CHILDREN’S BOOK WEEK: K-2ND GRADE

April 29, 2013 in Book Reviews

I’m a “fun” mom, which means I dream up super fun/educational things for my kids to do and then torture them until they participate. Sometimes they come around to way of thinking and have a blast in spite of their initial bad attitudes, and sometimes, well let’s just say we don’t talk about those times very much.

Right now we are in the middle of one of my great ideas, and I have Cathy C. Hall to thank for it. It was on her blog that I was first introduced to Children’s Book Week , an annual celebration of children’s literature and its youngest readers. While Children’s Book Week has been around since 1919, for the last 6 years they’ve added a twist: it’s the only national book awards program where the winners are voted on by children. That’s right: KIDS pick the winners.

When I heard about this, only one thought flitted across my mind: we are so doing this!

Thanks to the “Hold” system at my local library, we began with the 1st category: Book of the Year K-2nd Grade. Every night, I read one or two of the five selections at bedtime. The nominees are:

Nighttime Ninja, by Barbara DaCosta, illustrated by Ed Young

I am surprised this is nominated in the “Book of the Year” category and not the “Illustrator of the Year” category. Ed Young is a stunning artist, and his illustrations in this book are of the same caliber. It’s the very definition of a picture book, where the imaginative cut paper, textured cloth, and colored pencil scenes create an entire world where words are hardly necessary.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by Eric Litwin, illustrated by James Dean

Pete the Cat is all the rage right now. He’s a cool cat, along the lines of Danny Zuko in Grease, because he sings too. Simple, catchy songs that, if you make up a tune to sing them too, you and your kids will be singing it for the next two days. In this adventure, Pete the Cat loses his buttons while learning simple subtraction, and he finds a button that he will be able to carry with him wherever he goes.

I’ll Save You Bobo! By Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

A companion to I Must Have Bobo!, this charming story stars Willy, an imaginative little boy who takes his stuffed monkey Bobo with him as he writes his own book. Willy draws and plots his story, placing Bobo in scary situations so that Willy can save him. Except he has a hard time working because his cat, Earl, can’t seem to leave him alone. The illustrations are priceless, and watching the inner workings of an imaginative child is a pure delight.

This is my middle son’s vote (age 10), and it’s no surprise. He’s my imaginative child, the one that has placed his action figures into all sorts of precarious situations since the day he was born. I bet some of the stories Willy came up with work their way into my own son’s scenarios.

The Duckling Gets A Cookie!? by Mo Willems

Who doesn’t love Mo Willems? The latest adventure for the pigeon is absolutely precious. An adorable duckling gets a cookie, and naturally, the pigeon rants and raves about the unfairness of it all. It’s a hilarious read for adults, because it’s all arguments we’ve heard before from our own kids. Somewhere along the way, the pigeon realizes that the reason he may not be getting what he asks for is because of the way he has been asking. It’s a nice discovery of the kindness of manners. And don’t worry: the pigeon eventually gets a cookie of his own from an unexpected source.

My oldest son chose this one (age almost 13) and I suspect it’s because since he’s nearly an adult, he saw the humor. Either that or he really likes cookies.

Big Mean Mike, by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Scott Magoon

The main character, Mike, is a big, tough, mean dog, with a hot rod car, a spiky dog collar, and an imposing presence that everyone in the neighborhood respects, and it’s just how Mike likes it…until he meets the cutest, fuzziest bunnies you’ve ever seen. Watching big, tough Mike transform into a softie around these bunnies…oh my gosh. I was a mess by the end of this book. I wanted to cry, I wanted to say “aahhhhh”, and I wanted to read it again about 50 more times. It was like a children’s book version of any adult movie with a crotchety male character who is miraculously softened by the charming baby/toddler/child/teenager. Apparently, I’m a sucker for that plot-line.

My vote, hands down, is Big Mean Mike, although The Duckling Gets A Cookie!? is pretty darn cute. My youngest one (age 7) gave this one his vote too. He enjoyed trying to pick out the toughest dog of all at the Monster Truck Show.

Stay tuned for our next category: Illustrator of the Year!

Your kids can play along too, and vote here before May 13, 2013.

FINDING JOY

April 26, 2013 in Adventures in Re-Discovering Myself

I recently participated in an online journaling workshop entitled 8 Days of Joy led by Lisa Olson on one of my favorite blogs: Luisa Tanno.

It was a simple one, with straightforward assignments. I kept it light and low key.

