Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Christmas Meme

As seen on Singularity...

1. Real tree or artificial?

I love real trees! They are the ultimate symbol of the Yule season to me. There is just something about bringing this big tree into my home and basking in its glory that makes me extremely happy. I have heard all the arguments against real trees, and they just don't hit home to me. If I am decorating with something that big, I would prefer it to be a renewable, natural, agricultural product that will not end up in a landfill some day.

Having said all that, two years ago our family was discussing possibly not having a tree due to very limited funds that year. Word of this got out to some of our neighbors, and we were given not one, but two artificial trees and an offer for a third that were no longer being used. One of the artificial ones was green and the same size tree as we usually use so we put it up, and it was beautiful. There was a part of me that was mourning having a real tree though. It was the first year of my whole life that I hadn't, and I was disappointed. My kids were disappointed too, but I think more for me than for themselves. Last year, we decided to cut down a small tree in our wood. It was damaged and probably wouldn't have survived much longer. (Something is killing all the evergreens except for the cedars here.) This year, we once again have very limited funds. (December is a difficult time for substitute teachers.) So we have put up the artificial tree. It is beautiful. I am happy. :)

2. When do you put up the tree?

No particular time. This year it was December 3rd. It has been as early as the day after Thanksgiving and as late as the day before Christmas Eve.

3. When do you take down the tree?

Traditionally on January 6th. In reality, as early as the day after Christmas on a couple of occasions when the tree was falling apart, and as late as January 15th on a couple of occasions when we just didn't get around to it earlier.

4.Wrapping paper or gift bags?

Mostly wrapping paper.

5. When do you start Christmas shopping?

Christmas shopping? What is that? Truthfully I haven't Christmas shopped in at least 7 years. We don't really exchange gifts with anyone, and we only give the kids homemade gifts. (Not that we wouldn't like to buy them gifts, but we really haven't had any extra money for presents the past few years.)

Back when I did Christmas shop, I use to do it all on one day, usually a couple of Saturdays before Christmas. I like the hustle and bustle of the crowds, and I found that limiting it to one day helped me to both scale back, and choose more unique gifts for those who I was giving to. I do buy presents for people at other times of year, but I usually just give them to them then instead of waiting for a holiday.

6. Who is the hardest person to buy for?

My mom! She doesn't want any extra stuff, and she always seems to have all the things she needs.

7. Easiest person to buy for?

Any of my daughters. I know thousands of things that they would each like to own.

8. Angel on top of the tree, or star?

I prefer a star. Diana had an angel that she called a faerie that she use to use before she was with me. We did use that one year, maybe two, but now we are back to the star again. I think I had a bow one year a long time ago.

9. What is the worst Christmas gift you ever got?

My Grandma Long use to give me underwear. They were always fairly large briefs with lots of girly decor, not at all the type of panties I wear. I was so embarrassed each time I opened them because we would be opening presents one by one, and I was suppose to hold them up so that everyone could "ooo and ahhh" over them!

I couldn't possibly choose one favorite gift. A few stand out though. Every year, I wanted The Game of Life, but I always forgot to ask for it. There was one year that my parents said they didn't have enough money to get many presents. Then on Christmas morning, I had The Game of Life and an umbrella! (I really loved umbrellas as a child.) I almost think that that was the best Christmas ever!

11. What is your favorite food to eat at Christmas time?

Cream pies and coconut cake!

12. What do you want for Christmas this year?

Enough money to pay the bills. The sense of security that would give me would be the perfect holiday present.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Flat Rock

Today we will be traipsing up to Flat Rock. Lia wants to swim, but it is chilly! The rest of us may be just looking on.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Our Passions Lately

Diana: Art, art, and more art. Diana has been working with polymer clay a lot more lately, but watercolor is still a significant interest. With the nice weather, photography is going strong, and the new camera from this past fall is getting a lot of use! Photography goes hand in hand with exploring nature, and the hummingbird feeder is a constant source of delight. Diana has also been reading books in a variety of genres (everything from Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle to Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Jacqueline (Me!): Writing! I have been trying to fit more writing and researching in. If I had the time, I would spend a lot of my time blogging. It gives me great joy! I also find myself exploring nature and dreaming of long walks! Keeping Diana and me healthy is a never ending passion and presents plenty of challenges! Travel dreams are also passions, and I can't wait until they are travel realities!

