Word Winding

attempting to spin cacophony into sanity

Archive for the category “Turning in my Book Report”

You Are Invited

This election feels different. The stakes feel very, very high. Turning point in history high. Millions of lives hanging in the balance high.

On behalf of the United States of America, I would like to take a moment to issue an open invitation.

There are no better words for it than those crafted by the renowned Starhawk in her increasingly relevant novel The Fifth Sacred Thing:

“There is a place for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.”


My fellow Berning ones and assorted independents, we belong at the table. We are a sizable percentage of this country and have influenced the creation of the most progressive platform a major party in our nation has ever put forth. Cooperation is what this moment in time requires from all of us. Extend a welcoming hand. We may disagree some but I believe we can sit at this table together and discuss it like friends.

Hillary diehards, you belong at the table. Your passion for Ms. Clinton comes from a good place and we look forward to hearing more of what you see in her so we can catch some of your enthusiasm. Refrain from disparaging remarks. Cooperation is what this moment in time requires from all of us. Extend a welcoming hand. We may disagree some but I believe we can sit at this table together and discuss it like friends.

Moderates and apolitical types, you belong at the table. You have untapped potential to breathe fresh air into a heated room. Share your perspective, mediate, find humor in tense moments, and change the subject when truly required. Cooperation is what this moment in time requires from all of us. Extend a welcoming hand. We may disagree some but I believe we can sit at this table together and discuss it like friends.

Conservatives of all stripes, you belong at the table. So many of your values are ours as well. You want to live in happiness and safety. We do, too. You want to be free to make your own way in life. We do, too. Cooperation is what this moment in time requires from all of us. Extend a welcoming hand. We may disagree some but I believe we can sit at this table together and discuss it like friends.

Whether we realize it or not, at some point we chose to consider one another enemies, chose to exaggerate and vilify and blame. We can choose to consider one another friends. Quirky friends, maybe, somewhat embarrassing friends whose eccentric ways leave us shaking our heads, but still friends.

In our splintered factions, we are not just biased against and bewildered by the opposition. We are also ineffective. If we truly want what we say we want from this life, we will sit at the table together. We will refuse to allow anger and fear and greed to run amok and devastate our imperfect but much treasured home. We will extend a welcoming hand even when it seems, as my friend Pythia says, that our only common ground is that we breathe. We will bite our tongues when necessary and speak our truth when necessary. We will disagree respectfully. We will sit and we will invite others to sit at this table and discuss it like friends even when it is not comfortable or convenient because that is the only path that honors the democracy we strive to be.

Helping Kids Say No

An after school care provider allegedly sexually abused at least one small child at a school in our area.

I can barely allow my mind to tiptoe the slightest bit toward this idea. My entire being revolts against it. But it reminds me that I’ve meant to recommend a book for awhile, a really well-done book on a very important topic: helping our children say no.

  
The book is called I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private. It is co-written by a boy and his mother from the son’s perspective and manages to be thoroughly informative and practical without being scary. Both Owlet and Platypup like reading it and talking through the questions/discussions sprinkled throughout. They request it routinely, and reading it over and over together gives me increasing confidence in their ability to recognize and hopefully avoid or escape a potentially abusive situation if possible and if not, to tell a trusted adult as soon as they can.

The book is full of nuance that is nonetheless still appropriate for preschoolers and kindergarteners — it addresses common childhood curiosity about the opposite sex, differentiates between treats and bribes, and even walks through what to do if someone who should unquestioningly be a safe “green flag” person (such as a parent) turns out not to be. It does not shy away from how common sexual abuse is; rather, it uses that fact as a route to healing, to emphasize that it is not their fault if it happens to them.

I am so grateful to Kimberly King for transforming her son’s close call into an empowering guiding light. Until sexual violence ceases to be a pillar of our society, I Said No! should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Hygge and Marriage

Weddings grow families. This simple fact was woven throughout the sweet ceremony my dad and his wife Florence had this past weekend to formalize and celebrate their long-term relationship.

Surprisingly enough, theirs was not the only wedding on the week’s agenda: a couple days ago my stepbrother Waldo was wed in South America and this weekend my sister Gemini will tie the knot in Asia! And my family is roughly quadrupling in size… Which combined with the multiple continents thing must make us something of an international sensation.

