Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book Review: The Magician's Elephant

I am a tremendous fan of Kate DiCamillo. I have five wonderful memories of journeys taken with her books. Indeed all of her novels are tales of journeys and adventures.

After I finished reading her first book, Because of Winn Dixie, I discovered the book in audio form at our library back in IL and listened to the whole thing, enraptured, on the way to our CBLI encampment one summer with ES. (If you are anticipating a long car ride with kids for spring break or summer vacation, audio books make such an excellent choice because you and your children will forever remember the time and place you experienced the book coming alive.)

Next, I read The Tiger Rising aloud to my son before bed. I know he was quite young and perhaps the book was intended for an older audience, but he was fascinated. The idea of discovering a live tiger caged in the woods is so appealing to a boy.

Moreover, I will never forget the thrill of listening to Ms. McKee, a third grade teacher I worked with at my son's school, provide daily doses of "Despereaux." The minute the word was off her lips, the students would scurry eagerly to the carpet, anxious to hear another installment of a truly breathtaking story of adventure and redemption. It may have even played a role in my requesting Ms. McKee as my own son's teacher the following year - because I was hopeful that he would experience the same wonder and excitement.

Sadly, somehow his class never finished the book (evidence that the dynamics of different student groups can vary tremendously). But, during spring break of the following year, we embarked on our 8 hour round trip to bring a shipment of belongings to this house. As we drove, we listened to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Once again, it was magical to share the experience during that long car ride.

My little boys were the ones who fell in love with DiCamillo's Mercy Watson books. I wasn't drawn in at first, despite the beautiful, bold illustrations. However, once again, when we discovered an audio version of three Mercy Watson tales, I became hooked and my sons (all three) began to express a love for "toast, with a great deal of butter."

Thus, I was thrilled when I recently discovered The Magician's Elephant was available at our library. Unfortunately, it is my least favorite DiCamillo novel. Having said that, though, I would love to be a fly on the wall and watch Ms. McKee read this story to a group of third graders.

The illustrations are beautiful and the tale reads like a fairy tale. The story follows young Peter Augustus Duchene, an orphan in the city of Baltese, who is training to become a soldier. His crusty old guardian, an old soldier named Vilna Lutz, is doing his best to encourage the boy to seek out experiences which will harden and toughen him.

However, Peter, in a moment of passionate hope, throws away their money for bread in exchange for advice from a fortuneteller who has set up a tent in the market square. His driving quest is to discover if his sister still lives and how he can find her. The fortuneteller provides a seemingly impossible answer, "An elephant will lead you there!"

Although it wasn't my favorite book by this outstanding author, I have already prepared the questions I will use when I prime my younger sons for the experience of listening to this book (even if an audio is available, I will want to read this aloud to them because of the wonderful illustrations). I will ask them, "What if you discovered that you had once held a baby sister? What would you be willing to do to find her? Would you love a sister as much or more than you love your brothers?"

Now, I just have to remember to review this review in about three year's time. Who knows, maybe they will enjoy this particular journey more than I did. Maybe the timing, the questions, and the story will propel them into an experience similar to what the students of Ms. McKee's third grade classroom enjoyed back in 2003. After all, I do believe in the magic of books!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spurting Spider Cake

Many years ago, when all we had to deal with was one small boy, I used to throw Halloween parties every year. Those were such wonderful times. The kids had a blast and I had such fun planning and executing the parties.

One year, I made a Spurting Spider Cake that was a tremendous hit. I found the idea on-line. You simply make your cake batter and pour it into two bowls - one large and one small. The large cake becomes the abdomen and the small cake, the head of the spider. You cut the large cake in half and round out a well in the inside of each half. Then, you blend up green jello and pour it into the cavity, covering it with the top half. I frosted the cake black (it came out gray - I can never seem to get colors rich enough) and added pipe cleaners for legs. When we cut into the cake, just as promised, the green guts spurted and oozed out of the middle of the cake. It was fantastic.