Antonio: Design! Antonio has been using Google Sketch-up to design all sorts of things he would like to build. He has also been spending a lot of time playing the game Mindcraft where he spends a lot of his time designing buildings, inside and out, and landscaping. Antonio also spends a fair amount of time perfecting his drum playing on Band Hero. He is taking in the good weather with walks in the woods and free running romps.

Esme: Esme recently finished watching the first season of the series Dollhouse which peaked her interest in topics like personality, the nature of free will, and science fiction in general. She is very much into fashion and puts her outfits together carefully everyday. She also gets outside and still loves rollerblading whether in sun or rain. A somewhat new interest is cooking. Esme has been making recipes for herself from various Asian cookbooks that we have procured from the library, and she loves everything she makes. As usual, Esme spends time most days drawing, writing, and roleplaying. Esme is excited about the potential to meet other teens at the Shine conference. Oh! Esme has also mastered hiragana.

Josie: Josie has been reading and reading and reading. Some of her latest books include The Indigo Notebook by Laura Resau, Hold Still by Nina LaCour, and Sprout by Dale Peck. In between reading novels, she reads manga, random picture books, and nonfiction. JoAnn has also been spending some online time at the site iscribble where you use group collaboration to make works of art. Her other interests include cooking, spending time alone in the quiet woods, and learning how to do everything Ant can do. (She wants to replace him as all around handyman.)

Lia: Lia is currently spending a lot of her time on iscribble. She likes both the drawing and social interaction parts of it. Lia has started reading longer novels (recently she read Holly's Secret by Nancy Garden), but I wouldn't call it a passion. She is passionate about swimming and nags encourages us to go as often as we possibly can! She also enjoys playing kickball, tag, and other active games with her sibs, baking tasty things like cakes and cookies, and doing crafty projects.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review: Magic in Manhattan Series by Sarah Mlynowski

The Magic in Manhattan series by Sarah Mlynowski consists of four books: Bras & Broomsticks, Frogs & French Kisses, Spells & Sleeping Bags, and Parties & Potions. The series follows Rachel Weinstein as she learns about witchcraft and tries to get her perfect boyfriend.

The first two books of the series deal with with Rachel's rather typical high school life, and family life which includes her new witch sister, her witch mother (who has kept this facet of her life hidden from her daughters until this point), her dad (who is divorced from her mom), and her dad's girlfriend and her daughter. In these books, Rachel often comes across as unlikeable, and both her and her sister Miri tend to feel more like stereotypes than like real people to me. The books do not flow very well and the plot elements are overdone.

In the third book, Rachel and Miri go to summer camp, and both of the characters develop a bit. I enjoyed this book a lot more than the first two. This may be due at least partly to the summer camp element. I love summer camp stories.

The fourth book, Parties & Potions is the real winner of the series. Rachel and Miri both emerge as fully developed characters with both positive and negative traits. The books' situations seem realistic (given the obviously non-realistic witch theme), and Rachel faces real dilemmas and arrives as character that we can relate to and like as she explores who she is and the meaning of love. Unfortunately this book is not a stand alone read so you have to slog through the first two and breeze through the third to get to this last one which is a bit deeper and a lot better story.

I would recommend these books to those who like books about teen witches. If you have already read the first two, definitely go on and finish, even if your reaction to those was only so-so. You will be glad that you did.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: Lily Dale Series by Wendi Corsi Staub

I stumbled upon this series of mystery ghost stories set in the village of Lily Dale in Western New York while browsing the young adult section at the library. Having grown up somewhat near Lily Dale which is a real spiritualist community, I was intrigued to see another book series set in that location and checked the first one, Lily Dale: Awakening out.

I really enjoyed the book. There are a lot of novels out there set in the Lily Dale location, and I thought that Awakening had a unique plot and a wonderful mystery component. The story follows Calla, a Florida teen whose mother dies during an accident. Calla's dad, a college professor, is slated to leave for a visiting professorship in California, and Calla goes to stay temporarily with her grandmother (her mother's mother) in Lily Dale. The catch is that Calla does not know her grandmother well, and her mother kept pretty much everything from her childhood a secret from both her daughter and her husband.

