Friday, March 28, 2008

paradise


J and I left the kids with their abuelitos in Reynosa and arrived yesterday at the San Jose Cholul hacienda in the state of Yucatan. It's about an hour from Merida.
It is completely tranquil and beautiful. The gardens are so lovely they seem unreal. Everywhere I go I smell something spicy and sweet, a little like cedar, and I hear the calls of about a dozen varieties of tropical birds. Oh dear! How easy it is to become accustomed to the good life! This morning I told J, "Yesterday I had the feeling, when we arrived, that I don't deserve this splendor. Less than 24 hrs later, I feel that not only do I deserve it, but that this is how my life should be."
Here are some photos of the hacienda. I found the iguana yesterday. He made a pretense of shyness but then posed quite regally for his photo shoot.
We are in a "garden villa" with a steeply-pitched thatch roof. The bed is hanging from the rafters. Yes, it makes me a bit motion-sick, but it's so cool I don't care. We have a little wading pool all to ourselves and even a private backyard.
Yesterday afternoon we drove to Izamal, a nearby village that has lots of pyramids. We didn't get to see the pyramids because it was too late. The Mayans are very short people. I don't think I've seen one over 5 ft tall. We passed through one tiny, quiet village and saw an old man who could not have exceeded 3 ft. Their villages are serene because there are hardly any cars. They go everywhere on bicycle and moped. These usually have some rig attached for transporting people and things--I'll have to take a photo because I can't describe it. When we passed through another village it was around 5 pm and there were many men walking or riding bikes at the outskirts of the village. They all had rifles, and I think they must have been hunting, perhaps for birds. Or maybe deer? I saw one here in the hacienda.
This morning I slept in but J got up early for a bike ride. When I got up we went horseback riding. J's only been twice, so he got the fat, lazy Phosphoro. I got the very spirited Gitano, who quieted down a bit once I showed him who's boss. I used to have horses when I was a kid in Maine, but it's been over fifteen years since I've ridden. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy it.
We were going to go to Chichen Itza today but I got up too late. We'll go another day. It's over an hour from here and we want to go early in the morning. It gets pretty hot around midday.
Really, I don't have to go anywhere. I could stay right here on the hacienda and be perfectly content. Maybe for the rest of my life.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

here

We made it to Mexico in time for the reunion. We had planned to leave Friday morning but then heard of a big snowstorm coming in, so we ended up leaving at 5:30 pm on Thursday to be out of the way when it hit Minnesota and Iowa. I'm glad we did it this way because it was the only way to make the reunion, but it was an exhausting drive. We got in Saturday at 1 am. We hadn't slept much what with bailing out the basement.



We are now well rested and well fed. Yesterday we ate gorditas and sushi, border style. Today it was barbacoa tacos (shredded tongue, good but greasy). But what I'm really looking forward to is the Yucatec food. J and I are going down for a few days, leaving the kids here with their abuelitos. Of course I look forward to more than just the food, now that I think about it. I've never been to the Yucatan.



Anyone read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield? Best-selling, modern adult fiction is usually not to my taste, but when I read the blurbs I thought it sounded interesting. It was. Setterfield threw everything in there but the kitchen sink: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, The Woman in White, Turn of the Screw, Wuthering Heights. Very Gothicky. Extremely suspenseful. Doesn't require deep thought, and yet I found myself thinking about it. Will I be thinking of it next week? Probably not. Will I want to read it again? Eh. The writing is pretty good. There are some beautiful turns of phrase--it was interesting to read the author interview at the end of this paperback copy. She describes how her specialty in 20th-century French literature influences her writing. The book was highly entertaining. However, there were some icky parts. I don't know that it had to be so icky. I wonder if it could have been a little less creepy, yet a little more unsettling if the author hadn't included some details. Maybe that way it would have had even more in common with the truly great books it apes. I don't want to give too much away by revealing the ickiness. It doesn't overwhelm the book or anything, but it's there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

i should have married the mexican girl ~j


two-income trap


I'm not loving it. It's a book group read.


What these authors are taking an entire book to say is that the high cost of health care and housing compared to a generation ago is putting the squeeze on middle-income families and this accounts for higher rates of bankruptcy. I have no beef with that. In fact, I think it could make a fascinating article. But an entire book?


