Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Good, the Better, and the Pretty Boring

As I usually do when faced with a task that is potentially unsavory, I'll start with worst first. I hesitated not one bit to slap down the dollars for Matthew Pearl's new book because his others were quite engrossing (especially The Dante Club). Where could you go wrong, really, when writing a literary thriller? A swashbuckling novel for people like to read? Doesn't seem that far fetched to me.

This one is about the last (unfinished) Dickens novel (one I had--embarrassed to admit--never heard of) (if you haven't either, it's called The Mystery of Edwin Drood) (do you feel smart now?). The novel's premise is certainly interesting: Charles Dickens has died while writing one of the middle chapters of his latest serial novel, and his American publishers are desperate to find out whether he may have written more--but just not sent it. Apparently, publishing in Boston in the mid-1800s was a cutthroat business, and a young boy is killed trying to deliver some of those middle chapters to his publisher. And not just killed but doped up with opium, tortured a bit, and chased down by a creepy dude with a scary little gold statue on the end of his walking stick.

That's the first chapter, really, and now that I write all that, it does sound pretty exciting. It's not the story that was at fault. It was the execution of it. I never really got sucked in, never really cared about the characters. It was interesting to read about Charles Dickens's last few years (flashbacks are so handy, aren't they?) and to read about the dangers of publishing. But that was all it was. Just interesting. Not riveting like The Dante Club. Just--eh. Boring. Don't waste your time and dollars on it.

This one, on the other hand. Pretty good. It's number two in what I hope becomes a long, long series of books. This man (I'm talking about Alan Bradley): pure genius. He's gotta be around 50 and I think he's Canadian, and he's created a wholly believable 11 year old British girl (circa 1950ish) named Flavia de Luce. She lives in a rambling old manor house with her philatelic (stamp collector, obviously) father, two self-absorbed older sisters, and her chemistry lab. Flavia likes to solve crimes in her spare time and also sometimes think about poisoning her sisters. She really, really likes poison. She thinks it's beautiful.
In this book, Flavia solves a crime that I can't tell you about. It would give too much away. But I'll tell you this: there's a very, very talented puppeteer in this novel. He's got some SERIOUS clever skills. Wish he was real; I want to go to a show of his. And it would help if he didn't die a horrible, electrifying death (oops: forget I said that).
It's pretty good but not (I think) quite as good as #1 (see below).

This is the book you REALLY need to read! I told you all sorts of stuff above about Flavia, but this book...this is the best! I've read it twice now, and I'm still laughing a few weeks later when I think about it. The similes are fabulous and chuckle-out-loud-worthy.
It begins whe Flavia's cook finds a dead jack-snipe on the kitchen steps. But this isn't just a dead bird: it's a dead bird with a stamp impaled on its beak. And it isn't just an impaled stamp: it's something that makes her father go pale and shove the stamp into his waistcoat pocket. There is also a tube of lipstick imbued with the essential oils of toxicodendron radicans (that's poison ivy, if you didn't know). And Flavia has a bicycle she has named Gladys, which I think is pretty cool. (Speaking of bicycles, I got the t-shirt. Clint bought a sailboat this weekend; I got a t-shirt.) (Wait: that doesn't sound fair) (I need MORE t-shirts!)
So yeah, this book: you definitely need to read it. You can borrow it from me, if you promise to return it. And if you don't get food on it or bend the pages. And you'll probably want to borrow the purple one, too. You can. You can even borrow the Dickens one, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Alligator on a Bike

Why wouldn't you want this shirt?
I certainly do!
HINT TO CLINT: free shipping too, babe

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mother's Day

I have a very wise friend who told me that she has stopped celebrating her birthday on just one day. For her, her birthday celebration lasts the whole month of June, not just one day of it. How brilliant!
So, this Mother's Day, we stretched our celebration over the course of a weekend. We left Friday morning and caravaned up to Traverse City with friends, where we spent a rainy hour in Horizon Books, my favorite bookstore. We didn't let the driving wind or the sheeting rain stop us. Our frends had to leave to visit a loved one in the hospital in TC, so we walked around and browsed the shops. This is what I found: a beautiful chocolate shop, and the saleswoman was so nice. She recommended the lemon infused dark chocolate for me, which was fabulous. We each picked a different chocolate, and all of them were divine.
Dinner at Pangea's, where we got a little crazy and ordered the Caribbean Jerk Chicken pizza. We'd gotten a Greek pizza last time we were there, and I whole-heartedly recommend that one over the Caribbean. Not so tasty.
Soon, we arrived in Boyne, where our friends had rented 3 condos. Our was really nice, and as it was the largest, that's where we all gathered in the evenings and for breakfasts.

Jonah and his friend had fun playing Pass the Pigs, although there was quite a bit of Pig Tossing, rather more than Pig Passing.

