Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me!

Actually, my birthday was yesterday, but I was busy enjoying it!  I'd been feeling a little gloomy about it - not the fact that I'm fast approaching a new decade, but rather that for the past few years, I've ended up feeling disappointed at the end of the day.  I did a Friday Five on birthdays just a week or so ago, and since then I'd been trying to figure out how let some of my negativity go.  I guess I succeeded!  My biggest complaint about my birthday celebrations has been that celebrating a birthday just doesn't mean a lot to my husband.  He was an only child, with few relatives, and his family didn't do anything too special.  He rarely had birthday cake, he didn't get birthday presents, etc. etc. so when he married me, he was in for a bit of a culture shock. As our kids grew up we made big deals of their birthdays, and I always made a big deal of my husband's day.  The kids would cajole their father into making my day a big deal.  Since they've flown the nest,  all of the celebrating energy has to come from me. Don't get me wrong.  I always get a great gift from my husband, but there's none of the hoopla or ritual.  So this year, I decided to embrace the low-key celebration.  I even told my husband not to buy a grocery store cake which is his usual practice -- I don't really like them.  I said I'd wait until the next time we went to a favorite restaurant that serves an amazingly delicious lemony layer cake, and I'd have that for dinner!

So yesterday dawned really early.  I supposed it didn't really dawn --- I was awakened at 3:30 am by a very loud thunderstorm with vivid lightning, and I fell back to sleep just in time for the alarm to go off at 4:45.   I was surprised at school by this gorgeous gift from my sons

My classes were relatively well-behaved for a change, and miracle of miracles, we didn't have the usual Tuesday staff meeting.  I decided to give myself a gift:  I left work at 2:43, one minute past our "contract" time and went home.  I can't remember the last time I pulled out of the parking lot that early.  It's usually 4:30 or later.  When I got home, I decided to bake myself a cake from scratch. I haven't done that in ages.  I also threw a meatloaf in the oven for dinner and we had a very nice meal.  (I know, but homemade meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas is a comfort meal for me!).  I got 2 very nice gifts from my husband - a set of folk CD's I wanted, and really gorgeous heart necklace.  And lots of phone calls from friends and both my sons.  What more could I ask for?  It was one of the best birthdays I've had in a long time.  I

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And It's Another Book Review!

Sing You HomeSing You Home by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jodi Picoult's new book doesn't stray far from her tried-and-true formula:  Take a current, controversial issue, create a difficult situation, add in some lawyers, some likable characters and some that aren't so likable, and you have voila! That's the premise here.  This time the issue is same-sex marriage.  Zoe and Max have tried for years to have a child via IVF, and when their latest attempt ends in a stillbirth, Max decides he's had enough.  In the aftermath of their divorce, Zoe meets Vanessa and they eventually marry.  Now they want Zoe's frozen embryos.  What makes this book different is the soundtrack that accompanies the book.  A CD with original music is contained in the book with recommendations to listen to specific tracks for each chapter.  I wasn't terribly impressed with this novelty.  I also wasn't impressed with how Picoult how the different points of view were presented. In most of her other books I have found her portrayal of the different sides of an issue much more evenhanded and balanced.  I felt her own beliefs were quite transparent, and unlike her other books, I didn't come away with something to ponder.  It was quite predicatble, even to the "surprise" ending, which also is one of Picoult's trademarks.  All in all, this was not one of her best.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Scandal Takes a Holiday

My holiday was certainly much tamer than Marcus Didius Falco's!  I really love this series.
'Scandal Takes a Holiday (Marcus Didius Falco, #16)Scandal Takes a Holiday by Lindsey Davis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Marcus Didius Falco and family (just about everyone related to him) are in Ostia, Rome's busy port city.  Falco is searching for the missing scribe, Diocles, who happens to write the gossip column for one of Rome's "newspapers."  He of course, eventually finds the missing scribe, but not before encountering Rome's nonexistent pirates, imposter vigiles, and his long-lost Uncle Fluvius.  Along the way, Falco takes a swim in the ocean, is imprisoned in a tomb, and experiences part of the initiation rites of Cybele.  I laughed out loud in spots.  I really appreciate Lindsey Davis' skill in setting the scene, and in the way she keeps her characters true, volume after volume.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finally, Some Sun!

