Thursday, October 16, 2014

Surly *cough wheeze* Thursday

Things that are making me surly this week:

1) This goddamned never-ending plague of never-endingness. I'm grateful that I got through Matt's school reunion and the wedding and Blissdom before I got sick, but I would VERY MUCH like to be DONE BEING SICK NOW, please. I just talked to my recovering-from-abdominal-surgery-sister who I didn't visit after Blissdom because I felt the plague coming on and didn't want to introduce it into her open wound, and I had to hang up because I eventually couldn't get any words out in between the hacking. My voice sounds like I've been swallowing sandpaper due to sucking on my inhaler every half hour (it sounds something like this). And the snot, god, the snot - is there an actual god of snot? Oh look, here's a Japanese storm god born from the snot of his creator's dripping nostril. Maybe that's why it's been rainy and dark all damned week. 

2) It's been rainy and dark all damned week. I was at physio today and the chirpy sugar-averse physio tech was rhapsodizing about we need the rain to wash everything clean. Stow it, sister, my hair looks like I've been combing it with the same sandpaper that wrecked my voice, and the fall leaves are all wet and sad lying on the street. 

3) I think the rain and snot have sludged up my memory beyond repair. I either forget to put on deodorant or forget that I HAVE put on deodorant and put it on five times - so I'm spending four times as much money on deodorant and I STILL smell less-than-fresh half the time. Also, yesterday I made tea for me and Pam and I put milk in hers and then I put milk in mine, to keep her company or maintain a nice symmetry or something, not because I WANTED milk in my tea. Then I kept forgetting there was milk in it and drinking it and wondering why it tasted weird. 

4) I think I'm adversely affecting the books I'm reading. I've been trying to read this, by an author whose previous two books were really good. The fourth night I picked it up, I realized I wanted to do anything else in the world but read this book - like, things involving garbage, or rats, or algebra. So I put it down. And then I read this, which seemed like it should be right up my alley, and all I could think was that I was SO SICK of books about family members keeping secrets from other family members and only giving hints enough to make damned sure that the person will do whatever they have to to find out what the secret is and then horror, panic, tragedy, the end. Of course, I also get really annoyed by books when someone keeps a secret and whoever finds out the secret is enraged that the secret was kept and swears that they'll never forgive the secret-keeper, because usually there's a perfectly good reason for the secret being kept and chances are you have secrets of your own so take a freaking breath and stop being so judgey.

5) I can't decide how I feel about secrets.

6) My PVR recorded Castle instead of Forever on Monday. Okay, I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel now. There are probably more things that are clearly and justifiably surly-making, but I've forgotten them. I'm pretty sure I'm wearing deodorant, though. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Newbery Medal Series)

I flat-out adored this book - I wanted to kiss its whole face. It's also the first one I've read where I really think the committee totally shit the bed on the whole "children are the audience" part of the criteria. As one Goodreads reviewer aptly put it, "the story is subtle as heck". It is so subtle - it is woven together out of hints and echoes and allusions. There were things I didn't catch until my second reading, and I am generally no slouch in the catching-things department (okay, I very often am a slouch in the catching-things department, but things like irony, and when something is a flashback in a tv show, which a lot of people have issues with, they really shouldn't be allowed to show flashbacks without the "5 years ago" tag, it's too confusing).

The criss cross reference is to the paths of the many pre-adolescent characters converging, diverging, glancing off of each other and sometimes failing entirely to meet. It is also the name of a radio program a few of the characters listen to while sitting in someone's father's truck on Sunday evenings - the radio program is clearly referencing the movie Strangers on a Train, but none of the characters know this; the program is about juxtaposition - unusual music, humorous skits and "what do you get when you cross a (something) with a (something else)? jokes", which is a beautiful little microcosm of the whole book, but has nothing to do with any of them murdering anyone.

