Monday, August 31, 2009

I Love Minutiae!

It's not even 11:00am yet, and it's already been a busy "day off." The way my schedule panned out this semester, I have all day on Mondays to relax and have some Andi-time, though usually the day is stuffed with paper grading and other preparations for the week's classes.

Today is no exception. Chuck woke up feeling icky, so I popped out of bed to take Rocketgirl to school at 8:20. I came home, actually had the solidity of stomach to make breakfast, and sat around watching old episodes of John & Kate Plus 8 until I realized that Rocketboy had no lunch money with him today. I threw on something presentable to wear, rushed his money to his school, and now I'm back, listening to Chuck snore, and generally being lazy until I start grading online class stuff shortly. And I was determined to blog! As I am determined to become a regular, near-daily blogger again! I shall overcome!

Now that you know about the minutiae of my day, how about the real point of this post?

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I started reading Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth on a whim. It's not in line with my Reading in Order Challenge whatsoever, but this book has been staring at me from my bedroom bookshelves for months. Every time I walk by, it looks loud with its yellow cover and I yearn to pick it up. So I did.

If you're not familiar with the story, here's how the blurb puts it:

"...presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century."

What a blurb, right? For all this high-flown language and talk of classicness and revolution and sweeping epic awesomeness (which is all true), I love the story for the teeny tiny details. A story from my childhood, if you will indulge me:

When I was in 6th grade, my reading teacher, Mrs. Johnson, informed us that we would be reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods together as a class. Having had no prior interest in the plight of the pioneers, I was less than excited to pick up the book. However, a magical thing happened: I LOVED IT. Specifically, I loved reading about the minutiae of everyday life during Wilder's time. The smoking and curing of meats, maple sugar poured over fresh snow to make candy, the making and mending of clothing. I was absolutely enthralled by it all--by a life so very different from my own.

Over the years, this fascination with lifestyles alien and removed from my own has only grown. I loved PBS's "Pioneer House" series for much the same reason, and I'm always delighted to find a book that tickles my interest the same way that early reading of Little House in the Big Woods did.

As I'm reading The Good Earth I'm delighted by Wang Lung and O-lan's cunning and craftiness. They work the fields, they stockpile food to sell in the winter months, they make their own clothing, cook meager food, and care for the idols in a local temple. It's all just so cool!

My question for you all, dear readers: what books have you found delightful for their details of everyday life in different cultures or time periods? I definitely need to add some more titles to my wishlist.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Raising Baby Green


Today we loaded up Rocketboy and Rocketgirl and drove out to my mom's house to visit for the afternoon. As one might expect of a first time grandmother, she's been stockpiling baby stuff. She found a nice highchair, playpen, and stroller at garage sales this weekend, and she's already purchased some onesies, blankets, wrist rattles, and other goodies.
My favorite of all her baby nuggets is a grey onesie that says "Green Baby" and has a recycle sign underneath! So cute.
Oh, and I should probably mention my OTHER favorite baby thing: a set of reusable/flushable diaper hybrids from gDiapers.
With all these earth-friendly baby things in mind, of course I picked up Raising Baby Green, by Dr. Alan Greene, M.D. For the most part this book was a repeat for me. I've been reading about the green movement and how to be greener for years, so most of the tips on household cleaning (use vinegar, baking soda, and borax) to utility delight (CFL bulbs, turn up the thermostat, turn down the water heater) have been done.
When it came to actual baby stuff, though, this book was full of great tips. I was especially interested to read about the hybrid diapers I mentioned above which consist of a reusable cloth pant (lined with a light plastic) that hold flushable/compostable/biodegradable inserts. The book is full of earth friendly tips and links to websites where you can affordably purchase great products whether it's diapers, bath and hygiene products, or organic cotton clothing and bedding.
I zipped through the book pretty quickly, and ultimately I found the appendix and resource material at the end even more helpful than the reading. All those cool resources in one place made me "squeee!"
If you're interested in making your household a little greener and baby friendly, definitely give this one a go, though you may find yourself skimming sizable portions if you're already greening up your life.
General Update:
If it's a girl, I'm campaigning for the name Addison and would like to call her Addie. How cuuute is THAT?!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Avalon High Coronation: Hunter's Moon