It has been a pretty gloomy spring break so far, but today at least has some sunshine.  It's been chilly and gray for most of the week so far.   I haven't really been outside much other than to do errands.    I have instead been watching Netflix (Bones, and Midsomer Murders), knitting, and reading.

Here's the latest book review

A Lesson in Secrets (Maisie Dobbs, #8)A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love the Maisie Dobbs series and I looked forward to this newest installment.  Maisie is recruited by the British intelligence to go undercover as a philosophy lecturer at a "peace" college at Cambridge.  It's 1932 and there is a growing fascination with Hitler's rhetoric.  Maisie's brief is to find out whether any of the "peace" activities are damaging to the Crown.  On the home front, Billy's wife is expecting a fourth child, James Compton seems to be less than truthful, and Sandra, a former Compton servant has been arrested for breaking and entering.

One of the appeals of these novels for me has been Maisie's studied, reflective manner.  Another appeal has been the way the author manages to evoke the time period in which the novel is set.  For some reason, this novel seemed to plod much too slowly for me. I kept waiting for the story to happen.  In some ways I felt this book was a place-keeper - something to mark the inexorable march towards war, but not go too far.  Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I read it, and I will continue to read this series, but this particular installment, just didn't wow me.

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And here's my latest knitting, so far

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Break #1

Started the day off by sleeping all the way to 6:30!  Doesn't sound like much but I usually pull myself out of bed at 4:45 am so 6:30 feels like the middle of the morning.  Had a leisurely breakfast, read through my emails, and had a second cup of coffee while I played some solitaire.  Then I spent 3 hours on school work - grading papers, mostly, and starting to think about the next social studies unit and ELA novel study.  Soon it was lunch time, and after lunch I settled in for some knitting and Netflix.  I watched 3 episodes of Bones, the last of season three.  Although it wasn't raining, it was very gray and chilly today outside, so I saved my exercise for my 5 pm water aerobics class.  Now I'm waiting for my husband to come in from chatting with a neighbor so we can have dinner.  And then some more knitting, and I can actually stay up tonight and watch Castle in real time!  (Or go to bed and read the newest Jacqueline Winspear novel.)  Decisions, decisions!  Lovely to have that luxury for a few days.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Reviews #29 & 30

Though Not Dead (Kate Shugak #18)Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My biggest fear when I got the book was that it was going to be the last of the series.  I am happy to report that there Kate Shugak has more road to travel.  Old Sam Dementieff's death has left a huge hole in Kate's life as well as in the life of the park.  He has left everything to her, including a letter instructing her to find his father.  His death has also sparked a series of attacks on Kate and others. Kate's investigation leads her through her family's past as well as through Alaskan history.  Stabenow uses a double narrative to tell Kate's story and at the same time, Sam's story.   Advances are made in the Kate/Jim story arc also despite the fact that they spend almost the entire story apart.  This was one of the best installments in the series.

Behind the Secret WindowBehind the Secret Window by Nelly S. Toll
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This memoir recalls the childhood of a young Polish girl.  When the Nazis invade her city, she and her mother are hidden in a Gentile household.  Their secret hiding place is between the walls of a bedroom and a blocked in window.  The story is realistic without overt violence and although it tells of a horrific time, it is appropriate to use in either an upper elementary or middle school classroom.  

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Saturday's Friday Five

One of the facts of life is that most weeks, because of my work schedule,  even if I have time to read the Friday Five, I don't have time to respond to it until the weekend.  Here's my response to yesterday's prompt over at RevGalBlogPals.

April is a month of family birthdays for me: Today is my mother-in-law's 80th birthday and on Sunday my third child's 26th birthday, so I am thinking about birthdays. Easter would have been my mother's 93rd birthday, but she died when she was only 72 years old.

I love to celebrate birthdays, but I know others don't like to as much. My second child doesn't care about birthdays that much.

How about you? What do you think of birthdays?