A Midsummer Night's Dream is also a strong undercurrent - Dan, a football-playing character who sometimes acts like a decent human being and often is a mean or rude ass, who Perkins likens to Nick Bottom, the weaver who is turned into a donkey in the play. She says he is "under a spell, conferred by a magic jersey and a powerful potion of lucky genes and emerging hormones", and speculates whether he will "learn certain lessons, involving humility, compassion, respect, and independent thinking", or "remain a large, furry, willfully stupid animal". At Seldem Days, a sort of town fair, Dan shows up with Meadow, crushing the dreams of Hector, a sweet and thoughtful character who takes guitar lessons in a church basement with Dan and Meadow and had been hoping to connect with her himself. Dan is casually cruel to Hector, and then looks at another character with disdain. The next passage reads "There was a barely perceptible subdermal movement near his tailbone. There was a slight bray in his voice.     It was all still reversible." I don't want to underestimate ten-to-twelve-year-olds, but am I wrong in thinking this is pitched just a little too esoterically? If the play had been performed somewhere, or discussed, even, it would be different. But it isn't. 

It's almost like Perkins was so determined to craft a whimsical, tender, poignant coming-of-age story that she throws every stirring, lovely weapon in her arsenal at it - there are Conversations in the Dark, there is a Japanese Chapter in which there are many haikus - Hector goes into a sponge state and has a satori in the first damned chapter! 

I loved it all. I love the scene where Debbie and Patty strip to their underwear in the secret space made by a rhododendron bush and use smuggled seam-rippers to lengthen their bell-bottoms while the rain is "softly piffing on the leaves all around", because their mothers are "stranded in the backwaters of a bygone era" and "You could argue and argue, but they weren’t going to get it. At some point you just had to go change your clothes in a bush.”

I love the missed moment between Debbie and her mother, where Debbie is trying to tell her mother how lost and empty she feels after her brief, sweet first love experience, and her mother might have told her about the boy who bought her all the dog figurines in the box in the closet, but instead "their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room," and her mother went to see whether she had turned off the burner under the hard-boiled eggs.

I love the missed moment between Debbie and Hector, when Hector gives Debbie back her necklace, which has traveled through various ways and means throughout the town and through many pockets, and they both see the new person the other has become that summer, but not at the same moment - "their moments were separated by about a second. Maybe only half a second. Their paths crossed, but they missed each other. The hardworking necklace couldn't believe it. It let out an inaudible, exasperated gasp.”

Yep, you read that right - at the last, the necklace becomes suddenly sentient. It's a ridiculous, glorious mess. I loved it, but to me it reads like a kids' book written for adults. I am unutterably grateful that it did win the Newbery Medal, though, (in 2006, I forgot to check until just now - although it reads like it takes place in the 70s), otherwise I likely never would have come across it. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Some Witty Banter With Your Curry?

So I should totally be throwing up a new Newbery Medal Post, or blogging about Blissdom, but my cold sort of suspended itself for the week-end and then came rushing back full force when I got home (not complaining, really it was the best I could hope for) and I've read more Newbery books but I don't feel equipped to post much more than "um, good" or "meh", or "my physiotherapist thinks it's taken me a month to read The Cricket in Times Square because I only read it at Physio because it's light enough to hold in one hand - I think she suspects that I'm simple". And tonight we had one of those great family dinners that made me remember why I force us to have family dinners so I'm going to take the easy way out.

Matt: "I registered you for Take Your Kid to Work Day on November 5th"
Angus: "Why did you have to register me?"
Photo by Didriks
Matt: "I don't know. Something about safety concerns."
Angus: "What - they're afraid I might die of boredom?"

Eve: "Was it a convention you were at?"
Me: "A conference."
Eve: "That makes it sound like you were sitting around at a table with people in suits saying (in stodgy half-British accent): 'We do blogs. It's going very well. We should keep doing blogs'"
Me: "It was nothing like that. Okay, it was a tiny bit like that."

Matt: "Have you heard of this new game called Bubble Soccer?"
Angus: "Yeah! We saw some people playing it on the way to lunch."
Me and Eve: "Huh?"
Angus: "You have this giant plastic ball around your legs and body so you can run into people and not get hurt."
Me: "OMG, I want to play Bubble Soccer!'
Eve: "Never mind soccer, you should only ever play Bubble Anything."
Me: "Hey!"
Eve: "Weren't you just at physio for a gardening injury?"
Me: "Okay, fair enough."

