30 June 2013

The Wonder-filled Secrets of Odette and Mr. Lemoncello

School's out and the girl is free, free at last! Instead of some formal iteration of "camp", this summer she's in Daddy Day Camp. Swim team practice in the morning, a mess of swim meets throughout July, a viola lesson once a week (and viola practice every day), a horseback riding lesson once a week, and a whole lot of bicycle riding up and down the next street. Beyond that, she's got a math workbook to work through (to keep her brain in shape) and a veritable pile of books to read. And I ask you, is there anything better than a kid with her nose buried in a book?

It's a mixed bag, her book pile. There are a handful of crappy books (stuff she picked out at the library book sale), and some classics (because I can't help myself), and some good new books - like Wonder, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, and Odette's Secrets. And it's funny for me, getting new books for her. Since she doesn't need me to read to her any more (though we still do, because it's nice), I am in what I find to be the awkward position of feeding her book habit without having read them all first.

Both Odette and Mr. Lemoncello came to me by way of a publicist, and the ethical blogger/reviewer in me decided that the proper thing to do would be to read both before turning them over to the girl. I have to say, reading them wasn't a chore, far from it.

Chris Bravenstein's Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library strikes me as the kind of book that a child will read and remember and pass on to future children. It's a quirky tale about the opening of a new library sponsored by a rich eccentric. For the inaugural festivities, 12 kids are chosen to be locked into the library for an overnight extravaganza - which turns out to be a competition wherein the kids have to solve lots of puzzles to earn things like dessert. And to win? "Simple: Find your way out of the library using what's in the library." The book is calls to mind Willy Wonka and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and even The Phantom Tollbooth in its inventive questing wordplay and journey through the Dewey Decimal system. It's fun, it's creative, and it celebrates smarts, collaboration and invention. Intrigued? Read the beginning on the author's website.

Maryann Macdonald's Odette's Secrets is rather the polar opposite of Lemoncello, elegiac and moving. Odette's a Jewish child living in Paris in World War II. Written in the first person, in a sort of free-verse narrative poetry, Odette tells of daily life in Paris and then in the countryside, keeping secrets all the while. Her child's voice comes through loud and clear, reminding me even of the imperious echt-child Eloise in declarations like "If I had a pet, / I would never give it up!" Her life is hard and complicated, and to survive in the Vendée, she and her cohort have to pretend to be Christians - hiding in plain sight. "I know the reason I feel safe in the country. / It's because here, / I am not a Jew. // In Paris, I am a Jew." Oof. The book's a gentle introduction to the horrors of war, Nazis, persecution, and why sometimes lying is the necessary thing to do. It's worth mentioning that it's a fictionalized version of a true story - Odette was a real person and her family photos appear through out the book.

The girl hasn't yet read Mr. Lemoncello (she wants to finish Wonder first), but I read Odette aloud to her. It's a lovely read-aloud, and she pointed out that it's a bit like The One and Only Ivan - a lyrical first person narrative with beautiful phrasing.

So, if you need some summer reading for your nine year old (give or take a couple of years), I liked these. I can't say anything about Wonder though; I haven't read it!

24 June 2013

Unusually Handsome

For our anniversary, which is today, our 18th if you're wondering, we're not exchanging porcelain or garnets. Instead, we're knee-deep in a new roof, new gutters, new stucco, a new deck, new windows, insulation (because our 1920 house had NONE), and big bills. And somehow, even though we are ostensibly doing exterior renovations, the inside of the house is torn apart in a big way.

The tar paper shack, minus one bedroom window.
And lo, a window was installed, completed with plastic drapes.

I don't know much about our house, except that was built in 1920, and that it was a kit house from Gordon-Van Tine. We'd known that the house next to ours was a pre-cut Sears kit house, but until we (that is, our contractor, not me, not my husband) took out one of our original windows, we didn't know ours was a kit too.

All the way from Iowa!

As you can imagine, I headed straight for the internet. I bought a Dover reprint of some of the Gordon-Van Tine plans, but it didn't include anything like our our house. I found our built-in linen closet on Flickr. But it was the Internet Archive where I got closest, finding a copy of the 1926 Gordon-Van Tine catalog on that delightful electronic attic.

Bingo! The Gordon-Van Tine No. 620 looks a lot like my house, but the plans are a little different.

"The battered gable ends add a peculiar sense of "homeyness" to this home, which makes it doubly alluring."

First off, our house is flipped, with the living room to the left of the front door (as you enter). We have a fireplace (and chimney) off the living room, the stairs don't double back into the kitchen, the coat closet on our stairs is where the stairs on the plan split into the kitchen, and we can go all the way around the ground floor. And, what the 620's plans show as a back entry is where our breakfast nook is - the house is on a hill and the first floor in the back of the house is up a story off the ground. Upstairs, we have more closets than the plans show (two in the master bedroom and another off the bathroom). But we do have that linen closet, and we do have the three dormers, and we do have all of those clipped gables, and really, the Unusually Handsome Colonial Cottage is pretty surely the general sketch of the "charming livable home of a design which is in unusually good taste" in which we live.