Unsurprisingly, I have had marriage on the mind as of late. I have also had “hygge” on the mind ever since reading The Danish Way of Parenting earlier this year, a book I definitely recommend. Hygge is difficult to define succinctly but easy enough to comprehend once you’ve been given a description or two. (The best definition I’ve found is this one.) Essentially, it is a cozy, everyday delight in togetherness. Hygge is highly prioritized in Danish culture and is theorized to be one reason they are the happiest nation on earth.

We’ve experienced a lot of family gatherings this year — my mom’s side assembled for my grandmother’s memorial back in May, we attended the annual reunion my father in law’s side has every July, my dad’s side had the first of what will hopefully be many reunions in August, and this weekend some of dad’s and Florence’s children and siblings came together for the wedding.

During all of this extended family time I was delighted to notice lots of hygge. I hadn’t really realized it before, but my little nuclear family is surrounded by hygge experts. In addition to all of the above, my mother in law’s side and my first stepfamily are also experienced in the art of hygge (and both are overdue for reunions of their own). Perhaps this combined heritage is why Thor and I recharge best in a little familial cocoon at home doing nothing in particular?

During the ceremony my dad talked about their reasons for choosing marriage over simply continuing to enjoy life together without that particular label. Chief among reasons was this: the formal extension of family. As a couple, marriage was a nice symbol of their connection, but beyond that, within the larger context of their families, they each wanted to formally induct the other into the sweet, sarcastic, weird, wonderful bunch of people they grew up with or raised and clearly treasure.

My dad also asked the assembled, his family by blood and his new family by marriage, to encircle him and Florence, to support them when needed and help them remember their origins and their best selves and thereby strengthen them individually and together.

It made me consider that hygge may be as important as romantic love in the making and keeping of a marriage. Whether that hygge is with a family of birth or one of choice, time spent with those who have loved us unconditionally for as long as they’ve known us may be what keeps us sane, helps us delight more fully in our blessings, and allows us to better weather the inevitable jolts along the journey.

With that in mind, best wishes of much hygge to all, especially the (many) newlyweds!

————-

And now, for your enjoyment, here are Owlet and Platypup reenacting their wedding contributions. (Their new cousin was part of the live act, so imagine a third adorable imp in the first two videos.)

First, a song:


Skiddamarinky dinky dink
Skiddamarinky do
I love you
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening underneath the moon

Next, a poem by Ogden Nash:


To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it
Whenever you’re right, shut up.

And finally, a Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton:

Tiny Adorable Reading Depository in Space

A couple of weeks ago Thor put the finishing touches on our delightful little TARDIS library.

 
I drew up some labels to put on the chosen books, mostly ones we either have duplicates of or were really good but unlikely to read again, and we stocked the shelves.

It is water-tight, which we were fortunate enough to discover on its first day out (California is attempting to chisel away the drought one drizzle at a time… wish us luck), and a great average height for kids and grownups. A few books have already been “checked out” and I’ve spotted my students’ family members reading while they wait outside during lessons. 

It has been particularly fun to watch the elderly dog walkers rubberneck as they pass by! We are already those hippies with solar on the roof and vegetables replacing lawn, so this was really the inevitable next step.

  

Not sure which is cuter, the mad man or his box. 🙂 Thanks, Thor!

Kuwanlelenta

I adore all industrious souls who, when faced with a problem, craft a creative response rather than uselessly wringing hands.

My friend Frida is such a person. Friend, acquaintance, or beloved institution in need? She is there, plotting, strategizing, donating her considerable talents.

Frida’s daughter attends a really wonderful school that is facing serious budget constraints unless they meet their fundraising goals this spring. What to do?

Self-publish a children’s book. Naturally.

And not just any children’s book. Kuwanlelenta is a brand-new myth, inspired by the spectacular Artist’s Palette in Death Valley. Frida’s watercolor illustrations are rich and imaginative, the story is fun and lyrical, and her protagonist is a curious, creative, animal-lover your kids will adore, and more than likely pretend to be… Especially while painting!

