Skipping February.

My family and I spent the good part of last week in Florida. (The bad part of last week we huddled together for warmth here in Indianapolis.)

I’m a firm believer in taking Spring Breaks in February, despite the fact that it isn’t spring, nor is spring even imminent. It’s just because February, despite being the shortest month of the year, flat-out sucks. The poet, T. S. Elliot, wrote that April was the cruelest month but I don’t agree. February is with its biting wind and bitter cold. By the second month of the year the novelty of winter has completely worn off. All the things that delighted us in October and November now only depress us. Christmas is long gone, warm weather is a distant memory, and everyone has forgotten what it feels like to have sun on your face.

So there is nothing better when the February blues hit than to pile into a minivan packed to the gills with snacks, books, and children and head south.
To get to our destination in Florida, my family and I drove for sixteen hours- stopping only to get gas and use grimy gas station bathrooms. But the unhygienic peeing conditions and the long cramped car ride were completely worth it when we arrived to warm temperatures and the salty smell of the sea in the air.

I’ve said it before and I will repeat it again and again: there’s something magical about sitting on a beach with your toes buried in the sand. I’m not sure what it is about hunting for seashells or hearing the waves crash on the beach or watching pelicans dive for fish but these things heal tiny cracks in my soul that I didn’t even know were there. While staring out at the seemingly endless ocean, library book lying forgotten on my lap, my priorities all seem to realign and it’s as if I’m able to rediscover my place in the universe.

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Our trip to Florida was a quick one this year, we were gone for less than a week. But sometimes a few days is all you need to feel like you’re skipping February.

I hope, Gentle Reader, that the February blues haven’t been too bad for you this year. And, I hope that there is something as healing as a warm, sandy beach in your life.

Posted in outings and trips | 4 Comments

Got mint?

The other day I was trying out a new recipe for a cucumber and avocado salad.  The dressing used lime and mint, so I pulled out the chopped mint from the freezer that our neighbor had given us last summer.

My oldest daughter, Trinity, wandered into the kitchen and watched me pour the dressing over the salad.  “Oh, mint!” she exclaimed excitedly.  “Did you know that the ancient Greeks believed that mint was created when the goddess Persephone stepped on a woodland nymph and crushed her?”

After sharing this appetizing piece of information with me, my daughter then waltzed out of the kitchen on her merry way.

I, on the other hand, was left emotionally scarred.  As will you be the next time you smell mint and think ‘crushed woodland nymph.’

You’re welcome.

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Posted in The Big Girl | 2 Comments

Redefining success.

When I was twelve my father tried to teach me to dive in the swimming pool next door to my aunt’s house.  We spent hours at it, all afternoon, while he tried to keep his patience and I made no effort, whatsoever, in keeping my cool.

There was no victory to be had that day.  There was no success. By the time dinner came my eyes were swollen from the sun and chlorine, my skin was a decidedly pink color and stung from the countless bellyflops I made, and I was still unable to dive.

I never tried to learn again.

Last night, I watched my seven year voluntarily spend all of her free time at the high school swimming pool diving off the blocks.

Looking strangely professional, despite her small size and stature, in goggles and a swim cap, she’d bend down while gripping the edge of the blocks with her hands.  Head down, she ignored the other kids in the pool while she waited for the signal. When it came she exploded into action, slicing into the water straight as an arrow (except for that one knee that refused to straighten.)

To me, it was nothing short of miraculous to watch her succeed where I had failed so epically (in my own mind at least) many years before.

My children have grown beyond me now, in many things, which feels so very right.  I am no giant, but I want to boost my kids onto a higher place than where I stand.  So I help them balance on my shoulders,using all of my experience as a foundation to anchor them so they can reach higher stars than I did.

I still cannot dive, but damn it, my kids can.  And they do.

That, perhaps, is the best victory of all.

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Posted in parenting, Whoops. Got Lazy. | 2 Comments

The winter of our (upper respiratory) discontent.

Oh Gentle Reader, January has not been kind to us here at Bunkersdown.  Not kind at all.  A week after everybody had somewhat recuperated from the nasty flu that’s been hitting Indianapolis hard, we caught another virus that has laid waste to our upper respiratory tract.  Wheezing, sneezing, and coughing (so, so much coughing) are the soundtrack to my life right now.

