Sunday, July 05, 2015

Freezer Meals For the Slow Cooker

So. Tomorrow.

It's my first day at my new job.

My first full-time office job in over eight years.

My first full-time office job since having children.

After Lolly was born, I did go back to work full-time as a childminder, where I worked nine hours a day taking care of children, but I worked from home. I didn't have to leave my kids anywhere besides school. I was still able to throw a load of laundry in the washer and run my errands during my work day.

This is going to be a whole new experience. I'm not gonna lie; I have no idea how people do it.

I mean, who takes the car to the shop when it needs an oil change? How do you keep the laundry up to date and the dishes washed? When do you shop for groceries? What time do you eat dinner if you don't get home until almost 6pm? How do you cook every night when you've been at work all day?

Talking to my other work-away-from-home friends, the answer seems most often to be "crock pot". An idea I can stand behind.

I love my slow cooker. I am a regular slow cookerer. However, even dumping ingredients in a crock pot can end up taking half an hour, especially if there's other prep involved, like frying up the beef or chopping up the onions. I won't have time for that in the mornings, what with going to the gym, eating breakfast, getting dressed for work, and getting kids fed, dressed, and out the door on time.

So being the planner-psycho that I am, I decided to try something new for these first two weeks of work.

Yesterday, I made my monthly menu plan as always, followed by my grocery list.  I took Jaguar with me to the Farmer's Market at 8am followed by the supermarket to pick up all the ingredients I'll need for the next fortnight. (Apparently, Saturday mornings are now the time one goes grocery shopping. I remember back when they were for sleeping.) When I came back home, I got to work.

Okay, so I haven't gotten as far
as the last week's menu...
I spent the rest of the morning into the afternoon making seven freezer meals to get me through the next two work weeks. (How seven and not ten? I'll get to that.)

Everything I made should easily go into the crock pot in the morning and will be ready for dinner when we get home. In theory.

I did some googling and got some ideas. I also used some ideas out of my own clever little brain. Together, I have hopefully come up with some ideas that will take one major chore off my daily To-Do list.

I started out labeling all the freezer bags. Learned The Hard Way: Label all before getting wet/frozen. I used some bags of mince or chicken that were already in the freezer and the moisture messed with my Sharpie. Anyway.


Next, I chopped up a buttload of onion.  Buttload is the precise measurement of onion you will need to make seven freezer meals. I also minced a buttload of garlic.


Then I just started filling bags. Some were easy, like the curry one. I simply purchased two jars of Tikka Masala sauce, which I combined with chicken breasts and some additional seasonings of my own liking. Some things, by the way, don't freeze well, like potato, so I'll need to remember to chop up some potatoes the night before and throw them in the crock pot with the bag that morning. (Thursday, I believe.) Then I'll just need to boil up some rice when I get home. Other meals took a little longer to throw together, like the chicken tortilla soup that required chopped onion, chopped cilantro and basil, and crushed garlic. Still, when you are crushing a buttload of garlic into a bunch of bags, it does make the process go a little quicker.

Learned The Hard Way: Gallon bags don't stand up well on their own, especially when you pour enchilada sauce into them, and they tip over and run out.  Google taught me to stand your bags in a drinks pitcher first, which is a very clever idea.


I made tortilla soup, chicken enchilada mix (just need to throw the mix into some tortillas and into the oven for a few minutes when I get home), curry, chicken pot pie (same idea, throw in oven quickly with pastry over top), chicken rice casserole, chili, and meatloaf. The meatloaf is going to be interesting... I made it all up, formed it into a ball, and froze it. It's got egg and heavy cream in it which I've read don't always freeze well, but mixed into a meatloaf I'm thinking is different than mixing in a soup or something. I hope it works.

In fact, I hope it all works. Of all the recipes, only a few of them I've ever tried in the crock pot (chili, chicken pot pie, tortilla soup), and only one of them (tortilla soup) is actually a "freezer meal" recipe. So it's going to be an interesting experiment. Or an expensive mistake.

Learned The Hard Way: Next time, I will bake or boil all the chicken first before putting it in the bags. The breasts were frozen, but the room temperature of the ingredients thawed them a little. Not entirely, so I'm hoping I don't poison the whole family, but next time I'll use either fresh chicken or pre-cooked. Again, interesting experiment or expensive mistake. For the meals that work, I'll share the recipes. I'd hate to share my recipes before discovering if they work, because obviously.