This year, as we approached Trevor's half birthday, I began to ask what kind of cake he wanted me to make. He requested a brown, hairy tarantula. I suggested a brown, spurting spider cake. He agreed.

Of course, the two little boys were determined to assist me every step of the way. Here is a photo of them enjoying the beaters after we mixed up the buttercream icing:

It didn't exactly turn out as picture perfect as the first spurting spider cake I made. I think last time I must have used two cake mixes. This time, I was trying to cut my husband a break (since he has a wellness screening tomorrow and has been worried that eating too much cake will somehow skew the results, despite the fact that he works out regularly) and so, I only made one cake mix.

When I pulled the cakes out of the oven, it became clear there would be no way to cut the larger cake in half and insert blended jello. Thus, I went back to the
drawing boardkitchen and made another large bowl cake.

I'm pretty sure I also had a different large glass bowl back then, because this one ended up with more of a squared off appearance. It worked much better when I blended, filled and frosted, the morning of the party. This time around, knowing that I would have helpers if I waited until the morning our guests were slated to arrive, I filled and frosted the cake the night before. When we cut into the cake, there was NO SPURTING. The filling had cooled back to a solid form. Anyway, it still looked fine, it just didn't turn out quite as well. The boys didn't mind in the slightest. It was still a big hit!

This is what it looked like after frosting it:

This is what it looked like when we added chocolate licorice legs (far superior to the pipe cleaner legs used for the previous cake, but less stable):

Trevor invited his favorite little friend from school, Evan. Evan's mother brought along Evan's six year old brother, Oscar (whom Trevor also loves). They were feverish in excitement (yes, it would have been impossible to frost the cake, since my husband was away at work that morning). The four boys played inside, then we ate the cake and resumed playing outside.

When Trevor went to bed that night, he declared it "the best day of his life." We put them to bed early, ordered a pizza and actually managed to watch half of a sweet movie ("Ring of Bright Water") before hubby had to head off to bed (he can't do the late nights and I can't do the early mornings). It truly was a really great day!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Book Review: The Undomestic Goddess

My mother suggested Sophie Kinsella's books to me several years back, when she was thoroughly enjoying Shopaholic and Sister. Of course, my immediate reaction was that her suggestion had something to do with the dichotomous natures of her own two daughters (my sister being the "shopaholic," of course, and myself being merely a "sister"). Then, I found the first book available on CD from the library, and I have been basking in the same love for Sophie Kinsella, ever since. (I especially love listening to her books, because they are read with the British accent and I can't duplicate that sufficiently in my own mind, when I read her books).

This is, indeed, the first Sophie Kinsella book that I have read "on my own" (without the British narration). It turned out to be a light-hearted romp of a read. I devoured the book in a few days' time.

The Undomestic Goddess, tells the story of Samantha Sweeting, a frazzled, up-and-coming lawyer, who is awaiting word on whether or not she has been promoted to partner in her firm. Somehow, on the very day she receives this coveted honor, she discovers that she has made a gigantic error, a 50 million pound error. In disbelief and shock, Samantha walks out of her office, boards a train and finds herself wandering the English country-side.

She approaches a stately home, intending to ask for a glass of water and the use of a phone, but is quickly mistaken for an interviewee for their housekeeper position. She accepts the position, despite the fact that she can't cook, sew or even figure out how to turn on her own oven. She figures, she's tired, she needs a night to sleep on this quandary and she can always come clean with her employers in the morning.

Somehow, coming clean takes Samantha longer than she expected. and she learns quite a bit during her hilarious term in a job she is completely unqualified for. The handsome gardener is intrigued with her plight, when he finds her knee-deep in scorched chick-peas. Despite her lack of qualifications for the job, Samantha learns quite a bit during her hilarious term as a domestic.