A big point the authors make, and thus the title, is that women who are choosing to work primarily to give their families an economic edge are actually not. Two-income families have less disposible income now than the one-income families of the previous generation. Ok, so that's interesting. But then they say things like this: "When mothers joined the workforce, the family gave up something of considerable (although unrecognized) economic value: an extra skilled and dedicated adult, available to pitch in to help save the family during times of emergency." I don't know if I buy that. In our single-income family, if something happened to my husband and he were unable to provide any income to our family for several months, we'd be in deep trouble. Eventually I could find some employment that could help, but it would probably be too little too late. I imagine this would be the case for many, perhaps most, single-income families of the past or present times.


The authors claim that droves of middle-income families over-extend themselves financially to get into a decent school district. They use examples from California. California? How is that representative of our country? I know many families who used to live in California but don't now because, guess why not? They couldn't afford a home in a decent school district. As far as I know, no one is forced to live in California against their will.


Maybe it's the sensational tone of the book that I find most annoying, but I suppose it's what you would expect. How are they going to sell the book if they don't get people all riled up?


So I probably won't finish it. It's pretty depressing.

update

Thank you so much for your prayers and offers of help.

We did not leave this morning because much more water came in last night than even the night before. There is heavy, wet snow in the forecast as well as some very warm days ahead. We are hoping to find a way to divert the water today so that we can leave tomorrow morning and still make the reunion.

The three younger kids were upset this morning about not leaving for Mexico and devastated when they heard they had to go to school on top of it! J told Bernie and Marcus he'd give them some spending money in Mexico if they got ready for school without complaint. Marcus said, "If it's $60, then yes. If it's $50, then yes. If it's $40, then yes," etc. down to $5, at which point he declared it was not worth it. His dad needs to work with him a bit on the art of negotiation.

So, they are off at school and Lidia is diligently working away, looking for sensory description in a Sherlock Holmes short story. I feel quite relaxed this morning because we're pretty much set to go. J comes home at noon and we start working on the water.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

uh oh

We have taken over 60 buckets of water out of our basement this evening. It's only coming through in one little spot. We have lived here four years and this is probably the wettest winter we've had and now all that snow is thawing. We have had some flooding in our basement before, but only because we didn't have a drainpipe connected--the flooding happened during a downpour.

To add to the fun, our toilets are not flushing well and our kitchen sink drains very slowly.

We are supposed to leave for Mexico Thursday morning for a family reunion on Saturday. If you think of it, include us in your prayers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

for amy




A friend from Irish dance dared me to post a photo of myself in Lidia's wig. So here I am, Amy. Now it's your turn.

Go here to see some other members of my family in Lidia's wig, including J!

treble reel



Here's one from today at St. Paul's Landmark Center. These are the most advanced dancers in Lidia's school. I believe this is called the treble reel, but I get confused sometimes with the names. Even the youngest dancers quickly learn what music goes with what dance. If you play an Irish dance song for them, they can tell by the speed if it's a reel, hornpipe, jig, etc.

Friday, March 14, 2008

shamrock reel

wigs, shoes, etc.




In the photo in the previous post, Lidia is wearing hard, or "hornpipe" shoes, while the other girls are wearing soft shoes, also called "ghillies." The hard shoes have a tap on the toe and are used for the hornpipe and other dances, while the soft shoes are used for the graceful slip jig and others.


I think wigs are used to create a uniform appearance in the performers. As weird as you may thing they look in photos, the wigs do look really cool with the bouncing movements of the dances. Wigs are also used for ease and practicality, believe it or not. Some people still may curl hair for competitions (feises), but I think that would be a royal pain. Those competitions start early in the morning. Lidia has a lot of hair and it would take me at least an hour to curl it. And then some girls have hair that is very difficult to curl.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

lidia with the four sisters of perpetual cuteness

tuesday and wednesday

This is what my life has been for the past two days! Lidia's Irish dance school is doing a slew of performances for St. Pat's. We are only going to ten of these, but there are many more than that. (Was it thirty-six, Fauna?) We did two schools and a nursing home yesterday. They did two performances at both schools. Today it was slightly easier with three nursing home performances. The whole "hurry up and wait" routine, as one mom termed it, gets a little tiring. We get everything together, including sock glue (yes, they glue the socks on--and we never found ours so we had to borrow), get the wig on with much wrangling of hair to get it to stay put and look pretty, and then dash off to the venue. Once we get there the parents wait around while Fauna runs through the program with the kids, figuring out who goes where in which dance. There is a different set of kids for every performance. Fauna did an amazing job of putting the schedule together to accommodate all of the children who want to perform. I'm surprised she didn't go nuts. Maybe she really did and we just don't know it yet. If so, she is hiding it well. She arrives everywhere with a big smile, trailing an entourage of be-wigged little girls she has managed to cram into her car. These are the adoring fans. She is always kind and pleasant, though I'm sure she is feeling absolutely exhausted and sick to death of making last-minute changes to the shows based on who makes it there.

