Signs that winter is imminent.

The signs are all around us, Gentle Reader.  Winter is coming!  (Say this in your best Game of Thrones voice.)

Here’s how we know winter is almost here at Bunkersdown.

1-  The heater clicks on every morning now.

2-  The first snow of the year has fallen (and turned every individual under 12 years of age into a hyperactive nut-ball that dances around gleefully while shouting, “Christmas is almost HERE!”)

3-  The chickens have a “burning” desire to electrocute themselves with their fancy heated waterer.  (Just stop pecking at the cord ladies.  Seriously.  Electrical currents do not taste good.)

4-  All I want to wear are sweaters and pants with elastic waistbands.

5-  I have received written and illustrated Christmas lists from two of my children.  The third has given me a verbal catalog of appropriate gifts because writing them down is “way too babyish” since he is practically a man at 13 years old.)

6-  Turkeys are on sale everywhere you go.  (It really is the most magical time of the year.)

7-  We keep getting emails from retail stores informing us that we can have a “Secret, sneak-peek at thousands of Black Friday deals!”  Here’s a newsflash people:  if you send the same email to millions of customers it is officially no longer a “secret, sneak-peek,” it is an advertisement.  I’m on to your schemes.

8-  Three words:  Easy eggnog access.

9-  The first (and second) bags of Candy Cane Hershey Kisses have been purchased (and consumed.)

10- I begin considering hibernation on the couch with a stack of library books and a cozy blanket as a viable career option.

11- The world easily becomes divided into two types of people:  those who listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving and the Grinches who do not.

12- Oatmeal.  So.  Much.  Oatmeal.  (For the humans in this house and the chickens in the backyard.)

13- Florida residents have started boasting on Facebook about their weather forecasts.

14- My husband has started making empty threats about not climbing unto the roof this year to put up Christmas lights.  (Oh honey, you’re adorable, really.)

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Are you seeing these signs, Gentle Reader, where you live?  Do you have any others that tell you winter’s practically on our doorstep?  Share in the comments.

Posted in lists | 4 Comments

Flashback Friday: Candy corn is the worst.

I’ve been missing my sweet Daddy today. It’s been three and a half years since he passed and when I think about all the things he hasn’t been able to participate in or be a part of, it makes me cry. fam 070 It used to be that my grief was like a giant tidal wave full of anger and sadness, that would crash over me, recede slightly as if to marshal its forces, and then fall upon me again and again, rhythmic and predictable in its fierce tenacity.

Now my grief is more like a sudden tornado that comes from no where:  efficiently amassing destruction inside my heart so effortlessly and quickly it steals my breath away.  Then it disappears and you would never know it had been there if not for the emotional carnage left in its wake.

For the record?  Both ways of experiencing grief suck.  However, the grief tornado is slightly more bearable and leaves me somewhat capable of being able to function and go about my daily life.

I have found that the end of fall is the time of year when the grief tornado strikes more often.  Perhaps it’s all the barrenness outside as the plants die and trees lose their leaves.  Perhaps it is the increased darkness and gloom. I’m not quite sure and it doesn’t really matter.  All that does seem to matter is that my Dad is not here to see my kids in their costumes at Halloween or taste my homemade applesauce or buy bags and bags of candy corn from the grocery store to feed his candy corn addiction.

You would never know, if you were to pass me in the Halloween candy aisle, that inside I was a little girl who just wanted her daddy so badly because he could always make everything better.  You would only see a middle-aged woman whose cart was taking up far too much room, fingering a plastic bag of candy corn with a little sad smile on her face.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” -John Watson

Posted in flashback Fridays, My Dad | 4 Comments

You can’t drive a car without knowing the truth about Santa.

The new swimming season is in full swing.  That means I am spending a good portion of my day sitting on a hard bench as my three children take turns swimming laps and practicing dives.

Tonight, Eden  is in the stands besides me.  My seven year old has recently made a new friend with one of the other little girls who sits on the sidelines,   which is great.  Eden makes friends extremely carefully, at an almost glacial pace, so it is a relief to see her get on so quickly and well with someone.

Eden is waiting for her new friend and busy setting up her toys along the long bench to create either some sort Barbie bungalow or a My Little Pony pasture o’dreams for tonight’s entertainment.  But then she stops what she is doing and looks at me with worry on her face.

“Ellie next door says there is no Santa, Mom, and that there is no tooth fairy.  She says the parents do all the work.”

For the last few months, our third grade neighbor has been on a mission to destroy my daughter’s belief in Santa.  I take a moment and imagine wringing the neck of this particular little girl, after all dead men tell no tales, but Eden is watching and waiting for me to somehow shore up her faith in these mythical creatures.