This was a delightful little read. I still think I enjoyed the Shopaholic books a bit more, but if you are looking for some fine chick lit, you can never go wrong with a Sophie Kinsella book. Plus, I discovered that a movie adaptation for this one is in the works. Who knows maybe I'll find a girlfriend to head to the theaters with, in time for the picture's release.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Beautiful Birth Story

I intended to write a book review tonight. That was before I glanced quickly through the headlines AOL provides. That was before I got completely and totally sucked into this beautiful birth story. Of course, I couldn't be content with just reading this mother's precious post, I had to also read a couple hundred of her almost 3,000 comments (yes, that's not a typo - and we can be sure my blog will never get that many comments!). Then, I had to read all of her posts from now back to the moment of her precious daughter Nella's birth. That's just the way I roll.

So now, it is midnight. The book review will have to wait. I got nothing. But, my heart is full of wonder at the joy of new life and the power of emotion when life pulls us in directions we never expected. The music, alone, on her site made me well up with awe at God's majestic plans. Her photography is stunning. I even had to smile when she mentioned that the Black Eyed Peas song really has her convinced that "tonight's gunna be a good night!" Check it out. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wrestling Awards

Tonight my ES and I attended his Winter Sports Recognition Ceremony. I was remembering how difficult it was to focus on the program last year, when I had to bring MS and YS along. They were 4 and 2 at the time and really did not care one whit about what was going on in the program. They were, however, very fascinated by a kindergarten girl nearby who wanted to see MS's dog (this was back when he carried his stuffed dog, Max, everywhere). It was a challenge keeping them quiet. It was a challenge keeping them still. It was a challenge listening to any other awards besides the one being given to my own son.

This year was a blissful experience in comparison. I sat alone in the bleachers and heard every word. At the end, I was even able to take a few photos of the coaches and the team together and say a few words of appreciation to the head coach.

I'm not sure why my ES never smiles for pictures. He even has perfect teeth now - not necessary to wear his retainer during the day any more. He is in the center, back, of the group, the blond with the longest hair of the bunch.

When I begged him to smile, he cracked a grin for a few nanoseconds and I secured this blurry, off-centered photo:

The head coach is the bald man with his arm around one of the players in the right front. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am to this coach. He is a man of integrity and character, with a strong commitment to excellence. He prods his team members on to better behavior and team spirit. If one member isn't giving his all, the entire team works harder during practices. If a student gets in trouble during the school day with a teacher, the whole team does push ups while saying "Thank you, so-and-so!" If a student comes to practice with unfinished homework, he is required to sit and finish the homework before participating in the practice. This coach really shows the boys that he is interested in them as a total person, not just as an athlete on his particular team.

He presented my ES with the award for the best mental attitude, praising him for his solid grades, encouragement of teammates and positive attitude throughout the season. He also presented each wrestler with a $5 gift card to McDonalds, thanking them for a season giving up both pop and chocolate. Finally, he gave them each a green golf ball to remind them of some long, elaborate 45 minute joke that he tells every year on the bus (all the wrestlers groaned).

At the end of the distribution of the awards, the head coach had all the 8th grade wrestlers join in a huddle and invited any interested teammates, coaches or parents to join around the huddle for a send-off prayer. Several of the other mothers had tears in their eyes. It is very clear that the other parents share my high opinions of this coach. He is truly a great man doing a great service in the lives of these boys.

I am so thankful that he always goes above and beyond the call of duty for this team of wrestlers. We will miss him, when ES goes on to participate in the high school wrestling team next year. Hopefully, ES will continue to keep in contact with him and maybe go back to help the coach out from time to time.

Finally, we capped the night off with a sweet trip to Dairy Queen for Blizzards. ES is my partner in crime, when it comes to Blizzards, so we have been longing for this celebration. He gets the Brownie Batter Blizzard (his favorite) and I get the French Silk Pie Blizzard (my favorite). To quote the Black Eyed Peas (a group my little guys have recently discovered, strangely enough), "I had a feeling that tonight was gonna be a good night!"