I woke up feeling less pukey than I have for the last week, and of course I took the opportunity to read. I finished off another pregnancy book, Raising Baby Green (review forthcoming), and I started Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth for kicks.
Chuck had some work errands to do today, so I threw on some comfy clothes, put my hair in a bun, and as I was sitting and waiting for him, I happened to see a copy of Meg Cabot's Avalon High Coronation: Hunter's Moon. It arrived from the publisher last week, and like most new review offerings, it landed on the fireplace and was patiently waiting for me to find a place for it on my sagging shelves.
The premise is interesting enough: it's a manga-style comic book penned by Meg Cabot and illustrated by Jinky Coronado. The main players are Ellie and Will, and Will just happens to be the reincarnated King Arthur. The only trouble with that is that Will doesn't believe he's Arthur, and if he doesn't believe it by 10:00pm on the night of the homecoming dance, the world will be plunged into another Dark Ages.
All the usual characters abound: a Merlin-like teacher named Mr. Morton, Will's evil brother Marco, and Marco's equally evil girlfriend Morgan LeFay. Will's girlfriend's name is Ellie, and she's in cahoots with Mr. Morton to try to convince Will of his destiny before time runs out.
Overall is a "cute" book. I definitely like it for the potential it has in exposing teens to Arthurian legend. Once all is said and done, Arthurian legend is far more romantic and entertaining, as I thought Hunter's Moon fell flat at the end--pretty anticlimactic. Admittedly, this is the third installment of Avalon High Coronation, so I expected it to be pretty action packed, but it really wasn't.
Aside from the "cute" but sort of flat story, I was really pleased with the pictures. I've always liked manga for the dynamic illustrations, though I have yet to find a storyline that really captivates me. The same holds true for this book, but I suspect the new 13-year-old girl (Rocketgirl) in my house might find it dreamy if she sat down long enough to read it.
All in all, it was just an "OK" book, but it was delightful to whip through something so quickly and effortlessly. Hopefully I'll have the same good luck with The Good Earth!

Friday, August 28, 2009

All Day Sickness, Anyone?

I wasn't even expecting this absence, but it seems I've moved into the "Oh my God, I'm tired," and "Oh my God, I think I might throw up," phases of pregnancy. I was doing great up until the beginning of this week when suddenly food smells horrible (unless it's an Ice Pop or a Sprite) and I can sleep effortlessly for 13 hours at a time.

I went to Chuck's college with him yesterday to pick up a couple of textbooks and then go run some errands while he was in class. The moment the sliding doors opened, I stepped into the Student Union and encountered the most gawd-awful smell in existence. I grimaced, covered my face, and exclaimed: "What the HELL could that be?" Turns out it was the Subway sandwich shop upstairs. I don't think I'll have a cheesesteak from there any time soon, thankyouverymuch!

Luckily, the morning sickness has been rather fruitless. I feel like I'm going to hurl 24/7, but I have yet to actually succumb to the feeling. The sleeping makes Chuck happy because I can't complain at him for sleeping late when I'm snoring away right next to him.

Sprites drunk: 897
Naps taken: 4,000
Books read: 0

Hmmphf!

Back soon with an essay review of "How I Lost the Junior Miss Pageant."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thank you SOOO muchly!


Whoa! So, let me preface this by saying: it still amazes me that you all read and comment on this blog. Especially during the last year or so, I feel like more than a bit of a slacker as so much overwhelming stuff has happened in my life. It's thrown me off kilter at times.
That said, some crazy, sweet, wonderful soul nominated me for a Book Blogger Appreciation Week award: Best General Review Blog! I'm totally shocked and totally thrilled and totally mouth-dropped-open-on-the-floor. And I can't thank you enough. Just when I feel in the bloggy doldrums you all are kind enough to point out that I'm doing OK in spite of everything. That certainly means the world award or no award.
I hope you know that I appreciate every one of you.

