Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Miscellany: Lately

Well, once again it's been too long.  I actually have lots of posts I'm working on, but not much time to do them.  Which I will explain later as to why, along with a desperate plea, so please do read to the end.

So here it is, what we've been up to lately:

-- A bit of lovely, like swinging on rope swings and climbing trees (not me).

-- Getting big and bigger. I'm thirty-one weeks pregnant now, and this was taken at 30 weeks.

(yes, I think that's Matt's finger at the top.)  And I'm positive I grew just last night.  I've never gotten stretch marks in all my pregnancies, but this might be the one.  If you have any prevention ideas, please let me know.

-- Getting a little older.

 Last week was my husband's birthday.  We went to one of our favorite beaches on the island, where you can rent cabins or "condos" for a very reasonable price.  It's only about a forty-five minute drive from here, but it always feels like a totally different place, so we we're all excited about it.  It was fun and relaxing, as we had hoped except for a few minor details.  

First, there was a tankless water heater that made an appallingly loud clanking sound every time we turned the water on and off.  Not just hot water, any water.  It sounded like a small explosion and left us feeling a little twitchy because six people turn water on and off a lot in a couple days.  Second, we found a centipede under the couch our first morning there.

They make you sign a waiver that says you understand there are "insects" but after that, no one wanted to sleep in the living room.  So it was a bit uncomfortable.

And this will probably make you laugh, but it was gray, windy, and just about the coldest day we've had there. Yes, by that I mean about 70 degrees.  But I'm telling you the truth when I say that is freezing here.  There are real world temps, and then there are Hawaii temps.  So instead we flew kites and played mini golf and lazed around.  We did walk on the beach, but didn't get in the water.

Yes, we might be spoiled.  

Anyway, Matt's cake.  He wanted "an apple upside-down cake with banana pudding filling." I went, Huh? Such a thing does not really exist anywhere.  What I came up with was a spice cake mix with crushed pecans and apple pie filling, made banana pudding to put on top, and then mixed a regular can of icing with some cinnamon.  It was so good!  My husband is apparently a culinary genius, at least as far as ideas go!

-- We also went to the Dole Plantation to ride the "train" yesterday afternoon.  

Wyatt LOVED it.  To the point that he was not at all happy about leaving, and he let us know just how unhappy he was...all the way home.  

It is a fun place for tourist-watching.  The guy sitting in front of us took pictures of literally everything.  

My family accuses me of taking too many pictures.  Oh my friends, their perspectives changed entirely yesterday.  It was off the hook.  I am trying to imagine the circumstances under which anyone would ever want to look at all these pictures of banana trees and pineapple plants again.............. Nope, I've got nothing.  

Here are the pictures that I took, though, that I think are actually pretty cute and funny to look at.  I know, I'm a little biased.

Am I a bad mom?

 Wyatt's face says it all, I'm afraid.

-- Last of all, I've been spending lots of time in the horrible traffic here.  On Saturday I went to drop off one of my kids at something that is only about 3 miles away.  It took me an hour and a half to make the round trip. Most days I drive ten minutes one way, and it takes 45 minutes to an hour (or more) to get home.  Usually I have most of or all the other kids with me.  I don't know how it will work when I have a newborn.  I feel like Westley in that scene in The Princess Bride when the six-fingered man uses The Machine to take a hundred years off his life.

So here is my request.  Please, please comment with what you do in the car if/ when you have a long, torturous commute.  Ideas would be podcasts that you like (and are 100% kid-appropriate) or interesting sermons or language learning programs (bearing in mind that my ten-year-old car CD player sometimes scratches CD's as they're playing).  I need ideas.  I need to be able too get in the car and say, "Hooray!  Now I get to ___________!"  (Here's where you fill in the blank with something wonderful.)  I would really love if you had an idea for how to blog in the car (without touching the phone -- $297 fine).  I know some people use voice notes for their blogs, I'm just not sure how that would turn out.  Probably I would have to erase a bunch of comments about the other drivers and such when I got home.  But anyway... If you do that, could you please let me know what you use? 

So that is what we've been up to!  I actually managed to crank this out pretty quickly, so maybe there is hope for getting more blogging done this week!  Until then, be well!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Miscellany: Five Favorite Chapter Books for Kids

-- This post is originally from almost two years ago, published on my old blog.  I'm re-posting it today because I wanted to do a follow-up to it based on what I've been reading to my kids more recently.  If you weren't following me when I first published it, or if you've read something since you commented last that you'd highly recommend, I'd love to hear from you!  We're always on the prowl for good kids' books!!

Well, I guess you could say I have books on the brain this week.  Because when I was thinking about doing a Five Favorites post just had to write a post about my favorite books I read to my kids read last year. 

Please, though, if you don't have kids, keep on reading.  There are some amazing books for any age that I've listed here.

Okay... Let me back up a little first.  