So I guess what I'm saying is, if I nearly perished after two days of the St. Pat's tour, what is going to happen to Fauna after one week?

Lidia really enjoyed the performances. She especially loves the new Shamrock reel she does with the girls from her class. I saw it for the first time yesterday and it's beautiful. Sadly, it looks like I didn't get any photos of that one. Maybe Saturday or Monday.




Sunday, March 09, 2008

new york doll

[Edit: spoiler alert--there is a spoiler in the comments, just so you know.]

I'd been wanting to see this for a long time and we finally saw it last night. It's a documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bassist for the proto-punk group "New York Dolls" in the early 70's. The Dolls were becoming hugely popular but then fizzled out when their drug-laden lifestyle kept them from keeping up with performances. The documentary looks at Arthur Kane's new life as convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and his reunion with the group in 2004.


My favorite parts that I'd like to see over and over again: 1) Kane's description of what happened after he read the Book of Mormon. 2) When Kane walks out in one of the outfits he's designed himself for the performance.


Arthur Kane is such a gentle, sweet man. He's very endearing in the film. You've got to see it if you haven't!

Emma


"...Jane Austen can in fact get more drama out of morality than most other writers can get from shipwreck, battle, murder or mayhem--there is balance, there is a serenity which leaves a contentment at the core of the heart similar to that perfect rightness which one experiences when listening to Mozart, there is an epigrammatic style which is mainly joyful though occasionally lethal, and there is a sense of richness and profusion--although the prose is always sternly prose and never remotely poetry--sufficient to last one a lifetime of Austen addiction."

~Robert Blythe in his introduction to Emma


For some reason I thought Emma was one I didn't like quite as much. I just reread it, and I don't know why I ever liked it less than Pride or Prejudice or Persuasion. And actually, this is the fourth time I've read it, so I couldn't have disliked it too terribly. It is the longest of Austen's novels and is said to have a perfect structure. It contains a subtle mystery. Who is Jane Fairfax's lover? Did Mr. Dixon really send her that piano? And who does Emma love, for that matter?


Not long ago someone asked me why I like Jane Austen so much. My first response was, "She makes me laugh!" Her wit is peerless. I love her obnoxious characters like Mrs. Elton in Emma, though I think my all-time favorite Austen ninny is Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. I love those occasional lethal sentences that Austen delivers like no one else can. As Virginia Woolf said of Austen, "Of all the great writers, she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness."


I love Austen's tone and I want it for myself. I want to go through life amused at human foibles, but not in an aloof, contemptuous way--I don't want the satirist's sneer. Austen knows all and reveals all of our faults and inconsistencies, but she always forgives (if you want to consider her for a moment as the merciful goddess of the world she creates in her novels).


Would I want to actually live in Jane Austen's Regency world for a month or even a day? No. I would probably act like Lydia and Kitty at the dance. My conversation would be as scintillating as Harriet Smith's. Instead of marrying Captain Wentworth I surely would have ended up with that cad of a cousin. How embarrassing! And really, who wants to limit life to taking turns 'round the garden, doing needlework, paying and receiving visits, and buying the occasional ribbon?


But I will keep escaping there for little trips as I reread the books.

Friday, March 07, 2008

goings on

Sometimes I pull together my unorganized thoughts into some sort of coherency by writing. This is one of those posts.

I had a conference with Marcus's teacher yesterday. There wasn't much to discuss. I told her that Marcus frequently complains that he never learns any new math at school. Every "new" unit is review for him. I also told her that I'm having a hard time getting Marcus to enjoy reading. He used to and now he doesn't. At the end of our conference she pulled out his recent standardized test scores almost as an afterthought. I was not surprise to see that he was very high in math. However, I was shocked to see his reading score. It was low compared to our other children's former scores. It was low compared to the 2nd grade score of our other former reluctant reader who has since become a voracious reader.

Look, it's not the low score on this one particular test that bothers me. It's a change in Marcus that I have noticed this past year and have discussed several times with J.

Marcus taught himself to read right after he turned four. He didn't even know the alphabet before that. He refused to learn it because he was not interested. He started preschool at a Montessori and suddenly he felt the desire to read. By Christmas of his preschool year he could read independently. He loved to read, loved to be read to. In kindergarten and first grade he could often be found on the internet doing research on reptiles and amphibians, weather, nutrition, geography, or whatever else took his fancy. He would spend large amounts of time with his Smart Globe learning facts about countries. However, for the past six months or so he has stopped being interested in learning. He does participate in our family history study, but doesn't get very jazzed about it like he used to.