Personally: The Sassy-Lonely Post


It is SO WRONG that I haven't seen my other? better? half in well over a week--since I found out I'm preggers. Ladies, if you ever suspect you're pregnant and your man-person is headed out of town for 11 or 12 days, take the test BEFORE he goes.
In short, Chuck and the kiddos will be back in town in approximately two days of cross-country driving, and I CAN'T WAIT. It's ridonkulous how much one can miss loud, obnoxious New Yorkers. And this is coming from a Texan! Who knew?
He gets a little testy when I post pics of him without clearing them with his "do I look OK" meter, but ya know what??
You're 2,000 miles away, sucker! Should've stayed home. :D
Thank you, bloggy peeps, for keeping me company for the last bunch of days!
As of today, all of my (oodles of) online classes have kicked back in, and I foresee a busy semester. I'm teaching developmental courses, freshman writing courses, and one university course in Children's Literature. Talk about a mixed bag!
In the meantime, watch for a short story review of one of the comics included in The Best American Comics, 2006. "Onion Jack" cracked me up!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Sunday Salon - First One Down!


Since Chuck and the kids are out of town for another week, I decided to take a break and head out to my mom's house for a four day weekend of relaxation and hilarity. Whenever we get together there's much laughing, good food, and lots of Nintendo DS playing. With no distractions to contend with, I zipped through the remainder of my first pregnancy guide: The Joy of Pregnancy, by Tori Kropp, R.N.
If you're wondering how I picked this one, it was a very scientific process. I went to the library and it was one of the few books that was checked in. I was afraid, given the title, that it'd be really hokey and sugary ridiculous, but surprisingly, I found it very informative and pretty straightforward.
Kropp is a labor and delivery nurse, so she says she wrote the book because she saw a lot of women coming into the delivery room so overwhelmed by info that they couldn't make heads or tails of what they'd learned. As a first-time mama this was a great book for me because I never felt as if Kropp was blowing sunshine up my ass, and I learned a lot.
Do I think experienced moms would learn as much as I did??? Probably not.
Overall, this book was comforting and reassuring without being New Agey or particularly sugar-sweet. I learned medical stuff, practical stuff, all kinds of stuff. It's laid out month-by-month and addresses the baby's stages of development, how the mother is probably feeling at the given stage, and there's a section just for the dads at the end of every chapter.
I can see buying a copy of this book to keep around for month-by-month reference for sure. I also plan to check What to Expect When You're Expecting out from the library (if it EVER comes back in) to compare. It seems to be a love it or hate it kind of title, and so far I feel pretty comfortable with Kropp.
To read an excerpt of the book or Kropp's blog, check out her website.
In related book news, I'm reading Raising Baby Green at the moment, and I'm not learning as much as I'd hoped. I guess it's my own fault since I read about the green movement all the time. Info gets recycled (ha!) after a book or two. I'll keep y'all posted and let you know if it improves. Don't get me wrong, it's good advice for those who are new to the green movement, but if you've been involved for a while it's stuff you probably already know.
I also bought a copy of The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy based on your recommendations. I read a little bit of it in the store, and if nothing else, it's HILARIOUS. We'll see how it stacks up to more practical guides like The Joy of Pregnancy.
On the unrelated-to-babies front, I saw Julie and Julia yesterday and thought it was de-lightful! I'll follow up with a movie review shortly. For now, I'm off to get horizontal for a quick nap. Y'all behave!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pardon Me While I Lose My Focus

So I expect this blog will take a sharp turn from books to babies for a bit, and I hope none of my lovely readers will be surprised or particularly peeved by it. I'm one of those women that never really knew if I'd have children at all, and now that I'm faced with the answer to that question, I'M SO EXCITED!