6 out of 7
Furthermore, not all recipes are created equal. Some require longer cooking times and some need shorter. This is where further experimentation will be taking place. Some recipes I think I can safely set on Low all day long (from 7.30-5.45) without worry, like the chili. Others I'm not so sure about, like the meatloaf  and the rice casserole.  For recipes that generally require a shorter cooking time, I'll be breaking out my timer. My timer is just an extension I found in the electrical hardware section of Walmart. You plug it into the wall, set the current time, then set the on and off times and plug your slow cooker into that. Learned The Hard Way a long time ago: These only work with manual slow cookers. My larger one is digital, so when the power comes on at the set time, it just blinks and blinks, waiting for someone to input all the settings (time/temp). So yes, must remember to use manual cookers those days. And remember to set the correct AM/PM in order for it to turn on at the right time. I have definitely come home to a stone cold cooker before by setting the times wrong. Tricky.

And as for the other days that won't be freezer meals, I intend to try baked potatoes in the crock pot, going out to eat (we have a date night planned for Friday, and we'll probably go to Zaxby's with kids one Wednesday when kids eat free), and easy breaded frozen chicken strips for a quick throw-in-the-oven dinner one other night.

Now that all of that is ready, I feel a little more prepared for the morning. Mine and Scott's lunches are made and in the fridge. The kids are all packed up for daycare in the morning with their clothes laid out. My clothes are hanging up and ready to go. I've got all my pre-start paperwork together. Now all that's left is to make myself a cup of tea, relax in a bath with my book, then retire to bed dressed in my workout clothes for 5am. When that alarm goes off at ridiculous o'clock in the morning, I'll be ready to go work out with my protein shake in one hand and a water bottle in the other. "Start as I mean to continue" I like to say. I'll workout for an hour, come home, shower off, eat breakfast, dress myself and the kids, and head out the door.

Gosh, I hope I don't forget to turn the crock pot on...

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

An Epitaph to the Month of June

Hey, whoa, where did June go? Did anyone see it run past?

Honestly. Where did it go?

One whole month of summer has passed.  Zoom.  Gone.  I have no idea how that happened or what I've been doing in the meantime.

For one - my book. I have proofed the second proof copy now, have sent it off for review, and refuse to proof it a third time. This is a problem I have. I'm never satisfied. I'm never finished. I find new things to add each time I read it, new commas to rearrange, new paragraph breaks to insert. There comes a time when I just have to let it go.  Give it wings and let it fly.  Kick it out of the nest. I don't know. I just have to say enough is enough. I wanted to have it launched by June 30th, but June ran away from me.  It's as scared as I am to actually publish the bloody thing.

It will be available on Kindle and in paperback in no more than two weeks. Sooner if I can lasso some damn courage and click "Complete setup."

So yes, the book has taken a lot of June away from me. But what else?  Job hunting for one.  And as of this coming Monday, I will be a full-time employee of BANPO - Big Anonymous Non-Profit Organization.  (I am no fool. People get fired for saying where they work and then accidentally one day saying, "Ugh. Work sucks." on the internets.)  So I got a job at BANPO, and I'm really excited. I'm also really scared about that.  It's been a loooong time since I've worked full-time.  And I'm going to miss my kiddie-dumplings.

June was supposed to be a month of fitting in tons of awesome mum-and-kid time, but I can't even recall what we've done that's been mega awesome. We've gone swimming. We've gotten ice cream and eaten fast food.  We've been to the park (once).  Is that all? I've taken the girls to a day camp at the community center a few times from 8-noon, while Jaguar and I ran errands or worked out.  Still, June, she ran by me so fast I barely saw her. Barely stopped and smelled a single one of her roses - or whatever flower is seasonably Juneish.

Well, anyway. Things got done. Sort of. My book got done. I got a job. Watched a couple episodes of Orange Is The New Black. Didn't get much reading done, though. (Two books. Only two books!) Or any zoo/museum/snow-cones/science center action. Haven't found us a house yet.  Haven't packed the one we're in.  I'm tired.  I kept trying to keep up with her, but June just ran too fast, all the way to her bittersweet end.

RIP, June.

I hope July is a little slower paced. I have an uneasy feeling, however, that it won't.

Precisely, son.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Day That Love Won

Approximately the same time I was doing burpees to "Uma Thurman" during Cardio Dance Party at the gym, it happened. The thing I've been waiting for with baited breath for months (years actually). The Supreme Court ruling on the ban on same sex marriages.

I didn't know anything had happened until I got in the car afterwards and turned on NPR. It was the Diane Rehm show, and I caught the tail end of someone mentioning how great this day is, how it's about time we have marriage equality.  The subject then changed, so I wasn't certain of what I was hearing. Then my friend Elizabeth texted me and confirmed what I hoped I'd heard.

