Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Of Mice in Maine

Well! We arrived in Maine day before yesterday, after a three-day slog in a packed minivan. We're glad to be here, of course, but it is much cooler than we're used to! We've had the wood stove going the past two evenings. Despite the cooler temps, Himself and Tiny Girl were in the lake this morning before breakfast, waterskiing (yours truly was at the helm). It was Tiny's first attempt; she got up successfully twice, but fell rather quickly both times. That's better than I've ever been able to do! More importantly, she's excited about it.

And did I mention our resident mouse? Miss Priss and I saw it, not two minutes after we walked into the cabin, as it scuttled across the floor about one inch from our feet. Yes, we both screamed. I'm not usually so scream-y, but I must say our proximity to that rodent gave me the heebie-jeebies. It was nothing like The Wind in the Willows.

So I've spent the better part of the last two days cleaning out kitchen drawers and washing all our dishes, cups, glasses, and flatware, all thanks to the mouse, which eliminates indiscriminately. And left food stores all over the place. It also shredded my dishtowels and Q-tips. Perhaps we'll finally get unpacked today.

As for Jasper, he loves swimming in the lake, but is lukewarm about riding in the boat. Ah, well. He'll get used to it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"The Most Aggressively Inarticulate Generation"

I came across this short video while I was linking around on blogs yesterday. I think it's fabulous and want to share. So here it is:

Typography from Ronnie Bruce on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Why I've Been Quiet Lately

In short, because my reality life (as opposed to my virtual one) has been really fast and loud.

After we picked the girls up from camp (where they had a marvelous time), we immediately shot up to my folks' house for a family reunion weekend.  It was wonderful to see so many relatives I hadn't seen in years!  We arrived back home at 5 PM on Sunday, changed clothes, and made it to church by 5:30 for the VBS kick-off picnic.  Monday through Thursday, we left the house for VBS at 8:30 AM and got back home around 1 PM.  Afternoons were filled with fun with friends, appointments, get-togethers, one swim meet, two sleepovers, book club, and a couple of parties.  By evening, I was exhausted and fell onto the couch with a book.  My computer was barely on the whole week.

It's all good, but I'm ready for a break.

The week ahead is quieter, but we'll be occupied with packing up for the epic journey to Maine.  (We embark on Saturday.)  And the calendar is far from clear: there are dentist appointments for the girls and me; an orthodontist appointment for Tiny Girl; a birthday lunch for my sister; swim team practice every morning; a swim meet Wednesday evening; an evening meeting with my small prayer/accountability group; riding lesson and practice rides before we say "see you in September!" to Tappy the pony; and one scheduled playdate. I'm certain impromptu get-togethers will pop up!

I'm feeling my usual ambivalence about leaving.  (If you've been with me for a while, you know that I wrote about not wanting to leave Maine last summer to come back home!  Ah, how the tune changes.)  It's hard to say goodbye to the familiar, the comfortable, even for a little while.  The girls are feeling this way, too.  We tend to focus on what we're going to miss, both the specific, such as the last swim meet and the swim team end-of-season party, our friends, our church, the cucumbers growing in the garden, etc., and the general, e.g., our life as it is here.

But memory whispers to me that we have a life in Maine, too, and we only get to live it for a few weeks each year.  Friends there have sent messages, "When will you be here?" and even "When are you coming 'home'?"  And when I think of how we will downshift, and life will be slower, I can feel myself begin to relax a little, like a spring in my chest loosening.

I will sit on the dock after dark and look at the millions of stars I can't see here at home.  The girls and I will take the kayaks out and paddle across the lake.  Maybe I will try to waterski (again) this summer.  Or maybe I won't.  I will watch the girls do flips off the floating dock, my feet dangling in the lake.  I will sip lemonade or iced-tea with mint and read all day long.  I'll take the time to visit with friends, savoring the conversation, because I know our time together will pass too quickly.

It will be lovely.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

She Is Too Fond of Books: More Books I've Read Lately

Wow.  I've been reading like a machine the last month or so, and I have to say I've liked more than I have not liked.  Below are some more brief reviews for your edification and (possible) enlightenment.  Or maybe just for your to-read (or to-avoid) list.

I've read three Miss Read novels, Miss Clare Remembers, Emily Davis, and Return to Thrush Green.  I loved them all.  As I've shared before, I want to live in Fairacre (Thrush Green will do); but since many of these stories take place in decades past, it would take more than a place ticket to get me there.   But I can visit when I read these timeless stories.  If I had to choose a favorite of these three, and it would be difficult, I'd pick Miss Clare Remembers.  When I read it, I heard in my mind the instrumental song by Enya with the same name.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day was different than I'd expected, but extremely engrossing.  Subtle, with tantalizing depth, this is not a beach (or pool) read.  Once I began, I found myself sinking into the narrative, absorbing the atmosphere of Stevens's life.  I was amazed at Ishiguro's pitch-perfect voice for Stevens, especially since the bulk of the novel is interior monologue.  I enjoyed the film immensely, but now that I've discovered the book. . .  This is a keeper.

