Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

Follow Their Lead

Parents know we’re supposed to raise up our children to follow appropriate guidelines: hold hands in the crosswalk and parking lot, listen to your teacher, be kind, be a good sport, etc. Our kids–most of them most of the time–follow our words and, more importantly, our example.

But parents also have the privilege of being good students of our children, watching carefully to discern their interests and aptitudes, cheering them on and encouraging them to try new things and continue to develop their passions.

Family is not just children following adults. Parents who pay attention know the reverse is also true: parents get to follow their children.

We followed C19 outside all the time. He is happiest out of doors, on a hiking trail, up a tree, on the seashore, constantly exploring the natural world. So we made that possible. We allowed his fascination with the rain forest jungle to lay the foundation for our sabbatical summer in Costa Rica.

As a little guy, Q14 wanted to play the piano, so I tried teaching him. He quickly showed aptitude beyond my skills, but his interest decreased over time. We didn’t make it a battle.

He picked up the trumpet five years ago and it has become the sound of his heart. Over the last year, he has been teaching himself both guitar and piano. In the last two months, he has also taken up trombone and tuba. One of my great joys in life currently is watching my son become a multi-faceted musician.

Yesterday I got to follow him to the San Francisco Symphony for an open rehearsal (okay, I got to chaperone). Woo hoo!

Symphony Hall was decorated for Dia de los Muertos, so that was fun as well–musical arts meets visual arts. Culture all around. As they poured my necessary next cup of coffee, the Symphony volunteers remarked how happy they were to see young people in Symphony Hall. And so dressed up. They said, “Children need the arts. They should be exposed to the arts as young as possible.” Agreed!

The pre-concert talks were helpful in explaining the historical, musical and personal context for the music we would hear. The program consisted of two pieces by Ravel, a Bartok piano concerto, and Debussy. I expected the piano concerto to be my favorite but, no, Ravel’s Bolero stole the show.

For me. After lunch and a long bus ride home, Q14 and I discussed again the program as he wrote the concert review required for his band class. Although he didn’t like Bolero at all (“165 times through two bars of music, performed by different instruments and groupings of instruments, is just a few times too many!” he wrote), he was so excited about the day he had trouble sitting still. He put on music from a concert he had played in 8th grade and sang along. He finally got the necessary words down on his computer so he could get on to what he truly wanted to do: make more music.

When C19 caught his first lizard at less than two years old, we could have never guessed we’d get to spend a summer in Costa Rica. When Q14 gave up piano, we had no idea he’d not only teach himself to play, but play several other instruments as well.

You never know where you will get to follow your children, so you might as well sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

Hollow-ing

After school drop-off, after a mellow stroll at the park with the dogs, I flopped in my favorite chair, holding the arm rests as if I might slide to the floor.

I felt gutted, empty, numb.

Somewhere in the wee waking hours, my goal of practicing yoga that morning had withered; the pounding in my head causing fear that I might conk over in the first inversion.

I noticed my weary body pulsating with every beat of my heart. It might have been the three cups of coffee I inhaled to keep my eyes open.

The day before I received the call I’d been expecting–dreading–for months. The second data recovery company to examine my wiped hard drive confirmed: my files are beyond resurrection. All gone. Buh bye.

I thought I’d moved beyond tears, but still they flowed. Grief comes in waves.

Forget Halloween, this October has become my Hollow-ing.

Those who misunderstand the situation have said: “You didn’t back up? Most people learn that before their 20’s.”

Or, worse: “You must have clicked on something…” Which, to my ears, sounds akin to blaming the victim: She got attacked because her skirt was too short. Or: The IT company wiped your files without telling you because you are stupid.

Yes, I know you’re supposed to back up files. I thought they were backing up on the company server. I trusted the IT company to do their job well. They didn’t.

So. Nine years of work, research, life, gone. Hence, the Hollow-ing.