Yes!  The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled bans on same sex marriage unconstitutional. Same sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states!


All those people fortunate enough to hold full-time writing jobs in journalism or blogging have already beaten me to the punch, writing amazing responses to this historic ruling.  Meanwhile, I was juggling taking kids with me on errands, breaking up fights, playing on playgrounds, negotiating the terms of my new job (yes!), and making phone calls while bribing the kids with ice cream from McDonald's to keep them quiet.  Therefore I was unable to put in my two cents before everyone else said all the clever and awesome things.  Hashtag StayAtHomeMomBloggerProblems.

Truth of the matter is, I've got nothing new or insightful to say, nothing that will make me stand out or make my words go viral (a blogger's dream).  I am just happy. I am just relieved. I just want to add to the millions of words out there praising this decision that will go down in history.  In fifty years, if my blog survives, I want this day remembered. I was there. I saw it happen. I did a happy dance. (Really, I did.)



I look at my 666 friends on Facebook, and aside from the implication there that I am in cahoots with the devil, I can estimate that at least one-third of these friends of mine are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. (Not to leave out trans*; I just am not aware if any of my friends are in that category.) That's a lot of people I care about. That's a lot of people who have won something special today. That's a lot of lives touched in an incomprehensible way.

Some of them are legally married in other states.  Some have plans to get married soon.  Some are single but wouldn't mind meeting someone special one day and settling down with them. Some are "in the closet", unable to share this part of themselves publicly for fear of losing their jobs or close relationships.  Some who did come out have lost family and friends because of it.

This is such a win for all these people, and so many more.

I know there are many out there who are disappointed, outraged even, by this decision. While I can't pretend to understand, I can acknowledge that this is how you feel. I wish I could convince you that this is a good thing for my friends above. I wish I could show you that this does not interefere with your marriage or your beliefs.  I wish you could see that this is not an attack on religion, but a leveling of the playing field, an equalization of humanity, of love, of individual people's rights to honor the institution of marriage by joining themselves to the person their heart desires. In Justice Kennedy's words from his statement today:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. (Page 28)
I wish everyone who is against this ruling could truly see it through the eyes of all my friends. I wish everyone could agree that while same-sex marriage is not acceptable to them for whatever reason - faith, most likely - it is still a human right.  It is still something that others should have access too. Disagree with it personally.  Preach against in church if you must. But please, soften your hearts just long enough to understand how deeply this affects so many of your neighbors, friends, and possibly even family members.  This does not have to change your views, but it does change their lives.

History was made today.  When I got home after the gym, I grabbed my kids and swung them in the air.  I told them all about what this means.  I listed some of the people they know by name and how this positively affects them. I tried to instill a bit of excitement in them so that one day they could tell their kids they remember Obergefell v. Hodges, that they remember the moment marriage equality was granted to everyone. Just this morning, I was telling Lolly about the Civil Rights Movement and Loving v. Virginia, and how not too long ago black and white people couldn't even eat at the same restaurants, let alone marry each other. ("But that's so mean!" she responded in horror.)  Now when she grows up, she can tell her children how not too long ago, girls couldn't marry girls or boys marry boys.  And her kids will thankfully be flabbergasted too.

(That is, of course, if she chooses to have kids!)


However. I hate to rain on anyone's (pride) parade, but there is still work to be done. There is still a fight to be fought.  Just like bringing down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house was a small battle won in a much larger on-going war, this too is just part of the continuing story. Absolutely the SCOTUS ruling today was HUGE, especially compared to a few flags coming down, but the fight for equal rights is not over.

After today, kids will still be kicked out of their homes for coming out gay.  After today, people will still lose their jobs and their housing for being homosexual.  After today, young people will still be uneducated about safe sex, and HIV/AIDS will still be spread, because parents and schools are too afraid or disgusted to talk honestly about it. After today, young people will still be afraid to get tested because of how it will "look".  After today, kids will still be sent to "pray-out-the-gay" camps and told they are going to hell.

I hate to be a downer, but this is the truth.  Just as Civil Rights was an enormous step in the process of equalizing rights for people of color, so too this is a huge step in normalizing same sex relationships. But just as the Civil Rights Act could not end racism, today's ruling will not end sexual prejudice. Fifty years after the CRA, we are still arguing over whether it's okay to fly a flag that has come to represent racial hate and bigotry over state buildings. In fifty years, we may still be arguing over the morality of homosexuality. I hope not. But I can say this:

We've come a long way, baby!  But we still have a long ways to go.


