Photo-a-Day - Week Four

Oops!  I failed to post on Sunday.  But we do have beautifully refinished wood floors and LOTS of baseboards to paint.  So there's that.  Here's the belated Week Four shots.

May 21 - Where You Stand
I own three pair of these Teva flipflops, so chances are good, I'm standing on one of them.  Also good odds: that my feet will be filthy because I'm just as likely to have no shoes as these shoes.

May 22 - Pink

May 23 - Technology
This one stymied me a bit.  I mean, technology is all around us, but I wanted something clever and couldn't come up with anything.

May 24 - Something New
What a great score!  They were very new indeed.  We've been keeping an eye on them and hoping they will grow well and healthily.

May 25 - Unusual
Front and Back shots of the Iron-On Appliques I found in the bottom drawer of a free-by-the-side-of-the-road chest of drawers I've been working on this week.  If the thought of putting roosters in on all those places pictured above (right) doesn't strike you as unusual, well, no comment.

By the way, the finished chest of drawers looks awesome.  Pictures to come.  And while we're on the subject, Craigslist is an endless source of fascination and humor for me.  Not the least of which comes from the wealth of posts from people selling Chester Drawers.  Hilarious.

May 26 - 12 O'Clock
As close as I could get to noon.  Bill To: D.I.Y.  That about sizes it up.

May 27 - Something Sweet
This cat just showed up in our new backyard.  It must belong to someone because it is very sweet.  We'd like to keep it, but if not, it has cemented our desire to have an outside cat.

So, just a few days left in May.  Final post to come - probably on Friday.  Enjoy!


The Odyssey - A Dramatic Retelling of Homer's Epic by Simon Armitage

I'm teaching a new course this fall - Western Humanities I - and there is a set of required texts from which we can choose to build our course.  We must, naturally, include one of Homer's epic poems, The Iliad or The Odyssey.  Not being much for battle play-by-plays, I prefer The Odyssey, so I started there.  As one of the oldest extant texts available, The Odyssey is a fitting opportunity to "start at the very beginning - a very good place to start" as we attempt to lay a foundation of textual relevance to our students.  However, most of these students will not be English majors, they will not be readers, they will not be accustomed to or interested in dactylic hexamater or anything having to do with the original Greek.  With that in mind, I have decided to take the risky step of NOT asking my students to read an original text translation in its entirety; instead, I ordered Simon Armitage's translation, commissioned by BBC Radio for a dramatic radio performance and later published in book form.  I want them to experience the energy of the oral tradition - as it was originally intended.

This translation stays remarkably true to the original text, and the dramatic dialogue makes the story come to life.  It is strong and thoughtful, and I believe it will captivate students much more than the original text.  Don't worry, though, I will introduce them to fragments of a respected translation.  I will make sure they understand the roots of epic poetry as poetry, but I'm excited for how this version promises to enliven the class from the very beginning.  It is a beautiful but accessible version of this most classic of texts, and I highly recommend it.  Accessible though it is, it doesn't try to be something it's not.   As the introduction by the author reads:
It is not set in a housing estate in Salford.  It does not depict the Achaeans as veterans of the Gulf War or asylum-seekers, though of course we should not be surprised if the Odyssey rings with echoes and resonances of our contemporary world. Such is the power and purpose of myth. (vi)
It is these echoes and resonances that I intend to explore in the course.  I'm going to use The Odyssey as the bedrock not just of Western literature but quite specifically of the course.  Everything we do will serve to further plumb the Odyssey's themes of journey, home, family, disguise, and the importance of story.  We will also read Plato, Ovid, Dante, and Shakespeare, but we will track the influence of Odysseus through each of these and into our contemporary Western culture.  We will read a little Big Fish and watch a little O Brother and finish the class with Atwood's The Penelopiad.  What do you think?


Raising Readers!