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go

For the past two days, I have done nothing but rave about this book to anyone who would listen. I began reading it on Wednesday night. It is the first time in a long time I have delved into a book where I couldn't wait to get to the next word, next sentence, and next page. At almost 500 pages, it was a heft of a book and a lengthy adventure.

With an intriguing title, The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, starts off with a bang from the very first two sentences ("The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs got nothing much to say. About anything."). It is the first in a series of books called "Chaos Walking."

As Todd Hewitt approaches his 13th birthday, he is the last boy to become a man in the isolated settlement of Prentisstown on the New World. Life on this planet has been hard, since a war with the residing aliens (the Spackles) has decimated all females and left all men and animals with a tragic condition called "The Noise." Every man's thoughts are audible, spilling out and around, making life in the settlement chaotic.

I suppose this is why I raved so adamantly at the beginning. What a fantastic "what-if" scenario! I really enjoyed contemplating this whole idea of never being able to keep even your most private thoughts to yourself. But, the book doesn't allow you to stand still and contemplate that for long.

Todd and his dog, Manchee, discover a pocket of silence out in the swamps. They are startled and scared and try very hard to drown out the thoughts of their discovery as they return home to the waiting chores. Before Todd can even begin his work, his guardians, Ben and Cillian, unearth a bag they have previously packed for him, containing food, clothing, and his mother's diary, and tell him to run for his life.

The rest of the novel is a pins-and-needles ride as Todd runs from an eccentric, evil preacher (this seemed a bit too PC - of course, the delusional, madman is a religious figure) and an army pursuing them. Patrick Ness has a profound ability for leading the reader on and constantly upping the ante. He creates an intriguing alternate world and doesn't even betray the motive of pursuit until almost the end of this first book.

It is certainly a book that would appeal to teenage boys. It has action, adventure, weapons, violence, and a quest. I should note that the book contains some language and disturbing scenes of violence.

If I had written my review last night, when I was 300 pages in, I would have gushed without end. However, the last 200 pages altered my viewpoint a bit. For one thing, the author just packs too much in. I think the book would have been vastly improved if he had tightened it to under 400 pages. The first 300 were powerful, riveting and absorbing. But, the last 200 began to grow tedious. How many times can the main character(s) face and escape immanent death? Every moment of hope seems to be dashed by the appearance of another Prentisstown threat. And how can Todd keep outrunning his pursuers, when he is on foot and they are on horseback??

Moreover, the ending left me really bummed. It ended with more questions without answers. Of course, his goal is to entice me to read the second and third parcels of this story, but I'm afraid it will end up being more of the same. I'm desperate to find out what happens, but I'm also worried that the trip might just prove too long and over-the-top to fully enjoy.

Once again, I was annoyed with an author's use of vernacular spelling ("creachers," "populayshun," "infeckshus,"etc.). I don't quite understand the purpose of this stumbling block, since it didn't really lend to dialect. Todd is supposed to be nearly illiterate, but if that were the motive, the entire thing would be full of creative spellings, since there are plenty of harder words which are spelled correctly. It seemed that it detracted from more than it enhanced the story.

Still, I don't regret the roller-coaster ride of this read at all. Even with its shortcomings, this book gives a reader plenty to chew on: the idea of information overload, the corruptive nature of power, the interesting dynamics between men and women when it comes to communication (and power), and the futility of Utopian quests. It would be an interesting book for group discussion. I'm pretty sure I'll be thinking about this book for quite a while to come. Plus, I know I won't be able to hold myself back from seeking out the second in this series (even if our library doesn't own it ... yet).

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: Mercy on These Teenage Chimps

I'm always on the lookout for books for boys, in the hopes that I can force entice my teenage son into reading. Thus, when I found myself in a darkened library, wandering the young adult section, looking for an elusive book on CD, I noticed this cover and quickly ascertained that it is meant for boys. It seemed like the author's name looked familiar, but I never did place where I might have seen it before.

