Thursday, December 31, 2009

January Challenge

I have, as predicted, decided that my resolution for 2010 is to choose a challenge for each month. The point is to work on some aspect of my life that I'd like to improve on as appropriate for each month, given weather and special events during the month. Also, given my attention span, it makes more sense for me to do it this way rather than to try to do something all year.

So, for January, I've decided on two aspects of my challenge; food and exercise.

For food I will eat a set meal plan most of the time. For non holiday weekdays, I will have steel cut oats with fruit, flax meal and cinnamon for breakfast. Lunch will be a salad and a wheat berry/corn/bean/kale Tex-Mex dish. Dinner will consist of the usual variety. One day a week - Saturday night - will be dessert night, during which I can have a homemade dessert of some sort (no bake cookies made with nuts and dates, a smoothie, oat bars, even a bowl of cereal - whatever homemade treat we'd enjoy). Otherwise, after dinner snacking may include fruit and/or air popped popcorn. Any other between meal snacking that I might feel the need for will be raw veggies. Weekends and holidays are different because we do special breakfasts - pancakes or muffins - and I will continue to participate in those meals. Also, our meals are often off on weekends, timing wise, so, other than the dessert rule, weekends and holidays are set apart from the food plan.

I'm keeping my exercise challenge simple. In addition to the time I already spend exercising, which I'll just keep up with, I will do 500 pull ups over the course of the month. I'll track them on the white board next to the door with the pull up bar. Any pull up is acceptable - hands forward or backward, kipping, whatever.

That's it. I'll keep you posted on how it's going or, at least, give a summary at the end of the month.

Anthony tells me that he is going to do a monthly challenge this year, as well, and is thinking he'll do the pull up thing, but I don't know yet if he'll do anything regarding food yet. I'd like to hear that he is going to say no to the candy dish at work for the month, but I'm also trying not to nag.

Davan made a list of all the things she'd like to do or work on this year and, of those she felt like sharing, it includes becoming a better cook, continuing to work hard at Do Jump, read a lot (like she doesn't already), create her own tea to brew and make some new friends.

We're doing a simple family celebration of the New Year this evening. I've got beans going in the crockpot for Mexican beans to make nachos with this evening for dinner (baked tortilla chips, of course). Davan has asked to have time to reminisce about other New Years, to talk about hopes and dreams for this year and to look at all of our pictures from this year and talk about the highlights. We'll also play some games and watch a movie. Anthony wants to watch the ball drop at midnight.

Tomorrow we're going to go snowshoeing up on Mt Hood to start the New Year off right, provided that the weather cooperates at least to some extent. It's raining like crazy here right now, which, although I haven't checked to make sure, probably means that it's snowing like crazy up there, which means that road conditions could be pretty bad tomorrow, as the storm is predicted to stay with us for a couple days.

At any rate, Happy New Year's Eve and I hope you are all planning something fun, be it low key or not!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Snowy Sleepover

My plans for the day yesterday encountered a snag when Portland got a few inches of snow during the evening commute. I still picked Anthony up, just as the snow was really accumulating, and we crawled along with the rest of downtown Portland out to my parents' house to pick up Davan. However, we did not leave again. We were lucky to make it here without abandoning our car, as many people did, or getting into an accident amongst so many drivers who are not experienced with snowy driving.

We walked to Noodles and Co, which is where Davan wanted to eat anyway and it was an awesome walk. We walked partially through a park which was beautiful in the snow. It was only about a 3 mile trip, round trip, and very much enjoyed by all.

Back at my parents' house, we broke out our sleepover bedding and chilled out for the evening. Anthony got up this morning and went to work from here, borrowing a fresh shirt from my step dad. Davan was best prepared for a sleepover, having spent the night before here, and thus had pjs and a toothbrush, but mom had a spare toothbrush and we made do just fine.

When we got up, I did a workout, as I usually do in the mornings, while Davan and Mom finished up watching So You Think You Can Dance, which Mom records to watch with Davan. I watched some too and I have to say that I like the dancing. Some of the routines are really great. I don't think I'd want to watch the whole season like my mom and Davan do, but I like catching it here and there.

I also had a fruit and veggie smoothie for breakfast, thanks to my step dad who made extra for me - it's a staple over here, too, with pancakes coming for those who desire them. After that, we'll be on our way, having enjoyed our impromptu snow caused sleepover.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Day to Myself

Davan, as I've mentioned, is a preteen with all of the joy and anguish that goes along with it. Being who she is, she's also a very sensitive and emotional person. Following the emotional highs of her birthday and Christmas, we've had some lows over the last few days. It's nothing life shattering. No huge emotional break downs. No, just frowns, slumps, and a distinct lack of enthusiasm for anything remotely unappealing (chores, people not guessing correctly what she's trying to get us to say in Taboo, whatever). Thus, I have to say that I was not too sad when she got invited over to spend the night and day at my parent's house. In fact, "whew" may have crossed my mind, no matter that I, of course, love her to pieces.

I dropped her off at Do Jump yesterday evening with the plan being that my parents would pick her up. I came home, made a salad to go with the vegan shepard's pie that Davan and I had made together prior to Do Jump and then had a nice dinner with Anthony. Candle-lit, even. The evening was calm and peaceful.

This morning I got up, put on many layers against the cold, wind and projected rain, and went for a three hour walk, enjoying my current audio book all the while. Back at home I whipped up a pot of red lentil and bulgar wheat stew with kale and corn, which I'm enjoying greatly while I read blogs and such. Soon, I'll be done on the computer and have time for my paper book - which I'm really enjoying! - before it'll be time to go pick Anthony up from work.

We'll drive over to my parents, then all go to dinner together. My parents missed Davan's birthday and want to take us out for a delayed birthday celebration. Then we'll get Davan to Do Jump, during which Anthony and I will do the usual hang at Fred Meyer's thing, but it'll be nice and date-like with it being just the two of us.

Ah.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Naming by Alison Croggon

Yesterday, after spending a large part of the day sledding with my family (which was part of Davan's Christmas gift), I was able to find an hour to finish up this book. I really wanted to finish it because I was so, so done reading it. Frankly, if it hadn't been a book group book, I would not have finished it. It was very long, so there was a lot of slogging through. Plus, I needed to finish it in time for Davan to have a go at it before book group.

As you can tell, The Naming is not my favorite book. It is the story of Maerad, a 16 year old slave in a small compound who is rescued by a bard. Shockingly enough, it turns out that she is a bard, as well. Now, bards, in this world, are magical as well as musical. The two travel to a bardic school, then travel some more. And some more and yet some more. They ultimately make it to their destination, another bardic school, where there awaits...the necessity to do yet more traveling. And that, my friends, is how the book ends. I found the whole thing fairly tedious and, to add insult to injury, at the end there is no end. I've mentioned before that I dislike books whose endings can't stand alone.

I could go on and on, but I'll do what should have been done in The Naming and cut it short. I give it a 3.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

I had a very busy Christmas Eve, but also a good one with time with friends and family, both, followed by a great Christmas. Today is all about recovery.

We met friends for coffee in the morning on Christmas Eve and went to my MIL's for Christmas Eve dinner. In between, I frantically finished gifts (mostly the rag rug that did end up being for Bunny due to size), wrapped, cooked with Davan's help,

planned Davan's scavenger hunt for the next day with Anthony and got in a rehearsal for Davan's and my Christmas show. Whew. I was whopped by the time I went to bed, which, while not horribly late was after Davan opened her Christmas Eve gift (footie pjs usually):


and I finished the wrapping and putting out of presents.

Christmas was great, though, we were busy with Christmas from dusk to dawn, but in a fun way. Davan was so excited to see the pile on Christmas morning:

We opened gifts, taking the time to enjoy them as they were opened,
(This hat that Anthony got Davan was one of her favorite gifts)
(Even Bunny got gifts)
(Davan gave this customized box to Oscar who promptly spent most of his day in it)
(In fact, Davan made a lot of gifts, including this customized baseball cap for her Tad-ku)

got food as it was wanted, spent almost two hours outside in the 30+ mile per hour winds going along with Davan on her scavenger hunt,



played new games, both store bought and Davan conceived,

visited with my parents and generally made merry. Again, I was really ready for bed in the evening, though!