P.S. For some of the best things I've read all day, visit these links.
To My Evangelical Friends Upon the Legalization of Gay Marriage (A great article)
Arguments For and Against Same-Sex Marriage (this one is from The Onion, so don't expect the depth of the former link!)

P.P.S. If you know someone who is LGBT and homeless or at risk of homelessness in the central Arkansas area, please contact Lucie's Place.

P.P.P.S.  So I don't end on a totally negative note, let me just say TODAY WAS AN AWESOME DAY! LOVE WINS,  ya'll! And congratulations to all my friends who can now enter my state as a legally married couple. (Ya'll know who you are.) THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING DAY!!!




Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Don't Be A Spector

Ahh it's been a while since I've posted church signs from the little country chapel down the road.  Not for lack of material, mind you.  Material has been abundant as ever. It's just that I was starting to feel a little sorry for them, that's all. I mean, some of the signs are just really poor spellings, and one of them was actually in memory of someone in the congregation who had died, and you just can't make fun of that, even if the spacing was so bad it took us several days to realize what it said.


I was starting to wonder if maybe the church sign man/lady is dyslexic and making fun of their signs was just mean. Or if maybe all their letters were getting stolen by delinquent local teens and they were determined to get their messages out to the public no matter how many letters the devil took away from them. Whatever the case, I was feeling guilty about it.

Then last week, this sign came up.


I saw it in passing and was totally confused.  Risking a car crash, I craned my neck backwards to read it again over my shoulder. What? I'd have to try again on the way home.

On the way home, I still couldn't read it, so I pulled over and took a picture.

"Are you a spector are precipitator."

Am I a ghost or a rainmaker?  Hmm, I'd have to think about that one. (Maybe I'm a filtration device.)

Or my more educated guess is that it's asking if I'm a "spectAtor" or a "PARTicipator".  Maybe the spelling is just really off, or they didn't have enough letters to ask me this, or maybe they wanted to be enigmatic to get me thinking?  Am I going to just spectate and not wonder any further what the sign means? Or will I participate in solving the puzzle?

I'll participate.  I'll blog about it.

I'm a precipitator.


P.S. For another discussion on strange church signs, check out this one from HeIsSailing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

June Is Bustin' Out All Over My Free Time

It's nearly the end of June. Kids are out of school. I'm facing one of the busiest summers of my life.

I'm a list maker, and with all that's been keeping me busy lately, there's no way I can catch up without just listing out what has kept me from my beloved blog.

VIOD Book Club
1. Kids are out of school. Need I say more?

2. I'm looking for a job. Yep, like a full-time 9-5 gig. Job hunting is probably one of the most stressful things I've done in a LOOOONG time.  Tailoring resumes to suit each job spec, writing countless cover letters, interviewing... it's hard work, and I'm not even getting paid for it yet!

3. Subject to said job, we are planning on moving this summer. Originally we hoped to be moving out of state (Seattle! We long for you!), but after really getting nowhere with the out-of-state job hunt, we decided we are staying here in Arkansas. Yep, you heard me right. Arkansas. Us. Staying. But we are NOT staying in Nowheresville... the plan is to move into The Big City (aka The Littlest Big City), where life's happenin'.  So I'm slowly packing up the house and impatiently waiting for all our ducks to get in their row, so we can conclude the house hunt.

4. I am finishing my book. Funny, I "finished" it back in March, but I'm still not "finished". In March, I finished writing it. But oh my word, I had no idea how much time, energy, and headaches would go into editing and self-publishing. But I am so near the end of the tunnel, I can practically touch the light.  I *really* hope to have it out on Amazon (paperback) and Kindle (ebook) by the end of June!

5. I'm trying to keep up with my exercise routine.  It's hard though, when each day is so full of kids and errands and responsibilities. But working out keeps me centered and in control, so it's important to me. I've actually started going to a few 5am classes just to fit that time in. But on nights where I've stayed up late doing other things, 5am just comes too early.

6. I'm trying to fit in as much summer fun as possible before I start working. That means play dates and swimming pools and parks and zoos and museums.  I want to enjoy these last few weeks of stay-at-home-mum-dom before they are over.  Before they go into daycare all day...

7. I'm looking for daycare.  For the time being, they will go to the daycare just down the street from me, but even that is wrought with uncertainty. Do I start them before knowing for sure if I'm going to get any of these jobs, or before knowing a start date?  Do I wait and take the chance of the spaces currently open getting filled?  When we move, will I be able to find a daycare in the new area with open spaces?  Do I have any aspirin in the house?