Yesterday, I got an unexpected phone call from a friend.  She has an acquaintance that works at the local PBS station, and they were hosting a tour that afternoon and wanted kids in their educational program room during the tour.  My friend's kids are still in school, so she asked me, and we hopped right to it.  Nothing like an impromptu field trip!

Now, my kids don't watch TV.  They have watched a few PBS programs at their great-grandmother's house and at the dentist, but they call them videos.  They don't seem to know (haha!) that televisions have "videos" available at any hour of the day; however, many PBS shows are built around book characters they know, and hey, we like learning stuff!

The station is a fun, visually appealing place with a cool, open-air design.  Their educational room has a small library and posters and art pieces created by local schoolchildren.  Can you name the characters shown above?

The program that day had just three kids - my two and one more cutie, and I loved the smallness of it.  Mrs. Debbie (Debbie Thompson, Director of Education & Community Engagement) lead them through a series of activities involving letters, sounds, drawing pictures, making pinwheels, identifying opposites, and of course, READING.

Their program is called Raising Readers, and Mrs. Thompson explained that while many kids don't have access to books on a daily basis, almost every kid in America has daily access to a TV.  PBS is attempting to get kids reading through programming that connects to books, hoping kids will read once they are invested in those familiar characters.

WTCI (wtciTV.org) hosts these educational programs for school groups, homeschoolers, and families.  They also have an annual Family Day where the TV characters come out to play.  It is held on the first Sunday of November and involves face painting, free books, and lots of other fun activities for kids.  If you are in the Chattanooga area and are interested in a tour of the station or an educational program for a small group of kids, contact Debbie Thompson at dthompson@wtciTV.org.  They want to give every kid the power of words.

Oh, and there are goodie bags.  JOY!


Pin It and Do It Challenge - Update Deux

I've been a Pinterest-addict lately.  It's all part of the whole-house renovation, remodeling, redecorating, moving thing I've got going on, and today I have a few completed tasks from Pinterest to report on.  This is my second response to Trish's fun Pin It and Do It Challenge.  Go here to see results from more bloggers with Pinterest on the brain.

1.  Boiled Eggs in the Oven:
This pin promised a cleaner process AND easy-to-peel eggs, and it was right.  I will definitely make this method my go-to, but I'm wondering why my eggs had tiny brown spots in the cooked white.  Somehow from the pan?  Would muffin cups help or hurt the process?  Eggs were delicious, though, and much easier to peel.

We loooooooove Brussels Sprouts in our house.  Seriously, my daughter cheers in the checkout line when I am buying them, and it makes me ridiculously happy.  Like I'm some kind of super-mom because my kids like Brussels Sprouts.  Nevermind that they think dessert should be after every meal.  Unfortunately, this recipe was only ok.  One of the commenters on the original post indicated it was kind of one-note, and we agreed.  It needed something.  And because we love Brussels Sprouts so much, mixing their flavors with these other blase flavors was not our favorite use of the green.  So, I probably won't make it again, but it was certainly edible.

3.  Homemade Chewy Granola Bars:

My daughter often eats those Quaker chewy granola bars for an afternoon snack, so this recipe definitely appeals to my thrifty and homemade nature.  Overall, they were pretty good, but they didn't hang together as well as the store-bought ones.  The original recipe indicates some tips and issues with crumbly bars and different sugar ratios, so I'll probably try these again.  I want to try the oatmeal raisin ones next.

4.  Washing Machine Cleaning:

My front-loader washing machine is pretty gross.  I don't wipe it out regularly (as the pin instructs me to do), so the black in the creases seems to be pretty much baked in.  I'm ashamed to show you this before shot:

For the record, because the grossness is so well-established, it doesn't make my machine stink or my clothes smell funny (which lots of front-loader owners complain of) possibly because I do actually clean it periodically with just a spray and a wipe.  But it never comes off.  So, I decided to try the deep clean methods mentioned in the post.  I ran an empty load with vinegar.  I used Bon Ami and an old toothbrush to scrub at the black (three applications actually).  And I did several hot water/bleach wash loads.  The result?

