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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Can "Lemony Snicket" Write a YA Romance?... oh yes...

The only work I had read by Daniel Handler in the past was his marvelous work as Lemony Snicket, so I spent the first few chapters of reading "Why We Broke Up" waiting for a villain to surface, or for something truly absurd to happen.

By soon thereafter, I had forgotten the author, and I was only interested in what was going to happen to these mismatched teenagers, and, based on the title of the book, I knew it wasn't going to end well.

So, in that sense, "Why We Broke Up" IS a Series of Unfortunate Events, with villains and absurdity -- but what teenage romance doesn't include these things?

The characters, the details, the writing and Maira Kalman's illustrations conspired to make this book compelling from start to finish.

Handler did something interesting with the adults in this novel -- they are barely extant, much like the adults in Charlie Brown cartoons who can only say "Wah wah wah wah wah." The parents, as well as most of the adults, are very minor characters with very few appearances -- I suppose I should resign myself to this kind of role when my kids are lovestruck teens themselves someday. 

I definitely recommend this love story, which is, in itself, a cliche, but so well rendered, it will likely be relatable for every last person who fell in love in high school.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Birdy gets into it with the Tooth Fairy

Birdy just lost her second tooth -- it's the first one she's lost in North America. (The first tooth loss involved the receipt of 2500 Colones in Costa Rica...)

"What do you think I will get for it?' she asked me.

"The tooth fairy brings a beautiful coin in our house," I told her.

So she went right to work to rectify that situation:

The Tooth Fairy must have been very surprised to receive this request. But she handled it gracefully...

She received that note early in the morning, along with a magical coin with President Eisenhower's profile upon it. 

She felt this merited an immediate reply...

I'll translate:

"Dear Tooth Fairy, I'm sorry but I don't like those books and sometimes I lose my disk (meaning: music CD)! Can I please have an iPad instead of a coin? Love, Caroline."

What's up with the filled-in eyes in the word "books?" Is this an intentional mockery of the Tooth Fairy's cute signature?

Chebbles tried to explain that the Tooth Fairy couldn't possibly transport an iPad even if she wanted to, because of physics, but Birdy wasn't buying that. 

One of her classmates, Birdy explained, received a Magic Treehouse book from the Tooth Fairy. And an iPad doesn't represent an appreciable size/weight difference from such a book, she explained.

The next night, there was another handwritten plea on Birdy's pillow, and this one went entirely unheeded. 

I get it, as almost all of her peers have iPads and she would very much like to have unfettered access to her own. But alas, we are a Luddite household (except for me, of course, doing very important things on my iPhone late into the night), so she's not getting an iPad from the Tooth Fairy or any other magical creature. 

She'll have to settle for spending her summer in her swimsuit, entertaining herself with massive pieces of watermelon instead... utilizing all of her remaining teeth...

"Grrrrrr, I wanted an iPad...." 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In which I get glasses and then promptly drive off a cliff

It's not a "selfie" if Otto is in it.
When I called to make an appointment for Hub-D, the optometrist asked if I wanted to be seen too.

"Well that's a little ridiculous," I thought, "Since I have eagle-sharp, Sacagawea-like vision, but sure... I'm not doing anything else this afternoon."

That's when I discovered that my left eye has gone straight to hell. It has significant "myopia" (that's fancy for "the woman's general disintegration has begun with this eyeball.")

When the optometrist showed me what the world really looked like with my sight fixed, I realized that I hadn't seen an individual leaf in a very long time. Nor had I read a street sign at night or had any clear idea what was going on around me.

In my shock, ("What, me, nearsighted? As a Girl Scout Leader and substitute teacher that would be technically impossible.") I chose suitable frames, then waited a week for them to be made.

The day that I picked up the glasses was one filled with elation for me. Everything around me was suddenly so vivid. I studied my friends' faces -- they had never looked so beautiful! In the hills of the Diablo Valley there are individual oak branches filed with so much detail it took my breath away.

I'm guessing this is what it might be like to drop acid. 

The world was crisp and gorgeous, I couldn't get enough.

