Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September is the other January

Gretchen Rubin said this and it made me laugh. Yes, totally.

Give my son a science project, experiment, or anything to do with bugs/slime/reptiles and he is over the moon. Learning to read? Not so much. But today he came up to me and said, sounding out the letters "Mall. M-a-l. It starts with m-m-m." It was a hallelujah moment.

I no longer plan to adopt, but I still love adoption stories. A friend of mine with one son about Raccoon's age just added three more siblings to their family. The oldest is ten and he looks like the weight of the world has been on his shoulders. Now he gets to be a kid again, or for the first time. A blogger I follow is doing embryo adoption. What an amazing journey. I would totally do it, but my complicated little family is complete, for now.

Anything else on my mind? So Cesar's Way is totally working for us. I think it's mostly the increased exercise, his #1 recommendation. My dogs are definitely eating more! 20 pounds of dog food a week and counting. I had to buy an extra bag today. And our pack is more cohesive as a group. Life's not perfect, they still chase cars and sheep, but they do listen to me more. Teddybear has finally figured out that we're not going to hit him whenever he comes near us, and that we want him to eat. Poor thing, he had a rough start, like all our dogs. Jewel figured out how to climb an inclined rope ladder today at the school playground, and sloped wooden ladder. Smart thing. I haven't changed much to promote this doggy unity, but I do insist on going out the gate first, I make them sit at my feet if they try to jump up on me (only two of the small dogs do this), I sit with them while they eat to prevent fighting, and I don't let the big ones pick on our weakest pack member anymore. Also, when we walk, I puff out my chest and swagger while chanting, "Calm and Confident," but only if there are no neighbors around. A few local dogs want to join our pack now too, walking home with us whenever we go to the store. And a friend's German Shepherd tried to climb into our truck to go home with us after church. Must be animal magnetism working for me since I definitely don't have the same vibe going with my people leadership skills. :)

I am happy tonight, hence my random and silly tone, because I just finished another contest piece. I love the thrill of submitting something, even though I do not expect to win. But someone, somewhere, will read what I wrote. It's a start.

September is the other January because it's enough before the new year to still allow us to make significant changes. I just read a book on writing, and it's inspired me to find what works for me as a writer. And I love his book lists at the end. Saves me the time of copying his references throughout the book and looking them up.

I've been thinking of starting an online book club.

And so ends this post.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Book Notes: Rare Bird

by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

I almost didn't read this book, but I recognized the story of Jack's death from the author's blog. Seeing the book was like coming across an old friend and wanting to catch up, despite the possible pain.

As the author herself says, "My new story was a tragedy so frightening that, as parents, we feel we risk something even by thinking about it, because it whispers into our hearts a truth we don’t want to hear. That we can’t keep our children safe. That we don’t know what the future holds. We want to cover our ears, close our eyes, and turn away from the horror of that truth. And it may be how you are feeling right now—you might be tempted to run away from this book. I get that. I do." 

SB died 7 years ago and it was not easy to dive back into fresh grief, but this truly is a beautiful book. It has been a long time since I have cried such cleansing tears. The author's honesty must not have been easy but it is so, so valuable.

I know the comfort she speaks of, and it is a privilege to share in her life as Jack's mom. I love her idea that our connections endure, that I still get to be SB's mom, even in death.

Disclosure: I don't have affiliate links and I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Happy Sad

Writing a new story. Happy.

Seeing my friend's adoption pictures. Happy for her, sad that tragedy struck my family and took away our adoption dreams. My heart still aches over our family that will never be.

I have to work on our budget tonight. Blah.

Raccoon cut his head today on some metal. It bled enough to scare us all. I have been on edge ever since. I cannot keep him safe. I pray constantly. And worry. And pray some more. The first person he wanted to tell was Grampie. Sad he's hurt but oh so happy he's okay and it wasn't worse.

Sad this old tree got cut down, happy my kids could play fort.

Happy and sad everyday. And it's okay.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Old Water

That the earth's water is older than the sun makes sense to me.

2 The earth was without form and an empty waste, and darkness was upon the face of the very great deep. The Spirit of God was moving (hovering, brooding) over the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. (Genesis 1 AMP)

Yup, water before light.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I found this word tonight as I was reading Ephesians 1 in the Amplified version.

I think we could all use a little for of this in our lives. Undisturbedness. Little things have been annoying me lately and I have not been pleasant to be around.

Rainy season has started and the gloomy weather makes me think of Christmas in Maine. But no wood stoves here to warm up the 40 degree nights, just extra blankets and a prayer that the morning will be sunny.

All of our minds seemed to be turned Stateside. Me longing to being with family for the holidays, and Raccoon so he can catch snakes and frogs. Kitty just learned to say "Grama" and the King is exasperated with us all.