If you, like me, know a good thing when you see it, you’ll want to grab one of these books (or several — never hurts to squirrel away a few easy-to-store birthday presents, right?) pronto. $20 per book (plus a few bucks shipping if you aren’t local) needs to be in Frida’s hands by May 15th and your book(s) will make their way to you no later than June 15th — which just so happens to be my birthday! So celebrate me with an awesome children’s book for a great cause… You will totally thank me later.

Contact Frida at kuwanlelenta@outlook.com to ask questions or place an order. Enjoy!

The Wishing Star

Tuesday we got a Berenstain Bears book called “The Wishing Star” from the library. In it is a familiar old rhyme:

Star light, star bright
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight

Owlet brought that poem up yesterday while I was cooking dinner, a mildly fussy Platypup at my feet. I mentioned that I used to say that when I was a little girl, and that my mom, Grandma Jackie, had taught it to me.

I saw the wheels turning in her thoughtful little head. An unusual silence reigned.

And then she asked, in the sweetest little conversational tone, “Do you see her very often?”

Ah, no, girl child. I would not be holding her back from you!

“Grandma Jackie?” I confirmed. She nodded. “No, honey,” I said, crouching down to her level, “she’s dead. Grandma Jackie died a long time ago, before you were born.”

I have been waiting for this question. I cannot express how happy I am that her immediate thought was not full of the fear that I would similarly leave her. I’m sure it helps that 13 seems as old as 30 to a 3 year old; likely she does not realize I was still a child.

Lately Owlet has been asking a lot about our friends’ son, Caemon, who died of leukemia in February and should have turned four two weeks ago. In step with her clown’s-scarf collection of never-ending “Why?”s, she has been very eager to master the difficult subject of life and death. Last week Caemon’s parents lent us a children’s book called Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen that did exactly what it should — demystify and familiarize, answer the primary questions and create openings for many more, and all with poignant illustrations and a soothing rhythm.

Amongst Platypup’s grousing I told my keen-eyed Owlet how much Grandma Jackie would have loved her, just like Granny (Thor’s mom) does. I said that I missed her very much still and wished that they had gotten to meet. She asked if Grandma Jackie had been very old, and I explained that, no, she had gotten very sick, like Caemon. And reiterated that most people live to be old, but some get hurt or sick when they are young.

She paused again, in a way that clearly meant the conversation would resume shortly. I started back on dinner.

“Who will be the next person to die?”

Now that is an unanswered question!

Of course I said there was no way of knowing, that no one could predict exactly when someone would die. And she was satisfied.

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A typical shot of our kitchen. Platypup making a mess and trying hard to clean it up, Owlet drawing.

Unphotographed Moments – Day Six

(This post is part of a series for August 2013 entitled “Unphotographed Moments.” Read the intro to the series here.)

Today’s Unphotographed Moments:

I started a new book last night, one I am already positive all parents and educators will want to read: It’s OK NOT To Share… and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker. This morning I was enthusiastically awakened at the delicious hour of 10am by Owlet, who began to roughhouse a bit too much for my blurry head. I applied the simple techniques outlined in the first few chapters and I kid you not, bam, worked like a charm. Try the free sample ebook on Kindle and buy it if, like me, you immediately know you cannot live without this gem of a magical child-rearing handbook.

We went to the library today only to be reminded that story time is on hiatus for the month of August. No biggie, we went and spent our hour in the children’s section. While Owlet and I chose books and did lots of reading, Platypup climbed the bookshelves, tapped delightedly on the window, fell in love with a very nice dad who politely accepted all of the books Platypup brought to him despite having his hands full with his adorable little baby, tried repeatedly to climb onto the little kid-height table until I moved his chair back, exchanged dubious toddler looks with a little girl exactly his height but half his foot width, and discovered the spinning book racks, at which point I decided it was probably time to leave.

Platypup rolling with chuckles galore on the floor while I tickled his delectable chubby thighs.

Platypup pooping on the floor to his (rather amusing) horror while I was grabbing chicken thighs from the freezer in the garage. He was really almost mortified, and very anxious till it was taken care of, whereas I was almost happy, since floors and baby bottoms clean easier than diapers.

