Friday, March 31, 2006

What Should you major in?

Just pretend you are going off to college in the fall.

My oldest son is hearing this week from all the schools we agonized over last fall, to find out where he is accepted. Then he has to choose one to attend. Then he gets to start an adventure!! I wish I were going off to college in the fall! They ALL look good to me!!

So here you go; the results of this silly test I just took. Go to the link and take it yourself and tell me your major...

Your Scholastic Strength Is Deep Thinking
You aren't afraid to delve head first into a difficult subject, with mastery as your goal.You are talented at adapting, motivating others, managing resources, and analyzing risk.
You should major in:
PhilosophyMusicTheologyArtHistoryForeign language

In Bloom

Here's a story of hope and encouragement. I live in a small duplex with a nice fenced backyard. The people who owned it before me put up the fence about 3 feet outside the property line. There are some huge Maple trees growing right on the line so the fence would have had to go right through the trees to be on the line. Next to one of the trees is a row of daffodils that were planted years and years ago along the property line where I think there must have been an older fence. The trees are about 30 years old I guess. The bulbs come up every year with lots of hopeful green shoots, but they have never bloomed. Every year I think I should rip them out because they are duds. But then I think if I just let them soak up the sunshine maybe they will bloom next year... until now they never have.

I put good mulch on them too, made with the old Maple leaves and coffee grounds and horse manure. There is a barn next to my school and I have gone out back of the barn and hauled garbage bags of manure home to my compost pile every year for the past 5. Just load em up into the back of my Civic hatchback and open the windows. Makes me feel like a farmer! :) I built a compost pile with chicken wire and stakes at the back of my yard, and I put the leaves and kitchen peelings and coffee grounds in there with the manure and stir it up once a week or so for a few months till it makes black gold.

I can see the yard from my kitchen window, and I always look for the first signs of spring to be poking up green through the last of the snow. The bulbs usually start rising in late February. Those green shoots are so lovely! This year I thought I saw some buds fattening up, and sure enough today there are gorgeous yellow double daffodils opening up all along the line of former duds!!! Hallelujah O Happy Day!!!

So don't give up. Just keep hauling that manure and soaking up sunshine.... The blooms will come back your way.

Abandoned Books

Just so you know, I don’t like every book I start to read. If I don’t like them I don’t finish them though. So here’s a list of books I have abandoned in the past month or so:

The Kite Runner
The God of Small Things (Well I don’t know. It is still by my bed and I have it for another week from the library, but I don’t like it so it is gathering dust…)
The Boy from the Basement by Susan Shaw
The Akhenaten Adventure by Philip Kerr
Nothing to say about them, I just didn’t like them.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Princess Academy

Princess Academy fall into the category of fairy tales for older children and grown ups who respect the truth and magic of well told tales. It is a far better story than the cover and the title lead me to expect. I loved the language and the poetry of the way Shannon Hale tells her story. I also loved the depth and breadth of character and the true-to-life way hardship and sorrow bring about opportunities for growth, change, courage and discovery. Miri is a 14 year old girl who has lost her mother and feels inadequate in relation to the other girls she knows, as well as the work of her family and village. When she is thrown into a special academy set up to train and select a girl to be chosen as bride by the young king, she begins to find her strength and her power. She forges a new leadership and a new life, not only for herself and her friends but for her whole village. Here is a young girl who becomes the hero. This is the princess story I would tell my daughter, myself, and every other woman seeking a model of struggle and triumph. Last year I read Hale’s Goose Girl and loved it as well, so this is an author to watch for.

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine by Kashmira Sheth is a lovely book about a girl’s coming of age as an immigrant to the United States from India. I read it just after reading The Life of Pi and just before reading The God of Small Things, so perhaps I am on an Indian bent these days.

Seema is 12 when her family moves to Iowa City. She struggles with acclimating to a new culture, new food, new language and making new friends, as expected. When everyone else brings peanut butter or ham sandwiches for lunch, she worries about the smell of her food and what others will think of it.

