Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wake Up, Sleepyheads!

Why am I sitting alone by the Christmas tree?
I've moved the kids' bedtimes back since school break began, and let the kids sleep a little later each day. I didn't want the kids to wake up too early on Christmas morning and have half the gifts unwrapped by the time I came downstairs. I gave them a little lecture last night, "If you wake up before Mom and Dad, you can open your stocking gifts and nothing else!"
But it's 7:30 a.m. and the kids are still fast asleep, and I'm getting tired of waiting for them. Santa left you some stuff, guys, come and get it! Or maybe I'll just eat the chocolates and play with the little RC cars - not that I would know what's in their stockings....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Are the Grizwolds - Our Own National Lampoon Thanksgiving Vacation

I almost cancelled our Thanksgiving vacation, because we were all sick. But I thought, "What if we wake up tomorrow and feel better, and we've disappointed my family for no good reason?"
Now I'm thinking I should have listened to my first instincts. The kids got over their colds, but both suffered from upset stomachs over the weekend, and our daughter threw up. Our dog peed and pooped in my mom's house several times (in one of the few carpeted rooms, of course) and my husband and I were sniffling, sneezing, sucking on cough drops, and trying not to touch anyone. Even though he was already sick, my husband's allergies were made worse by my parents' cats. Every night was a Nyquil night, and it was still hard to sleep.
And then, on our way home, I drove our van into a ditch, rolled it, and totalled it. Our big holiday purchase ended up being a new car, and I'm sure only a small part of that will be covered by insurance.
On the positive side, no one was hurt in the car crash. And because I crashed only 30 miles from my parents' house, they got to pick us up and spend an extra day with their grandchildren while we bought the car.
Which is good, because we may never visit them again. Ever. We have bad holiday karma, so for now on I'm staying home!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Adventures in Istanbul

I'm sure we've all wondered what life was like for a eunuch in 19th century Istanbul. Well, to be honest I hadn't really considered it until I read "The Janissary Tree" by Jason Goodwin last year. It's a mystery novel whose detective is a eunuch named Yashim, who works for the sultan. It was a great read, and I just finished its sequel, "The Snake Stone".
I won't bother describing the plot because that's not the appeal of this book, or of The Janissary Tree either. I generally read mysteries very quickly, but I find that I have to read these books slowly because otherwise I would miss all the atmosphere. I knew almost nothing about Istanbul before reading the first book, but the descriptions of the city are amazing. I've paused while reading to look online for photos of the Aga Sofia, or to look up a point of Polish history after Yashim's friend, the Polish ambassador, mentions something that I'm not clear on. And the descriptions of Yashim's cooking are so detailed that not only can you practically smell it while you read, I think you could almost cook from this book.
If you are looking for a mystery with a quick pace and a clear plot, these are not the books for you. The Snake Stone, in particular, sometimes read more like a description for a movie version of itself than a novel. However, if you like historical fiction and would like to learn more about the people, places, and politics of Istanbul, then I would recommend these books

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Adventures of Tintin

My kids are on a Tintin kick these days. They discovered them in the comic book section of our library over the summer. I'm not one of those parents who worries about their kids reading comic books. First of all, I read comics when I was a kid, and I moved on to reading lots of big books with no pictures at all. Also, I still read comic books, so I'm having fun reading the Tintin books to my kids.
The Tintin books, by Herge (real name Georges Remi) were mostly written in the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Herge was Belgian, but the books take place everywhere from England to Tibet to the moon. Tintin is a young reporter who travels the world (and beyond) to investigate smugglers and spies and dangerous criminals. He spends a lot of time being shot at, hit on the head, held prisoner, threatened with death, and escaping from police officers after he's been set up by the bad guys. Perhaps because there is a lot of humor in the books, my kids never seem to be too worried about his fate. And they shouldn't be - Tintin always gets away, and he always gets his story.
Snowy is Tintin's adorable little white dog and trusty sidekick. Sometimes the bad guys try to shoot Snowy, but he always gets away, and usually shows up just in time to chew the ropes used to tie Tintin's hands together in captivity. Professor Calculus is a brilliant inventor who is very hard of hearing, so he often misunderstands what everyone is saying. Captain Haddock is a sailor with a strong temper and an even stronger taste for whiskey.
Apparently the Tintin books have been criticized for negative portrayals of some ethnic groups, but the books we've read so far have not been egregious - in fact Tintin makes fun of Europeans who stereotype the Chinese in The Blue Lotus. So if you don't mind exposing your children to violence, criminality, and jokes about alcohol dependency, your family might enjoy the Tintin books too.

I'm back! And I've been reading!

Where have I been, you ask? During my year-long blog hiatus, I have bought a house, sold a house, moved to another state, and I think I have just finished filling out the last of about 200 pages of forms for the kids' new school.
Now, however, I will have loads of time to write my blog. When the wee ones return to school, I will have hours and hours of nothing to do. Well, nothing but unpacking and putting away the 50 boxes of junk that fill two rooms of our new house. And buying or sewing window treatments for 22 windows. And reading!
There has, of course, been some reading over the last year. The book that has really stuck in my mind is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It's a book about a German girl growing up during World War II. Her parents are taken away because they are Communists, and she is taken in by a foster family. The husband is kind and patient; the wife is a foul-mouthed shrew who takes a long time to show the better sides of her personality.
I liked the book in part because it shows a less commonly portrayed view of the war and the Holocaust - ordinary German kids who have nothing against the jews, but who hate the Hitler Youth mostly because the teenage leaders are such jerks. The book also has an unusual style, including occasional illustrations. The narrator of the story is Death. He's pretty weary from all the extra work Hitler is creating for him, so he seems pleased to be distracted by this young girl and her story. At first I didn't like the style of the writing, but I kept reading and was pulled into the story. Somehow the narration by Death ended up working for me.
After I finished the book, I discovered that it was marketed as a young adult book. Although the main character grows from child to teenager during the story, I didn't think of it as a juvenile book when I was reading it. Any adult who likes a good story with interesting characters and relationships might enjoy this book. And although many sad things happen in the book, I didn't feel depressed when I finished it. That Death guy tells a good story.