Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Books, books, books!

I wanted to tell you about these excellent books, written for older children. Susan Cooper is one of the finest writers of juvenile and young adult fiction I have come across, and I love to recommend her books. I read her The Dark is Rising sequence as a kid, and all of my urchins have read and loved the series.

The five-book sequence begins with Over Sea, Under Stone, in which we meet the three young Drew children, who are on holiday with their parents in coastal Cornwall. It has all the elements of a classic mystery/adventure, as the children find a treasure map; the treasure may in fact be the legendary Grail! They also realize that their Great-Uncle Merry is more than he seems. The magical or fantasy elements of the series are only hinted at in this novel.

The second book, The Dark is Rising, moves away from the Drew children and introduces Will Stanton, who begins to experience strangeness just before Christmas, on his eleventh birthday. We are also introduced explicitly to the themes of Light and Dark which animate the rest of the series. Will comes to understand that he is one of the Old Ones, guardians of the Light. He must go on a quest for the Circle of Signs, which will help the Old Ones ward off the forces of the Dark. Cooper draws on Celtic mythology as well as the Arthurian legend as she weaves her story about a young boy who realizes he must do a seemingly impossible thing.

Greenwitch, the third book in the sequence, returns us to the Drew children and introduces them to Will Stanton, whom they do not trust at first. The four children's adventure leads them on another quest, this time for an underwater artifact that may or not untie the mysteries of the legendary Grail.

Book four of the series, The Grey King, finds Will Stanton in Wales, recovering from a serious illness. As he regains his strength, he meets Bran, whose connections to the Old Ones and to the Pendragon of the old stories are uncovered -- to Bran's confusion and dismay. Will must call upon magic he thought was gone to wake the Sleepers in the Hills: the battle against the Dark looms closer and closer.

Silver on the Tree concludes the series, as Will, Bran, the Drew children, and Uncle Merry all join forces to attempt to defeat the forces of the Dark.

Here's what I love about these books:

1. They discuss good and evil, and the evil is really evil -- there's no doubt. But at the same time the good is powerful and explicit as well; the reader is never ambivalent about which side to root for! I think this may be because Cooper began the series in 1965; I love older fiction that is not afraid to take a stand!

2. The children all have a powerful and loving adult presence in their lives.

3. I love any literature that keeps the Arthurian legend alive! These novels also reference Celtic mythology in a way that made my urchins want to learn more. Now that's a good book!

4. Oooh -- she's such a good writer! The adventures are suspenseful; the relationships are real; the humor is witty; the children are not annoyingly sweet to each other.

Now I will say that I know these books will not please everyone. They are definitely intended for older children -- maybe nine years old and up? It's hard to tell, because every kid is different. If you have a precocious reader at your house I would encourage you to read these first, before you hand them to your kid. He or she may be reading at a middle school level, but may not have a middle school soul -- you are the only competent judge of that.

And while the battle between the Light and the Dark is explicit, it is NOT explicitly Christian. If you have a problem with your kids reading about supernatural adventures, or are concerned about introducing magic or witchcraft into your kids' literary repertoire, these may not be the books for you.

tangent: I could make a strong Christian argument on behalf of these books (as I can for Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Macbeth -- all just chock full of witches and magic). But I will save it for another day!

I have illustrated this post with the covers of the books that my family know and love, but they have recently been re-issued. These editions are available at all the booksellers you love; I have included them (as well as some other fabulous, fabulous YA fiction by Susan Cooper) in the "Terrific Books for Your Kids" carousel over there on the left -- the link takes you to Amazon.com so you can take a closer look.

Happy reading!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hitting the Slopes

We went skiing this weekend with the tall boy's Boy Scout troop, and just had the swellest time! The tall boy and his dad stayed in a lodge at a Boy Scout camp with the rugged manly men. It wasn't too tough, since they had cots, a wood-burning stove, and a dad to cook breakfast for them.

The girl urchins and I roughed it at a nearby hotel.

The skiing was fun, if more exhausting than I remember it being; I recall the days when I could ski and ski without feeling like I required a knee replacement (or two). The oldest girl had no such problems; she flung herself all over the mountain, and laughed when she got caught in the middle of a snow ball fight between two Boy Scouts.

And the sunny girl had to keep up, which was not a problem, since she appears to be fearless.

This annual outing outing has turned into a family event; of course dads are along for the adventure, but sisters and brothers, moms and cousins, and the occasional girlfriend also turn up to join in the fun for the day. Here are a couple of dads and some older siblings home from college. It was great to have them along!

The tall boy skied like a crazy person, coming inside only to eat or chug a Gatorade. He is all about the ski technique, if you understand "technique" to mean "flinging oneself head-first down the steepest slope one can find." The phrase "pell-mell" describes his style best, I think.

He skied for much of the day with this confident-in-his-own-skin friend. He's an Eagle scout, as you can tell from the sweet pink hat.

By the end of the day, the pink-hatted boy and his dad were d-o-n-e. I can assure you, they weren't the only ones!

At twilight, the tall boy went for one run with me on one of the tamer slopes. It was all my knees could take! He was very gracious and didn't mock me . . . too much. Soon after, the scouts and dads headed back to their cabin, and we headed out too.

I tell you, the hot hotel showers and the NCIS marathon at the end of a long day really take it out of you!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Poetry Slam!

Jenn's haiku theme this week:
The Road

The road in Texas
is straight, flat, never-ending.
But look at the sky!

"The Road Not Taken:"
Robert Frost spoke to my heart,
and I still wonder . . . .