But not all books I've read, alas, are keepers.  Philippa Gregory's newest novel, The White Queen, takes place during the Wars of the Roses, when both the house of Lancaster and the house of York vied for the English throne.  I've read all of Gregory's Tudor novels and highly recommend them to others, so I was disappointed when this one failed to live up to my expected standards.  Gregory is usually quite proficient in breathing vibrant life into historical figures, but not so here.  Elizabeth Woodville, the main character, seemed flat to me; in fact, I found her boring, as I found most of the other characters.  Frankly, most of the narrative was boring as well.  Dull, dull, dull.  Moreover, Gregory, citing a bit of recent scholarship, veers sharply away from tradition in her account of what might have happened to the princes in the tower.  While this is historical fiction, I was intensely irritated with her version of events, which really makes no sense.  Tradition (and evidence) supports the idea that Richard III, after his brother's death, had the boys held in the Tower of London and subsequently murdered so he could ascend the throne.  Gregory takes a vastly different tack, explaining the the book's back matter why she did so.  She takes the position that Richard III had no need to kill the boys because he had had the boys declared illegitimate and was already crowned king.  Her thinking surprises me; how many times in history do we see a son or other younger relation whisked to France, only to return at a later date with an army to fight for the throne?  That being said, there is no proof (yet) that Richard was behind the princes' disappearance, but it most definitely was in his best interest that they were no longer a threat to his rule.  Further, the entire Melusina subplot, which injects an element of witchcraft into the story, is ridiculous.  Highly disappointing.

I have one word for A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick: yuck.  I don't care how many weeks this book has languished on the bestseller list.  And I'm not the only one.  There are more 1-star reviews on Amazon than any other.  And here's one reason why: it's gut-wrenchingly boring.  For a book that purports to be full of twists and turns, I found it predictable.  Not one of the characters was likeable or even interesting.  And the writing style!  The plot plods along like a tortoise.  To make everything worse, the narrative is repetitive, flat, and breathtakingly bad.  How many times does Goolrick need to tell us that the characters "ate oysters and drank champagne," anyway?  Obviously many, many times.  In fact, redundancy must be Goolrick's trademark since he resorts to it a lot, which shows a startling lack of imagination.  But so does the rest of the novel.

Thank heavens for Alexander McCall Smith and his Isabel Dalhousie novels!  I read the last three in the series in quick succession, The Careful Use of Compliments, The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, and The Lost Art of Gratitude.  Aren't those wonderful titles?  I have to admit that when I first began the series with The Sunday Philosophy Club, I wasn't sure if I'd like these.  I'm now a complete convert.  Smith is extremely adept at creating unique, lively, and believable characters, and his dialogue is top-notch.  He is also excellent at giving his novels a real sense of place.  Himself and I honeymooned in Scotland and spent a couple of days in Edinburgh, but oh, how I long to go back!  I've also read all his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels (which also sparkle with Smith's skill in creating and fully expressing character and setting) and his 44 Scotland Street books.  You really can't go wrong with Alexander McCall Smith.

What are you reading this summer?  I need some suggestions!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Camp for Mama

Himself and I took the girls to Girl Scout summer camp yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, where they'll reside and have a blast until Friday.  Here's all their gear:

Everything went smoothly at check-in; Miss Priss was a little sad to see us go and required more than one hug, but she'll be fine.  Tiny Girl merely waved a distracted good-bye, since she was in the middle of a game.  Same gene pool yet so different!

I must admit it feels weird at home without them here.  I am very aware of this being part of what I call the Slow Good-bye, i.e., my children growing up and away.  I never went to summer camp, so I'm excited for my girls to have this great opportunity to learn new things and grow in their abilities and confidence.  But I'm also a little sad.  It's bittersweet, this whole growing-up thing.

I can't say it's exactly quiet at home, though, since Jasper's here with me.  I let him into the study for the first time so he wouldn't be lonesome while I was on the computer, but that wasn't such a fab idea.  I've had to chase him down more than once and prise paper documents from his mouth!