What makes the story really interesting and complex is Seema’s relationship with a girl back home in India, who is from a lower class and who was scorned and ridiculed in the girls’ school. Seema comes to know and understand her on a different level and her way of looking at herself, others and the world is changed in the process. Themes of family, culture, friendship, prejudice/acceptance, wealth/poverty, justice/kindness and growing up are woven all through this book. It is a gem!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

indigo's star

I just finished indigo’s star by Hilary McKay. I love this book! It is delightful. It is about a 12 year old boy who is struggling with fear and bullies and friendship. There are undercurrents of loss and parental disappointment as well. His family is wacky and creative and fiercely loyal, but somewhat inattentive in an affectionate way. His sisters and various friends band together and somehow they find ways to address all the problems that come along. The dialogue is funny and quick, and the characters are beautifully drawn. It is the second book in a series about this family, the first being Saffy’s Angel, which I have yet to read.

As I read indigo I kept visioning the family being like Faux Claud’s family as she describes it in this post. (Now I just spent a long time trying to find that particular post, and I love the blog even more. I need to read way back in the archives! And of course I don't mean the inattentive part, which she obviously is not at all...) This was one of the first encounters I had with Faux Claud, and what made me fall in love with her blog. The type of family where you want to be one of the invited guests hanging around the kitchen and participating in the impromptu art projects and adventures. Full of craziness and chaos and love. Claud I would love to hear what you think if you read this book! Am I totally off the wall or what?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

the Big Rumpus

I’m reading the Big Rumpus by Ayun Halliday again, trying to finish it this week to return through interlibrary loan. In my library we are members of a network of libraries all over the state. I can request books from any other library in the system; public, school, or university. It is such a fantastic set-up! You can probably also get any book you want by just asking your public librarian to find it for you in interlibrary loan. Use your library… it is one of the best things American!!

I am enjoying the book immensely. Her description of the adventures of breastfeeding has me laughing out loud. I nursed my first son and it was a wonderful experience for both of us. I would never share all the intimate details here or in a published book though. It makes me wonder about this author’s children and what their reaction to the book will be as they grow older. She is so frank in talking about her own body and those of her children; it is almost too much information in some spots.

It has me thinking about the other blogs I have been reading that discuss adoptive breastfeeding as well. I thought about nursing my adopted sons, and I would have loved to do it. The amount of time, energy, preparation and work involved was just too much for me to keep up with so I decided not to go through with it. I have Celiac Sprue, which comes with special dietary needs and I have a hard time getting enough to eat as it is. I am always hungry. I remember when I was nursing my first son that I required more calories than when I was pregnant, so I know I could never get enough to eat if I was nursing now. On top of working full time and coming home to do the second and third shift on my own, taking care of three kids with endless laundry; pumping and taking supplements and using that complicated Lact-Aid contraption is just too much to consider. But I would have loved to do it if it were possible. As far as the bonding aspects, I have found that there are plenty of other ways to accomplish that. We like the rocking chair, and I love singing to them. Reading books and playing peek-a-boo and singing have all been good experiences of bonding for us. There I go again, using language as a tool.

I do remember in a class I took in graduate school on play and games, that the professor shared with us a study done on how very young children form memories of individuals and develop relationships. Play and games and laughter were found to be extremely important in the formation of the infant’s understanding of individual identity, relationship and memory. In essence, if you play with an infant and make them laugh they will remember you and form a relationship with you. If you can make funny faces and silly noises you make a friend in every baby you meet. So along with food, warmth, security, comfort, presence, I think language is a primary bonding tool. Bottles work just as well as the breast, in my experience. The eye contact is key, and the holding and closeness. I also remember reading that for every 5 minutes of direct eye contact you have with an infant you take a month off of adolescent angst and rebellion. I’m putting that eye contact time in the bank for sure!

I would recommend the Big Rumpus to other parents of young children, as I am sure you will find many points of contact and connection. I would not recommend it to anyone who is missing a child or longing for an infant, as it could just be too much juice and goo for anyone not living that life at the time.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Freak the Mighty

I finished Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick over the weekend. It is wonderful. This is a book about growing up and finding out what your strengths are, as well as about the power of love, family, friendship, connection. It’s about kids and parents and grandparents and friends. The story is about a sixth grader who feels large and awkward. Everyone keeps telling him he looks like his dad and his dad is in jail for a horrible thing that Kevin doesn’t want to remember. He makes friends with a new kid that happens to be extremely small due to a medical condition. They team up and become more together than either ever thought he could be alone. They go on quests and adventures and subdue dragons. The ending is sad but the growth process that Kevin accomplishes is encouraging and affirming. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reading the Paper

I subscribe to my local paper, and I love reading it every day. It hits the porch at about 6:30 every morning, right about when I am scrambling to get everyone into their shoes and out the door. I don't get to read it till after the little boys are in bed at night, but I look forward to it! By then I have heard all the big news of the day on NPR and word of mouth of course. But it is still great to sit back and relax and read the whole story with time to think about it and compare this version with what was on TV or the radio or what my friends said...

