Friday, October 30, 2009

I Like Books Too

Okay, since everybody else is talking about books, I suppose I will as well.

I'm weird about books. I will pick up and take home almost anything from the library. But the chances of me actually reading and finishing a book I pick up are probably about 1 in 25. If I can't get into it right from page one, I'm not going to bother. Now, this doesn't mean that there has to be riviting suspense and action right from the first page. I'm okay if we get a chapter or two of normal life before the story really starts. I just mean that the voice, the character(s), the opening scene, something has to get my attention and keep it.

I like my books to be straightforward. I like to know exactly what is going on right from the beginning. It's okay if there's mystery or things that aren't fully explained. But, and this is why I can't get into most fantasy, I'm not going to keep reading a book if there are fifty place names and other things I've never heard of on the first page.

Historical fiction is my favorite. Historical characters (who, by the way, hardly ever think the way actual historical people would have, which is okay) and their problems just seem more real to me. I don't like those books about teenagers who have huge problems. To me they always seem to be blowing little problems way out of proportion or else creating their own problems with their rebellious attitudes. Somehow, I just always connected more with the stereotypical Medieval/Renaissance girl trying to escape an arranged marriage.

I like books to have a happy ending. It's okay if characters don't get exactly what they want. It's even okay if characters die. It's okay if not everything gets resolved (I don't know what kind of author would tie up every loose end and leave readers with nothing to wonder about, anyway). But there needs to be hope. There needs to be the potential for the characters to go on to live happy lives. And there needs to be the option for a sequal.

Anyway, that's my book spiel. I could write more, but I have to get to reading my sociology textbook, which I'm pretty sure is just about the dumbest book ever written. But first, I'm apparantly supposed to list seven things you might not know about me.

1. Sometimes, I actually miss high school.
2. My new obsession is Medieval Latin poetry.
3. I am really scared of stairs, especially winding, multi-level staircases.
4. I am so incredibly happy that I'm not a teenager anymore.
5. I've seen every episode of NCIS that's ever been made.
6. I've been in choir since I was four, and played handbells since I was eight.
7. One of my dreams is to go to London and see a play at the Globe.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

in emily's world of writing

so, today i broke the 200 page mark on the story i'm working on. Now to explain what this means. When i count a page i count one as a sheet of paper. this is so it will more likely match up with the pages when i type it. So 200 pages is 200 front and back. I'm very proud of this. i've written 20 pages more than i thought i would when i first started, and i'm no where near done. This is extremely exciting because usually the books i write tend to be shorter then i expected, not longer. take what you want from that.

in other news, walter moers is a god. if you don't know who that is, Shame on you! go find out right now. Him and shannon hale are my favorite authors ever. EVER. I just finished his book called The Alchemaster's Apprentice last night. Let me give you brief introduction into this story. The main character is named Echo. Echo is a crat. a crat is a talking cat with two livers. But that's not all. Echo's best friend is a cyclopian owl named theodore T. theodore. Theodore has speech dyslexia. ex. instead of saying "i hope so" theodore will say "i sope ho."

Now take into consideration that this is a pretty mild (if not terrifying) book for walter moers. the first book by him i read was called the 13 1/2 lives of Captain BLuebear. In as few words as possible this is what it's about: bluebear, minipirates, talking waves, hobgoblins, islands that eat you, blind pterodactyls, a guy with seven brains, and emo unicorn, a jelly prince from the 364th dimension, giant spiders, deserts made of suger, muggs who eat nothing but muggrooms, a tornado filled with old men, a quite literal ghost town, a giant head, atlantis, aliens, extreme storytelling contests, and thinking elements. and probably a few things i haven't mentioned.

i would love to spend a day with walter moers's mind.