As a result of all this sickness, my house has taken on decidedly unpleasant and unclean sheen.  Dirty dishes fill my sink, dust covers my shelves, and the floor- well the best word to describe the floor is groady.  (Sometimes, when you’re trying to describe incredible filth, only late 80’s slang will do.)

However, everything will get cleaned up.  Eventually.  Light years from now.

But enough with that, here are the few things that have helped the kids and I manage while everybody is under the weather.

1.  The Great British Baking Show.  I discovered this gem one night as I struggled to breathe through my nose and it is officially my new favorite show on television.  The kids also love it and have become The Great British Baking Show missionaries, preaching evangelical messages of its gloriousness far and wide.  It is an utterly delightful show filled with amateur British bakers who perform a myriad of cooking challenges under a tent in the English countryside while lambs and ducks frolic on the side.  (Seriously, lambs frolicking, joyfully.)

Additionally, every single person on this show is immensely pleasant and extremely nice while speaking in the most delicious accents.  Everyone says things like, “Rubbish!  Me sponge has gone flat.”  Or, “The flavors in this crumb are crack on, good job you.”  My blood pressure instantly lowers and my wheezing decreases the minute this show comes on.

Best of all, if you check out your local PBS website, you should be able to watch previous episodes whenever you want.  (Which is practically everyday at our house.)

2.  Frozen lemonade slushies.  Nothing feels better on a sore throat than a cold, delicious lemonade slushy.  My husband closely follows this recipe (although sans the alcohol option, sadly) and he makes them for us often.

3.  Kick Your Cold Kale salad.  (Recipe here.) This thing is packed with vitamins, ginger, garlic, antioxidants, and all things healthy.  Despite that, it still tastes delicious.  I managed to make a big batch of it the other day and after two helpings, I felt completely justified to eat the last of my Cherry Cordial Hershey Kisses.

4.  The Mother ‘Hood Official video.

I love this video so, so much.  In the beginning I laugh at the complete ridiculousness (and yet slightly familiar) stereotypes fighting over who’s a better mother/parent.  But, by the end, I’m willing to admit I tear up quite a bit.  (Of course, that could simply be the excess phlegm coming into play, but I doubt it.)

5.  My thirteen year old son.  Despite the deplorable level of cleanliness going on at our house with multiple people contaminating all surfaces with germs, he has managed not to get sick and he has become a regular Florence Nightingale.  Never has my water bottle been filled so often nor have my mac and cheese cravings been met so promptly.

I’m not sure if it’s having my every whim catered to or if it’s the knowledge that my son is becoming a truly remarkable person that makes me feel best.  The other evening Will instructed me quite sincerely, “Listen, if you need something in the middle of the night, do not hesitate to come get me.”  (Which is exactly what I tell him when he is sick.)  It’s moments like this that make me think, “This guy’s going to turn out okay.  I haven’t messed him up too much.”

So there you have it, Gentle Reader:  a brief explanation as to my absence on the blogosphere and a list of the things that are helping me survive until bluer skies (and less congested chests) arrive.

How has January been treating you?

Posted in rantings and ravings | 4 Comments

My favorite books in 2014.

Last year I had a goal to read 125 books.  In 2013, I barely made my goal of reading 120 books, so I knew I was going to have to step up my game.  Let me just say that it didn’t help matters at all when Netflicks decided to come out with some of my favorite HGTV shows plus all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls.  (Dirty pool, Netflicks, dirty pool.)

Still, with a little dedication (and a lot of lost sleep), I achieved my goal.  Out of 125 books there were a few stinkers, but when I look back on the year I read some great things.  Here is a list of my favorites.

The Fault in our Stars (John Green- Young Adult fiction)  I know, it’s so cliche to love this book, but it’s a cliche for a reason- the novel is amazing.  I love the straightforward romance between Hazel and Gus, the unflinching honesty about death and sickness, and the brief moments of hilarity that make surviving this novel with your emotional faculties intact a possibility.

