If I had to choose…

I love the “if I had to choose” game. Sometimes I make it difficult – you’re on a sinking ship with your whole family, you can only save three people, who do you choose? Normally, though, I try to keep it lighthearted and fun. If I had to choose between reading and chocolate (or any candy at all really), what would I choose? Reading, of course. If I had to choose between going blind or deaf I’d choose blindness because I can still listen to books (and theoretically learn to read braille) and I would also get to keep music. Sometimes I give myself impossible choices like knitting or books (the answer is I would refuse to choose and take whatever consequences result, while humming Freewill).

I’ve started listening to the podcast Literary Disco. I knew I’d love it based on the opinions of some other podcasters to whom I listen, so I started from Episode 1 and am working my way forward. They do a segment called “Bookshelf Revisit” where they choose a book from their own collections and do a quick review. In Episode 5, Julia reviewed A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. This is one of my favorite books of all time ever, bar none. One of the categories on my reading prompt is “a book from your childhood” and it clicked directly into place – I logged into Amazon and found a boxed set of the five books in the Time series. They are in the cart, waiting for the next Amazon order. I am on the edge of my proverbial seat, imagining reading them all in order. Hopefully I can line up another day like today, which has been the ultimate Lazy Day today. I’ve done a couple small things – laundry, dishes, hanging up the new shower curtain – but mostly I’ve been quite lazy and reading books.

Speaking of books, which I do a lot, here are the books I’ve finished since the last review. It’s been a slow week…

Ordinary Life by Elizabeth Berg

  • Short stories
  • Library e-book
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: None

AMAZING. Totally, completely, wonderfully amazing. Elizabeth Berg is a storyteller, for sure, whether the story is novel-length or shorter, and this book is a terrific example of her mad story skillz.

I’m not going to talk about the individual stories or pick a favorite, like I even could, that would be like picking a favorite child. I’ll instead talk about what they have in common. Almost all of them are from the point of view of a female, most of them grown women. There are a couple of exceptions, but even with those I got a feeling that there was a grown woman in the background pulling the strings, so to speak. All are wonderfully crafted. All are complete in and of themselves, introducing characters that are staying with me in a similar manner to those in really good novels.

While this book doesn’t really fit in with my reading challenge, it is a direct offspring of the challenge. I didn’t take the time to read short stories before I read One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak and remembered high school English class. Short stories are fabulous! How on earth did I let myself forget that little fact?

I recommend Ordinary Life to anyone over the age of 15 who reads (but I normally don’t read with kids in mind so 15+ a thin line). It’s amazing.

Five Minutes Late by Rich Amooi

  • Romance
  • Free e-book download from Bookbub
  • PopSugar Challenge Category: NONE

This is the story of Ellie the librarian and Cedric the garlic farmer. They’re star-crossed and made for each other (it’s a romance novel so I’m not giving anything away by telling you that). It’s cute and funny and caused me to be late for work because I got easily pulled into its cute-sweetness. It’s a quick and lighthearted read. One of my favorite things about the book was the trivia – Cedric was always challenging Ellie, who is the queen of random facts. I’m assuming her answers were correct but hey, who can really say.

However… there were a couple parts in the book that bothered me. As per the norm in a romance novel, everyone is beautiful, something I always find issue with. Why can’t normal people fall in love? There were more than a couple pronoun issues (they for him and the like). And the ending? Well let’s say it was a HUGE stretch and leave it there. Everything neatly wrapped out, which is something I totally appreciate in a book, but perhaps a bit too neatly.

I’d recommend this book if you’re not a grammar nerd, don’t mind an implausible ending, and like really light-hearted romance.

In Progress:

  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell
  • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  • Autobiography of a Pocket Handkerchief by James Fennimore Cooper

On Deck:

  • Orphan Train by Christine Baker Klein
  • Jenny Pox by JL Bryan
  • Pam of Babylon by Suzanne Jekins

Yarnaholics anonymous

Next week is Spring Break – the students are off the whole week, and faculty/staff is off Monday – Wednesday. I plan to play little housewife on Tuesday and Wednesday, but Monday will be something totally different.

