16 September 2013

The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde

Saturday night I finished reading Jasper Fforde's latest book in the Thursday Next series, The Woman Who Died A Lot.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a Fforde Ffan. I found his books accidentally. When I was in college I was at a large, well known bookstore and saw a book called The Eyre Affair on the bargain book rack. I'd read Jane Eyre many times, so I was intrigued. When I read that the basis of the story was that Jane had been kidnapped out of her book, I snatched up that book and haven't looked back.

Though this latest TN book has been out for a while, and I've had it for a while, I didn't get to reading it until last week. I won't make excuses. It just didn't happen. Still, it was worth waiting for.

The story begins in 2004. After surviving an assassination attempt in One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Thursday Next has been forced into semi-retirement from SpecOps, is unable to bookjump due to her leg injury, and is encouraged strongly by husband Landen to slow down.

Trouble seems to follow Thursday, though, and despite her attempts at a quiet life, Jack Schitt is up to something at Goliath, Synthetic Thursdays are popping up, Aornis Hades has given Thursday a daughter who doesn't exist, her son Friday is mourning the career he would have had (or did have, or will have) in the ChronoGuard, and her daughter Tuesday is struggling to get the Anti-Smiting Shield up and running before Swindon's scheduled smiting on Friday.

It makes more sense if you've read the other books in the series, I promise.

This story reminded me a bit of The Eyre Affair in some ways. Because of the gap between TN6 and TN7, it sort of feels like the first book in a new series. So there is a bit of a ramp up before things really get going. Fforde has to introduce new characters and update the reader on what's been happening and where we are in Thursday's life. Although, I will say The Woman Who Died A Lot did not feel as exposition-y as The Well of Lost Plots did. That one felt slower to me.

Still, Fforde does not disappoint. Like his other TN books that take place outside the BookWorld, Fforde creates a parallel world to what we know as reality for Thursday to live in (and protect). This time one major aspect of the story is the smitings that have been occurring since God has revealed Himself to the world (unifying all religions under one and changing the minds of atheists).

In Lost in a Good Book, Thursday's father offers to sideslip his daughter to another reality. (His description sounds remarkably like our reality, by the way). This reference to another dimension is expanded in The Woman Who Died A Lot, since it is proven that there are other dimensions and universes, and they work together in some aspects, particularly in trade. Some are quite different (one dimension is very much like reality except everyone has two heads), and some strange aspects of our reality are explained through this multiverse theory (for example, Aldi is the result of a multiverse trade, which is why you don't recognize any of the brand names).

As is the expectation with Fforde, the crazy and confusing threads of the story seemed to pull themselves together as the story progressed. Through much of the book I was saying, "What the frak?" when something would happen, but by the end, it made sense. And not in a cheesy way, in my opinion.

However, another aspect of the story that can't be ignored is that Thursday is a different person now. Not only is she older (55 years old, to be exact), but she is the mom of two teenagers and one young girl of dubious existence. Her allegiances are to her community, to the written word, to the continuation of humanity, but also to her children, who are finding their own ways in the world. She's realizing she's different, and is trying to hold on to who she once was while still trying to make who she is work. She's hard on herself because of it.

I think I enjoyed the book more because of the time in my life that I'm reading it. I'm not retiring, and I'm not the mom to teens, but I'm going through a major transition in my life, finding my new place. And that's what's going on with Thursday in this book. She's sort of retired, she can't do what she did before due to physical limitations, and her children are much more important to her than anything else. I can relate to that.

In addition to the Thursday Next series, Fforde is the author of the Nursery Crime books (The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear), Shades of Grey, and his young adult series (The Last Dragonslayer and Song of the Quarkbeast). He lives in Wales.

Thursday will return for her next adventure in Dark Reading Matter.

My rating:

15 September 2013

Vacation planning

I've lived away from family before. When I was living in Florida the first time, I think we visited up north maybe once, and I had family visit a few times (once for my birthday, and once for each of the kids' christenings). It was hard to be here and not know when I was going to see family again.

Now that I'm down here again, it's incredibly important for me to visit family as often as possible. Not only for me, but for the munchkins.

Puck, Tink and Bug have been as close as siblings for the past couple of years, and now they live in different states. Yes, we'll Skype with Bug so they can talk and see each other, but it's also important for them to actually be in the same room sometimes.

So, even though it's only September, I've been thinking a lot about holiday plans, and when I (and the munchkins) can visit family up north.

The munchkins are with me for part of Puck's winter break from school, so we'll likely go up then. Ever since early spring, Puck has been talking about snow. The poor kid has been dying for a snowman since, like, February. And since Florida isn't really known for its snow, we'll be headed to Illinois instead.