A Little Something Different (Sandy Hall- Young Adult Fiction/contemporary)  This novel is fun, lots of romantic angsty fun.  The premise is different from what I’ve read before:  it’s a college campus love story, but told from the point of view of the spectators watching the romance unfurl.  (My favorite scenes were told from the point of view of a squirrel.  Hilarious.)  The writing isn’t perfect but I thought the originality of the plot and the freshness of the characters carried this book through.

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman- Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction)  I read this book out loud to my older children this year and we all loved it.  The writing is bleak but beautiful, with moments of compassion and clarity and brilliance.  In a way, this is a dark Harry Potter-type story, without all the cute and adorable extras.  The first few chapters can meander a bit, but persevere; the author saved the best parts for last.

Greenglass House (Kate Milford- Middle Grade fiction)  This is the perfect mystery to read during a snowstorm, cuddled up in a fleece blanket with a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.  Everything about it is cozy, exciting, magical, and fun.  Additionally, despite this being a kids’ book, I didn’t anticipate the ending at all.  I was completely taken by surprise, which was lovely.

The Buddha in the Attic (Julie Otsuka- Adult historical fiction)  The three words that describe this book best are lyrical, haunting, and moving.  Some readers had a difficult time with the constant use of the first person plural point of view in this novel, but for me, I found it to be exactly right.  The distance provided by the author through the point of view made it possible for me to enjoy the beauty of this book without being suffocated by the horrific circumstances that these Japanese immigrant women survived.  Ms. Otsuka tells a brutal story, but she tells it so gorgeously that I couldn’t put this book down.  I read it in a single sitting.

Big Little Lies (Liane Moriarty- Adult Contemporary) Liane Moriarty is one of my new favorite authors.  She creates characters that feel real, characters that I recognize in the people around me.  In this novel, Moriarty writes about many modern day issues, but the one that stood out to me was the whole Mummy War debate.  The book begins with a murder during a parent meeting at school.  As a reader it is up to you to discover who was killed and why.  Overall, I thought the plot’s organization was brilliant, expertly laid out with each shift in point of view and with every flashback.  All said and done, this was my most favorite book in 2014.

Three Wishes (Liane Moriarty- Adult Contemporary)  (Yes, I realize it’s another book by Liane Moriarty.  Deal with it.  Or better yet, read it.)  This book tells the story of three sisters, triplets, living in Australia who think they know everything about each other.  However, as the novel progresses, the reader realizes that despite being best friends, despite being triplets, these sisters might not know each other at all.  Again, I love the way the author organizes the book.  Each section has  a little snippet of observation made by random strangers about these girls which just adds a another layer to the plot.

Written in Red (Anne Bishop- Urban Fantasy)  If you love all things fanged and furry, you just might love Written in Red as much as I did.  It has a freshness to it that makes it stand out of the supernatural fiction crowd.  My original review is here.

Elizabeth is Missing (Emma Healey- Contemporary/historic fiction)  I have a deep fascination with unreliable authors (I think it comes from a high school infatuation with William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury) and Maud, an aging grandmother losing her memory, is a most unreliable narrator.  Convinced her best friend is missing, Maud attempts to discover what has happened.  Remembering less and less of the present, older memories of her sister who disappeared in the 1940’s fill Maud’s mind as she struggles to find answers.  This is a beautiful and tragic story of a woman who is losing her memories and her mind, bit by bit.

An Inquiry into Love and Death (Simone St. James- Historical fiction/mystery/ghost story)  I loved this book so very much even though it scared the pants right off of me.  Read my original review here.  Caution- this is not the best book to read late at night when your spouse is gone.  Learn from my mistake.

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver- YA fiction)  This is a powerful book that you either love or hate, and man, did I love it.  How do I describe the plot?  Pretty much it’s Mean Girls crossed with Groundhog’s Day:  a rude, popular girl is forced to relive her last day on earth over and over as she tries to get it right.  For me, the characters were brilliant, full of depth and nuance.  Ms. Oliver writes a book about friendships and choices, and how our friends and choices effect everyone around us.  I found it completely moving.

