Sunday, July 30, 2006

Chicken Boy by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Tobin McCauley opens his story by telling about the day his grandmother got arrested driving him to school on the first day of seventh grade. His family is somewhat dysfunctional, you could say. His dad is always at work or off with his brother. Saturday morning, the time when he is at home, his is parked in front of the TV. There is rarely food in the house and Tobin’s older brothers and sisters manage to get by on their own wits. No one has much time or interest in him, except for his grandmother. His mother died of cancer five years ago. I keep picking up these motherless child books, without consciously planning it. It is interesting to me as well that this is the second book in a row that goes into the joys and rewards of raising chickens and eating organic, free range eggs. In Project Mulberry the club leader runs an organic farm and the kids’ families buy eggs from him. In this story the kids are raising the chickens and selling them to family and friends.

Tobin manages to make one friend at school, an amusing fellow who’s passion is raising chickens. He and his little brother talk Tobin into going into business with them, and life starts to get more interesting and manageable for Tobin. At least until he gets it into his grandmother’s head that he should be living with her, and she calls in a report to Social Services on his dad. This gets dad fired up trying to pull the family together, and although it feels like the end of the world for Tobin, getting caught up in the firestorm of family pain, in the end it is what brings the family to start a healing journey. The father in this book reminds me of the father in The Young Man and The Sea. Both are lost in mourning for their dead wife and neglecting their living sons, until the strength of desperation and determination in the sons calls them to wake up and begin living again.

Tobin is a strong character with a clear voice. He reminds me of some of the boys with whom I attended seventh grade. Reading his story gives me a new understanding of the depth beneath their apparent disinterested foolishness. I also enjoyed Dovey Coe and Where I’d Like to Be by the same author, which I read last year. Highly recommended.

In other news: You may have noticed I have been updating my blogroll. I have it reorganized so that those that have updated in the last 24 hours move to the top. I like that I can check the new posts every day without wondering where to start. I have also added a lot of book-related sites, as I find more librarians and kidlit enthusiasts. I hope you are enjoying reading all their reviews as much as I am! Take a look over at Semicolon to see a list of links of some favorite book reviews this week. I put one of mine there to share and I found some new blogs to read by checking everyone else’s contribution.

I also gave Overwhelmed with Joy! a link to my 100th post. She is gathering a collection of them and it is fascinating to browse the list and see what everyone was posting about when they got to that mile-marker. I found some new-to-me blogs there that I want to keep up with reading. When I went back through my archives to identify mine I was hoping I would discover that my 100th was a really good book review, since I intended this blog to be about books when I started. It turns out is was a garden post. It’s one I like though, because I am looking forward to reviewing those flower pictures when it is the depth of winter and I am longing for some breath of summer sweetness. As this blog evolves I am finding it is not so important to me to follow my original rule that it be just about what I am reading. Now it’s about everything I don’t want to forget, and a place to stretch my writing through practice. That I am making new friends and learning from all of you is one of the delightful results!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Garden Haiku

Dormant last winter;
pink geraniums in a pot
now by my porch chair.

Monarchs flame orange
high at the purple tip top -
each day's bright burning

Round the bees buzzing
go; intently drinking the world
flower by flower.

Black-eyed Susans stand
by the fence; winking boldly
at each passing breeze.

Haiku by Andromeda Jazmon
July 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park

Julia Song, Korean-American girl, and her best friend Patrick, a Caucasian-American, are working together on a project for their local farm club. They are in seventh grade and have been friends since Julia moved to Plainfield from Chicago. Patrick loves kimchee, Julia hates how it smells up her house and how spicy it is. They want to do something that they can enter into two categories, Animal Husbandry and Domestic Arts, so they will have a better chance at winning a blue ribbon at the state fair. They are both smart, hard working kids, and together they know they will do a fabulous project. Julia’s mom suggests that they grow silk worms, something she and her grandmother used to do in Korea. Patrick does some Internet research and thinks it is a great idea. Julia is not so sure. She wants to do something “American”, not at all Korean. But she keeps that to herself, not wanting to disappoint Patrick. After a few mishaps and bumps in the road they get their silkworm eggs and set up their aquarium and start filming their development. I turns out the only thing silkworms will eat is Mulberry tree leaves, and the only Mulberry tree in Plainfield is at the home of a black man. Julia’s mom doesn’t like blacks. She doesn’t say it out loud, but Julia thinks she can interpret her mother’s frozen face and pressing questions to mean that mom is uneasy and uncomfortable in his presence.

The themes of friendship, honesty, facing fears, and finding creative solutions to practical problems are all interwoven in this story. The underlying theme is that of racism and the assumptions people make of others without being aware their own thinking. Julia is figuring all this out by thinking through all the stages in the process of raising silkworms, by her interactions and relationships with her friend, her mom, and the other adults in her life such as teachers, mentors, and friendly neighbors. I really like the approach to working out an understanding of racism and the direct examples of how racism has effected Julia’s life. This is exactly the kind of discussion kids need to be having, and adults often shy away from out of discomfort or lack of confidence in their ability to approach it.