But on Day 5, I had a revelation.

One of the assignments was to make a list of 12 things that bring you joy. That was easy; I over-achieved that day and went way past 12.

The next day, I felt down. That’s fairly normal for me these days: it’s been a rough year. I was mopey and felt heavy, slogging through the motions of my day. I checked my emails, and found the Day 5 assignment: Pick something on your list of things that brings you joy, and do it. That’s it. I didn’t even have to write anything down. So I flipped back to my list and started making my way through it, trying to decide which one to pick.

That’s when I had my revelation: I had already done 5 things on my list that bring me joy. 5 things! And I was still mopey?

Harlan Coben, prolific author of wildly popular thrillers, once said “You bring your own weather to the picnic.” Was feeling joy a choice?

I took a moment to revel in the 5 things I had already accomplished: 1) reading a good book 2) on the beach 3) and falling asleep for a nice nap. Hmm…that is joyous. I could feel myself lighten a bit. 4) I was with my 3 boys, listening to the things they had to say in between snacks and swimming. Yes, that’s a joyous thing. I began to smile. 5) I was drinking a really good glass of red wine…aaahhh.

I realized something in that moment. All the psychologists, life coaches, zen teachers and yogi masters are right: the key to feeling joy is to live in the moment.

I am a planner through and through. I love looking to the future, thinking ahead to all the things I have to do and that I want to do. I mentally set aside blocks of time for these activities, and consider what needs to be done to make them happen. The problem is, I’m so busy spending time on the future, that I forget to enjoy the moment I’m in.

I also tend to spend a great deal of time in the past, reliving moments I wish I had done differently, recalling fond memories, and replaying conversations with better responses on my part. That’s fine, but again, I forget about the moment I’m actually in.

On Day 5, I was so solidly in the past, thinking about my dad and his last weeks, that I wasn’t even paying attention to the joy that was all around me in the present!

This past week, I tried something different. I was determined to live in the present. For every activity I did, I made a point to mentally check in. I did this when I baked a batch of brownies for the teachers at our school, and while I prepared for teaching two art lessons. I checked in with myself when I was chauffering my kids to sporting events and helping them with their homework. I even made a point to focus on the moments when I was doing unenjoyable projects, like laundry and cleaning the bathrooms. I did plan ahead, but I didn’t try to tackle everything on my list in one day, and I did dwell in the past, but I kept one foot in the present as well.

You know what? I was happier this week. I had long busy days, some filled with the crappy things life throws at you, some filled with ease and lightness, but overall, I was happier. And here’s the funny thing: feeling happy was shocking! I’d check in with myself and think “Hey…I’m happy right now, making these brownies, and licking the bowl isn’t hurting a thing.” And then I’d think “I’m happy? How…weird.”

With everything that has gone down this year, feeling happy is a novelty…but it’s still there. By living in the moment, I hope to find it much more often.

Thank you Lisa, for your fabulous workshop, and thank you Luisa for hosting it on your blog!

If you’re looking for a journaling workshop, Luisa Tanno has some great ones!

 

ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH MY SON: A LACROSSE TOURNAMENT

April 24, 2013 in Adventures in Parenting

My family is no stranger to sports events. With 3 boys and 3 sporting seasons, there is no shortage of practices, games, and tournaments. But even with my oldest son playing Select soccer, we have never had to travel far enough to warrant a hotel stay…until now.

My middle son and I left on Friday afternoon for a 3-hour-plus drive to Kennewick, WA for his first lacrosse tournament. I was looking forward to great conversations with my son in the car, but he promptly fell asleep, leaving me glued to an AM radio station to follow the unfolding events of the manhunt in Boston.

We arrived at the hotel late, so I was expecting to check-in and go to bed. Instead, I was handed a special instruction sheet for the proper hotel behavior for lacrosse players (i.e. no running with your sticks in the hall), while the lobby buzzed with 3rd and 4th graders on my son’s team greeting new arrivals. Room numbers were shared and vending machines staked out while I had a mini-reunion with a couple of parents who had sons on the the 5th/6th grade and the 7th/8th grade teams. Being new to lacrosse, I had no idea their kids played.

Plans were made to meet for breakfast the next morning, and so began the wonderful world of an out-of-town sporting event.

The actual lacrosse games were secondary. It was the breakfasts, lunches, and dinners my son ate every day with his friends, while us parents hijacked our own table and tried to pretend we had no idea who that group of unruly boys belonged to.