Mercy on These Teenage Chimps, follows two boys, Joey and Ronnie, who have recently hit that magical thirteenth birthday, launching them into their teenage years and into the awkward likeness of a chimp (long arms, hairy bodies, unpleasant smells, and attention-seeking behaviors). Their behavior has earned them detention (how ironic, since my ES's 13 year old behavior earned him a detention for talking this week). The coach decides to waive their detention in exchange for their help with a banquet he is hosting.

At the banquet, Joey lays eyes on "the love of his life" and, in his smitten state, climbs the rafters attempting to retrieve her balloon. In front of the girl and many others, the coach berates Joey and calls him a "monkey." Joey is so mortified by this development that he climbs a tree in his yard and refuses to come down.

Ronnie takes it upon himself to right this wrong, seeking out both the coach (for an apology) and the girl (to make a "love connection"). As he pursues this justice, his own path wends and winds. Both Joey and Ronnie discover that the state they are in isn't terminal and that pretty much every other guy is in the same predicament.

I doubt my teenage son would take the time to read this book on his own (although I may require it as light reading over spring break, since it is only 12 chapters and 147 pages long). It is a tad bit hokey. I mean, I highly doubt a 13 year old boy is going to feel wounded when labeled a monkey by a coach, let alone climb a tree and refuse to come down for days. I was also skeptical that a 13 year old boy would be caught dead riding his trike (I'm assuming that means tricycle, not Big-Wheel) to get to church on time. However, it did give me good ammunition for the war that is church attendance: if I can find a church where really attractive teenage girls attend, the struggle might evaporate.

Still, for boys who enjoy reading, this could be a good choice. There really aren't enough entertaining books out there for boys and I was pleased that this one didn't really stoop to potty humor in order to appeal to boys. It was generally funny without references to butts and the sounds that come from them. Plus, it does have a valid message for boys on the cusp of their teenage years. There will indeed be lots of changes for their bodies and minds and they may feel like they should just be put away in a zoo, but life will work out in the end, even after many crooked roads.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: The Case of Madeleine Smith

When I was in high school, I read Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and declared it my favorite book. Indeed, I began to be consumed with all things Dickens. I read biographies. I read other novels. I wrote papers on Dickens. I collected Dickens books.

When I went to college, I took Victorian literature and history courses. I wrote more papers on Dickens. While studying with the Wheaton-in-England group, I managed to finagle an independent study with Dr. Joseph McClatchy. I researched locations associated with Dickens and wrote up a student study guide to accompany further travels for the Wheaton-in-England groups (wonder if they were ever used, though I don't really care, since they were such fun to put together).

I also pursued a master's degree in history focusing on ... you guessed it, Victorian British history. During that period of study, I wrote a paper on five Victorian murder cases. It was fascinating.

Thus, when I ran across this little graphic true crime novel in the library book sale yesterday, for only a quarter, I had to purchase it. It was a delightful read. The graphics and words all remained faithful to the feel of Victorian history.

The Case of Madeleine Smith, by Rick Geary, tells the story of a young girl born into an upper class family in Glasgow, Scotland. I delighted in noting that she was sent off for her finishing school experience to Gorton's Academy for Young Ladies in London (Gorton is my maiden name). When she returned home she ended up meeting a young man, Emile L'Anglier, through an off-hand introduction by a mutual friend. This turned into a secret affair, maintained primarily through correspondence. Eventually, Madeleine Smith is brought to trial for the murder of Emile L'Anglier, with her own correspondence thrown into public light and used against her.