Today we're recovering. We slept in, we're putting things away, cleaning up, and relaxing. I hope your holiday was merry!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Crunch

Here I was, going along, feeling like I had plenty of time to get ready for Christmas. All of a sudden, as of last night, I'm feeling like there is a heck of a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. The shopping is done, including for food, but I still have to finish a few homemade gifts, wrap and do all the food prep. There isn't a lot of food prep for Christmas Day, as we try to stick to treat foods that don't need a lot of work. However, if I don't bring food on Christmas Eve, there won't be anything for Davan and I to eat, so we really need to take several items to make our meal enjoyable.

Throw into the mix the fact that today was our annual lunch at Todai and see the decorations downtown day, meaning that I did almost nothing about preparations, and one can see that I have a busy couple of days ahead.

I'm feeling a little worried, but also feeling like it'll probably all work out alright and not be too awfully stressful. Honestly, I actually go back and forth between panic and it'll be alright. On the panic side is all that I've listed above, plus knowing that I don't have that much time on Christmas Eve due to meeting friends for our annual Christmas Eve coffee and then dinner starting at 5:00 this year at my MIL's. On the it'll be alright side is that Davan and I worked really well together in the kitchen getting ready for Thanksgiving, which will, hopefully, repeat, and that we don't do very many gifts so there isn't that much to wrap.

Meanwhile, I'm off to bed because the it'll be alright side is winning at the moment, meaning I don't feel like I've gotta stay up until midnight working on things. Of course, the panic side might take over once I'm in bed, making me wish I'd just gone ahead and stayed up because at least I'd be getting something done rather than laying there, worrying and not sleeping.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Book Review: Probability Moon by Nancy Kress

I finally got around to another Nancy Kress book on my shelf that's been sitting there for a few months, being periodically renewed from the library. I've had so much to read lately (which is great!) that I've been juggling what needs to be read next for book group with what's due next, only occasionally picking out one that's been sitting there longer than it should or one that just calls to me.

I wasn't too far into Probability Moon when I realized that I'd read it before, but long enough ago that I didn't really remember things until they happened. Then, though, I did remember and I think it lessened my enjoyment. I think I'd have appreciated it more if it were all new. There are two more in the series of probability titles that I'm sure I haven't read, so perhaps I'll see.

Probability Moon is the story of a mission within a mission. On the surface of things, the mission is to go to World, a newly discovered inhabited planet, to study the people there. The theory is that most people on most planets came from a common stock that, for some reason, was dispersed by an unknown agent, because most people are pretty humanoid, differing only slightly from us humans. To get around to these different planets, we use worm holes, also left behind, after discovering one near Mars.

So, a group of scientists goes to study World, where the inhabitants all "share reality." Those that don't are killed and prevented from decaying, which would sour the after world. They share reality by getting headaches when their world view differs from those around them. Humans don't have this mechanism, obviously, and must hide it from the Worlders so as not to be killed, but they are fascinated by it and want to learn more. Of course, they can't just ask because that would reveal the fact that they don't "share reality."

Meanwhile, the real reason behind the mission is lurking overhead, unbeknownst to those on the planet. One of the moons of World is a manufactured object, made by the same beings who made the worm holes. Another team of scientists and military types are trying to figure out what it does. They suspect it's a weapon of some sort, which could greatly aid them in the war with the Fallers, the only non-humanoid race that has been discovered and who have refused all contact with us other than violence.

Like most Kress books, I found the premise to be very interesting, but didn't so much love the characters. I was entertained, but not enthralled. I give Probability Moon a 7.5.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: Dairy Queen by Cathrine Murdock

With all the Christmas solo activities to do, I had time to get through another audio book this week. This one was much shorter and much different from On Agate Hill, but I still really enjoyed it.

The narrator is Natalie Moore, who did a nice job of it. She has/used a bit of a Wisconsin accent which added to the story without overwhelming it.

D.J. is the teenage daughter of a dairy farmer who messed his hip up. She is one of four kids and the only girl. Her two older brothers are college age and not around the summer Dairy Queen takes place, which is part of the story. Her younger brother is around, but busy on his winning little league baseball team. There is a big emphasis on sports in the Schwenk family, particularly football, which is close to being life for them all. Being on a winning team is the only thing that gets a Schwenk excused from farm chores. Thus, D.J. is left to mostly take care of the farm on her own until Brain, the sort of bratty quarter back from the rival high school shows up on his coach's (a family friend) orders to help out.

Over the course of the story, D.J. figures some things out about herself, her family and her friends. It's an entertaining and, possibly for some, educational ride, about the importance of talking and pursuing one's dreams.

I really enjoyed Dairy Queen and I give it an 8.5. I was glad to discover it was the first of three about D.J. and I'll enjoy continuing her story.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review: On Agate Hill by Lee Smith

I listened to this book and actually finished up early in the week because I've been doing even more crafts - shesh - and have gotten in some good listening while cooking time, as well, with Davan busy in her room making presents. Even though the book was twelve disks long, I was really sad to come to the end.

On Agate Hill was performed by Kate Forbes, Danial Ferland, Katie Firth and others, all of whom did a good job of it. The book, while following Molly Petree from her 13th birthday until her death as an old woman, does shift perspective at times. For each perspective shift, we get a new narrator for that character.

Molly has a very rough childhood and, at 13, is living in the aftermath of the Civil War in the south. Her family has been hit hard and it's hard on her. Given chances, though, she does bound back and we follow her through it all - leaving Agate Hill for many years and, eventually returning.

I felt the story was enhanced by the perspectives of the characters we get to hear from who are around Molly and I enjoyed those shifts, while staying true to following Molly's tale.

I highly recommend On Agate Hill, giving it a 9, and I will be looking for other books by Lee Smith.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thinking About Resolutions

Sure, it's not even Christmas yet, but I still tend to find myself thinking about resolutions come about this time. Partially it's because, yes, New Years is fast approaching, but the other part, I think, is because, as I mentioned in a previous post, it's an indulgent time of year, meaning there are things to think about correcting in the not too distant future.

First, though, how did I fare regarding last year's resolutions? Fair. My two resolutions were that I'd get up by 7:30 on weekdays barring illness and I'd ride/walk more local miles (trips under 3 miles) than drive each month. I did not end up sticking with the 7:30 resolution, but 90% of the time, I'm up by 8:00, so I feel okay about that. I had no trouble with the local mile resolution. In fact, it was so easy by summer that I stopped tracking miles. This fall has continued to be easy. Part of why it's been so easy is that Davan isn't doing gymnastics any longer. That means that the 2.5 miles three times a week trip to the gym has been replaced with a 13 mile two times a week trip to Do Jump, which doesn't count in local miles. I'm good about riding to the store and walking or riding to the library, which counts for most of my local miles, so it's been no trouble.

I'd also made a resolution for just December, which you may remember, to eat just raw fruits and veggies for one meal a day. It's turned out that I'm doing pretty well with that, but only on weekdays. I'm not sticking to it on weekends or, you know, birthdays.

Now, about resolutions in general. I know there are those who say that they don't do them because you should be open to changes any time of the year. I totally agree that you should be open to changes as needed, but I also don't see a problem with thinking about it particularly this one time of the year when it's prevalent in society. It's a good reminder to tackle something you'd like to improve.

So, this year, I'm thinking about what I'd like to do for my resolutions and if any are necessary. For me, I've decided that I will do at least one resolution. I like challenges and laying them out for myself helps to keep me on track. What I'm considering is giving myself a monthly challenge each month of 2010. I find that a resolution that lasts for the whole year doesn't usually work for me because I lose interest. A month is about right. Plus, then I can consider what's going on in my life and in the season and make an appropriate challenge for myself.

If I choose to go this route, which I'm feeling pretty sure I will, but I've got a couple weeks to decide here, then I'll have my January challenge planned out by the first and ready to kick in. One thought I've had is to have a set meal plan for myself for the month. It would look something like this:

breakfast - steel cut oats with fruit, flax meal and cinnamon
lunch - a salad then wheat berry/bean/corn/kale in a tomato chili sauce
dinner - varied, as usual
after dinner - fruit and/or air popped popcorn 6 nights a week - homemade dessert the 7th

Why? Well, I have a few reasons. 1) McDougall recommends limiting choices if one wants to loose weight. I'm doing okay on my weight, but a few pounds (literally) off would be good, too. 2) The excesses of the holiday season has left me over eating because there is a lot of variety around and we're making dessert a lot. Granted, the desserts are healthy, relatively speaking, but they are still extra that doesn't need to consumed. Yesterday I ate left over pumpkin cinnamon rolls until I felt ready to burst. That's not healthy. Just having a template for food will help me avoid those excesses, I think. 3) I just read an article in bicycling magazine about a man who lost 200+ pounds by riding his bike and following Furhman's Eat to Live plan with a specific daily menu. He eats all the veggies he wants, 1-2 pounds a day, a hummus wrap and a bowl of vegan soup. The limiting of what he can eat keeps his will power strong.