Also, it is the local paper. There are stories here that I don't hear anywhere else. What the school board is up to, how high my local taxes are being raised, drunk driving and crime reports for my neighborhood... you get the picture. I read it all except the sports section, the comics and the classifieds. But my favorite section is the Mary Hunt column. I love that woman! She is a genius! She has changed my life and taught me how to live simply with grace.

I also read the papers online, of course. I read a great editorial in my local paper and wanted to share it with friends online so I searched and found it at the Washington Post. How cool is that? I haven't ever seen the TV show mentioned (Black.White) but I enjoyed the editorial.

Another online friend read this story in the New York Times about the Plight of Black Men and posted a link. Wow. I can't stop thinking about that article. It is too horrible to be true. Things keep getting worse? When all I hear from Bush is good news for the economy? Since I am raising two black sons I need to read and talk about this more. Who else is thinking about this? This should be viewed as a national crisis and be in the news every day! It should be a priority! All that talent and creative inteligence and power going to waste? I want to find some blogs that are talking about this. Read the article and comment or give me some links please!

Reading the paper. As local as you can get, and as global. Love it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Me Link You

For the past month or so I have been spending almost all my computer time reading blogs. It is just blowing my mind to think of the amazing power of connection we have with the Internet. Way back in college I was a real technophobe. We English majors used to laugh at the engineer geeks who claimed time in the computer lab. I never in my wildest ever thought I would be the one teaching keyboarding and hoarding my precious minutes on the computer. But here I am loving it! Chat rooms never did anything for me. Video games I don’t get. But when I found adoption forums and connected with other parents in the same process as me, I was totally hooked. Now I find blogs written by first mothers and adopting mothers and writing mothers and just plain mothers and Oh My Stars the earth is trembling!!

So for today’s entire computer time, while Punkin is napping and the other two are still at school, I taught myself how to put links on my blog. Yay for me! A dyslexic ADD daydreamer like me figured it out! I just had to because I am getting lost trying to keep up with all my favorite blogs every day and I can’t remember where everyone else’s links are. My bookmark folder is getting too confusing so I need to have the links right here in front of my face! LOL. If I spelled your name wrong or messed up your link I apologize. If I missed you and you are reading me, let me know and I will start reading you too! This is so powerful! Can I get an AMEN!!! SISTER!!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Babies and Books at the library

I am on Spring Break this week Hallelujah! What a relief to have made it to this point in the year! I am so glad to see spring coming and the bulbs coming up and trees in bud… And so, so happy to have some time at home. Buster is on a college visit with his dad today and I took Buddy Boy to daycare as usual so he could play with his friends. It is just Punkin and I here at home and we are lovin’ every minute! Since he came home last June we haven’t had many days when it was just the two of us and I feel like this is our honeymoon or something. I have to admit a little sheepishly that when I get vacation I don’t think about going away somewhere, I just look forward to playing SAHM. Maybe that’s pitiful, but it is such a luxury to have to do only one job – mothering and housework- instead of rushing around like a chicken with my head cut off commuting and dropping off and picking up and squeezing in shopping and Dr. app.’s and still putting in a full work day. I don’t know why it is that even on vacation there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done!

Well the high point of this day is that I get to be the one to take Punkin to Babies and Books at the library, instead of my mom taking him while I’m at work. It feels like such a treat! (Usually it’s the school librarian’s child being taken to another librarian’s story hour by grandma cause momma is reading to other people’s kids…).

