Popsugar reading update

I have a few more books to add to my last reading challenge update.

12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read
13. A book by or about a person who has a disability

For 13 – I read Wonder by R.J. Palacio I can see why this is a well loved book among the late elementary school age. With the shifting points of view, kids are likely to find someone who speaks to them.

For book 12 – Oh crud. I just noticed the bestseller designation. Not sure either book I read qualifies for that. Oh well. My first thought for this category was engineering textbook. My second was historical romance.I picked up Love’s Spirit by Elizabeth Mayette, a historical romance set during the Revolutionary War. I’m enjoying it more as a family saga. There are so many lives intertwined with the politics, that although the romance is present, to me it is not the main thrust of the story. I have about 50 pages to go, but I expect a good review. The research and eye for detail and accuracy show.

The other book I read at the same time was a cozy mystery, book 1 of the Trailer Park Princess series, The Middle Finger of Fate by Kim Hunt Harris.  It seemed like a campy, goofy series with a snarky heroine which is what I wanted. Turns out, it’s less camp and more Christian. I didn’t know there were Christian cozy mysteries, but now I do. It was okay, but I probably won’t read the rest. I suspect my reaction had more to do with my reader expectations going in and a sense it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

So there we go. I still have a lot of book categories to sort out.

January project on hold

The last few years, I’ve made it a point to read overlooked or newer books that have few reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon.  Not this year. I got myself looped into reading for a contest and sometime mid-January a pile of 6-8 books will appear on my doorstep and I will have about 4 weeks to read them. I’ll have to look for a different month to give out reviews to books in need.

In the meantime, I’ve decided to take the 2017 PopSugar Reading challenge. Some categories look easy – I do an audiobook a month so no worries there. Some look more challenging – I don’t usually buy books on a trip. But I’ll update my progress both here and on Goodreads.

I hope I don’t have as much time to read this year. As much as I love reading, I hope to get some writing done this year too.

Are you doing the PopSugar challenge? Let me know. We can share reading ideas.

Remembering Roger Ebert

I may not go often anymore, but I love the movies.  Once upon a time, I harbored the dream of going to film school. Not because I wanted to make them, although playing with fake blood would be a pretty good job description, but I wanted to be a film critic.  And not just any critic.  I wanted to be the female Roger Ebert.  Growing up in Chicago, Roger Ebert was as much a part of my movie going experience as an oversized soda and bucket of popcorn the size of which rivaled a bathtub.  Today I mourn the loss of a man who influenced me and millions of others with his belief that going to the movies should be fun.

Forgive my scattershot thoughts.  I am not the eloquent writer Ebert was.  I cannot knock out a beautifully written an  d thoughtful essay in five minutes – which is all the time I have before the kids wake up.  If you doubt his eloquence, get one of his wonderful essay books stat.  You won’t be disappointed unless you are some type of insane person who cannot appreciate wit, joy, and precisely chosen words.  Don’t judge his writing by watching “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” the Russ Meyer film he scripted.  Or go ahead.  Indulge and don’t feel guilty about it.  Ebert didn’t.

I will miss Ebert’s passion the most.  The man loved movies. Plain and simple.  His paring with the more classically trained movie critic Gene Siskel proved golden.  I loved them on “Sneak Previews” and continued following when the show morphed into” At the Movies.”  I loved how they argued, even when they ultimately agreed.  I loved that two people could look at the same thing, have completely different experiences, and yet often agree the movie earned two thumbs up or two thumbs down.

When I think about my personal Golden Age of going to the movies, that post movie breakdown was as integral to the movie experience as greasy popcorn butter.  Whether I went with to the movies with Mike, Amanda, Mom, Dad, Gabe, Marci, Eric, Genna, or a host of others, the post-film pow-wow and breakdown of what worked and what didn’t was part of the experience.  My husband doesn’t think of going to the movies as a particularly social experience.  I’ve been working with him and he’s improving, but he also didn’t grow up watching Siskel and Ebert.

For teaching me how to watch, enjoy, and discuss not just the movies, but the arts and more, I give Roger Ebert two thumbs up.  Thanks for the inspiration and I’ll see you “At the Movies.”

