I just today mailed our holiday cards. We are the people who still stuff a real picture into a card, we all sign the card, and I hand address the envelopes. I don't know what's wrong with me- maybe next year I'll finally give in and order the whole business online and let them mail it. But this year I already had cards (yes, I bought them on sale the week after Christmas) so we went for it, again. Except Connor had a cast on his right wrist and was bothered by how slow it caused him to write, so I had to wait on it to come off before I could talk him into signing cards. But we finally did it!
The following pictures were not used for this year's card.
Chip and Chloe both REALLY lobbied for this one. It's their favorite picture.
On Friday, we went to Zoo Lights with Chip's parents. When we first walked in, we heard the announcement that Magic Mr. Nick would be taking the stage in five minutes. As you might remember, we love Mr. Nick. You might also remember that Chloe wants nothing more than to go on stage and participate in one of his tricks. Fortunately it wasn't too crowded, so Chloe had a prime spot in Mr. Nick's line of sight. She raised her hand for everything. What are some magic words? "Please and thank you!" she yelled when called on. "Your parents must be very proud!" Mr. Nick (ironically, as you'll soon see) joked. A bit later, he informed us that leaving milk out for Santa was a Southern thing, and asked us to guess what they used to leave out for Santa back in Illinois. "Bourbon," Chip joked to his dad. Chloe raised her hand earnestly yet again. I figured she would say hot cocoa, or maybe egg nog. But you already know the punchline to this one, because you're smarter than I am. "BOURBON!" Chloe yelled when called on. Yes, she brought the house down with that one. Proud of her, indeed.
But she had clearly made an impression on Mr. Nick, so when he needed a female volunteer from the audience, guess who was called to the stage? She was awesome up there, not shy at all. When the trick was over and Mr. Nick asked the audience to give her a hand for helping, she was totally reluctant to leave the stage, waving good-bye to her adoring fans before finally skipping off the stage and happily back to us. Mission accomplished!
Next we went into the Animals of the Night exhibit. Chloe's CLUE class had recently studied animals, ending the unit with a trip to the Zoo and a class on these particular animals. She schooled us good in that exhibit, even showing up Professor Bwana with the following exchange:
B: You know, these bats can't see very well!
B: They actually see using sonar!
B: But do you know what sonar is?
C: YES! They see using echolocation! Now let me tell you about these sloths. They only come down out of the trees once a week- to poop! They can just pee from where they are.
From the Animals of the Night, we headed to the ferris wheel, which had a line that was prohibitively long. We decided to go watch the ice skaters for a bit instead before checking out the rest of the lights and leaving. But no, not Chloe. She needed to skate. Once again, she was completely fearless. Because believe me when I tell you, she is not a skater. She can't even handle Fisher Price rollerblades in our driveway. But here, with all these people whizzing by and falling and a million eyes on the rink, she wanted out there. So we paid our money and went around the rink until way past her bedtime. By her own count, she only fell eight times!
We discussed that night how my kids are such rule followers, which they come by naturally on both sides of the family. But whereas Connor is hesitant within his rule-following boundaries, Chloe feels completely free there. She is just totally fearless and confident and it amazes me time and time again. She continues to be my idol. Even when she's digging in her ear on local television.
I feel like I almost never read books when they come out. There are several reasons for this, the most important of which is that hardcover books are too expensive. But also, I haven't been one to eagerly await a new release since Harry Potter Book 7 came out. The closest I seem to get is that early in the year I will read a few books that were on the "Best of" lists at the end of the previous year.
This year things were a little different. For one, I'm reading more on the Kindle which takes away the extra expense of a hardcover. But also, I eagerly awaited some new releases. Allow me to talk about books I finished that were published in 2012.
The Round House, Louise Erdrich
I am a fan of Louise Erdrich- The Master Butcher's Singers Club is one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven't read it, read it. I was interested in this book, just because it was by her, but I wasn't necessarily in a hurry to read it. But I saw it available on Audible, and listened to a clip, and it was read by a Native American and just sounded great to me. Plus I have a membership to Audible, and did not have to pay for the hardback.
The Round House starts with a horrible crime, but it is not a crime novel. It's about modern(ish) life on a reservation, and about what justice means, but mostly it's about a 13-year-old boy and the ways he grows up over the course of a summer. I don't want to call it a coming of age novel, but I guess you could. Several of these characters were featured in A Plague of Doves, but I didn't need that background to be fully invested in their lives. I keep erasing what I might say about this book- I went into it blind, just trusting Erdrich, and was completely overtaken by what she wrote. You should read it that way too. Now go read it.