“Well,” I start slowly, careful to keep all murderous thoughts out of my facial expression, “That is quite a claim.”

Eden nods her head miserably and whispers, “I think…I think that maybe she might be right, but I just don’t know what is true or not anymore.”

There is silence for a moment.  In the background I can hear the middle school coach shout something to the kids in the pool about streamlining their position.

I don’t know quite what to say.  Eden is no longer looking for reassurance, she wants the truth about Santa.  Basically, my youngest child, my baby is asking for permission to grow up.

I stare at her fearful but expectant face and try to formulate the kindest explanation possible, one that won’t leave her disillusioned or bitter.  Not for the first time this evening, I mentally curse that my husband is not here to do this job in my place.

“Well,” I begin again, “It seems to me that you have two choices.  You can either go on having faith in Santa, no matter what Ellie says or you can tell me that you want to know the truth.”

Eden, her voice wavering slightly but with a thread of steel in her answer says quickly, “I want the truth.”

“Well,” (apparently tonight I am incapable of beginning any conversation with a different word) “A long time ago there really was a good man who was very kind and loved to do things for other people.  He was very, very good at giving others things that they needed or wanted.

So after he died, many people wanted a way to remember him and his kindness, so they began secretly giving presents like he did.  And giving presents feels really, really good.  More and more people started doing this and being part of the secret.

The secret grew and grew so that now, on Christmas Eve, parents and grandparents and big brothers and sisters everywhere leave out presents for little boys and girls.  That way we can all remember St. Nicholas and the best present of all, Jesus.”

Eden’s face looks like she is three seconds away from crying.  I feel exactly the same inside.  Growing up is hard and watching someone you love grow up is even harder.

“So Santa really was real, once.  I was right to believe in him.  Right?”  Eden questions me, unsure.

I pull her close to me and hug her tight.  I whisper into her hair, “You were absolutely right to believe in him.  Absolutely.”

My daughter hugs me back quickly but then stands on her own.  “Now I know the secret, so I can help you know,” she tells me proudly.

I nod my head, “You will be a great help.  And the best way you can help is by keeping the secret.  Don’t ruin the surprise for someone else.” I’m thinking ahead to this Christmas, “Like your cousins.  Aunt Jen doesn’t want them to know the secret quite yet.”

Eden nods solemnly, feeling pleased and grown up at being in on the secret.  “I won’t say a single word!” she promises and I know she’ll keep her word.  “But if they’re sixteen and they still don’t know the truth about Santa, I’m going to tell them then.  You can’t drive a car without knowing the truth about Santa.”

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Wise words, wise words indeed.

“Just Write.”

Posted in just everyday life, The Little Girl | 6 Comments

Apologetic explanations and some catching up.

Oh Gentle Reader, it was never my intention to become a random once-a-week blogger, really.  However, this fall has been the craziest, most intense, and busiest time I’ve  ever experienced.  Teaching pre-algebra, introduction to chemistry, and one exceptionally curious second grader have taken its toll any free time I imagined I had.

Add to that my husband’s new insane work schedule, our out of town visitors last week, the arrival of some of my favorite HGTV shows on Netflix, and all the apples in Indiana that have suddenly become ripe and ready for applesauce, and my life has turned completely and utterly upside down.

Now that November is almost here I am slowly figuring out a routine and schedule.  Deep breathing techniques keep my blood pressure lower when my children are particularly stubborn.  I can now face the fact, without cringing or self-flagellation, that not everything on my to-do list will get done daily.  Some things simply have to wait until tomorrow and nobody will die (least of all me) when that happens.  Finally, I have found myself saying “No” more often to things, which initially left me feeling like a failure, but I have come to believe it is actually a sign of strength.

Who knows?  In a couple weeks I might actually know what I’m doing.  Stranger things have happened.

Here are some of the highlights of the past few weeks that I haven’t had time to share with you Gentle Reader.

*Eden has developed the amazing ability to draw stick figures that look very much like Amish farmers.  She has left a plethora of these stern and sturdy, yet slightly whimsical designs throughout the house with little notes like “Dad, this cat needs some love” on them.  I’m convinced its some of her best work to date.

*Trinity has begun reading some of the books that I read when I was her age, books I have pleaded with her to try, books she has consistently turned her nose up to until recently.  Judy Blume, Lois Duncan, Caroline Cooney, and Ellen Conford are finally getting the respect from my eleven year old that they deserve.