I asked his teacher if she's seen this change in him at school. She said that she hadn't really. He's still the one in class who is always thinking ahead, who always has a question that leads to deeper study. He spends most of his free time writing stories. Ok, so that made me feel better. He does a lot of that at home, too. He draws a lot, mostly to illustrate a story he's thinking about. But I have to tell you, these are very silly stories.

I asked Marcus about the nwea test and he said he enjoyed it. He was referring to the math section. I asked him about the reading section and he replied, "The reading was very easy. I could read it all, no problem. But then I had to remember what I'd read and that was hard." I think Marcus probably only remembered what was interesting to him, and what wasn't went completely out of his head. And considering how narrow his interests are right now... well, how many reading selections could have been wii-related?

Marcus's wii time is severely limited. He plays about 40 minutes on Friday after school and then 40 minutes on Saturday, and that's it for the week. J suggests that he be able to earn wii time by reading.

I don't care so much, at this point, that Marcus improve his reading comprehension as measured by standardized tests. What I want is for him to take interest again in gaining knowledge! I want him to get excited about about discovering new things about the world. I plan on reading more with him, both fiction and non-fiction. We are going to take weekly library trips together. (That's something we normally only do in the summer. I make weekly trips to the library during the school year but usually when Marcus is at school.) This is what I've resolved to do so far.

I did reform my other former reluctant reader, but I think this is going to be a taller order. Lidia did not like to read on her own, but she loved to be read to and enjoyed audio books. Marcus does not especially like being read to (which is one reason I haven't done it so much lately) and doesn't like audio books.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

kiki strike: inside the shadow city

I think this is my favorite modern juvenile fiction read since Blackbringer. Lidia couldn't put this one down, and yesterday picked up The Empress's Tomb, the next in this series by Kirsten Miller. She is glued to the book. I've seen a couple reviews that say the second one is even better than the first.


I just finished Kiki Strike this morning. Have you ever read one of your own child's books and wished it had been around for you to read as a child? This book would have been the ultimate vicarious-living read for me when I was 9-12. The setting is glamorous New York City and starts out at a tony school for girls. When I was a kid in rural Maine, that was the stuff dreams were made of. There is a princess (though a mean, nasty one), international intrigue, and a band of delinquent genius ex-Girl Scouts. At the end of each chapter there is a section dedicated to practical advice for the spy girl wanna-be, like "How to Prepare for Adventure," "How to Care for an Injured Colleague," and "How to Foil a Kidnapping." I learned quite a bit! It is evident that the author did loads of research, not only on spying, but also the history of New York City. The author's underground world beneath Manhattan may not be part of the real history of NYC, but it is fascinating and convincing in every detail. This book was so much fun! I look forward with great anticipation to the second and to all of the subsequent books I dearly hope Kirsten Miller will write. Check out her fantastic website. One of the best author websites I've seen.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

bittersweet defined

I went back to that chocolate quiz and retook it and I turned out Chocolate Hazelnut. I don't know why this is bothering me so much, because it must be the dumbest personality quiz I have ever seen. For example, what in Sam Hill is this supposed to mean: "I am very patriotic, but disagree with many issues." How is it possible to disagree with an "issue?"

Here is what I know. When I bite into a piece of chocolate, I want it to bite back. I even love hot chocolate that is very bitter--the super-sweet stuff makes me sick. The reason I love that Black Gold cookie recipe is that I can potentially embitter these cookies even more by adding unsweetened chocolate to the bittersweet.

So what does this say about my personality?

Here is how I would answer those personality questions:

How do you live your life? I divide it between agonizing over whether or not I am doing good and saying "to flipping he-- with it" and doing as I please.

What's your take on politics: I am cynical but fascinated.

Someone has betrayed you. Your reaction? This person is beneath my notice.

A mean bully is walking over your way. Fight or flight? Stay exactly where I am but don't make eye contact. If said bully forces my attention, I turn my contemptuous glare upon him and he is done for.

What kind of jeans do you like? The ones that make my butt look the cutest. Duh!

When something stressful or alarming happens, you... Isn't this a quiz related to chocolate? Out comes the bittersweet.

What are your plans for the future? write young adult fiction

Your opinion on stereotypes and cliques? n/a

You consider yourself successful in life if: I have practiced violin, exercised, and worked on my book all in the same day.