The Last Policeman, Ben H. Winters
I saw this book reviewed somewhere, and thought it would be right up my alley. It is a crime novel, to be sure, but it is set in a pre-apocalyptic world. An asteroid is headed towards Earth and can't be stopped. While this novel focuses on Detective Henry Palace and his seemingly pointless quest to solve a murder in the face of the end of time, there is an underlying current of conspiracy and mystery surrounding the coming apocalypse. As a stand-alone crime novel, this book was just okay. But as the first of a trilogy? I can't wait to follow the larger mystery through two more novels. We have just scratched the surface here.
I avoided the new book costs here by listening to this book as well. However, I didn't love the narrator and will definitely read the rest of the series the old-fashioned way. Although I'll likely go the Kindle route so I don't have to wait on the paperbacks!
The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling
As a huge Harry Potter fan, I was very curious about this book. I was not, however, expecting it to be anything like a Harry Potter book. (Apparently a lot of people were? Weird.) As I love to listen to British books being read with a British accent, I got this one from Audible as well.
This book was disappointing. The characters were very broadly written. The story was all about small-town life and gossip and drama, OH THE DRAMA. And it moved so slowly, describing the lives of these cartoon characters in detail that only bored me rather than making me feel any connection to them. Finally, toward the final third of the book, I started to care about some of them. And I admit that I cried at the end. But as soon as I was done I thought, Good lord that was awful! It was kind of like watching an episode of Grey's Anatomy or Glee- I was totally manipulated, sure, but it wasn't quality entertainment. I'm glad I read it, but I can't really recommend it.
Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon
Don't worry, I didn't listen to this one. I would never to that to the master of sentences, Michael Chabon! I really enjoyed reading this one on the Kindle, as I could highlight passages that were totally awesome and then re-read them every time I've picked up the Kindle since.
I was really looking forward to this one. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my favorite books ever, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union isn't far behind. I think my expectatins were too high, because despite the superior writing and beautiful craftmanship of his sentences, overall this one fell a little flat for me. The whole was not greater than the sum of its parts, or however it is you manipulate that phrase to mean what I'm trying to mean. And I think you know what I mean, even though I know many of you don't agree with me on this one.
The Roots of the Olive Tree, Courtney Miller Santo
Although I do not personally know Santo, many of you do, and I was excited to see this offered on Amazon for a very reasonable price. This was a fun, light read with great characters. I believe Courtney has great potential as a writer and look forward to following her progress.
Broken Harbour, Tana French
Of all the books on this list, this is the one I most eagerly anticipated. I have read the other three books in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, enjoying each one more than the previous. (OK, let me be clear- I've listened to all of these books. They are set in Ireland! Read by Irish people! Is there a more fun accent? Try to listen to one of these novels and not immediately repeat everything in your own lame version of the accent. It can't be done.)
The books are only loosely a series- each book has a different protagonist, although they all exist in the same world. And although the series is set around detectives who are solving crimes, it would do the novels a disservice to dismiss them as merely crime novels. The characters are as much the focus as the plot, and the interaction between the two is what drives each book. Broken Harbour was no exception- a truly outstanding book with characters who stayed with me long after I was done. I am already looking forward to her next book, which sadly is not expected to be published until 2014. At least that means you have plenty of time to read her other books between now and then.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson
If you enjoy laughing, buy this book. Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, put together a truly hilarious memoir that was enhanced for me by listening to her read it. Bloggers write in such a conversational way- listening to her tell these stories of her crazy life made me feel like I was sitting in a bar having a drink and listening to my funniest friend tell me about her crazy-ass family. And when you're done with the book, you can go read her blog and continue to laugh. Love her.
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
This was THE book of the summer. I read about it everywhere and had it recommended to me by everyone. And it was loads of fun. Yes, I listened to this one too. (Really- I'm just never going to buy a book right after it comes out. And I didn't get my Kindle until August. Deal with it.) This is a wonderful book, full of twists and turns and unreliable narrators who keep you on your toes throughout. A he said/she said affair, the story is told by spouses Amy and Nick Dunne. I love and hate both of them, and you will too. Another strong recommendation. I'll definitely check out her older books while wondering what she will do to follow Gone Girl.
Redshirts, John Scalzi
I am a big fan of the John Scalzi, and always listen to his Wil Wheaton-narrated audiobooks. I didn't even realize this was a new release when I selected it- I just knew I wanted to hear all of his books, and this was one I hadn't gotten to yet.
There is no way I can do justice to the plot of this wildly creative book, so I'll give you the official blurb here:
"Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expendedon avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives."
If that sounds like the kind of thing that interests you, check it out. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Top of the Rock, Warren Littlefield
If you were as obsessed with NBC's "Must See TV" as I was, you should read this. I actually read the hardcover copy of this, y'all! It was given to me as a gift, of course, but still. I did it!