now then, i'm supposed to say 7 things people don't know about me?
1) my hair has been every color of the rainbow except green.
2) i'm in love with ron weasley
3) i have a collection of over a thousand marbles
4)secretly i wish more stories had sad endings (in the world walter moers created, Zamonia, all stories are tragedies)
5)my worst injury was a small cut on my forehead that needed three stitches
6)for some reason i keep skipping things. i skipped 8th grade, i skipped french 2...
7)i once went to turkey for 5 hours and bought a turkish rug

that's it for now!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Books and Stuff

Okay, I hate to admit this in public, but I have recently read two Meg Cabot books. I've long avoided reading Ms. Cabot out of principle. But one of my critique group members, Sarah, suggested I look into her books, because her humor was similar to what I'm going for in one of mine. So I reluctantly asked Melissa to check me out some Meg Cabot next time she was at the library. (Melissa goes to the library often--it's her third home, after home and church.)

So--I know you're dying to hear what I think of Meg Cabot. They're not bad books. They have some good qualities, and I can see why they appeal to a certain reader. (Obviously, Meg is making a TON more money at this writing thing than I am, so who am I to judge?) They are easy to read, full of action, and have some interesting characters. On the down side, they are somewhat formulaic, predictable, and too full of Prada, Gucci, etc. But hey, the great Fred Astaire made TONS of money making formulaic, predictable movies: boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.

The one I just read was part of the Mediator series, and is so appropriate for this week of Halloween. The main character is a mediator--that is, a person who is contacted by the dead who have not completely passed over for one reason or another. It has suspense, intrigue, murder mystery qualities to it. I liked that. But it does seem that every Meg Cabot book has the main character lusting after the cute, popular guy. I know not every girl in the world is after the cutest guy in school--cute is in the eye of the beholder.

So, I doubt I'll read all her books, but for quick airplane reads or anytime you want to read without really thinking, by all means, these are great books for that.

Another book I read this week is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. I got it in Chicago on the recommendation of our tour guide. It's chock full of really interesting Chicago history, surrounding the 1893 Colombian Exposition. It's an oddly told book, with lots and lots of redundant parts. Part of the book recounts the difficulties and victories of the main folks working on the Exposition. The other part of the book ties in the serial killer HH Holmes--who really had nothing to do with the Exposition, just that he was in Chicago at the same time. So telling the two stories together is a little odd--they really have virtually nothing in common. Reading the book feels like reading two different stories. The writing is sometimes compelling and delightful, but other times it is bogged down in its own importance. Still, I'm glad I read it.

Okay, now on to some fun for all: My friend Amy ( our blog an award! Yippee. We're supposed to list 7 things you don't know about me/us, so here goes: These apply to Neysa only. The other girls will have to post their own.

1. My hair is entirely gray, I color it so I don't feel like Barbara Bush. I'm old, but not that old.
2. I used to be big into running, miles and miles every day.
3. I was high school valedictorian--along with three others.
4. I just wrote lyrics to a song commissioned for the Idaho Capitol renovation celebration in January, 2010.
5. I have never broken any bones.
6. If I could have any gift for one week, it would be the services of a handyman to fix everything in our decrepit house.
7. I've known my husband since I was 7 years old.

I'm also supposed to nominate 7 other blogs for the Creative Blog award, but Amy pretty much got all the ones I read. Oh well.