And Jared was quite the fan of Jennifer's whole wheat pancakes.
We spent Saturday in Mackinaw City, which--I must admit--was not very much fun on a cold, dreary day before the summer season has started (read: most of the shops were closed. And really, in Mack City, most of the shops are just souvenir shops--not my fave), but at least it wasn't snowing. And joy of joys: we found two wonderful places, a bookstore and a cupcake shop! Yes, of course I had a cupcake (or two) (but the second one was tiny) (and a free gift from the very nice gentleman at the counter). Oh, and Lauren and I got to have uninterrupted shopping time, as Clint took the boys to a waterpark (the indoor kind).
Sunday we left for home after the dads cooked breakfast and the kids washed dishes. We got to make a very pleasant Mother's Day shop at General Jim's, a peach of an army surplus store. Clint's just always thinking about what I would like to do. I didn't buy anything, although I was quite torn between a pair of shiny new combat boots and a gray woolen sleeping bag. Hard to choose, I know. That's what made me realize I shouldn't get either. (This is a good rule of thumb, impluse shoppers: if you can't decide between two, DON'T BUY BOTH--buy neither.) (Oh seriously, do you really think I do that? OF COURSE I buy both.) (But I almost fooled you, didn't I?)
A few more hours and we were home.
We had snacked a bit in the car, so were weren't very hungry for dinner. After unpacking the van and sorting cleans and dirties, Clint skedaddled to the store "to get some crickets for Jonah's lizards" (which I knew was code for: MOTHER'S DAY?!?!? I forgot to get a gift!).
Sure enough, he came back an hour later with something secret hiding behind his back. He got me an orchid (beautiful) and a Bob Marley CD (which led quite naturally to this Friday Night's first annual Bob Marley Night, which a few of my dear readers were fortunate enough to attend--that's because they're spontaneous, folks--that and they too wait till Friday night to make plans for Friday night).
The kids got me presents too. Here's one:

(front and back)

In summation, it's a pretty formal sounding agreement between the kids not to fight with each other for a period of three days. If any fighting does occur, those responsible will be punished by having to do dishes for a week. You may have noticed above that only two of the kids signed it. Jonah abstained, and Lauren added her commentary about that at the bottom. Let me share an overheard conversation that happened Friday:
Lauren: Jonah! Just sign it!
Jonah: NO!
Lauren: It's for MOM!
Jonah: She's not going to die if we don't give her something [I must add: I think this kid has some serious maternal misconceptions] [...I'm talking about Jonah]
That's when I walked away because if there's one thing I like more than a present, it's a cupcake. I mean, no--a SURPRISE.
I didn't want to ruin their plan.
Well, when I opened and read the Non-Aggression Pact on Mother's Day, I had to ask Jonah why he hadn't signed it--it was only a Three Day Commitment, after all. His eyes bugged out a little at that. He had thought Lauren was asking him to literally sign his life away--that he had to agree to never fight with her or Jared again. And he didn't think he could handle Jared's near-constant tormenting in particular.
Anyway, he had his own present for me:
A pair of robins built a nest above the lintel of Clint's hobbit house (don't ask) and the chicks hatched over the weekend. Jonah took this picture for me.
So all in all, it was a nice relaxing day. I got sweet presents all around, a nice weekend, and peace to read to my heart's content all day Sunday.
Happy Mother's Month to all the rest of you. Don't let your holidays be over and done in just one day any more. You owe it to yourself to live it up.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Whole Lot of Randomness

It's been awhile since I've posted, I know. See, I have really wonderful inspirations at the most optimally inopportune moments. For your elucidation, ranked in order of frequency, these are times and places in which I have my best thinking and greatest ideas about all sorts of Very Important and Creative Things.

1. while I'm driving to work, especially when the conditions are hazardous

2. while I'm trying to fall asleep and also (these two are tied) in those random moments when I wake up in the middle of the night

3. while I'm in the shower

4. while I'm sitting on the potty chair

5. while I'm in a (boring) staff meeting

6. while I'm talking to a student

Do you notice anything about this list? Cause I do. Here it is: in all of these circumstances, I do not have access to a computer. Sometimes I write little lists to myself, jot down ideas if I am in the midst of #5 or #6 and can do it discreetly, but the others, alas, are beyond hope. Okay, and also, since I'm being honest and realistic, I also don't have a lot of Time (when I'm not grading/teaching/doing housework) and I also like to Read Too Much. Which is really what keeps me from faithful blogging. But books are just SO MUCH FUN! And just when I finish one and set it gently back in its place on the bookshelf, my spine stiffened with the resolve to Stop Reading so much and Start Blogging and Writing some more, my fingers hover over another book. And before I even know what I'm doing, really, I am reading something else.

Okay, somehow, this has turned into yet another confessional post. Get thee gone, guilt!

Okay, back on track now.

Here's what I meant to be talking about: all the things I'm going to be blogging about in the next few days, just so you can get excited. Here they are:

1. What I've been writing lately

2. How I plan to spend my summer

3. What I've been reading (the good, the bad, and the really cool)

4. What happened on Mother's Day

And I'll leave you with this while you're waiting for my next post. Just something overheard one sunny Saturday afternoon.

As I said, it was one of those warm spring days a few weeks ago (remember those? the ones where the sun shone?) and we were all out working on the flower beds, getting all the hopeful new weeds of spring out so we could lay down some mulch. Okay, maybe I should be honest. Clint and I were weeding. Jonah was throwing paper airplanes around and Lauren was still in bed (at 11am). Jared was looking in the dirt for Critters. New pets, you know. He already had found a toad, which he named Lisa.

Then, as Clint walked around the front of the house, he passed Jared sitting on the deck, hunched over with his head nearly touching his knees. "Okay, Wiener," Clint overheard Jared say, "it's time for you to go back in your home."

Just picture Clint doing a double take. You can laugh. I still am.

So of course, Daddy had to go check out what new mischief our youngest son had landed in. As he approached, Jared looked up and smiled a crooked smile. "Hi Dad!" he said, holding out his hand. "I have a new pet. His name is Wiener."

He was holding an earthworm.