Monday, February 15, 2016

14 Things About You at Age 14

  1. Suddenly your hair got all wavy!
  2. You like steampunk fashion and asked for a waistcoat for Christmas.
  3. You joined the Debate Club at school.  So far, though, every position you've gotten is one you don't agree with.  Which I guess is the whole point of debate....  You grudgingly let Dad come see the last competition.
  4. You make a fruit & veggie smoothie almost every night.
  5. You will now eat salad.  
  6. And you discovered coffee!  (decaf for the moment)
  7. You took up painting this summer and really enjoyed it.  Especially painting in the open air in the park.
  8. Your sneakers are size 13!
  9. You would like to do medieval re-enactment.
  10. You are finally old enough to do blacksmithing. You have been wanting to do this for about 5 years.
  11. I hear you singing when you think no one is nearby.
  12. You grew an incredible 10 inches this year!  You are taller than me now and not too much longer before you catch up to Dad
  13. Deciding on which high school to go to was tough but you made a good choice. 
  14. Your last report card had three 100% marks.

  1. You do not like your sideburns at all.  Dad has to trim them a few times a week.
  2. The mustache and little whiskers don't bother you as yet.
  3. You regularly call us into the other room to watch something with you.  And then after about 1 minute you tell us to go away. 
  4. You are swimming backstroke now and getting the hang of it.
  5. I put a "favorite characters" folder on your speech app and now that is all you want to talk about.  We had to hide it at school so you would concentrate on your work.
  6. You are sleeping later in the morning.  Not as late as your brother, but late for you.  8:00! whoo!
  7. Now you are on a bowling team with Special Olympics.  
  8. You grew about 5 inches this year.
  9. Your shoes are size 7.5, finally in a men's size. You like to step on the back of them and wear them that way.  Maybe I should just buy you clogs.
  10. You are still a flirt.
  11. You really like vegetables now.  Especially asparagus.
  12. Your teacher reports that when you hang up your things in your locker, you put your hat on the shelf, your coat on one hook, your scarf on the 2nd hook and a glove each on hooks 3 & 4.  LOL!  I am going to ask her to take a photo before winter is over.
  13. You are warming up a bit more to the idea of a pet.  A rabbit is the only animal that doesn't get an outright no.  
  14.  Your last report card had two 100% marks.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Best books of 2015

I read 37 books this year.  That's the lowest number since I started keeping track in 2011, but that's ok.  I added needlework back into my goal list and was dividing my time between those two things. If a book doesn't really grab me within the first 100 or so pages, I don't force myself to finish it.  Reading is my stress relief and if I'm not enjoying it, then out it goes.  