Platypup helping me cook by assisting in screwing and unscrewing spice jar lids, pushing the cabinets and fridge door closed, and reaching for the stove while saying “hah hah hah” (hot hot hot).

Owlet regaling me with tales of her afternoon out with Granny, including vivid descriptions of cookies and petting zoo animals.

Owlet recovering from her brief fear of knives after nicking her finger for the second time, successfully cutting water chestnuts and peppers for our dinner. She boasted about how careful she had been later to Granny.

———-

Today’s one-shot photo:

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How I feel, having successfully put both kids to sleep before 8:30pm.

Still looking for the perfect Solstice gift? Worry not, dear friend! Your search ends here.

You are invited to take the following short quiz:

  1. Was Prisoner of Azkaban your favorite Harry Potter book?
  2. Do you enjoy small children, MMORPGs, and/or cookies?
  3. Do you prefer a story that walks the line between realism and idealism?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above, then you will love Debora Geary’s books. All of them.

I found A Modern Witch all on my own last year during a lazy search on Twiggy, my then-new Kindle, a Christmas present from Thor. I used the small bits of feet-up time my pregnancy with Platypup earned me (a respite from tackling toddler Owlet) to blow through all of her available books like the sinfully delicious chocolate truffles they are. I was soon delighted to learn how frequently new books and short stories are released, and as my crowning achievement, in the week or so leading up to Platypup’s birth — including early labor! — and the week or so following, I reread them all.

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I actually have photographic evidence.

I mention Prisoner of Azkaban because to me, it is this golden moment in the Harry Potter series where J. K. Rowling has really found her stride, the plot is deepening beyond a simple children’s book but at the same time it is a brief respite — the only book without a climatic battle scene against an evil wizard.

Somehow all of Debora Geary’s books occupy that same rare ground. Each one has charm and delicacy wrapped effortlessly into an intricate story arc that rises and falls with organic perfection, requiring no propulsion by super-villain. In fact, every Geary book I have had the pleasure of reading has similar pacing, but the material in each is fresh enough that it remains unpredictable. Light enough for beach reading, deep enough for book club — and just about perfect for a pregnant woman on the cusp of birth.

In case you enjoy/are addicted to World of Warcraft and others of its ilk, you will be pleased to find Geary’s witches own and operate a flourishing MMORPG, “Enchanter’s Realm,” complete with spell-coding (using magic to affect game play) in the witches-only levels. In addition, several truly genius internet-based developments are sprinkled throughout the books.

As much as I love the typical fantasy novel with its medieval setting, quest-based plot, and epic scope, I adore Geary’s work for being the polar opposite: her witches coexist peacefully in our modern-day western world, and the stories spun are comfortably mundane despite their magical trappings. If you are married with children like me, you grow weary of books and movies ending happily ever after before “real life” sets in; the majority of tales hardly make it to the beginning of a romantic relationship; a hardy few end with a wedding, or possibly a first child’s birth. Not with Geary at the helm! Real life is her canvas; one of her favorite heroines is a mother of five, and her characters are diverse in age, gender, and sexual orientation, and often ambiguous in race. And such characters! Their thoughts and moods, loves and frustrations are so honest, they seem culled from my own life. No stark realism here, however — the grace with which they eventually pull through is idealism at its best, serving to inspire with its very plausibility.

Geary also stands out from the pack with her willingness to pursue concurrent and overlapping plot-lines from book to book. She began with a main series, added a trilogy that takes place partway through the main series, and also has a few short stories tucked away as well. She even takes suggestions from readers under consideration — one of the short stories was prompted by a wedding no one wanted to miss. The result is a pleasantly sprawling history in which characters ebb and flow from central protagonist status to minor background figure and back. This character flexibility uniquely blends freshness with cohesion to great effect. In Geary’s world, one is never bored yet somehow always feels at home.