I love the internet. Oh, and my husband. Happy Anniversary, you!

17 June 2013

My Work On The Planet Is Done

These dolls are sexist and demeaning to women.

That's why I want a real chisel, I want to chisel down her boobies.

(I pointed out that some women have large breasts, but that Barbie's overall proportions were not ever found in real people.)

Okay, instead of chiseling down her boobs, I'll put some sugru on her waist and paint it to match.

12 June 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Flowers

a  paeonia festiva maxima from my mother's house, one
that she got from ruth bogen across the street.

lady's mantel, a/k/a alchemilla mollis, in bloom. the leaves
are nice too, but the camera wanted to look at the flowers.

one of the happy peonies that came with my house.

astilbe from mary kane's garden, down the street from ruth bogen's.

this peony? i have no idea where it came from. i
might have bought it at a garden club sale.

10 June 2013

Not Quite Manhattan

For $24 at the library book sale, I got 33 books. Not quite an island, but:

10 books for me

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (Barbara Tuchman)
Let the Great World Spin (Colum McCann)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
Little Bee (Chris Cleave)\
Diamond Ruby (Joseph Wallace)
The Girl Who Played With Fire (Stieg Larsson)
Middle C (William H. Gass)
State of Wonder (Ann Patchett)
The Tiger's Wife (Téa Obreht)
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer)
12 for the girl (some that she picked out, others that I added to the stack),

The astute reader will notice a fan bio of Leonardo DiCaprio
as well as Catch Me If You Can.  You guessed it, the
9 year old no longer swoons over Johnny Depp.

3 for my husband

3 to squirrel away as gifts

4 for a birthday party the girl was on her way to (we stopped at home to wrap)

1 bought solely for its title

Why yes, this book is called "Orbiting the Giant Hairball".
I had to buy it for the title alone. 

I confessed to the mother of the birthday girl that the gift was four used books and that I was hovering between proud (thrifty kid!) and mortified (cheap gift!) - though I knew she'd be more on the side of thrifty proud. What do you think? Are used books an acceptable gift? And if you say no, how do you feel about re-gifting?

07 June 2013

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Where've you been?

On an adventure.

Huh? We live in a little house and we're indoor cats.

Well, I went out.


Yeah. You know how they've been doing all that noisy dusty work on the house? Well. They took some windows out, and put new ones in, but the guys who did it left the windows open when they were done. They probably thought the people would like some fresh air.

And you went out?

Yeah, out on the roof. It's really cool out there, all these hills and valleys, and it smells really good, much better than just sitting inside with your nose to the screen. But at some point, the humans put the screens in and then it got dark and I wanted to come in but I couldn't.

Oh my god. Were you scared?

Nah, I just meowed loudly outside the little one's window. She finally woke up, saw me out there, burst into tears, and went and got the big woman. The big woman opened up the screen so I could come in. I thumped her in the eye with my tail, but I'm not really mad at them, they didn't know I was outside.

Well, you sure smell interesting. Hey, wanna go run around the house?

04 June 2013

Hamburgers, 54 Years Ago

I was thumbing through my beloved copy of the venerable James Beard Cook Book and stopped to read this juicy paragraph on burgers.

The traditional hamburger is a 4-ounce cake broiled or pan-broiled to the required state of doneness and served on a heated, toasted, buttered bun. There is nothing as unappetizing as a cold hamburger bun with a hot hamburger.

Got that? Toast your damned buns.

Later on, he suggests serving with chili sauce, "if you wish, but heat your chili sauce before serving, because cold sauce is not inviting with hot food".

I love the imperiousness of those commands, not to mention the idea that in 1959 a cookbook author had to explain a hamburger sandwich. Really? Were they that novel, in 1959?

Incidentally, his iteration of a cheeseburger has the cheese sandwiched - pre-cooking - between two "very thin, 2-ounce cakes".

So, dear readers, do you toast your buns?

02 June 2013

My 15 Minutes of Fame?

In the department of "a lady only has her name in the paper three times in her life: birth, marriage and death", I have spectacularly failed, in as much as I am on the front page of today's New York Times discussing the price of my two back-to-back colonoscopies. In my copy of the paper, my name is below the fold, but other people have seen it on or above the fold.

My participation notwithstanding, it's a good article - pointing out the high costs of medical procedures in the US, using colonoscopy as an example.

Whether directly from their wallets or through insurance policies, Americans pay more for almost every interaction with the medical system. They are typically prescribed more expensive procedures and tests than people in other countries, no matter if those nations operate a private or national health system. A list of drug, scan and procedure prices compiled by the International Federation of Health Plans, a global network of health insurers, found that the United States came out the most costly in all 21 categories — and often by a huge margin.

Health insurance reform is one thing, but unless and until we the people understand how much things cost underneath the protective veneer of our insurance, health care costs are going to continue to skyrocket.