Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Good Picture Book Hunting.

Having kids will eventually lead to being very discerning about picture books. 

Bad ones will trigger a disdain in you normally reserved for terrible art you paid a fortune to see. 

I'm not kidding. 

Some of it is because it's not like reading for adults. You think a book isn't right for you, as a grown-up, and you put it down.Try that with your five-year-old in the middle of a bad story. The other part of it is children's books are pricey, the library helps us out with that, but we still buy many books over the course of a year-especially when smaller children will want to read them over and over: it's a high cost of admission for something that might be awful. And then there's that very problem- where it might bore the brain right out of your skull, but your child may love it enough to read it x3 daily. 

Awesome picture books will begin to feel like amazing finds. There are a ton of them, but landing one will still make you feel lucky. 

I used to rely on recommendations from homeschooling sites as to what to grab my kids, and I still do that when I have time. But mostly now, it's just grab-and-go. 

When my older kids were small, we had the Jon J. Muth picture books about the zen-ish panda and "Flotsam". Things they requested regularly. "Flotsam" doesn't even have WORDS and it's still beautiful. It was something we read every summer for a long, long time. 

It's harder now, with a seven year plus age gap to even think of getting a picture book all three kids will gather around me for: the older kids can't be called for story time anymore, it has to be that they were genuinely interested in the book-though for the record, still works for Arthur books...

I found "Cinnamon" by accident, on our 12th wedding anniversary while shopping around for something else when it jumped out at me. My husband and I are Gaiman fans (who isn't, though?) but I didn't think both my toddler and nearly middle-schooler would both love the story. 

But they did. 

And I did, too. 

The illustrations are simple but evocative of exactly what they need to be displaying- a home of wilderness and exotic royalty where any danger is outweighed by beauty. 

And the heroine and the text are Gaiman style magic, likening the tiger who comes to teach a silent, blind princess to speak to a god. 

For parents who love mythology and a bit of the unordinary, this will be a book you won't mind having around to read again and again. It also talks about the importance meaningful experiences give us, and it's not lost on me that the main character is a beautiful princess, the kind that normally is kept away from that sort of thing (science actually tells us we tend to encourage female children not to venture forth as often as our male babies, and that sucks). My older daughter, a lover of all things wild cats, grabbed this title herself and read it. And the toddler sat through the entire story quietly. Those are the most glowing references I can give a picture book.  

A book I grabbed mostly for my son ended up delighting my youngest reader as well. "Not Quite Narwhal" has some of the brightest, most energetic illustrations I have seen in a long time and we loved that. 
The story itself was about belonging when you don't fit into the neat boxes we place things in-when you might be half one or the other. Important things to talk to kids about in a society that really does strive to draw a line around what you are. But it's not a preachy message. It's just a fun, beautiful book with an adorable protagonist. If I'd of seen this before I had my son, he might have had a blue unicorn/narwhal nursery. It's a nice read that belongs in your picture book collection. 

If anyone has come across some really memorable picture books this year, let me know. We're always looking. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Eight Reasons Why Summer Reading Programs Are Wonderous

One of the things I look forward to the most this season, aside from the opening of the pool, is the summer reading program offered by our local libraries. Here are eight reasons why it is amazing. You're probably asking yourself why I didn't do ten or five or some normal list number, but I could think of eight. So, it's eight...

1. Your kid can't complain about boredom-just put a new book in their hands if they do and remind them about the rewards they get from doing it. 

2. It' s FREE. In the land of hundred-dollar plus summer camps (that, by the way, your kid may not like) and forty dollar pizza/gaming place visits, this helps. 

3. With so many libraries participating, you can pick the ones offering the things that your child loves the most as reading rewards. Some even have teen prize sets.

4. Adults usually have raffle entries. All those trips to the library mean more books for you, and you can log them for chances to win things you care about. 

5. It provides a short, concrete example about setting goals and meeting them. Something incredibly important for younger people to learn. 

6. Summer socialization just happens easier. More library trips equal your family making it to more events where usually something fun or creative will be going on with tons of other kids around.  As someone who sucks at planning get-togethers, I fully appreciate this. You'll get to know some familiar faces this way, too. 

7. High reading goals are going to get your kids to try out different kinds of books, and exposure to all kinds of literature is awesome. Don't be upset if they check out ten comic books. They are trying to find out what type of book makes them happy. 

8. Time together. Don't forget even teens benefit from you reading aloud chapter books with them. Summer reading is something you can all do together even if your kids are independent. If your teenager thinks the reading aloud thing is too much, you can still talk about and pick books together. Doing things like this as a family is just the best. It really is.  

If you're not registered for one of these summer programs, go do so. Your library might even offer to do registration or even the book logs online, so check the city website. 

If you're worried about getting enough books for your kiddos to hit their goal, consider something like Skybrary, Reading Rainbow's app that provides access to tons of books (with minor animations added in). The fee is pretty small now (it was a tad higher when we signed on) but it's not non-existent. You can save some by just signing onto it for the summer months. However, we totally use this sometimes for nightly reading logs for school, too. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Writing Books...I mean Books on Writing~ "The Story Cure".

