Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blessings Abound!

Bountiful Baskets is helping us stay healthy and stocking our fridge and cupboards. Between it and a garden we never have to visit the produce section of the grocery store anymore! It has been a really great blessing for our kids who live on their own as well. Bountiful Baskets is a food coop available to anyone in the valley. They have distribution sites all over in the East and West Valley and soon hope to have distribution in Tucson and Yuma. We contribute a set amount of money and the coop negotiates a fruit and vegetable purchase. It truly does fill our basket! It is a 50%-50% combination of fruits and vegetables and is never the same. We've experienced tomatillos, leeks and collard greens and reveled in mangoes,pineapple, strawberries, limes and watermelon. I feel blessed to have discovered this all volunteer group!

Our garden is HUGE and producing massive amounts. We have had zucchini and yellow squash in all varieties - today I'm doing zucchini bread for the freezer! The tomatoes have all started ripening at once too. Salsa and canning are on the agenda this week. Yum! The tomatoes are as big as baseballs - what a hoot for 115 degree days in Arizona!

I am loving the grinder that Rich bought me for Mother's Day! I have conquered delicious whole wheat bread (now I am making 8 loaves every 2 weeks) and we love the whole grain tortillas I've been making. Breakfast pizza was a huge hit and now it's fun to keep dough in the freezer. I am having a blast! Jennie is enjoying learning with me - she's trying to learn everything she can before she leaves for college in August.

Last night I went to go hear James Rollins speak at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore. He was very interesting. He is a veterinarian from Sacramento, California who writes high action books that are a blend of Da Vinci Code and Indiana Jones! As a matter of fact he was asked to write the novelization of the newest Indian Jones movie. He talked quite a bit about that. I had a great time and was very motivated to read more of his books and share them with my sons. They will love them too I know!

Currently I am reading two books - my "upstairs" book and my "downstairs" book - The Princess and the Hound by Mette Ivie Harrison and Sway; The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by two brothers, Ori and Rom Rohman. Both books are so good and so different from each other. It's hard to remember to make the time for studying Spanish each day!

I love what I am learning from others who blog! I have met up with many old friends through their blogs and I really enjoy how they journal for themselves and others. I even learned a cool tip on using vinegar and baking soda to unclog slow drains!! That saved us $$ - a neat benefit. I am so technologically dorky that I don't comment much or post pictures (don't know how yet) but I feel like I am learning so much and gaining new friends in a new way!

With high temps outside it feels great to stay home and nest a bit. I'm afraid I'm not really good about getting lots of important things done but I am feeding my soul!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ta Da!! It's done!

Fini, finished, viola, yippee! I am done with the Once Upon A Time II Challenge that Carl from hosted. I finished The String in the Harp by Nancy Boyd and loved it. A book involving Welsh and Celtic mythology and a Newbery Honor book in 1976.

When the Morgan family loses their mother in a car accident their lives are obviously torn apart. When their father decides to accept a teaching post on the coast of Wales the family divides for a time with Peter and Becky relocating with him and Jen staying in the states to continue high school. Family relationships are strained at best. Jen journeys to Wales for Christmas vacation and does her best to keep her family from splintering any further. But the bleak winter on Wales in a small seacoast town has little to offer and emotions are as a volatile as the weather.

Peter finds an ancient harp tuning key and soon begins not a time travel journey but one of glimpses into the past. In a land full of Welsh legend and mythology it appears that even the mountains are full of spirits. Jen tries to deny the magic of the Key but Becky notices Peter falling deeper under the Key's spell.

A String in the Harp develops slowly but it is worth your patience. Nancy Bond blends fantasy and realism and does not dumb-down the Welsh mythology. This was a book I didn't want to end - the author created a sense of place that I have not felt quite so distinctly in a long time. After days of 113-115 degrees it was a pleasure to escape to the gun-metal grey skies of Wales and ponder about Taliesin, the bard. A well crafted book! 4.5/5.0

So the Challenge is complete. I veered off my "well intentioned" list but I felt that all the books had so much to offer and were right off my bookshelves! It was great to know just what I was going to read next and I wasn't disappointed with any of the books.

Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt

A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond

Blood and Memory, the Quickening Book Two by Fiona McIntosh

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

*The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim - this is the one I started but didn't finish and I substituted The Magician's Nephew by C.S.Lewis (which was my book group read for June)

What a fun challenge. Next year I will definitely stretch a bit more and approach different genres. Although 5 books doesn't seem like much, it was the perfect number for the end of the school year time period. As a teacher it always amazes us how crazy the end of the year gets - this year I threw in the graduation of our last "chicken" and presto - chaos ensued. I am feeling like doing the happy dance for just completing a goal. Hmmm, so now so far this summer I have learned how to make GREAT homemade bread, whole wheat tortillas, corn tortillas, I'm harvesting the garden, studying Spanish daily and now have finished a challenge!! Wahoo!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Book#4 - Once Upon a Time Challenge

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis is the 4th book in my Once Upon a Time Challenge. I decided to change to this book when I realized that it was June's Book Group selection. (We always read a kid-oriented book for the first month of the summer, invite any kids to come and have a combined special book group on a summer afternoon. We make ice cream sundaes and the kids participate, eat and then escape to the game room and play pool and games while the adults talk.)

The Magician's Nephew was written as the 6th book in the series, The Chronicles of Narnia, but is actually a precursor to the series. It comes before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and really focuses on the creation of Narnia, how Aslan did it, and even explains how the wardrobe came to be, was magical and ended up in the house in the countryside. It's a fast afternoon read; full of types and shadows and a journey to enchanting places. 4.0/5.0

Book Group discussion should be interesting. I wonder how much the kids will see in the types and shadows. As a teacher I found that many of students had a lot of insight when they were challenged to think outside the box - I bet we have that again!! I especially found these quotes to be interesting:

p. 18 "Rules ... can't be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages." "Men like me who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures." Digory saw through it all though and said, "All it means," he said to himself, "is that he thinks he can do anything he likes to get anything he wants." (Isn't that just like most people today?!?! We think the rules apply to others and not to ourselves!)

p. 126 "Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed."

Aslan spoke about Uncle Andrew, who could not hear his voice or the other animals as they spoke:
p. 171 "... he has made himself unable to hear my voice." "But I will give him the only gift he is still able to receive." Aslan saw that Uncle Andrew could not receive the higher gifts but would only be able to handle the simplest of miracles and gifts. Interesting.

Yippee! One more book to go.

Blood and Memory - Book #3

Book #3 for the Once Upon A Time Challenge was Blood and Memory, The Quickening Book Two by Fiona McIntosh. The second book in a series, I waited a year to read this one. Far too long! I spent the first 50- 75 pages trying to catch up to what happened and reconnecting threads of the story. But the first story had been so compelling that I knew it would be worth the wait - and it was. This story is indeed a bridge from book one to the last and closing book but I enjoyed the backstory, the political wranglings and pondering for myself what could happen.

Handsome, but evil King Celimus is intent upon ruling not only his kingdom but all around him - either through marriage or conquest. Any who oppose him, or who might possibly oppose him are ruthlessly dealt with. Queen Valentyna, of neighboring Briavel, is his intended wife, uniting two kingdoms that have warred for generations. But Valentyna is in love with another and that is a definite obstacle. Celimus has the rival murdered.

But there is a problem for Celimus' s plan; Wyl Thirsk can't exactly be killed. Instead his soul and identity enter the body of whomever kills him. In this way, he has become first another man and then a female assassin. Quite a twist to a tale! He now needs to visit a powerful mage; one who might be able to explain this strange curse or gift. Meanwhile; Valentyna faces increasing pressure from her own people to consent to the marriage and end the threat of war.

The concept of the "curse" which requires Wyl to take over the body of those who kill him has powerful fantasy potential. Author Fiona McIntosh has also created an intriguing fantasy world with medieval-style warring kingdoms, strange magic and a forbidden forest. While this book was not the strong book that the first one was, I still enjoyed the journey. I love the character Wyl, appreciated the struggles of Valentyna and found new characters equally engaging. I'm anxious to finally finish the series and see how the author twists the tale next!!


Book signings and lectures are a pleasure for me. I love hearing an author share their insights of the writing experience and rubbing shoulders with those who share my loves and passions. This weekend Douglas Preston appeared at The Poisoned Pen and I talked not only my husband into a free date, but also my son and his girlfriend into joining us.