A couple of stories:

Some of you asked how Chuck took the news hearing this revelation over the phone. It went a little something like this:

Chuck (in a sleepy voice): Hellllowlkegfh....

Andi: Are you awake?

Chuck (still a sleepy voice): Mmhmm.

Andi: Are you sure? Because I need to talk to you about something important. Are you going to remember this later?

Chuck (a little more lucid): Yeah, I'm good. What's going on? You OK?

Andi: Remember how you said that it's not normal to crave sushi and pizza at the same time? And that I'd probably find out we're pregnant while you're gone?

Chuck: Yeah....

Andi: Uh huh!

Chuck: OH MY GOD!

That's definitely the fastest I've ever been able to wake the man up. He had driven halfway to New York the night before I made this call, and he and Rocketboy didn't even get to lie down until almost 6am. I thought he perked up rather well for five hours sleep!

In other news, I've been really nervous about my mom's potential reaction to this situation. After all, this is the woman who told me--when I was about 16 years old--to think of her whenever I decided to have sex because she was not babysitting. It kept me virginal for YEARS afterward.

Anyway, she and I are best buddies, so I couldn't NOT tell her immediately. I called her and broke the news, and while she said she wasn't disappointed or weirded out, I didn't actually believe it until tonight. We had a long talk about savings accounts and cloth diapers, baby themes and baby names. Oh, and of course what she wants the baby to call her. We're leaning toward "Noonoo" or "Nanny" to be pronounced Nawny...like tawny, sort of. While I haven't written about her here as much as some of my other relatives (grandparents), she's the center of my life in everything I do. She was an amazing, strong, intelligent, wonderful single mom, and if it's not too bold of me to say...I think she did a rock-awesome job raising me. When I looked at a due date chart it appears that I'm due right around April 16th or 17th. April 17th is my mom's birthday. I cried. Alligator sloppy tears.

To top it off, I mentioned in my previous post that the baby's middle name--no matter if it's a boy or girl--will be Eris. It's my mom's middle name, and it was my grandfather's first name. He and my mom and I were always partners in crime. It's very important to me that this middle name, while certainly odd, is a tribute to them.

Oddly enough, when my mom called tonight, and I looked at the caller ID, there was something different about the display. We kept my grandparents' old telephone number after they passed away in 2002, and we had it switched into my mom's name. The display is always my mom's name. It's been my mom's name for seven years.

Tonight, inexplicably, the caller ID displayed not my mom's name, but my grandfather's.

I miss him and my grandmother especially right now. I don't know why the caller ID suddenly changed over, or how that could possibly happen, but it made me a little teary and gave me great comfort to think that they're watching and they approve. I'm getting all teary again just thinking about it.

More baby randomness to come, for sure, but I'll let you all sleep for now. I think I'll do the same.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Biggest Announcement Here...Like EVER!


Chuck is in New York for a week and a half, so what better time to take a pregnancy test here in Dallas and find out it's positive?! Yeah, our timing is awesome.

Obviously this pregnancy thing is VERY NEW, but I'm not even remotely superstitious, so I'm shouting it from the rooftops in hopes that nothing happens and I'm not hugely heartbroken.

As of now we're all really excited and more than a little bit dazed, and I'm ready to start shopping for awesome book-themed baby stuff if such wonderments exist at all.

By my calculations, our monkey will be here in April or May, and I don't know if we'll find out the sex or not. I do know, our monkey's middle name will be Eris, an odd family name on my side and a heads up to both my mom and my grandfather--two of the MOST important people in my life ever.

Note: I've changed the original due date typo from August (gah!) to April or May. Let's hope my child is more adept at math than Mom-the-english-professor. Hmmphf!