Other kids collected dead bugs or fruit and vegetable stickers (I think they did, anyway). I had my collection of books on how to write books. Roughly 2/3 of my brother's black spray-painted bookshelf held my writing books. I loved them because you could read them, and when you were in a tight spot in a story, crack them back open and inspire yourself or troubleshoot your problems. It was like having a friend right beside your keyboard or notebook. 

I sort of still feel that way. 

I was really excited to be able to review a book on writing. "The Story Cure: A Book Doctor's Pain-Free Guide to Finishing Your Novel or Memoir" by Dinty W. Moore 

...No, not that one... 

is probably the most friendly-toned book on improving writing that I have ever read. That may not sound like a lot, but when you're in real story trouble, that's useful. And encouraging. And that is a lot of what this book is: encouragement. 

It's separated into chapters to diagnose the illness your writing may have picked up, and each comes with examples to make sure the cure for it is clear. 

That said, if you've had the luck to be in a really great creative writing class, you probably are quite familiar with most of the advice. For that reason, I'd recommend this first to people who haven't had that experience, because it will come in handy in more ways than you can imagine. 

But, there were still things to be learned here even if you've had the luxury of good advice or a wonderful mentor...
like the "invisible magnetic river", a term I will probably remember for the rest of my life. It refers to the pull of the story-how lovely is that? I found his attitude in dealing with revising and how he goes about it to be really helpful, too. 

If you're writing, and kind of lost...Or just lost and haven't been able to write (a place I find myself too often these days) this will help. I'd say grab a copy of this and make yourself some tea. 

This is a light, inspiring reference read you'll probably go through many times in the journey to finish your story. 

**I received this book from Blogging for Books

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Shut Up and Listen.

Every single time I have ignored that little voice in my head that tells me something is wrong with a person or situation I have regretted it. 

Every. Single. Time. 

I have to stop doing that. It's easy to dismiss it as pessimistic or paranoid, but the bottom line is that if something or someone raises red flags, the part of your brain that makes sense of situations is going to set you off. 

And I am exhausted of paying the consequences of telling it to be quiet. 

So, a simple reminder to myself...

Shut up and listen. 


I know intuition isn't magic, but occasionally, just occasionally...

you sort of wonder. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Skinner Drawings Part II and The New Food Thing (it ties in, I swear...sort of).

Finally getting caught up with my Drawing With Skinner episodes (if you missed the post on the initial show, it's like if you combined Bob Ross with Pee-Wee and Dark Metal) and these always seem to be on my heavy medical appointment weeks where I'm not as energetic. So I'm basically just working along as I watch it with the theme of the day but with paper and Prismacolors and now my ink pen (that I finally found...again). 

I went ahead and messed with this one more digitally, too. Just because that's what I do. And it's fun. Digital manipulations with art you have completed is all the experiment and zero risks, we were encouraged to do it long before it was common to attempt it; one professor even has us do an entire series where the paintings were completed then a second set where it had all been digitally changed around. You think you'd get sick of working with the same things so long, but the potential to play kept it from being boring. So, really, even if it's not your thing, try it. 

And again, if you are an art fan, these are just great shows
It's an awesome thing he is doing to share with us his process and inspiration and do it all with a dark sense of humor that will get you kicked out of the million dollar gallery shows all of us are fighting to get into. 

The theme for episode 2, as chosen by the creepy fate wheel, was addiction. The guys made some really interesting pieces, mine went in the direction of food. Mostly because that's a lot of what we've been thinking about in my house. 

My kids wanted to lean toward a vegetarian diet, and there is some decent evidence for heavily plant based. I'm not for dieting. I think it sort of makes people insane. And having known serious, mind-numbing hunger and the pain that goes with it, I know I won't deal with it again on purpose and won't let anyone around me feel that way either (dessert is a right in this house, not a privilege). 

But, being sick, I think vegetarian is worth a try. Even if it's just a most of the time arrangement, you're saving the resources meat gobbles up to make it to your plate and maybe eating better in the process. So, we're checking out a ton of kid-friendly veggie cookbooks. Because skipping meat means you had better know what you're doing when it comes to food or you are going to be bored really fast. Also, it gets all of us involved with meal-planning, which makes it suck less. And hopefully it saves us some cash, but pricing it so far, it's about the same. 

And seriously, cooking meat in modern times kind of blows. Infections, contamination, blood, blood sludge if cooking frozen meat, internal cooking temps.-that is a great deal of worry. More than I'd like to put into preparing meals every single day. We're not putting all meat away forever, but having a break from all this sounds pretty good to me. 

One thing I did notice on our first no meat day (we already don't do real milk here) was EVERYONE ATE EVERYTHING. Even the toddler.That's something I guess. 

So, yeah. Food addictions I think are a thing, but not simple. I think it happens almost as a byproduct of surviving a suboptimal world where you don't have access to what you really need, or so much stress that you can't focus on anything other than sheer survival. Or, maybe that's just me personally. Either way, this is an attempt to rewire that and hopefully be a little healthier. 