A shrub, a smile

I posted some time ago about my dismay regarding the hole in the ground or “fire pit” the neighbor kid dug partially on my property.  After contacting the fire department and expressing our concerns to them and to the neighbor, we got the kid and his friend to stop burning pallets – at least when we’re home – but the hole remains.

It is an ugly site to behold. The teens that hang out over there have destroyed the grass and with the wet winter plaguing our part of Virginia, I’ve spent the better part of the last two months gazing at a mud pit.  The view depressed me so much, I stopped opening the blinds.

But not anymore.  During a seventy-two hour rain free period, I snuck out and added a shrub.  My husband feared a border war, but I planted it well onto our property.  If it hangs over to theirs, they can trim away without destroying the trunk. The digging was hard and the hole flooded with water once I dug past eight inches. I don’t recommend digging on a breezy forty degree day normally, but my effort was worth it.

The rain returned and the back portion of the yard is more puddle than grass, but now when I look out, I see my shrub. I see peace and privacy. I smile.

Why I’m not voting on Tuesday

Yes folks, you heard it here first. On Tuesday, November 6th, I will not be voting in the presidential election. Wow, do you have a loud gasp. The candidates do not want to hear this.  As a white, suburban woman raising children in a swing state, I realize I am a highly coveted voter. The non-stop TV, radio and mail ads remind me how important my vote is. Frequent phone calls from the two major parties beseech me to vote on Tuesday. The truth of the matter is, I will not be going to vote on Tuesday, but my uterus will.

My uterus is a bossy little thing, but I’ve got a lot of respect it. After all, my uterus carried my two healthy children to term.  Our relationship has not always been easy, plagued by painful cramps and a cancer scare. We’re good now.  Except when it comes to politics.

It’s not that my uterus entirely disagrees with my desire to vote for the third-party candidate most closely aligned with my views, but my uterus is scared. My uterus fears that the uterus of the girl who once lived inside its protective walls will not enjoy the same privileges my uterus does in terms of fertility and health care. My uterus remembers how women of previous generations fought for access to control our fertility and for the right to vote.  My uterus shudders at the thought that some gray-haired men think a pregnancy from rape is either impossible or a gift from God.  My uterus wants to know how many children of rape those men have personally adopted. Come to think of it, so do I.

Come Tuesday, my uterus will take charge of my body and march us to the polling place. I’ll show my voter ID, and receive the voting instructions. A worker will lead me to the designated voting booth. But, do us both a favor, don’t look behind the curtain. My uterus will vote for the candidate who respects women.

Books for 7 to 9 yr olds

Some time back, a friend asked if I could recommend some books for a seven-year old boy.  I’m asked variations on this somewhat frequently so I finally decided to sit down and write out a list.  For this post, I’ll focus on series. I’m sure there will be more to come and these recommendations are in no particular order.  Most will appeal to both boys and girls, but not every child will enjoy each series below equally.

1. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne – I have yet to meet a child who rejected this series in its entirety. There are nearly 50 books in the series so it can keep readers busy for a while.  Jack and Annie are siblings who find a magic tree house in the woods near their house.  The characters open a book they find in the house, say “I wish we could go there,” and are transported to the desired location. Before they can go home, they have to solve a puzzle and help either a person or animal. I like the message behind these books, even if as an adult reader, the writing style is a bit repetitive.  For kids just beginning with chapter books, the series offers mild thrills and the chance to learn about the structure of narrative – without even realizing it.

2. A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy – Three relatable kids, Josh, Dink and Ruth Rose solve mysteries in and around the town of Green Lawn.  My daughter and I loved the friendship presented in the books.  Sometimes the kids get mad with each other, but they find ways to resolve their differences in a peaceful way.  There are enough clues to help readers solve the mystery. Each book comes with a map and readers can use that to help solve the mystery too.  It’s nice to see map skills in use.  Also, I like the way the three kids teach each other.  If one uses a harder vocabulary word, or casually mentions a tougher physics or natural world concept, a second character will be a bit confused so the first speaker explains him or herself, or they will talk about what they learned in school and compare notes on what they each remembered.  Ron Roy has two other series – Calendar Mysteries geared toward the same age range and Capital Mysteries geared toward more confident readers.

3. Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton – These rodents both know how to spin a good yarn and get human kids excited about geography, science and the newspaper industry. Heavy illustrations support the text, giving it the feel of a graphic novel, but these are chapter books. My daughter prefers the Thea Sisters series, but the Geronimo Stilton is equally good, if not better. Also, there are a lot of bad puns and literally cheesy dialogue.  The phrases “Moldy mozzarella” and “Fabumous” have become household favorites.

4. Bad Kitty Series by Nick Bruel – For earlier readers, pick up wacky alphabet book Bad Kitty which runs through the alphabet four times and serves as an origin story for our anti-heroine. I love the series for featuring a not so lovable feline who gets her comeuppance in a humours way.  Again, there is a bit of a graphic novel feel, and the heavy illustrations make this a good step into chapter books. The author “breaks the wall” so to speak, inviting the reader to become the anonymous narrator who talks to Bad Kitty. Also clever, asides by Uncle Murray to explain more advanced concepts and the glossary.  Some readers may be put off by the “bad” language. Uncle Murray often refers to “that stupid cat” but  the reader is asked to laugh along with and at the bad examples they see on the page.  Bad Kitty for President is one of the best explanation of politics I’ve seen.

I’ll stop here for now.  What series or individual books do you recommend?  My daughter is always looking for new reads and my son is a few years away from needing some other suggestions.

Explaining Politics to Kids

My daughter is eight and my son is four and both are interested in the idea of electing a president.  I remember elections being, exciting when I was little, but also a little scary and very, very confusing.  Even a lot of adults struggle with the Electoral College, PACs and more. And this is why I am a huge fan of Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty for President.  {sorry there is no picture – my new computer is cranky about keyboard shortcuts}

Bad Kitty books have a hybrid comic book/chapter book vibe and are perfect for the 7-12 set, but even my son likes them.  In this brilliant addition to the Bad Kitty’s adventures, our anti-heroine decides to run for president of the neighborhood cat council.  Over the course of the book, the cats have a caucus, kiss babies, debate, run advertising, gather endorsements and cast ballots.  Although feline issues differ from ours, the cats divide themselves into two political parties, one representing the right side of the street and one for the left side and engage in a political battle royale that illustrates how the national government in D.C. is supposed to work.  Better yet, the Bruel also teaches kids how politics actually functions.

So go ahead, read, laugh and be enlightened. 

For the love of bookmarks

I’ve been experimenting with ebooks lately.  I don’t have a dedicated e-reading device, just an app for my i-Touch, but it is enough to give me a taste of the e-reading experience and to teach me something about myself.

I really like bookmarks.

The e-reading app lets me turn down the corner of virtual pages.  The ability to stop mid-chapter and not lose my place is handy, but the folded corner is no bookmark. I don’t fold down the pages of my physical books.  I will use anything at hand — a gum wrapper,a business card, a leaf, or a twig– in lieu of damaging the book by folding the page.

Besides, bookmarks bring me joy.  I recently gave my daughter the Garfield bookmark I treasured at her age.  I held back a tear as I recycled the beautiful gold foil trimmed rose my mother gave me when I first started reading chapter books.  It fell apart from years of use.  Han Solo accompanies me on Sci-fi journeys and my “Meg Cabot’s got your back” goes well with comedy.  I love promotional bookmarks from authors.  The clever pitches get me excited to read what ever book is being advertised next.  Sometimes, these pitches and a cute picture propel me to finish my current book faster so I can get started on the one touted by the bookmark.

I love finding other people’s bookmarks tucked inside books from the library and second-hand books.  I wonder who left their library receipt. More than once, I’ve been compelled to check out the other books printed on a stranger’s bookmark, I mean receipt.  I’ve run across hand written notes, credit card receipts, bank receipts, post cards, grocery lists and the occasional bookmark.  When I drop off books for my library’s book sale, I try to pass on promotional bookmarks where appropriate.  My own sort of recommendation.  “If you like Melissa Marr, you’ll love Memories of Murder by Lara Nance.”

I know I’ll get a dedicated e-reader soon, but I’m not ready to give up paper books yet.  I’m not ready for a world without bookmarks.

Who decides my health?

