truly felt kicked in the gut when I first read that S killed D. I was surprised to learn that Order of the Phoenix (5) was the favorite of a colleague of mine (6 is his least favorite), as it is my least favorite. I've always thought that 5 is just one long dark rant of Harry whining that nobody understands him, while my colleague liked it as it showed the students united with Harry. Plot-wise we are both right, but, as I realized with this re-reading, I read much more quickly at the end of books, so the whining, which really only fills the first third, probably filled two-thirds of my reading time. A full series re-read also reminded me that I think the epilogue is brilliant. I know some readers hate it, but I feel that the speech to Albus Severus and the mention of Scorpio are essential to the resolution of the book's theme of the power of love, and don't hurt from a plot standpoint either. Anyway, readers can contact me if they ever want to chat more about H.P.
While I think that Amateur Reader's idea that one sympathizes with, or at least develops a relationship with, the author of a book is great, I realize that I sympathize with Harry, Hermione, Ron, Minerva McGonagal. Luna, Neville, Snape and even Draco, but I prefer to leave J.K. Rowling, who, for some reason, I really don't like, out of my reading experience.
*I almost re-read Inkheart so I could add "and a book about the magic of books", but it seemed like too much work just for a line in a blog post. Besides, I watched the movie on a plane over the summer more time needs to pass to prevent me from seeing Brendan Fraser as the father.
Image is of Dianthus and his first snow, Oct. 22 in Colorado. Nothing to do with fantasy books except that he happens to own a "magical hat".
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The common complaint about all of these things is that they are only useful for a short period of a baby's life. I'll let you know as Dianthus outgrows them. These photos, by the way, are not all current. Below is the newest of the bunch, taken last week and some date back to Labor Day (2/3 of his life ago).
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Altogether, it wasn't a bad season. The Mister presided over a vegetable garden that yielded lots of heirloom French tomatoes, okra, and pole beans with reasonable quantities of peppers, spring greens and tomatillos. We harvested some peas, kale and kohlrabi. Herbs were abundant, whether or not we harvested them at the proper time. Flowers everywhere, including the porches, have started to make the place feel more like my home*. Of course there were set-backs. Deer demolished the strawberries and the peas and jumped the fence into the vegetables more than once. Something (groundhog?) dug up and ate every smidgen of the beets. Some of the tomatoes became diseased.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
By the time you read this, we will have gone away to a cabin for two nights. Hopefully we'll have done some leaf peeping, hiking, and maybe even champagne drinking. We may have taken Dianthus to his first Mexican restaurant and to see native mammals at the State Game Preserve. I've been swimming twice a week and baked the Mister a great birthday cake.
I'm living my life. Enjoying my life. And I'm proud of it.
My desire to tell you this stems from several sources. At first, "I've been playing tennis" was part of an unsaid sarcastic retort to a colleague asking me, "So, what have you been doing?" when I stopped by the office.
She asked this during the time I was still bleeding, still crying every day and feeding Dianthus was an all consuming endeavor.* To me, the question (from a mother of two who should have known better) sounded as if there were an expectation of productivity, as if washing a load of clothes and dreaming about a nap sometime in the future was not "doing" enough. At that moment, "I've been playing tennis" would have sounded to me as fanciful as "I've been sitting on the beach sipping mai tais while my minions massage my toes and accept all the requests for publications and major grants I've been receiving."
The long and eloquent explanation as to why I am so proud of playing tennis, which includes the tragic recent death of my boss's husband in a farm accident, my father doing karaoke in China, a prosective lab mate in grad school asking me how often I actually stayed in bed reading novels**, phyics tests and obligation to those who aren't as lucky, will have to wait. I've twice fed and changed Dianthus and done the laundry and tried to pack since I started this post, and now the Mister is home and I need to go enjoy living my life rather than telling you about it.
But the punch line remains the same: The future is always uncertain. I'm proud to be enjoying and living my life now. I highly recommend that you do the same.
*Now we're down to feeding and changing Dianthus being the time equivalent of a full time job with incredibly split shifts.