Angus: "Can we go do a baseball workout after supper?"
Matt: "Sure."
Me: "They seem to really be working, you've been playing really well."
Angus: "Yep."
Matt: "I'm going to get you a t-shirt that says My Dad's Not Actually a Moron."
Angus: "Then I'll dislocate my shoulders from having to whip it off so many times." (The catchphrase for whenever Matt says something dumb is now "Take off the shirt". That's right, we've evolved a new family catchphrase SINCE DINNER.)

Me: "So you saw Annabel while I was away? How was it?"
Angus "SCARY AS F....UDGE!"
Matt: "Did you hold David's hand?"
Angus: "He wouldn't let go of my arm! It was scary because you could relate to it! It wasn't about demons or ghosts - there are dolls IN THIS HOUSE! I slept with all my lights on!"

I shouldn't position a doll so it's staring at Angus when he wakes up tomorrow, right? That would be mean, right?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Some things that happened in September

School started. My kids wore this on their first day.

I wanted Eve to wear this.
But I didn't insist on it. I feel pretty good about that.

Three week-ends ago, we went to our friends' cottage. There was a difference of opinion on whether or not it was still swimming weather.

My son was allowed in the knife-throwing gang even though he didn't wear the requisite navy blue hoodie. 

He also took a sharp left turn in the backpack department. He told me which website to go to, picked a black one, then suddenly said "no, wait - get that one". The colour is called "Coral Peaches Wild At Heart". And he uses it every day. 

When the kids went back to school, I started trying to organize some stuff around the house. First, I tackled the cookbook cabinet.

I could have sworn that we'd only lived here since 1999, but apparently I was wrong - clearly we moved in sometime during the 1950s.

hat if you don't care about making it attractive? Even LESS of a limit?

I could have sworn I blogged about the time in the spring when I came home from the one goddamned time I was out when my mom delivered Eve home after school, only to realize that this meant my mom went downstairs into my laundry room to put the frozen fruit she had brought me from Costco in the freezer. 

Unless you have a mother like mine, and a freezer like mine in a laundry room like mine, you can't possibly understand the terror this struck into my heart. I looked at Eve and she nodded sympathetically and said " 'the ice around the sides is THIS THICK. You can't even MOVE the basket! This hasn't been defrosted in YEARS'. I think you're going to be getting a call."

So I defrosted that motherfucker like....a motherfucker. 

...leading to one of my most-liked Facebook statuses of all time.

Two week-ends ago, we went to Toronto for a reunion of the weird little class my husband was with in his high school semester at the Ontario Science Centre. We drove down Friday, and we were supposed to check into our hotel and then immediately leave for a restaurant downtown. I was tired. We got to the hotel and I saw this:
Then I rechecked the agenda and saw that the evening's activities were supposed to include board games. I pecked my husband on the cheek, grabbed a double handful of Michael Marshall Smith and ordered room service. It was blissful.

The next day we went to the Science Centre and hung out and had dinner with a bunch of fun, goofy, geeky, hyper-intelligent people. 
(several of whom also had very nice racks).

On the Sunday, we were at a brunch at my husband's former girlfriend's house (not as awkward as it sounds). At one point, we were joking about how we both always forget our anniversary. Someone asked when it was. I said "September 21st". We kept talking for a moment, and then I said "it's totally September 21st today, isn't it" and she said "It is, but I was going to be cool about it."

Last week-end we went to Port Sydney for my husband's cousins wedding. We got home and my husband left for North Carolina and I got a cold and tonight I was making Angus's strawberry/blueberry smoothie for the morning and spilled the most extravagant purply-red spill all over the entire freaking kitchen (Angus said "I'll have toast"). And this week-end I am going to Blissdom, which will be wonderful, as soon as I get less sniffly and do some laundry so I have enough clean underwear to be blissful. There will be Hannah, and Nicole, and lentils (mixed somewhat bizarrely with carnivals), and if there are board games, well, I can always go read in my room.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to wash the blueberries off my feet. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Newbery Medal Winner Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell was the 1961 Newbery Medal winner. I had seen it on library and bookstore shelves many times but never read it. The shocker for me when I flipped the last page was that it's based on a true story, about a girl who was alone on an island along the California coast for nearly TWENTY FREAKING YEARS. I also hadn't realized that there was a sequel, published sixteen years later, which takes place after the original protagonist has left the island and features her niece.