Yesterday, I received a letter from my health insurance provider regarding the future of one of my prescriptions.  Now I know health care in general is a touchy subject and there are a lot of opinions and controversy out there. I’m not trying to make an argument for or against universal health care or for other legislative matters. But I am questioning the validity of a letter that states “Please don’t think we’re giving you any specific advice about which drugs you should take.”

You see, for the third time in as many years, my insurance company has decided to change the coverage of my asthma inhaler.  I use my inhaler maybe six times a year because I have a mild form and I can by and large control it through lifestyle choices. You won’t catch me running a marathon or doing yard work on a hot, humid day.  But when I need my inhaler, wow, do I need it.

The inhaler I received last month when I filled my prescription will last me until it expires sometime in 2013.  Then I’ll have to get a new medicine or pay full price out-of-pocket to continue with the same type.  My co-pay was in the double digits and without insurance coverage it will hit three easily. The insurance provider suggested two alternatives, although one of them is in the highest co-pay category, the other is cheaper. But, according to them, they are not giving me any specific advice about which medicine I should take.

The insurance company also made decisions about how I should take my medicine.  I have another prescription for a 150mg dose of a medicine that comes in a 50 mg, 100 mg and 200 mg tablet.  My doctor wrote my prescription for three 50 mg tablets.  The insurance company decided I should get 45 100 mg tablets and have to cut fifteen of them in half to get my proper dose.  It’s inconvenient, but more worrisome to me is that when I cut the pills myself, I see the powdery residue piling up on the cutting surface and the blade.  Some of the pills split unevenly or a chunk cracks off the side.  It’s important to keep an even level of this drug in my system, but because of what I see while splitting the pills and feel in my body, I know I do not receive a consistent dose day after day.

Look, I’m grateful to have insurance but I wish they wouldn’t lie. They make a lot of decisions regarding my health, controlling certain aspects without having ever seen or spoken to me.  The same cannot be said of my doctor or even my own judgement.  I wish they’d let those who know me best decide what’s best.

Eating in Iceland

When I told people I was going to Iceland the second most common response (after Iceland? Really?) was “Did you see that Anthony Bourdain Iceland episode?” Most people seemed certain I would starve during my visit and also reminded me that Anthony Bourdain called hakarl disgusting or something along those lines.  fortunately, fermented Greenland Shark was not in season. Sadly, I missed Puffin season by a few days but starving was not a possibility.  The food was actually good.

Breakfast consisted of bread, cheese, meats, tomatoes, cucumbers, skyr, muesli and lots of rich dark coffee.  Icelanders understand that if you can see through it, it ain’t coffee.  Such a yummy breakfast kept me happy.  Sometimes we stopped for lunch, sometimes we just grabbed a flaky crescent and a cup of coffee.  More happiness.

But nothing compares to the sheer joy of my dinner at Fjorubordid in Stokkseyri.  My husband and I both ordered the three course meal. Before the end of

 
 

the first course, it made my list of the top five meals I’ve ever eaten. The creamy lobster soup was nirvana. It was a beautiful shade of pink with giant chunks of lobster jutting above the brim of the bowl.  Icelanders reportedly drive hours just for the soup and I can understand why.  The quality ingredients and simple preparation let the key flavors– cream, butter, lobster, garlic and tomato–stand out.  Excuse me a moment.  I must wipe some drool from my mouth.

Okay. I’m back and on to the second course – a big pot of steamed Icelandic lobster (actually langoustinos), mini potatoes and lots and lots of garlic butter.  I’m glad they came shell on because the few seconds it took to separate the meat from the shell slowed me down enough to appreciate the firm texture of the lobster and it gave me a opportunty to get garlic butter all over my fingers.  There are simply not enough times we get the tactile experience of eating a messy meal with our fingers after we are above the age of three.  The sides, an assortment of salads and pickled things, accompanied the lobster nicely.

I finished with a big slab of chocolate cake and a cup of black coffee. It was almost too much. Almost, but not quite and that is why my dinner at Fjorubordid makes my top five meals list.  I added a handy link so you can drool a bit too.  My photos don’t do the food justice.

So all in all, we ate pretty good in Iceland.  I’d go back.