The Invisible Boy (Trudy Ludwig- Children’s picture book)  It is not often that a picture book makes my favorites list, but this is no ordinary picture book.  This book gave me the shivers when I read it and proves that each one of us can make a difference in the life of another in simple ways.  Without being preachy or overly moral, a great lesson subtly unfolds as the reader turns each page.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North- Adult Supernatural thriller)  This was one of the most intense books I read last year.  Despite its larger size, I gobbled it up in just a day or two.  Find my review here.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home (Carol Rifka Brunt- Young Adult fiction/Adult fiction)  This is one of my favorite coming of age stories.  You can find my review of this book here.

Attachments (Rainbow Rowell- Adult Contemporary) This was almost, quite nearly my favorite book of 2014.  It’s a fabulous story of underdogs, true love, and fate finally triumphing.  Additionally it involves email, Y2K, and a myriad of late 90’s pop culture references.  Just to throw in a little added incentive (although why you’d need any after I mention late 90’s pop culture references is beyond me) this book has perhaps the world’s most fabulous leading man in a love story.  Lincoln is perfect and lovely.

Edenbrooke (Julianne Donaldson)  I love this book, I make no apology.  It is a silly romp of a romance, but goodness gracious it is a brilliant silly romp of a romance.  My original review is here.

Hopefully, Gentle Reader, something on this list catches your eye.  What were some of your favorite reads from last year?  Any reading goals for the new year?  Tell me in the comments.

Posted in books | 5 Comments

Chicken hospitals, E.R. visits, and the flu.

It started, as most things do in this family, with a chicken.

In this particular case, it was a sick chicken with a droopy head, cloudy eyes, and hunched shoulders.  This poor lady didn’t want to eat (even when placed right by the food) and she didn’t want to drink.

Understandably, I freaked out.  Chickens are ravenous, squawky beasts that race around and steal food from each other.  It’s why they’re so darn cute.

The next day my sad feathered friend was worse.  She couldn’t walk any more and just laid on the cold ground.  In a surprisingly empathetic show of unity, the other ladies crowded around her, for a few minutes.  (Chickens don’t have a lot of long term memory.)

The same day the chicken got sick, my youngest daughter began coughing and developed a low grade fever.

This I could handle, this I knew how to solve.  A bed was made on the couch, soup was fed, medicine given, and copious amounts of My Little Pony were watched.  (Never underestimate the healing properties of Pinky Pie, Fluttershy, and the rest of the gang.)

But when it came to doctoring chickens I was at a total loss.  Fortunately, my husband, besides being a licensed plumber, also is a born chicken nurse.  When the poor thing couldn’t even get herself inside the coop that night, he scooped her up, brought her inside our garage and set up a makeshift chicken hospital, complete with cardboard box and pine shavings.

Meanwhile back in the house, after a couple of days Eden’s fever had gone and only a pesky cough remained.  Which, of course, set off some cosmic signal that the next child should get sick.  So, a very congested Trinity got put on the couch bed while Eden was bumped to the reclining chair, and My Little Pony was replaced with Sherlock Holmes.

This is where the universe decided I had grown too complacent, because a couple of sick kiddos and a sick chicken weren’t enough.

Sunday, Trinity’s breathing got worse and worse while her fever grew higher and higher.  Every alarm in my maternal brain began going off, and after a quick phone consultation with a doctor friend of ours, we packed her up and drove her to the emergency room.

We were taken right back, despite the crowd in the waiting room, and after a quick look at Trinity’s vitals, five medical professionals swung into instant action.  Blood was drawn, IVs were placed, drugs and fluids administered, chest x-rays taken, and breathing treatments given.

It was some of the scariest two hours I’ve had in the longest time.

At the end of that very long day, Trinity was diagnosed with influenza and we were sent home with lots of instructions, which I promptly handed to my husband as I began coughing.

Here is where we stand (or lay piteously):  The chicken is still in the garage, prognosis uncertain, Eden is wearing actual clothes and has taken control of the chair and ottoman, Trinity managed to comb her hair and is able to read books in the recliner, and I get the whole couch to feverish self (except for two cats who insist on sharing) while I cough and watch Gilmore Girls.