I do feel like this was written in a way that would be effective for a younger audience. The language is quite simple, and although the story is affecting (twenty years! Alone! On an island!), I sometimes found myself wishing for a bit more complexity. There would definitely be much to discuss if this book was taught in a classroom setting.

Nicole mentioned that she tended to read books with female main characters when she was younger - well, here you go. Not only is she the main character, for most of the book she's the ONLY character. Many of her people (the Ghalas-at) are killed off by a rival tribe (the Aleuts) near the beginning of the story. She illustrates that the women of her tribe are very capable, picking up the slack when many of the men have been killed: “During this time other women were gathering the scarlet apples that grow on the cactus bushes and are called tunas. Fish were caught and many birds were netted. So hard did the women work that we really fared better than before when the hunting was done by the men. OH SNAP - take that, you patriarchal aboriginal dudes.

A ship of white men comes to help the tribe move, but the protagonist, Karana, realizes her younger brother has been left behind and leaves the ship to retrieve him. The ship leaves, and her brother is subsequently killed by wild dogs (I have no idea if this part is true - if it isn't, the author is kind of a bastard). So she hangs out, gathering food, learning how to build stuff (this statement rang so true for me: “I had seen the weapons made, but I knew little about it. I had seen my father sitting in the hut o winter nights scraping the wood for the shafts, chipping the stones for the tips, and tying the feathers, yet I had watched him and really seen nothing. I had watched, but not with the eye of one who would ever do it.”)
Photo by David McSpadden

She also has to fight off wild dogs, one of whom she eventually tames. She develops a special relationship with many animals on the island (again, this might be pure sentimental fantasy on the part of the author, although the man who 'rescued' her did say she was found living in a hut with a dog). At one point the Aleuts come back to hunt for sea otter, and she stays hidden from them but meets a girl who is traveling with them, and has a friend for a very short while. 

I like that Karana is such a strong, capable character, methodically going about using the skills she has and developing ones she needs to keep herself safe, fed and sheltered. 

It's a strange book. In a way it was like watching Castaway, that Tom Hanks movie - you can't conceive of spending hours watching or reading one person's lonely years like that. And then you do, and it's over, and you feel weird.  


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pain is Inevitable. Suffering is Optional.

Photo by Boemski
I've been going to physiotherapy twice a week, with exceedingly bad grace. Back in the spring, Matt was run off his feet between work and baseball, so I did all the backyard clean-up and gardening myself. My left arm was sore afterwards, but I assumed it was just normal-exercise-sore, like after weight-lifting, and waited for it to get better. It didn't. Every time I lifted something, even a glass of water or a book, with my left hand, burning needles shot down my left forearm. I waited until the kids went back to school and booked an appointment. While I was there, I figured I'd also get my physiotherapist to have a look at my right shoulder, which I hurt while working many, many years ago when we were too poor and carless to bother with any medical appointment that wasn't an emergency.

Yes, please ask me how badass I felt sitting there explaining my two injuries as "over-exuberant gardening" and "old bookstore injury". I thought about making something up, but I didn't manage to put the finishing touches on my Merchant Marines story before my first appointment.

Photo by Tangled Frog
It's a drag. It takes four times as long as a chiropractor appointment, and I already have trouble fitting those in. I love my physiotherapist, but the technician she had when I went for my knee is on maternity leave, so she has a new one, who I do not love. She's young, and Eastern European, and has some very strong and, to me, quite objectionable views on feminism, and animal and insect rights and whether it's permissible to shake someone's can of Coke without their knowledge when you object to the drinking of Coke on the grounds that it is 'poisoning yourself'. I think it would be a waste of time to get into a debate with her about any of these issues, but the ten minutes while she's applying ultrasound therapy to my brachialis go very, very slowly. Then there's the fact that the deep massage to break up inflammation actually makes both arms hurt more coming out than they did going in. In theory, I'm all for short-term pain for long-term gain. In practice, it kind of bites.