8. I'm volunteering for a charity.  Right now, I'm just doing some posters for them.  It's called Lucie's Place, and it's an organization that assists homeless LGBT young adults.  Soon they hope to actually open up a shelter, but for now they assist these young adults with writing resumes, finding jobs and housing, and how to budget. I'll be doing some of that mentoring stuff contingent upon moving into The Big City, contingent upon jobs, contingent upon blah blah blah.... But of all the busyness going on right now, this one is one of the more rewarding ones.  I'm happy to be doing something for someone else once again.

9. I'm planning Jaguar's 3rd birthday party.  Little Jaguar (can't call him Baby Jaguar anymore!) freaking loves dinosaurs, so I'm planning a dinosaur party. It's only a few weeks away, and I've barely done any planning - which is so not like me, especially when it comes to birthday parties - but I'm hoping my preliminary plans of a dino cake, dino pinata, and paddling pools will be enough to get the party started.  Dino invites might need to be next on the agenda. (And a guest list. And dino party favors should get ordered. And do I want to rent one of those big inflatable water slides or just get some cheap slip n' slides and baby pools? Hmm...)

10. I'm reading as many books as I can fit in before going back to work. Who knows what my time will look like soon?  Without a day time to do laundry, dishes, housework, errands, car maintenance, quality kid time, and Facebook browsing (ha), will I even have time to read in the evenings after work? And if I'm going to the gym at 5am, I'll have to go to bed early, so no late night reading time.

And on that note, I'm going to go read.  I recently listened to over half of Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father on audio book, but have since forgotten where I left off.  So now I've gone back and restarted the book the old fashioned way - by reading it.  I do miss hearing the President of the United States read out classic literary lines like "bitch-ass mother-fucker" though. It's just not the same in my own voice.  Obama says it all so much better.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Challenge Accepted! May Books

The month of May already seems so long ago. Some of these books feel like books I read ages ago, not just a few weeks ago. So apologies for the lack of totally awesometastic reviews.

I Sold My Soul On eBay by Hemant Mehta (A book written by someone under 30)
I'd heard of this book a while back and started following The Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta's YouTube videos. Later I started following his blog too. Now, I have even had some correspondence with him, in which he agreed to read my book and write a testimonial for it. It was high time I read that book that I'd heard of so long ago.

Mehta was first known as "the atheist who sold his soul on eBay". He explains in the book how, though he'd left his own religion as a youth and had become an atheist, he knew very little about other religions, Christianity in particular. He decided if he wanted to be sure of his atheism, he ought to look into other religions' understanding of God as well. He came up with the idea of auctioning off Sunday visits at church on eBay. For every $10 bid, he would spend one Sunday visiting the church of the bidder's choice. Expecting to get maybe a few bids tops, this seemed an easy enough experiment. Little did he expect the massive media response and a final bid of over $500. He was a little worried about 50 weeks of church, but the winning bidder was Jim Henderson, a former pastor and author of Evangelism Without Additives, who only requested he visit 15 churches of his choice and write reviews of them for his website.

Mehta visited churches of all shapes and sizes, from small country chapels to internationally renown megachurches. In this book, he breaks the churches into 4 categories, divided by size, and writes about his experiences, opinions, and suggestions for them as an atheist. He is pretty fair too. He writes about what he liked about each church and what he thinks would be better improved.

It was interesting for me, as someone who has been to so many churches myself, but always as a believer. In fact, that's the target audience of this book - believers. It was even published by a Christian publishing house with a foreword by Rob Bell. He does offer some great insights and advice.

As a former believer myself, though, I noticed a few areas in which it's obvious Mehta himself was never a Christian. (He was a Jain.)  For instance, one of the things he likes least is when pastors spend an inordinate amount of their sermon quoting and reading Scripture. He felt it was hard to apply these sermons to his own life and preferred pastors who took a single verse or two and expounded upon it with information that was applicable to his life. This of course makes sense for an outsider, but for the insider, a Scripture-heavy sermon can be far more appealing to some Christians (like I was once). I know I hated "fluff" sermons but devoured the Scripture-laden ones. I felt those were the ones that were the "meatiest", and those churches were the most in-tune with God. To each his own, I suppose.

He also didn't like the services that spent a significant amount of time in singing. Once again, I think he missed the point. For believers, at least those like me, the singing is the best part, the part where we really poured our hearts out to God. It was deeply meaningful, even if the chorus was repeated a dozen times. For outsiders though, it was repetitive and way too long. He would like to see the singing end a little sooner with a lot less repetition. Maybe a lot of people do get bored with that part, but for many, that part could last all day.