Douglas Preston's new book, The Monster of Florence, is based on the true life serial killer who murdered lovers in their cars in the Tuscany Valley of Italy from 1974-1985. Mr. Preston became involved when he found out that the house he was living in was next to one of the old crime scenes. He began a lengthy research collection that lasted for years. He and his Italian co-writer were eventually threatened and his co-writer was imprisoned and Mr. Preston was arrested and indicted. He had 12 hours to leave the country! The story was quite riveting and the slide show he presented made it all the more real. He is an extremely personable man and Rich and I talked to him at some length before the event began. The Poisoned Pen was packed with interested readers, the audience had good questions, there was plenty of food and a summer's night of good company was a plus. Barbara Peters, the owner, is so knowledgeable and she and Douglas Preston talked about some of his other books - really whetting my appetite for some I've missed. We were there for at least two hours and it truly flew by.

Father's Day celebrations included a homemade Dark Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake for Rich! Quite an event! But he loved it and that's what was worth it - and he really appreciated the efforts! We went to Ben and Jenn's for Father's Day dinner and it was super. The little kiddos were funny and happy. The food was delicious and I didn't have to cook! Wahoo! What a fun day. Rich also loved it. He was proud as could be of the kids and their tribute to him. We are having a Father's Day/birthday celebration next Saturday morning. All of the kids are coming over at 6am to help spread gravel in the front and back yards and will help him move the tool bench to the new shed. I will make a huge breakfast - breakfast pizza, bacon and eggs, cinnabon casserole, fresh fruit, hash browns and smoothies. The benefits of having a great family are great mealtimes together. Yum!

Summer is winging by and I've not gotten a lot done - cleaning, studying Spanish, surfing the net and reading. What am I talking about - this is great!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's all in the timing

They say that "it is all about the timing" and I do believe that I have found that to be true when it comes to reading. You know, sometimes a book is the perfect fit - time, place, characters, for stretching or comfort; it's just right. Other times you fidget, "work" at it and something just doesn't work for you - it doesn't fit. Now I'm a firm believer in stretching myself in reading. I love trying new genres, a recommended author, a bit of this, a dab of that, but I have realized that it's all about the timing!! What will work at one time or season will not work for another!

I read great reviews of Into the Wild by Sarah Beth Durst and was excited when my turn for a copy came up at the library. But it was all about the timing on this book - I read it the next day after finishing The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale and it just can't stand up in comparison. I did enjoy 3/4's of the book - just not the last 1/4th and that is what has resonated with me. In the last part of the book I was "lost" and I just didn't care about the character or their situation. I skimmed and tried to re-catch my thread but it just left me lost. I felt bad that I couldn't get the book to work for me like it had for so many others. You know, I felt a bit guilty even.

Into the Wild is about choice. Choice - a predictable, planned out life when you get to live happily ever after OR freedom to make your own choices, choose your own destiny, with all the risk that freedom entails. Julie, the protagonist/heroine, is the daughter of Rapunzel, and Rapunzel is the guard of the Wild; a fairy tale land run amuck. Rapunzel and the other fairy tale characters now live happily ever after in the real world with true life choices, until one day someone wished the Wild free. The Wild begins to take over Julie's town, trapping the characters and others into beginnings and endings of the same old stories. Ones we all know the endings of. Now it's up to Julie to rescue her mom and save everyone from the Wild. If she stays in the Wild herself, in the stories, she can finally find her father, stay with him and live happily ever after, but others may be doomed to more miserable fates. The choice isn't easy. Stories have a way of sucking you in, tangling emotions and making you feels as if you had no choice at all.

What a great premise for this book - but the last 1/4 of the book ruined it all for me. There was too much twisting of tales, I was lost and confused and it brought me up shaking my head, "who?? what??"

I did highlight a good quote,
"That's the beauty of the real world," Gothel said. "wishing doesn't make it so. Outside the Wild, it's actions that matter. Your choices matter." page 115

I liked that! Give me a few more days, a little more separation from The Goose Girl and it's lyrical language and sense of place, maybe then I'll like Into the Wild a little better. 3.5/5.0

Because I have more control of my time in the great summer I have been able to visit more blogs than I typically do. What creative and thought-filled people!! I am envious of their talents and techno-savvy. I did notice a though provoking question that I thought would help me be a little introspective:

"Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker an more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romances?"

