Friday, September 13, 2013

For the Record: August 2013

This has definitely been a slump year for reading!  With an (almost) 13 year-old girl in the house, and a huge house project to manage (never mind homeschooling and keeping up with my traveling hubby) there have been many things that have fallen by the wayside.  Still, I'm enjoying what I've been reading (for the most part) and that's the main thing!

6 Books Read in August: (58 year-to-date)

1 read aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - Gib and the Gray Ghost, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (3) [Repetitive sentence structure and stereotypical characters, but the barn and the horses made up for that...for my daughter at least.  Not very fun to read aloud, but whatever.]

2 AudioBooks:
  - State of Wonder, Anne Patchett (4) [For some reason I though Patchett would be heavily poetic, so I dreaded reading it.  Of course, I was wrong.  I had some minor irritations with the book (mostly the unsatisfying ending) but overall it was good, solid, contemporary fiction.]
  - The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman (2) [If I hadn't spent money on it, I wouldn't have finished it.  The characters, plot, pacing, and writing were all terribly done - and the narrator didn't help much either.  The birth scenes, of which there were many, were vividly described (not sure if that's a good thing - it was a little much even for me, and I love birth stories) but quite disconnected from the rest of the book and were rushed and overly dramatic. Plus, it was written in present tense.  And, I'm pretty sure they didn't say things like "That pisses me off" in the 1930s (a quick search shows it dates from 1946). Cheeseball.]

1 from my Shelf:
  - Mudbound, Hillary Jordan (4.5) [This is another book I avoided reading because I thought it would be too heavily poetic.  I was, again, wrong.  I really enjoyed it and thought it was quite well done - no wonder people were excited when her newer book, When She Woke, was released.]

2 'Group' reads:
  - Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Lorrie Moore (4) [Read for Book Club]  There were some technical issues - time/location changes were confusing etc. - but for the most part I found this small book unique and enjoyable.  Great for those introspective readers that love a character study.
  - Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann (4) [Read with my husband, the pilot] A memoir written in 1961 about the crazy early days of commercial aviation.  Each chapter read more like a short story, so it took me a little while to get through, but the writing was engaging and the the stories were fascinating.


3 Current Reads:
  - Les Miserables, Victor Hugo.  I actually haven't read this in a while, but am hoping to finish it during my trip later this month.
  - Possession, A.S. Byatt.  My current audio book.  I enjoyed the movie years back, but found the book hard to get into.  It is better via audio, but still might take me a while.
  - Heat Lightning, Helen Hull.  With the start of school making everything crazy, I've only managed to read a page here and there, but should finish soon anyhow.  I have a copy from 1932, which makes it all the better.  Vintage fiction is where it's at - love it!


On My Nightstand:
I don't think I've picked up a new book in I'm not even sure what will come next, but these are what are actually (literally) on my nightstand.  They are all pretty slim, which is probably what I need right about now.

  - The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.
  - The Touchstone, Edith Wharton


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For the Record: July 2013

Well okay, so if you saw my last post then you understand why I'm barely posting about July.  :)  With much time in airplanes, I did have some better reading time than I did in June.

The standout this month was Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb.  This was actually a birthday gift from my dad (thanks dad!) based on a mutual admiration for Ken Burns' documentary: The Dust Bowl.  It is immediately apparent that this book was written out of a deep familiarity with the people, and I loved it for that.  The ending was abrupt, but that's a small complaint in light of the wonderful writing and complex characters.  If you have interest in the Dust Bowl, I high recommend this book.

8 Books Read in July: (52 year-to-date)

 1 for Book Club:
  - The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy (4) A memoir I enjoyed! Fancy that!  Of course, it has to do with education in the late '60s, so that might be part of it, but the writing was organized and enjoyable also.