On that last part, apparently, there is some belief these days that all the choices we have in life - so much food in restaurants and grocery stores, all the channels on TV - actually erodes people's will power. It forces you to make choices all the time. Choices and will power actually vie for the same part of your brain. If you wear it out making choices, then you have nothing left for the will power part. This is, of course, a paraphrase of the concept.

So, that's my January idea. I'm not totally sold yet, but I'm feeling a draw there. If it goes well and turns out to be a good thing for me, I'd keep that in place for February plus add whatever challenge I pick out for that month, which I think would be an exercise one, but could also have to do with how much time I spend on the computer, which seems to be something I slip on a lot. I don't even want to tell you how much time I spent on this thing yesterday in my post sleepover attempt haze.

When I started this post, I was still feeling not totally sure about the resolution and the January challenge. Writing it out, though, and thinking about my reasons is making me feel more sure that's what I want to do. I will still mull it over for a bit, but I'm guessing you'll hear that's the direction I've chosen in a couple of weeks.

For those of you who do resolutions, what's on your mind?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Birthday, Davan!

Well, K was unable to come to Davan's birthday party. The poor kid is pretty sick and I know she'd have rather been partying with Davan than laying around on the couch, feeling like crud.

First off, Davan did cry the night before at the news that K wasn't coming, but really, handled it with pretty good grace. It wasn't long before she was campaigning for things she wanted to happen on her birthday with the newest plan. The poor kid had gone through a lot of iterations regarding this birthday and, for the most part, handled it all pretty darn well. There was really only one time she just didn't behave well about it, that being Sunday morning with the no snow news.

With this newest and final plan, Davan had a really good birthday. Anthony stayed home and we had a great family day.

Anthony and I got up and created an obstacle course through the house which Davan navigated by following the string where ever it went:




to find a stash of presents, which she then opened.

Then there was one more string leading her to the garage and this:

Anthony made it for her for her birthday. For those not in the know, it's a hand-balancing stand.

While she was making her way through the course, I was in the kitchen making baking powder cinnamon rolls, her requested birthday breakfast. I made a batch of ones with oil and actual sugar (turbinado, but sugar none the less) and a second smaller batch with pumpkin puree in place of the oil and a little agave and date sugar in place of the turbinado sugar for me. I was willing to just have a smoothie, but Davan really wanted me to get cinnamon rolls for her birthday, too.

We ate together in the living room on the snowman table cloth, also as requested by Davan. She and Anthony enjoyed hot chocolate soy milk while I had tea and we all ate pomegranates, as well, one of both Davan's and my favorite seasonal treats.


Then, while Anthony and I cleaned up, Davan opened the Advent calendar for the day, which, rather than the previously planned note saying, "Have a great birthday party!" had been changed to the start of a note to note search through the house, leading her to a short chapter book about a birthday. I read to her for about a half an hour, then we got our things together to head out (not taking the camera, sadly).

Next on the agenda was swimming at a community center pool that has a current channel with a whirl pool area. There is also a slide, but it's isn't open during weekday family swim time. Davan and I have swam there before, but this time we practically had the place to ourselves for the first 45 minutes. Anthony, who isn't a big swimmer, still got in and splashed around to the best of his ability. We'd brought a small rocket pool toy with us, which we played with for most of the time we were there. We played hide and find the rocket, monkey in the middle (Davan loved being in the middle, so we mostly did it that way) played all underwater and then finished up with pushing Davan back and forth through the water like a ball.

After showers and dressing, we were off to lunch at Noodles and Co, which is one of Davan's favorite places to eat. I mentioned it was her birthday when we ordered and the cashier offered her a free dessert, but Davan declined, as they aren't vegan. The cashier was really insistent, so I suggested that a piece of flat bread would be more welcome. Davan was delighted to get the flat bread and very pleased they'd done something special for her birthday.

Post lunch, we headed straight for Safari Sam's where we played for a little over three hours before Davan finally said she was getting a little tired from all the swimming and climbing about. Anthony and I were in better shape, having mostly taken turns with her. We played a variety of games such as avoiding certain colors, hide and seek, how fast can we do the Black Diamond Course, what ways can we swing across, how can we make the zip line challenging and the like.

One time, after Anthony and Davan had been in the structure, they came back for a drink and Davan went off into the Black Diamond course by herself. Anthony started telling about these two girls who were stuck in the Black Diamond course. There is a large padded block at the entrance and you aren't supposed to go in if you can't get yourself up that block or are accompanied by someone who can get you up. This is because kids do get stuck - unable to make it through - and an employee has to go rescue them, which they aren't fond of doing. I'd seen these two girls' mom boost them in and then not join them. Now, this happens a lot, too, but those girls just really seemed like they had trouble even with the boost.

Their mom was standing outside where they were stuck telling them they had to go on and get through or they wouldn't be playing miniature golf. Anthony reported that the girls were just kind of sitting there and commented that, if it had been Davan, she'd have been screaming her bloody head off (in fear and desperation, not being bratty) not only at being stuck but at the thought of missing out on the other activity. (As an aside, we don't play mini golf there, as that makes the price jump incredibly over just playing on the structure, which is free for adults there with children.)

As we were discussing this, I started to notice how long Davan had been gone. It's not that she can't go in and entertain herself, but that she just doesn't take that long to go through the Black Diamond Course. Her record is something like 35 seconds and it'd been a couple minutes. So, I told Anthony that she was probably rescuing those girls. The longer she was gone, the more certain I was. Sure enough, after many more minutes, first those two girls showed up, then Davan, bringing up the rear. The mom came around the side and said to the girls, "Did you say thank you?" The littler girl (about 7) flung herself at Davan, giving her a big hug. What a sweet kid we've got.

Later, Davan was telling me about the rescue and she said that at one point, she was climbing up a rope with one of the girls on her lap! The girl wasn't just holding onto Davan while she climbed, but had gotten scared part way up, so Davan climbed up to her and made a lap for her to sit on, them pulled them both up. She did say it was difficult work. I guess!

Davan was finally tired and we were all getting hungry, so we took off and went to Davan's favorite place to eat - the Paradox Cafe - for dinner. This time, at dinner, when I mentioned to a waiter that knows us by site and is getting close to being able to say, "The usual?" to Davan, at least, who always gets the same thing, that it was Davan's birthday, I also told him that an extra slice of French toast would be a welcome birthday treat. That is what they brought her, as well as a serving of real maple syrup (rather than the free table blend). Davan doesn't use syrup, but Anthony was glad to have it for his pancakes. Davan was quite pleased yet again.

By the time we got home, it was after 8:00, but the festivities weren't over yet. We still had crafts to do and dessert to eat. We made snowmen from socks, foam snowmen and snowflake ornaments, and wire and bead snowflakes. We're running out of space for ornaments! We ate Rice Dream bars and sang Happy Birthday to You for something like the 10th time.



Then, I made up the futon in the living room and Davan and I had a sleepover. We finished reading the birthday book, played guess which ornament I'm thinking of by the light of the Christmas lights, snuggled and then tried to sleep. Sadly, when I still hadn't slept by 2:00 am, I had to abandon Davan to try to get some sleep in my own bed. I don't do well the first night out of my own bed, as a rule, which really sucks for me I have to say, and I'd warned Davan that was a possibility, but I'd come back in the morning to snuggle if it happened. So, when the cats woke us up before we were ready this morning, that's what I did.

This morning we played some more guess the ornament, drank the last of the hot chocolate (for Davan) and tea for me, then Davan got up to open the Advent calendar, but came right back to bed to read out of the Christmas chapter book that was the Advent thing today. (If I haven't mentioned it before, the books are all library books, not books to keep.) Finally, around 10:00, we got up and I cleaned up all the birthday detritus before getting breakfast together - Davan's being left over cinnamon rolls and fruit.