Tomorrow we are off to the one English library in the country. That will go far to restoring some undisturbedness to my life. Books for all to banish our wistful thoughts.

P.S. On Friday, I shall foray into planting a small cornfield behind our house. My neighbor was convinced that if I didn't plant today in honor of the local St. Mercedes, then my crop would fail. I hope to prove her wrong. Say a prayer for a good harvest and the chance to talk with her about spiritual things. I would like to show her that we are not slaves to punitive idols, but can be sons and daughters of our living and loving Heavenly Father. The first picture is of her beautiful rows. She is a gifted gardener.

Teddybear is very mellow and a good addition to our family pack. I hope he'll start eating better soon.

Kitty insisted on carrying the backpack on our walk today. She's quite the little firecracker. Raccoon was off at the dentist for his first cavity so he joined us later.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Notes: Cesar's Way

by Cesar Millan and Melissa Jo Peltier

The last male dog we owned (and raised from a puppy), we had to put down because he bit a child. It was terrible. I have had many dogs in my life, but this outright failure to raise Vaako well made me worried about Raccoon's new pet, Chief. Raccoon had his heart set on a male puppy. In recent years, my husband and I have adopted five older female dogs with proven temperaments. Then we rescued Storm, who is also female but definitely a handful. Now we are adding another unknown to the mix with Chief.

I had heard a little of Cesar's philosophy through his show, but I was looking for reassurance that we could raise this new puppy to not be aggressive. Right off the bat, the fact that Cesar keeps a pack of 35 made me feel more relaxed about going from four to five dogs.

After reading the whole book, I realized that two of our dogs seem to regard me as pack leader, one does some time, and the other apparently not at all. Morita, our little black dog, does not cause any trouble but she ignores me and does just what she pleases. It's interesting because I thought Storm was our mischief-maker, but it's actually Morita leading her astray. At least this is the way it seems to my inexperienced eye.

Reading the book was helpful and stressful all at the same time. I realized that I am not a pack leader, consistently, with my dogs nor with my children. But like he says, dogs live in the now and will respect me if my energy changes. Calm assertive. I feel stress about being in control and being able to change. He is right that it is a burden to constantly be in charge. I am better at being calm than at being assertive. I love that he titled one of his sections "Fake it till you make it." He advises his clients to project a persona if they feel anything but calm-assertive.

He also recommends exercise, discipline, and affection - in that order - as the cure for most problems with dogs. He says Americans are only good at the third one, affection. This is definitely true in my personal life, not just with my dogs.

So now the kids and I are walking the dogs before breakfast, and again in the afternoon. I haven't seen any miraculous changes yet, but I feel hopeful about Chief being a non-aggressive dog.

And on a different subject than dogs, Cesar's definition of submission answers a theological question I have had for years.... he explains it as being in a relaxed and receptive state, not aggressive or defensive. Very interesting, and functional I think for people relationships as well.

Disclosure: I wrote this post because I like sharing about the books I read, no one else was involved.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Notes: Forever Fluent

by Gabriel Wyner

I picked up this book because, as I mentioned, I want to learn a complicated, local language. I am only 30 words into his recommended 625, but so far so good.

Favorite Quotes:

"The real challenge lies in finding a path that conforms to the demands of a busy life."

"Every time we see a new factoid (e.g. "In AD 536, a dust cloud...), the pleasure centers of our brains burst into activity, and we click on the next link."

"I like finding ways to make life more efficient, even when finding a faster way to do something takes more time than simply doing it." (this could be the motto of my family of origin)

"Every act of recall imbues old memories with a trace of your present-day self."

My Thoughts:

Anyone considering this book probably wants to know, does it work? Yes, I would say it does. But like all language learning, you have to put in the effort to get results.

His modern approach made sense to me, and as a previous language learner, it seemed like a lot more fun than traditional methods. It does take time, but he explains why it is the very time that you take to create your own materials that makes his approach more effective than a premade program. Think of it like this, the kid in school who made the study guide for the big test usually didn’t need it by the time he or she was done. The learning is in the process.

His method is modern in the sense that it takes into account brain research, the internet’s global access, memory games, and the key element to learning – fun. Reading the book will make you laugh if you’ve ever tried to learn another language, because the author’s examples are spot on. His steps include: sound play, word play, sentence play, writing, talking, and watching TV.

I recommend a read-and-do approach to each section instead of trying to read the book straight through (like I did). He does give a summary in the final chapter, but the difference is in the details, the how and why of his approach. His explanation of why we remember things (or don’t) is fascinating and worth a read for its own sake. He offers the adult learner something scarce in the realm of language acquisition – hope. I also see great potential in the book for creating a faster, functional program for people who want to learn English, or perhaps even other skills.