It was the pool party in the ice-cold pool between games that had my son grinning from ear-to-ear while us moms sat on lounge chairs bundled up in towels to ward off the chilly breeze.

It was the late night game of tag, the boys weaving their way amongst the beautifully dressed young men and women who happened, unluckily, to be having their prom at the same hotel. While the boys played, we watched the prom attendees with a certain amount of wistfulness (“Remember when…?) and judgment (“You see that? He’s walking three feet behind her and scratching his head…something didn’t go right.”),  and we wondered why we thought mixing wine and margaritas in the same night was a good idea.

All these events, including the lacrosse games, had one thing in common: my son and I were never together. He was with his friends or his coach, while I entertained myself with my fellow parents: not exactly the recipe for a mother-son bonding weekend.

Or was it?

I may not have sat at the same table with my son at mealtimes, but we shared smiles across the restaurants when it came time to negotiate what to order: “No, you may not have a giant milkshake right before your game.”

There was no way I was going to dive into the unheated pool with him, but I was there to greet him with dry towels when he shivered his way across the pool deck, and he sidled up next to me, laying his hand on my arm, every time he asked for our room key so he could use the bathroom.

All weekend long, we had moments: going to the vending machine, just us, to pick out a special treat after lunch, hunkering down in our hotel room at night, and getting ready to go to breakfast together in the morning. We walked along the hallway to and from our room, drove from the hotel to the lacrosse fields and back, and touched base with each other a thousand times during each day for a thousand different reasons.

There is no doubt about it: we did bond. I can still see it in his body language around me, and I almost burst into tears of joy the other day when he blurted out “I like you,” for no apparent reason.

Our lacrosse tournament was a gentle reminder that I do not need to be alone with my children or even out of town to have bonding moments: they can happen anywhere, anytime, and with any number of people around us. All it takes is an ability to be aware enough to recognize the opportunity when it arises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOCKDOWN

April 22, 2013 in Random Thoughts

Several weeks ago, my sons’ schools were in lockdown. It took awhile for the complete story to emerge, but what happened was this:

A burglary-in-progress at a local residence was interrupted and the suspect fled on foot. Because of the ensuing search for the suspect and the use of the K-9 unit, it was deemed unsafe to let school children off the buses in the area. All the middle school buses, which were en route when the incident occurred, were redirected back to the school for a lockdown, and the elementary schools in the area followed suit.

In the broad scheme of problems plaguing our world today, this was a minor incident. I applaud the schools for erring on the side of caution, and I was happy to absorb the inconvenience to keep our kids safe.

For it was inconvenient for all of us. After school swimming lessons, music lessons, and doctors appointments had to be rescheduled. Alternate carpool arrangements and phone calls alerting others had to be made, and I’m not going to lie: before we knew exactly what was going on, we all experienced a fair amount of anxiety.

So I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around the news I woke up to on Friday morning: the entire city of Boston was on lockdown. The entire city and its surroundings were on lockdown? The news went downhill from there. The hunt was on for an armed and dangerous suspect wanted in connection with the Boston marathon bombings. It was possible he was armed with explosives, or that more explosives had been placed around the city. Before his brother died, the two suspects had hijacked a car, shot and killed a security officer, and the suspect currently on the run had driven over his own brother with a car.

This news was beyond mind-boggling; it was unprecedented. I remained glued to my TV, my car radio, and my iPhone, unable to turn away from the magnitude of the threat to the citizens in Boston. No one was allowed outside their homes, businesses, subways, and trains were shut down, and I am certain the collective blood pressure of the Bostonians was at an all-time high.

It was reminiscent of watching the 9/11 attacks unfold in real time, where there were so many questions and developments that it was impossible to keep up, and of the infamous O.J. Simpson slow-speed car chase up Interstate 405, not far from where I lived at the time, with helicopters flying overhead and some 20 police cars participating in the chase.

I think the police and the FBI were amazing in their efforts to put together a trail of evidence that led to the capture of one and the death of the other suspect in less than a week. When that book comes out, I am definitely going to read it just to see how they went from nothing to the identities of the suspects, and how they eventually found them.