There are three LYSs (local yearn shops) within driving distance of our house. One is 47 miles south, the second is 25 miles to the east, and the third is 47 miles northeast. The southern one is closed on Mondays, which is actually good for my plan. I’m going to leave my house and go to A Little Bit Sheepish and then from there Kitschy Stitch. What’s super cool is that my parents’ house will then be on my way back home so I can stop there and drop off Mom’s birthday card. Yarn, LYS visits, and Mom and Dad hugs all in the same day! Doesn’t that sound just marvelous?

I’m not planning to buy anything but I’m sure the yarn will call to me in its siren voice and I will be hooked (pun totally intended). I think a skein or two of something soft and lovely would be just fine, don’t you?

And on a related subject, the reservations are made for the weekend of MSW. We’re starting out in Gettysburg on Saturday and then fibering it all up on Sunday. It’s going to be just fantastic, I know it. Plus it’s been a while since the hubs and I have gone away and it will be good to stretch our proverbial wings and see something new.

And I’m pretty sure that knit-crochet group is meeting this Sunday, even though I haven’t gotten the email. I’m guessing that the lack of email is attributable to a user issue, and I intend to assist with that the next time I see our emailer. I’m not a tech for nothing, y’all!

Recent projects:

rabbid

  • My version of rabbid
  • Some Easter eggs (sorry no pics)

Still working on:

On desk:

Ticking off the list

Welcome to Episode 2 of my personal 2015 reading challenge! As a refresher, I’m doing the PopSugar challenge (click the link) and my main rule is that a book can only count for one entry. And so, sans further adieu…

A mystery or thriller

Big Boned (Heather Wells Mysteries) – Meg Cabot

I’ve read all of the books in this series; this one was the last for me but not the last in order. I’ve recently rediscovered a long-forgotten love of mysteries and the Heather Wells ones are lighthearted, girly, cute, and funny (as opposed to some others that are not quite so amusing – I am sure one or two will crop up on the list before I finish the challenge).

Heather is a size 12 to 14 ex-teen pop star (think Tiffany) who has recently split with her long-term boyfriend who was in a boy band (thing NSync) and has since gotten a job as the assistant director of a large dormitory at a fictional college in New York City. This particular residence hall, as Heather herself would remind us to call it, is such a frequent location for murders that people associated with the college, the media, and even the local police call it “Death Dorm.” In this episode, the dead body pops up pretty early and Heather, despite warnings to do otherwise, puts herself on the trail of the murderer.

I enjoyed this book, and the rest in the series. Meg Cabot has a light-hearted writing style that fits well between more serious books. I’m working on only reading two books at a time (currently I have five active), and I will choose a light and sweet book like this after the heavier reads like Life After Life (see my last post). Well, that’s assuming I can wean myself down to two at a time. A girl’s gotta dream, right? Anyway! I found the Heather Wells mysteries sort of brain palette cleansers and nice, quick reads. I don’t imagine this book or any others in the series would ever win any sort of award, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re fun to read.

A trilogy

The Inn BoonsBoro Trilogy – Nora Roberts

This trilogy sort of continues in the light-read vein. They’re romances set in the town of Boonsboro, which is a lovely and fictional small town set in northern Maryland, near the border with Pennsylvania. Each book features a new love story where the girl is one of three very best friends and the guy is one of three brothers. A couple sub-stories run throughout the trilogy: an awesome ghost and revitalizing this sweet little town.

Because they span three books, the six main characters all get to be rather well developed, perhaps more so than I would expect to find in a beach-read sort of romance. They overlap and interweave, they all have a nicely developed character flaw, each gets to run into some sort of obstacle on his or her way to true love. They are, in short, sweet people whom I found myself rooting for by the end of each book.

I’m not a big romance fan, generally. I have this odd, almost Puritanical, thing where I can’t actually stand to read the steamy bits and have to skip them, so I’m not a fan of the type of romance that is all sex, all the time. I’ve read Nora Roberts before and have found her to not to write those types of books, so when the first of the series showed up on my recommended books on OverDrive, I thought sure, why not? And then I found myself wondering what the deal was with the ghost, how the grumpy brother was going to work into things, and what was going to happen with the bakery (among other things) and just read the next two to find out. If you’re curious, and I am sure you are, I read the second book and half of the third in an afternoon. In other words: quick, light, and fun.