Mr. Jim, the children’s librarian at our public library does such a wonderful job. He really gets a kick out of making silly noises and working the crowd with puppets and songs as well as stories. The parents have as much fun as the kids. Today he read one of my favorites; Piggies by Don and Audrey Wood. What a delightful, mischievous book! We have the board book edition, which Buddy Boy received for a first birthday present. The piggy illustrations are so silly and full of personality. These are some passionate, vibrant, juicy pigs! Mr. Jim also read a Maisy book, by Lucy Cousins. I am not crazy about these books because they seem too simple to me, but my sons love them. We have Where Are Maisy’s Friends?; a lift-the-flap board book. I think it’s the lifting the flaps that the kids like. Since I wrote last week Punkin has discovered lift-the-flap books, and they entrance him. Shouldn’t be a surprise, since he loves to open and close so much of course! His other current favorite is the Lamaze Itsy Bitsy Spider that Buddy Boy used to love. Again it has flaps. I am amazed at how much Punkin has gotten interested in being read to, just since last week. My mom told me on the phone yesterday that this week was the first time he would sit still and let her read to him, which is just what I have found. I think he has made a cognitive leap in the past few days and something has clicked. He is at the peek-a-boo stage where that game always brings a smile, and he has just started waving bye bye so I guess it makes a lot of sense that he loves turning the pages to look at pictures, follows a story progression a little bit, and is amused by lift-the-flap books too.

I have also been reading some more of the Jonathan Kozol book Ordinary Resurrections. He is describing the children in the after school he visits. He tells little stories about their families, their pets, their homes. The chapter I read last night he was telling about the public school he visited where some of the kids attend. It is heart breaking to read about. This is in the south Bronx in the late 90s, so it is real life right now. The school is understaffed and under-funded, and the teachers and administrators there are trying to do the best they can but they are frustrated and overworked. He describes sitting with the kids he is friendly with while they wait to go to lunch. They start down the hall at 12:15 and finish up recess (and a fire drill) at 2:00. In all that time they spend about 15 minutes eating and 15 minutes running around at recess and the rest of the time waiting. The teachers are just herding and managing them all this time. The halls are crowded and noisy and there are so many kids in the school the cafeteria can’t seat them all in a reasonable time. No kid should have to spend their time like this when they could be learning to read! This is an elementary school and Mr. Kozol also talks about where the kids go next. It turns out the middle school is even worse and their chance of getting into one of the good city high schools is minimal. Out of something like 1300 high school students around 65 graduate from the school most of them end up at. The rest give up in despair or think they can do better on their own without school. It is horrifying to think of what these kids are loosing, and all of us with them as they miss their potential to contribute and create and solve problems. I have taught really poor kids and really rich kids and it just kills me to see and know the difference in opportunity and resources available, depending on your economic class.

The Bible readings for this week that I am doing are from the prophet Habakkuk. He is asking God why a loving, good God can allow oppression and abuse to happen to his people. I am finding it fits right in with the Kozal book, as I wonder the same thing.

Habakkuk 1
I am Habakkuk the prophet. And this is the message that the LORD gave me.
Our LORD, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence? Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere? Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Quiet Time

Jonah 2:1-10

When I felt my life slipping away, then, O Lord, I prayed to you, and in your holy Temple you heard me.

I like to start every day by getting up early, before all my boys. When I say early, I mean about 4:30. It sounds unbearable until you try it for a while and you find that early morning hour to be the most peaceful, and the most private time in a busy household. There are many days when Buster is just going to sleep at that hour, after spending the night doing homework, or whatever, on the computer. This little Mac is a hard worker! I am in the habit now of getting into my PJs right after the little boys are down, grabbing one of my books and some chocolate and reading in bed for about an hour (I skip this if I am really tired) and nodding off to sleep by 8:30 or 9. So getting up early is something that works for me.

I make my coffee, feed the cats and brush them (they insist on a little quality time too, after all), and find my comfy chair and my Bible for my treasured Quiet Time. I grew up as a pastor’s daughter, a pastor who taught Bible Study in small groups and in college fellowships and now teaches it in a seminary; so Quiet Time, time with Bible reading and prayer, is pretty much ingrained in my being. I have tried to be faithful with it since I was able to read at all, with scattered success. It used to be really difficult for me to keep up with it faithfully, as I would always get distracted, have other things to do, (like sleep or read other books), or just get lazy. But about 10 years ago I had a very difficult class when I was teaching first grade. I really wanted to walk away and never come back. I started spending more time in prayer every morning just to face going to work. By God’s grace I came to rely on the power and love and wisdom and energy that flows from our Creator. That year of struggle solidified my dependence on God’s strength, through daily prayer and Bible reading, and since then I have found it a rich banquet and I really look forward to it every day.