The writing style is simple and direct. I think it would be a good book for a mixed ability reading group in third through fifth grade. There is plenty of fodder for discussion and the ups and downs of the character’s situations and interactions is stimulating and exciting. Interspersed between the chapters are out-take discussions between the author and the main character, Julia. They discuss the development of the story, the writing process, the characters and the conflicts. For a writing class working on fiction this would be an effective tool for getting students to pay attention to the writer’s craft as they are engaged in a compelling story.

Linda Sue Park has a great webpage with the diary her father kept while raising silkworms during the writing of the book. She also has a Live Journal.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lord Have Mercy

Now, right after that last post I read about this at Empty Cereal Box.

I can't believe how bad it is;
we have to believe.
Go watch this.
Then try to sleep tonight.

God our Mother

Today's Bible reading is from Hosea chapter 11, verses 3 & 4. God says:

"I was the one who taught Israel to walk. I took my people up in my arms... I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek; I bent down to them and fed them."
I find this especially touching these days, to hear God describe herself as a mother enjoying the same tasks I am caught up in with Punkin. Seeing those first wobbly steps, hearing the babbles and listening for familiar words, choosing the best ripe cherries and digging out the pits to pop that sweetness in his mouth, smothering those velvet cheeks with kisses. God knows this joy, and finds it in us. Unbelievable. Hallelujah.

Unseen Companion by Denise Gosliner Orenstein

At first this book felt really disagreeable to my system. I can’t stand green jello with pineapple chunks and abhor reading about people making it and serving it. I get depressed reading about young girls who live on the frozen tundra where summer means endless flat wastelands of mud and brown weeds and boring afternoons painting one’s toenails. Odd, lonely girls with southern accents who live in trailers on the tundra are even more unbearable. Then there are the snot-nosed orphans in this story who live in an even more miserable trailer and get moved to farther away places as soon as they make a friend… It is just too darn much like a Flannery O’Conner novel, and I can’t stand those.

In spite of my distaste for the emphasis on dust, grime, dampness, mud, bad smells and instant potato flakes, I came to realize this book is masterfully written and I couldn’t let myself look away. The characters are well developed, each having a distinct personality and perspective. The story is told alternating between the voices of four young people, as described in the flyleaf:

Lorraine Hobbs, a precocious loner who brings meals to the prison;
Annette Weinland, the local minister’s daughter, who volunteers at the prison;
Thelma Cooke and Edgar Kwagley, two Yup’ik adolescents orphaned and displaced from their native communities.

The drama revolves around a boy named Dove Alexie, a half-breed orphan who shows himself as intelligent, vocal, and full of rage. He gets into trouble at the boarding school and is sent away. He is held over night at the local jail because the children’s home is full the night he is brought in. He gets beaten up by the assistant marshal and turns up missing. When Lorraine starts to get attached to solving the mystery of what happened to him, she starts to grow up.

I always pictured Alaska as beautiful and magical. This novel shows it as poor, drunk, racist and beaten down. Here’s a reality check; a view the tourist don’t see. Put this book on your list to read and pass it on to the teens in your life.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Dark Side of Oz (Clip #6)

Can't stop myself now. The whole movie is there, in clips. This is my favorite part.
Pink Floyd and Oz

I listened to Pink Floyd every single day when I was in High School. We read the Oz books, we watched the movie every year on Thanksgiving. Now Buster shows me these two video mashups he find on the net. Who would'a thought these young people would be so clever and love the old stuff we loved, but in a new and integrated way? These two youtube movies are amazing. I keep watching them over and over....
Star Trek - Knights of the Round Table

Oh. My. Stars. I loved Star Trek. I know every one of these episodes in the clips. I loved Monty Python. We used to go around quoting the skits. I don't know why we thought these shows were so good back then, but I am dying here ROFLOL. I was young too soon, back in the day when we weren't this creative. The world is getting better and better. I know it now.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tags and ZoomCloud as Index

I like to use technorati tags to mark all my Friday Poetry Blogging. That way if you click the link you can see a list of all the poetry I have posted as well as what anyone else is posting with that tag. I have decided to use the garden tag on Thursdays, for my Garden Tour posts. I went back and added it to all the June and July garden posts so if you click the link you will see what all everyone has tagged garden. It may be too general a catagory, I am not sure. But for now it will tag mine at least, so if you missed some you can go back and see the other photos. If you use the technorati search box in the left column under the Flickr badge it will search my blog or all blogs. The ZoomCloud is also clickable, BTW, so anything you see there will bring up a list of posts where a term is mentioned. Two ways to index my blog even though blogger doesn't give us tags. If you are posting garden pictures or poetry, I invite you to also use the tags so we can easily keep up with each other.