On the other hand, he was spot on about just about everything else. I particularly (now) sympathize with his indignation of churches that called him "lost" and made him and other believers out to be sad, misguided, even evil people. That is my pet peeve now too. I never realized how insulting being called "lost" is. As a believer, I guess I never thought of the "lost" people in the audience hearing that as anything other than true, as if they were sitting there thinking, "Gee, I really AM lost... now do I get saved or harden my heart?" But I'll just reiterate what Mehta said - since becoming an atheist, I've never felt more "found" in my life!

The book is full of good suggestions, and to each church he had something complimentary to say. He really tried to get something out of each one. Some he enjoyed much more than others. Some gave him something to chew on as he went home. But ultimately, while he got a better understanding of the Christian faith, and even came away with some great life lessons, his atheism was not changed.

I recommend this book to believers and non-believers alike. If you want to know how your church comes across to outsiders, it's worth a read. He won't offend you. I'm serious. He isn't called "the friendly atheist" for nothing.


Disgruntled by Asali Solomon (A book published this year)
This book is good. I mean really good. I heard about it, like I hear about so many books, on NPR's Fresh Air. Asali Solomon was being interviewed about her debut novel Disgruntled, and the interview made me excited to read it. I had to wait until it came out, and then I had to wait until I had a spare $25 for the hardcover version, the only version currently available, but once it arrived, I couldn't wait to dive in.

The story follows young Kenya from childhood into early adulthood. Kenya was different. Not because she was black - there were lots of black children in her school - but because she celebrated Kwanzaa instead of Christmas and wasn't allowed to say the Pledge of Allegiance and didn't eat pork and didn't go to church. Her parents were black-nationalists, and Kenya was made fun of horribly for her family's beliefs. It's a coming-of-age story, with descriptions of all the childhood moments we can all relate to, regardless of race or religion. I loved that about the book. Solomon describes moments such as laughing and making fun of other kids even while on the inside knowing you too are the exact thing that you're making fun of, but not knowing what to do about it, you just keep on taunting to fit in. She describes the feeling of liking someone so much and thinking maybe they like you back and analyzing everything they do and say to figure it out, reminding you that if you are lucky enough to not be a teenager anymore, you would never want to be one again.

But more than that, I also loved the insight it gives into race and what it's like to be black or any other minority. Face it, when you're white and live in suburbia, you just don't have a clue. Sure you might "know" what kind of issues race poses, you might "understand" what others are feeling and experiences, but really, you can't truly "get" it when you've never been there. This book draws you deep, deep into Kenya's mind and heart, and you feel for a second you actually sort of "get" it.

I loved the characters, loved the story line, loved the realism, and was sad when the book ended. I wanted more. I want to know what happens to Kenya ultimately. What does she grow up to do? Who does she meet? What happens with her parents?

Consider this my definite recommendation for a book to add to your reading list.


The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco (A book based entirely on its cover)
This one was supposed to satisfy the "Mystery or thriller" category, but it was anything but scary or thrilling. It was somewhat mysterious. But truth be told, it was an impulse buy while getting groceries at Kroger, and I did indeed pick it based on it's cover. It said something about being a mixture of The Ring and The Grudge, both of which scared the poo-poo out of me, so I bought the book.

It was maybe like The Ring or The Grudge if those movies had been written for and by twelve year olds. Like The Shakespeare Stories did for Shakespeare. But I still confess I enjoyed the book, in a light-reading kind of way. The story is told through the point of view of the ghost of Okiku, a Japanese servant girl several centuries dead. She is the kind of ghost who avenges child murders, but when she meets Tark, a moody teenage boy with a strange essence, she begins to change.

Dun dun DUN!

But seriously, it's a book to read on the beach or in a bath, but don't bother if you're looking for something thrilling. Unless you're a twelve year old, though you might find R.L. Stine's Fear Street series more exciting. (Gawd, those used to scare me to death.)


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (A book a friend recommended)
I found this book in my bookshelf when I was arranging it a few weeks ago. I pulled this out and didn't recognize it at all. Where did this come from? Then I vaguely recalled my friend Devon lending it to me when I first moved back to the States, after lamenting to her how few books I had. She said it was funny; I put it somewhere and then completely forgot about it.