I used to choose different devotional books or Bible reading schedules every year. A couple of years ago The American Bible Society sent me a Bible reading schedule in the mail, and I really liked the way they laid it out. For the past couple of years I have stuck with that. I keep the paper copy in my Bible, and I downloaded the PDF from their website and put it on my Palm. I also have a Bible on my Palm so I can sit in my comfy chair with my coffee in one hand, the cat on my lap, and my Bible open on my Palm in the other hand, scrolling with my thumb. It is wonderful! You can also read the daily selection off the website, and you can have it emailed to you every morning if you want. I love the Internet!!

Today’s passage is from Jonah. We have been reading through the Old Testament prophets during Lent. The theme for March is “Believe in the Good News and pray for one another”, so each daily passage is a prayer from one of the prophets. When Jonah is on an ocean voyage he is thrown overboard during a terrible storm and sinks. Instead of drowning he is swallowed by a whale. Today we read his prayer from inside the whale.

From deep inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God: "In my distress, O Lord, I called to you, and you answered me. From deep in the world of the dead I cried for help, and you heard me. You threw me down into the depths, to the very bottom of the sea, where the waters were all around me, and all your mighty waves rolled over me. I thought I had been banished from your presence and would never see your holy Temple again. The water came over me and choked me; the sea covered me completely, and seaweed wrapped around my head. I went down to the very roots of the mountains, into the land whose gates lock shut forever. But you, O Lord my God, brought me back from the depths alive.

When he is most desperate and thinks he is dying, the worst thing is that he may be banished from God’s presence. Being cut off from the source of love is far worse than simply dying. The joy of being brought back from the depths alive is resounding. There is no greater feeling of relief and jubilation than to discover you really are loved and claimed and held by the power that will never let you go, no matter how deep you fall.

Reading this I was reminded of the book I read last week Young Man and the Sea. When he hooks the giant tuna he is pulled overboard and down under. He thinks he is dying and hears his mother’s voice. He blacks out but then miraculously finds himself waking up above the surface, gasping for breath. The tuna had risen to the surface again, giving him back his life. The description of what it feels like to be drowning in a cold sea is very vivid and helps me relate to Jonah’s prayer. I have never been drowning in the sea all alone, but I have felt that way, drowning in fear and anxiety and despair. This is a prayer I will come back to, when I need to be rescued and pulled out of that drowning. God’s love will never let us go.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

What the baby loves

I have to admit, with great shame, that I don’t read to my baby very often. I read to the other two from the first moment, I swear I did. And it was lovely. They adore books. Storytime is the bedrock of our family traditions. The absolute worst punishment Buster ever met was me sending him to bed with no story! I only tried that once, and it was unbearable. I can’t remember what the infraction was, but it couldn’t have been that bad. He was only five or so. He wept like I was murdering him, on and on, and I had to give in and take back my punishment cause he broke my heart. It was just too cruel.

Buddy Boy also relishes that sacred time every night. When I first brought him home and he was just a lap baby I read Itsy Bitsy Spider to him every night until we knew each other well enough to branch out into new territory. Now he races into my room and launches onto the bed shouting “your turn to pick!” or “my turn tonight!” No matter how frazzled and exhausted I am my story voice comes out and we are in magic land for those 20 minutes.

But so far Punkin hasn’t taken to that glory. Our magic time is bath time, when he wriggles with delight as soon as the tap is on. By the time he is lotioned-up and wrapped in jammies and carried into his crib he is half asleep and eager for the mattress. As for books, he likes to open and close them. He gets angry if someone else tries to turn the pages or set the pace of open and close. He is not interested in the pictures, doesn’t care for Moos and Squawks, and doesn’t stand for longwinded plot lines such as “Baby visits the farm”. So I haven’t pushed it. I am giving him time to explore open and close at his own pace. He likes putting books on a shelf and taking them off, as well. Possibly he will become an engineer?