I know the citizens of Boston are extraordinary individuals. They provided video and photographic evidence to the authorities that were no doubt instrumental in their investigation. Even Jeff Bauman, the victim who lost both of his legs in the bombings, and who arguably had other things to worry about, immediately came forward with information that helped the police ID the suspects. (Jeff, that iconic photograph of you and the man who dropped everything to help you is destined to grace the cover of Time magazine.) And they listened. When told not to leave their homes, they stayed inside, keeping safe and letting law enforcement officials do their work. It must have been difficult, with pets and children and increasing anxiety, to stay within the confines of their homes for such an extended period of time. It must have been unimaginable watching on TV or listening on their radios to the surreal progress of the manhunt occurring all across their hometown. And it must have been an extraordinary relief to know the suspect was finally in custody and they were safe again.

I have never seen anything like it, and I hope I never will again.

My deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends of Sean Collier and the victims of the Boston Marathon, and to all those who were injured. 

THE SCHARFFEN BERGER CHOCOLATE ADVENTURE CONTEST

April 17, 2013 in Chocolate! (and other less exalted food experiences)

 

Every once in awhile, I do something a little crazy because it sounds like it might be fun. That’s how I found myself entered in the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest.

I heard about this contest from the amazing Bakerella, creator of cake pops, who mentioned that she was going to be one of the judges for this contest.

Hmm…a contest involving chocolate? I’m in! What do I have to do?

The theme was sandwich cookies, using one or more of the 12 “adventure” ingredients, such as tequila, pine nuts, sweet potato, and coconut milk, and the deadline was January 2, 2013.

Now, I bake all the time. But I have never tried to create my own recipe…well, at least not since high school. And perhaps I shouldn’t have waited until December 31, 2012 to try to come up with a delectable creation. But I had just made dozens of Christmas cookies for the holiday season. The recipes were all fresh in my head. Surely I could tweak something here and add an ingredient there and come up with something delicious and contest-worthy in a mere two days?

I am not known for my adventurous palate so I kept it simple, choosing banana and ginger from the “adventure list.” I also reminded myself of how the fabulous Ina Garten creates a recipe: she reads all about the item she wants to create, then she abandons it all and enters her kitchen, armed with knowledge and her own creativity.

I should point out that Ina can do this because she’s been cooking for years.

Nevertheless, I cockily entered my kitchen with a bunch of ripe bananas and knobby roots of ginger and went to work.

“Dry,” my family pronounced my first version.

“Can you taste the banana?”

“There’s banana in here?”

Here’s the thing: banana is so moist that  it’s hard to add too much and still be able to roll it without it sticking to everything. From what I read, banana extract may have been the way to go, but I wasn’t sure it would count in the contest, and besides, my local grocery store didn’t carry it. (I checked.)

“Dry,” my family pronounced versions #2, #3, and #4.

Darn it! Creating a cookie recipe is hard. I should have given up. I had no business being in this contest, and I gave myself only two days: ridiculous.

But my kids had gotten into it by then, once they heard that the runners-up would win an iPad. Those dear boys were so wonderfully supportive because they believed I could win, even after they tasted my cookie attempts.

Besides, I spend nearly every waking day spewing things like “Do your best,” and “Never give up.” What kind of role model would I be if I just quit?

So I kept plugging away. I did more research on the internet, googling questions like “Why is my cookie so dry?” I adjusted the ingredients, rolled out more banana-ginger cookies, baked them, and tasted them. Finally, I came up with a cookie that wasn’t dry!

“Much better!” my family pronounced.

“Can you taste the banana in there?”

“There’s banana—I mean, yes. Yes I can.”

Now it was time to add the chocolate filling, which, I might add, I nailed on the first try. (I do love my chocolate!) When I sandwiched the chocolate filling in between the banana-ginger cookies, it wasn’t bad.

Was it contest-worthy? No.

But it wasn’t bad. I was proud of my little two-day-old sandwich cookie.

That is, until I saw what the grand prize winner had come up with: Margarita Moon Pies by Merry Graham. They consisted of a margarita infused marshmallow filling sandwiched between chocolate graham cracker cookies with agave syrup and cayenne pepper, coated entirely in chocolate and topped off with lime sprinkles.

Oh my. No wonder she won $25,000. Her Margarita Moon Pies put my banana-ginger cookies to shame. (Congratulations Merry!)

But…there’s another Chocolate Adventure Contest in 2013, and perhaps if I start more than two days before the deadline, and think more outside the box, and attend cooking school in the meantime…

A girl can dream.

TO RUN THE BOSTON MARATHON

April 16, 2013 in Random Thoughts

Running a marathon is a tremendous feat.

It’s an amazing example of physical endurance: 26.2 miles of placing one foot in front of the other, heart pumping, lungs breathing, legs pushing forward again and again without stopping for over two hours for the elite runners, over four hours for a solid 10-minute mile pace, even longer for those running slower.

