Friday, May 17, 2013

a road trip!

I suppose "road trip" is a bit of an understatement for the upcoming vacation.  My sister and I are headed to Europe for a few weeks.  We're going to visit family, bike and hike through the Moselle Valley in Germany, eat chocolate in Belgium, soak up some art in the Netherlands and stop off in the tiny but Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

There will be some radio silence in this neck of the woods until I get back but I promise a thorough travelogue and the unveiling of the great announcement (relatively soon!)

But I thought I'd leave you with a little musical flashback.  This song came on my playlist this morning and while it doesn't really have anything to do with anything I found myself singing along with the refrain "I'll carry on regardless" in sort of a 'stick it to the man' kind of anthem revolting against all the things that keep piling themselves onto my to do list.  They're nothing too crazy and will all lead to great things but there are seriously like a million of them! Not to mention all the things I still have to do to get ready for this trip. Aaaahh! Sometimes it's all a bit overwhelming!

So, your assignment for the weekend is to 'carry on regardless' and I'll see you all on the other side of May!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

a good book.

It's been way too long since I did a book review (or any real consistent blogging.) I have some big announcements coming up as I've already hinted to but I'm still not quite in a position to say anything public just yet. But that's my excuse. Despite the nutsiness of life I have been doing a bit of reading (though not nearly as much I'd like!) Here are a few of my recent favorites.

Benjamin Bear in Bright Ideas!

Author: Philippe Courdray
Pages: 32
Age Range: 7-12
Published: 2013
Genre: Graphic Novel
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG

Fans of Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking, rejoice! The bear is back with more hilarious situations and not-so-obvious solutions to the scrapes he finds himself in. Whether he’s crossing rivers, herding sheep, trying to rid himself of fleas, or catching squirrels Benjamin’s unique way of doing things is sure to bring a smile to the face of the reader. Each paneled story takes just one page to play out and relies on the perfect blend of visual cues and sparse text to deliver the punch lines. The length makes this volume ideal for newly independent readers yet to truly appreciate the jokes requires some higher-level thinking skills, thus a more advanced reader crowd is simultaneously pulled into the audience as well. Bright and richly colored illustrations expertly draw the eye to the pictorial puns and subtle subversive humor. These brilliant cartoons are sure to appeal to readers of all ages. Highly recommended! 

Kid Pickers: How to Turn Junk into Treasure
Author: Mike Wolfe
Pages: 113
Age Range: 9-12
Published: 2013
Genre: Non-fiction
Cover Score: ***
Overall Score: ****
Rating: G

Taking a leap from the small screen to the printed page, History Channel’s American Pickers host, Mike Wolfe, adapts his treasure hunting secrets and obsessions for a young audience of up and coming pickers. Covering such topics as the thrill of the hunt, where to begin and how to develop your own picking style, kids with a beginning interest in picking will have plenty to work with. Wolfe also ties in green trends like repurposing and sustainability, uncovering your own family history, making a profit, and using various resources to discover an item’s story, widening the appeal to those not necessarily looking to dig through endless flea markets and dumps. The orange, black and white palette give it an appropriately vintage feel and the lively layouts sprinkled with photos, real kid-picker profiles, and picking pointers adds to the book’s accessibility. This is a surprisingly versatile resource that would be a fine addition to any library.

Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pages: 356
Age Range: 13 up
Published: 2012
Genre: Fantasy/YA
Cover Score: ****
Overall Score: ****
Rating: PG-13

Orphans Alina and Mal have only each other to rely on growing up and when they go off to fight for the fate of their kingdom together that loyalty is tested beyond anything they could have imagined. On a journey through the dark and dangerous Fold, Alina saves Mal’s life from a deadly vulcra by unleashing an unknown power. Targeted by the Darkling for her newly discovered ability she’s conscripted into the Grisha (the magical elite) and after rigorous training, introduced to court as the hoped-for Sun Summoner who will conquer the darkness of the Fold once and for all. Alina, however, is not used to magic or the intricacies and intrigues of court life and only when it’s nearly too late does she realize that things, and people, aren’t always as they seem. Hand this to fans of Graceling and Daughter of Smoke and Bone or anyone looking for a well-developed magical romance. Dripping with rich atmosphere and fascinating characters, this is a world readers will be loath to leave.

What have you been reading?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

a celebration of moms.

Today is a bittersweet commemoration for many people.  At first glance it seems rather innocuous, a tribute to the one who gave you life.  Where is the trouble in that?  But there are those who don't have a mother worth honoring or who have never known their mothers or many who have had wonderful mothers but have lost them and don't need one more reminder of that loss.

As a single person I've struggled with this day in varying degrees throughout the years and have watched as friends have fought similar feelings of loss, not for things they no longer have but for that which we've never had (yet!) Anyone who has longed for something and worked for something they've been denied will know that those feelings of grief and loss can be, at times, debilitating.