Happy Halloween,


Thursday, October 22, 2009

this is my college essay, tell me what you think

I want to be an astronaut, but I have no idea why. I read a book over the summer called Riding Rockets, the autobiography of astronaut Mike Mullane. In his astronaut interview he was asked “Why do you want to be an astronaut?” In the months since, I’ve thought a lot about how I would answer that. This is where the “no idea” part comes in.
When I was six years old, maybe even younger, my family went camping out in Bruneau Sand Dunes. They have a planetarium there and a telescope, the largest one in all of Idaho. I don’t remember much from the trip, but I do remember the planetarium, stars and a woman with a laser pointer connecting the stars. Most vividly I remember walking outside afterward, looking up at the sky, and finding the big dipper for the first time in my life.
Jump ahead seven years to May, 2006. I hadn’t thought about the stars the entire seven years. I came to school that day expecting it to be like any other day. I found myself sitting in eighth grade earth science preparing to watch another of Mr. Hunike’s infamous disaster documentaries. I was in for a surprise.
The screen lit up. “The future of space flight.” I was in heaven, my overactive imagination pulled along with the movie. Plasma jets taking us to Mars, solar sails propelling us almost at the speed of light. I found myself agreeing with everything the documentary said. Yes, yes. We NEED to do this. Yes, yes, spend the money. Nothing could have made me happier. I went home that day thinking nothing in me had changed. The video in Hunike’s class inspired me to write a story, nothing more nothing less. My parents bought me my first telescope the following Christmas.
It was the middle of the winter, but I was determined to use it. I asked my mom to hike up the hill near our house to where the skies were clear of trees. I set up the telescope in the dark and pointed it at the constellation of Orion. I looked and looked, and then…
“I found the Orion nebula, found the Orion nebula,” I sang in a catchy tune of my own inventing. It was a triumphant night in the land of Emily.
I’m not sure when it transformed from a love of astronomy to wanting to be an astronaut. But that goal now dominates my life. If most astronauts know how to fly, I’ll learn how to fly. If there are lots of Russian cosmonauts, I’ll take Russian. You say astronauts would build rockets in their back yard? Then I’ll build rockets in my back yard. If it gets me half an inch closer to space, I’ll do it. I am going to be an astronaut. The only question worth asking is how?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Private Vs. Public Schools

Okay, so yesterday I was at a talk at a local private school (which shall remain unnamed). My reasons for being at this talk are unimportant (job stuff). The thing that got to me was that as the speakers were talking up their school and how great it is, they fell into a common mode of bashing public school.

Now let me add a disclaimer here. I have been known to do my own fair share of public school bashing. Back when I was a homeschooling mom, my fellow homeschoolers and I often spent our conversations pointing out the pitfalls of public schools. I think it helped us feel we were doing the right thing for our kids. Like we had to justify it or something. Now that I have had nearly ten years of having kids in the public schools, I can see things more objectively. I think.

So back to yesterday. The main speaker spoke about how the students at their school had extremely high reading levels. MY kids have extremely high reading levels. She talked about the fact that several of their students became National Merit Scholars. My kid was a National Merit Scholar. They talked about how their school aligns math and reading groups. Wow, they do that in our elementary school too. Virtually everything they discussed sent my brain into a tailspin.

What I decided was that those particular kids would have extremely high reading levels, would have been National Merit Scholars, would have been grouped in like math and reading groups, etc. even if they didn't go to this fancy private school. I think--and I'm generalizing here, I realize--that the private school just happens to have a skewed percentage of high performing students, who would have achieved those things no matter where they were.

I think a lot of what counts in education today is not so much exactly the method of the school in teaching, but the attitude of parents and kids alike about learning. My children are all smart. I'm not saying that to brag, but to point out that they were smart before they went to school. My homeschooling mindset tells me that they would be smart even if they never went to school. If they explored the world in their own way in their own time, they'd be smart.

I'm trying to downplay the wonderfulness of this or any other private school. I just think that the school's belief that their students' successes are because of the school is ridiculous. The students, as the head of school pointed out, come to the school already fully formed in their personalities and humanness, and as such, the school does not fill up their minds with stuff, but helps the students realize themselves. Yay for them. But my kids have been able to realize themselves despite the burden of having gone to public school. So what would she say to that?

As an educator, I hope to avoid the thought process that says one way of approaching learning is the best way. There are many ways, and probably all have their own worth. I hope I will be able to engage my students, excite them about our subject, and make personal connections with them. I hope they will remember my class as a time when they were jazzed about a subject, and if not that, at least jazzed to come to class because I made it interesting. What they do with their lives, what successes they become--that's up to them. I feel the same about my own children. I hope I have given them the space to explore their own interests, the common sense to see what needs to be done, and the support to follow their passions. I don't take credit for anything more than standing back and giving them the green light.