It looked easy enough, and with only a week left in May and not a lot of books to show for it, I decided to go for it. It's a collection of humorous memoirs, easy to digest quickly. At first, I didn't enjoy it. The first couple of stories came across to me as failed attempts at funny. The testimonials on the back promised gut-busting laughter and hilarity, and I just didn't really think it was funny at all. Until the third story, where an unexpected laugh broke from my chest. And as I went on, I came across moments that did elicit a good chortle from me. I began enjoying it a lot more, appreciating his sardonic humor. He makes fun of everyone and give no one a pass. I thought as I read it, "I could never be this disparaging to my family and friends! And therefore I will never be a comedic memoirist." I had to respect his lack of respect. It takes a lot of guts to make fun of your poor mother and father so much, your poor siblings so much, your poor life partner. It's easy to mock yourself, but to mock the people you love, who will groan and be pissed and slam the door in your face when they see what you've put in print? Heroic.


The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (A book by an author you've never read before)
My daughter, Fi, has just worked her way through the Harry Potter series for a second time, and we figured it was time to introduce her to something new. The problem with an eight year old who reads on an eighth grade level is that books that are appropriate for her age are too short and easy, but books for her reading level are too mature. She wants to read The Hunger Games, but I need to read them first to see how mature they are. And I'll admit it, I wanted to read them myself anyway!


I've seen the first two movies, so I knew roughly how the book was going to go, but it's been a while, so a lot of things were still a surprise to me - even the end! I vaguely remembered how it ended, but I actually gasped at the d√©nouement.


It's easy reading but highly entertaining. This must be the thing with dystopian YA. It reminded me a lot of the Divergent series, right down to the first-person-present-tense. (What's with YA and first-person-present-tense?!) It didn't bother me most of the time though, which means Collins did it well enough.

I'm sure everyone knows what the story is about, but in case you don't: Once again, we are taken to a future dystopian society where the common people are treated poorly by the reigning, wealthy class. In this case, people are divided into districts, and each year, to remind the districts what happens when they rebel, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, in which two tributes from each district are chosen to fight each other to the death on live TV in a controlled arena full of deathly hazards. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are chosen from District 12, two people who barely know each other but still have a lot of connections and a little history. They are trained briefly then let loose in the arena to fight all the other tributes from all the other districts.

I'm now reading the second book in the series, checking off another box in the Reading Challenge, but to say which one would give too much away!

I am also of the opinion that at least Book 1 will be okay for Fi to read. It isn't as bloody as the movie (though there is definitely blood and death, but nothing she didn't find in the later Harry Potter books).  The second one however might have some more mature romance themes, but I'll know how I feel about those after I'm finished.  (The romance is the only reason I haven't handed Fi the Divergent books. I'm no prude, but I don't think my eight year old is even remotely interested in kissing yet, judging by the EW!s she cries while watching Disney teeny-bopper TV.)



To see what else I have read this year:
April
March
February
January

Monday, June 01, 2015

Cool June



It's been unseasonably cool this year. Already we're in June and long sleeves are still appropriate. I, for one, love it. I'm a cooler climate kind of gal.

The cool (and wet) weather, however, has been a major buzz kill for the kids. The ground is swampy and soft, the grass is growing high because we can't find a time to mow the grass with all the storms and flooding, so the kids end up cooped inside the house a lot. This is uncool for many kids, but my Lolly especially can't stand it. She's a bouncy ball of a six year old, who reminds me of that movie Flubber where once it starts bouncing it never stops.

I've had a lot on my mind these past few weeks, a lot of stress, and it's making me quite a bit less patient than usual. I've thoroughly enjoyed the dull, wet weather, that allows me to lie on the couch with a book or take spontaneous naps, but the kids do not deem this appropriate. Instead, while all I want to do is relax and take my mind off everything, all they want to do is bounce, bounce, bounce all around me. And just as I imagine a bouncy rubber ball of energy wouldn't be able to listen to anything outside it's own boing, boing, boing, my kids seem to have lost the ability to hear me too. Especially Lolly.

Between Saturday and Sunday, I must have told Lolly three trillion times to STOP JUMPING ON THE FURNITURE. She and her little brother spent the greater part of the days bouncing from the couch to the rocking chair to the ottoman to the armchair to the coffee table back to the couch where I was lying trying to read my damn book. I seriously wanted to kill something. (Maybe one of the cute bunny rabbits that have decided our overgrown yard is the perfect place to frolic amongst the clover.)


I screamed at them. I grounded them. I put them in corners and sent them to their rooms. I screamed some more. Finally resigned, I grumpily assured them that if one of them got hurt - which they certainly would - I wasn't going to feel sorry for them. So just do what you want, but don't come crying to me when you fall on your face.

It wasn't my best moment.

Scott and I decided we had to do something to let them expend some energy, so Sunday evening we took them to the indoor swimming pool. It certainly brightened everyone's moods. When we got home, Scott put Jaguar to bed, and I tucked in the girls. Lolly asked me to lie down next to her and give her a hug.