I’m sad and not sleeping. Again this week I recalled yet another document I’d like to have but don’t. I’m frustrated, hurt, struggling to trust. I don’t understand what happened, how, or why. From a human perspective, it all seems a colossal mistake, a breach of protocol that resulted in no damage to anyone but me.

But now that we’re here, now that hope has died a slow and painful death, I have to move on. I have to trust, as I have throughout my life, that God has a plan. Not that God did this or caused this, but that God has something in this for me. Not that God wanted those projects to poof! disappear, or that He doesn’t want me to ever attempt to recreate some of them, but that He might be redirecting my focus. At least for now.

So what’s next? The only response I have echoes in the hollow: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Back Up

I’ve been unintentionally off the blog for two weeks. Unintentionally, because my computer was hacked three times in three months.

The first time, in April, we didn’t know my computer was the hacker’s way in. Hacked again exactly one month later, I happened to be on my computer and watched as I was locked out, Amazon and email opened, before I did a hard shut down. A work-issue computer that I also use personally, our IT department felt certain that they’d found the equivalent of “dust on my tires,” and that the malware program they installed would keep me safe.

They were wrong. I’d planned to keep my computer turned off on June 3, but those pesky hackers caught me off-guard by jumping in on June 2. Again, I happened to be sitting at my computer. They tried again to get to my Amazon account, but I no longer had my password stored, and my husband had set up two-factor authentication. Determined, I watched them search my computer for passwords before the shock wore off and I did another hard shut down.

Yesterday I got good news and bad news: I got a brand new computer (hooray!) and all my personal files were infected and have been wiped (wait, what? BOO!).

It seems that, because I didn’t want our staff to have access to my personal files, the way IT set up my files was not ideal. Not a techy, I didn’t know the desktop icon I clicked to access my files was any different than any of the other files on my desktop which are a) inaccessible to the staff and b) backed up on our server which means c) safe. In other words, I didn’t know that no back up was being done, that I should have been doing my own back up.

For nine years.

Nine years of writing, research, reading notes, correspondence, school files (including IEPs for those who know what that means), recipes, and God knows what else, all wiped out. And a draft of a book that, save for some footnotes yet to be added, was just about ready to send to a prospective publisher. A book I’ve been working on (ridiculously slowly) for three years. Gone.

I feel sick. Honestly, I waver between numb, sick, and angry.

There may yet be hope. The drive will be sent to a data recovery company who will charge a pretty penny to see what they can retrieve. Hope is the lifeline dragging me through the too-fast water slapping me in the face, choking me as I try not to drown…

Moral of the story: back up your work. If you don’t know if you need to, ask. Save yourself from this heartache.

Meatless Monday – Arugula-Lemon Pesto (vegan)

Light years ago (it seems), C19 did a science fair project that involved growing basil plants. We love basil–pizza or pasta margherita, bruschetta, pesto… Oh my seriously summer-loving YUM! We discovered (science fair whatever, though I do recall Kiddo got whatever credit/grade he needed) that basil grew well, during summer, in the planter on the side of the house facing the backyard. Goody on us!

I have been missing basil, missing pesto, because…January. Too cold.

Friends gave us the most incredible gift, a Tower Garden, at summer’s end. It had basil, for a time, until the weather turned. It also had romaine, which we ate nightly until it also passed. Now, arugula and mint proliferate.

Girlfriends came over this weekend. One mentioned having made an arugula-lemon hummus. I requested the recipe. Later, we moved to the deck where she noticed my arugula-laden Tower Garden and my small but heavy potted lemon tree. Clearly, I need that recipe! And yet…

Guy awoke in the middle of the night, feverish. He moved to another bed, and has lolled about throughout the day. His dinner tonight: ramen. It takes only minutes and it’s our go-to sick day comfort food.

Q13 and I wanted something just a little…more. I suggested arugula-lemon pesto pasta and he jumped at it. He’s at that age where he’s wanting to learn to cook (and wanting breaks from homework). So…

He cranked the tunes on his portable speaker. We harvested and washed arugula. We tossed ingredients in the Cuisinart, blended and tasted and adjusted, dancing all the while I made notes to capture what we were doing as we loosely followed other recipes.