A few years ago, I was feeling like I had read all the good books out there to my kids.  I'd gone through the Little House series (at least twice), the classic Winnie-the-Pooh's, the Anne books, the Ramona books, all the old, original Nancy Drew's (well, at least as many as we could take before her getting knocked on the head and dragged into the trunk of a car EVERY. FLIPPIN'. TIME. made us too crazy), The Penderwicks series, and many, many more.  

Whenever I browsed the many libraries we went to, I just about wanted to poke my eyes out after seeing the books being offered up in the "Teen/ Young Adult" section.  They were all cheap, cheesy, serials like those I read growing up and consequently felt inadequate about.  Or books about gratuitous and casual sex, drugs, murders, and super scary doomsday books, etc.  (No wonder so many of our teens are depressed! To quote Gru, from Despicable Me: "They call this literature?!?!")

Now, I'm not sitting here to preach.  I guess if that really floats your boat and doesn't emotionally or spiritually affect you at all, keep reading it!  But I'm here to tell you this, and I hope it is taken to heart: There is so much more good stuff out there to read!!!

I started reading to Jayna when she was a baby -- oh, the fond memories of reading Cat in the Hat to her at bedtime when she was thirteen months old and we had just moved to Pensacola.  (She grew up so fast!!  : :SOB!!: :)  Over time, we started reading chapter books, and pre-bedtime reading became an almost sacred time for all of us.  

Reading, in general, is a huge part of our lives.  It's what we do on long road trips, in doctors' offices and emergency rooms, and I so encourage you to do the same with your kids!  I remember reading to my kids in one doctor's office and having a little crowd of children put down their Nintendo DS's or coloring books down and coming around to listen.  And my heart nearly burst with pride the other day when Wyatt walked up to me, plopped a book in my lap and said, "READ!!"  

(Since then, he always brings me Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, and says, "READ TRUCKTH!!!")

{2015 update: he devours books now!!  There aren't enough books, or enough readers even with five other people in the house, for everything he wants to read/ hear!  I love it!}

Anyway, without further ado, I give you: Five Favorite Chapter (or "read-aloud") Books for Kids.  At least out of what we read last year.  (And this is assuming you've gone through the list I mentioned above, too.)  (And if you don't read aloud yet, start with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder or Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary or the like... tonight!!!  It will be one of the best things you do!!)

1.  Rascal by Sterling North.
  This book is just a classic.  A very animal-friendly boy adopts (or kidnaps, it's debatable) a raccoon.  It's beautifully written, sweet, and thought-provoking.  You will not regret reading it!  

2.  My Heart Lies South by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino.
Consider this a travel or intercultural memoir that is totally appropriate for your teen/ preteen.  The downside is, you'll be hard-pressed to find one written more recently that is nearly as good.  Written over fifty years ago, it's the story of the American de Trevino's courtship and marriage to her Mexican husband.  It tells of quaint, touching, and equally hilarious customs in provincial Mexico.  I read this to preview it for Jayna's homeschool last year, and I absolutely loved it!  Then she read it and loved it just as much!  I have to admit that I didn't read this aloud, and since it addresses marriage, birth and child-rearing, and death (just a little, "circle of life" etc.), you might want to have only older children read it alone.  You may also just want to call it a grown-up book and read it with your book club if you're reading this and you don't have kids!  I'm not kidding -- it's so, so great!! An fascinating and entertaining read, and an excellent conversation starter! 

Okay, I just "discovered" Richard Peck's books last year, and I LOVED them.  We all did.  They're mostly hilarious, but don't skip over being gently meaningful (without ever being preachy).  Grandma Dowdel made us laugh so much... and also tear up a little.  If you have not read these books before, check them out.  They're wonderful!

4.  Cheaper By the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.
Okay, don't even try to tell me, "Yeah, I saw that movie."  No, no, no!!  While I'm a big Steve Martin fan, his movie of the same title destroyed this story; it bears almost no semblance to the book, and I'm not sure I can forgive him.  This book is absolutely hilarious.  We laughed until our sides hurt and huge tears rolled down our faces.  I think this is actually the one book we can all agree on being a favorite.  It is just that good.  And again, I recommend reading it even if you don't have kids.  It's written at an adult level that will definitely keep you interested!  Read it -- ASAP!!  

5.  Little Britches by Ralph Moody.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, I'll say again that even if you don't have kids, you should read this book.  I had a hard time picking my fifth favorite for this post because we read a lot of great books last year, but Little Britches tells of a time when the westward expansion was dwindling -- but certainly not over.  A family moves to Colorado to a ranch with hopes of a better life and faces tough realities.  This is the only one of Moody's books that we read, but I plan to read others... because I want to know more about the story.  I know I only got my toes wet in this story -- and it's a great one.

I'm passionate about reading, and extremely passionate about what I read to my kids.  Do you have any books that you'd recommend?  If so, please comment and let me know!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Who Me? Weird?