And now it's on with our day and back to life as usual - or, at least, life during the holidays. Davan is in her room, working feverishly on Christmas presents as I type.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oh Crap.

I was all set to do a book review today, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow because I'm having a hard time thinking about anything except the fact that it looks like everyone is bogging on my daughter's birthday. Admittedly, for the second friend it's totally not her fault, as she's getting sick, but still. Talk about a worst nightmare for a kid. No one comes to their birthday. There is still some hope, as K, for now, has only a scratchy throat, but a couple weeks ago, the same beginning symptom produced a nasty fever and a kid down for the count after a day or two. Whimper, whimper. If it were just a cold, I'd say, send her on over if she's up for it. A back lash cold would be a small price to pay for non wrecked birthday plans.

As if it's not bad enough that H isn't coming. As if it's not bad enough that the snow part of the party got canceled. Crap, crap, crap.

I've decided not to tell Davan, as it would serve no purpose until we know for sure. She'll just end up worrying more and, really? What is there to do? I've already asked if there is anyone else she wants to invite to replace H and she says no. She does have a few other friends, but hasn't been seeing a lot of them lately and, when she has, it's been a little awkward. Then there are friendships just starting to develop with the Zig Zags, but even if she felt brave enough to invite one of them, they go to school and couldn't come tomorrow.

My back up plan, such as it is, is to make Anthony take the day off work tomorrow and the two of us will take her swimming and maybe to Safari Sam's and do her crafts with her. It won't be the same, but...well, what else can we do?

There is always rescheduling the party, but the thought of going through all this again...well, I just don't know if I can. There's no guarantee anyone will be healthy and willing to make the effort to come and there will be snow next time. Plus, it'd probably have to wait until after Christmas, which is a really long time.

So, I'll just be hoping and hoping that K's scratchy throat is the worst of it and she wakes up tomorrow healthy and raring to go.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: At the Firefly Gate by Linda Newbery

Just to let you all know Davan, while still understandably disappointed about the change in plans for her birthday, was able to pull it together and both have a good afternoon at our friends' house and come up with a new party plan that she's happy with. It'll be swimming rather than sledding for a melted snow party. Over the weekend I was also able to whip through this short read.

At the Firefly Gate is a sort of coming of age story for Henry who, along with his mom and dad, move to a quite village which is quite a change for him, having previously lived in a flat in the city. He is sad to have left his best friend and unsure of how he'll fit in in this new place.

Next door is a family including a girl, Grace, a year older than him, who seems very jaded and unfriendly as well as an older aunt, Dottie, who immediately befriends Henry who reminds her very much of a Henry she used to know. This other Henry was stationed at the air base during WWII, which is now abandoned.

Our young Henry starts seeing and dreaming very vividly things regarding the older Henry. While he sorts through all of this, he is also making new friends, learning about his new school for the following year, and hating Grace.

I enjoyed this story, although Davan, on the other hand, did not even finish it. I think she just didn't like Henry very much and didn't get enough into it to get past the kind of strange start. I did find that the revelations weren't very surprising, as I think they were meant to be.

I give At the Firefly Gate a 7.5. (By the way, I keep thinking that the last name of Newbery is a pen name in a shameless ploy to be considered for a Newbery Award, however, this is truly not the case, as this is a British book and, therefore, not eligible.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ups and Downs of Today

Today started off fun with Davan celebration St Lucia's Day by bringing us tea and gingerbread in bed this morning:


Her outfit included a crown of "candles" which she initially forgot, but later remembered and put on. It was a festive way to start the day.

This is the second time that we've celebrated St. Lucia's day, which was initially sparked a couple years ago by Kirsten, one of the American Girls.

Then, though, the down part started with us checking the weather and discovering that the overwhelming possibility is for rain on the mountain on Wednesday, which is when her snow/sledding party is for her birthday. As if it's not bad enough that one of the two invitees isn't coming, but now, the central piece of her party isn't going to happen.

Davan, being the sort of person who thinks that the planning part of things is a good part of the fun, has a whole themed party planned around snow and now feels like she can't do any of her party that she had planned because there will be no going to the snow.

While I very much understand her disappointment, she's also gotten to the point where we can't talk about it anymore because she's reacting negatively to pretty much everything. I had to leave to go for a walk. We're now trying to work things out via notes, which typically works better for us. Sigh.

We're off shortly to go to a friend's house. I'm a little worried about how that is going to go, given Davan's mood. Sigh again.

More Craftiness

While I had slave labor this weekend, there was another Christmas project I wanted to get going on. I've mentioned before that one of the things we do for Christmas presents is give out sweet or spicy nuts. I wanted help with decorating the jars for the nuts, so we worked on it yesterday afternoon.

Last year Davan and I kind of decoupaged the jars, but Davan had a different idea for this year and we went forth with her being our creative director. Anthony and I cut and glued paper. Davan did the rest.

They turned out pretty cute:

Davan wrote up a little personality card to go with each:

Happy Holidays!! This is your nut jar speaking. Yes, me, in the Purple. As you have probably guessed, I am a purple fox. My name is Flora Fox. I used to live on Den Lane, until I got a nut delivering job. I am an animal scientist, and I study animals, their colors, and of course, new species of animals. I am quite the expert. Did you know that Zebras were born with brown and white stripes that turn into black and white? Or that a giraffes tongue is on average 18 inches long, which is longer than you arm? But that is another story. Animals are definitely my hobby, and I try to learn facts about one new animal every day. Oh, and one more thing about me, I LOVE nuts.

Your friend,
Flora the Fox.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Gingerbread Cutout Cookies

Davan loves making gingerbread. It's something she really looks forward to at Christmas time, so I knew I'd be putting "Let's make gingerbread!" in the Advent calendar at some point, but I wasn't sure how it would go this year. The difference is that this year we're sugar free at home and we're not using oil, either. Now I've made many desserts that have stayed sugar and oil free, but I wasn't sure how the gingerbread would turn out as such.

With great trepidation, knowing that today was the day on the Advent plan, I started trolling the web for gingerbread cookie recipes to modify a couple days ago. Concurrently, I started thinking about how to decorate the suckers. We have always decorated then baked as opposed to iced after baking. What we've used is colored sugar, chocolate chips and little candies meant for decorating. Only chocolate chips (vegan and grain sweetened) are still something we eat, although we did still have some colored sugar left over from last year I had yet to dispose of.

First, I found a recipe and mentally adapted it. Then, last night, decorating ideas came to me, so I ran out this morning to pick up a couple of things to supplement what we had on hand.

Davan was so excited to make gingerbread. Here she and her dad are decorating (I did all the cutting out):


And here I am, pulling a sheet out of the oven:


Here's the dough recipe (which we doubled to have plenty to share with vegan friends tomorrow when we go to their house for lighting the Advent candles):

1 individual serving of applesauce or about 1/3 cup
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup cold water
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups whole grain spelt flour
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
a sprinkle of salt

First, combine the dry ingredients. Then, in a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients. Mix together and go. Refrigeration doesn't seem to be necessary here, unlike with most cut out cookies, but we still did for a bit while we gathered our toppings.

We used:

chopped up dried unsweetened cherries
vegan, grain sweetened chocolate chips
cacao nibs
raisins
fruit leather - three different flavors for different colors, although they are so close it didn't end up making much difference - which we cut up into shapes as desired
blanched slivered almonds
chopped raw pistachios
cashew pieces
cut up Panda Black Licorice
cut up Panda raspberry confection (both of these ended up a little brown when cut rather than the black and red I'd been hoping for)

All-in-all, the cookies turned out to be a little monochromatic, but very cute. They taste pretty darn good (although we're used to our goodies not being too sweet) and are very cake-like.

Here are some of them all done:


Oh, and I offered Davan the use of the colored sugar, just asking that not use it on all of them because I just don't knowingly eat sugar, but she said, "Let's just not. Let's throw it away." Cool kid.

Crafty (Consider this Yesterday's Post)

Anthony had yesterday off, making it feel like a weekend. He is supposed to have every other Friday off, but it's been a couple of months since we've actually seen that come to fruition due to various projects coming up due. It was great to have him home yesterday, but it's only the lull before the next overtime storm. We don't expect that he'll be home next weekend. Bummer.