While reading Harry Potter, I felt a connection between my own formal music training and the classes at Hogwarts. In Geary’s books, that affiliation explodes. The more detail she provides on the shapes of spells and the way they are cast both by one witch and by a group or “circle” of witches, the more analogies my music-nerd-brain draws. The same balance of focus and creativity to get a phrase/spell just right. The tight control of the conductor/spellcaster over the power of their ensemble/circle. The feeling of momentum, of pure joy dancing under one’s fingertips. And pride in a skill honed to ever-approaching perfection. There may not be much actual music in the plot, but the spirit of music is embodied in Geary’s well-thought-out brand of magic.

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Magic!

As I mentioned awhile back, I emailed Geary a couple of minor typos and was thrilled when she asked me to serve as a final-stage proofreader in the future. Well, the future arrived last week in the form of the not-yet-released A Different Witch. (Yes, I was paid to proofread; no, I was not paid to write this review.) I wouldn’t want to spoil a single moment of it, but I will say this — Debora Geary pulls her readers inside a character’s head like nobody’s business, a fact that becomes particularly poignant if that character is, well, a different witch. But don’t you dare start with this newest one! Go get A Modern Witch and start properly at the beginning. When you’ve guzzled your way through the lot of them, come back and thank me. And bring cookies.

722 Pages Worth Reading Aloud (even if you’re covered in small children)

I had The Name of the Wind in my Amazonian cart for over a year, ever since a friend glowed about it on Facebook. Reviews lavishly recommended it to lovers of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, two of the best works of fantasy ever. When my in-laws gave me a birthday gift card, one of the first things I knew I’d use it for was this book.

The book arrived, and I vanished.

I have a toddler, a baby, and a job. I do not always find time to shower, have all the laundry you might expect from someone cloth-diapering a then-newborn, and my house generally could use a good vacuum. This book immediately jumped ahead of showering on the to-do list. When I blistered to the 722nd page and looked up for what felt like the first time in days, my bleary eyes spotted Thor. I knew he had to read it, and I was just as certain that he’d never get around to it on his own. It was even worth postponing my attack on the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, just to make sure he came along for the ride.

“This is the best book ever, and we’re going to read it out loud,” I declared rashly.

Thor was a tad less enthusiastic, remembering our lackluster track record at reading aloud ever since Owlet was born, but I knew that was just because he was still living in the real world, whilst I was happily residing inside Patrick Rothfuss’ brainchild. I persisted, and once we began, we were golden. We only get to read during those elusive moments where both children are asleep, but even so, we’ve made it to page 553 already. So far my exhaustion has trumped my longing to sneak a preview of the second book behind the back of a sleeping Thor, but only just!

Rothfuss seems to have an innate literary magic, because in this, his first published novel, you will find a mature, consistent voice, none of the awkwardly childish hokiness of early Rowling. The book begins promptly, with a preface steeped in mystery and drama that leads to a more plain-spoken but no less enthralling narration; a far better pacing, in my sacrilegious opinion, than Tolkein. And yet the humor, charm, and well-fleshed protagonist of Harry Potter are here as well as the epic grandeur and endless depths of implied history of The Lord of the Rings. Yet every word resonates as home-grown rather than pilfered.

Perhaps the reason this is already my favorite trilogy without having read books two or three is the spotlight on music. Music is blood in our main character’s veins. He is raised on it. He is sustained by it through unimaginable loss. He craves it like a drug. His love story is drenched with music and many of the story’s worst moments are made more ferocious by their connection to music-making. With musical literacy lagging ever further behind the likewise faltering “regular” literacy, there is nothing a musician like me loves more than for music to appear center-stage.

And something else, besides. Rothfuss starts late in the story first, and then proceeds to the beginning. So that curious but uncomfortable feeling you get when you read about Joan of Arc, Bill Clinton, or the Wicked Witch of the West? Where you are always trying to connect the dots from your point in the story to where you know things end up later? Yeah, that. I hate and love that. You’ll find that here.

I have tried off and on for several days to find my favorite quotes, pluck them out, and bring them here to you. I can’t do it. They are nestled snugly into their pages like the eyes of an embroidered bird. Not only would it spoil your discovery of the bird to have already seen its eyes, but the eyes by themselves just don’t have the same effect. So, as a friend, I refuse to divulge any further details.

Just trust me, go get the book. Read it, get book two, and read that. Then we can help one another stand the wait until book three comes out!

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