Back, for one night only…

I hope it won’t actually be one night only, but it probably will be one night for a good while.

Recent life events (since March):

  • Took a family summer road trip to St. Louis, Chicago, and Holland, MI.
  • Got a job (this is kind of the main one) as a school library media specialist in Harford County
  • Learned how to return to being a two-working-parent family.

Blogging has gone by the wayside, and that’s actually been a conscious decision that I’m pretty happy with. But I don’t want to completely slam the door on it (not least because I want to find a way to incorporate more online communication tools at work), and I’ve wanted to add a post for a few days.

Here are some thoughts that have occupied me recently:

  • Discerning which tasks at work and at home are actually the most important and starting with those.
    • As an aside, I’m really happy with my laundry management system, adapted from one I heard about from Holly Dvorak at controlmyspin.com. She suggests doing one load of laundry each day from start to finish (instead of having “laundry day”). Given our schedule, I try to do a load from middle to middle (I have the kids put away clothes, fold clothes from the dryer, start another load, and get that load in the dryer before bed), and that has worked very well.
  • Worrying about violence and injustice in our state and around the world. And what a Christian response might look like.
  • Trying to keep reading (not easy).
  • Trying to keep having fun with my kids.
  • Trying to keep everyone fed.

It’s been a pretty narrow focus, but good overall. Before I go, here are some books I’ve enjoyed this summer and fall (you’ll notice fewer picture books this time around):

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED this one. It was so fast-paced, and yet Weir explained enough of the science (or at least, the possible science) to make it believable and understandable. Mark Watney is a great character; I found myself laughing out loud even while he was trying to solve life-and-death problems. And I’m excited that they are making a movie!
Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really liked this one. The illustration style reminds me of The Snowy Day, and it was just a nice story about a boy riding the bus with his Grandmother, and learning about why they do things the way they do…and learning to enjoy them. Plus, knitting!
Stolen Magic (Kat, Incorrigible, #3)Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved, loved, loved this last book of the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. I did get a little tired with Kat always thinking she has everything figured out and acting before thinking, but I finally realized I couldn’t always trust her judgments and, after all, she’s only 13. Still lots of fun to see the manners-driven Regency period with magic overlaid. And I always love Kat’s interactions with her family.
Mars EvacueesMars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like sci-fi at all, this book is absolutely fabulous. In many ways, it’s pure space opera for kids, complete with explosions and interplanetary travel. But it’s definitely got parts that touch on deeper subjects, including the nature of war, understanding “others,” and what makes people into friends. I also love the many funny parts (the robot Goldfish teacher who will not be deterred from its mission is a particular favorite) and that the kids are so obviously kids, not miniature adults. I loved it.

P.S. There is a good amount of cursing (mild, in the grand scheme, but not stuff I’d want my kids saying), so I’d keep this for 4th or 5th grade and up.
Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

HILARIOUS. Also quite scary in some parts, at least for those like me who aren’t up for very scary stories. Skulduggery Pleasant is a walking skeleton (he wasn’t always like that) detective, who teams up with Irish twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgeley to prevent the end of the world. He’s got a dry sense of humor, an overinflated ego, and a strong sense of duty. Stephanie is stubborn, troublesome, and insightful. They make a cracker-jack team. The audiobook was pure pleasure to listen to.
Greenglass HouseGreenglass House by Kate Milford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is my favorite (so far) of this year’s Black-Eyed Susan crop. It has a cozy atmosphere, but there’s plenty of intrigue to keep the plot moving, and gamers will enjoy the large role that a role-playing game plays. Milo and his parents run an inn in a town known for smugglers (they have regular “runners” who stay there), but a whole host of strangers show up just as the Pine family is preparing for their usual Christmas lull. Milo and a new friend, Meddy, decide to figure out what everyone’s up to, aided by their newly created gaming personas. There’s a twist I certainly didn’t seem coming, but I’m sure many other readers will.
The Boy on the Wooden BoxThe Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Listened to this as one of our Black Eyed Susans for the year. What I felt set this particular Holocaust memoir apart was the large amount of reflection that Leyson incorporated at every step of his story. He would tell us what he felt but also what was causing that feeling, or why it might seem strange to today’s readers. He also gave a helpful accounting of why more Jews didn’t flee Europe (they were basing their actions on recollections from WWI; many of them had no resources with which to leave).
The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party (The Princess in Black, #2)The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon Hale