We spent the day mostly just hanging out, although I did get up and workout in the morning - a little strength work followed by a walk in which I did a loop around a hill by the house five times to get a little interval type work in - and then, when Anthony was feeling antsy in the afternoon, I went for a frozen toed bike ride with him. Davan opted not to join in either. Sigh.

What took up several hours (I didn't keep track, but maybe 3?) of my day was making this:


And the back:


It's for Ryan, an 18 month old nephew on Anthony's side. I'm not a very crafty person, but I had to come up with something for little Ryan. Davan had made a sunshine bag (several gifts to be opened over the course of several days which she ties together with a story) with two Playmobile knights and their gear we'd saved back when we sold the rest of the Playmobile stuff for his two older brothers. Ryan is too young for those little pieces, though, and I didn't want to go spending a lot of money (or, let's be serious here, any really) on his gift after recycling his brothers', either.

After several weeks of indecision, this idea came to me. It taxed my limited sewing skills, but I was pleased with how it turned out. Davan totally loves it, which makes me wish I'd made one for her rather than the rag rug, which has turned into a monster time consumer and is still quite small. Sigh.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This and That

We had a busy day today with lots of activities. One of the highlights was going to Multnomah Falls, where Davan and I did a short hike in the 24 degree weather this morning. It doesn't happen all that often here, but the falls was mostly frozen and it was really stunning. I'd wished I'd taken the camera, but alas.

Next up was going to The Nutcracker put on by the Portland Dance Academy. Davan and I enjoyed this cute rendition of The Nutcracker and Davan was thrilled to get to go when she'd thought we weren't going to be able to this season.

After The Nutcracker we hit OMSI for a couple of hours of scientific fun.

This evening we met Anthony for dinner at Rice Junkies then he and I spent some time together while Davan was at Zig Zags. We were in need of some good quality time and had a nice chat in addition to talking about some details of Davan's Christmas gift.

Now we're home with just a little time to relax before bedtime. So, no reviews or involved thoughts, just a short check in post to share tonight.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Book Review: Snow Treasure by Marie Mcswigan

Winter is just the right time to read Snow Treasure, which I found to be a treasure of a book. (Go ahead and groan at the pun, but I thought it was cute.) I finished up last night while trying to stay warm under our winter duvet. Man is it ever cold!

Snow Treasure is based on the true story of how the children of one village in Norway saved the community's gold from the occupying Germans by sledding it down a mountain to be smuggled away to the United States on a waiting ship.

The story is told from the point of view of 12 year old Peter, who is the appointed leader of the child smugglers and the nephew of the captain of the ship, who also masterminded the scheme. Peter, along with 12 year old Michael, 12 year old Helga, Peter's 10 year old sister, Lovisa each lead a squad of 10 children who do the two day trip to deliver the gold. To the observing Nazi's, it just looks like kids at play - sledding and building snowmen (to mark where they've buried the gold in the snow). Still, the danger is real and we get a taste of it without so much as to scare anyone off.

I really enjoyed reading about the lives of the Norwegian's, including the shear physicality of all of them, but most particularly the children. It was also very interesting to see how the German occupation shaped itself in Norway. It's a great introduction to these concepts for kids.

Written in 1942, Snow Treasure is still very accessible today and I certainly see why it's a classic. Davan, who read it on her own, enjoyed it, as well. I give it a 9.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Updated Links

I'm sitting at the library this evening while Davan is at Do Jump and making use of their computer. I could have just read, but, hey, I need my computer fix. Anyway, I decided to do a little work on my blog that I've been thinking about. I've updated my links, which, at least for now, are all to blogs I enjoy. One of them, Melomeals, isn't very active anymore, but I still think her archives are well worth checking out. I hope you find some new reading material!

Book Review: Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox

I finished Dreamhunter in just a few days. Partially that was because I needed to finish it in order to give Davan time to read it before the young adult book group next Tuesday, but partially it was because I enjoyed it quite a bit...at least most of it.

Dreamhunter is the story of two teenage cousins who live in a world similar to our past (early 20th century) with the exception of The Place. The Place is a geographical area which some people, a select few, can enter. The remainder of the people remain in our world. The Place is odd - kind of dead and it encompasses far more area than it should based on it's boarders with our world. However, the most peculiar aspect is that some of the people who enter it - dreamhunters - find that when they sleep there, they catch dreams. The dreams are vivid and communicable when they come back into our world. Because of this, opera houses where people come to sleep and dream in sleepwear finery are big in this world.

These two cousins - Laura and Rose - each have a dreamhunter parent and it is expected that they will become dreamhunters, as well. According to law, which is to protect people, of course, a person cannot try to enter The Place until after their 15th birthday and even then, it must happen at one of two yearly Tries with ceremony and oversight.

Rose is a very confident young lady, but Laura is more of a follower. Laura, who's point of view we most follow, is worried she won't be a dreamhunter. Rose doesn't seem to be able to envision that she might not be.

Adding to the drama of the upcoming Try for the girls is the disappearance of Laura's father, a famous dreamhunter. He leaves behind clues of one sort or another for Laura to follow, clues that may lead Laura to discover corruption in the government.

The first chapter was a little difficult to follow, being thrown right into the middle of an opera house with a dream occurring, but once the story line starts following Laura and Rose, it moves right along. I looked forward to my reading time. However, towards the end, I first began to wonder if there was not going to be much behind the corruption angle (my thoughts are still undecided on that) and then I began to worry that things were going to be left hanging, which is, indeed the case.

Dreamhunter is the first book in The Dreamhunter series, so the story will continue. I dislike it when books don't come to a good conclusion, though, even if they are part of a series. This was one thing I liked about the Harry Potter books - each book told a story, as well being part of the series with the encompassing story line.

I did hesitate to give the book to Davan to read due to a few instances - nightmares and the father's disappearance, for example - but decided it would probably be okay for her. I believe it would be fine for most 12 year olds, but Davan can be a little on the sensitive side.

I give Dreamhunter a tentative 8. I liked reading it, but if the rest of the series doesn't deliver on the promise, it would detract from my enjoyment of this first book, as I'm being set up for something more here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Holiday Excuses

It's easy to make excuses for various things around the holidays. Not only is it a special time of year, but the weather is cold. Around here, it's much colder than we usually have and the wind is blowing to beat the band, making being outside not very inviting. So, for me, the excuse list goes something like this:

-"Sure we can make dessert - it's Advent time!"

-"The weather is awful. I don't think I'll walk to the library today. I'll drive instead."

-"It's my birthday week - let's celebrate all week with special food!"

-"It's too miserable out to go for a walk/bike ride/hike."

-"We're going out for (insert various special activities), let's eat out, too!"

Now, even when I eat out, I remain vegan and usually do my best to not eat a lot of junky food. I try to stay away from oil laden foods. Still, that's harder when eating out and sometimes I'm surprised by what's in my food, but eat it anyway.

Also, our desserts are very healthy by most standards. We make cookies that are mostly sweetened by no sugar apple sauce and have no oil or other concentrated fat, for example. I do sometimes add a little agave nectar or molasses and, for a real treat (hey - it's the holidays!), date sugar. Or we'll make no bake cookies with ground walnuts, dates, raw cacao powder, cinnamon and oatmeal. Still, these foods are extras and have calories, especially the no bake cookies, as much as they are also nutrient loaded.

I usually try not to let the weather stop me from being outside by just dressing appropriately, but I'll tell you what, the high winds with the bitter cold is just not working for me.

All this is leading to the need for me to be more conscientious about how I'm treating my body. I don't really want to add on pounds over the holiday and I want to stay in good shape. I like my body that way. I like fitting into my clothes. I like being able to do partner tricks with Davan, take a hike or whatever other physical activity may come my way. I like how my body feels when I'm working out and after.

Mostly I'm just keeping all this in mind, which helps me to make better choices. However, I have one tangible goal for the rest of December (excepting Christmas Day). I am going to make one meal each day a fruit and veggie only meal to counterbalance the indulgences. This morning, I put together different breakfasts for myself and Davan. She got two grapefruits, an almond butter and fruit spread (no added sugar) sandwich with leftover Saturday pancakes and a mug of tea. For myself, I made a smoothie of an orange, a frozen banana, a couple cups of spinach, three stalks of celery, a small knob of ginger and some water. And I get tea, too, as I like.