Lying beside her, I told her I loved her. "I love you, too, Mummy," she replied in a small voice.

I apologized for being a grumpy mummy. I told her we both needed to work on being better. So we cut a deal.

June is Lolly's month. Sort of. Scott's grandmother, Lolly's namesake, was born in June. I told her, "Tomorrow is the start of June. That's YOUR month in a way, because it was Gran's birthday month. Why don't we make a pact? If you promise to listen more, I'll promise to yell less. Deal?"

Lolly felt this was a fair deal. We shook on it and sealed it with a hug. "Remember in the morning, it'll be June. I'll promise not to yell so much, and you try to remember to listen and do as you're told," I reminded as I clicked off the bedroom light.


This morning Lolly woke up groggy. She's not a morning person. I asked her to go get dressed while I made her breakfast. After the third time asking her, I reminded her of our deal. I reminded her I wouldn't yell at her to go get dressed, but she needed to remember to do her part. She got up and got dressed. It was to be another cool day, and I made sure she had a cardigan on over her dress. It felt good to have a chilled morning with no arguing or shouting. It felt good to be cool.

So I have dubbed this month Cool June. In the morning, I'll try the name out on Lolly, see if she likes it too. We're all going to try to be cool for the next several weeks. I especially want to be cool. I like myself better when I'm not all twisted up in frustrated angry knots, and even if Lolly can't uphold her end of the bargain (she is only six), I want uphold mine. For her sake. For all the kids' sakes. For MY sake. I don't want to be the mom who yells all the time. I want to be the mom who's cool.




FWIW, my kids are pretty cool, too.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

For Posterity: Kids Say the Darndest Things Part 2

It Is Your Destiny
When trying to use the word "destiny" in a sentence:
Fifi: You know, like, "it's your destiny", like "It's my destiny to be President."


It's All a Lie
Lolly: I know the tooth fairy isn't real.
A few moments later...
Lolly: Since I know it's not real, can I get two dollars?


Colorblind
Lolly: Mummy, are we white or black?... I was jus' wondering.


Laughing Gas
At the dentist, getting a cavity filled:
Fifi: I feel funny. My brain has gone astray.



Friday, May 22, 2015

For Paula For Robert



The Infinite Moment of Creation

Star collides with star
thrust from the infinite black hole
blasts explodes
swirls twists tumbles
confused
collects grows collects spins
collects

disperses

Sun gathers chaos
pulls bits into her orbit
swirls of stardust she sets in circles
keeps
heats cools heats cools

nurtures

Life sparks from within
long lost memories of life
spark within
the stardust
life erupts tumbles forms
evolves grows swims
crawls out of water

blinks

Learns to cry
walk sing love.


And the form made from stardust fell
in love with the most beautiful
form and they gave birth to
more
like the debris that formed and bore
them
and together they learned
laughter
fury
compromise
peace
how to smile.

And time ticked throughout the
universe
ticked swirled ticked tumbled
lulled quieted
ticked
and they learned
patience
and urgency
and how to love
infinitely.

Until the stardust flickered
whispered goodbye
quieted lulled stilled tick
tock

and the other
learns
pain
infinite black pain
an infinite black hole of pain
sadness emptiness
swirling twisting spiraling bleeding
in her heart
into
an impossibly
tiny
point
of
time-
skewing
void


lasting
eons


until


Out of the infinite black hole
a future universe bursts
swirls twists collides collects
spins collects

disperses

remembers life in its debris
long lost memories of life
nurtures evolves grows swims

crawls out of the water

blinks.






Dear Paula,
When I cannot be there with you, when I cannot take a single ounce of your broken heart away from you, when I cannot hug you while you cry or wash your growing piles of laundry or listen to you tell stories or talk through the pain, know that even from far away I am here for you, shedding tears for you, loving you, caring about you.
Your friend forever,
Lori

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Inspired...

Driving past my favorite church sign yesterday, I was impressed by the depth of the message (if anything church sign-y can have depth).


"Thank God for others."

I like it! It was like saying God is not selfish or jealous of our human relationships, but that he recognizes our innate need for companionship, and the way we need one another to help, to guide, to encourage, to teach, to inspire. We need others in our lives to lighten the load of life, to make us laugh, to be there when we cry, to support us in hard times, and to celebrate the joys. Thank God for others indeed!

Then I drove past it and in the rear view mirror saw the other side.


Oh. They just lost an M. (And inserted a Spanish exclamation point.) Oh well. Thank God for mothers too. Happy Mother's Day.