There are several subplots as Calla learns about the spiritualist bent of her new town, and deals with both the death of her mother and being the new kid in a very small community. I would recommend this book to kids, teens, and adults who love mysteries without reservation if it wasn't for the fact that I have also read the second book in the series, Lily Dale: Believing.

Awakening ends with a cliffhanger. I started Believing a couple of weeks later. I was disappointed by the way the author kept adding things from the first book in a rather disconnected "by the way" manner. It really messed up the flow of the first few chapters. Then some of the mystery subplots became just too graphic for me. I was not prepared for a realistic horror component. I had a nightmare the day I started Believing.

Of course, the books are mysteries, and my curiosity was aroused, so I will be staying with this series until the end. I can recommend it for those who love mysteries, and don't mind horror or an occasional lack of flow in the name of catching the reader up. I will update more after I have read the other books.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Book Review: 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

After falling in love with Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, I was eager to read some of her other novels. Of course, there are a lot of books that I am eager to read so it has taken me awhile, but I just finished 11 Birthdays.

11 Birthdays has a plot reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Amanda and Leo are born in the same hospital on the same day. Through a series of what seem to be coincidences their parents meet. Then on their first birthday it happens again, and they have a joint party eventually becoming friends. Every year, they celebrate their birthday together.

At their tenth birthday party, Amanda overhears a conversation that destroys their friendship. When their eleventh birthday comes around, the days start repeating, and Amanda needs to figure out the mystery of why so that life can continue as normal again!

Although their are a few twists and turns, for the most part the plot of this book is predictable. It is still a rather interesting plot, and I enjoyed the book a lot, but there was nothing extra to move it up into the exceptional category. This would be a fun book for the intended age range (around 8-13), but I would not recommend it to those who are at a higher reading level or as a read aloud for younger children. There are better things out there.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

When You Reach Me - Book Review

I first heard of the novel, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, when I saw its name on several lists of the best novels for children from 2009. It found its way onto my reading list, and I recently completed. Wow! It was a really good book. I can't quite give it five out of five stars because it didn't quite meet my expectation (which were pretty hight.) The story was wonderful, but I think the author (not me but actually this particular author) could have told it better.

That said, she still did a great job! Short choppy chapters show us bits and pieces of characters in a New York City neighborhood in the '70's. These short and choppy chapters, and bits and pieces somehow do a great job of creating fully developed characters. As the story progresses, both going forward and using a lot of back story, a mystery is slowly created, and we see seemingly random individuals lives connect and intertwine in ways that are both highly unbelievable and somehow completely believable. I don't want to tell to much because it is essential that you start at the beginning to get to the end.

Although this book has definitely been written with the intermediate ages (10-13 perhaps) in mind, I think this is a book that needs some prior knowledge to get everything you can out of it making it most suited to teens and adults. On the other had, an intelligent and curious child might have new avenues of exploration opened by this story leading to a desire to reread it after tangents have been explored and thought threads connected.

I highly recommend When You Reach Me not only for children but for people of all ages looking for a really good story!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Unschoolers

Those who think unschoolers will never develop drive and ambition should meet my kids. I was just discussing their dance practice with them and talking about the fun and pleasure of it, and there was a consensus between JoAnn, Lia, and Esme that they don't like to do things just for the pleasure of them! They think nothing is worthwhile if it doesn't involve hard work and accomplishments!

(Note, they certainly haven't heard this line of reasoning from me!)

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sunshiny Mornings

These sunshiny mornings in the early spring make me sad for those kids in the school buses whisking by. I my kids wake early using their own free will with smiles on there faces as they watch the sun sparkle on the snow outside. Long walks tramping across the top of the hardened snow in the sunshine ensue and romps in the woods, tree climbing and hole digging, lots of learning and larping and playing...these are wonderful days!

There is plenty of excitement as our world thaws out.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Family and the Two C's

My word for 2009 is "Celebrate," and of course, most of my celebrating includes my wonderful family. We have been celebrating all the new and full moons, and other special occasions that have come to pass, and I can see that it is a good thing for us to have this regular together time.