***Also, don't get this confused with weight stigma. There's no excuse for hurting anyone because they look different from you and if there is one thing I have learned in the process of getting diagnosed it is that you can not judge someone's health by looking on the outside. And, yes the girl in my drawing is chubby. I think I draw rather cute chubby people, but that's a personal preference and not one related to food-themes. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dying Alone...In Style.

There's a lot of people of note in the Pulmonary Hypertension world who will tell you the truth about having a terminal illness is that really you start scaring the mortally-minded off. 

Not in all cases, but in many. 

Dealing with death means you, while still walking around in the world of the living, are holding death's hand. And, despite the fact that everyone will face that, having one foot in each world freaks people right out to the point where they don't know what to say or even how to be there. 

I could give you this speech about how much that sucks, but people know it sucks and they do it anyway. Human nature, or something. 

The real questions I get are usually dealing with the fact that since I have no contact with my abusive family of origin, do I feel alone? Is it harder?

The answer is no. It's not harder than being abused to not have family around. Even when you're sick. 

And you can daydream about what life is like when that's not the truth you were given, but it doesn't do anything or change anyone disordered enough to hurt you. Nothing will. The good news is, it doesn't come up in your mind often. Mostly, after escaping, you are just overwhelmed with how peaceful it is. Nobody carving out their pound of flesh, nobody manipulating, no physical abuse. It's not possible to miss any of that. So, when it's gone, most of your time is spent being thankful. (The other part is spent wondering why you waited so long to leave, so if you yourself are facing this, run). 

I'm especially thankful that I do have my own little family, so truly I'm not alone. Though, I do wish I had more support for them. I'm thinking that we need to join a church locally or some kind of group to really give them a set of people they can trust and hold onto (though I know it's a crapshoot, we do have one local place here that has been there for us consistently enough that I trust them). The main thing is that when you don't have the people you need to lean on, you have to do the legwork to seek out a soft spot to land (even if you have to wear an oxygen mask while doing it). 

All that said with the understanding that nobody is a capable island, there is some dignity in being able to face the unknown, the scary, in small numbers. 

It's a kind of bravery that thankfully few people will earn, though it's more common than we suspect I think. It also becomes part of the legacy we have to pass down. 

When I'm really having trouble processing it, I write. You may have noticed not many of my characters have super-happy-fun-time childhoods and that's not an accident. Many of them will need that resilience they learned to have any hope of survival. Little Ghost, for example, the female lead in my next CDW book, was nearly sacrificed as an infant. Only the darkness, that shadowed guardian that nobody understands, was there to save her. Rain, the main character, could have had a wonderful family but his mother died to save everyone she loved and the circumstances of his birth did not permit his father to contact him often. Writing about individuals like that gives you something to look up to when you are feeling down or alone. And, hopefully, it helps other people going through the same thing when they read it. 

Other than that, you just learn to be brave. It's one day, one treatment, one procedure, one milestone at a time. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Plugging In

I've learned to treat social media and maybe the internet in general like plugging into the Matrix. 

It's intriguing, a lot of things are possible, but ultimately most of it isn't real. And it's occasionally harmful or dangerous. This is especially true for the social media stuff.

I deleted my Facebook accounts. I know everyone always asks how will you keep in touch with people without it. First, ask if you need to be in touch with everyone. Seeing as how it was revealed by a study that only a handful (like not more than all the fingers on your hand) of your friends on social media are actually people who care about you, why the heck would you want to touch base with all the people who don't? 

Secondly, Facebook is sort of like a performance. My closest friends aren't going to keep in touch with me via status updates. Those are just things people say, often vaguely, from a type of digital podium. You need real interaction (I don't always mean face to face since that isn't possible at great distances) and things like long messages back and forth and letters and texting and phone calls can't be replaced with status updates. 

So, I guess it does take more effort, but it's probably the effort we need to be putting into our friendships anyway. 

Some benefits I've already noticed are added time. I didn't realize how much of my every day was getting eaten doing posts or scrolling. I don't have that to waste. I'm not sure anyone actually does, but I don't. 

Also, have you kept track of the amount of WEIRDLY specific ads you've been seeing? Write it down. It's too many. We don't think about the effect of that stuff, but it's one of the reasons I don't miss cable, either. Advertising is designed to alter how you view yourself and your world, which isn't a malevolent thing in and of itself, but taking too much of it in or engaging in it without being aware really sucks. And some of it is really depressing for me (Oh, great, you sell beautiful newborn hats? That must be awesome for women without terminal illnesses who get to have as many children as they want. Oh, hey, mountain bikes! That sure does look like fun for people who can breathe really, really well!...@#%$*). Just no thanks. 

And speaking of advertising...

Ever been to a party and end up seated next to one of those people who can not stop talking about how great they are? What if you went to a party where almost everyone was doing that, all the time. 

You'd probably leave early and never speak to the person who invited you again. 

Facebook is that. People walk around showing you the best parts of their lives and even the bad parts get good editing treatment. Psychologically, taking that in has shown to be kind of poisonous. It's one of the key reasons people are happier without social media. 

That's not to say all of it is bad. 

It's useful. It's "get stuff done" useful. 

But, like the Matrix, you need to remember what is real. And don't hang out here too long.


*I'd tell you this is my last philosophical Matrix comparison post, but that's probably a lie...*