Since this book belongs to a series called "A Treasury of Victorian Murder," I will have to see if I can access any other volumes. Who knows perhaps this little dip back into the waters of Victorian history (something I haven't really pursued in years) will inspire me to read Dickens again. With all those Dickens books on my shelf, it does seem a shame that I haven't read any of his works in a good, long time. Ah, those Victorians - such interesting people in an interesting time!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book Review: Ruby's Imagine

I will admit that the first thing that caught my eye about Ruby's Imagine, by Kim Antieau, was the interesting cover. The book has only half a cover with an image of clouds. The hardback top section bears a colorful butterfly. When I visited Kim Antieau's blog and searched for posts about the book, I discovered these two photos of the cover. Otherwise, I would have been unaware of the hurricane shot beneath the cloud protective cover. This was very compelling.

I hadn't really intended to pick up any young adult books. I was merely looking for a particular book on CD to listen to when I drive my hubby's car. However, when I arrived at the library the lights were out and the computer system couldn't bring up the location of the CD I had intended to find. Thus, I was browsing ... always a dangerous thing, for me. So, if a cover can sell a book, this would be a good argument. I don't think I was even able to read anything from the inside to peak my interest (since the only light available came from a few windows near the ceiling).

When I started reading, I was a bit put off by the language used at first. It wasn't foul language. It was merely Ruby's strange way of speaking (improper English or ghetto dialect). Her first line is, "A butterfly the color of my name did tell me that a Big Spin was coming our way." At first, I thought the character was a small child. When I discovered that she is 17, this bothered me even more. I guess I don't want to have to work so hard to understand what is being said. I want it to be said properly.

However, after I got into the book further, I began to understand the character more clearly and the dialect used made more sense. Ruby is a young girl in New Orleans, Louisiana, who lives with her grandmother, Mammaloose. Mammaloose claims that she took Ruby in after her mother and father were killed in an accident, but Ruby has memories of living in the bayou with her parents and two sisters. Her grandmother claims these are just her imaginings (thus the title).

It is no wonder that Mammaloose could convince Ruby that she merely imagined a different life because Ruby is quite unusual. She talks to trees and birds and insects and seems to imagine life in more than a 3-dimensional way. Indeed, it is just such a conversation with a butterfly that begins the plot, leading up to the big storm. And when that big storm hits it ends up being far more than a natural storm. It brings on an emotional storm, as well.

The story is a good one. It tells of human connections and conflicts and good intentions. It is the stuff of human life. The fact that it is paired with the New Orleans hurricane crisis makes sense because situations of that magnitude will make individuals come clean about secrets they have been harboring.

However, the portrayal of Hurricane Katrina sometimes felt like it had an agenda. The characters talk about the delay in help being a calculated plan to let the poor people die and the rich people be saved. Looting is referred to as merely "getting supplies to live on."

I've never been in charge of handling emergency disaster relief efforts (although I'm pretty sure both my sister and brother-in-law were involved with the Katrina relief efforts since they were stationed with The Salvation Army in Mississippi at the time), but I can bet that in the face of crisis people respond with what is truly inside of them. Some will respond with the good they bear, like Ruby trying to assist others towards safety. Others will respond with the ill intent they bear, like looting. Looting is not merely getting supplies to live on, it is taking something that belongs to someone else because an opportunity has arisen (and I'm fairly sure that items looted in these disasters - both the hurricanes and the recent spate of earthquakes - went far above the necessities of life).

But, all of that aside (political viewpoints may not mesh), I can still appreciate this as a good story to be told. The author did an outstanding job of really giving Ruby a particular voice and character. She placed her story in the midst of situations that kids would be interested in reading about. Indeed, I imagine (like Ruby, hee-hee) my niece, Paige, would enjoy reading this, since her parents work so often with disasters. In fact, it might be good to recommend that she try to get the book in CD form, so she can hear someone else read the dialect (perhaps then it might not have bothered me at all). It was a quick read, with a good story and a really interesting cover concept.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

And The Winner Is ...

No, I'm not talking about the Oscars. I won't even watch them since I never have any time or convenience for taking in a movie.