**Thank you Erin for transforming my life.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Ease of putting on: Disposables are usually easiest, but when Dianthus was particularly wiggly and I wasn't good at changing yet, I found the gDiapers easier to put on. Now I will do any without thinking much of it. The Mister, meanwhile, is somehow intimidated by the gDiapers but has no problem with the cloth. Little note that, because gDiapers velcro in the back, they are more prone to sticking to fuzzy changing table surfaces.
Quantity: We're still talking ten plus diapers a day. We seem to go through more when we are using the cloth.
Cost vs. Environment: The more we use them, the more cost effective and more environmentally beneficial the Bummis are. Because I am doing laundry pretty much every day these days (another post), I don't mind washing them. I also hope to pass them on or use them for another child, which will further decrease the cost per use and increase the environmental benefits. Yet they were not cheap and the environmental costs of cotton production are not immaterial. At $150 for the set, I would need to use the cloth diapers at least 450 times before they start being cost effective if that were the only criterion. I've decided to consider them a gift from my ecologist friends to the environment (which they were) and thus of no cost to me. Every time I use them, therefore, I'm saving money by not buying disposables. I also think of them as something that allows me to use the more expensive gDiapers instead of regular disposables.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
With this reading, however, I realized a very big difference. I'm unconvinced that most Vonnegut it funny or is supposed to be funny. Yes, the author emphasizes the absurd and yes, there are lots of penis jokes. But, as with my reading of Hocus Pocus late last year, I found reading Breakfast this time to be downright depressing. No matter how silly the drawings or absurd the context, unmitigated rampant racism, sexism, pollution and greed just aren't that funny. I imagine that both men took their writing very seriously and put effort into making it appear effortlessly thrown together, but the stories in Henry suggest Dahl had fun creating his stories and Breakfast implies that his stories depressed and only moderately amused Vonnegut.
As for the books themselves, I have always enjoyed Dahl's eclectic Henry Sugar collection, particularly the title story, The Hitchhiker and his autobiographical piece about British boarding school life which helped explain Harry Potter to me. Danny the Champion of the World is by far my favorite Dahl work, but Henry Sugar falls second (perhaps because they are the only Dahl books I've ever owned, perhaps because I prefer realism to fantasy sometimes).
The Mister and I agree that Vonnegut wrote some great books, some good books and some pieces of trash, but disagree exactly what falls on each list. The Mister rates Breakfast as one of the greats. I categorized it as merely good prior to this reading, and there it stays. This reading also made me wonder if I'd find those I consider great and funny to be either anymore, but I'm not going to read them soon to find out.
Anthony Bourdain reveals his strange sense of right and wrong more in the collected essays of Nasty Bits than he does in his other works I've read or seen (chef right, demanding customer wrong, unless the chef is a celebrity or into silly fusion or foams and the customer is a real person requesting real food served promptly and simply, in which case the customer is right). Bourdain is a man clinging to a bad boy image while finding himself a respectful and overall respectable grown-up. The essay collection has a bit too many repeated themes: restaurant work is hard work; trends are bad unless they are bringing more good food to more people; simple food can be great; good chefs are hard to find, but overall they work. I particularly like that he included follow up comments at the back of the book in which, more often than not, he admits he was wrong and arrogant when he wrote the original essay.
Finally, I should report upon A Valley in Italy by Lisa St. Aubin de Teran, who just has strange sense. Written before A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun, A Valley in Italy is about an Englishwoman moving to a small village in Umbria and trying to fix up the local dilapidated castle enough to be inhabited. Fortunately, unlike the other books named, Aubin de Treran doesn't ooze wealth, doesn't marvel about the slow pace of life and then bitch about work never getting done, and understands that, overall, her family, rather than the villagers, are the freaks of this scene. While I revel in authors who don't take themselves too seriously, I was surprised by how much Aubin de Teran's bohemian sensibilties bothered me. In my opinion, a woman in her thirties, living in her third country and in her third child-producing relationship, should not be encouraging her teenage daughter to go and model in Paris and then plan a giant wedding for a pair of seventeen year-olds. Then again, nobody is selling books about people with my life: (went to school, worked hard, went to college, worked, went to graduate school, met single smart man, married him, found jobs, had child with husband).