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This arrived just in time for our Halloween Princess in Black to grab it off the library shelf. We all loved it. The kids especially loved that, with more monsters to fight (poor Princess Magnolia’s monster alarm keeps going off during her birthday party), there were more princess-y fight scenes to read at the top of their lungs. I think they also liked the other princesses’ names. For those interested, Ms. Hale posted an epilogue that had to get cut from the final edit on her blog: http://oinks.squeetus.com/2015/10/bon….

View all my reviews

Well, that’s all for now, folks.

 

Stockings hung, Christmas cards in progress…all is normal

Well, not all is normal, but that’s just because flu (mild, thankfully) has struck the house this week. The Christmas cards still being in progress on the 7th day of Christmas, though, is perfectly normal.

Before discussing Christmas cards, I must share that I got both stockings I was knitting done in time to hang for Christmas Eve! Yay!! I still have to go back and weave in all the ends and block the red one, but it held Santa’s presents, which is all that really matters as far as the stocking’s owner is concerned.

knit stockings

Now about those Christmas cards…every year, I plan to do them early (well, earlier…early for us would be to have them all in the mail by Christmas Eve). And every year, I never get them done in time. A large part of the problem is procrastination on my part, but another issue includes the relatively large number of cards I try to send each year: we’re up to about 140 this year, and that’s not including new congregation members. I decided to give myself a pass on them until next year, mainly because my Christmas card apparatus just did not have an extra 50 or so cards and addresses built in and I have to draw a line for sanity’s sake somewhere.

Every year, I also question whether or not I really want to do Christmas cards. It’s another “thing to do,” and it’s one that easily fits into the “not absolutely necessary” category. It takes a long time, between tracking down address changes, ordering cards (I use photo cards), having cards sent to the wrong place (ok, that was just this year), writing a Christmas newsletter, and signing/addressing/mailing. Then, I have long since given up handwriting more than our signatures and at most a line or two on each card, and gone the “photo card with enclosed newsletter” route, which I know many people (including my husband) feel are not in the true spirit of Christmas cards. But every year, I decide I still want to send cards, and to do it this way, and here’s why:

  1. It’s one chance to keep in touch with just about everyone in my address book. In fact, even though I bought a lovely new address book this year, I have yet to actually fill it in, because most of my addresses are on the Christmas card spreadsheet. As much as Facebook can help with keeping in touch, it doesn’t beat snail mail. An ongoing goal of mine is to write more actual letters, but this is one chance to make sure I send out at least a little bit of snail mail each year.
  2. I like Christmas newsletters. I know that many find they are at best tacky and at worst a canvas for bragging and one-upmanship, but I differ. I don’t have the stomach to write the same pieces of news out by hand 140 times, nor do I expect my friends to. But I still like to hear what’s going on in other people’s lives, and I enjoy reading any newsletter updates when they arrive. So I’m going to keep sending them until I either here from someone who genuinely hates ours (in which case, I probably just won’t enclose the newsletter next year) or my husband takes over the bulk of Christmas card preparation (unlikely).
  3. I like those photo cards, too. Similarly, I think they let you personalize your cards without handwriting cramp, and I like seeing visual reminders of our friends and, for those with kids, how the kids are growing and changing.
  4. I prefer sending imperfect cards to no cards at all. Miss Manners would probably disapprove of my assembly-line Christmas cards (especially since this year I went and bought printable labels–but MAN has that been a help once I got the printing alignment right!), but if I didn’t do Christmas cards this way, I wouldn’t do them at all right now. And I like doing them.

With all that said, I do think Christmas cards should only be sent if the sender enjoys sending them. They are a lot of time investment, and December is a month with enough time commitments already. But for now, I’m going to keep sending Christmas cards–and reminding myself that Christmas is a twelve-day season in which to get them out!