The Day After the Storm

The Wind in the Trees

The heat broke when the cold front came in. All day we had sweltered under the oppressive weight of hot, humid air. I think the whole country was sweating through the last few days. As I was putting Buddy Boy to bed the wind started to rise, rattling our old double sash windows and making us nervous.

Buddy doesn’t like high winds, ever since a tree branch fell directly in his tricycle path during a windstorm a few weeks ago. It was about a second from smashing his head into the patio. I think he heard it crack and stopped pedaling and looked up. He saw the limb and branches and leaves coming at him, and watched it hit the pavement and settle around him. I was watching out the kitchen window, and saw the same thing. I will never forget the way the leaves shivered and swayed as they settled. The tension of his neck and the shocked stillness of the back of his head, his hands gripping the beribboned handlebars of his little red bike. Then he jumped up and screamed and ran inside as I was running outside. We stood and hugged for a minute in the sunroom, and another huge tree limb came crashing down onto the patio in the exact spot where I usually have my chair so I can sit and watch him play. We count our lives as God’s (yet again) after that day. Every time the wind rises he says, “Is the tree going to come down on us? I am afraid of trees!”

Tuesday night the electricity went out conveniently right after I finished reading Curious George Rides a Bike to Buddy. We closed the book and the lights went out. Thunder boomed. I thought it was going to be hard to get him into his bed and settled down, but he said right away “I want Buddy Boy” and scampered off to bed. "Buddy Boy" in this case is the rag doll I made Buster 17 years ago, that my Buddy-Boy-the-Real-Boy inherited and with whom he sleeps every night. I thought it was a good sign that instead of clinging to me and whimpering, he wanted Buddy Boy to comfort himself. It just gave me a moment of missing him and his need, but mostly it made me relieved and grateful that I could sprint up to the attic to turn off the fan and close the windows and then dash down to the sunroom and turn off that fan and close those windows. I ducked out into the back yard to gather up the chairs and toys, praying no trees would fall on me and leave my children alone in the dark.

So I got inside, all hatches battened down, and the kids in bed. Lightening is flashing, and the rain starts. I stood in the bathroom peeking out the louver window, gasping for the breeze. Coolness!! Ice water pouring over my sweaty body. The rain only came down hard for about five minutes, then slowed. I went into my room and opened all the windows and got up in the window seat and curled up to watch the night. Looking out the window is different when you have no electricity and neither does anyone else in the neighborhood. It’s dark inside and out. My window seat looks down on my garden and over to my neighbor’s porch. Jo, my friendliest neighbor, was sitting out on her porch calling out cheerful hellos to everyone. I looked down and watched the wind whipping through my garden.

My butterfly bushes are about twelve feet high now, in spite of my sporadic radical pruning. I tend to prune all the side branches so they don’t take over the walkways, and they shoot straight up to the sky where I can’t reach my clippers. The breeze tickled them around the edges until a gust came roaring through, dumping them upside down and throwing them backwards. I was dizzy with the force of it all. It was rolling darkness and wild colors: charcoal green, silver, flashes of purple and orange and gold from the lilies on the other side of the bushes showing through.

Watching from above I felt like I was a ship at sea on the storm-tossed waves. It made me a little seasick. The leaves are shaped like long slim crescents and the undersides are silver. The bushes are forest green until the wind blows through and turns everything to flickering. They made me think of the Elanor trees of Lothlorien in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. When Frodo and company have to leave the elfish forest they are given magical cloaks woven by the elves. The elf leader tells them “Leaf and branch, water and stone; they have the hue and beauty of all these things under the twilight of Lorien that we love; for we put the thought of all that we love into all that we make.” The cloaks are “fastened about the neck with a brooch like green leaf veined with silver.” It is one of those leaf brooches that is left in the mud to help point the way when Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas run across the wasteland to rescue Merry and Pippin from the orks. I am sitting in the window seat watching the wind in the leaves and thinking of all this. I am in a silver leaf-shaped elf boat rushing down the Silverlode to adventure or doom.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Is This An Archetype or What?

Over at Antique Mommy there has been a discussion going on in the comments, about Curious George. I keep going back to say more, because I find it a fascinating series of books and my boys have loved them. Buddy Boy is on a Curious George kick right now and asks for him every night. I remember loving him myself as a kid. What is it about George that is so appealing and also a bit frightening?

Another question rolling around in my head: why does it seem that adoption/abandonment/parenting seems to be an underlying theme for George?

After I did respite and interim foster care for infants and then adopted Buddy Boy and started reading children’s books to him I suddenly found these themes in many books that I never previously consciously thought of as adoption/foster-care-themed books. Examples:

1. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag
2. Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
3. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
4. Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
5. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
6. Corduroy by Don Freeman
7. Hugs by Jez Alborough
8. Paddington Bear by Michael Bond

Others that clearly have kids in foster care:
1. The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum
2. In Which Tigger Comes to the Forest and Has Breadkfast; The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
3. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
4. Ruby Holler by Sharon Creach

Is it my imagination, or obsession with adoption, or is this a common theme? Has anyone else noticed that suddenly a lot of books are about kids losing/missing/longing for/finding parents?