*I was forced to turn on the heat in the house this past week when the temperatures dipped low.  The first day the furnace kicks on is one of my favorite days of the year.  The grumbling mechanical sounds abruptly turning on and off combined with that slight smell of something burnt in the air firmly announce that colder weather is here better than any other sign of fall.  It makes me want to bundle up in sweaters and thick socks and drink apple cider.

*Will has been moved up to a more technical and demanding section of his swim team.  He now swims two hours a day, four days a week, and comes home so exhausted that he is sweetly docile and obedient.  My son simply has no energy to fight with me in the evenings or hide out in the bathroom reading ’til all hours of the night.  It’s like Christmas come early on swimming days.

*The chickens have been quite disapproving of the colder temperatures and rain that we have been receiving here in Indiana.  Like feathered divas, they demand oatmeal each morning and loudly grouse to themselves as they delicately avoid the muddy puddles in their yard.

I was forced to give them a stern talking to last week when two of them decided to become backyard bullies and block the way into the nesting boxes for the others.  One of the  poor girls stood there with her legs practically crossed, trying to hold in her egg, until I chased away the meanies.  Non-stop rain can really turn my hens into first class shrews.

*Finally, I have uncovered a solemn truth:  an Amazon delivery in the morning can make the rest of the day feel much brighter and better.  I’m convinced that the mere Amazon logo possesses great physical and spiritual healing. Thank heavens for the rare but greatly anticipated days when the checkbook is indulgent and long desired books can be purchased.

So Gentle Reader, has anything been happening in your life lately?  Share below in the comments.

 

Posted in stream of conscious chats | 4 Comments

Vampires and Werewolves, oh my.

Sometimes, I just need a book full of bloodsucking vampires and furry werewolves- especially in October when the sights and sounds of Halloween are everywhere.

I love my Jane Austen (yes, she’s mine) and I love so many of the classics and the strong contemporary novels that critics rave about, but I also adore my supernatural thrillers.  They reach some unreachable itch in the back of my mind that realistic fiction can’t touch and make me literarily content and happy inside.

Seriously, there’s nothing like a good ol’ vampiric book high.

On the chance that I’m not the only one who loves all things fang and furry, I thought since it was October that I would compile a list of my favorite supernatural thrillers.  I love you Gentle Reader, and love means never letting your internet friends read subpar books.

If you’re looking for a fabulous urban fiction series full of vampires and shaper-shifters look no further than the Kate Daniel series by Ilona Andrews.  These books are gritty, fast paced novels lightly kissed with a dystopian flair and they have a hidden depth to them.

The first book is Magic Bites.  I’ll be honest, the first book is good but not full out great.  That is what I love about this series- the author doesn’t give away all the secrets in the beginning.  And unlike any other series I’ve read, the Kate Daniels books get better and better with each installment.  There are now over ten books and novellas in this series, plus a spinoff novel, so you might just get enough vampires and werewolves to satisfy the supernatural freak inside of you.  At least for a while.

If you are looking for a series that is a little less graphic, a bit more idealized, and not quite so raw in terms of language and sexuality, then you cannot go wrong with Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series (despite their slightly pornographic covers on some editions.)  The first book in the series is Moon Called.

These books have action and romance and spunk and wonderful characters that you wished were real and lived next door.  (But I get dibs of Stephen- he’s dreamy- in a slightly scary, blood-sucking way.)  The books are full of vampires and werewolves, but they also have coyotes, witches, gremlins, and fairies- not to mention a scene stealing, homicidal snow elf in one of the installments.

Best of all, more than any other series, these characters are filled with so much diversity.  Additionally, the these books have a nice Southwestern, Native American flavor, which makes them stand out among their supernatural peers.  I give a solid two thumbs up for Mercy Thompson.

Perhaps you don’t want a series, maybe you just want a stand alone work of awesomeness that just happens to have some scary, freaky vampires in it.  I’ve got you covered.  You are looking for Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times, Sunshine is the ultimate vampire book, my absolute favorite.  The story begins with a rather ordinary appearing heroine who discovers her hidden talents and strengths as the book progresses.  (I should also mention she bakes and this book is full of fantastic descriptions of all sorts of deliciousness- food porn at its vampiric best.)

All in all, McKinley creates an amazing alternative world with fully formed characters and a gripping plot that leaves you wanting more.  So much more.

Now that I’ve shared with you my favorite vampire book of all time, let me introduce you to my favorite supernatural urban fiction book:  Written in Red, by Anne Bishop.