That moment when you can fully understand and communicate in a foreign language is magical, and Wyner provides a clear path to achieving that goal. If you are looking for a one-stop reference book for an effective and fun language learning system, then this is it.

P.S. I would rate the book PG-13 due to a brief explanation of explicit memory tricks and a few other questionable examples.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed here are my own. Anytime on my blog that you don't see this disclosure at the end of my "book notes," it means I just read the book and want to share. This is my first review for Blogging for Books and I'm excited because... free books!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Welcome Teddybear (our new puppy)

So we have a new puppy again. Raccoon saw a $225 puppy at the mall and fell in love. We compromised with a $10 mutt from the market, even though I did not want to go back. Fortunately, this time there were fewer puppies and they were in better condition. I wanted the wrinkly face puppy, but a man beat me to her.

Chief was in a box under a cage of kittens (all of which Kitty wanted to take home). He was the only large mix available, most were poodle and cocker spaniel size. I asked if we could see him. The lady (the same one who sold Knight to us) said he had already been sold. Then when she saw we weren't interested in any others, she offered him to us. Raccoon was delighted and paid for him with a gift from his Abuela. Raccoon thought of calling his puppy Turbo, Thunder, but finally settled on Chief, like the old dog in the Fox and the Hound. ETA: We changed the name to Teddybear because yelling Chief sounded funny (like Chifa, Sifu, etc.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

An Essay in Quotes: the Need for Approval

The internet allows us to see a life of choices different than our own.

"Just because you made a different choice doesn't mean that I made the wrong one." - Me

"I'm OK, she's OK... there are many ways to be a good mother." - MotherStyles

Vi Hart's Guide to Comments - "Maybe you care because you haven't decided yet who you are and who you want to please... I am not afraid."

"Write what you like and the rest will follow." - Me

"The best way to get approval is not to need it. (Key 28)" Hugh MacLeod

All of this touches on the consumerism debate which I won't get into except to mention some great guidelines - People Planet Product

"Happiness is, after all, a consumption ethic." - Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion

(No affiliate links, I just like to show you what I'm talking about.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Pondering: Observation

"I find that I am most creative and insightful when consciously observing human behavior. Observe yourself. Observe others. Seek anomalies. You never know what insights you might uncover."

Today's Behaviors, Tomorrow's Startups by Ryan Hoover

Many people wonder: what makes human beings creative? I have read books on the subject, but this is my favorite explanations so far.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Words as Music

"For many... grammar usage comes naturally. They often can hear mistakes, as if they were listening to music." (found here)

Now that I am writing again, I am also editing. My favorite high school teacher, Mr. Q, told us to read our work out loud to hear its flow. My mother is currently my editor as well. She has a knack for clarifying things or letting me know if there's no spark. If I don't succeed as a writer, I think editor would be my next choice. Ah, the thrill of chopping up someone else's work to find the heart of the matter. But I would have to create a ruthless alter-ego because I have trouble telling people the truth if I think it will hurt their feelings.

This quote also reminds me of the way I learned Spanish. I had been speaking it for a year with my friends before I took a single class. When the teacher wanted me to fill in the blanks, I just tested out the options to see which one sounded right.

My Grampie George is a story-teller and there is music in his voice. His wife, Grammie Joyce, said that I used to ask him questions I already knew the answer to, just to hear him talk. Grampie is my last living grandparent. I miss him and his stories.

Today is September 11. It's been 13 years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Book Notes: The Secret Life of Objects

by Dawn Raffel

Okay, so I only read a few pages of this one. I like the thought but not the execution. She wrote down her memories of different objects, but in general, I couldn't relate to her stories. I did, however, find two quotes that I liked:

"All memoir is fiction. We try to fit the pieces together again."

"Sometimes things shatter. More often they fade." (on wineglasses and friendships)

I have long pondered about friendships. There seems to be a frequency of interaction needed to sustain them that is not easily provided in the adult world. In high school or college, you are thrown together with the same bunch of people repeatedly. There is time to build up from general knowledge to intimacy, even if you would not have chosen them in the first place as friends. As adults, we have more choice and less time. At the end of the day, few people stay within reach.

I wrote this draft on 11/16/13, and just today read a post with similar ideas about the "Time/Depth Dilemma," a fascinating look at different cultural ways of making friends.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Book Notes: Catching Fire

I met up with a friend last summer (2013) and we got around to chatting about books. We moved on to movie adaptations and she said that Catching Fire, the second in The Hunger Games trilogy, was probably confusing to movie-goers who hadn't read the book. This pique my curiosity, having only watched the first movie, which I was repelled by because it was exactly what the author was supposedly attacking in her book, that watching people die was entertainment. Granted, in the movie the people do not die for real, obviously, but I still did not find young people killing each other "entertaining." A catch-22 for the author in some ways, because what she was against was exactly what would be most portrayed in a visual versus print medium.

