Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Diary of a Flooded Town part II: It's Over.

The rain finally stopped.

It felt like it never would. And every damn inch it added to the ground was maddening. Our cities were drowning, and some are still struggling against overflow even as the skies are quiet. 



We've all found each other, and, even if briefly, gone over what we lost. My loved ones here and I have been incredibly lucky. 

The surreal experience of messaging my best friend while a tornado danced with her house and near her family left me shaken. 

I didn't suffer any fainting or bouts with SVT or low oxygen during the storm, and my husband's work was good about making sure he could be here in the worst of it in case I went down, and the kids needed one of us. The entirety of the disaster does make me consider moving nearer to my cousin or best friend. My neighbors have helped me on occasion, but it isn't even close to having loved ones who always know what is going on. 

There are so many displaced, and hurt. People who have lost everything. And any of us could have been on that side of it. Or, worse. We lost an officer in Houston,  and some rescuers can't be found. Nobody is even sure what the death count is yet, and it won't be reliable until the flood waters are gone. 

I don't think anything here will ever be the same. 

We're already jumpy. The next, predictively small, rain coming on us for Labor Day will scare us all and that's okay. Those of us on the Texas coast will all be watching the newest baby of a storm to see where it goes. 

Food isn't plentiful yet. There are lines at grocery stores who are open, sometimes with timers for control. 

I have no idea if The Lung Center survived or when they will be taking patients again. 

I'd been scheduled just the 28th of August, an appointment to discuss test results, expectations, and rescue methods from attacks before surgery. Everyone is just waiting. We don't know what's left. Or what to expect. 

I'm not even sure if our school will be operational yet, though it won't be until next week that any educational facilities here try to open their doors. The kids were a week, just a week, into classes when this began. 

The first stories I saw on NPR were about our cities. Here is one on how you can help Houston. 

The catastrophe is over, but the unfolding of what it has done has just started for many. 

The obscenely lucky, like myself and my family, are searching for normal. Hot food not mass-prepped to be able to fit in an icebox, the ability to walk down the street, or buy bread and eggs. 

And we'll be looking for ways to help, as the obscenely lucky must do. 




Sunday, August 27, 2017

Diary of a Flooded Town



If you've seen or read any news, you know about Harvey. You know about the serious damage and danger that sudden sonofabitch brought here to the Texas coastline. 

We were lucky, we missed a direct hit here in Houston. I can't imagine what the folks who were in the path felt. But right now we're getting the dirty rain bands one after another after another. There are houses on no existing floodplain and on high ground in which water nears their door, our's included. 

This is not the first time I have seen high flooding. 

This is the first time in my life I have seen flash flooding. 

The water moved through our neighborhood like rapids, with white crests every few seconds and rain that drove sideways. It created a cloud of mist, the mailbox now barely visible. We've hours to go in a long night of this. And possibly days before the rain stops altogether. 

This morning was so quiet, that this just seemed a sudden nightmare. 

The local wildlife doesn't appreciate this bullshit either.


On the news, it flashes in red text lines that our body count here is already at least one. Just due to the water. The fast, deep, unwelcome water here in our hometown that refuses to leave. 

We have food and water. But for a week would be stretching it. It would be peanut butter for breakfast and walnuts and tomatoes for dinner stretching it. I worry about the kids. I worry about my husband. I try not to let them know I'm worried about them. 

Stepping on wet chalk to ease the boredom.


My husband, a first responder, returns to work tomorrow and might not leave again until the threat is over. I'm not sure our vehicles will work. We can't hide them from the water, either. 

I can't tell you what is running through my head now, with having suffered fainting even in the last few weeks with PH, but I have hanging up our evacuation bag, and a large walking stick waiting for us in the garage. Because there is a chance we'll be fleeing this flood, alone, in the future.

I can pretend my wrist bp monitor is a PIP BOY 3000, right? 


And like so many other times in my life, I HAVE to believe I can handle it. 

I have to. 

There's a constant stream of texts and emails in the constant streams of rain, we're all trying to watch out for each other, separated by miles or more.  We're all awake. We're all listening for the next alert, or worse yet, the siren. 

But, right now, we have power. If we keep it through the morning, it may be our's through the storms. I don't know how likely it is, but I have to be hopeful. 

I have to. 

I'd optimistically packed away my writing things, to know where my little word processor was. I had this passing fancy that a storm would be a good thing to write in. But in life, we end up against times that take so much from us that dreaming and living in the writing world is physically and mentally impossible. I went through one of those, a long one, after the loss of my last baby and the worry over my new one. Sometimes life takes too much. Steals it from you even when you have dangerously nothing. 