It’s a spectacular example of mind over matter: Don’t stop. My feet hurt. Don’t stop. I’m tired. Keep going. This isn’t worth it. I’m going to quit. Don’t you dare stop running. But I’m hungry. You’re not doing anything but run until you cross that finish line…capish?

It takes months to train to run a marathon: every day slotted with a training activity or two such as short runs, long runs, weight training, and intervals. Sometimes it’s lonely, pounding the pavement for an hour and a half by yourself while the rest of your family and friends are enjoying a relaxing Sunday morning eating waffles in front of the TV. Sometimes it’s miserable, running in the cold, the rain, the hail, running with a cold or pushing through with a minor injury.

It requires dedication, sacrifice, and an unwillingness to give up.

To run the Boston Marathon, it requires even more. You have to run a marathon in a certain time in order to qualify. It’s a prestigious achievement. For some, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

On race day, the runners get a little boost: their race route is lined with spectators cheering them on. Some are friends and family members of the runners, some are complete strangers witnessing with awe and respect the dedication these runners have and the scope of the accomplishment they are working on with every step toward the finish line.

The spectators are important. You never know when a cheer is going to push a runner past a bad moment, and after all those lonely months of training, what a gift for a runner to share their triumph at the finish line with a crowd of cheering supporters.

This year’s Boston Marathon began with class: 26 seconds of silence for the victims of the horrific Sandy Hook tragedy before the race began, and the 26th mile was dedicated to them as well.

What happened after that is beyond cruel.

There is footage of the runners about to cross the finish line, just steps away from their personal triumph. One runner lifts her arms in the air in anticipation of her impending victory, only to have to lower them in confusion as she looks back at the inexplicable scene of billowing smoke coming from the sidelines. Another runner is thrown off her feet by the blast, and is so taken aback she can do nothing more than lie there in the street, mere feet from the finish line.

The runners further back were told to stop running; the race was over. Confusion reigned. What? After months of training they wouldn’t be able to cross the finish line? What about all the miles they had just logged. Was that for nothing? What?

As comprehension set in, the runners were still just as lost: they carried no cell phones. There was no way to get in touch with their loved ones waiting at the finish line-cum-ground zero.

And what of the spectators, guilty of nothing more than cheering on their loved ones, their brother or sister, their friend, their mom, or in the case of 8-year-old Martin Richard, his dad. His family was devastated by the bomb: his mom has a brain injury, his sister lost a leg, and Martin lost his life.

What possible reason could there be for an attack so cruel, so horrific, and so incomprehensible?

There isn’t one.

Runners don’t give up easily for any reason, supporters don’t lie down quietly when they’re needed, and the city of Boston and its citizens aren’t going to rest until justice is served.

We can count on that just as surely as a runner counts his time.

My thoughts are with everyone affected by this horrific tragedy.

 

THE CANCER CONUNDRUM

April 12, 2013 in Random Thoughts

I have become socially inept when answering questions about my dad and how died. As in, I’ve started to scare people.

The problem is this:

FRIEND/CASUAL ACQUAINTANCE/COMPLETE STRANGER: I’m so sorry for your loss.  How old was your dad?

ME: 73.

THEM: What happened?

ME: Cancer.

And then: a small, subtle nod of their head, a soundless “ah” crossing their lips, and an entire story woven in their mind.

It’s a story of a man’s battle with cancer, beginning with the initial trip to the doctor—something’s not quite right—followed by tests, a diagnosis, more tests, and treatments like radiation and chemotherapy to knock the cancer, and him, off his feet.

It’s a story of his daughters, flying down over days, weeks, months, and years to visit him during the bad times and to share stolen moments in the good times. It’s trips with him to the doctor, to the zoo with his grandchildren, to the hospital, to the movies, and to good restaurants when he feels up to it.

It’s a story of loss: after fighting a long, valiant battle, the cancer takes permanent hold. There is time for final conversations and acceptance, knowing the end that he has been thwarting off for so long is near. Now, finally, he will be at peace.

When I tell people my dad died of cancer, that is what I see reflected back at me in their expression.

But that’s not what happened with my dad…at all.

So to correct their misimpression, I start throwing more information at them. Too much information, as it turns out.

“He didn’t tell us he had cancer,” I say. It’s an accusation borne of hurt and incomprehension, but it also happens to be true. We did not have the luxury of years of time to come to terms with his illness. We had one month.