Seems I’m on a bit of a not-so-serious kick, doesn’t it? Well, just wait for number three…

A book by an author with your initials

The Lake of Dreams – Kim Edwards

With another nod to Barb and Tracie, this book is chock full of family secrets. It’s also about three feet up the serious ladder. Let’s call it a day and a half read.

Lucy, the main character, goes home to the town where she grew up, Lake of Dreams in upstate New York, after she learns that her mother had a bit of an accident. She’d been living in Japan with her long-term boyfriend, was unemployed, barely spoke the language, and was seriously stressed by the several-a-day minor earthquakes that were shaking up her little house. When her boyfriend suggested she go home for a bit, she jumped at the chance.

She arrived with a sort of flayed soul and started seeking a way to heal it. She soon stumbled across a gigantic secret; a hidden great-aunt. This was a major discovery because her family was all about their personal history, the third-generation family business, inter-generational connections, etc. As Lucy starts unraveling the truth of this long-lost relative, she uncovers some hidden truths about herself and about her father’s untimely death. Everything unravels all at once, and in a very short period of time, but in the end it is all drawn back together in a way that left me, as a reader, feeling really good about the story and the time I invested in reading it.

The language of the book is just lovely; often things are so well-described that I felt like I could see and feel them. Lucy, the only character we know well, is perfectly real. She’s telling the story in first person and she never hides her own issues and foibles. She makes many mistakes and totally owns them, in other words. She’s sometimes an idiot, sometimes terribly brave, and always likable (even though I felt the need to tell her aloud, more than once, that she needed to back the **** up).

I really liked this book. It’s one that will, at the end of the challenge, make me glad that I did it – otherwise I might never have found it.

Next up…

I’m currently reading:

On deck:

On a clear day, you can smell for miles

I had an orthodontist appointment Tuesday morning, the weather was nice, I was in no particular hurry because I was off work, so I rode my bike. Yes, I realize that is less than kind to the folks who have to be close enough to me to look into my mouth, but it is more than kind to my butt and sometimes, compromises must happen. Anyway! After the orthodontist, I rode to the pharmacy to pick up some medication and then I rode home. And I was struck by yet another reason why I so love this time of year: I can smell.

Okay, sure, I can always smell. But this time of year is magical for me when it comes to smelling things. It’s a perfect storm of allergies finally backing off (hay fever kicks me in the nose from mid-March until mid-October) and the humidity all but going away. Delmarva is a really humid place for much of the year, probably because we’re surrounded by pretty major bodies of water. I’m no meteorologist, but that makes sense to me. Anyway! My nose is less stuffy and I am off the allergy meds. The air is crisply dry. And my world once again becomes a map of awesome smells.

The first one that stuck out majorly was the wonderfully yeasty-hoppy smell of the brewery. It reminds me of early days with Wayne, when we were brewing our own beer. It was the first big thing we did as a couple, the first thing that was just us. Hopefully when our lives slow down a bit – when he graduates and the garage is done but the house remodel hasn’t started – we can brew again.

Next was that hot-sweet oil smell from McDonald’s. I am not really on a diet, but there are a lot of things I just choose not to eat. High on the list of things I try to stay away from is anything deep-fried. Occasionally, though, I go all crazy and just want something delicious, hot, and potato-y. Hello, hash browns, in other words. They smell almost divine to me.

One smell that was omnipresent was diesel exhaust. I know it’s not something I should, like, huff, but it’s a memory trigger and I love those. I smell it and my brain shoots out images of my time in the National Guard and I’m playing soldier again. I’m sleeping in a tent with a bunch of other girls. I’m driving the First Sergeant to Fort Dix (good MORNING, First Sergeant!). I’m flying in a helicopter to Fort Indiantown Gap. I’m sneaking out with a bunch of guys from the Det, sidewalk chalk in hand, to decorate Alpha and Bravo company’s deuce-and-a-half’s with all sorts of things that say how awesome HHC is. Yeah, those were some really fun times.