Writer's Block is not much of a thing for me personally. If I have the headspace, that world belongs to me. Writer's overwhelm is so much of a thing that I'm surprised we don't have a proper name for it. 

Stay safe, and if you are safe, spare thoughts and prayers for everyone affected by this behemoth hurricane turned- everlasting-bastard in Texas. 



Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Review of "Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession", (or Julie's Other Book).

I'm studying a little about butchery for my current novel project. a fantasy community which hosts, yearly, a butchery kind of festival. 

That's not even the dark part of the book, I swear. 

A lot of my research has come from people like Christopher Kimball, who likes to talk about the history of certain food practices. When someone mentioned that A. Julie from the Julie/Julia Project had A SECOND BOOK and B. That it dealt with mostly the art and practice of learning to butcher animals, I was really excited.




And then I read the other reviews. 

And I was almost upset. I'd read Julie Powell's first book-the modern walkthrough of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". I also adore the film. 

I felt like, based on the warnings, I was going to read this and the magic and heart that ran through the first book would just straight up die. 

But I had to read it. I had to. 

And, you know what? I'm glad I did. 

Here are some talking points though: Some of the things Julie does are downright despicable. She cheats on her husband, repeatedly, and in a way that suggests he is, in fact, a non-person to her; not warranting the truth of any situation. It's horrible to read. She also stalks the side-lover when he loses interest. And casually addresses that as if it were not the terrible, scary thing to do to another human that it is. 

You could tear most of those pages out of the book and burn them and what you'd be left with is remarkably good. 

Burnt out on broken shards of life, Julie starts chasing a butcher's apprenticeship. Which apparently isn't easy to find anymore, even in and around NY. 

In that aspect of her life, she is relatable, especially to women honing a craft. 

That is more like the Julie we know from the first book. 

She's nervous and rehearsing what to say as she goes from meat shop to meat shop asking to be taken into learning the trade, she's terrified but resolved at getting better at her craft every single day in a way that is brave and admirable. 

The ins and outs of cutting up a dead animal are described pretty well. I've mentioned before that as a family we rarely eat meat, but this doesn't stop me from appreciating the work that goes into what these professionals deal with-and it's a lot of work. Possibly dangerous, always rough, and requiring so much study and know-how that it's daunting to even think about. Julie's entrance into that world is worth the parts of the book that might make you really dislike her.

She even travels to observe the dealings of meat in other countries, and those chapters are less hands on, but not less interesting. That's coming from an anthropology fan, so take that for what you will. 

So the magic got tossed in the dirt. And left to sit there for awhile, but it's STILL there in this book. 

And then there is the discussion that the author doesn't have to make us like her, or accept her decisions as not personality-disordered or anything...

Writers just don't owe us that. 

They do owe us good writing, and that's here.

So, I'd recommend this to fans of Julie's other book, I really would. 


Friday, August 18, 2017

The Story of A Baby and A Book and Maybe Magic.

I sort of joke about how books find you. Especially when you really, really need them. 

I imagine them like paged fairy godmothers, I guess. That's how some of them have definitely felt anyway. 

Sometimes just seeing the cover of a book can pull me into the time when I needed to read it. One of my favorites that I would put into that category is "The Graveyard Book", by Neil Gaiman. 

I was pregnant with my second child, the boy who would be my only son. 

And boy, was I scared. I loved and wanted him so much, but 
I'd only mostly known unkind men, predatory men, before meeting my husband. What I'd known out of trauma became fears for how my son would turn out. 

I was scared that despite having a wonderful father, that my son would be like the men who'd hurt me. **None of that is true, by the way. Evil doesn't pick a gender, it just exists as an open possibility for every person. It's not easy to see that if you've been overexposed to some of it, though, and it's something you have to actively work through. 

What helped me was the support of my husband and the wonderful men we do have in our lives, and a book. 

Yeah, a book.




A book I'd been given for my birthday by my father, after having read and loved "American Gods"- it was Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book". There are a lot of back and forths about this as far as loved or hated it, but with a premise like having a young boy raised from babyhood in a graveyard, you have to read this one just for the imaginative properties. 

And for the characters. Little Nobody Owens, called Bod, is the epitome of what I think parents dream for their sons. Sweet, and very, very brave, driven to help others, and always curious. 

The story itself is quite dark. Bod has to face things of pure horror-not in graveyard friends who care for him, but in the murderer who killed his family, in an unimaginable monster, and in the outside world beyond those tall protective gates that shielded him as an infant. 