I've always wanted to be a mother.  From the time I was tiny I carried around dolls and planned what I would name all 10 of the kids I was going to have and decorated countless imaginary nurseries.  I've made most of my life decisions based on the off-chance of a potential wedding and future kids on the near horizon, chosen careers where I could interact with children and practice my mothering skills.  But none of that has assuaged the longing in the pit of my gut when i see a glowing pregnant woman shopping in the baby section or hold the newest niece or nephew or even watch an idyllic child centered scene in a movie or read one in a book.  I have shed innumerable tears over the children I have not borne.

In a family-centered church, this has become a touchy subject for many and I know countless people who stay home from services on Mother's Day rather than navigate the potential emotional landmine that exists in those pews. I happen to attend a singles-only congregation where we are extra sensitive to those feelings. There's no call for all the mothers to stand and be recognized and often the messages even purposely avoid the topic of motherhood.  But despite all these precautions it only wallpapers the elephant that is always in the room, on Mother's Day or any day.

None of this is a new topic. Many others have spoken, blogged and expounded on the same subject much more eloquently but I had a great conversation with some friends recently that brought me some interesting clarity and perspective that I hadn't had before.

One band-aid we use to talk about people who mother vs. people who are mothers. Someone can give birth but never do an ounce of mothering while some of the greatest mothers I've ever known have never given birth.  Our conversation took this turn and we started listing synonyms for mothering.  A frequently used one is 'nurturing'.  Nurturing entails nourishing (such as with a seed), protecting, helping to grow and reach one's potential.  In real life that looks like self-sacrifice, active listening, support of all kinds.  Sometimes it's unconditional love, sometimes it's tough love.  And it can manifest itself in any relationship or interaction; family members, co-workers, or even the stranger standing next to you in the grocery line.  We even talked about the importance of learning to nurture ourselves.

Christians frequently talk about being, well, Christian; emulating the attributes embodied by Christ.  To me, this is motherhood encapsulated and opens the door to the idea that even men can nourish, nurture, or 'mother' those around them. With gender lines and roles blurred these days this is one area I actually feel comfortable in adding to the vagueness. It is up to us all to be a little more compassionate and nurturing to those around us--for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle and in our world of constant negativity, cynicism, and gloom, can't we all use a little more kindness?

I'll still have moments of longing and tears, that won't change just because I'm nicer to people or because people are nicer to me.  the hole in my heart will be there until I have a child to fill it (and then I'm sure I'll have new holes, thanks to said child!)  But I think my efforts and new perspective will make that hole just a little bit smaller and a little less dark and vacuous.

But I would be remiss if I didn't honor those in my life who have filled the role of mother and add daily to my desire to be a little more like them.

To all the friends who balance work, kids, husbands, church roles, laundry, groceries, soccer practice, and still find ways to maintain a friendship with me: I am in awe of your patience, longevity, and multi-tasking skills just to name a few.

To the friends, relatives, roommates and co-workers who offer constant support, nurturing and nourishing of all varieties; thank you for the listening ears, the unconditional love, the advice offered, the shoulders I've cried on, the gentle corrections and re-directions.

And of course, my own angel mother who has literally created and nurtured me from the beginning and continues to do so no matter the mistakes I make, the faults I have, no matter how short and hard I constantly fall, she is there to pick me up, re-plant my roots, give me the water and sun I need to begin growing again.  Thank you just isn't enough.  I love you!

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

a random list of faves.

Some things I've been enjoying lately:

Yesterday's Google Doodle honoring movie title designer Saul Bass and featuring music by Dave Brubeck.  Perfect!

The Spock Vs. Spock Audi commercial.  "Technically we're not inside yet."

Playing weekly games of skee ball as a member of a skee ball league.  Yep, such things exist.  Who knew?! It takes me straight back to middle school and I'm loving it (even though we haven't yet won a game.) :) 

A little salad I whipped up for lunch (kale, mango, coconut, craisins, sunflower seeds, green apples, avocados, cucumbers) drizzled with dark chocolate balsamic vinegar.  Yes, it's as magical as it sounds.  It will change your world.  Try dipping strawberries in it or swirling it in your french vanilla bean ice cream.  Mmmm!

This book.  It's lovely and magical and surprising and I'm eating it up.

And trying to wade through this stack of books in my suddenly diminished reading time. *sigh* so many books, so little time!

The azaleas that are in full bloom everywhere you look right now. So vibrant and fabulous especially against a gray and rainy backdrop.

And planning for my upcoming trip to Germany. Life is definitely kicking my butt right now and I'm looking forward to riding the rails up and down the Moselle river valley, doing a little biking through Amsterdam and eating some chocolate in Belgium. The 20th can't come soon enough!

What's been on your plate?

Monday, May 6, 2013

a silly tradition.