A slight improvement.  I'm calling it a success though.  That stuff was industrial-strength, hard-core black-crease junk.  Anyone know a way to fully eradicate it?  Other than buying a new machine and wiping it down after every load?

I think that's enough sharing for now.  Have a beautiful Wednesday!


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Do y'all remember my utter fan-girl situation with Jess Walter?  Here's a reminder if not, and here's the amazing interview he so graciously did where he first intrigued me about Beautiful Ruins.  I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this novel, which goes on sale June 12th, and despite my busy-ness and distraction and all, I have devoured it.

Beautiful Ruins tells the story of Dee Moray, an up-and-coming actress in the 1960s, who gets a part in Cleopatra with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and whose life gets changed dramatically by her trip to Italy for the filming.  It is also the story of Claire Silver, assistant to legendary producer Michael Deane, who got his big break working on Cleopatra and is now nearly washed up.  It is also the story of Pasquale Tursi, the young Italian trying to run his father's hotel in Porto Vergogna, Italy, where Dee Moray stays briefly in 1962.  It is also so many more stories and the story of all humanity:
Every love is the same love, and it is overpowering - the wrenching grace of what it is to be human.  We love.  We try.  We die alone. (129-130)
If this quote makes the book sound dark, that's because, well, it is.  At parts, at least.  Walter can be fantastically funny, but even at his most lighthearted, he colors everything with the appropriate tenor of reality, which is often not much funny at all.  In Beautiful Ruins, Alvis Bender is a failed writer who only completes one chapter of his great book.  That chapter is included in the text, and it is a masterpiece.  In it, a character (based on Bender himself) has the following exchange with a woman he has just met and told he is writing a book about the war.
She became somber.  Writing a book was an important thing to do, she said, not a joke.
"Oh, no," I said, "I don't mean to joke about it.  I don't mean that sort of funny."
She asked what other kind of funny there was and I didn't know what to say.  We were within sight of her village, a cluster of gray shadows that sat like a cap on the dark hill in front of us.
"The sort of funny that makes you sad, too," I said. (86)
The sort of funny that makes you sad, too.  That's Jess Walter's writing in a nutshell.  This great chapter also includes some of my favorite lines:
Such a horrible formality, the end of a war. (73)
God, this life is a cold, brittle thing. (88)
Years passed, and I found myself still a husk, still in that moment, still in the day my war ended, the day I realized, like all survivors must, that being alive isn't the same thing as living. (88)
This book is totally different from The Zero, which I loved.  It is completely different from The Financial Lives of Poets, which is hilarious and wonderful.  It is less caustic, more romantic, perhaps more traditional than both.  But it is not weaker.  In fact, the vast distance between these three books demonstrates Walter's amazing range, his gifted voice, and his incredible talent for creating memorable, fully realized characters. He is a marvel, and if you aren't reading him yet, you should be.  You can start on June 12th.

One last notable line to lighten the mood a bit:
but true quests aren't measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope.  There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant - sail for Asia and stumble on America - and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along. (284) 


Photo-a-Day - Week Three

It's Sunday, and I'm posting photos.  It would seem I don't read anymore.  Or think.  Or do anything but work on our house and prepare for the move.  Appropriately, you don't care as much about my life as I do.  However, I do hope to be back to normal (or whatever approximation of normal is normal for me) in the next week or so.  Thank you for bearing with me.

May 14 - Grass
The boy just happened to bring this home from school today.  Nice coincidence.

May 15 - Love
My one and only.  For the record, he did not like me taking this shot, but he is a good man who puts up with a lot of my silliness.  I am thankful.

May 16 - What You're Reading
That's right.  You're eyes aren't fooling you.  I'm almost finished with the amazing Jess Walter's incredible new book Beautiful Ruins.  Review this week.  Released June 12th.  You know you want it.

May 17 - Snack
After a day of amusement park heat and nastiness, a little afternoon refresher.  Mmmm, Peanut Butter Cups.