What makes this book so fantastic?  Well, I loved that the monsters in the story were actual monsters, not romantically inclined, sparkly control freaks.  There is a unique feel to the overused tropes of shape-shifters and vampires that made this book feel fresh and new.  The world building was mind blowing and the characters seemed like actual people that somehow got trapped inside the pages of a book.  Best of all the pace was nice and even throughout the entire novel with some extreme tension at the climax of the story.

And my favorite thing about this book?  There was absolutely no cliched love triangle.  Even better- there was no romance, period.  While there are faint hints at future romantic entanglements, this book stands solidly and solely on its story and people rather than embellished and over the top love scenes.

Other honorable mentions in the vampire/werewolf category are:

Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith.  I love this book greatly.  Find my review here.

Chicagoland Vampire series, by Chloe Neill.  The first four books are fun, filled with witty dialogue (so snarky!) and interesting characters.  After those installments, however, I was less than impressed with the quality and writing.

Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison.  This is the first of The Hollows series.  These books are sexy, gritty, dark, and action driven.  The world building is excellent and the characters are nicely fleshed out.  (There also seems to be an inordinate amount of time spent describing clothing.  If you are a clotheshorse or into fashion, this might be right up your alley.)

Soulless, by Gail Carriger.  This is the first of the Parasol Protectorate series.  How to describe this book?  50% supernatural, 50% steam-punk, 100% good, old fashioned, bodice-ripper romance story.  Additionally, this book is written very much tongue in cheek and refuses to take itself seriously which is why is succeeds so well.  Werewolves, vampires, steam engines, heaving bosoms, and Victorian England, oh my.

The Morganville Vampire series, by Rachel Caine.  I enjoyed the first few books in this series.  Lots of action, lots of mean vampires, lots of snark, and lots of teenagers making out.  After a few books, though, this formula got a little old.  But that’s the nice thing with series- there’s no law you have to finish them.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker.  You have to love the original classic that started it all.  Seriously, you have to, or you and I will have words.  There is a reason this gothic tale has survived the test of time- it’s fabulous.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova.  An epic scholarly thriller in the gothic style.  Parts of this book scared the pants off me.  And, if I’m completely honest, parts of this book dragged on a little bit and bored me slightly.  Find my more complete review here.

Department Nineteen, by Will Hill (and no, I did not make up that author’s name.)  I thought this was a solid YA novel that felt like a modern day spinoff of the original Dracula.  I liked the whole secret government agency vibe to it and the high tech weapons the soldiers used to fight the evil vampires.  On the other hand, my husband didn’t enjoy this novel and thought the main character was whiny and pouty.  Whatever.  Just one more example of how I’m always right and he’s wrong.

‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.  Of course the master of horror wrote a vampire story, of course.  And because it is written by Stephen King the pacing is fabulous, the characters feel real, and some seriously scary stuff happens.  (Warning- Mr. King isn’t afraid to kill off your favorite characters, so be prepared.)  However, Stephen King is one of my favorite authors, and in my humble opinion, this is not his strongest work.  Still, a so-so novel written by a great author is better than most stuff out there.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  Part of my brain is convinced that this book is pure genius.  Another part of my brain shouts loudly that this book is an incomplete and meandering mess.  Sometimes books make us bi-polar and there’s no shame in that.  I loved the apocalyptic, doomsday first half of the book, it reminded me a lot like Stephen King’s The Stand, but with super freaky, man-made vampires.  However, where The Stand ends in a triumphant finale of good overcoming evil, The Passage only offers an ambiguous conclusion and a lengthy sequel.  Still, this book garners a bunch of devoted, adoring fans.  Try it out, at 784 pages there’s no shame in quitting if this book turns out to be not your cup of tea.

There you have it, Gentle Reader, my top picks in the vampire/werewolf category.  And since I’m always on the lookout of a great supernatural thriller, be sure to shout out your favorite if it didn’t make my list.  Remember, sharing is caring.

 

Posted in books | 1 Comment

A small victory in the pre-algebra war.

I sit at the kitchen table next to my son.  We are both in our pajamas.  The backdoor curtains are open and sunlight pools directly onto his pre-algebra textbook; a spotlight of sorts, highlighting the most challenging thing we do all day.  A gray cat rubs up against our legs and in the other room someone starts to practice her scales on the piano.

It’s not your typical math classroom, but the purring cats, unorthodox background music, and pajamas seem to make pre-algebra somewhat palatable to the both of us.

Today, Will is practicing how to simplify and collect like terms.  I, on the other hand, am practicing deep breathing and patience.

Will does his best to remember all the rules he’s been taught these past few weeks while I try desperately to keep any signs of aggravation out of my voice when I have to repeat myself.  Neither of us are one hundred percent successful.