“He didn’t get treatment.” Another accusation; another piece of the puzzle. The person I’m explaining this to starts taking small steps backward. They didn’t sign up for these intimate details or the rawness of the situation I was in.

“He did not die peacefully.” There was no acceptance on my father’s part. Confined to a hospice bed or a wheelchair, unable to keep much food down, feeling ill and fatigued, he still denied himself bananas because his potassium levels were too high from his kidney failure. He still asked to weigh himself to see if perchance he had started gaining some weight back. He still had me pulling up Amazon.com on my laptop to order the newest Dan Brown novel.

“Pops, this book doesn’t come out until May,” I said gently, sitting next to his hospice bed in February.

He’d fix me with a steely pale-blue-eyed look I knew like the back of my hand. “So?” it said. “Are you suggesting I won’t be around in May?” it accused. “Just get me the damn book,” it ordered.

No, I can’t say he died peacefully. He fought the fact that he was on a journey that only had one outcome until he died. Fascinating, when I consider that he didn’t tackle this fight with actual treatment when he had the chance.

All this is true, but do I necessarily need to spew it out to unsuspecting strangers?

No, I don’t. But I do wish there was a way to convey the shock of the circumstances. Maybe something simple like “He died of cancer. It was quick and unexpected.”

Perhaps a different look would cross their face: the story of a father taken from life too soon, and his daughters left trying to put the pieces of the lost battle together. A quick, unpeaceful death with no time to come to terms with it.

That feels much nearer to the truth, and a lot kinder to the poor unsuspecting soul who asked the question in the first place.

My father died of cancer. It was quick and unexpected.

BAD HAIR

April 10, 2013 in Random Thoughts

I know that everyone has their own particular hair issues. People with straight hair despair that it doesn’t do anything but stay perfectly straight, people with terrifically curly hair complain that they can’t control their curls, and those with thick hair struggle to find a ponytail holder with a circumference large enough to contain theirs.

I have a slight problem with these complaints: my friends with these hair issues? They have beautiful hair…as in, every single day.

Take my friend Natalie. Her hair is blond, well past her shoulders, and perfectly straight all the time: think Alice in Wonderland without the headband. It’s hard to be sympathetic when when her hair is always stunning.

My friend Jeannine has luxurious, curly hair. Even the stray curls that escape her ponytail holder bounce and play attractively around her face in a delightful way that looks Hollywood-planned. Her hair is reminiscent of Merida’s from Brave—only brunette.

Then there’s my friend Erica who complains that her hair is so thick that she can’t wear a baseball cap because then she looks like Roseanne Roseannadanna, and yet, her dark, thick hair is beautiful. (Although I confess I have never seen her in a baseball cap…)

With all due respect, my friends have no idea what bad hair is.

I have fine hair with just a hint of curl. If you happen to have this type of hair, you know exactly what I mean when I say my hair is completely at the mercy of the elements. My hair and moisture do not mix…at all. Rain, fog, and humidity will lift my carefully blow-dried straight hair, coax out the small amount of curl there is, and leave it sticking out in every possible direction, much like Monica from Friends in the episode where they visit Barbados.

Unless that’s ok with me, which it is not, there are entire regions of the world where I cannot live because if I did, I would be guaranteed to have a bad hair day every single day.

For example, I can’t live in the south. The worst hair I ever had was during a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in July. The humidity was horrific, and so was my hair. It didn’t matter what I did to my hair in the air-conditioned privacy of my hotel room with a brush and a hair dryer: as soon as I exited the hotel, my hair went poof! And it never came back down.

My hair in Hawaii, with all the moist, salty air? Not good. Luckily, with all the swimming in the ocean I’m doing, my baseball cap is never far away.

So how did I end up in Seattle, with hair like mine? The city should be perpetually off-limits for me and my hair, with all the rainy days and the days where the air is so thick with impending rain that the result on my hair style is the same.

I happen to love Seattle, so my hair and I have learned to compromise. I get the summers: gorgeous, sunny days without a cloud in the sky where my hair can have its few moments in the sun. The rest of the time, the weather wins. Either I have to walk my kids to school wearing a hoodie on a foggy morning to protect my styled hair and endure the strange looks from my fellow walkers, or I have to walk my kids to school wearing a baseball cap with the plan to shower later, after my morning trek in the fog/rain/drizzle/mist.