Davan and I also did bow to the weather by not going out to work out this morning. Mondays are the day we work out together, taking it in turns to come up with the workout for the day. Today was my day. We've been doing a lot of circuits together, which is fine, but today I wanted something a little different. We broke out the dance mats. We own a Playstation, which, post Max, has seen very little action. Once every few months Anthony will spend a couple of hours messing with it. We'd actually gotten it for Anthony as a Father's Day gift many years ago. It got a fair amount of use at first, including me using it for DDR and other active games. For the past few years, though, I've preferred workouts that don't involve the TV for the most part. This morning, however, seemed to call for something different.

We danced songs alternating with strength building - pull ups, holding plank, dips, squats, ect. We had a good time and I did get breathing, which is the point. I can see it being useful for those really bad weather days when I still want to get in a cardio workout.

So, bow to the weather and holiday season? Yes, to an extent. It is a special time of the year, right? But, it's also important to stay true to what's important, but has a tendency to slip. For me, that's healthy eating (both in type of food and not overeating) and keeping up my fitness.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Special Activity Day

I'm doing a bonus post today, as I didn't post at all yesterday, due to it being a very busy day. Luckily, it was all fun stuff.

First, for some odd reason, I chose yesterday to put decorate for Christmas in the advent calendar. Now, considering what the rest of the day had in store, I'd have been better off with a short Christmas picture book to read together yesterday and decorating today. However, when I first planned things out, I didn't know yesterday was going to be quite so busy and Davan has been dying to decorate. So, I stuck with it.

Thus, we got up yesterday, had Saturday morning pancakes (no chocolate chips), strung up lights and started decorating. We ran out of time before we were totally done, but we made a good start and were all feeling festive.

We ran out of time because I had to do Davan's hair, she had to get dressed in her performance duds (thankfully easy for Zig Zag performances - it's all built from stuff they already have or out of the stock of unitards Do Jump owns) and get out of the house to go to a gig. Davan and most of the rest of the Zig Zags were performing at Cedarwood's Winterfest. Cedarwood is a Waldorf school here in Portland. They all had to be there over an hour prior to showtime to warm up and rehearse a bit. While waiting, Anthony and I wandered around the Winterfest looking at the handmade crafts for sale and checking out the school. If Davan had to go to school, she'd probably fit well at a Waldorf school, even though I do have a few reservations about their style.

Then it was time for the show. The Zig Zags filled a 30 minute time slot and did it very well! It was so much fun to watch. I still feel a great deal of relief at that when I compare it to watching a gymnastics meet, which was super long and stressful because Davan was always so worried about her performance there. She was a little nervous before the show yesterday, but not much and she was super excited after about how much fun it was. She loved all the behind the stage camaraderie.

After the show, we whipped on back home for a quick lunch and sign making session (more on that later) before departing for the library, where Davan and I were doing a class on making a winter diorama. That was fun and, by happenstance, two friends of ours were also taking the class. The time slot was for two hours, but we were done in an hour and a half, giving us a little more breathing space between activities than we'd expected.

Thus, we went to Paradox Cafe for a bite to eat, rather than Rice Junkies, as a special girl's advent evening out. We didn't have time to come back home for dinner because we were due at Do Jump by 6:30 in order to man the concession stand for the evening professional show. Which, by they way, if you're local to Portland and can afford it (it is costly at $30 a ticket), you should go. The show is fun and appropriate for most ages. If you own cats, you will especially enjoy their original production of Cirque de C(h)at.

It was our duty to set up the concessions, wear something bright and colorful, wait for the doors to open (while watching all the pre show furor, which was fun), trade cookies and water for dollars, wheel out the cart, and then run around to the other side of the stage to collect the chairs left behind by the band. Really, it wasn't very taxing. Then we got to watch the show as best we could from a back isle by where the performers came in and out. We missed about 20% of the action because of not being able to see and had to stand for the whole thing, but it was still pretty fun. It was fun to see the performers (most of whom we know pretty well) coming in and out the sides of the stage.

It was past Davan's bedtime when we got home after our full day to hit the sack. Any one of the days' activities could have been a main event for the advent calendar! We're glad to have an unscheduled day to chill out today, even though yesterday was fun, too.

Book Review: Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks

I finally finished this book while Davan was at Zig Zags earlier this week. It took me much longer to get through than it's thin silhouette and large margin would have foretold. Sadly, it was because I did not get into it. We had recently enjoyed Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks and, in the flush of interest, I got more books by her. Pagan's Crusade is the first of these.

Pagan's Crusade is the story of a boy named Pagan who becomes a squire to a Knight Templar because he has come out the worse in a money making scheme and owes plenty to the wrong sort of person. Becoming a squire allows him to both be safe within the Templar compound and to earn some money. Unfortunately, or it is probably actually fortunate he's become a squire, the "infidels" are taking back the holy country and the crusaders are loosing ground, dying in battle and retreating. The story centers around Pagan and his knight, who is the senior knight in the city for most of the story.

Pagan is a sharp witted character and I think I would have liked him had I not been put off by the style of writing. They style was intentional and may appeal to some, but to me it felt like people, places and ideas were being thrown at me as if I already had knowledge of them, which I did not. Thus, I often found myself either floundering or just bored because I wasn't getting into the rhythm of the story due to the choppiness.

This is the first book in a popular series, and, while I can sort of see the appeal, I won't be going on with the series. I give Pagan's Crusade a 6.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bike Riding in the Suburbs vs Urban Areas

Davan and I took the bull by the horns and, even though it was under 30 degrees this morning when it was time to leave, we rode to the Oregon Convention Center for the Festival of the Trees. Davan was not feeling excited about riding, but I was. It's about a 14 mile ride. We layered up, put a skiing type face mask on Davan, wore hats under our helmets and used our ski gloves rather than our bike gloves.

The ride was a good one. It was stressful for Davan at first, figuring out how to shift and break with the big bulky ski gloves on and we were cold at first and a little sweaty later, but were both truly glad to have ridden. The ride home was easier with fewer layers (and no face mask) needed and, while it was still almost too cold for them, our long fingered bike gloves rather than ski gloves.

Our ride to the convention center (which is largely the same route as our ride to Do Jump) had me thinking more about something that has been bouncing around in my head for a couple weeks. Our route takes us from the suburbs, where we live, into the urban area. Out in the suburbs, at least here in the Portland Metro area, you will still find bike lanes. However, you won't find a lot of people using them. The bike density increases significantly after passing out of the suburbs, though the kind of iffy in between area and into the populous urban center.

Why do more people ride in the urban area? Well, I don't necessarily think it's because everything is closer, although, to some extent, that's true. Places like OMSI (our science museum), the convention center and downtown are closer and riding to them is much more convenient if you live close. However, where, other than commuting to work perhaps, which may well be downtown, do people go the most often by car or bike? School or the grocery store, I'm thinking. In the suburbs, at least around here, these places aren't any further away then they are in the urban area. So, why don't people ride their bikes there in the suburbs?

I think there are several factors at play here. One is that things feel more spread out in the suburbs. Houses tend to be further apart. More space is given to parking lots. Because there is more space between things, it feels further, even though we have some 4 or 5 grocery stores within a mile and a half of us.

Another is that, even though we do have bike lanes, we don't seem to have as many side walks. Pedestrian traffic means more people out of cars and, thus, more people likely to choose to be out of cars, even by way of bike.

In the urban areas, it's not nearly as easy to drive as it is in the suburbs. Out here, the streets are wide and car friendly. In the urban areas, the streets are narrow, often with cars parked on both sides, meaning that cars have to dive in and out of parked cars to pass each other. Also, it's not as easy to drive because there are so many pedestrians and bicyclists and you really have to watch out for them. Of course, this becomes a chicken and egg thing - which came first?

In good part, though, I think it comes down to who is choosing to live where. Generally, people who choose to live in the urban area prize different things than those choosing to live in the suburbs. Urban people, generally speaking, want things close and don't prize cars. Suburban people are, often, creating a life around their car. By definition, many suburbanites are commuting and, more times than not, this involves a car.