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
He'd probably object to the term "foodie" as it implies some sort of snobbery (as do "gourmet" and "gourmand"), but the Mister now cares about food. He talks about it, he plans around it, he'll analyze it in his spare time. Since I have always been like this***, I'm not sure I noticed at first. Sure, we agreed that nice meals were a good use of money. Yes, the Mister started reading cookbooks and buying ducks to roast. And, yes, he purchased Where to Eat in Canada before the Canadian Maritimes trip so that we could plan what amounted to a culinary tourism vacation properly, but somehow I didn't really realize until this summer.
Travelling from Como to Rome in May we bought separate train tickets Como to Bologna and Bologna to Rome so that we could eat lunch in Bologna at a restaurant we chose after consulting three books and two websites. The Mister purchased Anthony Bourdain's Nasty Bits at full price for light summer reading and started a new list of places for us to eat in New York City when someday we go. For our anniversary in July, we spent the weekend in Pittsburgh. The Mister not only made reservations for a fabulous six course tasting menu at a nice restaurant, but also consulted several websites to find out where we could stop for Thai food on the drive there and back. While we ended up eating at Olive Garden going and Long John Silver's coming back, it was not for lack of trying on his part, which is when I decided that I needed to write an anniversary post about how very well suited the Mister is for me.Of course, Dianthus arrived soon thereafter, so this post has been lurking in my brain unwritten. It is now a birthday post for the Mister. And Dianthus is demanding attention at the moment, so the parts about the Mister being a great gardener and bean cook will still go unwritten (but notice the great bean structure he made in the vegetable garden he created and cultivated).
In any case, please wish the Mister a happy birthday**** and know that I know I'm lucky.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Two wash clothes
All are made of organic cotton. More on the usefulness of all this later, for now, a big thank you to those great friends.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
All of this information is critically useful in helping me to raise a son. The text on girls, meanwhile, is relatively scanty, but if I had a daughter I'm sure the photos captioned, "I wish I had a birthday once a week," and, "See Kitty, now I look just as pretty as Mommy," (pg. 173) would be equally useful.
Note: more generally interesting post about books I've read while nursing below.
One must assume that one can pick out useless (or worse) advice from modern parenting books just as easily as one can pick it out from older ones. That's part of the reason that I'm sure good mothers Irene and Ad Astra are correct that parenting is about what feels right and works with one's child rather than what's stated in a book. However, there are a heck-of-a-lot of details about which one has no intuition (if breastfeeding is not instinctual, the appropriateness of changes in poop frequency would hardly be) and it is really nice to have an authoritative book to consult. And another when one doesn't like the advice given in the first. And perhaps another in case the first two are wrong.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder was given to me by my mother. She had been told to read it by my brother and sister-in-law, as had I, but given my family's history of not reading what family members recommend, neither she nor I had read it. Mountains Beyond Mountains is a non-fiction account of a crazy American doctor (Paul Farmer) starting and running a health clinic in the poorest part of Haiti (and TB programs in Peru and Russia) while working in infectious disease at Harvard. In many respects Mountains is comparable to Three Cups of Tea (my review here) as a book length account of an American giving it all to a somewhat unlikely cause. Mountains does not have the exotic setting of the Himalayas that Three did; Haiti is portrayed vividly, but as desolate and very very poor; nor the timely factor; while there should perhaps be some political involvement in Haiti, Haiti is not newsworthy the way that Pakistan and Afghanistan are, but altogether I found the book more enjoyable (I admit that my affection for Three diminished somewhat following raych's scathing review. I hate to be that feeble in my opinion, for I stand by my assessment that it is an extraordinary book, but some of the faults that raych points out are real). I think, in the end, that Mountains is more enjoyable because Farmer is a nicer guy than Mortenson and, more importantly, because Kidder is a more sympathetic character than Oliver Relin. I have spent the summer pondering* why I like books with sympathetic characters so I can explain it to Amateur Reader, but I have failed. None the less, Kidder is sympathetic; he lets himself become a character in Mountains and raises questions that readers have. Farmer is fascinating, but almost non-human in both sustained zeal and physical stamina. While following Farmer around, Kidder is frequently in awe, but is also both gleeful and guilty when he finds flaws. Kidder's hang-overs and exhaustion help transform a listing of noble deeds into an enjoyable read. Highly recommended for my mother and most of my friends, and imperative for SalSis if she has not already read it.
