December 19, 2017

Notes from a Blue Bike, by Tsh Oxenreider

"Living with intention" has been getting a lot of buzz lately, especially going into the holidays. I think it's a reaction to our culture of rushing around all the time, more is more, go go go. It is stressful, and it tends to wreak havoc on a family, not to mention on me as an individual.

So what does that look like, though, to be intentional about your life? Everything on your schedule is a choice you've made, to some extent, right? So how do you go about modifying those choices to allow room for peace, and for the things that are most important to you?

Tsh Oxenreider has a few ideas.

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, by Tsh Oxenreider

3.5 stars: Gave me a lot to think about.

Having lived overseas and travelled extensively, Tsh offers insight into how an American family can slow down and live more simply.

She makes the point that our society here in America is productivity based, rather than relationship based. So we tend to place much higher value on "getting things done" than on getting to know people or caring for them. We go at race pace until we're exhausted, without stepping back to figure out what is really most important to us as individuals or families. We use up resources--our own and the world's--at an alarming rate, with hardly a look around to see how everyone else is faring.

She has put a lot of thought into what is most important for her family, and how best to go about incorporating these values into everyday life. Things like making organic food from scratch, taking their young children with them on trips abroad, creating a healthy balance between work and leisure time, being open to change when it comes to how best to education each child each year, and mindfully choosing what they would be entertained by (rather than just turning on the TV afterschool every day.) 

* * * * *
I went into this one thinking I would agree on nearly every point. While there was a lot I took away from it, I found myself pushing back on some things, which surprised me. 

First let's talk about some of our points of agreement. Her discussion on choosing family entertainment in a mindful was spot on for me. I am anti-TV. It's not that I don't enjoy watching it either, it's that I enjoy it a bit too much. I can sit down to an episode of some home makeover show and 3 or 6 episodes later look around, wondering where the time has gone. We don't have a TV in our home at all. Yes, we're some of those people.

The kids get 20 minutes of screen time every day, once they've finished their chores and music practicing. They can watch some shows from PBS kids, or play games on my Kindle. However, since we've moved, there have been many days where they don't get any screen time, because we've been too busy doing other things. I am totally okay with that, and they haven't complained about missing it, so there you go.

Her take on travelling with kids was great. I would love to do more of that. We have really enjoyed our trips, though they haven't been abroad, and seem to create the fondest memories when we're all together, away from our normal routines. I also really like the idea of spending money on experiences rather than things.

As much as civil unrest and long plane rides worry me, I think it would be awesome to experience more of the world, together. I think she's right when she says you just have to go. Don't wait for the perfect time, because there's no such thing. Have faith in your ability to handle whatever may come up, plan the best you can, and jump in. I want to do this!

I also agree with her point that American culture centers around productivity, rather than relationships. I recognize this in myself. I feel much better about my day and how I've spent my time when I've gotten a lot done--tasks that could be checked off a list, were I to write one down.

However, this one area that I found myself thinking, "Hold up." What's so bad about productivity? I believe in hard work, I believe in setting goals and working towards them. I also don't think those things necessarily shut out building relationships with people. 

I'm trying to teach my kids to value hard work and showing them how good it can feel to accomplish a hard task. How do I do that? Well, by example--I hope. Words too, but their dad and I make it a point to include them in any big family task, whether that's taking down a garden shed, or canning fruit. They're part of the family, so they're expected to help. At the same time, there's a lot of relationship building time as you do those tasks together. 

So I guess that part was a bit muddy for me. The idea I got was that when she lived in Turkey, spending a whole afternoon taking tea at a friend's home was considered a valuable way to spend time. I'm not saying it wasn't. I just don't think that's the only way to build relationships. You can build friendships one book club night a month, or in 1 hour increments, chatting away on the sidelines while your child participates in team sports. Phone calls, texts, emails, and written cards build relationships also, and can even be part of the "getting things done" for the day checklist. 

Maybe what she was trying to say is that productivity is a means, not the end itself. Packing your schedule just so that you can have more to check off and feel important about is setting yourself up for burnout and discouragement. On the other hand, mindfully choosing what your big picture end goals are, then completing tasks that get you closer to those goals should leave you recharged and fulfilled at the end of the day. 

As far as the bit about education, I appreciated her honesty about how hard her year of homeschooling her daughter was for them all. I am fine with having my kids in public school; I am open to homeschooling if a need presents itself, or if we feel that would be best at some point. Right now, though, the kids are adjusting and happy--for the most part--so we're sticking with that. I will admit that I haven't sat down and given it serious thought at the beginning of each school year like she does.

* * * * *
What are your thoughts on intentional living? Anything to add? 

December 15, 2017

The Norvelt Duo, by Jack Gantos

I have been slowly working my way through the Newberry Award winners from the past 5 years, per my Reading Goal. More slowly than I had anticipated, but hey--it happens.

This time around, I had already read (and reviewed) the actual award winner--Dead End in Norvelt--then discovered there was a book continuing the story. I found the second and didn't like it nearly as much as the first. So if you want my advice--which of course you do, right?--read the first and take a pass on the second. You won't miss much.

Dead End in Norvelt, by Jack Gantos
2012 Newberry Winner
2012 Scott O' Dell Award

4 stars

Maybe I'm getting jaded, or maybe I just don't read very humorous books, but it has been a long time since I have laughed out loud while reading. An occasional chuckle perhaps, but that's about it. This one had me laughing multiple times, causing my husband to give me the "are you okay over there" look and my kids to beg me to explain what was so funny. Guess you just had to be there.