Bucking the Sarge by Christopher Paul Curtis

Luther T. Farrell is a 15-year-old boy living in Flint, Michigan, employed by his mother to run one of her group homes and clean out her run-down rental houses after her tenants are evicted. He is learning all the tricks of her trade, but he doesn’t like it. From her point of view, she is taking care of him and herself, and getting some of what’s due. The more you know of her the more horrified you become. I tried to have compassion on her and think that she was doing all of her evil for his sake, but by the end of the book I had to give that up and just know that she is a nightmare I hope never to meet.

Luther wants to work on his science fair project so he can win a third gold medal. Some how or other he has protected his heart and his integrity, even as he learns wisdom from the suffering his mother, the Sarge, inflicts. Luther is the kind of high school English student any teacher would prize above all and never forget. He is the young man you want your daughter to fall in love with and your son to hang with. When he finally pulls it all together and makes his move it is the kind of glorious relief you get from seeing butterflies released from the cage they were raised in for some elementary school science lesson.

The book is so well written it is a joy to read, even as it frightens and saddens me. The humor is sharp and the language is beautiful. There is a lot of street jargon that some of us have to work at to understand, but it is very poetic and visual and adds a tangy flavor. (Don’t think learning the terminology is going to make you hip though, because by the time you get it, it will all be so old school). The pace is so carefully structured and tenderly balanced I found myself chuckling and wiping tears in equal measure. Luther pokes fun at himself and brags about his prowess in typical teenage fashion. He is clever and quick, but also blind to his mother’s true colors at the beginning of the story. As he gains awareness of his strength and power he also comes face to face with the ugliness of the Sarge’s ways. His dealing with that pain and disappointment are the heart of the story, and it is a satisfying and enlightening portrayal.

Here is an example of the biting humor of the book - this is on the back cover.

Christopher Paul Curtis also wrote Bud, Not Buddy and The Watsons Go to Birmingham; two other beautiful and highly recommended books. They are enjoyed by fourth and fifth graders but I would recommend Bucking the Sarge to 6th – 8th grades.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Dark Sons by Nikki Grimes

Dark Sons has been given the Coretta Scott King Author Honor for 2006

This is a book that cuts me to the heart. It is told in verse, and goes back and forth between the stories of two young men struggling with relationships with their fathers. Ishmael is the first son of Abraham and Hagar of the Bible. He loses his special place with his father when Sarah bears Isaac, son of the promise. Sam, living in NYC in the 21st c., loses his special relationship with his father when his dad leaves his mother to marry another woman. Both of these young men struggle with feelings of abandonment, anger, sadness, confusion and longing. Both of them call out to the God of their fathers, seeking peace and finding a way.

The stories go deep for me because of my own son’s stories. My oldest son knows his father, and I have struggled all his life to forgive and find peace in supporting that relationship. For the most part it has worked and been good for him, but not without cost. My two little guys do not know a father, other than the God who promises to never leave us. Choosing to adopt them as a single woman, I have given them this. Maybe some would question the rightness of doing that. I can only say better one parent committed to raising them with God’s help than foster care. It is my constant prayer that God would give them a father’s love, although I don’t know how that will work without a human father living it out. Reading this book, and seeing these young men find their way and speak their truth has comforted me even through my tears and fears.

Nikki Grimes is a talented poet and writer. Her verse flows with grace and beauty. She speaks with a powerful voice to reveal the heart and strength of both of the boys, along with the growth and hope they achieve. This book gave me the shivers as it flowed quickly through my hands. I would recommend it to reluctant readers and young people who have experienced loss or hardship, as I think they would take to it and get a lot out of it. It would be a good one for anyone parenting a child as well, as it really shows how tender and open and eager a young person’s heart is, however they may appear on the surface.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Becoming Naomi Leon

by Ram Munoz Ryan. This is a charming book. It starts out “I always thought the biggest problem in my life was my name, Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw, but little did I know that it was the least of my troubles, or that someday I would live up to it."

On the next page she continues: “There we were, minding our lives with the same obedience as a clock ticking. A few weeks earlier the sun had switched to its winter bedtime, so even though it was early evening, the sky was dark as pine pitch.”

The story begins with an unexpected knock on their door. It is told from the point of view of Naomi, a fifth grade girl who lives in a trailer park in CA with her little brother and great-grandmother. When her mom re-appears out of nowhere, her world turns upside down. The language is beautiful and poetic, full of colloquialisms and vibrant description. The main themes are of family, love and fear, loyalty, struggle, integrity. This is the kind of book that reminds grown-ups that children think and feel just as deeply and profoundly as adults, and adults dream and fear and hope with the same passion as children. I hated for the story to come to an end, and am still thinking of it, wondering what happens next. Find this one and spend an afternoon or two engrossed and delighted.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Because of Libraries We Can Say These Things

From Fuel (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1998) by Naomi Shehab Nye

She is holding the book close to her body,
carrying it home on the cracked sidewalk,
down the tangled hill.
If a dog runs at her again,
she will use the book as a shield.