2 Classics:
  - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (3.5) I'm not sure how I escaped high school without reading this, but I've finally rectified the situation.  The journalistic/hyper-poetic combo didn't engage me much (the author seemed like an outsider looking in, as opposed to Babb's book below) and the ending?! Um, okay.
  - Whose Names are Unknown, Sanora Babb (4.5) Technically not a classic, as it was only recently published, but it was slated for release in 1939 (when The Grapes of Wrath stole its thunder) and therefore I think it counts.  Reading the two together provided great contrast, and I found this one to be much more personal with much more realistic characters.  There are some similarities in storyline, though these characters are displaced because of the dust rather than the economy alone.

1  Nonfiction:
  - Flapper, Joshua Zeitz (4) This was a nice, engaging social history of the era that has been captivating me recently.  After reading Last Call (political history) and The Worst Hard Time (physical history), not to mention numerous works of fiction, I feel this rounded out my view of the times.

2 Impulse Reads:
  - Mary Coin, Marisa Silver (3.5) A fiction book set in the 30s Dust Bowl - it was good and interesting, but sort of reading "lite" without greatly developed characters.
  - Bobcat and Other Stories, Rebecca Lee (3.5) Sent along with my Indiespensable package...good writing, entertaining stories, ultimately a hopeless feeling pervaded the collection, though, making it not quite as good in my opinion.

2 from my Shelf:
  - Coraline, Neil Gaiman (4) Such a good little read!  I thought the movie was scary, but this was more magical and creative.
  - A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (4) What? I barely read this?  Yeah.  I'm afraid it suffered major delay due to massive hype.  It was quite good - the story was good enough to make up for somewhat average writing quality.


I'm skipping the "Current" section of this month's post since I'm so behind schedule, but I'm hoping to post about August soon and will include it there!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Craziest Summer Ever

This summer was supposed to be simple: one big European vacation with the kiddos to check that off the list, and then weeks and weeks of relaxation.  However, the summer went (as summers will) different than planned, and I have to say that I'm glad to be moving on—even though much of it was quite fun.

After school got out in mid-June, we had a week to make all final preparations for taking our four children on a European vacation involving planes, trains, and cruise ships.  The plan, actually, was to go with my brother-in-law, his wife, and their 16 year old son, but a fall from a bicycle landed Drew in the ICU, so they were unable to come after all. (Months later, after multiple major surgeries and tons and tons of prayer, he is back to [mostly] normal life.  It's such a treat to see him walk in my door again!)  It was hard to go without them, but couldn't get a refund so we went anyhow.

The day before we were scheduled to fly out of LA, our water heater collapsed and dumped its entire contents into our garage.  We are renting a house while we rebuild our home, so my garage wasn't as nearly well organized as it typically would be...which meant that the box of old photos I hadn't been able to find was—of course—right next to the water heater underneath everything else.  We were able to salvage most of them, thank goodness, but it was the really old ones that were damaged most.  We had thousands of dollars of damage (area rugs, photo albums, games/puzzles, office supplies etc) and a mildew laden garage to clean up upon returning from our trip.  What a way to start off the summer.

We flew into Paris, and spent three days eating crepes and visiting all the sites. My youngest, Audrey (9), most loved the Louvre, with the displays of all the things she had learned about in school this year: ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  Melinda (12) adored the Eiffel Tower, Andrew (14) liked the Arc de Triomphe, and Timothy (17) liked the crazy driving and interesting cars.

Audrey makes a serious face to match the immensity of
the display she's standing by.

Yep, it's for real!
Striking a pose outside of Versailles.

After Paris, we took a train to Barcelona (from where our cruise would be departing) and spent a few days shopping, basking in the sun, touring Gaudi's architecture, and eating the marvelous, delicious food.  I really wanted to bring an Iberican ham back with me.  Oh yum.  And the music!  I want to go back.

Gaudi created some beautiful, amazing structures!

Then we got on the gigantic cruise ship (Norwegian Epic) with stops in Sorrento/Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Marseille, and Palma, and tons of things to do on board besides.