I was talking to my dad on the phone recently, and he pointed out that even though it'll be hard to be away now that I live in Florida, it will be great when I visit because it'll be kind of a big deal (especially when I have the munchkins with me). We'll be happy to see everyone, and they'll be happy to see us.

I'm looking forward to going up during the holidays this year. It will be good to see everyone, to spend time with family, and to get away from routine for a while.

Let's just hope I can be patient until then.

13 September 2013

Toting Munchkins

Puck is four and Tink is two. However, because Tink is quite a bit smaller than the average two-year-old, her legs are very short. Sister loves to walk and run, but when we're out and about she gets tired easily and has trouble keeping up with Brother and me. So a lot of the time I carry her.

I don't mind--she's still light, especially compared to Puck-but she's also a little lazy. When I carry her, she expects me to do all the holding, and if I have anything in my hands, I struggle to keep her up on my hip as we walk or shop. And if I'm holding Puck's hand, too, forget it.

When the munchkins were little little (especially Puck), I used a wrap to carry them snuggled close to me. They were safe, and I had both hands free to do what I needed to do. I loved it.

When Tink first started walking, it was important for her to walk whenever possible. She was a late walker, so I stopped using the wrap, and when I needed to carry her, I just picked her up and put her on my hip. It worked well. But now, with her desire to just hang rather than, you know, hold on to me, I think I'm going to get out my wrap again.

The wrap I have is a Moby Wrap, and it's for use between eight and 35 pounds in a variety of holds. So I think I'm going to try it and see what Miss Thing thinks of the wrap for errand days or activities with lots of walking (amusement parks, for example).

If she likes it, we'll stick with it. If she doesn't, we'll have to come up with something else.

Do you carry your toddlers or allow them to walk most of the time? How does it work for you?

12 September 2013

NaNoWriMo is coming....

If you've read my blog very long, you probably know I'm a big advocate for National Novel Writing Month. I've participated several times (won a few), and I think it's a great opportunity to prove to yourself that the only thing standing in the way of finishing your book is you.

I have made the decision this year to not participate in NaNo. I know I can write a novel in 30 days. I've done it. And I think it's more important for me to take that time I would spend working on a NaNo novel and work on the coffee house book instead. So that's what I'll be doing instead.

However, I know that there are readers here who are super excited about participating in NaNo (and yay for you!), so I will be posting some encouragement along the way, as well as updating you on my progress on the coffee house book as you work on your NaNo novels.

Usually the Office of Letters and Light (the organization that makes the NaNo magic happen) launches all the new goodies on October 1st every year. (Although new t-shirts and coffee mugs are already in the shop, so check them out!)

Even though it's still the beginning part of September, NaNo will be here before you know it! It's never too early to start thinking about what you're going to write, whether you're participating in NaNo or not.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Will you be working on a different project in November instead?

11 September 2013

My thoughts about today's anniversary

Tomorrow is the twelfth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

I have written about it in the past, both my reflections of the day and what I hope to tell my children about it. But today I want to express a different take on the importance of this day, inspired by Bill's post, Sept. 11, 2001.

In the post, Bill explains that on a visit to Ground Zero, he was at first angry that people passed the site as just another place in the world that holds no real significance. He says:
It was almost as if the pictures of twisted metal, smoke and crushed bodies never existed.
As I started to process that fact, my mood shifted again.
I realized these people were doing something special. No matter where they were going or what they were thinking, they were moving--living--horrific memories be damned.
They were doing what we all should be doing, living each day to the full instead of cowering in fear in the corner. 
Doing so honors the dead and says F-U to those who destroyed those towers and wish we would all stay scared. 
This is the specific aspect of Bill's post I want to talk about.

For a long time after September 11, 2001, I was firmly in the "never forget" camp. And while I know I will never forget what happened--nor will, I imagine, anyone else who was conscious of the day--I have shifted my focus somewhat.

Initially, my "never forget" perspective was a "never move on" perspective. This event was the first event like it in my life (that I was old enough to understand at the time). My young mind could not understand how anyone could move forward after such a tragedy. It was my first what the fuck is going on in this world moment. So it was hard for me to conceive of an America in which that day was "something that happened."

But Bill's post explains very well why it's important that we do think of it as "something that happened." It doesn't take away from the tragedy, it doesn't dishonor those who lost their lives that day.

But terrorism by its very definition is meant to scare people into coercion. If we don't move on, their goals are accomplished.

So I'll think of the families and friends who are missing loved ones even more today. I'll light a candle in remembrance of those lost and those who worked so tirelessly to help.