1. What are your feelings about celebrating birthdays, especially your own?

I've always loved birthdays, especially my own, which will be here in just over a week!  Unfortunately, birthdays were never a big deal in my husband's family, and he's never really gotten into them.  He does get me a present and a card, and in recent years he's managed to bring a cake home from the grocery store, but that's after over 30 years of training!  When my kids were at home, they tried to make a big deal of my birthday.  And my mom always made our birthdays special, even from 1000 miles away.  Since she's been gone, my birthday has had a touch of the bittersweet. I guess nowadays, I look forward to my birthday, knowing that in order for it to be a special day, it's up to me to make it so!  I've decided that this year I am going to make myself a cake, since I really am not fond of our grocery store's cakes.  Oh, and I don't mind getting old.  
2. Do you have any family traditions about birthdays?

Growing up, our birthday was one the day we were queen (or king) of the world.  We got to choose the kind of cake we wanted, the meals we wanted, and always got to go first when we were playing games.  We also got out of our chores for the day.  There were 5 of us kids, so my mom decided early on to stagger big parties.  One year we just had a "family" party, while the next year we could have a "friends" party.  That way she only had 2 or 3 big parties.  Our "friends" party consisted of 5-6 friends coming over to the house for ice cream and cake and games.  When we got older, we sometimes had a slumber party!
The family party consisted of our immediate party, my aunt and uncle, and our cousins who were just a little older than me.  And we got presents from everybody!
I miss the simple "friends" parties though that's basically how I handled my own childrens' parties. We never did EVENT parties,  The biggest events we did for our oldest child who had the dreaded summer birthday was to sometimes opt to take his friends to the state park for a swim party.  
3. Is it easy to remember friends' and family members' birthdays? If so, how do you do it?
Yes and no.  I have no trouble remembering my siblings' birthdays, my aunt and cousins, or my immediate family's birthdays.  I also remember my good friends' special days without trouble.  It's remembering all my nieces and nephews that I have trouble with.  Nothing seems to work for them.  I write the dates on my calendar, I  buy cards ahead of time, etc.  I will start off with remembering a couple of them, and then realize I missed somebody.  Or I remember that his birthday is in 6 weeks, and then remember the date 2 weeks past it.  I am known as the forgetful aunt.4. What was one of your favorite birthdays? (or your unhappiest?)
Some specific birthdays stand out.  The first birthday which stands out is my 6th.  I had had a party planned but my grandmother died just a couple of days before my party.  I remember feeling very disappointed, and I remember how sad my mom was.  I know I was sad that Nanny had died, but more oddly I remember feeling angry that I wasn't allowed to go the funeral home or the funeral.  I finally decided that I wasn't allowed to go because the skeletons that must have lined the walls of the funeral home would have been too scary for me!  Another birthday that stands out is my 16th.  I had wanted a piano and piano lessons for a very long time, but pianos were just too expensive.  My best friend gave me a surprise party and her gift to me was a sterling silver piano charm for my charm bracelet (which were all the rage back when I was 16.)  When I got home from the party, there in the middle of the living room was a spinet piano, and a gift certificate for 6 months of piano lessons.  That was probably the best gift I've ever received!

5. Post anything else you want to share about birthdays, including favorite foods, songs, and/or pictures.

The meal I most often chose for the birthday meal was steak, mashed potatoes, and peas.  I always wanted chocolate cake with white frosting and mint chocolate chip ice cream.  We always played Pin the Tail on the Donkey at my childhood parties, and  my mom always had other good ideas for party games.  We used to play what she called "Guggenheims" when we got a bit older.  She'd give us all a sheet of paper with a table on it.  The columns all had a letter heading it, and the rows all had topics.  She'd set a timer and the goal was to fill in as much of the table as we could with an appropriate item that fit the category.  I think there's a commercial version of the game called Scattergories nowadays.  We also used to play a memory game.  She'd fill a tray with a collection of items, and we'd have a minute to look at it, and then she'd cover it up and we'd have to list as many of the items as we remembered.  Other games included Musical Chairs and Drop the Clothespin the Bottle!