Timothy and me in the ice bar on the ship - chilly!

Back home again: complete and utter exhaustion waiting for cab at LAX
to take us back home - the trip home took about 22 hours.
So then, back home again and we should be looking at weeks and weeks of relaxation, right?  Except that a few days after we returned, the kids joined grandma (Chris' mom) at a beach house, which then involved a lot of driving through SoCal freeways - definitely not relaxing.  While the kids were at the beach house, Chris and I took a trip up to Oregon for a  business meeting, taking the opportunity to reconnect with some friends we hadn't seen in years.  (Chris is a private pilot, so we flew up there - decidedly more enjoyable than driving.)

Europe, beach house, Oregon, and then right back into the plane (with everyone) to take Chris' mom (et al) to New Mexico, and from there the rest of us proceeded to Lake Tahoe (still aiming for miles of relaxation).  Even though travel can be exhausting in general, we got to see so many things we'd never seen that it made up for it.  Scottsdale AZ (nice, but HOT), Roswell NM (didn't see any aliens), Flagstaff AZ (beautiful alpine area), the Grand Canyon (so grand! and beautiful!), and then my real home: Tahoe.

A tiny portion of the Grand Canyon.

Of course, once we got to Tahoe, there were other things happening too.  My parents came up and camped at nearby Fallen Leaf Lake.  Audrey joined them for the entire time, the rest of us joined them during the day.  I had goals at our house there in Tahoe, so I kept busy (cleaning out the garage, under the house, and under the deck, as well as painting the girls' bedroom).  We had meant to stay in Tahoe for 2 weeks, but I desperately needed to see my chiropractor, so we stayed a week, came back to Long Beach for a week, and then went back up for another week...with a brief trip up to Portland, Oregon added into the mix. More travel = more exhaustion, but not enough to make me stay away from Tahoe!

Camping necessarily involves hot dogs and chips, which
means that it is quite difficult to take photos of people
when they aren't eating.  Oh well.

Fallen Leaf Lake - so calming and beautiful.

So, Europe, beach house, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Tahoe, Long Beach, Tahoe, Oregon, Tahoe, Long Beach.  By this time I've completed multiple knitting projects, but summer isn't over yet.  We cram in a bunch of architect/contractor/house design meetings, and then set off for one final trip (well, more like "final" because it never seems to end) to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law while they are still in California (they are moving to Qatar - from Korea - for a new teaching job, and visiting here in the meantime).  So we flew up to Northern California to pick them up, and then over to Park City, Utah for a quick stay. The next day we did an aerial tour of Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon before landing back in Long Beach.  Then, of course, back up north to drop them off.  Bryce Canyon was so impressive - all of Utah, actually, was incredibly beautiful in so many different ways.

Melinda reluctantly agrees to model my completed sweater.

Architect and contractor discuss the best way to hide
some steel plates that intrude on the corners of the gable windows.

Heber Valley/Park City Utah

A branch of the Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon

I've begged off a couple of subsequent trips that my husband has taken to Vegas etc. - I have too much work preparing for school (I'm homeschooling two of my four again this year) and cramming in house design meetings before school starts.  Our house project is finally picking up speed a little bit, so it's time for me to make some final decisions and start purchasing materials.  I'm typically the slowest decision maker ever, but I'm thinking that this building project is helping me get better at it!  The house has nine bathrooms.  9.  NINE.  (I get faint every time I think about the cleaning involved.) and that's a whole lot of design decisions before we ever start talking about anything else.

Anyhow, though summer may be over, the craziness isn't.  School, house design, a birthday trip to Napa, and another big trip in a month all leave little time for blogging.  (obviously.)  I am still updating my GoodReads, though, so if you are there, please look me up (Melody Spano).  I'm looking forward to life returning to normal, but am thinking that won't happen until our house project is done.  Even then, "normal" is pretty busy, isn't it?