Fast-forward a few months and I saw books one and two on another friend's shelf. The first book went along pretty much as I'd expected, having watched the movie, but Catching Fire, the second book, left me wishing that the author had made some different choices.

As much as I tried, I just could not like the main character, Katniss. In the first book, it's to be expected that she's a victim and struggling to comes to terms with what is happening. But in the second book, she has supposedly embraced her role as rebel, after realizing that even playing by the capitol's rules won't keep her safe. Yet she has no idea what is going on. I could forgive this perhaps, if the book were not written in first person. I wanted to be in on some secret plot, not contemplating how many times she was waxed or shaved by her stylists.

Katniss misses obvious clues that the author plants, like the man at the party showing her his mockingjay watch. She has contacts she does not use for information, like the mayor's daughter. She does not talk about things with the other characters. The goal was to get the comfortable capitol people to resist as well, so she could have at least asked her three upset stylists to talk about how unfair her imminent death was. She also could have said the wedding dress converting to a mockingjay was her idea since designing was supposed to be her hobby and she was about to die anyway, instead she lets Cinna be arrested.  For being the supposed icon of the rebellion, she doesn't seem to be of much use at all.

And the head game designer a rebel? It seems like the author could have used that more to Katniss' advantage, such as putting in some secret helps or less-deadly things somehow, or at least giving her more information.

What I really wanted to happen was for the players to band together and refuse to play at all. They were past winners, they had already played by the rules and won, yet here they were again, set up to die. It seemed to me like they would have revolted from playing by the rules a second time around. Why play by the rules when the people who set the rules are accountable to no one and can change them at will? What a powerful scene that could have been, for them to have secretly arranged to not fight each other. Would the game makers try to kill them off? Would they stop televising the game? Perhaps the players could survive within the clock with the help of the rebel game designer, and then what would the capitol do?

The book did not take this turn.

Catching Fire is one of the few books where I enjoyed the screenplay more than the original. For me, Katniss is a stronger character onscreen then in the book. To be fair to the author, I am not a huge fan of dystopian worlds; I want things to work out. I also like characters who tell it like it is and speak their minds. My preferences are not her fault, so I must also point out that Suzanne Collins did an amazing job creating a believable, alternate world and characters I could care about.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Notes: Cradles of Eminence

I read this book (not an affiliate link I just thought you might be curious) while we were in the U.S., so this post has been sitting in my draft folder for awhile. I declare this Book Note Week (I need to find a more catchy title) on my blog to motivate me to post a few more I have sitting around half done. I do these reviews just because I love to read and talk about books.

Favorite Quotes:

"As shown repeatedly in Cradles of Eminence, parental involvement is critical for bright students to reach their potential."

"The mothers in our audiences enjoy hearing about the troubles... then rebel against our recital of woeful facts and assume falsely that we advocate mistreatment of children as a way of stimulating creativity. ...we have no intention of becoming ogres at home on the off chance that one of our own three sons may become a playright or a novelist."

"It may be currently possible to be both creative and comfortable. We suspect it isn't, but our suspicions are not scientific data."

"Facing the hard fact that serenity and creativity have not been compatible in the homes that have cradled eminence is in itself a frustrating experience, but frustration is a necessary prelude to insight."

"...the kind of adjustment that the majority of the fifteen hundred gifted children studied by Terman made. They were competent to a degree far beyond the average person on the street; although they achieved highly, they did not make any original contributions. Even so, they were well-recognized in society."

"Louis Koren, Detroit psychiatrist, once observed that the chief need of children is to be enjoyed."

My Thoughts:

If you pick up this book looking for a recipe for raising eminent children, don't. As the quotes above imply, the authors found out that many of the most creative children were from very dysfunctional homes. The authors defined "eminence" as a certain number of biographies in their local library. Although a very interesting read, this book was mostly a collection of abridged biographies focusing on early childhood elements. I was hoping for more comparative insights, but I did find the connection between the discord or harmony at home and professions chosen by the children very interesting.

The book did bring up an excellent question, one that I am still pondering: Why do so many bright/promising/gifted children become experts in their fields, but do not produce groundbreaking or innovative work? The book discusses this question in the context of siblings, often they seemed equally capable but only one became "eminent."

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dear Jesus

I'm sorry that I don't speak about you as often as I should. Help me to be bold. You have done so much for me.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

RIP Sunflower

I've decided that country living is very hard on pets. Sunflower, our orange and white female cat at the top of the photo, hasn't been home since Sunday morning, so we suspect the worst. She was not a friendly cat but she would purr whenever she saw me and my bed was her favorite. She loved napping with Kitty. We'll miss you, Sunflower.