As far as giving it the Newberry--I don't know that it had the depth to really deserve that award, but maybe they just wanted a book to win that would really appeal to boys...and their moms. I guess. In any case, I enjoyed it.

(Originally reviewed on Goodreads, July 2012)

From Norvelt to Nowhere, by Jack Gantos

2 stars: This one was a bit off.

Jack somehow gets swept along on a crazy road trip, with his old-lady neighbor Ms. Volker. She's after a murderer, or so she says, and apparently there's a few people after her too. Also, Ms. Volker has a gun. Jack isn't sure what to think, except that he should stop anybody from killing anybody else. If he can.

* * * * *
I really liked Dead End in Norvelt, and my oldest son liked it too, when he read it a couple of months ago. This one....I steered him away from it. Not that there's content issues, per se, but there's kind of a weird vibe going on between Jack and Ms. Volker. In some places he's coming on to her and in other situations she's coming on to him. I mean, she's old enough to be his grandma. It was unsettling and just strange.

Pretty much the whole time Jack is certain that Ms. Volker has lost her mind. She certainly acts like it. Is it all an act? Maybe Gantos did too good a job of convincing me along the way, because when she makes a turn-around, that's when I stopped believing. Maybe she just started taking her meds or something, I don't know.

Then there's the whole issue of the trip in the first place. So, Jack's parents were okay with him escorting her on her trip.  Okay, I guess. I'll go along with that--it was a train ride to Grand Central Station. Not much could go wrong there, right? However, when it turned into several-thousand-mile road trip and they were still just fine with it all?, not so much. "Have fun stormin' the castle, Jack, and be sure to buckle up since you're still TOO YOUNG TO DRIVE!" Just no.

I didn't find it nearly as funny as the first. More like disjointed, a bit manic, and strange.

* * * * *
What books have you read where the sequel is as good as the first in the series? I keep thinking it must be hard to write a sequel, because there are so many that fall flat.

December 14, 2017

True Confessions: Reading Edition

If you are on Goodreads you probably know that the Goodreads Choice Awards were announced a few weeks ago. These are the best books in many different genres, as voted on by the reading community of Goodreads. They have to have been published within this year.

I have a confession to make. Just skimming through the awards, I hadn't read a single one. Not even in some of my favorite categories, like middle grade fiction, or memoirs/biographies. Several are on my "to-read" list, but I just haven't gotten to them yet. (I added a few more to my list as I went through, though!)

Why would that be the case?

Maybe it's because most of my reading choices come from recommendations of others. Not just any others though; others whom I trust. It can be fraught, at times. Suzanne from Such Stuff, and Amy from Sunlit Pages did a Book Blab episode on this very topic. Check it out if you haven't yet. It's good stuff!

Part of it could also be the Big Life Events we had going on this year: move, new baby, and now fire. I have gravitated toward tried and true comfort fare, more so than untested new books. It's okay. I can own it. I have needed an escape at times. Thank you, reading.

Only being able to check out 5 books at a time for the first 3 months we lived here played a big part, as well.

I think another part of it has to do with a contrary streak I have that tends to manifest itself when a thousand people are all talking about the same book. I never have read The Lovely Bones, but I remember when it was the hot new book that everyone was talking about. I even picked it up more than once and read the blurb, but it just wasn't a subject matter I wanted to dive into. No regrets here. (Sidenote: I have never seen the movie Titanic, either. Three hours of my life that I can spend on other things, thank you.)

Is this a big deal? I'm trying to decide how much I care. The truth is, mostly I don't, except the librarian part of me that feels like I should be keeping up with the new releases. I most definitely am not doing that. I have read some books published this year, just not any on any of those award lists. I prefer to think that I'm offering a different perspective than the mainstream, but that could be all in my mind!

As I'm thinking about Reading Goals for next year, perhaps this would be fertile ground.

What about you? Do you seek out new releases? Stick to highly recommended options? Or a mix of both?

Of all the new releases from 2017, which should I be sure to catch sooner rather than later?

December 11, 2017

It Has Been a Long Week

So, a week ago our house caught on fire.

I'll give you the short version.
First of all, we are all okay.
It was just the kids and I home at the time. My husband was still at work. 
My oldest son is the hero for coming to get me in the kitchen when he smelled smoke in the front living room, before any smoke detectors had even gone off. Together we went looking for the source, which turned out to be in the utility closet upstairs (it's in the master bathroom for some reason.)
The wall behind the boiler was in flames and thick gray smoke came pouring out.
I called 911 and got us all out of the house and to the neighbors.
I also let my husband know what was going on.
He came right home, but it is a 30 minute drive, so he missed some of the action.

This is the living room ceiling, underneath where the boiler was burning.

Fire trucks came within 5-10 minutes, and the fire was out within about an hour.
The fire chief said it was going down into the wall when they got there.

The good news is that we are all alive and we still have a house.
Also, we have good home insurance.
The bad news is that we can't live in our house for the next 1-3 months while it is repaired and our things cleaned from the smoke.

Some kind friends are letting us stay in their basement for the duration.
So, life goes on.

Meanwhile, I have ideas for posts and things to say, but also, my life is a bit chaotic at the moment.
If we can get our computer moved over to where we're staying, then I'll be back in business.
(It was in the dining room, which had little to no damage.)
Thank goodness for our library card, since all of our books are smoky and off-limits!

Here's to this week being better than last.