Vampire guardians, (friendly) werewolves, tombstone goblins, and even a young witch; the book is an adventure, but almost a quiet, calming one, in which things happen that are supposed to. 

After reading of his adventures, I started looking forward to meeting my baby boy instead of being scared. I realized what I was frightened of was just a flat and wrong characterization. 


And when I met my son, all of the worries melted away. He was a breathtakingly sweet little boy, and he still is. He's courageous, he can be firey in the way I remember being as a child, and he is always, always kind. 

I am so grateful to be his mother and so proud of him. 

And every time I see "The Graveyard Book" I remember him as a tiny thing, all dark hair and giant dark blue eyes, in my arms.  




I wrote for him in my pregnancy journal the poem from the novel...I couldn't think of better words to describe our love or dreams for him the way that this did. 


Sleep my little babby-oh 
Sleep until you waken 

When you’re grown you’ll see the world 
If I’m not mistaken. 

Kiss a lover, 
Dance a measure, 

Find your name 
and buried treasure… 

Face your life 
Its pain, its pleasures 

Leave no path untaken 

--Lyrics by from Neil Gaiman's "The Graveyard Book"









It might be a coincidence that his favorite bedtime story for several years was the poetic "Instructions", but that too is a fantastic story for children about looking for the wonder in things. 





The number of times a book has helped me through my life is uncountable I think. But, when it happens to you, and as readers, it happens to us all, it makes you wonder about the magic of the written word. 





Saturday, August 12, 2017

Doubt and Saying Goodbye to Summer Break.

It's the end of summer. Like in just over a week, school is back in session. 

I feel overly emotional about that even though our school is a good place. I find myself wondering if it's the right choice to send them away at all. Having pulmonary hypertension comes with that countdown on being alive (okay, we can't see the numbers, but we know it's there) and you think hey, maybe I need to homeschool so I can get more time with them. Oak Meadow isn't THAT expensive...

And you think maybe it's better to have more quiet time with my significant other, and more time to rest, so school is a better choice. 

And then generally the entire thought process starts over until you cry a little bit. 

So, end of summer is definitely depressing me a little. 

But in keeping with tradition, it meant the end of the summer reading program rewards party.



I am ridiculously proud that all three of my kids read either sixty books in total or thirty hours. And you know what? I can tell a difference. My older two have become faster at reading, more confident. My youngest isn't reading, but we're seeing the emerging signs of her pretending to read books, and asking for a larger variety of stories-and longer ones. I've said (and written it) before and I'll say it again, summer reading programs are really wonderful things. Every library participating will have a different celebration, and this year it was face-painting, a petting zoo, and snow cones (probably so that nobody passed out from heat exhaustion) along with some prizes. It was fun, and they earned it. 

This summer also marks the first year where all three of our children can swim. 



I'm proud of them, but also it's a huge relief to have an activity all three of them love. Our toddler didn't want anything to do with pools until she could swim without someone holding her (she still wears her approved floaties). And it's x1000 easier to take everyone swimming when you don't have to hold a small child the entire time. You still have to eagle-eyes watch because even a water-confident kid can drown in seconds, but the new level of independence makes all of them happy. 

Going to miss you, summer break. 

Now we just need to plan one more awesome thing to do for the last week.

And try not to cry at the prospect of them returning to school. 

Also, if you have kids, please look into Jon Klassen's hat trilogy books. 



They are very easy for early readers, but magically and hilariously illustrated and worded enough that everyone in the room just HAS to come over and get a closer look at what you're reading. "We Found A Hat" gets the award for the funniest book we've read this summer. 





Friday, August 11, 2017

Betrayal at Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery) by Susan Spann Review



It's not a secret that I like detective stories. You can locate a lot of beat up Sherlock Holmes volumes on my bookshelf and find Agatha Christie adaptations and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries in my Netflix queue. 

So, why don't I read it more? 

Honestly, some of that is once you've read the super classics, you feel like nothing can compare to those, so you stop picking up that genre. 

But this book changed my mind. I sat down after putting the kids to bed, intending to knock out just a few chapters...and read it in one evening.


The main characters are stellar. This is my first Hiro Hattori novel, but it is the fifth in the series, and it didn't bother me a bit. A shinobi, Hiro is tempered like steel; quick-witted, too. His companion, a Portuguese priest called Father Mateo, is exactly how I remember the priests I grew up with in church: thoughtful, often cheery, and warm if not a little headstrong. Their interactions are written so beautifully that through them you get to know these men. And, like all good detective novels, they'll feel like old familiar friends by the end of the story. Based on that, I wouldn't worry as to where you enter into this particular novel set. 