I wouldn't take the glasses off, so grand was my perception. But going down stairs or stepping off curbs was suddenly a challenge. I had gotten used to my fuzzy world of crappy depth perception, and my brain hadn't yet learned to negotiate the seeing world.

I held onto hand rails, and carefully pulled the glasses away from my eyes when faced with a stairwell or curb, and swanned around town with my fancy new glasses, enjoying myself immensely.

Finally, wearing my glasses on my drive home (because as it turns out, driving at night is not meant to be a mysterious journey), I turned into my driveway.

Note: flatbed tow truck behind the tree
And I missed. I missed by a lot. And I sent half of the minivan straight off the side of the driveway at 11:30pm at night, wheels spinning in the air.

Hub-D came out and tried to help, then his visiting friend tried to help, and finally a nice tow truck driver showed up at 12:30am and told me to go inside and have a glass of wine while he removed my minivan from the edge of our property.

As it turns out, I am still learning what to do with depth perception. I fear that I just aged 10 years behind my own back, and that I'm now the kind of person who drives off cliffs in an ecstatic reverie.

Nevertheless, I do love the glasses.

Please, let me see your beauty, friends. But for now, perhaps it's best that you drive to see me...

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A good book spoiled

By the time I finished Jason Mott's "The Wonder of All Things," I adored him as a writer and I wanted to punish his copy editors. How dare they pay such little attention to details within this strong, surprising story, so that the errors they left in the text became an overwhelming distraction?

The book would be a delight for people who aren't like me. I can obsess over errors in works of fiction, and I couldn't get past things like this:

p. 257
"And to worsen matters there was no moon to see by."

p. 257
"He decided not to call attention to the fact that it was night and the sky was moonless..."

p. 260 (same scene)
"When he finally opened his eye and looked at her, there was something that, in the moonlight, looked like..."


This is a very pivotal scene in the book, so beautifully written by Jason Mott, and no one at Harlequin caught this error?

I can only suspect that someone purposely damaged the very most emotional scene in the book by leaving out a word.

This is the statement upon which the greatest scene in the book hinges:

p. 297

"And, sometimes in life, love and loving can still lead to an ending that we would otherwise choose."

WHAT? Either I'm incapable of understanding the poetry of that statement (which is possible), or the statement was supposed to read "we would NOT otherwise choose."

Jason Mott's book is awesome. His copy editors aren't my favorite.

If you would like to read "The Wonder of All Things," please buy a copy, deliver it to me, and I will correct it for you before you read it. Because Jason Mott's writing is worth it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Running update: Carrying water, meeting feisty cows, finding all-new terrain

Hi! I'm a little dorky.
This dorky-looking device has changed the way I run, and I'm so much happier for it.

As you may know, my mental health is reliant upon my ability to run long distances. And lately, I have found that the terrain variance and softer surface of trail running work best for me. But most country trails don't have water fountains.

I solved this problem at first by hiding water bottles in little wooded alcoves as I ran, so I could finish them on the way back.

But then I obsessed about the hidden water bottles while I ran. Instead of enjoying the trails, I'd start ruminating, "What if I can't find the water? What if a squirrel is licking it right now? Did I leave it in poison oak?"

I asked my running friends what was the least lame way to carry water and they assured me that a handheld water bottle would do the trick. The handheld water jug did take a little getting used to. I had to figure out a way to grip it in my hands for hours at at time, as my hands are still mildly jacked up from de Quervain's disease, despite my successful surgeries.

Tastes awful in real life, but spectacular on a long run
Then I realized I could carry caffeinated "Gu" with me in the little zippered pouch, PLUS my car key, and I was hooked. This water jug has significantly changed my outlook on running.

Perhaps it's simply a human instinct not to stray too far from potable water. But now that I have this sloshing container hooked over my hand, my ability to run long distances is limited only by my time.

Today I found a trail so obscure that the cows were surprised by my appearance in their pasture, and they started to run with me (cue: City Slickers and/or Lion King)

I also surprised flocks of quails as I heaved myself up to the top of Inspiration Point from the San Pablo Reservoir. I could mess around so far from civilization because I had my own reservoir attached to my hand. (Plus, it "exercises" my skinny little arms.)