"People are strange when you're a stranger."  -- The Doors

One of my favorite things about travel is people-watching.  Living on this island, it's gotten to be a fine art, knowing who the tourists are before they even whip out a phone to take a selfie.  Because one of the things I've learned in all my travels is that, no matter how hard you might try to blend in, traveling means that you're not just watching the other people; they're watching you.  And the very humbling (humiliating?) truth is that a lot the time, you're providing the day's entertainment.

Like the first time we went to Paris.  There was the hotel we stayed in while overnighting in London en route.  I guess we got a good price because they were doing renovation on it -- oh, and there was no attached bathroom.  Bygones.  We were horribly jet-lagged, were up roaming the streets at 4 a.m. and ready for a nap by 7.  A couple hours later, we were woken up by a very loud, persistently-ringing bell.  

We stumbled around the little room, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.  Matt read the sign posted on the back of the door. "It means... Fire!"  Being the poor, newlywed college/ grad students we were, we couldn't afford to lose any clothing.  We threw everything back in our suitcases and zipped them up in a blink before racing down the hall.

And then came the really weird part.  

The housekeepers were just standing around, nonchalantly chatting, like it was no big deal that the building was about to burn down!!  Huh?

Matt and I noticed them as we sped by, and both of us came to the conclusion that they were much more comfortable with their impending doom.  We clattered down the stairs, and then all of a sudden, the ringing stopped.  Just... stopped. Then, looking around, we realized we were the only ones trying to escape the building.  Suddenly it made sense.  This was an everyday, maybe a couple times a day, occurrence!  In short: no big deal.

We tried to look cool as we made a u-turn to walk sedately back to our room, which is easier said than done when just seconds before you've been running like your life depends on it, hair askew and clothes haphazardly put on.

Lucky for me, I married a smart one.  Matt stopped at the vending machine in the hall, procured a snack from it and handed it to me, saying loud enough for all those around us to hear, "Here, babe, that chocolate bar you wanted so bad."

Then there was Paris -- getting totally lost at the Louvre, trying to navigate the Metro all the way out to the suburbs where we were staying (cheap! cheap!).  Near our hotel was a Morroccan restaurant where we ate dinner one night.  We were the only ones in the restaurant, so the kind wait staff was hyper attentive.  

I had taken five years of French by then, so I felt pretty confident.  As I opened the menu that night, though, there were a few words I didn't recognize but figured it was because they were Morroccan.  I ordered something that had potatoes, peas, onions, and mushrooms.  Sounded hearty and filling.

It was hearty all right.  

The waiter removed the silver lid of my dish with dramatic sweep, and my jaw fell open.  There in front of me -- a vegetarian for five years at that point -- was a giant leg of lamb, surrounded by a little (very little) of what I thought I'd ordered. I had never paid much attention to words for meat in French because why would a vegetarian need that? Oh yeah!!  So you don't end up wondering what to do with a chunk of lamb the size of your head, complete with a bone sticking out the top!

A few years later, we moved to Spain.  I'd been teaching myself Spanish, but I didn't know I was using a program that was for Latin American Spanish.  I figured it was all the same.  But it turned out that, as in British English versus American English, there were a few important differences.  

The first time we ventured out for dinner, Matt wanted to know if the tip was included in the bill.  No problem, I said, and asked the waitress (as prescribed), "Esta el servicio incluido?"

The waitress leaned forward, her face alarmed like she had just realized my skin was green and I had horns on my head, and asked (too loud, I thought), "Perdon!??"  I repeated myself carefully, making sure I said it just right.

"El servicio?" she repeated.  "Si! Si, tambien!"  Her whole demeanor seemed strange, and unnecessarily passionate, but this was Spain and maybe they were just passionate people.  As she walked away, I translated for Matt, "She said yes, of course."

And we went off to find new ways to be confused, terrified, and hilarious to the locals.  

Four months later, I was traveling with Jayna and my parents while Matt was away and Jayna needed a bathroom.  I saw the universal blue-and-white sign for a women's restroom, and headed toward it when I read the two I words above the picture: "El Servicio."  

Wait... El servicio?!  Suddenly that scene in the cafe the previous summer looked very different replaying in my memory with its newfound English subtitles.

Waitress: Can I get you anything else?
Me: No thanks, just the bill.
Waitress: Okay, here you go.
Me: (very seriously) And... Is the toilet included?
Waitress: (alarmed) (confused) (appropriately) WHAT?!? 
Me: (still serious, speaking more clearly and leaning forward so she doesn't miss one crazy word) Is the toilet included in the bill?
Waitress: Yes!  Yes, of course! (Hurries away lest she catch my condition)

So honestly, maybe the people-watching is the fun part of travel, but the me-watching in new and different environments?  That's where a lot of learning takes place.  I like to think that I'm the normal one and everyone else is weird, but traveling reminds me that the world is big and complicated, and I'm small and sometimes silly.  In other words, the weird one.