I've read mysteries, and I know those, but the setting here was entirely exotic and unfamiliar. And deadly. Taking place in Iga, in a village full of trained assassins and quiet warriors, it's impossible to point fingers without having them cut off. 

That level of danger is palpable on every page of this book, to the point where when a character ventures out into the dark with only a lantern, it will make you shiver. To make it worse (because in these books, you have to make it worse) this is Hiro's family village, and many implicated in the mysterious murder of a clan representative are his own loved ones. 


I was also really happy to see a female character who used sign language to communicate in the story. We don't see it as often as I think we should (my youngest used ASL to learn to communicate). I'd call that sketch-worthy. 

The details are everything, which is to be expected from a historical writer, but really the characterization here was just amazing, and it's that which will transport you across the world and across time into this beautiful, dangerous setting. 

I'll be looking for the rest of these books by Susan Spann, and I'd recommend "Betrayal At Iga: A Hiro Hattori Novel" to any mystery lover. 

And I'll remember to keep picking up books in this genre. 

For more information about the author, check out the website http://www.susanspann.com/




Saturday, August 5, 2017

Bullet Journals are Bull.



I'm not sure why I thought it would help me, but I tried it anyway. 

Bullet Journaling. It's like keeping a sketch-ish diary and planner and social calendar and sometimes even a business ledger and recipe book all in one. 

That sounds exhausting because it is. 

The pins for it are beautiful, there are a ton of really talented people making some gorgeous journal pages, and the accessories like artistic pens and stickers are fun. But, that doesn't mean it's not wasting your time. Actually, anything involving stickers with me is probably wasting time...

But after trying it for awhile, I knew this wasn't helping me. 

I'm scattered and distracted and busy, so keeping important information in a book that isn't in my face is a horrible, horrible idea. I've talked about before why my erasable wall calendar saves me so often, but most of it is that EVERYONE can always see it. Turns out there is no replacing that for me. 

Also, with needing it for so much, it was incredibly scattered. And it just makes no darn sense to have two or forty of these things to record each aspect of my life I need to be writing down. That starts out fun, it gets annoying. Quickly

And then, there is losing it. 

I'd love to show you pictures of my journal. But, I can't. Because I lost it. And at some point in time, I gave in and let the kids have my planning stickers.

I had similar issues with a yearly planner, so the truth is, I'm sure it's just how I work (or don't work) that makes this unhelpful and even just plain stressful. 

So, I'm back to what I do instead of journaling. 

I use my erasable calendar. Everyone's events go on it. Even if I have to write super tiny. That's our family planner.

For work ideas, I keep a sketch book. They drilled it into us in art school how important that is. I thought they were being jerks, but keeping one is paramount to working on art project ideas with any focus. And it can be an emotional thing, too. A bad day can turn into a great sketch for a later work. For people not keeping a sketch diary, I can see how bullet journaling might fulfill that. For an artist though, I'd just say get the sketchbook. 

For work and financial transactions, it's a folder for documents and a computer file. I still need to work on better budgeting, and I'll probably try to read up on that. I can see how keeping a written ledger would help with monthly budgeting, though, and I might try one just for that. 

The only other thing I could think that I need a journal like this for would be our family recipes. It's annoying to look up ingredients for something several times, and sad when you forgot to jot down that cool cake idea you saw in the library book you already returned. I'm going to look into getting a book just for the recipes we use on a daily basis. Hopefully, it's something the kids can have later on, too. 

As for writing? Well, the actual writing keeps track of my progress and ideas. Trying to log that and story plots into a daily journal just didn't help me. I've met authors who love it, and swear by the daily reminders as motivation. 

But for daily life? A complicated book I have to spend time logging everything into (usually while supervising or wrangling 1-3 children) and then it disappears, taking with it my schedule and ideas and notes until I reopen it?

Nahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. 

I'll try the next trend. 



How We Tackle School Uniform Costs.

Charter schools are public schools of choice, basically. We, just in the last five years I would say, have a lot of them here. Mostly because we really needed those options. 

I would never argue that they fix the entire system of schooling, but they are a super important piece of a well-operated one.

If you're considering going that route, you're most likely going to be buying some pretty costly uniforms this summer.

There are good reasons for that, which I have to remind myself of as I pay nearly fifty dollars for a shirt...

Uniforms create belonging. They say you are a part of something larger. 