What is your least favorite color? currently, mauve

Describe your personality. The three F's: funny, frank, and friendly (not that I think I'm funny, as in I'm always making people laugh or something. But I think I do have a good sense of humor and appreciate people who make me laugh.)

goings on with lidia, etc.

I looked back at Lidia's birthday post and saw that I only put up a few photos. No updates or anything. I haven't written about the kids as much lately for some reason.



A little over a week ago I went on a quick clothes shopping trip for myself. I have been wearing the same outfit for months, it feels like. I put off this little outing because I knew that if I were going to buy clothes I'd actually wear, I'd need to either lose weight of buy the next size up. So yeah, the reason I've been wearing the same outfit is that I've "grown out" of my other clothes. Horizontally.



Enough of my pathetic battle of the bulge. So I took Lidia along on my shopping trip because I felt bad leaving her at home to do schoolwork alone. Well, guess what? Lidia was a tremendous help! She told me what looked good on me and what didn't. She helped me pick out shoes and jewelry to match a dress. When I asked her, "What looks better, this necklace or this one?" She immediately replied, "I kind of like this one a little better, but that one would look better with the dress." And I could see that she was right.



At the ripe old age of 33 I feel like I'm finally developing my own sense of style and figuring out what looks good on me considering my coloring, body type, etc. But I certainly didn't know this in my early twenties, say nothing about when I was ten years old. Lidia has a gift. I can't say that I never realized this. When Lidia was three and four she used to come up with these fairly outrageous ensembles involving differently-patterned tops and bottoms, layered tops, and scarves. Hair ornaments were also involved. I would laugh to myself, thinking, "Oh, how cute." But then I'd look again and think, "You know, she's kind of working that." And then I'd look again and think, "Gee. That actually looks good."



So I don't think I want to go shopping again without Lidia.



What else is this girl up to besides lending a little fashion sense when needed? Reading. All. the. time. She has been reading two different books this weekend and is almost finished with both. She started Anne of the Island by Lucy Maude Montgomery on Thursday and Kiki Strike: inside the shadow city by Kirsten Miller on Friday. I read about Kiki Strike on HipWriterMama and thought it sounded right up Lidia's alley so we picked it up from the library. Tonight Lidia had this to say about it: "It has a dumb cover and a bad title, but it's a really good book." This is what Booklist says: White-haired, leprechaun-size Kiki Strike is a new student at Atalanta School in New York City when she meets 12-year-old Ananka Fishbein, the narrator of Miller's debut novel. Together they begin a detailed exploration of the Shadow City, the subterranean rooms and streets under New York's subway system, and Kiki recruits a team of other precocious 12-year-olds, whose skills include hacking, chemistry, lock picking, forging, making handmade explosives, and mechanical engineering, to join them. Ananka, the team's urban archaeologist, will supply her family's extensive library and learn everything about rats, the current Shadow City inhabitants. As the girls try to obtain layered maps of New York City's infrastructure, they fear that terrorists with the same goals are putting the city in terrible danger. The peripheral plotline about a nefarious, exiled princess of Pokrovia, who is a fellow Atalanta School student, adds intrigue. First-time author Miller has created a fascinating, convoluted mystery-adventure, which features early-adolescent girls with talents and abilities far beyond their years.



Sounds pretty good and I have dibs on it next. Actually, a sentence from another review of this book reminded me of something long forgotten: But when she wakes up one Saturday morning and finds that the small park across the street has become a sinkhole, her decision to explore it transforms her existence. When I was around 12 there was a deep hole beside the barn on our dairy farm that had been dug for who knows what reason. In the early spring, before it was finally filled in, water rushed through it and came out somewhere down by the river. I used to stand in front of it, mesmerized, thinking, "What if I jumped into that hole? What if I discovered a heretofore undiscovered land underground peopled with all kinds of slimy monsters and good fairy people?" I know that I created some sort of world and even a story line but I remember little of it now.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

happy 13th birthday georgie!




She absolutely did not want me to post a photo of her so I didn't. It would be mean on her birthday. I'll post one tomorrow.
Here are some of Georgie's passions: the Redwall series by Brian Jacques (she has read all eighteen multiple times--she is collecting the 20th anniverary UK editions and got some author-signed copies for her birthday), otters (because of this series), cello, Rubik's cubes (her record for solving a 3x3 is 17 seconds), drawing (she sketched the teapot yesterday), and mathematics (she just took the ACT and did very well on the math and science sections).
When Georgie grows up she wants to do brain research.
We're grateful that Georgie is choosing to develop her talents because we see that her dedication and focus will provide her with wonderful opportunities. However, we are most pleased that she is turning out to be such a great person.
We love you, Georgie!!