She looked hard among the long lines
of books to find this one.
When they start talking about money,
when the day contains such long and hot places,
she will go inside.
An orange bed is waiting.
Story without corners.
She will have two families.
They will eat at different hours.

She is carrying a book past the fire station
and the five-and-dime.
What this town has not given her
the book will provide; a sheep,
a wilderness of new solutions.
The book has already lived through its troubles.
The book has a calm cover, a straight spine.

When the step returns to itself
as the best place for sitting,
and the old men up and down the street
are latching their clippers,

She will not be alone.
She will have a book to open
and open and open.
Her life starts here.

I read this yesterday in the May/June issue of “Knowledge Quest”, the Journal of the American Association of School
Librarians. I love Ms. Nye’s poetry and other writings.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rainy garden

It's another rainy day, which means camp is cancelled for Buddy Boy. It's held at a community park, all outdoors, so they have no rainy day camp. But the good news is they will reschedule for tomorrow! Usually there is no camp on Fridays, but they use it to make up for rain days. So today we are stuck in the house, but tomorrow he can go out and play again...

Punkin and I both have come down with colds and feel lousy. So to cheer us up I am posting some new garden pictures. The light is so different on a rainy morning, it is difficult to capture the beauty of the colors with this camera.

My garden is spreading through the fence onto the little strip next to my neighbor's driveway. I went around and took a few pictures from that point of view.

And here is my other neighbor's pink lily. It smells so sweet and lovely!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Cast Two Shadows by Ann Rinaldi

I finished this book a few days ago but I haven'’t posted about it because I didn'’t like it and I am having trouble deciding what to say about it. It is historical fiction, about a girl living in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. Rinaldi is a very popular author with our 5th and 6th grade girls. They ask for her books in a steady stream. This is the first one I can remember reading all the way through, and I am not impressed. Her characters are shallow and stereotypical. The dialog is B movie grade and the plot entirely predictable and boring. I was excruciatingly aware of the act of reading all through the text. It didn'’t take me anywhere, which in my opinion is unforgivable.

But the thing that made me angry was the racism and sexism portrayed by the main character, even as she is trying to present herself as humanitarian, freedom-loving and in the process of enlightenment. Granted, they are a southern family in the 18th century. It is supposed to be historically realistic, and probably many folks thought and spoke this way in that time and place. But it still made me first uncomfortable, then annoyed, then downright angry the way they kept referring to "our negras"”. The blacks in the book were humble, grateful, loyal, willing and eager to serve their beloved owners, and patiently ignorant. It was disgusting to me, and I can'’t believe that is historically accurate for the vast majority of Africans taken into slavery in this country.

So even if it was meant to be written in a way that will stir up your thinking and inspire good discussion about slavery, etc., in a middle school classroom, I still find it offensive. All the talk of freedom and honor rings hollow when the main character finds out her mother was a black slave, her grandmother is still one of the family's slaves, and she continues to think of them as "“our negras"”. It jumps the shark when she moans and wails about losing her brother'’s prize horse to the British because she couldn'’t bear to see her uncle whipped to death. She doesn't think her brother will forgive her for losing the horse.

Oh yeah, and the ending falls flat. A lot of build up about whether the occupying British commander is going to take her sister for a mistress and burn down their house, but then when he does she and her mother just go off to a friendly neighbor's farm and get along until the war is over. She still thinks of her grandmother as one of the unfortunate slaves. She still expects the rest of "our negras"” to loyally sacrifice themselves to get the horse back and bring in what plantation harvest can be found. She is still worshiping dear daddy, who impregnated one of his slaves and then sold her off to the West Indies when his wife complained. She is still worshiping her brother, "dear Johnny"”, when he abandons his Indian lover and marries someone respectable for the sake of the family name. What a load of hooey.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Then again...

at the playground when we saw another kid with a tricycle with a bell, I remembered that I had a bell in a drawer somewhere, from when Buster was little. I went home and dug around and found it for Buddy's trike. Now he is letting the whole neighborhood hear about it!

And when we saw another kid with a red wagon, I remembered how much fun they are. I went out to the shed and found Buster's old wagon. Nana gave it to him when he was three. We lived in the city then and we used it to bring home our Christmas tree. When he was 12 he used it for his paper route. So maybe our old stuff is pretty good, huh?