All of this reinforces the fact that we probably living in the wrong place. Given our priorities, while not our finances, we should be living urbanely. This is a goal of mine, but it is so much more expensive and moving is a drag, so we'll see if it actually comes to fruition.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Book Review: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

Davan and I started reading Chasing Vermeer together, but we resorted to each reading on our own, as time was limited. We had to finish by Tuesday for book group. This was actually a reread and, while it had been years, I had found memories and was looking forward to reading it again. It was pretty much an entirely new book to Davan, who seems to forget books if it's been more than two years (at least thus far in her life).

Previously, we'd listened to Chasing Vermeer, which was read by Ellen Reilly. We both really enjoyed it - a good book with a good reader.

This time, we opted to read it ourselves and it was a different experience for sure. There are pictures with a code to break in the book, for one, which adds quite a dimension. On the other hand, reading it myself instead of listening with Davan also seemed to make me have a different over all impression of the book, which lessened the experience for me.

Chasing Vermeer is the story of two kids, both of whom turn 12 during the story, who team up to solve the mystery of a stolen painting. Calder and Petra are quirky kids in a quite likable way. They each have a way of tapping into the unknown, so to speak, and a way of believing in the unexplainable. These characteristics are what lead them to being able to solve the mystery. Along the way, even though they did not start out as such, they become friends.

The first time through, when we listened and Davan was about 8, I think, we really enjoyed the book, both of us. This time, Davan loved it while I...well, it was still a good book, but I didn't love it as much. I have to say that some of the more mystical/clues-from-the-either sort of style of mystery solving bugged me a bit this time. That said, I enjoyed seeing the friendship develop between Calder and Petra. The introduction to pentominoes is great and, once again this year, I'm looking for some for Davan's stocking. It's also an appealing introduction to Vermeer, as an artist.

Overall, considering both times through Chasing Vermeer, I give it an 8. We'll be going on to explore the next two in the series - The Write 3 and The Calder Game.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I Need to Rant

Two posts in one day because I just have to rant. I've had to watch my kid's heart break today and I'm angry and sad myself.

Davan has a few friends, not a huge circle of friends, but a few. She considers two to be best friends. Those two she decided to invite to her birthday party. She just wants to go play in the snow and then have a sleep over with her two best friends. We talked about all sorts of other options, some of which would include more friends, but this is what she wanted.

She told friend H about her plans at least a month ago via email. H is a friend that, now that she's not swimming, she really only keeps in touch via email. They email back and forth sometimes several times a day, though, showing that the interest to be in touch is on both sides, it seems to me.

However, every time Davan asks about getting together, H is busy or forgets to plan it or some such thing. Now, some families are better than others about getting their kids together with friends to play. This is a definite thing. We've noticed that it isn't easy for H's family for whatever reasons, so Davan wasn't taking this personally, although she wanted to see H. Still, we both thought that, for her birthday, H's family would make an effort.

H had been rather non-committal when Davan, who in part picked the snow birthday party because it's the one H said she'd like the best out of the various ideas Davan had, asked if she'd be able to come. Well, today, I finally took the bull by the horns and emailed the mom. I explained that Davan was only inviting two girls and that it meant a lot to her for H to be there. I got a reply back that they are volunteering all week at a local homestead type farm for their Christmas program, so H couldn't come. I'm sorry, but they couldn't do without H for a day? Davan was even willing to have the party on a different day so that H could come, but that won't work because H is booked all week.

I'm so angry at the mom for not helping to make this happen. However, then, I start to doubt. Is it actually that Hanna doesn't want to come? Sadly, I've seen Davan loose friends before for what seem to be unknown reasons. As I've mentioned on this blog before, Davan has some autism spectrum type behaviors, so maybe that's the problem.

One previous friend, In, was a really good friend for over a year. They both pursued the friendship and wanted to spend as much time as possible together. Then, In just kind of stopped returning Davan's calls. We thought it was just because she was busy (which she is - gymnastics 3 nights a week, voice lessons, piano lessons and drama on Saturdays all fill her non school time), but then we saw them at a restaurant the other evening and it rather seemed like In was trying to avoid Davan. So, did something happen? What? Davan doesn't seem to know.

Another, L, we kind of figured the girls just started going in different directions. Davan and L were best of friends, again, wanting to spend lots of time together, as much as possible. They had a lot in common, including great imaginations on both parts. Then there were a couple of awkward interactions and pretty soon Davan didn't want to spend time with L anymore. It seems like they just were growing in different directions. Davan still wants to be a little kid in a lot of ways, enjoying playing and being silly. L is more into wearing the right clothes and the cool shows on TV. But, is it more? Did Davan do something that made L push her away?

I wish I knew how to help her. I wish I knew if it was even her problem. I wish she had a friend she could count on. My heart is breaking for her. Of course, her other best friend, K is still coming. K is a good friend and they still seem to like each other...but they don't get together as often as Davan would like. Again, I think it's because K's family is busy and doesn't live conveniently close, but maybe K just doesn't want to get together too often. I wish I knew for sure. She does seem to enjoy being with Davan, but, yeah, there are reasons to doubt, given Davan's friendship record. Sigh.

It's That Time of Year

It's December and, along with the festivities, comes a yearly dose of stress, at least for me. While I'm starting to feel better about the holidays for a few reasons (traditions in place I feel good about, Davan getting older), my enjoyment of the holiday season post having a kid has been well tempered by stress.

Kids get ramped up this time of year, making them sometimes harder to be around. Relatives expect certain things that families with kids may have a hard time dealing with (like a Christmas Eve dinner that doesn't even start until 7:00 when your two year old goes to bed at 7:00). There's the stress of presents - getting good ones and how much to spend and on whom. Don't forget that it's your job (or, at least I feel this one) to make the season special for your kid(s)! In addition to all this, there is all the junk food floating around this time of year, making it hard for your body to cope with the stress, not to mention reduced time for exercise.

It's no wonder that for five out of six years prior to last Christmas I ended up sick as a dog on Christmas Day. (I took a year off from being sick just after changing to healthier eating patterns and when Max had just moved in - and I mean just, as it was one week before - when we still thought things could work out with him.)

This year, I feel pretty good about the holidays. Yes, there is extra stuff to do, but most if it is fun. Yes, we still have Christmas Eve dinner at my MIL's, but it's usually at 5:00 or 6:00 and Davan does well being with her cousins for the evening now. Yes, the pressure of presents, but we have a clear guideline for them, so it's not quite so overwhelming. Yes, there are plenty of opportunities for poor food choices, but with sticking to vegan and no refined sugar, I find myself just saying no most of the time and only indulging in homemade treats, which are much better on the system. Also, the one family obligation that we still find trying is going to my FIL's on Christmas Day in the afternoon and we won't be doing that this year, as he and his wife are going to be out of town. I think it's partially trying to us just because it is hit or miss. Sometimes they're here and sometimes not.

Here are some of our traditions that have helped me to get a handle on the holidays. First off, we do an advent calendar. This is one of the things that Davan most looks forward to about the holidays. It is some work, but not really too much, and I'm in charge of what goes into it. I love that it's helping to foster the idea that Christmas is about traditions and experiences rather than presents and chocolate. We have a homemade cardboard advent calendar with space for small items. When I first made it, I usually put in some sort of food treat. I don't do that anymore. Now, it's filled with slips of paper telling about a special advent activity for the day or leading Davan to a hiding spot with a wrapped "present." The present is either a Christmas picture book from the library to read together or, this year because I found these last year on sale after Christmas for 50 cents for a sheet of twelve, on several days there will be wooden ornaments to decorate. Other things I fill the calendar with are things like, "Let's put out the Christmas linens!" (a fast one for a busy day that Davan still loves), "Let's decorate!", "Let's make wrapping paper!", "Let's go sledding!", "Let's go downtown to see the decorations and meet Dad for lunch!" or "Surprise! We're going to see the Nutcracker!" With that last one, I found a group going to a school show of the Nutcracker for just $6 a piece and, as Davan was specifically asking about seeing it this year and I'd had to say no because of cost, I jumped on it. It will be a surprise for her.

Another tradition is the whole schedule for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It just doesn't need much discussion anymore beyond exact times and if we'll be going to my FIL's or not. On Christmas Eve in the morning, we meet friends at a local coffee shop for coffee, chatting and a simple present exchange for the kids. If at all possible, we walk over and back with them, as they live nearby and the coffee shop is only a mile and a half away.