Farewell, dear Durham

We have been living in Maryland for just about 3 months now, and I’m just getting around to my good-bye to Durham post. Part of this is because of the busy-ness of the summer and new school year, but some of it has been mental block. I think I’ve gotten to where I can finish it up, though.

House #1 in the winter

House #1 in the winter

House #2 in the winter.

House #2 in the winter.

Of my 32 years, I spent the last 8 in Durham–one-quarter of my life, and over half of my adult life. This may end up being a fairly small blip, depending on where I spend the rest of my years (I certainly hope it has the potential to become a blip!), but right now, in this season of my life, it’s a major part of my experience. It was also a fairly eventful 8 years. During our time in Durham, we bought our first two houses (and sold one of them), earned 2 masters’ degrees and most of a doctorate between us, and had three children. We both had our first professional jobs. We started going to a church because that’s where Mark worked, and ended up with a church family who watched us grow, welcomed our children with us, and let us challenge them and be challenged to grow by them. We made a group of friends that I hope we will keep in touch with for the rest of our lives.

P1020373

I thought I would do a “favorite places” post, and I’m going to go ahead with that, with a few caveats. The first is that when I think “Durham” (at least, from here in Maryland), I’m really thinking about the whole Triangle area, and not all of the places I’m including are even there. The second is that I know I will miss some. These happen to be the places that I am missing the most right now (and they are in no particular order):

  • New Hope Presbyterian Church. We are starting to get to know our new church family, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still missing our old one. I learned so much here about being part of a church, even though we never officially joined. So many of our friends are here. Every church has its strengths; theirs are a love of music and worship and a strong sense of community. When we started going there, I wouldn’t have necessarily recommended them to families with kids, but now I can whole-heartedly–just remember that you’ll have to give your gifts to the church, too. If you happen to be looking for a church in the Durham-Chapel Hill area, I recommend that you visit New Hope!
  • NC Museum of Life and Science. I didn’t even know about this place (not really), until our son was almost one, so almost 3 years into our time in Durham. But I can’t imagine the following 5 years without it, and I miss it very much. We always visited at least some of the animals, and my kids knew most of the farm animals by name. I don’t know that there’s any other museum quite like it–both committed to learning for all ages and just plain fun.
    A now long-ago day at the Life and Science Museum.

    A now long-ago day at the Life and Science Museum.

     

  • North Carolina Zoo. Yep, not in the Triangle at all. But such a fabulous zoo, well worth the car trip. We made a point to go there several times a year because we joined as members, but I think becoming members ended up giving us excuses to go somewhere we loved anyway. We’ve recently visited the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, and it was fun, but it just doesn’t compare to the NC Zoo in terms of attractive, large habitats for their animals (although to be fair to the MD Zoo, they are making LOTS of improvements from when I was a kid) and a beautiful natural setting to put it all. [AHH!! I just went to put the link in, and saw that they now have LION CUBS!! If you live in NC, I am officially charging you to go admire them for us.]
    Seals.

    Seals.

    Giraffes!

    Giraffes!

  • Hillsborough Yarn Shop. One of those places I liked to go for myself, and what will forever be the (probably too-high) standard for how I judge yarn shops. They are always friendly and helpful and always welcoming of my sometimes-crazy kids. One of the things I liked most about them is that they stuck to their mission of providing only natural fibers, but were willing to help me find quality materials within my budget–or simply learn how to make things with yarn from my stash.
  • Duke Gardens. I remember this as one of the first beautiful places I found in Durham, and I have a very happy memory from my time in library school of going there for the afternoon just to read with a good friend. The Gardens also became a fun place to take the kids and the pick-up spot for our many CSA deliveries. It was another good place to go if we just needed to get outside.Photo069
  • Sparta, NC. Way out from the Triangle, but one of the places that connects my childhood with my kids’. I loved going here during summer vacations to visit with my extended family, and we were lucky during our time in Durham to go out and visit my aunt and uncle several times a year. I know we will still return to Sparta (and Durham!) many times in the future, but I miss being able to do it, realistically, in a weekend.P1030814

As I said, I’m leaving out a lot. I didn’t mention any restaurants (too many to choose from, with different reasons for loving different favorites), or any universities (three of which we have close family ties to, now). But we miss a lot of places, and especially people, in Durham.