Penny Wise

So. I have been worrying about finances a lot lately. In September I will have three tuitions: two in daycare and one in college. If money is tight now, and it is, how am I going to make it to next summer? That is the panic I am having in the middle of the night. I have cut back on everything I can think of. No cell phone. No Cable. No trips for vacation this summer. No pool membership. No eating out. Not even movie and pizza nights. Sheesh it's like I'm poor or something. And still I run out of money before payday! What is up with that? I thought summer would be living easy, since there is no daycare bill, and I thought I could afford to play SAHM and not get another job. But then the car broke down, a tree fell on my roof, and something else happened to my credit card that I can't remember..... so.

So I thought I would try selling online. All that stuff up in my attic, somebody must want it don't ya think? Most of what I buy is second hand anyway, and we use it to death, so it is not going to sell, is it? I heard about a guy who sold every single last thing in his apartment and made enough money to move to California. Even the old newspapers sold. I can sell some baby clothes and old LP records, I figure.

The problem is, when I look around for something I think will go for a lot, it is usually something I just bought for the baby's birthday or something. All our nicest stuff is the stuff they haven't grown into yet. Or the nice stuff that Buddy has outgrown but I was going to save for Punkin. I have to keep chanting to myself... "Don't sell what will cost more to replace when we need it again." Can I sell their toys right out from under them? That would be silly, right?

I listed my old Rolling Stones and Dire Straits albums, since I haven't had a record player in 20 years. Aren't they collector's items now? But they only list for $1.99 to start! How is that going to help me? Maybe I can sell my bread machine. It didn't go at the yard sale, but you never know....

Help me out here. How do you make it work?

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Jumping in to new stuff...

Originally uploaded by cloudscome.
I am trying a few new things this weekend. I started using blogroll for my list of links, instead of putting in the html code myself whenever I add a new blog. Makes sense. Why did it take me so long? I guess I needed to learn how to do it the hard way first.

I also started an account on flickr, to share my garden photos. I think I am going to like this a lot! I always love to see everyone else's Flickr badge on their blog, but I didn't have the nerve to try it myself until today. So what do you think about putting all your pictures out there for the whole world? You don't get nervous about having your kids' faces plastered all over the place? I guess I have been too stiff and starchy and anxious. It seems everyone's doing it...

I would really love to hear some comments from you about what you find are the pros and cons of using blogroll and flickr. Any tips? Anything you were disappointed with? Help me out here! I thought I was doing good and the preview showed my flickr badge on my blog, but when I republish it is not there. Tried it three times. Maybe it will be here tomorrow....


We have a birthday party to go to this afternoon. My friend K.'s son is one year old. So the perfect gift for a one year old? These adorable soft fabric balls I made from a pattern adapted from my favorite craft book Omiyage by Kumiko Sudo.

The best part? They are made from what I already have in my fabric and yarn stash, and take only about a half an hour each. I've made them for my sons before, and after the first one I made for the baby Buster wanted one too. They bounce and they are safe for playing in the house!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rilke's Book of Hours

Love Poems to God

Translated from the German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I. 17

Wer Seines Lebens Viele Widersinne

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth -
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thursday Garden Tour

How about we start a Thursday Garden Tour post tradition? I am enjoying taking flower pictures so much this summer, and I love to share them. I also look forward to seeing other people's flower shots on their blogs. If you have garden shots to share, give me a link and post them on Thursdays!

Common Thyme. I used to have alot of this, but I am afraid the vinca has over-run it.

Anyone know what this flower is? I can't remember what it's called, but it's lovely. Grows from a bulb, and puts up a tall spike of these little flowers in late June. This one is just about past, and we are looking straight down at it.

Here's Buddy Boy doing what he loves most... moving fast.

My fig tree after the rain. Given to me by a friend, but I have yet to learn what to do with the figs that is tasty. Any suggestions?

Purple cone flower (Echinacea), often visited by bees.

What's growing in your garden?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Few of my Favorite Books

I have been trying to post this since Sunday, but blogger was having difficulties with IE, apparently. Now I am using Firefox and it seems to be working better.

Susan asked me for pictures of some of my favorite children's books, so I have been thinking about that. I will have to just do some of the ones I haven't yet talked about, because several of my favorites I have already blogged about, and I don't want to repeat myself. So I have chosen some that I really love reading to my sons, and that are here on my own shelves and not at the library.

First of all has to be Winnie the Pooh. The real one, having nothing to do with Disney. Run from Disney. I can still hear my dad trying to read the heffalump story and bursting out into breathless laugher such that he would have to stop reading. It was one of our favorite things to do with dad; beg him to read Winnie the Pooh so we could see him helpless with laughter.

And then of course there is Beatrix Potter and the Tale of Peter Rabbit, et al. I can hear my mom's voice reading those, especially when Mrs. Rabbit tells them to run along and don't get into mischief. I love the illustrations too. I just wish they weren't so small; it makes it difficult to read these lovely stories to a group of children sitting on the rug in front of you.

Eric Carle is one of my favorite authors. I love all his books and I love his illustrations. I always spend several weeks reading them to my kindergaren classes. They do very well discussing what they notice about his style of illustration and writing.