Still, the math is getting done with a minimum of angst.

After getting several answers right in a row, Will rubs his forehead and says hesitantly, “Okay, I think I’ve got this now.”

“Good job buddy,” I congratulate him and stand up to begin another task on my seemingly endless list of things to get done.

“Wait!” Will stops me with one panicky word.  “Could you just stay here while I do this next problem?”  “Of course,” I answer, “Of course.”

So I do.  I stand silently by his side, as my son tackles the next problem on the page.  I offer no advice while Will uses the distributive property and combines variables and constants.  He multiplies and adds while I stay next to him, reminding him without speaking, that he is not alone in this.

When he compares his answer to the key in the back of the book, Will’s stiff shoulders loosen and I know he has gotten it right, without him having to say a word.

I relax too.  I have not yelled or lost my temper once this morning.  I have not shaken him and shouted, “Why are you forgetting about negative numbers?  We learned them two weeks ago!” even though I wanted to at one point.

Will and I smile at each other.  Each of our morning objectives has been achieved.  He was a good student.  And I?  I was a good teacher.

Tomorrow we will do this all over again.  Today’s math battle has been won, but the pre-algebra war lingers on.  Tomorrow, my son will face the unknown with a loosely cobbled, rickety confidence and I will fight against my own impatience and imperfections as I struggle to teach him in a way he will understand.

Tomorrow we might fail spectacularly, but today we celebrate the small victories that have come our way.

JUST WRITE.

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Posted in Homeschooling, The Boy | 2 Comments

Reorganized priorities.

I’m waiting at the stoplight, hoping to get a green arrow through this crowded intersection, wondering if I managed to trip that elusive trigger in time.  I have eight million things I desperately need to accomplish tonight and shaving a few minutes off my time sitting in traffic somehow seems vital to getting everything done.

From the back of the car, my seven year old clears her throat and says, “Do you know what troubles me?”

I mentally swear in my head as the capricious traffic gods deny my heartfelt prayers for the green arrow and I reluctantly resign myself to remaining in this intersection for a few more minutes, waiting for a chance to turn left in bumper to bumper traffic.  There is no way I’m going to get all my errands finished now.

My daughter’s words sink in through my internal rampage on overpaid city engineers who have obviously no clue what they’re doing as they destroy innocent citizens’ lives.  “Wait.  What?  You’re what?”

Eden, pleased she finally has my attention, sighs dramatically and asks again, “Do you know what troubles me?”

Smiling at her choice of words, I reply, “No, please tell me all about what is troubling you.”

Eden sighs again, but with less Diva and more worry.  “It’s that whole breathing to the side thing in swimming.  It’s really, really hard.  Especially when I get tired because my head is so, so heavy and hard to turn.”

My first instinct is to point out exactly how little and insignificant this problem of hers is.  Seriously, breathing to the side?  Isn’t that rather on the small end of the scale when it comes to calamities and problems?  Especially when I think about my own issues?

But up ahead I see a small pocket where I just might be able to make my left turn.  This quick navigation takes all my focus for a few moments and I am unable to respond to my daughter.

Driving again, I’m silently applauding my quick thinking and rejoicing over the extra 30 seconds I’ve managed to save when suddenly it hits me that perhaps I am the ridiculous one.  It was just a traffic light, just a left turn, just a couple of moments spent.  Why did I feel that it was so important?  Why was I so consumed with saving those minutes?

“Mom!”  Eden chastises me, “Are you even listening?  Breathing is important!”

And she is right.  Breathing is a necessary, vital thing.  We have to breathe to live.  We do not, however, have to make the green light or check off our to-do list to live.  Life will go on, even when we’re stuck in traffic.

I make brief eye contact with Eden through the rearview mirror.  “You are absolutely right,” I answer her.  “Breathing is important, especially when you’re in the middle of the swimming pool.”

“And I can’t even touch!” Eden exclaims loudly, relieved that I seem to understand her problem, that I can recognize the enormity of it.

As we pull into the parking lot I continue to commiserate with my youngest daughter on the difficulty of side-to-side breathing.  I encourage her to do her best, remind her of what a good swimmer she is becoming, and comfort her with the fact that Coach Britney won’t let her drown.  By the time the car is parked, Eden is no longer troubled but smiling.

As she dashes through the doors to the high school swimming pool, beach towel trailing behind her, goggles clasped tightly in her fist, I take a few moments that I didn’t think I had to express gratitude for my newly reorganized priorities.

JUST WRITE.

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