So I was there on Tuesday. It was crowded. I was sitting with ice strapped around my left bicep and heat laid over my right shoulder, reading The Genie of Sutton Place because I can only read small, light books during treatment, and I was looking for this because it's a Newbery book, but saw The Genie and realized I haven't read it since I was about ten, even though it's one of the awesomest things I've ever read, so I took that instead.

I was startled from my reading by a gruff, old man's voice booming "This must be a miserable place to work!" Someone asked him why he would say that, and he bellowed "No one's smiling!"

My first thought was Dude, why would anyone be smiling? This is the opposite of fun.

Then I looked around. Across the aisle from me was an extremely fit-looking woman with a perfectly cut bob, lying on her stomach with suction cups on her back. Beside me was a teen-ager in booty shorts (said without disapproval - if I looked like that in booty shorts I would be sitting here typing this wearing booty shorts) with acupuncture needles in her lower back, texting on her phone. From behind a curtain, I could see a strong-looking physio guy with a shaved head massaging someone's foot. Suddenly it seemed like this sweet, tender tableau of human bodily frailty. We were all there, alive, trying to feel better, headed in the right direction.
Photo by エン バルドマン

And at that moment, everyone was smiling.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Newbery Medal Winner The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

The Door in the Wall is copyrighted 1949 and won the Newbery Medal in 1950 (oh hey, I believe I'm sensing a pattern here.)

Goodreads synopsis: The bells clang above plague-ridden London as Robin lies helpless, cold, and hungry. The great house is empty, his father is fighting the Scots in the north, his mother is traveling with the Queen, and the servants have fled. He calls for help but only the stones hear his cries. Suddenly someone else is in the house, coming towards Robin. It is Brother Luke, a wandering friar, who takes Robin to St. Mark's Monastery, where he will be cared for until his father sends for him.

At last, a message comes--Robin is to meet his father at Castle Lindsay. The journey is dangerous, and the castle is located near the hostile Welsh border. Perched high in the hills, the castle appears invincible. But it is not. Under the cover of a thick fog the Welsh attack the castle. And Robin is the only one who can save it.

Insofar as I can put myself in the place of a child in the late 1940s or early 1950s, this seems like a solid choice for the award. It is certainly informative about medieval England, but not in a dry or didactic way, and it has quite overtly religious overtones, but that isn't terribly surprising for the time. Above all, though, it is a coming-of-age story with a good degree of adventure and excitement.

The character of Brother Luke, the monk who becomes Robin's guardian and friend, is lovely, and much of his advice would not go amiss when given to children even today: that busy hands make time pass more quickly; that when things look bad you should still be thankful for what you have; that you should get enough rest so "weariness shall not give thee excuse for discouragement" (i.e. you will not get frustrated whittling and fling a chisel at Brother Matthew's head); and that if you follow any wall far enough, you will find a door in it.

Robin himself is a well-drawn character as well, and follows a satisfying path from spoiled, petulant nobleman's son to confident, brave knight's apprentice. As you might expect, women in the book are largely relegated to cooking, weeping and sitting on thrones or hiding in inner rooms when castles are under attack.

Photo by cmh2315fl
Marguerite de Angeli - who wrote and also illustrated - sounds like a lovely woman. This is from her Newbery Award Acceptance Speech (I didn't even knew there were acceptance speeches - I'm really learning as I go here): "...I have always wanted to draw and to write. Even now, I can remember the way it felt to be walking home from school in the small Michigan town where I was born, arm in arm with a school girlfriend, only half listening to her chatter because I was dreaming of something else; wondering how I could put down in words the sheer joy in living which filled me to bursting, or how I could draw the moving shadows, the sunlight sifting through the leaves, the tree branches against the white house, or the stream of boys and girls themselves. How could I grasp that shining and elusive 'something' which was away and beyond, yet was within me, and fairly lifting me off the earth? How could I, all at once, do the many things I wanted to do? I wanted to sew grown-up clothes for my doll, I wanted to make hats, I wanted to learn what we used to call 'recitation,' and I wanted to sing. What to do first?"

From what I can see, she wrote upwards of twenty books, of which I have read.... this one. I'm thinking I might have to check out Yonie Wondernose, though.