In the picture above, I'm in the 2nd row, 2nd in from the right, between the tall girl (my cousin) and the crouching girl (sister #1). Sister #2 is the youngest girl in the picture.  It's my birthday.  I love the way we dressed up for parties back then. I'm guessing this was probably my 8th birthday.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Another Martha Grimes

The Old Silent (Richard Jury Mysteries 10)The Old Silent by Martha Grimes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Richard Jury is "on vacation", visiting Bronte country when he witnesses a murder.  Despite his total lack of jurisdiction, he decides to investigate, especially since the murderer is a mysterious woman who is as silent as the namesake inn.  His investigation re-opens a very cold child kidnapping/murder.  Once again, we are treated to Martha Grimes' collection of colorful characters, old friends and new ones alike. Brian McElvie, the wonder lawman from the Devon Constabulary also gets involved. Another wonderful child plays an important role, as she and a pair of dogs are involved in the grand denouement.  One of my favorite parts of this installment is out on the moors as the heroic sheep dogs save the day.  

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Five Star Book!

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Juvenile delinquent, practical joker, track star, Olympic runner, WWII bombardier, POW, survivor. . . these are all ways to identify Louis Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand's fascinating biography.  I was riveted to this story.  As a child,  Zamperini was a menace.  He stole food from neighbors, played practical jokes, and had a reputation for wild living, even before the age of 10.  In adolescence he discovered running and soon set world records for the mile.  He attended the 1936 Olympics as part of the US track team, and trained hard for the 1940 Helsinki Games.  Unfortunately WWII broke out and his dream of Olympic gold was dashed.  He joined the army and became a bombardier, sent to fight in the Pacific theater.  On one of his mission, his plane crashed into the ocean.  He and 2 others were the only men to survive the crash, and for 46 days, Louis fought off sharks, subsisted on albatross and pilot fish caught with hooks made from the bird bones and his hands, and on rain water.  Finally reaching land, Zamperini was captured by the Japanese, spending the rest of the war as a POW.  The story of how he (and others) managed to physically survive the torture and abuse is both horrific and inspirational.  After liberation and repatriation, Zamperini struggles with what we now know as post-traumatic stress syndrome, before he eventually finds the peace he longs for.

Like many other readers, I had a hard time putting this book down.  Hillenbrand's narrative is compelling and her research is outstanding.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mystery KAL from Laura Nelkins

This is what I've been up to as far as knitting for the past week.  It's a mystery knit-along (KAL) from Nelkin Designs.  The details for the KAL can be found here . There are lots of people working on this project and a whole Ravelry group dedicated to it.  I am using some Ella Rae Lace Merino, size 7 needles, and beads that I bought online from what is now the Northampton Beadery. 

The above represents only 40 rows and 2 clues, but it took me 10 days to figure out the correct placement of beads and yarnovers.  Despite some serious frustration, I really enjoy lace and beadwork.  It's fiddly, it's slow, and you really can't watch TV at the same time, but it really is satisfying!  

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday's Friday Five

Over at RevGalBlogPals,  we've been asked for  our " thoughts on that movement from darkness to light.  Tell us five ways in which you are anticipating, or your life is moving towards light, joy, hope--new things:  new ideas,  new hobbies, new people...and so on."

Here are my five thoughts, albeit a bit late.

1. It is finally beginning to be spring here in northern New England.  Despite the remaining piles of snow, the signs of new growth are unmistakable.  The chorus of birds at dawn is another indication that new life is coming.

2.  My burden of worry is lighter.   Both of my sons have landed on their feet after some rocky times.  Elder Son's job was eliminated two days before Christmas, and he has been unemployed since then.  Last week he was offered a "temporary-to-permanent" job in the field he was looking.  For now it's short term, but he's been told that if he works out, it will become a permanent job.  They are offering him full benefits too.  Younger Son also had a job transition that occurred quite suddenly.  He has made a significant vertical move with another company, also in his field, but for a time he was in job limbo.  His former company had immediately let him go, when he told them he had been offered a new position.  He hadn't signed the contract yet for the new company, so we were all a bit worried.  He had been trying to "do the right thing" by letting his very small company know that he was thinking of accepting the offer so that there could be some transition time.  (He was 1/3 of his office!).  

3.  At work, vacation is coming!   One more week of slogging, and then a blessed week of recharging.    

4.  Again, at work, there is light at the end of the long, dark tunnel I've been in for the past few years.  It looks as though I will finally be able to go back to the grade level AND the subjects for which I'm best suited and best-trained.  Nothing is set in stone yet, but all signs are promising. 