In the last two weeks, I’ve started to feel more settled and at home here in Forest Hill. The start of the school year and getting back into familiar routines has definitely helped with that.  So, of course, has time passing and giving us a chance to explore our new town. I’m sure we will continue to get to know and love this part of Maryland (and remember favorite places in other parts of Maryland), but I just wanted a chance to note how much Durham has come to mean to us over the past 8 years.

So farewell, dear Durham. We miss you a lot, we look forward to visiting in the future, and we will always cherish our 8 years with you.

Still getting back into things…

Obviously, the plan to blog more hasn’t panned out yet. We started the school year, which has made life busier as we adjust schedules, and I’ve gotten hung up on my good-bye post to Durham. Hopefully I’ll have that one up in the next week, and I have a couple others in the works, but in the meantime, you can read my latest for YALSA’s The Hub:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/09/09/no-tense-like-the-present/

Hope you like it! And I hope I’ll be back soon…

Life and other complications

Well, my writing New Year’s resolution has completely gone out the window. February was a busy month. My husband traveled to Maryland and passed his commissioning exams with the Methodist church. Hooray! This means we are moving to Maryland (although we don’t yet know where) this summer. Just before he left (because when I do something, I like to do it thoroughly), I got a bulging disc in my spine. It was not fun, but drugs and physical therapy are helping me heal. This led my parents to come down for a week to help out and enjoy the second snowfall of the winter with us. It also meant that, while I’ve gotten almost no writing done in the last month, I got a good bit of reading done.

Aside from those major events, life keeps trucking on with school, church, library time, music class, birthday parties, etc. Time continues to fly.

My major goals over the next 4 months are to heal completely (or completely enough to get on with regular life) and to get us moved to Maryland (enjoying our time left in Durham in the meanwhile). Writing time will probably continue to suffer accordingly, but I’m not giving up, and I hope to attempt adopting more of a writing routine again when July comes.

For now, here are some pictures from the last month. First, a baking success from my husband’s birthday in January:

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle...on the way to being baked Alaska.

Chocolate jelly roll with ice cream in the middle…on the way to being baked Alaska.

The person he has to meet with for his performance reviews is one of the owners of Maple View Farms. Yes, we lead a charmed life. Anyway, she gave him a whole lot of ice cream for his birthday, and we decide the best thing to do was make baked Alaska. I used the instructions from Joy of Cooking (we have the 1997 edition), which included the possibility of making a jelly roll, and then I followed the jelly roll instructions (including things like lining the pan with waxed paper, flipping the jelly rolls several times and peeling off and replacing paper with tinfoil). And, lo and behold, they worked! I was both surprised and pleased.

Next, a few snow pictures:

Snow!

Snow!

 

Snowman (He wasn't melting yet, just really small.)

Snowman (He wasn’t melting yet, just really small.)

 

And finally, we have begun the packing process:

Books in piles.

Books in piles.

Books in the garage.

Books in the garage.

We may do some decluttering in the process of moving, but the books are not on the decluttering schedule, apparently. M. makes the point that we could be placed in a church near a very small public library, so we are simply being prepared.

 

 

 

 

Say Yes to the Dress: Doll Edition

I snapped this picture the other day:

dolldresses

Baby, Sadie the dog, and Cinderella decided to borrow each others’ clothes: Cinderella (on the right) and Sadie are both wearing new outfits that Santa brought Baby, while Baby sports Cinderella’s ball dress. The post perhaps should be titled “What Not to Wear” in poor Baby’s case–she has a soft, huggable body that happens to be plumper than Cinderella’s plastic one, so the dress never quite fits her. It also doesn’t help that the ball dress will soon look just like rags from repeated putting on and taking off. The sleeves and overskirt are a gauzy material that is not sturdy, so they could fall off any day.

Anyway, I thought it was funny.