Excitement all around! If you know any good pregnancy books, let me know! I've already checked out Raising Baby Green and some others to be reported on soon.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan


I've raved about him before, and I'll rave about him again. Shaun Tan is one of the most innovative illustrator/storytellers in the galaxy. In a boldfaced step outside my Reading In Order vow, I picked up Tales from Outer Suburbia for a quick, involving read. I sorta felt a slump coming on, and I thought this title might bust it. So far, so good! I read this collection of illustrated short stories in about an hour, and it was just what I needed.

I loved The Arrival and realized right away that Shaun Tan has an astounding ability to tell a story with images, and I found this collection of short stories enhanced by his spare words. Each tale was unique, and I was intrigued to find some of them quite political, and most of them terribly touching despite their brevity.

In "Grandpa's Story," an unnamed grandpa tells his grandkids about his marriage to their grandmother. He claims that marriages are far too easy these days, and that when he decided to wed, he and his bride went on a wild goose chase to earn their rings. They traveled through teeming cities filled with "no vacancy" signs, ran from man-eating televisions, and ended up in tears, barking horrible words at each other. Through the whole ordeal, they grew closer, and at the moment when they overcome their resistance to teamwork and truly join their efforts, that's when they find their rings and are able to return to Outer Suburbia for their wedding ceremony. Note: the illustration below is one from "Grandpa's Story."

Outer Suburbia is an odd place all around, and it's as much a character in the book as the more traditional people and animals in each tale.

In another story, "Alert but Not Alarmed," the residents of Outer Suburbia begin to have missiles delivered to their homes by the government. At first they take their charges very seriously. A missile sticks up out of every single backyard in the neighborhood. Eventually, though, the residents begin to realize that they may never use their missiles, and they begin to remove the innards and convert them into more beautiful, helpful items: potting sheds, doghouses, and club houses for the neighborhood children. Eventually they abandon the dull grey paint the government provides, and they paint their missiles bright, cheery colors.

The story is only two pages long, but it's really beautiful, and it speaks to our concerns about the state of the world during war, and our tendency to become desensitized to dangers that can seem so imminent in the beginning.

Everything I say about Shaun Tan seems to sound overdone or trite, but it's all true! If you haven't tried his work, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It's really quite amazing what he can accomplish through images, and Tales from Outer Suburbia is a testament to his words as well.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Briar Rose by Jane Yolen



Finished!!! My first official book for my Reading In Order Challenge. If you recall, I tried to read Yevgeny Zamyatin's We a while back, and somehow I managed to lose it. I'm sure it'll show up one day, but for now it's probably under the bed or buried in my car. I decided to move on to the next author in my pile: Jane Yolen.

Briar Rose is part of Terri Windling's larger fairy tale series, and Yolen's offering may be the most recognizable of those novels by various authors. I like this book overall because it's a new interpretation of "Sleeping Beauty" that I've never read before. Never have I seen any fairy tale retellings that situate the characters amidst the Holocaust, but if you happen to have read others, please let me know!

We'll start with the good stuff:

  • An interesting new take on an old tale.
  • Yolen seems to have done a great deal of research into a little known, or little talked about, extermination camp in Chelmno.
  • Her main character, Becca, was likeable if a little "goody goody" for my taste.

The not-so-good stuff:

  • This book seemed very dated. While it's a very universal story, I thought Yolen could've handled some bits much better.
  • This book suffers from a case of weird marketing. I've always seen it marketed at young adults, but it reads very much like a novel for adults.
  • While it was an emotional story, I didn't think the emotion came across in the writing so well. It seemed dull at times when it should've shined.

I wish I could say more about this one, but I took entirely too long reading it. I set it aside, picked it back up, set it aside some more, and finally took the time to finish it over the last couple of days. While it was a worthwhile read, and I would say it was good, it didn't blow my socks off. I know I'm probably in the minority in not absolutely loving it, but alas, sometimes that's the case.

The next book in my Reading in Order stack is Richard Wright's Native Son. It's a big one, so it might take me a while, but I've wanted to read it for years, so we'll see how it goes!