As I have been celebrating, I have realized how important it is to focus on another "C" word, and that word is communication. So the two words, celebrate and communicate, have become linked in my mind as my focal points for the year. It is scary to communicate. There are so many fears! One can be rejected, or ask a stupid questions, or make someone angry or sad, or make a fool of oneself.

Even in the most close and loving families, each person is an individual with their own likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. It is so important to talk, talk, talk (or write, write, write). Don't let others get in the way of getting your needs met. Ask for what you need. If people's needs are conflicting, even more discussion is needed. Think outside that box. Find a solution. You may not be able to please everyone every time, but you should be able to find mutually agreeable solutions most of the time.

If you do something wrong, say that you are sorry. If you change your mind about something, let others know right away. If you have doubts or worries share them, and of course, also share you enthusiasm and joy! Ask for the things you need. Compliment those who deserve it. "Thank you" and "I love you" should not be neglected.

We are not perfect here at Faerie Gardens, but we are all working at being open, authentic individuals living a consensual life that we can all be happy with.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Babies

We have been helping take care of our grandson Benji on a somewhat regular basis since he was born last August. Although it can be a lot of work, it is also a lot of fun. It is cool having a baby around the house. It is also cool seeing how my kids respond to him. Esme stayed with her big sister for nearly 2 months after he was born and so had the first taste of baby care. She said it wasn't hard and is still quite a good auntie to her little nephew.

Josie is the most dedicated baby carer now though. If Benji even makes a peep, she is there to see if he needs anything. She is the one who plays with him when he is tired or grouchy often for inexplicable reasons, being with him until the mood passes or until she can figure out what he wants or needs. No one asks her to do these things; she is just super responsive to him. I think they are forming quite the connection. It is funny because she use to be the one of my kids who would say that they never wanted kids because they were too much work!

Lia has a disadvantage of never having had a younger siblings, but the advantage of being around babies and toddlers on a somewhat regular basis when visiting Damita. She was a natural with Benji right from the start, but at 12 is still a bit too young to have the motherly interest in him that Josie and Es do. She is a good playmate for him, and she has a special connection with Diana and me that makes her especially sensitive to our stresses which leads her to be likely to volunteer to help out when we need a break most, even if it is not the best time for her.

Antonio has been the wild card. When we discussed the possibility of taking care of Benji regularly with the kids, he said, "I don't care, but I'm not good with babies." Well we now have proof that Ant is very good with babies. Matter of fact, Benji has this special look that he gives Ant. Ant says that he looks like him like he is a god! I would describe it as a look of awe. If Benji is in the least fussy, he completely calms and quiets at the site of Ant and just stares at him! Ant is also responsive to Benji helping him when he can (and helping me too of course!) He is even known to hold Benji and take him in his room to play on occasion.

One of the cool things about having a baby in the house for me is that I get to practice unschooling philosophy with him which is something that I didn't do with my own children. (Of course, I had never heard of unschooling, and it certainly wasn't the advice coming out in popular baby care books of the late '80's.) There is a part of me that feels shaky at not controlling Benji more. He doesn't have a schedule! I just follow his lead meeting his needs as best as I can. The truth is that it is a wonderful way to raise a baby, and Benji is for the most part a calm and happy boy with a curious personality and a ton of energy! He seems very secure and willing to go with the flow. I am so happy to have him as a part of my life!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Musing on Books: Lavinia by Ursula LeGuin and The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

Lavinia is a retelling of Vergil's Aeneid from the point of view of a rather minor character, Lavinia, Vergil's final wife. Although I didn't love the style of the book (it didn't have enough depth to make up for the lack of flow that I prefer in my fictional reading), the strong themes of "who are we as individuals" and "is life a story" made it an enjoyable experience.

I recently read The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle which also has the redeeming value of those two themes (although the books are very different in style and story.) I always find it interesting when themes repeat in books that I read one after the other, especially books that are so very different and are chosen fairly at random by myself to read. I have been pondering a lot lately what makes me who I am, and what makes life what it is.

Last night, I also watched the movie The Last Unicorn. Unfortunately the movie completely leaves out the "who am I" theme, and the "is life a story theme" is so buried as to be almost nonexistent. It was sad to me that the movie was so unfaithful to the purpose of the book.