It’s not ideal, by any means. The reality is that more days than not, I have bad hair. But on those rare days where every strand of hair falls miraculously into place and stays that way even after I venture outdoors, it’s like a little slice of heaven.

 

BEACH READS

April 8, 2013 in Book Reviews

Is there anything more luxurious than lying on a warm, sunny beach, watching your children frolic in the waves, and reading a good book?

There may be, but right now I’d be hard pressed to say what it was.

Every vacation I pack a lot of books, for I live in fear of being stranded somewhere without something to read. Inevitably, I get caught up with vacation activities and barely manage to finish one book, let alone the other three that I brought.

This vacation, though, has been different.

I began with Harlan Coben’s Stay Close. I love Harlan Coben. He is the master of the page turner. Every time I think “I’ll put the book down at the end of this chapter,” he throws in a twist that has me abandoning all plans to put the book down…ever. Plus, he tends to have wiseass male characters with hearts of gold, and some of the quips that come out of their mouths have me laughing out loud. He is the quintessential beach read, for men and women.

If you’re of the female persuasion, grew up during the 80s, and have memories of a certain someone who got away, then Beth Harbison’s Always Something There To Remind Me is for you. This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and it was surprisingly entertaining. I did grow up in the 80s, so I loved all of her references to that time period, like making mix tapes. She writes poignantly about Erin Edward’s first—and only?—love in flashbacks as Erin considers accepting a proposal from someone new. But what happens when her old love shows up in her life again?

I am a huge fan of chick lit, so this was a great read for me: light, romantic, happy ending…just perfect for a lazy day on the beach.

If you’ve read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and you’re longing for something to fill that gap, consider Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. In fact, I bought it because one of my magazines referred to it as the next Gone Girl. I don’t know that you could compare these two novels in that way, but I will say this: Gone Girl was excellent, and so is Reconstructing Amelia.

Reconstructing Amelia is told from the alternating viewpoints of the mother, Kate, told in present time, and her daughter Amelia, in the time period before she committed suicide…or did she? (Pay attention to the date stamps of each section, otherwise you may get confused, like I did.)

Several months after Amelia dies, Kate gets a mysterious text from a blocked number that says simply: Amelia didn’t jump. McCreight juggles between unraveling the circumstances behind Amelia being on the roof of her private school that tragic day and the investigation that Kate wades into trying to discover what really happened.

This book is fantastic. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to give anything away, but trust me: this is not just a beach read. This is going to be a phenomenon…and you heard about it here first!

I’m currently in the middle of re-reading the fabulous Maeve Binchy’s Nights of Rain and Stars, about a group of lost souls escaping their own secrets and heartaches in the hopes of finding joy again in Greece. I love Maeve Binchy: she can make you love a character like no other, and she does it in the delightful lilting voice of the Irish. Plus, it’s been so long since I’ve read this book that I’ve forgotten what everyone’s secrets are, so it’s going to be a nice journey of re-discovery for me.

I brought this one along because I feel a certain kindred spirit with these characters: I, too, am escaping my heartache by jetting to an island in search of joy. I’m happy to report that I am finding it: the salt in the ocean, the sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, the laughter of my children, and the delicious dinners (and cocktails!) at local restaurants…oh, yes. There is certainly joy to be found here!

There’s just one thing: I only have one more book packed (The Giver by Lois Lowry) and many more wonderful days of vacation left. For the first time ever, I’m actually in danger of finishing every single book I brought with me!

I sense a trip to a bookstore in my near future.

THE FRIENDS WE MADE ALONG THE WAY: A LOVE LETTER TO SACRAMENTO, PART 2

April 5, 2013 in Random Thoughts

 

Catch up with Part 1 here.

By far, our most difficult challenge in packing up our dad’s house was what to do with his book collection. It is impossible to convey in words how extensive his book collection was, although I tried to here. It was even more impossible trying to figure out what to do with the sheer volume of them.

But there was even more to it than that: these books were, in many ways, our dad’s other children. He loved books. He spent his life with books as a librarian at UC Riverside and UC Davis. He loved perusing the beautiful art books he had, some of which were larger than my youngest son in both height and thickness. He’d flip the pages slowly and leisurely, admiring the colors, the lines, and the composition of various pieces of art displayed in his books about The Louvre, MOMA, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, and Mondrian.

He loved reading books about books: their history, the evolution of the printing process, how the paper was made, and how books came to be illustrated.

He had books on the English language: dictionaries, both traditional and slang, etymology, and even a charming little book called The Devil’s Dictionary, which had listings like bore: someone who talks when you wish he would listen.