On the ride home, I went a little outside of town and my nose reminded me of what is so awesome about living here. I get to smell a town, and then I get to smell things that just scream “country” to me. Like that aging sweet smell of leaves changing color (yes, they have a smell!), the crisp and Christmasy smell of pine trees, the starchy-sweet smell of a recently harvested corn field, the mild tang of onion from the wild onion plants that are mowed when grass is cut. I find myself sucking air in through my nose and grinning like a fool when I recognize several scents at the same time. It’s like the playing Where’s Waldo, only with my nose.

The very best smells of all, though, are the ones that say “home” to me. Right now, the prevailing outside smell is sawdust from the garage Wayne is rebuilding (I am pretending to help – that’s why I was off work and basking in the freedom from allergies). And of course the very best smell in the whole, wide world is Wayne. I parked my bike in the back yard and went to get a hug. He smells better than hops, more familiar than pine trees, sweeter than puffs of hot dryer exhaust. And I love it. Sometimes, I just lean into him and sniff. It’s awesome. Yes, I know it’s weird, and I don’t care. He says my sense of smell is better than most people’s because it’s making up for my crappy eyesight. I kind of like that idea.

I can smell the eggs he cooked himself for breakfast and it’s making my stomach growl, so I guess it’s time to eat. I wonder what other awesome things I’ll get to smell today? 🙂

It’s punkin time!

I love October. It’s my favorite month. I love how it’s chilly at night – we open the bedroom windows and snuggle under the quilt together. I love how the it’s hard to figure out what to wear because it can be 50 or 70 when I’m going to work. I love the crunchy feeling of the first frost and watching leaves change. I love kicking my way through fallen leaves when I walk across campus or through our backyard. I love getting out my box of Halloween/autumn decorations and setting them around the house. October is the best!

This year, though, October has taken on an even greater significance. I’ve been asked by a wonderful man if I will help him write his life story. I’ve decided to write it in November as this year’s NoNoWriMo project. That means October is dedicated to research. I have an outline, very general and high-level, done. Now I need to find people who feel the same about him as I do and get some interviews done. We work at the same college, so I plan to start here. I am most interested in talking with the students. He is a wonderful employee, I am sure, but he is definitely driven to help out the next generation(s). I hope to go all the way back to when he was working with people my age. I have no idea how to go about finding people to interview, but I think I can figure something out. I’m sure he can give me some names to get me going.

I am so excited to have been asked to help with this, and I cannot wait to get started!

Writing Prompts

There are times when I feel the need to write but have nothing to say. Okay, that’s really not true. As anyone who spends time with me can attest, I always have something to say. But there are so many choices, how do I narrow it down? Do I journal out my worries about my children, do I write a chapter in one of the three books in progress, do I work on the outline for this year’s NaNoWriMo work? And then I realize that none of those feel right, and that what I really want, or need, to do is blog.

Many moons ago, many many moons ago, my “blog” was a blue-covered spiral notebook. The pages were college ruled and it was divided into sections by four buff-colored tabs. When I got the urge to write in a broad and non-specific way, I would get out that notebook and a pencil or pen and I would write. It was full of short stories, essays, really bad poems, plot ideas for novels, observations about the people around me. It was more than and different than a journal. It was my writing. I lost it years ago in one of my many moves, but I can still see the blue marble-patterned cover. I can even picture a page with its pale, blue lines filled with my somewhat messy, striving to be cool handwriting. My blog is now my blue notebook, and has been for years, either here or somewhere else.

There was an international student who somehow wandered into our small group when I was in college the first time around. I don’t remember his name, but he had shaggy black hair and blue eyes like perfectly round bits of sea glass. He spoke in a rumbling, purring sort of British accent. My mind remembers the tone and cadences even still but I have long since forgotten what he actually sounded like. He stands out in my memories of that short time as clearly as does Jenny, my favorite roommate.

British Guy was fascinated by the blue notebook. He wanted to know about my writing, he was truly interested. And I, with my crazy hormones and often odd attractions to the worst people, saw him as a friend and a confidante and shared both the best and worst with him. I remember him saying “I think you could write about anything.” Under the light of his blue eyes, I really could write about anything. He challenged me with prompts like you’re in a field of flowers on a summer afternoon or it’s your birthday and your family forgot. I would write a page or two, let the words fly right from my head to my pen, and then give it to him, unedited and rough. He would tell me that I needed to make things happier, stop making everything end badly. I was full of angst, remember? He also told me that I had words in me, beautiful words, and that I was destined to share them.