Last night I was feeling ashamed of my negligence in reading to him, fearing for his vocabulary development or something. I snagged a few free minutes while Buster was allowing Buddy Boy to watch him on the computer. I snuggled him onto my lap with Goodnight Moon, the board book edition. I whipped through the pages too fast for him to protest, and actually got the whole thing read before his fat little fingers could get a grip. Then I relaxed and let him open and close for a while. He just loves to see the pages turn. I started daydreaming and absent-mindedly flipped through the book, fanning us both. Punkin laughed. You know the bright orange and green coloring on those pages… the art work looks particularly wild when moving at a high speed. He kept laughing and letting me do it, so I did it again, and again… I think we’ve found a hook!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Ugly Duckling, Dragon Keeper

At the moment my favorite story has to be The Ugly Duckling. I read it to my first graders, and then showed them the Rabbit Ears video narrated by Cher. I just love this story by Hans Christian Andersen (he was a genius). The video illustrations are by Robert Van Nutt, and the book version is adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. Both versions have absolutely stunning pictures. How is it that this little duckling’s expressions remind me of a child I know, and his heart and voice feel like my own? This is such a beautiful, human, eternal story. You should go read it again for the first time, and then watch the video.

For middle grades (by that I mean loosely 3rd – 6th: I am not big on reading levels or hard grade level recommendations. As a youngster I always read outside the boundaries…) I have been reading Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson and I loved it. A really good story, well crafted, round, exciting, inspiring and pleasing. It is set in ancient China and is a classic tale of a poor young orphan who discovers she has remarkable powers. She is befriended by a dragon that desperately needs her help, and she accepts responsibility and care of a mysterious egg-shaped magical stone which seems to speak to her in her deepest heart. Thrilling adventures, desperate struggles, satisfying triumphs. Realistically Chinese as well. Would be a great read aloud for 3rd and 4th, and a great book club/circle book for 5th and maybe 6th.

For the past five or six years I have been trying to keep track of everything I read in children’s and young adult literature. I have used documents, spreadsheets, and databases. I want to be able to keep a few paragraphs on each story and some reactions, just because my memory is so poor and when I am reading them one after another, trying to keep up, I tend to get them muddled together if I don’t write it down immediately. So far nothing has really been satisfactory. I am thinking this blogging is going to be perfect though. It is searchable so I can look back and see what I have already read and written about, and I can chat with all of you when you leave comments. I would love to get in a webring with other librarians and kid lit lovers. An online bookclub or sorts, or just frequent chat buddies. What a fabulous opport
I’m reading picture books today. So many lovely ones!

Shanghai Messenger, by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Ed Young. A poetic story of a girl’s visit to Shanghai to stay with her grandmother’s family. Very sweetly and charmingly told. I loved the Chinese words and phrases sprinkled throughout, the vivid descriptions of market sights, the scent of delicious food, the sound of rain splashing and bicycle bells. It brought back my time in Shanghai and Suzhuo and made me want to be the one who’s turn to visit comes next. The illustrations are wonderful.

Terrific by Jon Agee. Delightfully funny story of a gloomy man lost at sea, who teams up with a brilliant and loyal parrot. Reminds me of the ‘fortunately, unfortunately’ stories my brothers and I used to make up as kids. The illustrations are simple and clear and bold. This man’s poor sad face contrasts with the parrot’s deadpan optimism in a way that just has to make your rainy day seem a little more hopeful. The kids are going to love this one.

Earth Mother by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon. Lovely, lovely illustrations. Earth mother is beautiful and tender and patiently nurturing. Her creatures are complaining and self-absorbed, but we get the big picture and see how everything balances out. This is the perfect style of irony to share wisdom with children. Next time they are bothered by mosquitoes they will remember the frogs and smile.

Brothers in Hope by Mary Williams, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Wow. What a story. And it’s true too. You have to read this one. Did you know there were thousands of boys orphaned by the civil wars in the Sudan who walked to Ethiopia and then Kenya? They survived by teamwork, hope, compassion and the courage and strength of their love. This is their beautiful, amazing, inspiring story. Told in the voice of one of the survivors who made it to the States. Better for older kids, in the middle grades (4th and up).

Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth. This is one of the ABC books that had my 3 year old transfixed and delighted. Very clever text and perfectly fitting illustrations. It’s has the just right combination of yuck and silliness that leaves you smiling and grateful if you have no flies around at the moment. This one’s a keeper.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel. Here is another winner. You have to get this one if you have kids or cats or just plain like either. It’s an ABC book where the cat is so fiendishly catty and the veggies so unappealingly vegetarian you have to cheer for every alphabetic protestation and sigh with satisfaction with every yummy carnivorous delight. We laughed all the way through it and had to read it night after night...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Young Man in the Sea

I just had my book talk with the fourth grader who is reading The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick. I think I said Freak the Mighty in a previous entry, but that was wrong. Freak is the next one I am reading by this author, because the teacher said it was even better. Young Man is the one to discuss with the fourth grader. He’s a quiet kid, shy and a bit tentative. He had some great observations on the book though. He asked me what a “plane” was (woodworking tool used in repairing the fishing boat). He predicted that the harpoon Skiffy saw hanging on the wall in the old man’s workroom that was his father’s was going to be used by Skiffy to catch the big fish. He wondered a bit at the antagonistic relationship between Skiffy and Tyler, the rich kid. He made a connection to the times his grandpa in Florida takes him fishing and teaches him about it. He has never been on the ocean in a fishing boat, and neither have I.