We cooked the pasta (dance). We tasted the pesto (dance). We added pesto to pasta and fresh tomato to garnish and (DANCE) oh my. We high-fived over our newly created recipe.

Remarkably, since Q13 doesn’t love arugula in a salad. Too peppery. But he loves this!

C19 took the middle school Foods class twice because he enjoyed it so much. They no longer offer it, so I am Q13’s foods teacher. I don’t mind. We’re having fun and making memories. Love!

Arugula-Lemon Pesto

½ c toasted pine nuts (or combination – pine & walnuts)
2 c packed arugula leaves
3 cloves peeled garlic
½ lemon, zested
2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute (or no-salt herb/spice mix)
½ tsp red chili pepper
1 ½ lemons, juiced (start with ½, and add as needed)
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp water
4 drops Tapatio (hot sauce)
Cooked whole wheat pasta of choice
Chopped fresh tomatoes, to garnish cooked pasta

Lightly dry-toast nuts in a pan over medium heat just until fragrant. (Oh, the fragrance!)

In a food processor, combine arugula, toasted nuts, garlic, lemon zest, spices and juice of a half lemon. Pulse to combine.

While processor runs, slowly drizzle in olive oil, stopping to scrape sides as needed. Follow with water. When pesto has achieved desired consistency (add additional lemon juice and/or seasonings) add a few drops of hot sauce.

The kiddo and I suggest you cook some whole wheat pasta while you’re making this mess, because it will taste amazing when you throw it all together. We cooked a combo of rotini and penne because that’s what we had. Top with some fresh tomato for good, yummy, fun!

Proof of God’s Existence

I stand in awe of people with the kind of artistic ability you’ll see in today’s guest post. In fact, creative talent of this caliber, in any form–painting, drawing, making music, dancing, writing–seems to me proof enough of a Creator in whose image people were created to create.

re:create recess #21: Jae Moon Lee

Coincidently, during one of my walks, I found a stone that caught my eye likely because its formation looked so similar to one I remember from the place where l spent most of my time in childhood.

Probably not only me but many people must have had a similar experience, that somehow you have seen something before or you have been somewhere before though you might not have, actually.

In China the very first word people learn is “chun.” It means “the whole universe,” no matter where you are, since we all live under the same sky.

The second word is “ji,” meaning, “mother of earth,” like the stone and the dust. No one invented these words specifically. They just spread out among the people for many, many years.

The sky and earth.

The Bible, on the very first page of the Old Testament, also clearly proclaims that God Himself created the universe and the mother earth. I think this similarity between the eastern and western hemisphere is not a coincidence. Am I silly enough to think about it this way? But I like to believe that we are all connected in inexplicable ways.

An atheist skateboarder, mistakenly missing his momentum while showing his flipping technique for nothing, went straight into the bushes like a falling kite. Of course we can easily hear that first word coming out of his mouth: “Oh My God! It hurts!”

And then we say, “Thank God he was wearing a helmet!”

Why is it we mention God so often without giving it a second thought?

In my mind this is proof that someone already controls us from a long, long time ago in secret—or maybe in plain sight. We are all unconsciously programmed in our minds by someone very powerful. We cannot live even one day away from Him or escape Him as long as we are living on Earth.

No matter what we do, our future is already planned, decided by one God who is the pure artist himself.

Lately I paint stones, or rocks, even pebbles that might know the secret of the ancient times. I observe first the color and the lighting carefully, then I will put again and again on the same piece of rock a lot of details here and there, over its own universe and time.

Thanks, God. You are giving me strength and the Spirit to finish more paintings for an exhibition.

Jae Lee is a native of Seoul and has made the Bay Area his home for the last 30+ years. Having earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking, Jae has made a living in the Film, TV, and Theater industry as a Scenic Painter.

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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