Here's YS picking the winner of my book giveaway:

Congratulations to Allison Schneider! The link I provided will take you to her post on edible play dough, something I'm going to have to try with my little boys.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a comment as an entry. Several mentioned Karen Kingsbury and I must say I have enjoyed every Karen Kingsbury book I have read (especially the Red Glove Series of books). One commenter mentioned C.S. Lewis. I will have to admit that I have read more of his letters than his books. Still, he is a phenomenal Christian writer and well-worth a read. Allison suggested Dee Henderson and Terri Blackstock (I think I've read both of them). I'm also familiar with Beverly Lewis, even have a book which I received as a Christmas gift, but haven't read anything by her yet. I look forward to checking out Janice Holt Giles and Tamara Leigh.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Time to Play

Ah, blessed Friday - day in which small boys attend PDO and preschool from 9 to 3! My window of fresh air. My limited walk in the sunshine of the courtyard, during my prison term of stay-at-home motherhood.

Okay, okay. It is not as bad as all that, but still, I do LOVE my Fridays. Yet, somehow I always feel this deep sense of obligation to make the time count. Since cleaning up is so difficult while they are steadily working to destroy another section of the house, it behooves me to clean like a whirling dervish while they are away. OR NOT! Usually it is not, but I do carry the guilt.

Today, I had a doctor appointment at 10, with a blood draw to check my cholesterol. By the time I returned to the house at 11 it was almost lunch time, so (despite the fact that my mil will be visiting our house ... er, I mean her house ... on Wednesday) I decided to PLAY.

There are so many things I want to learn how to do on the computer and with my blog. But, in the evenings, by the time the boys have finally finished their bathroom rounds and managed that most-difficult task of falling asleep, I spend my time taking care of "my work." This includes things like finishing up the supper dishes, checking my mail, looking in on Facebook, and writing blog posts. If I took the time to dally with "what my computer can really do..." I might never get to bed and anyone can tell you that I don't function well if I don't get enough sleep.

I was wanting to figure out how to delete my son's name (an identifying factor my husband won't allow on my blog) from that photo of his burn project so I could include it in yesterday's post. I spent most of the day fooling around with FotoFlexer, a free photo editing site on-line. Believe me, this kind of play could suck me into a black hole (time-wise). It was tremendously fun, even though my first attempts (I was trying to cut out the space where his name appeared) continued to fail. In the end, I settled for drawing a line of black through the name, which worked just fine.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that I never play, but other play usually occurs WHILE I am keeping an eye on the boys. I'm sure some would voice the opinion that I'm not exactly the hardest worker on the block. Of course, saying this wouldn't injure quite so much if the only other two individuals on our block weren't retired.

For example, I have been frittering away time playing at making a puzzle that Santa brought for MS for Christmas. I don't know what that old guy was thinking! If you ask me, he's got a few too many on his list. He brought MS a 550 piece snake puzzle that is clearly marked "Ages 12 and up!" Although I tried to help him with the puzzle, it became clear early on that I would be completing the puzzle and he would help put in the last 6 or 7 pieces.

At first, I couldn't figure out why the puzzle was causing me such difficulty (it seemed to have plenty of variations in colors, etc.) I was continually turning the lamp on the table downstairs up higher and even dragging over other lamps. Finally, it dawned on me. I'm not 20 anymore! Apparently, I need those glasses for more than just reading. Once I donned them, things moved along at a better clip.

Perhaps I did get a bit too engrossed in the play of the puzzle. At one point, while I was working and the boys were playing just 6 or 8 feet away from me, I looked up to discover that they had very quietly been standing next to the mouse cage and filling it almost to the top with extra cedar shaving bedding. The mice had already looked up to discover that with greater levels of bedding, chances of escape were greatly improved.

At another point, they had been tossing bouncy balls across the room and disappeared into the other section of the basement. This is where we stack all the garage sale fodder (steadily taking over the basement), ES's drums, and hubby's office and exercise spaces. Alas, it also leads to a small room where the utility equipment and extra freezer are housed.