Yes! I have grown and stretched as a reader and I am so pleased and proud that I have changed in my reading tastes. They weren't wrong or bad, just immature and small. I must admit that I still tend to shy away from techno sci fi and from most of the horror genre but I now have dabbled in them a bit and I'm pleased with this progress. I have now read classics that I missed as a young woman, delved into mysteries and general fiction, reveled in historical fiction, and have even enjoyed westerns (thanks Larry McMurtry and your beautiful Lonesome Dove.) I have discovered that I really love memoirs and the "nosy me" enjoys well written biography. I have learned more from the non-fiction shelves in my local library than I ever thought possible. Before the internet I was a frequent visitor to those shelves and learned horticulture from books before I tried it in the garden. I checked out every quilt book our libraries had (in two towns!), read true crime, money management and career planning. I've truly enjoyed books such as Freakonomics, An Omnivore's Dilemna, and Salt; sailed the waves in The Hungry Ocean and climbed Mt Everest in Into Thin Air. I easily could spend hours tasting a little morsel from each book and consider myself well fed. When I visit a bookstore or library I find that I don't stick to one area (with the possible exception of staying away from the business or computer sections) but I roam and nibble wherever I am. I love that growing as a reader has given me this gift!

My book group helps me stretch too. We have read a variety of books in different genres, most recently Inside the Brain, and our discussion was a workshop presented by one of our members based on the Brain Research workshops she's attended. We ate "brain" boosting snacks and shared discoveries and developments that we have learned about. Was that an area I was reading about 30 years ago?? No way! But I'm so grateful for the stretching and growing I've done. I am learning to read in different ways for different purposes and with that comes greater insight too. I'm not the same girl I was when I got married, thank heavens! I'm better!! And I also feel I'm better for the growing and stretching I have done in being a life-long learner!

I'm excited about summer days of reading and great conversation, I love the time to think and contemplate. What a gift! It comes at the end of a busy, busy school year - and this year with the last of our kiddos graduating!! This year it is all about the timing!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Number Two

Book number two for me in the Quest Challenge was The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.

The setting for The Goose Girl is the mythical kingdom of Kildenree in the nebulous time of fairy tales. The story begins with the birth of Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee who does not open her eyes for three days until welcomed by her aunt who is able to converse with animals. Like many other fairy tales, the heroine is unlikely: quiet, shy, timid;an anti-hero(ine), if you will. But one of the biggest accomplishments for this story is that it just kept changing from what I expected.

Just after her 16th birthday Ani learns that she is betrothed to the Prince of Bayern and she sets out on a three month journey through the pine forests and Bayern Mountains to meet her future husband. During the journey Ani's fate takes a turn for the worse and she finds herself in Bayern not as a Queen but as a Goose Girl.

The development of Ani (the "anti-heroine" ) from awkward and dutiful to heroine of the people is a change that occurs subtly throughout the story. The reader discovers with Ani the fire that burns within her, that ultimately transforms the "dutiful" Ani to the Ani that realizes the dark truth and decides to act upon it. This development of character is heartfelt and seemingly impossible from the Ani that is introduced in the beginning chapters. I loved that the reader was able to make the journey with Ani herself. No glimmer of what would lie ahead for this character. We were reading along as the development was occurring.

I do so love Shannon Hale's use of language.
Her imagery is unique and beautiful.
page 11
when Ani's aunt leaves her and "her chest felt like a gutted walnut shell."

Shannon Hales is a master at styling a book. I felt completely IN the setting as I read it. The tale was infused with magic and the language reflected the magic - lush and tactile. The magic Shannon Hale incorporates is not the "wave your magic wand type" but instead a magic of being able to hear and speak to the elements and animals. The animal talking was well crafted; Hale stayed true to the way that animals talk, not letting Ani have long conversations with them, but rather getting ideas such as "danger" or "good grazing land" from them. The geese were especially well written - truly evil and loyal creatures that they are. I had never thought about having geese as an attack animal before but after a few park visits myself I am reminded that it is a great idea.

I love how Shannon Hale tweaks a fairy tale, I adore her writing style and once again I was swept up into one of her stories!! A great summer read and one I have already recommended to others. 5.0/5.0

Book reading aside the summer is finally off to a great start!!

Three days of English Language Development classes for the new school year are over! Wahoo! House guests are gone, babysitting duty is done and I am ready to kick up my feet and enjoy the summer. Wow! I feel energized and ready to conquer closets, drawers and laundry! My TBR pile is towering and I have just 3 weeks to finish 3 more books for the Quest challenge - I'm ready! I do believe I will change one of the books I was planning on to The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis as it is our book group read of the month. Let's work smarter, not harder!! Who cares that it's going to be hot - a diet coke, a fan and a good book. Terrific!