I loved this book! It is so exciting and sweet and real. The boy’s voice is authentic. His struggles, his courage, his fear and discouragement and his triumph are invigorating and touching. It brought back all the times I have spent “messing about in boats”, as ratty puts it in Wind in the Willows. I was fascinated to learn so much about tuna. All the sandwiches I have made and munched, and never knew how majestic and powerful tuna are in their element. It also brought to mind Life of Pi, another 12 year old boy on a high sea adventure. Pi is written on a deeper, more complex level, hence more sophisticated and thought-provoking.

In Young Man I kept thinking I can’t believe he is going to pull this off, but of course he just about kills himself and does it, and it is totally believable. I love his mom’s rules too. I spent my driving time this morning trying to decide what my “Mom’s Rules” would be, and wondering if my sons would be able to bring them to mind as a guide if and when they got into a life or death struggle. Would my rules do anything to keep them alive and victorious, the way Skiffy’s mom’s rules helped him?

Skiffy’s mom’s rules are: 1. Think smart 2. Speak true 3. Never give up!

My rules are: 1. Love 2. Forgive 3. Rejoice.

What would your rules be?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

I love my Ben & Jerry's cook book

This is from the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and Desert Book.

Strawberry Ice Cream:

Use the freshest strawberries possible for this ice cream.

1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/3-cup sugar
Juice of ½ lemon
Sweet cream base:
2 large eggs (I use EggBeaters)
¾ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, a little at a time, and then continues whisking until completely blended, about 1 minute more. Pour in the cream and milk and whisk to blend.

1. Combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
2. Prepare the Sweet Cream Base. Mash the strawberries to a puree and stir into the cream base.
3. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Makes generous 1 quart.

We made this the other day to take to my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday party tonight. It is really spectacular ice cream. Unfortunately, someone dropped it on the way to the freezer (no names, it could have been any one of us…) and the plastic container shattered. We had to put the whole mess down the disposal and then fish out the little plastic pieces that were clunking around in there. Rats!! So yesterday I had to make coffee and m&m ice cream to take to the party. It’s even better than the strawberry.

For his gift I made him a blog. I made a card to go with it, of course. He loves to cook so I was hoping he would start posting his recipes and kitchen adventures. Maybe he will not be interested though… dunno if he likes to write. He does like computers, I know that. I don’t know if it’s a good present or not. What would be a better present for a 50th birthday for a man who has everything else I can afford?

Friday, March 10, 2006

One set of books I really don't like...

3/10/06 12:49 PM

We are home sick today, as I said in my previous post. After a while Buddy boy got sick of watching movies and asked to go up to the attic. We live in a duplex with three bedrooms, a basement and a full but unfinished attic. My attic is large but has no heat, ac, or electricity. It is a great space on a day that is not hot or cold. Today is perfect for the attic. I keep a ton of stuff up there, and unbelievable amount of stuff. I have to keep giving away boxes of stuff just to keep up with what comes into this house… anyway. I have a lot of books, games, toys, and clothes from when my oldest was growing up. OK I’m a pack rat. I somehow knew there would be more kids coming… Buddy boy loves to go up there to play because he always discovers something new and wonderful. Well today he found Candyland and dominos. I taught him how to play Candyland, and then he taught me how play for real. I showed him how to stand the dominos up in rows and knock them down, and then he showed me some really great patterns he could make. That part was fun.