I pulled myself away from the puzzle too late. They had climbed a pile of salt bags, taken the lid off of the water softener, and thrown salt all over the floor. A few days later, hubby discovered that they had gone a step further than we had realized. They had apparently also unplugged the water softener (our well water is very hard and we began to notice an odor). Yes, I think it is clear, they love to play just as much as I do!

So, tonight after enjoying my day playing around with photos, I decided we would play at dinner preparation. I asked the boys if they would like to have octopuses swimming in blood for dinner (thanks to Megan at Plum Pudding blog for the interesting suggestion). When MS asked how I would make that, I decided to include them in the process.

We chopped up our hot dogs, poked them through with linguine noodles (we discovered that thin spaghetti noodles break too easily while trying to poke them in), and boiled them for 7 minutes. The boys had a blast, even if the hot dogs did look a bit more like porcupines than octopuses.

Can you believe that after all that fun/work, YS proceeded to de-tentacle our fine octopuses and eat the hot dogs plain (the way they normally enjoy them)? It didn't take long before MS was eating them minus the noodles as well. Octopuses and blood ARE cool, just not cool enough to eat. So, a clever idea and great fun to work on together in the kitchen, but not on our menu again in the near future, except if we're merely in the mood to play, which happens now and again.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Updated: A New Dog

The last time I complained about our dog in a recent post, Liz (who has two dogs, I believe) suggested we needed to get a companion dog. I said "No Way, Jose!" As it is, hubby is adamant that the dog has to go. I can't say I would complain for myself if he went, although I would feel sad for the boys who dearly love him.

Harley celebrated his first birthday towards the end of February. Even though he couldn't have any, I made a cake to celebrate his special day. If hubby isn't eager to celebrate Harley, he is always eager to eat cake (hee-hee), especially if I make homemade buttercream icing for it.

This icing was actually intended for something else. ES had an interesting assignment in his health class. He had to bake or build a project to explain some health topic. I know it will come as no surprise that my pyromaniac chose burns. So we (ha-ha, I) made hand shaped cookies and layered them in 3s. He found some super horrifying pictures on the Internet to accompany the baked illustration of burns. We frosted the cookies so that the most severe burn had each cookie layer covered in frosting and the top was bright red with blisters of white and brown.

It was cool and disgusting all at the same time. Just the way boys like it.

Thus the leftover frosting seemed destined for a cake for our dog. (I am realizing that this photo makes the frosting appear orange. It was a vivid red.)

To be honest, the dog has been growing even more annoying of late, because his nails have become as sharp as knives. He has ripped three or four shirts by jumping up and both hubby and MS bear scars from his attacks when they were shirtless. The only time I tried to trim his nails, I drew blood and I haven't attempted it since.

Thus, when hubby showed me three large gashes on his back, I succumbed to the inevitable and scheduled Harley for a grooming session. I was feeling quite reluctant. If we are going to get rid of this dog, do I really want to blow $70 to get him groomed??? As Cardiogirl likes to say, I'm as cheap as a monkey!

Here is how our shaggy dog was looking on Thursday morning:

When I dropped him off, they gave me his pick-up time ... 7 hours later! It was an amazing feeling to return home without the dog, to spend an afternoon not cleaning the dog's paws or wiping down his leash (hubby is very fastidious and these things make the dog job extra stressful), and not worrying about begging or barking while we enjoyed our meals.

And here is what Harley looks like now:

What a profile!

Don't you love his bandana?

He's as soft as a sheep!

As ES puts it, "it seems like he's not as much of a pain since he's been groomed." Of course, I realize it is merely that he looks pretty now. Still, his paws don't bring in nearly as much filth and no tears from constant scratches these days either. Hubby wants me to select one of these photos and post an ad in the nearby pet store. Which of those photos says "You know you want to buy me~!~"?