The flu sucks people.  THE FLU SUCKS.

 

 

 

Posted in chicken love, just everyday life | 3 Comments

The best New Year’s Resolution you can make.

It’s that time again, Gentle Reader, so brace yourselves.  For what, you ask?  Well, whenever you see advertisements for Barbara Walter’s Top Ten People of the Year or start seeing articles with the phrase “Year in Review” you know the time has come to make New Year’s Resolutions.

I happen to have a great resolution for you, one that doesn’t involve sweating or dieting or cutting up credit cards or quitting bad habits.  There is no fancy or expensive equipment to buy.  No money to spend.  Best of all, this is a resolution that is actually- gasp- fun.  You want to hear it?

Read to your kids.

I’m sensing you were expecting something a little more exciting or flashy.  But that’s just because you don’t know how cool reading is.  Let me flash some fancy-shmancy statistics your way.

*Children who are read to at home have a higher success rate in school.  Step back Jack, that’s a bold statement, but it is true.  And it completely makes sense.  Children who are read to have higher vocabularies, a more instinctive grasp of grammar, and better listening skills.  Here’s a crazy fact:  Children’s books contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television or even college students’ conversations.  So if you want your kid to do great on the SAT’s get them hooked on reading while they’re younger.

Reading to children helps them become better readers.  Reading is what we call an accrued skill- the more people do it, the better people get at it.  So when we read to our children it does a myriad of positive things.  It shows our children that reading is a fun, pleasurable activity (something that can be forgotten in this era of worksheets and testing.)  It widens our kids’ concepts of what sort of books are available and how they can be accessed (parents chose different books than teachers and get them from different places.)  Most importantly in my opinion, reading aloud at home shows our children that we, as parents, value reading.  Kids pay close attention to what their parents value, they really do.

Children who read frequently develop stronger reading skills.  Did you know that students who do more reading at home are better readers and have higher reading AND math scores?  However, as our kids get older it is easier and easier for them to stop reading for fun.  Increased activities, more access to technology, and developmental pitfalls all take a toll on reading for pleasure.  Sadly, studies show that when our children stop reading then the benefits that come from the printed word stop as well.  Reading to our children, regardless of their age, is one of the best ways to prevent our offspring from losing out.

People who read narrative and literary fiction become more empathetic.  As we read, we are introduced to new people, cultures, and places.  We are exposed to different thoughts and beliefs.  All this exposure does not mean that we adopt new values ourselves, but that we begin to understand that other people can and will make different choices from our own.  We understand differences better and we become more empathetic towards others as a result.  Studies are showing that children as young as four and five years old can begin to understand that other people have thoughts, beliefs, and desires that different from their own when they read about them in books.  In this world of bullying and intolerance wouldn’t it be great to have a rising generation that knew how to be empathetic and understanding?

Parental involvement makes a huge difference.  In 1996 (yes that was a while ago, but universal truths are universal truths- even in the nineties) a study was done that showed when parental involvement is low the average classroom reading score was 46 points below the national average.  Where parental involvement is high, reading scores were 28 points above the national average.  That’s a gap of 74 points.  SEVENTY-FOUR POINTS!  And parental involvement begins before your child is even in school, by reading out loud regularly.

Reading

So here’s the deal:  Read to your kids.  If they are four months old, read to them.  If they are fourteen years old, read to them.  It is never too early and it is never too late.  Don’t feel overwhelmed.  You can start small, say with picture books.  (Some of the best picture books I have read are geared toward older children.)  When in doubt, read to the kids books by their favorite authors.  Or, read to your kids the books you loved when you were their age.  If you don’t remember actually loving any books when you were young and your kids don’t have any favorites, don’t panic.  Google good books to read aloud.  Search the internet.  Teachers, librarians, and other people much more expert than I have created fabulous lists filled with incredible books that both you and your kids will enjoy.

So there it is, my impassioned plea for more reading.    And just remember, when you are coming up with your New Year’s resolutions, books don’t care if you have that second piece of chocolate cake.  They really don’t.

 

Posted in books | 5 Comments