You may wondering what I'm planning to do while they're gone.  So am I, but I have a few plans:
  • Clean out and straighten up the study.  Frankly, it's a wreck and needs to be readied for our next school year.  Which brings me to my next undertaking for the week:
  • Plan our next school year.  I never make an extensive plan, since then I feel burdened to follow it.  But I do make a loose plan based on Ambleside Online's schedule, supplemented by Tanglewood Education and The Well-Trained Mind.
  • Go through all our books and take some to a nearby used bookstore.
  • Get a massage at a nearby day spa.  Yes, it's an extravagance, but I'm going to treat myself.  The last time I did anything like this was more than two years ago, for my fortieth birthday.
  • Go out with friends.  This evening, Himself and I are having dinner (when I go out, I say "dinner," but when I eat at home, I call that evening meal "supper"; funny, huh?) with his former roommate, from when Himself and I dated, and his wife.  We are really looking forward to seeing them, since they now live in South Africa, and it's been a long time.  I'm also planning to go out with some girlfriends of mine.
  • Take care of the garden.  All the vegetables and flowers need fertilizing this week, and I need to do some light pruning and dead-heading on my roses.
  • Go on a few walks with Jasper in the cool mornings.  The morning weather has been fantastic lately, sunny and breezy.  It was 69 degrees this morning at 8 AM!  The afternoons are another story: hotter, humid, and often stormy.
  • Read, read, read!
That's all I have on my list so far, but it's probably enough.  Now that I've made a list, I see I have lots to do to fill the time.  The study clear-out and school planning are both big projects in terms of time and effort.  I think I may schedule a certain amount of time per day to work on these, and then read or blog (and read blogs) the rest of the time.  I'll call it Summer Camp for Mama!

An Easy and Inexpensive Sit-Upon

For those of you not well-versed in Girl Scout lingo, a sit-upon is exactly what it sounds like: something to sit on to keep your rear off the damp ground.  The girls' camp packing list included "a sit-upon or stadium cushion."  Since we didn't look at the packing list until last Thursday, this was an emergency situation.  Lots of troops make sit-upons as a project, but our has not.  So, like any somewhat tech-savvy and desperate mom would do, I Googled "sit-upon" to see what came up.

As it turns out, my search turned up quite a bit.  Most sit-upon projects entailed sewing together (with yarn) two square pieces of waterproof fabric or vinyl, and filling the resulting pocket with newspaper or quilt batting.  We didn't have time to make this version.

Another project used vinyl tote bags.  Fill said tote with newspaper, glue shut with glue "dots," et voila!  A sit-upon, complete with a handy carrying handle.  As an option, you could decorate the outside with paint pens, too.

Well, I didn't have any vinyl tote bags at hand, and I didn't want to go on a wild goose chase after them, either.  I had other things to buy, like water shoes.  Glancing around the study, my eyes lit upon these large plastic square envelopes I use to store the girls' schoolwork.  Hmmm.

Off to Michael's we went.  In the scrapbooking section, we found the pockets for less than $2 each and on sale for 40 percent off.  Yippee!  In the same aisle, I found Zots glue dots for securing the pockets' flaps.  We also bought colored Sharpies to use for decorating.

At home, the girls gussied up the outside of their pockets, then we filled them with newspaper.  The newspaper sections, folded in half, fit perfectly.  They field-tested their sit-upons to make sure the newspaper was thick enough.  Since we didn't want the newspaper itself to show (and detract from their artwork), we finished with some blank newsprint packing paper, which I had on hand and cut to size.

After that, we glued the flap shut with the Zots glue dots.  I used tweezers for this, which worked well.  To make things extra secure, we glued two rows of Zots on the flaps.

Here's Tiny Girl's finished product:

These may not last quite as long as a traditional, sewn sit-upon, but they'll do for the week at camp.  Plus, they were super-easy, fast, and inexpensive.  What more could I ask for?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Summer Break? I Think Not

Holy cow! I thought we were supposed to be taking a break, but we've been busier than before we finished our school year.  We managed to read every day, so I was pleased about that.  And there are flowers on our cucumber vines!

Tiny Girl and I were at the barn about 8 AM twice this week for her early-morning riding lessons.  The afternoons have been just too hot for Tiny and Tappy the pony, not to mention her trainer and her mama.  Swim team practice was every morning from 9:45 until 10:30.  On Tuesday, we attended the neighborhood morning Bible study at 11; the girls played in the backyard with all the other children.  Miss Priss gets a bit of money for this (all the moms pay $1 per child 9 and under), as she and the two or three other 10 year olds are minding the younger ones.

Our first swim meet was Wednesday night. It was delayed almost an hour due to thunder; there were two more delays once we got started; there was a torrential downpour in which the children still swam; and then finally the meet was canceled around event 39 (or 82, in case you're wondering!) due to more lightning and thunder getting closer.  It was a strange meet.  I was as soaked as the kids were.  On Thursday, the swim team enjoyed Fun Day and team photographs.

We also started getting ready for Girl Scout camp next week.  The girls and I read over the Welcome Packet, perused the packing list (and gasped at the things we needed to buy right away), and signed the various forms.  Then we went shopping.  The particular camp they'll be attending next week is on a big lake, and no one is allowed to participate in lake activities without water shoes.  We also needed unbreakable yet sturdy plates and cups and cutlery for outdoor cooking.  Then there's the sunscreen, bug spray (non-aerosol, please), toiletry items, and various other paraphernalia.

On Friday afternoon, we started packing.  What an undertaking!  And every single item has to have on it their names written in Sharpie.  It's Saturday, and we haven't yet begun to pack Miss Priss's stuff.  A busy day ahead!