May 18 - Something You Made
I made this mess.  I'll clean it up.  These used to be the stairs at our house.  I can't believe it's getting so close to happening.  Three years is a long time to be chipping away at something with no immediate reward.

May 19 - A Favorite Place
Part of the multi-level deck at our new place.  I can't wait to be there, sharing a drink with my love, after the kids have gone to bed.  Especially when the little creek just behind the railing is running - it is so peaceful. This spot is already a favorite place, but it will be even more in a week or so when we're all moved in.

May 20 - Something You Can't Live Without
I tend to avoid dramatics, so I went literal on this one.  I can't live without water.  There are many things I wouldn't want to live without, but this is one of the few that mean it.

So there's the week that was.  If I can get my act together, I will have a Pin It and Do It Challenge post this week as well as the aforementioned review of Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins.  Plus, it's Summer Reading time!  Can't wait to get the kids signed up.  Beautiful Sunday, friends.


The Submission by Amy Waldman

I checked this book out in preparation for the Read-a-Thon last month, and I started it in the days following that insanity.  That means I have been reading this book for-evah, y'all.  Almost a month.  Ages.

You might presume it was slow, dense, or otherwise unappealing, but it wasn't at all.  I've just been distracted (still am) by the upcoming move and the ongoing renovation.  It's hard to devote much time to reading when you're fielding phone calls from HVAC and flooring guys and getting the gas turned on (Georgia is ca-razy with its natural gas deregulation business) and having to buy a new water heater and removing the stair treads from your staircase yourself (yes, I did, thank you very much) and painting trim and finding that you can't use a caulk gun properly (how is this possible?) and . . . wait, what was I supposed to be talking about?

Oh, yeah, Amy Waldman's terrific post-9/11 novel The Submission.  It really was wonderful, and my review is not going to do it justice (see the aforementioned distracted-ness), but let me reassure you that Waldman handles a difficult subject with grace and provides much food for thought.  The novel tracks the process of choosing a design (and thus, an architect) for the 9/11 memorial to be constructed in New York on the attack site.  There is a jury made up of artists, political representatives, and Claire, the lone surviving family member chosen to serve on the jury.  There are other families of victims represented, ranging from the brother of a firefighter killed in the collapse to the wife of a Bangladeshi janitor working in the towers at the time of the attack.  And then, there is Mo, the architect whose design is chosen in chapter one.  The only problem is that Mo is Mohammad Khan, a Muslim-American who happens to also be a wildly talented architect with a rich and meaningful design.  The backlash, chaos, and upheaval that follows is where the book takes you, and it is a difficult but honest portrayal.  Waldman's book does not flinch, it does not make any of the decisions easy, and it leaves you feeling about as unresolved as you started.  But it is a worthy read, a layered and varied perspective on America in the years following 9/11.


Photo-a-Day - Week Two

My second week of photo-a-day posts wasn't as successful as week one.  I got a bit stuck on a few days, and today I'm supposed to photograph my mama, but I probably won't see her until tomorrow.  Also Lightroom was acting up this morning and wouldn't import my photos, so these are untouched.  Here's what I've gotten this week:

May 7 - Someone That Inspires You
My little sister is an amazing woman.  And she makes fun faces at babies (not her own this time)!

May 8 - A Smell You Adore
I don't actually adore the smell of paint, but with the ongoing pressure to finish the house renovations, I am currently a fan - it is the smell of progress.

May 9 - Something You Do Everyday
Near-blindness makes this a terribly routine task - morning and night.

May 10 - A Favorite Word
This prompt stumped me for a bit until I had a moment of inspiration.

May 11 - Kitchen
My current apartment kitchen; I'm looking forward to the new house's kitchen being this functional.  I even look forward to the mess.

May 12 - Something That Makes You Happy
Though my children do often make me happy, the way they sit and read or play together so nicely really fills my heart with joy.