So without further ado, these are the books that got 5 stars from me this year (in no particular order):
  1. A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon.  This is available as an eBook only and it took me quite some time to find it.  This little novella tells the story of what really happened to Roger MacKenzie Wakefield's parents and how he was orphaned during the Blitz.   
  2. The Space Between: An Outlander Novella by Diana Gabaldon.  Also an eBook only edition, this novella tells the story of Joan MacKimmie, one of Jamie's adopted daughters, who makes her way to Paris to enter a convent.  She is helped on her journey by Michael Murray, Jamie's nephew.  One of Claire's old enemies learns of the connection and things get complicated.  With both of these ebooks, I love how Diana Gabaldon fills in little bits and pieces of all the characters in the Outlander universe.  Michael, Joan, Dolly & Roger Sr. are very minor characters in the other books but now here they are full-fledged and we come to care about them just as much as all the others.  It also makes it easier to wait the 3 or 4 years it takes her to write the next big book.
  3. A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor.  Mr. Shaw's Home for Watercress and Flower Girls is a home and refuge for London's flower girls, many of them orphaned and crippled.  (think Eliza Doolittle in much poorer circumstances)   In 1912, Tilly Harper leaves her home in the Lake District to become an assistant housemother.   Soon after she arrives she finds a diary in her room written by an orphan named Florrie, who dies searching for her lost sister Rosie.  Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie, while getting to know and caring for her new charges.  Through her journey she finds a new life for herself.  I loved this book.  There was a lot of historical research done and it led me to learn more about the flower girls.   For instance, when the fashion for fresh flowers waned, many of the girls got training to make flowers from silk and feathers for the millinery trade.  Queen Alexandra arranged a "rose day" where people made charitable contributions through the purchase of silk roses to help fund rehabilitation programs for the flower girls and ensure they had a place to live.
  4. The Secret Place by Tana French.  French's novels are the only detective/crime/suspense ones I read.  I'm normally very susceptible to scary stuff and don't read or watch anything that will give me nightmares.  But French's writing is so good and her characters so multi-dimensional that I'm willing to risk it.  A popular boy was murdered on the grounds of a girls' boarding school a year ago and the case remains unsolved.  The school has an anonymous gossip bulletin board (the headmistress's answer to social media) and 16-year-old Holly Mackey arrives at the Dublin murder squad with a postcard of the dead boy's picture with the caption "I know who killed him" that she had found on the board earlier in the week.  Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to join Dublin’s Murder Squad and gets his chance, if his new partner Antoinette Conway doesn't throw him out on his ass first.  They delve into the confusing and tangled world of teenaged girls and their relationships, the use of social media and how nothing is how it looks at first glance or even second and third.  I didn't love this one as much as some of the earlier novels, it felt like it was trying too hard to come up with that final twist that leaves you gasping with surprise (I feel the same with Jodi Piccoullt's latest efforts), but it was still a good read and just scary enough that I was on the edge of my seat.
  5.  Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.  I'll get it out of the way right now.  This is now on my top books of all time list.  If you read nothing else this year, go get this book.  Like M. L. Stedman (The Light Between Oceans, also on my top list), Hooper is able to convey entire histories in only one or two sentences.  Eighty-three year old Etta wakes up one morning realizing she has never seen the ocean.  So she leaves a note on the table for her husband Otto and sets off on foot from their Saskatchewan farm, heading east.  Otto understands Etta's need and doesn't follow.  Russell grew up with Otto and he has loved Etta from afar for most of their lives.  So in his one and  only act of defiance in his whole life, he follows and tries to find Etta. As for James, I'll let you find out for yourself who he is.  This book blurs the lines between memory, illusion and reality as well as youth and old age.  Is our reality our physical body or our memory and does anyone else have a say in it?  It explores our human need for reinvention and connection in ways that stayed with me long after I finished reading.  
  6. One Plus One by JoJo Moyes.  Moyes is one of those authors where you read one of her books and instantly go to the library or the bookstore and get every single thing they have written.  Jess is a single mom with problems.  Beyond the obvious financial ones, her teenage son is getting bullied.  Her math-whiz daughter has a chance to compete in an olympiad event that they can't afford to go to.  Ed is a tech millionaire with problems of his own.  But helping Jess is the one unselfish thing he has done in maybe ever.  And he's not really sure why he's doing it!  But try as he might (and boy does he try) he can't really make himself stop.  I love how Moyes pairs these unlikely people together and suddenly you can't imagine them with anyone else.  This book had me laughing out loud, crying, cheering.  Definitely a fun read. 
  7. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I had only read Gilberts memoirs (Eat, Pray, Love, etc.) and didn't really know she wrote novels as well.  This book follows Alma Whittaker's life.  Born in 1800 to a botanical explorer, she grows up in a wealthy family where intellectual pursuits are prized above all else.  Her intense study of mosses bring her closer to the realities of evolution, but as a woman scientists are unlikely to take her work seriously.  Late in life she falls in love with Ambrose, a Utopian artist, whose ideas are in direct opposite of her own.  The novel ranges across the world - Peru, Amsterdam, Tahiti - and across ideas and the evolution of what we know about the world.  Definitely a page turner.
  8. Neverwhere (Author's Preferred Text) by Neil Gaiman.  I've tried to read a few of Gaiman's books before but never finished one because frankly, they were too weird.  Alternate realities are cool but sometimes they were just so way out there I couldn't find anything to grasp onto in order to make sense of the story.  This book is a bit hard to describe, but it's the story of ordinary Londoner Richard Mayhew and his unlikely journey into the world of London Below to help the Lady Door save it from destruction.  Maybe I just liked it because it was set in London.  
  9. Shepherds Abiding by Jan Karon.  Any visit to Mitford is a good one and I loved this Christmas tale of Father Tim's gift and all the residents of Mitford and their holiday doings  I have a tradition of reading at least one Christmas book during the season and I'm glad I found this one.  I mistakenly reserved the audio version rather than the book.  I don't normally listen to audio books because I find myself getting distracted and having to rewind constantly.  But for some reason I didn't have that issue with this and I really enjoyed it.  I drove around town, grinning like a fool the entire time I listened.  
  10. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  There seem to be a lot of WWII-era books on the shelves these days.  Whether that is because of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the current political climate or perhaps just the perspective that time brings, I don't know.  Usually when there seems to be a "theme" like this I tend to steer clear, they all seem to repeat themselves and it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon of whatever seems to be making money in the moment (see: teenage distopian novels).  This book, however, got such great reviews I decided to check it out.  It combines two things I love, well-researched historical fiction and the perspectives of two different people living in the same time but worlds apart.  Marie-Laure goes blind at the age of 6.  Her father, who is Master of the Locks at the Museum of Natural History, builds her a scale model of their Paris neighborhood so she can memorize it and therefore find her way around by herself.  Then comes the German occupation and they are forced to flee to a relative in Saint-Malo, on the coast of Brittany.  Werner grows up an orphan in a mine-town in Northern Germany, where he discovers an old radio scavenging with his sister Jutta.  His interest in radios and ability to fix them wins him a place at an elite military academy just as the Third Reich is coming to power.  As they grow up and their paths grow inexorably closer, the anticipation of their meeting keeps you turning the pages.  At its heart this novel is about the good in the world and all the ways people can be and are good to each other.  Something we all need to remember no matter the times we live in.