He had a fondness for particular authors like Hemingway, Wouk, Wolfe, and Styron, and he collected classical literature as well as mainstream fiction.

As a musician, he was passionate about the guitar, classical and flamenco, and had an entire room devoted to books about the guitar and music.

A very rough estimate of the number of books in his collection? 4000 books, all requiring homes where they would be loved and appreciated just as much as my dad had.

Impossible. And yet…

Enter Richard Press, of Richard L. Press Fine & Scholarly Books On the Arts. Our dad had recommended contacting him, so when we were in Sacramento after our dad died, Richard came over. He was little and gray, and had all the time in the world to browse. He took a long look around, strolling from room to room, his head cocked sideways to read the titles, and finally offered to pay us for some. He packed up several boxes and went on his way, leaving my sister and I stupefied: he hadn’t even made a dent.

What were we going to do?

The next morning, I got a call from Richard Press, asking if he could come back. He strolled around some more, relaxed and methodical, and took some more books. But he did even more for us: he realized how special our dad’s book collection was, and he began to care.

“What are you going to do with all this marvelous sheet music?”

“His books on guitar… What are you going to do with these books on the guitar? It’s an amazing collection. It should stay together.”

“Have you heard of Moe’s books? They should come out.”

and finally: “Next time you are in town, call me. I want to be informed of what happens to your father’s marvelous collection.”

About a week later when I was back home, I got a phone call from Anthony at Moe’s Books. I couldn’t believe it. Unbeknownst to me, Richard took time out of his busy schedule to call Moe’s Books and he spoke so highly of our dad’s book collection that Anthony wanted to drive up from Berkeley to see it, which is about an hour away.

Thank you, Richard, for taking us and our dad’s collection under your wing!

After multiple phone calls to square away logistics, last Thursday my sister and I entered All Books Must Go Day.

At 1:00pm, Lisa and Myra came out from UC Davis, where my dad worked, and did three things for us:

1)    They took the guitar books, the books on Spain, and the books on bullfighting.

2)    They appreciated the value of these collections and in the catalog they will be named as part of the “John Tanno” collection, which would have tickled my dad to no end.

3)    They regaled us with stories of what a wonderful man our dad was and how highly he was regarded by his colleagues.

Thank you Lisa and Myra for helping build a legacy for our dad’s prized books!

 

While Lisa and Myra packed up their boxes of books and carted them out to their van, Anthony and Owen (the 2 in the black T-shirts in the center of the above photo) from Moe’s Books arrived. They looked and sorted and discussed and exclaimed at some of the titles they stumbled across, like an Easter egg hunt for grownups. They gave us great news: they were going to take a lot of books! And then began the mayhem of packaging and carting the boxes outside to their van. They arrived at 1:30pm and loaded the last box on the van at 9:00pm.

That’s right: it took two people working nonstop with no breaks  7 ½ hours to package out the majority of my dad’s books, and this was after Lisa and Myra, and Richard Press, and my sister and I had taken what we wanted.

The great news is that they did indeed take a lot of books, and even more than that was the knowledge that they felt like they had stumbled on a gold mine. As Anthony said when they left, “Some of these books won’t even make it to the store!”

My sister and I were thrilled. Our dad’s books were cherished and appreciated by his fellow book lovers!

Of course, we still had a small problem: Moe’s Books did not take everything. So we decided to donate the rest to the Friends of the Library in Sacramento, who graciously offered to come out and pick up the rest of the books for us. Which is a good thing, because at last count, we had packaged up 51 boxes of books and still had 200 books left on the shelf.

It is not an easy task to pack up the belongings of someone who died too soon. At times, it was overwhelming (“What are we going to do with all these books?”), at times it was humorous (“Why did my dad need 27 identical pairs of khaki pants?”), at times it was like shopping at a book/music/grocery store for free (“Why does he have so many rolls of paper towels? I’m taking them. They’ll fit on the moving van, and it will save me a trip to Costco.”), and at times, it was incredibly sad. Packing up the immaculately dry cleaned sports coats and shirts, donating his not-used-enough running shoes, and having to throw out the nail files he had littered all over the house (if you’re a guitar player, you know what I mean) broke my heart. That was nothing compared to the sight of his empty house at the end of the week.

Thankfully, we had help, and lots of it, from people we had never met before. We won’t be coming back to Sacramento, but this city and the wonderful people we met will forever live in our hearts.