Circling back to today, I still love a writing prompt. I feel like prompts pop the cork and let the words flow. Sometimes the words fly out like my brain is a bottle of champagne that has been shaken by an overly enthusiastic post-game celebrant. Sometimes they flow slowly, yet without stopping, like the silver cop in Terminator 2. I found myself looking for a prompt this morning, a cork-popper, and found many but none. I found some that were shared by teachers but they were not the sort of thing I was looking for. I found some that were too detailed, or at least more detailed than what I like. I am the Goldilocks of writing prompts today. Except I didn’t find one that was just right.

Instead, my quest for a prompt became a prompt in and of itself. It reminded me that life is a series of circles, some interconnected and some distinct. I am circling around, nearly thirty years later, to the place I was then, to that girl with the bad 80’s perm and the footless tights, sitting lotus-style on a narrow bed in a college dorm room, handing her dreams to a stranger whose eyes spoke to her soul. I feel that girl waking up inside me, each time I think about going back to school to let her live her dream. She had so much potential, and she had so many beautiful words in her. Even if the tools change, the words do not.

A turn on the road or a step closer to the cliff?

I had an aunt (a great-aunt I think) who started life as a housewife and mother, but who had a dream. She held onto that dream until she was in her forties and all of her children were on their feet and in the world before she took the steps to make it come true. She went back to school and became a biology teacher. I had her in tenth grade and she was a tough, nonsense sort of teacher. She never threw a softball, she never picked a favorite. Her class was tough for me while pretty much everything else I did was easy. Looking back, I have to say that made her a really good teacher.

Like my aunt, my dream and my life took different paths after high school. I did start college, but something got into me, sending me on my way to eight years in the Navy. I learned an awful lot about electronics and came home with two young children, a husband who wasn’t a local, and a dream placed firmly on the back burner. I took my mother’s advice, something I highly recommend to almost everyone, focused on the computer work I did in the military, and somehow landed an IT job. I’ve been doing it ever since. I even went back to school and got my degree in Information Technology, mostly because all the transfer credit from the schools I attended in the Navy made the major a no-brainer.

I often love what I do. It can be challenging, frustrating, exciting, and boring. I get so pulled into what I am working on that I miss lunch and birthday cake and quitting time. It could absorb me totally if I would let it. It has absorbed me in the past, back before I learned to expand the sources of my self-worth to include things besides a good work ethic and kudos from the bosses. It’s rewarding to solve problems and make things work. It’s mind-crushingly horrible when I can’t figure things out, though. I don’t like that.

There are times when the failures seem to pile up and I think what I need to do is look for a new place to work. I change jobs and discover that the work has not, in fact, changed. I might be supporting a different Windows operating system, another manufacturer’s enterprise backup, or the competitor’s application deployment software but it is really all the same. I don’t hate it, but I am beginning to realize that it is not my dream. I am also seeing that maybe my dream doesn’t have to die. Maybe I can follow in my aunt’s footsteps and do a bit of a mid-life exploration.

With that in mind, I filled out an application today for a second bachelor’s in English Education at the school where I work. I printed off copies of my transcript and my DD-214 and carried them over to the admission’s counselor, and danced all the way back to my office. I have no idea how I will handle full time work and going to school, but in my heart I know it will work out. I also am aware that my dream may not be obtainable – I might get to the point where I am student teaching and decide it was all crazy talk and walk right away.

But I might not.

There is a chance, a good chance, that in a few years, I will be teaching English. When all of the young teachers, kids younger than my own children, are off working summer jobs, I will be home writing books. I will walk down a new path, and perhaps learn that it was the road I was meant to be on all along. I can hardly wait to get started.

What’s so bad about a four day work week?

Well, besides having to be at work for 10.5 hours a day (there’s a 30 minute lunch break in there you know).

I’m sitting on the bed, next to Wayne. My legs are stretched straight out, allowing me to catch glimpses of my super awesome polka-dotted socks over the top edge of the monitor. My shoulders are resting against the headboard that I covered with black and white fabric to match our bedroom soon after we moved in. My laptop is on my legs, my Kindle is waiting patiently, and I am considering how this weekend should rank on the Karen Scale of Excellent (KSE).