5.  Inwardly, I am starting to feel some new stirrings of hope.  For quite a while I've felt like those dry bones in the valley.  I have not felt nurtured or fed.  I started this Lenten season by trying to follow a prayer discipline.   I've struggled with the prescribed program, but have found that even though most of the "program" did not resonate with me, the wrestling with the program did.  This past week especially I've been recognizing "messages" or reminders  almost every where I go.  One of my students wore a tee shirt to school earlier this week .  I can't remember the entire text (front and back of the shirt), but the big print said : God loves you - Fall in love with him." At the very bottom of the t shirt's back it said "Read Matthew 22:34-40"    These are the verses entitled "The Greatest Commandment" in my RSV Bible.    That same afternoon, as I headed into our Wellness Center for my water aerobics class, this bumper sticker caught my eye:  There's no way to peace,  Peace is the Way.   I had been reading John 14 that morning, and there was  Jesus " I am the way . . ."  So hope and new life are stirring within and without.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Reviews

Night RoadNight Road by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read Night Road in two sittings -- in less than 24 hours.  Kristin Hannah tells the story of Lexi Baill and her relationship with the Farraday family.  Lexi is a foster child whose drug-addict mother ended up in jail.  In and out of foster care, Lexi is eventually adopted by a great aunt.  On her first day of school, she meets Zach and Mia Farraday, the golden twins of helicopter parent Judith Farraday.  Lexi's friendship with Mia and Zach show her what family life can be, and fills her with hope.  All of that changes however, when a terrible accident occurs.  Now all of them, Lexi and the Farradays, must learn how to live with mistakes and find forgiveness. Kristin Hannah's writing pulls me in, although I did find parts of this novel a bit predictable.

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another terrific entry into the Inspector Rutledge saga.  Rutledge is investigating an attack on Constable Hensley, who was shot in the back by an arrow in a forbidding forest.  Was the constable attacked because the villagers suspected him of murdering a missing woman?  And who is stalking Inspector Rutledge, leaving mysterious shell casings in his path?  Rutledge himself is attacked by an unknown assailant. During the course of his investigation, Rutledge gains some valuable information about his superior Superintendent Bowls that will probably figure in future installments.

At Least It's Green Here

After the 6 inches of heavy wet snow on Friday, it's looking a lot less spring-like than it was.  All the bare patches of ground that had been teasing me, are snow-covered again.  At least this next week is supposed to be spring-like, so I'm hoping I'll start seeing green outside soon.

Meanwhile, I'm making do with this shot of green.

I'm participating, as mentioned in a previous post, in a Mystery KAL from Laura Nelkins.  I don't know what we're knitting.  That's half the fun!  I'm using Ella Rae Lace Merino in grass, with green lined chartreuse size 6 Japanese beads from WEBS Beads.

The above is the end result of clue #1  -- String on 528 beads and cast on.  Clue #2 arrives Monday. I will probably not be able to keep with clues due to a pesky thing called work!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Five: Quick Picks


We're in the midst of 'it' and I'm hoping that it is not just me who is starting to get a bit overwhelmed. So for today I am asking for five quick picks of things that are good in your life. And as a bonus, 1 pick for a thing you could do without.If you want to describe them? Great.If not? That's fine too.

1.  Original Peeps - especially yellow and pink chicken peeps. Blue is just wrong!  And I can't eat them right out of the box.  I have to let them get "stale" first.  I open the box and let them "air dry" for about a week until they're hard and crusty outside. Weird, I know.  And let's face it, peeps need to be chickens!

2.  My Keuring coffee machine.  It was giving me a bit of  problem for a couple of days, but all is well again.  Add a box of Green Mountain Dark Roast Sumatra or Espresso Blend , and I'm happy.  Strong black coffee, no sugar.  

3.  A bonus snow day!  I needed the day.  My supply of patience and good humor was exhausted, and both the kids and I were worse for the wear.

4. My knitting --- I am about to start Laura Nelkins' Mystery KAL.  I did a mystery shawl several years ago, and decided it was time for another one.  Here are the yarn and beads I'm using:

5.  High speed internet.  I have not taken it for granted yet.   I find new things to love every day.

And something I could do without:

Aside from the never-ending snow, I could use with a lot less stress at work.  Not knowing what I'll be teaching next year is getting old. . . .and will I have to move my room again??

If you play, send me a note so I can check out your list!