Whiffle Squeek by Caron Lee Cohen and illustrated by Ted Rand is a favorite that I discovered with Buster when he was little.

There was a cat sailed the Briny deep,

briny deep, briny deep.

There was a cat sailed the briny deep

and his name was Whiffle Squeek.

The music of those words has infected us all and Buddy Boy sometimes makes up songs with the same rhythm. The illustrations are captivating as well.

A book that I am not sure is still around is Sam by Ann Herbert Scott, illustrated by Symeon Shimin. Sam is the youngest child in the family, and when he wants to play everyone is too busy. He finally gets their attention and they show how much they love him. I got this book as a library discard. The pictures are so beautiful I couldn't bear discarding it, but it doesn't have the eye candy appeal of our newer books so it wasn't circulating. It is a gem, regardless. Here is my favorite page.

How about some of your favorites? Post about it, show us a picture, give me a link to your post, or just tell me about it in the comments here. I love to hear about your favorite books!

Catch a Tiger by the Toe

Catch a Tiger by the Toe by Ellen Levine is about an eleven year old girl living in NYC in 1953. She keeps a lot of secrets from her friends and classmates, mostly about her parents’ political opinions and activities. It is the McCarthy era, and having opinions or working for social justice are reason enough to be fired from your job, lose your home, and be called before a congressional committee pressuring you to give names of other Un-American conspirators. The setting and national events are based on fact although the story of Jamie’s family is fictional. The book is written for young adults, but I found it interesting and unsettling. Reading about a period in our history when fear ruled and no one felt safe brought our present politics into new focus. This is a story about bullys, large and small, and how to deal with them with integrity and courage. There is a nice list of further reading resources in the back for those who want to take their research further.

Later, more thoughts...

I had to come back and add a few more comments. Jamie is a likable character drawn from real life. She is the kind of kid I would love to be friends with. There were just a few things she says that seemed odd to me. For one thing, she is eleven and lives in NYC but her parents don’t seem to care what hours she keeps or where she goes. She runs in and out of the apartment without telling anyone anything. When her little brother asks her where she was she just says “Out”. Her parents don’t even notice she was gone. Is it just the paranoid times we live in?

Another thing bugs me. In one passage she is talking about her mother telling her not to talk to strangers and never answer any questions about her family, because of their politics. She says “From that day on I’ve been very careful about strangers. For a couple of years until I was about nine I still had to ask people to cross me at the stop light, but that was it, just “Mister, can you cross me?” Ever since then, I’ve been on the watch. And nobody has ever asked me any questions. Until today, that is.” Is it just me or is that odd? A kid of eight years old wandering around NYC and asking strangers to help her cross the street? Her parents taught her to ask someone to help her? I would expect her parents to teach her to cross on her own when she was old enough, and tell strangers to bug off and keep their hands to themselves, thank you very much. Is it just me?

Fourth of July

Yesterday we went to the parade in my parent’s town, about 10 minutes from our house. We go to this parade every year because it is the best one in our area. When Buster was three we went, and Batman was in the parade. He was carrying a few extra pounds, and Buster said scornfully “That’s not Batman. Batman is not fat.” It was his first disillusionment.

My sister and brother-in-law plan ahead to make it a comfortable event. The parade passes by their church, so they go early and park the van in the best spot of the parking lot along the parade route. They have chairs, a cooler full of drinks, snacks, etc. This year they set up a canopy for shade and rain protection. The weather report said heavy downpours during the afternoon, and the skies were heavy and dark when we set out. We weren’t sure if the parade was going to go on or not. When we got there I felt so good joining the party gathered under the canopy. It is so wonderful to be part of a big family, welcomed inside the shelter of shared resources and knowing that there will always be others who save you a spot.

Buster was with his dad, down in center city at the big celebrations. They like to go there every year but I prefer the small town gatherings closer to home. So it was just me and the little boys with our chair and stroller and umbrellas hiking across the parking lot to our group. Buddy boy remembered the parade from last year and every time we drive by that intersection he mentions the fire engines and marching bands and the candy thrown by politicians and asks when we can do that again. His birthday is also in July and somehow that has gotten connected in his mind to the fireworks and parade, so he thinks it happens for his birthday. He has been looking forward to this and talking about it for weeks.

Since we got there plenty early we had some time to wait for the parade to start. The rain started just as we arrived, and there was thunder and lightening on the horizon. The street was lined with folks in their chairs and umbrellas, all determined to wait it out. It was quite cozy and festive, with everyone wearing their red, white and blue and campaign volunteers passing out balloons and stickers, working the crowd for a visual welcome of the marching candidates. Police were patrolling, suggesting that folks take shelter from the lightening but reassuring everyone that the storm was passing and the parade was still on. We stayed put just like everyone else. Punkin was in a very cheerful mood, smiling at all our neighbors and playing with the balloons and hanging onto my knees. He loved everything in the whole wide world and I was delighted to sit there and adore him. Finally the sound of distant drumming and the flash of the first fire trucks coming around the bend!