What It Was, George Pelecanos
I obsessively read novels by all the people who wrote for the television show The Wire. Pelecanos wrote some of the very best episodes of that series, and I respect him greatly for that. I've had mixed feelings about his novels, though. My initial notes on this one were "tight, well-told story." That's how I remember it, too- great descriptions of time and place, and the plot was given to us straight without any extraneous meandering. I have to be in the mood for his noir style, but I enjoy it when am. (I read this one on the Kindle app, just in case you were wondering.)
Sorry y'all- I thought this would be a short post, then as it progressed I realized I'd read a lot of new books this year! Who knew? There were some new releases I had hoped to read but didn't get to, including those by Dennis Lehane and Barbara Kingsolver, and then I'm also being worn down by the glowing reviews for This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. And maybe Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwen. I'll get around to them sooner or later!
What new books did you read this year? What should I add to my list?
A list of all the books I've read this year can be found here. Fair warning- I give almost everything three stars!
Last Sunday, we kicked off our holiday season with the traditional making of the ravioli. As always, it was a great time. Chloe worked hard this year, and even let me help her a little bit. I didn't see Connor until it was time to leave.
Then we went to Nashville to visit the in-laws and see their amazing new house. They bought a lot in East Nashville and built from the ground up, so it's exactly what they wanted. And quite frankly, exactly what I want. The house is perfect.
We took two cars so that Mom and Gidget could come with us. Fun! Chris cooked the turkey, and despite some panic and a trip to Kroger on his part, it turned out great! The only person who had to throw out a dish was me. Apparently you just can't freeze the sweet potato gnocchi recipe I use. It's fresh or nothing.
Pop came to see the new house too. We also explored the neighborhood a bit- East Nashville is very different from West Meade. But totally awesome!
We came home from Nashville and spent Saturday putting up the tree and generally making a huge mess with all the other boxes of decorations that came out of the attic. Then we spent Sunday eating another great meal at our house with Mom and the Millfills. Shannon made the turkey this time. I got off so easy this year! I made mashed potatoes twice (well, one meal mashed and the other meal whipped), bought some Sister Schubert's rolls and butter and called it a day. I might never cook again!
A couple of Saturdays ago, Chloe and I were stopped at the light at Tillman and Summer, just like we are any number of days a week. And as always, I eyed the "HOT TAMALES SMOKED TENDER TURKEY LEGS" sign at DJ's Custom Welding longingly. I've always wanted to come get food from DJ's, but quite frankly I've never had the balls. Do you just walk inside and ask for food? What is even happening here- it's a welding shop! But good lord, they have smoked turkey legs. What am I waiting for?
A few months ago, Kerry stopped for some tamales and her review didn't exactly inspire me to run right over. It did give me enough information to help me wrap my head around possibly stopping there someday, though. And this day seemed like the day. "How would you like to stop for turkey legs after ballet?" I asked the ballerina in the backseat. "Heck yes!" she replied, never one to turn down meat. Now that the idea was in her head, I wasn't going to be able to back out.
So an hour later, there we were, loitering in a parking lot on Summer Avenue- just a regular soccer mom and her toothless, tutu-ed daughter. The man who greeted us was suitably amused. We requested turkey legs, and he went to find someone to help me. So wait- does he even work here? Who knows. I waited by the grills, mouth watering, while Chloe spied some fruit punch and lemonade and started adding to our order. Since I was intensely focused on the turkey legs, I didn't even think to walk over to the menu and see what else they had. (Pork sandwiches, slabs of ribs, tamales, sodas, and some other things. Maybe something about a party platter? I'll leave it to Stacey to follow up with an "official" visit that will surely include pictures of menu, discussions with the owner about how they prepare foods, and a complaint about the lack of a changing table.) A nice woman came out and got us two huge turkey wings, then grabbed a cup to prepare our fruit punch. I thought we'd just get what was sitting out, but she said it was still a bit frozen and went to the back to get some. She said it was already made up, but it took a few minutes, which made me feel guilty. But then she brought back a huge cup of fruit punch that was made the way my Mia used to make Tang- as sugary and intense as is humanly possible- and I was glad I had made her work. And it was topped off with slices of strawberry and peach! YUM. Chloe declared that it tasted like heaven and then we fought over sips of it until it was gone.