The KSE is newly-created to suit my life. I am occasionally grumpy. Wayne is occasionally short-tempered. We have problems and stresses in our lives just like normal people, believe me. But we’re just a little bet better at dealing with them than is typical. It all comes down to how we communicate, but that’s totally not the point here. The point is that, on any given day, X number of awesome things happen, moving the KSE from good (the norm) through great, terrific, astounding, amazing… all the way to excellent. There’s nothing on the other side of good, by the way. There used to be, but I’ve figured that out. At least for now.

So let’s talk about the weekend, shall we? Starting from the ground-level measure of good, these things happened:

  • We had crabs on Saturday
  • We had fresh, homemade crab cakes today
  • We had silver queen corn
  • I made the best soup I’ve ever made (well except that cream of zucchini soup I made a couple weeks ago)
  • We rode almost thirty-five miles
  • The grand-princess came to visit
  • The weather changed, and there’s a nearly autumnal chill in the air
  • I did a new Leslie Sansone workout with weighted gloves and punches that made me sweat like a pig
  • The sweet baby squirrel was here – I adore her little self
  • We had g’latto and it was awesome

I am winding down. I’m ready for tomorrow – my clothes are laid out (navy skirt with white polka-dots, which seem to be a theme tonight, navy cami under white blouse). My lunch is packed (the previously mentioned soup, a turkey wrap, fresh watermelon – plus a Special K cereal bar and a sugar free applesauce for snacks). I have a plan in mind for the morning (2 mile Leslie walk, smoothie, coffee, nice and hot shower). My ducks are lined up and I like it.

As Wayne leans towards me and The Black Pearl plays on the TV across the room, I am happy, that deep-down and serene sort of happy that means real happiness to me. I would say the KSE has pretty much pegged itself to the far right of excellent.

Do you even READ?

I dreamed about books last night.

Not just any books, though. I dreamed about two of the four most-read books in my house approximately twenty years ago: Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.

When my children were babies, I chose what I would read to them, and I read to them every day. When they were too small to care, I would read aloud from whatever my current selection was. I can’t pinpoint what I read when because I’ve always tended to mix things up and I never worry about reading something as soon as it comes out – books are timeless, after all. But I know how I have always read so they were getting a selection of chick lit, mysteries, classics, science fiction, romance, coming of age, biographies…. there is very little I will not read.

When they were a little older, I would guess around 16 months, they started picking what they wanted to hear. We soon worked out a habit of sorts where they would pick a book and I would pick a book. They chose to hear the same books over and over. The earliest choices were Goodnight Moon (my daughter) and Runaway Bunny (my son). I read one or both of those books aloud every day for months at a time.

In a slightly hilarious and mildly inexplicable aside, I cannot recite either of them now. I imagine the kids can.

Their choice, then mine. That’s how it went. I chose things like Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You get the picture. I would read a chapter or two every night. And I never read them to sleep. I would leave them, heavy-lidded and dreamy-eyed, clutching a cloth or board book, and they would fall asleep on their own.

I like to think I helped them people their dreams. I know I taught them to be readers, and that is a beautiful thing.

Being readers sets them apart from the norm. They are never bored, have massive vocabularies, speak clearly and understandably, comprehend quickly, have active and sometimes dreamy imaginations. They also tend to be snarky grammar Nazis, especially with that we call “Big Wordigans,” those who use big words incorrectly. I no longer correct people unless they ask me to, as Wayne does. The kids have not yet learned that other people are only going to get angry, especially if they are their father and/or step-mother. 

And so. I saw a picture of the Two Best Books Ever (Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, of course) on Facebook yesterday, and they popped up in a dream. I saw the pages of the board books and heard the piping and sweet voices of my toddler-aged children reciting them with me as I read. I heard them mispronouncing things (gardener became darkener, one of my favorites). I felt their warm and heavy heads on my arms, their little hands relaxed and still on my legs, their stirring breathing that was never in sync. I smelled the baby shampoo I had washed their hair with earlier, the fabric softener from their pajamas. I woke up with all of those fresh in my head and a huge smile on my face.

I wonder what those memories are like for them?