May 13 - Mum 
This picture was taken some time ago, but I decided to post it anyway.  What a blessing to have such a fun mama (I'm pretty sure she's laughing over a family game of Scrabble here).


Love and Loss: Maurice Sendak

I have previously and exuberantly expressed my abiding love of Maurice Sendak's work.  His Where the Wild Things Are breaks all barriers for me, and I rank it among the best books ever.  I call it one of the world's perfect books.

Just as when Eudora Welty died several years ago, the news of Sendak's death today has sent me quietly searching for more of him.  I am pragmatic about life, about death, about aging.  I have no desire to unnaturally prolong life and hope to "go" before I lose connection with who I am in this world.  That said, when we lose a iconic, important figure like Sendak, it makes me pause.

In memory of this incredible man, and in honor of the power of books to live on past their creator's lives, here again is me reading one of the world's perfect books to my precious children.  I'm so glad to have this book in my life.  I'm so thankful for the life of Maurice Sendak.


Photo-a-Day - Week One

I'm participating in a photo-a-day activity this month (see here for the full list of prompts), and this first week has been great.  It has also been a good excuse to fiddle around with Lightroom to see if I want to invest in it.

Week One:

May 1 - Peace

May 2 - Skyline

May 3 - Something You Wore Today

May 4 - Fun! 
I couldn't decide between a subtle hint

or the completely obvious.
What do you think?

May 5 - Bird

May 6 - You

There it is.  The week that was.  See you next Sunday for another week of photo-a-day fun!


Pin It and Do It Challenge - Update One

It is May!  Perhaps my favorite month (and not just because I was born in it).  This month, I am participating in Trish's Pin It and Do It Challenge, and I have been busy.  This challenge is designed to take us from the dreamy world of Pinterest into the real world where stuff gets done - the idea is to convert pinned ideas to reality and report on their successes and failures.  

My first major success has come through the Photo-a-Day activity for May.  I've enjoyed the creative challenge of interpreting these prompts, and I will post my first week's responses on Sunday.  Here's a teaser from Day One (the prompt was Peace):

Several weeks ago, I made some homemade laundry detergent, which I have been using, but I haven't been pleased with it.  The mix was too thin; it felt like the water to soap ratio was off.  So, today, I tweaked it a bit, and here's what I came up with:

I'm using a smaller container (about 1/2 a gallon) than the original post did.  My first foray had me cutting the soap in half, but since it was so thin, I've upped the liquid soap.  Maybe the Kiss My Face version of Castille soap I am using is already diluted?  As the original poster showed, I have removed the pour spout to make mixing easier; it pops right back in when you are finished (but do make sure to line it back up properly.  The first time I did this, I just shoved it down in there anywhichaway and quickly realized that was not going to work!).  

I ended up using the rest of my small bottle, which was about 1.5 cups of soap.  I then filled up the bottle with warm water, and it was probably about 3 cups of water, so the ratio here is probably close to 2:1.  I didn't add any essential oils because 1. I didn't have any and 2. the soap already had a lovely lavender scent going on.

There was still some baking soda that didn't mix well in the bottom of my container, so I added another 3 heaping spoonfuls of soda.  The recipe calls for 1 cup for a gallon, so I think this remains pretty consistent to that ratio.  Shake and pour (but wait for it to settle before pouring or you will spill what has gotten into the handle and lid during the shaking process).  It's still pretty thin, so I'll probably try another recipe next time.

Finally, after some seriously rotten bananas stayed around a day or two too long, we had a large family of fruit flies move in.  I have hated fruitflies since 9th grade when our Biology class bred vast quantities of them in our foray into genetics.  Gross.  So, after a quick search on Pinterest for some pantry solutions to the fruitfly problem, I came up with this.  My version is apple cider vinegar and dish soap in a clean lunch meat container with holes punched in the top.  Considering the number of dead fruitflies in there this morning, I'm calling this one a success.  

That's it for now.  Thanks, Pin-Trish, for the prompting.