Have a day full of learning--you don't have to pay $8,000 a year for it.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Okay, I'm not gonna go all religious on you, so don't worry. But this morning at church I heard about an organization called Advent Conspiracy. I am constantly moved to do more to help the world--not about politics or who's in charge, or who's ahead. Just helping. Just doing. Sometimes it's hard to feel that one person--little ol' me--can really do anything that will be of significant help. That's why I was intrigued by Advent Conspiracy. According to their figures, Americans spend $450 billion--that's right, not a typo, billion--on Christmas every year. If we each just didn't buy one gift and instead gave it to buy clean water for the world's neediest people, we could make a tremendous impact. Think of it. You don't need to buy every person in your acquaintance a gift, do you? I know that many of the gifts I receive from others outside my family are often not things I want anyway. I'm sure they probably feel the same about mine. Why not, instead, give the money away and let your friends know that you donated it in their name?

The other piece of this equation is giving more than material possessions. Giving your presence instead of presents. Making gifts or giving the gift of time. One year our family decided that we were going to make all our gifts. It was incredibly fun, creative, and meaningful. We had to really think. So often, don't you find yourself shopping for someone and thinking "I have no idea what to give to this person." Then we just end up buying something, even if it's not great, just so there's a gift under the tree. Why not just offer your time to that person, your presence? A book of coupons for say, a walk in the park, a neck massage, a home-cooked dinner, or a drink after work. Time.

There are numerous organizations in addition to Advent Conspiracy. Heifer International is a great one. They've been around for years. Alternative Gifts International has a wide variety of good causes. You can customize the donation you make to fit the person you're giving for--my sister-in-law, Erica, has done this for years in honor of our family members. She knows I'm into children's and women's causes, so in my name she donates to causes that benefit women and children around the globe. I'm honored by it. You probably are aware of others, maybe mission work through your church, maybe peace organizations. Anything can have an effect.

And while I'm on the subject, let's not forget that day after Thanksgiving, on which the world seems to go nuts over Christmas shopping. Buy Nothing Day, sponsored by Adbusters, encourages us to not buy anything on that day. Protest the advertising craziness and stay home, or go for a walk, or eat more turkey. It's kind of freeing, actually. Our family has been known to go out to eat that day or go to a movie, but we definitely don't go shopping. I'm not big into the hype anyway--I like to celebrate one holiday at a time, thank you very much. (I haven't even put out Halloween decorations yet, for crying out loud.) I don't usually like shopping on a good day, and I certainly don't want to be at the mall with all the maniacs on the day after Thanksgiving. Yikes.

For other gift ideas, you can see my article in the November issue of Treasure Valley Family Magazine about giving gifts of the arts.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

if you pass out, see a doctor

So i'm currently in the process of doing health online. This is not a fun thing and i find the fact that the class is required ridiculous. But here i am. I'm on the "disease prevention" chapter, which really should be called the "disease" chapter. There have been two sentences about preventing illness and 50 pages on what different illnesses are. (all of them increasingly gross). With each disease there are two things that are at least somewhat entertaining. The first is the list of symptoms for the disease with the warning "if you have any of these symptoms see a doctor." For every single disease, i kid you not, are these two very important symptoms. 1: fatigue. So, if you're tired at all you must be sick. Well better get down to the doctor. 2: lose of consciousness. Oh yeah, when i'm unconscious the first thing i do is head down to the doctor.

Nurse: "so what are you here for?"

Patient: "well i seem to be unconscious."

That makes perfect sense.

The other thing that can be interesting is the list of risk factors (they like lists). One of the more common risk factors is age. But my favorite one was "males over 20." Just wonderful. When i read that i kind of laughed inside. (haha, you males). I love how diseases can be sexist and rascist and overall discriminatory.