In the evening, we head over to my MIL's where we have dinner and present opening with that side of the family. The attendees are usually my MIL, my SIL, her husband and three kids, one of my MIL's sisters, her husband, their grown son and his wife along with their teenage son. For this group, we give the kids gifts, usually Old Navy shirts for all but the youngest kid who still gets a toy. My MIL gets some sort of gift that we try to keep to a dull roar cost wise, but changes year to year. The other adults, plus my MIL, get a container of homemade spiced nuts.

About the same time we get home, my parents show up to spend the night. Davan greets everyone, opens one gift - pjs - on Christmas Eve, and heads off to bed. My mom and I put out presents and visit. It's lovely.

In the morning we get up at a predetermined, negotiated time usually something like not before 7:30. Once everyone is in the house, we start with stockings. People can check out their stockings at whatever pace they like, giving the adults a chance to get coffee or other needs taken care of. Usually, though, we end up all sitting together and doing it. My mom and I, particularly, enjoy watching Davan enjoy her stocking.

In our house, the stocking gifts are from Santa. He also brings two family gifts. One is an active gift to be enjoyed together that day. Two past examples are an aerobe and a Hyperdash game. The other is a more sedentary gift to be enjoyed together that day. Past examples are a Lego set and Family Fun Cranium. Each person (Anthony, Davan and I) gets an individual gift that is from the others and this is usually our big gift of the year, so we try to choose it carefully. Additionally, Davan gets a new ornament. Last year, for the first time, I made one for her. This year, it'll be homemade, as well.

For my parents, it's pretty loose as to what we get them. They get a portion of the nuts, but then we usually get them something else. Last year, though, we didn't buy them anything. Instead, I learned two songs on the piano that were special for them and I wrote them a letter saying how I felt about them. What's great is that there isn't a lot of pressure as far as gifts for them go, they were very happy with last year's gifts. This year...I don't know yet. I haven't been hit with any inspiration.

The only other gifts we do are homemade with things already on hand. Davan always makes something for each person. This year, I'm making her the rag rug...or maybe it'll be for Bunny if I don't get going on it soon.

For food on Christmas Day, we keep it pretty simple. We make a list ahead of time of special foods each person wants on hand. We get enough of said food so that others can share, as well. Traditionally Anthony, for example, gets Coco Pebbles and cream plus maybe bacon for his. This year, he's decided against bacon, but will still get Coco Pebbles and, he's thinking, half and half. This year Davan and I are both staying vegan. Her choices are bagels, Rice Dream treats, and "chicken" patties. I'm going for Sunchips and homemade chocolate chip cookies, vegan and no added fat. My mom and Dennis each pick things, as well. We also stock up on any non treat items people want like fruits and veggies. We try to stay away from anything that will require a lot of time in the kitchen and people just graze all day as they get munchy.

Finally, now, for the second year, I'm coming to enjoy December again. Before Davan was born, I loved the holidays. Then they got stressful. The first several years she was around, we fluctuated a lot in regards to how we celebrated Christmas and I think that was stressful for a couple of reasons. Davan likes routine and, especially this time of year, knowing what to expect helps her to regulate. I would spend time fretting over what we were going to do and how we'd fit it all in. Now that we just stick to the routine for this month, it goes better. Plus, we like the routine. That makes it a tradition to look forward to.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Even though my rag rug project (to give to Davan for Christmas) has kind of stalled out over the last week due to other things pressing in, I still managed to finish this audio book on walks, making dinner and the like. I've got to get back to that rag rug because, gosh, that thing is building slowly. If I don't get going, it'll be a rug for Bunny, not Davan.

Christopher Evan Welsh is the narrator for The Art of Racing in the Rain and I felt he did a decent job of it. The reading, while not so spectacular that I'd seek him out as a narrator again, was plenty good enough that he did not distract from the story.

The Art of Racing in the Rain is the story of a race car driver who, actually, doesn't do a ton of racing during the book, as life is getting in the way. Denny, the race car driver, meets and marries a woman and they go on to have a daughter. Things start to fall apart when his wife, Eve, gets sick. The story goes on to detail how Denny deals with the fall out.

What makes the story unique, is that it's told from the point of view of Denny's dog - Enzo. Enzo is a dog who wishes he were human and strongly believes that when a dog has learned enough from being a dog and he dies, he is reborn as a human. I enjoyed this unique point of view.

While I ultimately enjoyed the story for the most part, I spent a lot of the first half or so thinking, "This is such a guy book." There is a lot of talk about racing. A lot. Not being that into car racing, that didn't add a lot of value for me. The perspectives are almost all male with talk of "mounting," references to action movies and such, in addition to the heavy racing theme.

I also found Denny's daughter, Zoe, almost too good to be true. With everything they go through, she should have been showing some signs of wear and tear, and yet, she doesn't.

I give The Art of Racing in the Rain a 6. I'd like to recommend it to Anthony to read, as he does like car racing, but the flip side of all the struggles Denny goes through would probably turn him off of this book. While I wouldn't warn people to stay away, I'm not going to be recommending it to anyone that I can think of, either.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan

I finished this once last week, in the midst of Thanksgiving weekend preparations. It was due back at the library on Friday and wouldn't renew, but it wasn't difficult to squeeze in time to read it, as it was a very enjoyable read.

Heart in the Right Place is the true story of Carolyn Jourdan who left a high powered job in Washington D.C. in order to temporarily fill in for her mom at her father's rural doctor's office after her mom suffered a heart attack. At least, she thought it would be temporary...

Jourdan's accounts of the patients, neighbors and friends are all thoroughly enjoyable, as is following along on her inner dialogue as the couple of days of filling in stretches to a year. It is helping people more to be instrumental in government or to be the one insuring that people in one part of rural Tennessee have access to good, cheap health care? Whatever your personal thoughts on the matter, it's discover to learn Jourdan's, right alongside her.

I found Heart in the Right Place to be engaging and novel like even though it's non fiction. I give it a 9.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Snug in the Tower

We had a most excellent trip! We hiked/snowshoed in on Thanksgiving day with packs bulging with good stuff to eat, making the hike up and in a little challenging, but not undoable.

It started raining at the end and we hiked in the rain for about 15 minutes. It made us very glad to see this sight (picture taken on Friday):


We had a little trouble undoing the lock to get in, which, after the rain and climbing the steps and the wind blowing on us and Davan worrying about having to abort the mission, Davan showed her relief in tears when we opened the door to the lookout and found warmth due to the still burning woodstove from the occupants of the night before:


We settled in for an afternoon of card playing. It rained and the wind blew all the rest of Thanksgiving. That was okay, though, because we were warm and dry and well entertained by one another.

After a short while, we enjoyed our feast:

We had all the good food we could possibly eat. Davan was so excited about all the food and kept saying, "I can eat everything here! I don't have to worry about if it's vegan or not!" The big napkin looking thing next to my plate in the picture is my birthday present from Davan, which she hauled up there for me.

After clean up (Anthony did the dishes for me because it was my birthday), we played more cards, until we got hungry enough for pie:


The one down side of the trip was that I didn't sleep well, especially the first night. Davan also had trouble sleeping the first night. But, then, Friday came and we had another great day. It snowed a lot in the morning and we had to shovel the stairs:


as well as in front of the outhouse and the wood shed to keep them accessible. Then we played! We built things in the snow,
snowshoed around and sledded for hours on end, more than once:

In fact, Davan and I were out until dark on the sled on Friday, just having a ball. After dark, we played more games, ate another big dinner (this time a dip of nonfat refried beans with sliced olives and salsa with baby carrots, sugar snap peas and baked tortilla chips to dip) and finished off the pie.

The morning was cold but nice on Saturday. We went out to sled more, but it wasn't much fun with everything kind of iced over and hard, so we played another game or two, had an early lunch, cleaned the tower and headed down the mountain with much lighter packs:

While this picture was taken with Anthony and Davan walking, Davan and I actually took turns riding the sled down when there was enough downhill (most of the way) until the sled more or less fell apart on us. It was all cracked up by the time we reached the bottom. Considering that we bought the thing when Davan was about 3 and paid about $5 for it, I guess we got our money's worth.

Davan is campaigning to do it again next year, but we'll have to see what plans develop. I'm not opposed...but sometimes there are family obligations to see to.

I hope your Thanksgiving was just as awesome as ours!