One of the items on my bucket list (particularly since right now I'm living in the 'south') is to experience a Civil War reenactment.  Being from Northern Virginia we've got a bit of a different twist on the subject. Depending on who you talk to we're not actually considered the south but all you have to do is drive an hour or so out of the beltway and there's no question about it. But with the Civil War (aka the War Between the States or if you go deep enough south, The War of Northern Aggression) commemorating its sesquicentennial over the next couple of years, I figured this was the perfect opportunity. So,I gathered a few friends and we drove to Spotsylvania to witness the reenactment of the Battle of Chancellorsville.

The only thing I really know about reenactors is what I've seen in movies and on TV, which is highly caricatured; the participants being portrayed as obsessive and ridiculous, often along the lines of ComiCon attendees. Well, that's not far from the truth! Take the conversation I had with General Lee all about the devil incarnate, Abraham Lincoln.  I was also schooled in the thought that the war had nothing really to do with slavery and how our country was no longer a democracy. And this was all after he'd stepped out of character!

There were a lot of informational booths about life during the time period, the people who were involved and how one can support and participate in keeping history alive as well as traditional vendor booths with food and t-shirts and confederate flags galore!

It was great fun to see the troops mustered for battle, the tents and encampments lined up for miles and the variety of beards on display.

The General himself

We also had a chance to march with women advocating temperance, witness the battle itself (well, most of it), eat delicious food and do some terrific people watching.  It was a highly entertaining excursion and if you ever get a chance to attend one, do it!

And since this scene was mentioned at least a dozen times throughout the day (and overheard in the conversations of others at least as many times!) I figured I'd better share it as well.

Start whistlin' 'Dixie' and practice your best rebel yell and I'll meet ya'll at the next battle!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

a made up holiday.

Creating ridiculous reasons to celebrate is a wonderful way to spend one's time.  I love recognizing the likes of Penguin Awareness Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day and of course Pi(e) Day. Whoever came up with today's holiday is both a geek and a punster which is a terrific combination in my book.  So, whatever your sci-fi affiliation, "May the Fourth Be With You!"

I plan to unleash my closet geekiness with a viewing of Spaceballs later this evening. A touch blasphemous perhaps but indicative of just how the story/franchise has infiltrated pop culture right from the beginning. It will be fun to see how it is all revived (did it ever die?) with the new Disney/Lucas pairing and the continued films. Grandparents and grandchildren will be able to share memories of their first experiences with the story while going together to see the latest installment in the theaters. I can't think of another franchise that has had that kind of staying power while continually offering new/original material. (You've got remakes of classics up the wazoo but that's not quite the same.)

Oh, and in addition to tomorrow being Cinco De Mayo it is also "Revenge of the Fifth" in case you missed out on your Star Wars action the first time around.

And if you need any more convincing let's close out with these sage words from everyone's favorite diminutive (and green!) wise man.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

a busy life. *

Sometimes I need to remind myself that having a lot of things to do can actually be a blessing. I yearn for a quiet life, time to reflect and read and breathe and be but most often my life (like everyone else's in this day and age) is so jam packed full of to do list items and necessary evils and the occasional fun adventure that I'm lucky if I have time to sleep. (Oh wait, most of the time I don't!) It's easy to get so caught up in the musts and have tos that we let the shoulds and sometimes even other, but more quiet, needs slip through the cracks. 

This has been the pattern of my life for the last couple of weeks. I'm in the middle of trying to make some huge, life altering decisions but I haven't been able to give them the focus that they've needed because of so many other smaller but more immediate concerns that have been screaming for my attention. How does one find time to ponder the future when the present is so, well, present? Clearly one can't make worthwhile decisions without clean underwear. Laundry must be done.  And try as I might to cut out sleeping and eating in favor of more productive tasks, it simply can't be done. I enjoy food far too much and anything resembling a logical thought process or brain activity shuts down of its own accord after about 12 hours awake (still working on adjusting that...) Many of my own activities get pushed aside in order to accommodate friends who are in town or birthday celebrations or service opportunities or emergencies that arise.

And yet, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and wishing for a few more hours in the day I have come to recognize the irony of my situation and to appreciate that while it's taking me longer than I'd like to get some things done I am blessed beyond measure. Those laundry piles that beckon mean I have clothes to wear (and enough that the laundry only really has to be done every couple of weeks.) There is always food in my fridge and plenty of it and even though I don't have the sleeping thing down I do have a bed, a plethora of pillows, and soft squishy blankets to keep me company in my wakefulness. And a social calendar that is too full? Well, those friends are what keep me going and support me when it all gets to be too much and everything falls apart. They make me laugh, they share my tears, they listen to my endless complaining and commiserate when the occasion calls for it. They introduce me to great books and bands and vacation spots and other friends and enrich my life immeasurably.

I'm still baby stepping my way towards those momentous decisions and changes (I'll share the news when it's all official 'cause I think it's going to be really great!) and a slower paced existence but in the meantime I'm finding contentment in the crazy and eking out whatever tiny bits of sanity and peace I can find.

How've you been?

*read as A Terrible Excuse for Why I've Been so Sporadic at Blogging Lately