And since real uniformity does mean an equal playing field, you can argue that it gives every child in attendance the chance to feel like they are included, which is awesome. 

Also, there are zero problems choosing what to wear. There are some problems finding the specific uniform pieces sometimes, but nobody is going to be upset that their dress doesn't match their socks. 

There's some evidence it improves scores, but I think there might be some confounding factors there. It didn't lower them, though, so there is that. 

In any case, all of our local charter and prep schools require their own brand of uniforms. I bet there are exceptions, but this seems to be the rule here. 

Those can get pricey, especially if you are enrolling more than one child. 

The sticker shock might scare you a bit, but don't let it put you off getting your child into a good educational fit. I'm going to share with you how we tackle back-to-school outfits charter style...

1. Remember, you basically need one entire outfit to start with along with the extras (your socks, shoes, belts can often be bought at cheaper places, always ask what must be supplier bought). It might be mean you need a very strict laundry schedule, but it's doable. These uniforms are guaranteed to last the year at least, some beyond that, and these are hardy outfits that can take the extra washing machine cycles. 

2. Add more uniform pieces as the year goes on. That's how we are building our closets. For example, each child needs school insignia blazers in the winter, and those run with a high price tag, but since you don't need them all at once, it can be spaced out. Treat all of it like that. Buy your extra shirt, pants, and skirts in intervals so you don't get hit all at once with a higher cost. 

3. Sign up for your school's uniform suppliers website notifications. You'll get notified of coupons and sales that way, and we've saved up to 20% off with site coupons. 

4. Buy the school spirit shirt. Most schools offer to let the kids wear it one designated day a week. There's another uniform spare for you right there. 

5. Keep in mind that the first year trying to get your children into uniforms is the toughest financially. Next year, you'll have extra clothing that can be carried over (I'm telling you, they are made really well-and I have some serious rough and tumble kids). It won't always have this high of a cost. 

6. Many schools have resales and donated uniforms. Ask the staff over the summer how that works for your local school. It's a way to get cheaper uniforms and you can resale the pieces your kids have outgrown to someone who needs them. 


Back-to-school shopping I think is always one of those times where you feel like money is flying out of your wallet whether your children attend a public, private, charter, or homeschool. And, it kind of is. 

But, as far as the uniforms go, I can tell you I feel like the expense is worth it. 

Happy Shopping! 


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Friday, August 4, 2017

"Writer To Writer: From Think to Ink" by Gail Carson Levine.

I've kind of mentioned before I have a love of writing books. Well, good ones, anyway. 



Last year in school my oldest daughter's class read Ella Enchanted, and I was surprised at how wonderful it was. My daughter loved it. It, and the author, probably never would have popped up on my radar without that school-required reading, and all I can tell you is that my children's school has excellent taste in literature. 

Looking for book gift ideas (one of those things we do, I can't seem to stick to the "something to wear, something we...care...whatever, but we plan enough that all of the kids get a book for the holidays and birthdays...) I found writing books by Gail Carson Levine. The one I read I would say pre teen and up, but she has a children's writing book as well, which is on my kids' book present list, called "Writing Magic". And, yeah, I'm sure I'll either read it after they open it, or read it aloud so I can get to enjoy it, too. 




The book I found was a different publication called "Writer to Writer: From think to Ink"


I've talked about before how important the tone of the advice is in writing books. It's what turns it into a journey instead of a lecture, and this is so lovely and lighthearted that it was a breath of fresh air. 
But none of the important stuff is skipped. 

It's based on questions she has received on her blog about writing, which is at http://gailcarsonlevine.com/blog/. That makes the content she deals with REALLY useful. It's all things we've struggled with or worried over. 


You'll find everything from coming up with ideas to poetry (and how to incorporate that into your larger work of fiction, if you want to). The selected work for examples is wonderful. 

My favorite had to be Levine talking about how she works all the time, writing in spare moments and uncomfortable spaces. 

That's an important lesson nobody has really addressed with me before. Many authors have quiet time in their days, and right now, that's not anything I even have time to dream of. So, I've started writing (mostly on my little portable Alphasmart) when the kids are loud, awake, when everyone is watching television, while I'm waiting for dinner to cook (assuming it's something simple and I won't burn it by being inattentive). 

Some of us won't get the perfect time for ourselves. 

And that's okay. We just have to be adaptable. 

I really did enjoy this book. I was happy to hear this author was teaching writing workshops to young writers because I think she is perfect for that, and perfect to write a book on how to help anyone work on their creative fiction.