We were on our way down to make some sandwiches for lunch when he spotted Buster’s old Berenstain Bears books on the shelf. Oh my stars. Why didn’t I throw them out years ago? I HATE reading those horrible goody-goody rhymes. Why did I ever buy them for Buster? Because every book club newsletter that came home from school, that was all he would ever beg for. I mean his best begging. And I always caved. So I guess I knew another kid would some day love them too? But now I have to spend the next 10 years reading them??? AAAAHHHHHH! Here he is on the couch digging in, all lunch forgotten. Pretty soon he is going to ask me to read one. Oh brother. I really hate those books. I knew this day would come. *Sigh* *Grin*

Oh yeah, I am always in the middle of more than one...

3/10/06 9:03 AM

I joined a discussion at We are reading The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I have only gotten through the first chapter so far. I love the language; it is very poetic and visual. The world is all wet and green and fluttering. The characters are confusing to my western ear, names unfamiliar and family relationships complex. There are uneasy hints of major traumas in childhood, which I am not sure I want to witness. But I think I am hooked, regardless. The conversation is just starting, so if you hop on now you can come along for the ride.

I am also reading The Big Rumpus by Ayun Halliday. “In which a three-thumbed four-year-old, a baby boy named Milo, and a thirty-something mama battle forces of evil, breastfeed indiscriminately and avoid the puddles of mystery.” It’s very funny. She lives in NYC and is a stay at home mom. I love the mommy stuff but since I am a full time working single mom I don’t get the whining about being a SAHM hanging out at the park. I dig the living in the city part, since I did that for years when my oldest was a baby and it was fun. She swears a bit too much for me, but hey.

Believe it or not I am posting from home on aol on a Mac, so it has taken hours to get this far this morning. My 3 YO is home with high fevers of unspecified origin, so I don’t have my work computer network to surf. ☹ I got the call yesterday right when I was about to eat lunch that he had a fever of 102.4 and his daycare wanted him picked up. It took until 7 pm for the Dr. to get back to me, but the good news is I didn’t need to drag him in there for an ear check. They just called the pharmacy and I was able to go to the drive through and get the drugs (I love Amoxicillian) and they got me a sub for school so I am home today. He is watching one movie after another because he is sick and rules are relaxed. The baby is at my mom’s. I only have two more sick days for the year, and three months to get through till summer. It’s a nail biter. But anyway, here I am posting. Blogspot doesn’t work with aol, BTW. I had to download FireFox, which my teenager has been telling me to get for a while, and that took forever on this dial-up…. Just to let you know how much this cost me.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What I'm doing, I think

03/9/2006 10:50 AM

I have been keeping, off and on, or trying to keep, a journal for 40 years. Usually I start them at a new time of year, (Jan; my birthday; new school year…) and give up after 6 months or a year at most. I just don’t have the umph to keep going after it gets boring… The longest I have done one is the two years I lived in China, because there was always something to talk about then. Recently I haven’t had much luck keeping one, because too many other things intrude. Like kids and laundry, or stuff I want to read, or library work, or teaching and planning to teach…

Anywho I have been reading everyone else’s blogs non-stop and I finally decided I had to try one myself. No promises that I will keep it up, of course. It will be catch as catch can. I just want to talk about books and stuff.

I did actually start a blog last summer. I couldn’t keep it up because I had just brought home a new baby and I was a bit overwhelmed. It was at another blog place where my brother has a blog, and I just kinda hopped on the bandwagon. He doesn’t keep his up much anymore either, but I love reading everything he does write.

So I am a librarian in a small independent elementary school. I teach library and computer classes, and spend a lot of time learning new software, surfing, doing library stuff, and reading kids’ books. I also read parenting books, adoption books, grown ups novels, book club books, Oprah’s books, newspapers, discussion forums online, librarian websites, etc. I find I really want someone to talk about it all with, and I am hoping this blog will be a way to do that. If you are reading what I am reading, or if you think it is interesting, I hope you will comment and join the discussion.

What am I reading now? A lot of blogs, as I said. I have found a ring of birthmothers, or first mothers, or just plain mothers, which are blogging their lives and I am completely mesmerized. Try this one first:

I am also reading Jonathan Kozel’s Ordinary Resurrections. It is written about his time with some kids in an afterschool club in the South Bronx in the late 90s. It is a bit more informal and personal than some of his other books, and I find it endearing and challenging at the same time. I really love his writing, and I want to read everything else by him, especially Rachel and Her Children. He has a wonderful writing style, so poetic and descriptive and honest and challenging.

At school I started Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick so I can do a book talk with one of the fourth graders who is in a book club of one. Haven’t read it yet so can’t say anything, but I will let you know.