Our feast of two turkey legs and a fruit punch cost a mere $12. Really- $5 turkey legs? OMG. We paid (cash) and then raced home, dying to tear into those bad boys. By the time we got home, my car and our clothes smelled like we had been sitting around a campfire. We got in and opened the foil, and the meat was literally falling off the bone. Chloe and I snuck a quick bite and immediately declared, "THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE ONE AT THE DELTA FAIR!" Then the three of us couldn't even finish the two turkey legs. (We made turkey salad with the leftovers the next day. WINNING.) It was so much food, and so good! I immediately wanted to tell everyone I know that they should go there, but at the same time I was worried that if I told everyone I'd gone there, they'd think I was just trying to be cool by stopping at the welding shop for food. And really I was just being fat, not pretentious. Chloe, Chip and I just have a weakness for turkey legs!
Later that day, at the Rock n Romp, I did test out the douchiness of this story by telling a few of my good friends that they needed to stop over there for turkey legs, but that I wasn't going to write about it or anything. One person declared that I should anyway, if the food warranted the praise. Then another told me that I was an "inadvertent hipster" for my ironic purchase of food in a welding shop parking lot. THANKS. But all in all, those turkey legs were the bomb and I think we're going to get them at least once a month for the rest of our lives, if not twice a month. So I did have to share it with you. Go get a five dollar turkey leg and some fruit punch- you won't be sorry!
As some of you may know, Halloween has always been a weird holiday in our house. This is because Connor hates dressing up. He has no flair for it, and only picks a totally pre-made costume with the standard plastic mask and branded character. Then he wants to wear it as little as possible, because it feels weird and is everyone else dressed up? and I already got enough candy today at school, I don't want to knock on strangers' doors! I mean really, even free candy didn't motivate him. On the other hand, we have Chloe, who will dress up for dinner if the mood strikes her. (Oh, we're having tacos? Let me grab my sombrero!) This month, she has gone to school dressed as a teacher on Career Day and as a hippie on Seventies Day. She's eaten dinner at Huey's dressed as a "Chinese lady/Ninja," this year's "official" Halloween costume. And let's don't forget the full leotard/tutu/leggings/ballet shoe ensemble she sports each Saturday for ballet class. She can't wait to help me put Gidget in a costume and prowl the neighborhood looking for candy later tonight. Costumes- with a purpose!
This year's Halloween celebrations have gone as follows:
Last Wednesday, Chip and the kids went to the festival at Idlewild Presbyterian, like we do every year. I was still getting over my cold, so I stayed at home. Connor doesn't even have a costume this year, so he wore the "This T-Shirt is My Costume!" shirt that I bought in hopes of shaming him into a costume. Nope- he's nine years old and he's DONE with costumes. Whatever.
Then over the weekend we went to Zoo Boo. In the interest of full disclosure, I was given free tickets by the Zoo. We went last year for the first time, and it was pretty fun. This year, Chip and I had been wavering on spending the money for it when we got the ticket offer. So that decided it for us. The kids and I (Chip was busy) chose to go on Saturday night, as did EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD. Seriously- that was at least everyone in Memphis, I'm sure of it. Before we left, asked Chloe if this was a costume or non-costume affair. "Just regular clothes," she stunned me by choosing. I didn't mind. As we headed towards the Zoo, I let the kids know that since we hadn't paid for it, we could stay as long or as little as we wanted- there was no "getting our money's worth" to worry about. That took the pressure off, and helped us enjoy it. Naturally we spent a ton of time playing on the playground, and we enjoyed the decorations and the candy, but the star of the show was Magic Mr. Nick. We've all seen his show before, but we loved it just as much as ever. Chloe even went to sit right down front so that she could volunteer for things, but she wasn't one of the chosen few. Someday! We ended the evening in the animals of the night exhibit, which was awesome because it was actually night, so everyone was real active.
Sunday, we went to the Trunk or Treat at Emmanuel United Methodist in our neighborhood. Mom and the Millfills joined us, which was great because my kids LOVE their cousin Maisy! Here is a picture of them making fun of her sour face during the pumpkin patch portrait portion of the evening.
As you can see, Chloe and Maisy dressed up, but Connor did not. I had come to terms with it by then, and adopted a new motto: any time I pay for the kids to collect candy (festival, Zoo Boo, etc), they can wear whatever they please. The kids played every game they could, then went inside to jump in the bounce house. It was fun and we ended up with lots of good candy.
Tonight, I plan to dress Chloe and Gidget up to walk the neighborhood in search of lit porchlights. Our neighborhood is generally pretty lame on Halloween, since there are a bunch of old people who seem to be scared of 2012-model schoolchildren. (Some of the kids are black! Hide!) Connor has agreed to stay home and help hand out candy. I really think there were only two years that he actually trick or treated, and one of those years he was a toddler and only went to one or two houses. Just not his thing. On the other hand, last year Chloe had a stomach flu but STILL costumed up to go to the one house with all the cool decorations. Then she came home and passed out for like two days until she was finally better, at which time she woke up and ate that one piece of candy right away. She will not be denied!