Simon Van Booy's collection of five stories, Love Begins in Winter, was also given to me by my mother. I reluctantly came to really like it. The stories have issues. I felt the whole time that Van Booy was trying too hard. Too many attempts at “deep”, too many childhood tragedies haunting adults, too self-consciously obtuse. Yet, overall, I found I really enjoyed the collection of five love stories, particularly the last three and give the collection a mild recommendation.
I purchased Katherine by Anya Seton because I was looking for something along the lines of Phillipa Gregory (since I have never read any Gregory, it is a reasonable question why I didn't just buy it). I did not realize that Seton wrote “the classic love story of medieval England” in 1954, making it much less steamy (smutty?) than the modern Gregory novels and, at 500 densely packed pages, a hefty bit of history to read. I first attempted Katherine while in the hospital waiting for Dianthus to emerge and found it to heavy to deal with IV lines. The book was almost too heavy to read while nursing (physically), but I prevailed and am very glad I did. Like other good historical fiction, Katherine made me feel ignorant (“Why don't I know who the Plantagenets are?) and question little historical asides (“Was Chaucer really the brother-in-law of John of Gaunt?” “Was Richard II really such a twit?”). Seton does a commendable job of taking a long historical saga, the affair of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, and crafting it into a credible personal story. The genre is not for everybody, but if you enjoy this sort of thing (I imagine Beth, Jenny and Sunflower Spinner would), Katherine is a good example.
Stranger in the Mist by Lee Karr is a Silhouette Shadows book. The last of my trashy romance collection from my library book sale days, Stranger is the type of book I wouldn't have bought if series romances weren't selling for $1 a bag (a price that always led to indiscriminate gathering), because the Shadows line is supposed to “send shivers up your spine and chill you even while it thrills you”. I don't enjoy being scared and, over time, have become the most malleable of audience members. Play sappy music and I cry, introduce nightmares and murderous pasts and I'm scared no matter how stupid and far-fetched the premise. Despite not being my type of book, Stranger is fine, and, if, for some reason, you want to read a typical Silhouette romance with sections that seem inspired by The Shining and Dead Again, by all means, read Stranger in the Mist.
Maria Dermoût's lovely 1958 novel The Ten Thousand Things (translated from the Dutch by Hans Koning) was given to me at Christmas by my SIL among the fun, thoughtful books. The Ten Thousand Things is a connected series of stories concerning a garden on a small spice island in the Moluccas. At first I was somewhat dismissive of the book. The pacing is unusual, the transitions are odd, and a ghosts of young girls, or maybe not ghosts, appear in the first chapter. I'm drawn to magical realism in concept but not in actuality (I'm glad I read A Hundred Years of Solitude, but, like Marieke and unlike The Mister or MBIL, I'm not espousing its greatness to all), and I assume my initial reluctance was because soon I was going to be told that it was all carried away in a cloud of butterflies and I just wasn't ready to suspend disbelief that way. Fortunately for me, magic abounds in the book, but the only definitive magic is the magic of the island; while there may be ghosts and curses and love potions, only some of the characters believe in them, and the reader, like the main character, may choose alternative explanations. Plot-driven readers may feel that not much is happening, that most of the book is vivid description and an exotic atmosphere, and find themselves surprised, at the end, to have read of multiple murders and many passions. I'd recommend The Ten Thousand Things to Happy Cricket, both mothers, Amateur Reader for the “Indonesian Reading List” he'll surely make someday, and anyone traveling to Southeast Asia or the South Pacific.
Links and images to arrive when Dianthus does not need full attention, as he apparently does now. It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week, so I have linked to the three book blogs I read regularly: Wuthering Expectations (Mostly appreciation of 19th Century literature), books i done read (hilarious reviews of an eclectic mix of books), and Anthyrium filix-femina (an American gardener and writer now living in Scotland).
*when I haven't been doing other things like giving birth, feeding a baby, gardening, reading, trying to catch up with thank you notes and loads and loads of laundry.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
**This makes me laugh, because the idea of strapping a baby to your waist with a cloth over a shoulder is probably as old as cloth. True, they weren't always available at Target, and if one used one in 1970 it would appear very ethnic or hippie, but the idea is not new.