All of this reminds me of those lawsuit commercials on TV now. They don't do this any more but when they first started showing up they'd say "if you have experienced these symptoms or death, call now." Well, i'll be sure to call them from the grave, just as soon as they get reception down here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Okay, so I've been reading Barbara Kingsolver's very good book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's so inspiring. She and her family basically decide to spend a year eating only food they can find within their county lines, including food they grow themselves. And they do it. It's a fascinating book, along the same lines as many other food books on the shelves these days, such as Plenty and Fast Food Nation. And some of the sweetness of the book is that, not only does the whole family get on board for this adventure, they heartily join in and cook together, can together, and really are of one mind throughout the year.

My own household, in contrast, has become a hodge-podge of different eating habits, so much so that I have all but given up trying to get us all in the same library, much less on the same page.

I've never been much of a gardener, which is my own fault. When I was growing up, my parents had a garden, but I never once joined them in tending it. I did, however, join my mother on many excursions to pick everything possible: chokecherries, gooseberries, raspberries, green beans, corn, cucumbers, strawberries, and possibly other things I have repressed. She made jams and pickles and canned everything that would fit in a jar. My memories of the early days of school each year are punctuated with the tart, harsh, even unpleasant scent of pickling. So I had the role model. In fact, as much as she could, my mother did what Barbara Kingsolver did, only 40 years before it was cool and you could publish a book about it. Dang.

As an adult, I've attempted to grow tomatoes, sometimes squash (I don't think we ever had any edible ones), berries of sorts, but never more than a handful at a time to eat. I have been a member of many CSAs (community supported agriculture) and have frequented farmers markets and bought local as much as my budget will allow. I would like to do more of this, but my family is not enthusiastic, for the most part. In fact, I haven't been a CSA member for years because unfortunately, due to my picky eaters in the house and my non-interest in canning, much of our produce went in the compost pile.

Melissa is somewhat on board with me. She is happy to go to the farmer's market, but really she's more interested in breads and fruits than she is in greens and veggies. She's a meat and potatoes gal all the way, and would happily eat local meat and potatoes to the ends of the earth, but is just as happy to eat whatever comes from the chain stores as well.

Then there's Emily. While she has nothing against locally grown items, she doesn't eat many of the things that grow here. She's not into red meat, although will eat chicken and eggs sometimes. She is not a vegetable lover, except for corn and carrots. Her staples run more the lines of tortellini and pizza.

Peter has always loved berries and fruits of most kinds, plus broccoli. I don't know why broccoli, but he loves it. Again, he doesn't care whether his food is local or not, but he likes enough of the processed crap that it sort of offsets anything local he does eat.

Dear husband David is the ever-frugal-budget master of the house, and his eye is on the bottom line. Thank goodness. Someone's has to be. But he is all for buying whatever is the very cheapest of the cheap, and if it lacks nutrients or uses fossil fuels, that's not on his radar screen. He's the main foe I face in my goal of eating more locally. Now, he's not against local on any particular grounds except that it's usually much more expensive.

So here are the things I HAVE been able to put in place with some success in this mayhem of food in our home. We have local milk and eggs delivered each week through Boise Milk (Reeds Dairy). I love it. The kids definitely notice a better taste to the milk. Another creamery we love is Cloverleaf Creamery. But they don't deliver. I like having milk delivered because we consume a lot of milk and I get tired of constantly going out to get more milk. I buy local meat when I can get away with it, but you see, I hate shopping, so often someone else is assigned to go to the grocery store--and they usually choose the cheapest place, which doesn't sell much local stuff. I have a strong code that if I am not willing to shop/cook/clean, I have no right to complain, so I don't.

I am amping up my own garden. This year we managed to produce some edible tomatoes. We planted strawberries, so next year we can hope those produce. I plan to plant more berries this fall to see how they do. Next year, we'll add another crop or two to our very small vegetable garden. (Space is limited, since the back yard is owned by the three dogs.) If I can just get some sort of paying job, I can afford more of the pricier local goods.

Short of that, I might just have to move next door to Barbara Kingsolver.

Happy eating. Neysa