Parades are pretty predictable when you think about it. It goes: fire trucks, soldiers, marching bands, politicians, fire trucks, soldiers, marching bands, politicians, etc., for two hours. But we love to see it all! Our first responders, our soldiers, our musicians, our political leaders! It makes us feel warm and safe. And happy! We had the governor and our congressmen and women and all their political partners and everyone running against them in the fall, marching and smiling and waving. I admit I get a kick out of seeing IRL the folks who are in the news every day. It makes TV seem more real or something.

We had an Elvis too. He was wearing his baby blue rhinestone outfit and singing Love Me Tender. He was carrying a few extra pounds, as he should be at his age. There were some teenagers sitting on the curb just in front of me, and the girls started screaming

“OMG!! It’s Elvis! OMG!!! My grandma should be here!!
OMG!! He’s singing Love Me Tender!! OMG!!! My grandma should be

Right after him the Harley Davidson motorcycle drill team came through, and the nice police officer had to tell the teenagers to move up off the curb a little. He came by three times to tell them to move back but the boys didn’t actually take their feet out of the street until the Harleys actually started streaming by 10 inches from their faces. They moved back into the street immediately when the cycles moved down. Risk-takers.

After the Harleys we had the librarian book cart drill team. They were jammin’ and having a ball. They gave out free books to all the kids. Punkin got a paperback of poetry by Jack Prelutsky and he chewed a big hunk out of the middle. Buddy Boy got one about daddy long legs spiders, which is a subject he is fascinated by.

The sun came out sometime in the middle, while the string bands played and it got pretty hot. I used my umbrella to shade the baby because we were sitting under the edge of the canopy and didn’t have shade. He was tired and sticky and grouchy by then. Buddy Boy was sitting up in the tailgate with his teenage cousin and her boyfriend for most of the parade. They were enjoying sharing the parade with him and comforting him when the soldiers shot off their guns with loud bangs, and urging him down to the curb to catch candy whenever it was thrown. For a while at the beginning he sat in my mom’s lap. I felt so grateful to have a family to share this with, other laps and arms and excitement for my kids. Sometimes when we are home on a rainy day and it is just me with the little boys I feel inadequate and small, thinking of how much they need and how foolish and weak I can be. Having good neighbors, a great community, and especially a family that is always there for us are tremendous blessings. That is what I love about this holiday.

After the parade we gathered up our trash and all our stuff and packed into the cars and drove over to my parent’s house for a cookout. It is amazing how tired you get just sitting and watching a parade. We were all exhausted. Keeping the kids out of trouble at the grandparent’s house isn’t easy either! We got off with only one temper tantrum though, and I managed to catch all the plates with knives that Punkin was about to pull down on his head. We went home before the fireworks. The boys are too young for it, IMO, and loud noises scare them still so I am happy to skip it. We put Punkin to bed and Buddy Boy and I went out to light sparklers.

Our neighbor Jo gave a bunch of them to Buddy Boy the other day, so we went over and knocked on her door to share the lighting with her and her friend. She has three boa constrictors and two turtles, so Buddy loves her. Buddy enjoyed the sparklers and visiting the reptiles, and then he went to bed easily and was asleep in 5 minutes, in spite of the neighborhood fireworks going off all night. Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

What Book are You?

Huh. Now I have a new book to read, cause I never heard of this one.

I found the quiz at Saints and Spinners.

You're Pale Fire!

by Vladimir Nabokov

You're really into poetry and the interpretation thereof. Along the
road of life, you have had several identity crises which make it very unclear who you
are, let alone how to interpret poetry. You probably came from a foreign country, but
then again you seem foreign to everyone in ways unrelated to immigration. Most people
think you're quite funny, but maybe you're just sick. Talking to you ends up being much
like playing a round of the popular board game Clue.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Need Books for Kids?

To continue giving you tracks of my Sunday morning blogging, here is a librarian's list of great kids' books:

A Fuse #8 Production: The Top 25 American Children's Books Written In the Last 25 Years

I know you have been wondering what I am reading, since I haven't blogged about it all week. Well, the truth is I am spending all my time blogging. Oh dear.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

My Assignment

Oooohh this is fun! It's like school or something!

Sandy asked for refreshment. Suntea!!! With some fresh mint... and lots of ice. I like to sit in the sunroom and look out at the trees in my backyard.

Kohana wanted to see the tree outside my window... this is the windowseat in my room, where I love to daydream.

Carolie wanted to see my favorite cooking stuff - it's my wok, chopsticks and blue dishes. The teapot and wooden spoons, etc. come in close second. I love to make Chinese chicken and broccoli or pork and peppers. I didn't have those in the fridge so I had to use tomatoes and mint, which I also love.

Sheri asked for something I made, so here is one of the baby quilts I made for my sons.

Susan asked for some of my favorite children's' books. That is a tough one because there are so many! I will have to work on that one.