Carrying water on a run was huge leap in thinking for me -- that I could be self sufficient on a two hour run has opened up so many new possibilities, I feel foolish for waiting so long to do it.

Now if I could also stop getting lost, I'd be all set...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My heartbreaking quest to win the swim club chili cook-off

This is the fourth year I will bring a large pot of chili to our neighborhood swim club chili cook-off, and I better damn well win.

At my first cook-off, I saw my fellow club members swarm around my chili and practically lick the crock pot clean, and felt confident.

Then I didn't win, not in any category.

The second year, I upped my game, I used special grass-fed ground beef intended specifically for chili. I tested several batches on Hub-D and my family, and I chose my beans and spices very carefully. Then I lost AGAIN.

Then I went a little bit psycho... WHY did I continue to lose a title that is rightfully mine? My hypothesis was that my chili wasn't hot enough. It didn't matter that my chili was the most popular, it also had to be the most memorable in the judges' minds. So I was prepared to burn my chili into their memories, and quite possibly their intestines.

I embarked on a special mission to The Pepper Palace in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
The Pepper Palace people sold me a sauce so hot that you have to sign a waiver to try it. It's called "The Hottest Sauce in the Universe" and it includes ghost peppers and other things that humans have no business consuming. But I was on a QUEST, a QUEST for CHILI GLORY. And if I had to spend $20 for a bottle of death, so be it.

So last year, I marched into the club feeling confident once again. It was my chili, but super hot, laced with The Hottest in the Universe. It probably had a skull and crossbones wafting overhead. I made warning labels, and as a result, it was licked clean even faster than in previous years. Children were daring each other to eat it, and parents lapped it up as well. No one, to my knowledge, died.

And I didn't even place. A newcomer to the chili cook-off took the title instead. He later told me that he had put bacon in his chili, and I openly seethed. My blood had turned into The Hottest Sauce in the Universe.

So this past year, leading up to this fourth chili cook-off, has been one spent in deep reflection. If I could have climbed up a mountain to a chili guru, sitting up on a precipice, farting and hoarding sour cream, I would have, in order to divine the secret of prizewinning chili.

I have some ideas. I think chipotle will be involved, for a richer, smoky flavor. I may incorporate black beans. I tried using bacon and it tasted gnarly (literally, it had gnarls in it). Chebbles has suggested that I pre-mix the sour cream for ultimate effect.

For now, my sister has declared a moratorium on tasting any more chili at my house. So I toil alone, me and the beans and the hot sauces, hoarding various kinds of ground beef and hearing very strong opinions about the inclusion of corn.

Tomorrow I'm making my "dress rehearsal" batch, and I'll try it on some of the folks at the swim club. The stakes are too high to leave this task to the last minute. I've already brewed a massive pot of beef bone broth for the richest flavor possible, and I'm feeling gassy, but ready, to finally take home the title.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Chaperone is seamless, scandalous and well-told

Although no book is as juicy as The Thirteenth Tale*, Laura Moriary's The Chaperone comes mighty close. It is a tale of a Kansas woman with a whole pile of secrets to unwrap. It's deftly told and very fun to read.

I listened to the audiobook of The Chaperone, as it was done by Elizabeth McGovern. At first I had to get over McGovern repeatedly saying the lead character's name "Cora," as that is the name of her character on Downton Abbey, but after a few chapters, I was thoroughly absorbed in this subtle, scandalous story. 

Cora is a fictional character who spends a summer in New York with a real person: the actress, Louise Brooks, at age 16. I don't want to ruin the excitement and suspense of the book by telling the story, other than to say that every time I thought the book couldn't possibly get more wonderful, something even more thrilling happened. Each chapter of this book could stand on its own as an affecting short story, but I'm so grateful that the story goes on and on, slowly revealing so much of Cora's, and Louise's life stories.

By the time I was halfway through The Chaperone, I found myself sitting in the car on any pretense, listening to the book and hanging on every word. It was beautifully constructed, seamless and well told. I'm so happy to have discovered Laura Moriarty's writing, and I look forward to discovering more of her work.

*Oh wait, you haven't read The Thirteenth Tale? What? Do you abhor mysteries set in dusty manors with multiple births and ghosts? The link is below. Get crackin'.