My journey will lead
me to the best surprises
when I leave the road.

Photo info and credits:
"The Road Not Taken:" courtesy of gryphonscry@wordpress.com
(a great blog, by the way)
"Flat Texas Road" and "Lake Lugert: Quartz Mountain, Oklahoma"
were taken on my November road trip with my sister.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Snapshot: an apple for the teacher

I started a new job yesterday -- teaching two English courses at the local community college. The sunny girl gave me an apple to make sure my day went well. I just love the sunny girl!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Guess what I'm doing this weekend?

OK, people -- every horizontal space in my kitchen is covered with . . . . well. Let's just say it's covered with stuff that does not belong in its current location.

Check this out -- and don't be a hater:

We start just left of the refrigerator, which I did not photograph because hello, chocolate syrup! Too embarrassing even for me.

tangent: Who else loves the reusable Starbucks iced tea cup? I don't know about where you live, but around these parts they were coveted and hard to find last summer. My Contractor looked on-line and she discovered that they were selling on eBay for $50.00. That's American money, people!

Mine was a gift.

My Contractor will be introduced in her own separate post, because she's just that awesome.

Moving to the left . . . . The sink has actually been so much worse. I feel pretty good about the sink, if you want to know the truth.

This corner is the only place where the mess might be marginally justifiable: marinara for dinner tonight! On the other hand, the eggs have been there since breakfast.

tangent: The butter dish (hiding behind the Christmas mug -- thanks, Kathy! -- so that Coleen won't steal it) is Carnival glass that belonged to my husband's grandmother.

Here's the marinara sauce. Quiz: Do you like your tomato sauce chunky and rustic, or do you run it through a food processor so it's nice and smooth? It's a debate with deep philosophical significance at my house.

To the left of the stove is the ancient and venerable toaster oven. I have no memory of slicing any bread or rolls, so I have no idea how long those crumbs have been there. The reading glasses are my husband's, so I suspect that he was the most recent bread-slicer. I could be wrong.

In my defense, I went to Costco yesterday.

Are you noticing the sugar cannister with no lid? Cannisters were on my Christmas list, too. Can I just say I'm glad I got a camera instead?

tangent: Canister? Cannister? Two NNs looks better to me but spellcheck says no. I think I'm right. Or at least right enough.

The mega-Box o' Ramen reminds me to give a shout-out to Ashleigh, Tricia, and My Contractor -- who all love the Ramen. Dig me, girls! Forty-eight glamorous Ramen meals for seven bucks! Who's the Frugal Gourmet now?!

If I could get the table cleaned off I could put away my Merry Christmas tablecloth. The coats hanging on the backs of the chairs represent a lost cause.

It's just sad.

On the bright side, look at all the wine we got from our party guests!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Before I get to work taking down the Christmas tree ornaments, I just thought I would show you what a party fest the Christmas season is for my family. We hang with a crowd that believes in putting the "merry" in Merry Christmas!

Coleen's family hosted a festive Merry Christmas brunch the day after the Big Snow stopped the entire region in its tracks. All over North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, terrified motorists abandoned their cars; meanwhile Coleen drove around our neighborhood in her bright red Jeep and picked up all her guests.

She blew right past the fabulous neighbor and his snow-blower. This girl loves a party, people!

Three generations of fabulous!

The tall boy swears that the fashion-forward teens did not call each other ahead of time to coordinate their outfits. Please note the genuine Viking helmet hanging from the ceiling.

My husband and I have thrown a Boxing Day party every year on the day after Christmas. It rocked again this year! Coleen's tall boy clearly agrees with me.

I love this woman.

Here are my three pals: Bossy, Bossier, and Quietly Insistent. I can tell they're cooking up some scheme to boss me around.

My husband bonded with his college pals while the tall boy listened to the jibber-jabber.

The littlest fabulous neighbors only had so much party in them.

Oh, my dears! Look at Coleen's shoes! I need them.

We squeezed the last ounces of glamour and fun from 2009 at a formal New Year's Eve party, hosted by these paragons of elegance.

Check out the glamorous urchins!

Every female in the room coveted this urchin's excellent coat. She almost didn't get to leave with it.

Meanwhile, the teenager glamour was so dazzling I had to put my sunglasses on.

I mean, seriously. This girl, in this dress? It doesn't get any better -- except when I tell you that both her mother and her grandmother wore the same dress when they were teenagers.

And who doesn't love to party with a priest who carries a noisemaker in his breast pocket -- during Mass?

The oldest girl got to bond with her godfather -- which is one of her favorite things about attending this party every year.

I just love the tall boy in a tuxedo.

So does the sunny girl.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

It's ironic . . . .

So I got a new camera for Christmas! It looks just like this one, which I have been coveting since I spotted it at a softball tournament in July.

tangent: I'm not too controlling vis-a-vis my Christmas wish list, am I? I didn't actually buy it for myself and tell the husband what he bought me. I just took a picture of the item I wanted, and emailed it to him, and then found it at BestBuy-dot-com, and bookmarked it in a folder called "Stuff Liz Wants for Christmas." Too pushy?

This is a swell camera, people. It can do all sorts of zoomy, action photograph-ish things that my trusty iPhone just isn't made to handle. The oldest girl was getting a little tired of smacking a softball, and then pausing to pose for my iPhone before she could run the bases.

Well, so obviously it's hilarious, in a tragic, sucking-the-life-out-of-me sort of way, that I can't figure out how to get my pictures from the camera to the computer.

Stay tuned . . . .