But I will also go about my day as I will tomorrow. I will not hide or be afraid. I will live.

09 September 2013

Fforde Ffandom

I'm finally making time to read Jasper Fforde's book, The Woman Who Died Alot. I've had it since it was released in the U.S. late last year, but just didn't make the time to read it.

This week, however, I am absolutely reading this book, and doing a little shopping next week for the other Fforde books missing from my little collection.

I also listened to Lost in a Good Book (TN2) in the car on the way from Illinois to Florida last week. I've listened to it a few times, as well as The Well of Lost Plots (TN3). And Fforde's books have given me inspiration for decorating my new, Florida office space.

There are lots of cool things in Fforde's books--particularly in the BookWorld--and I want to create a sort of Fforde Ffan Cave of Stuff for my new office. I have some initial ideas for what to include, such as the Bellman's bell, a few plot devices, and a map of Fiction Island.

I'll have a smallish space for the next couple of years, but after that I'll have a little more room to spread out and make the most of my office: library table, card catalog, lots and lots of bookshelves....

My hope is that anyone who knows/enjoys Fforde's books will find lots of fun items in my office that will remind them of specific moments in his books. And for those that don't know Fforde... well, it'll just be a weird office, I suppose. But it'll be my weird office, and that's the important thing.

Does your office space have a theme?

08 September 2013

Centering and grounding

Image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I used to use Sundays as a "renew your spirit" day here on the blog. I used it for that in my life, as well. Most Sundays I went to worship services at my UCC church and sang in the choir, and used the sermons as inspiration to refocus, center myself, and prepare for the week ahead. It was valuable to me to use that time to let go of frustrations from the week before.

Now, however, I don't attend church services. I know I don't need any kind of community service (although there is a nearby Unitarian Universalist congregation [is that the right word?] I may visit), but I do want to find some way to continue that refocusing each week so I don't get mired in some of the frustrations I'm going through right now.

That being said, I've decided to restart a yoga practice, as well as start meditating regularly. In addition to the physical health benefits of yoga as exercise, I think these two things will help me in the same way worship services did, but allow me to stay focused inward (knowing what I need to do to accomplish my goals) rather than outward (I can't do it without god). Sundays will still be a day for me to focus myself for the week to come, but in a different way. In my opinion, it will be a better way.

If I feel the need for a sense of community that once came with the UCC services, I'm sure I can find another community that meets regularly to get that same feeling of support and belonging, whether it be at UU meetings, in a secular reading/poetry/yoga/meditation group, or even among parents at an activity for the munchkins. There are always sources of support for people who need them. It doesn't have to be a church.

How do you center and refocus yourself each week? Where do you get support and community?

07 September 2013

Log, Day Six

I've been in this jungle for six days now. The shelter I've created is small, but functional. Though at times I feel as if there's nothing outside of it, and this shelter is my whole world.

I venture out to get food, and have taken to keeping my stash high so the natives can't reach it. They do not seem to know how to climb very high. Yet. The natives do try to communicate, though I don't always understand them. They call me "Mama," which I can only assume is their word for "food." I leave them offerings to keep them happy.

I've only actually seen two of them, but the damage they do to my camp at times makes it seem as though there are hundreds.

I think they will be migrating soon to another camp. I've seen them look at a rudimentary calendar and say "Dah-Dee-Day." Perhaps it's some holiday or seasonal marker for them. When they leave, my food will last much longer, I'm sure.

Help is coming, I'm told. I'll be leaving soon. Until then, all I can do is stay strong.

The kids' table

Puck has requested that at my "new house," I have a small table and chair set for he and Tink. He said he wants to use it to sit at and eat and "so I can do homework."

I was already planning on getting a new table and chairs set to put next to my work desk for the kids to be able to color or draw while I'm working in the mornings, but with Puck's request, I decided to let the munchkins help me pick a set. After all, they'll be the ones using it.

So after much consideration, a little arguing (Tink wanted a pink table), and a lot of searching, we decided on the table and chairs you see here.

When I first started planning the move to Florida, I wasn't sure I was going to get a kids' table. I planned to get a new dining set anyway (which I already have picked out--yay!), and since it's only the three of us, I thought that would be fine. But there's more to a kids' table than providing a place for the kids to eat that is a little more their size.

When I was younger, our family would visit my grandparents at Christmas time as often as we could. And when we did, everyone came over for a big Christmas (Eve) supper and opening gifts. Before my parents divorced, there were 19 of us at my grandparents' house, so in addition to the dining room table for the adults (and infants), there were two separate "kids' tables" in the living room and "new room" for the meal.

And I loved the meals at the kids' tables. We had the freedom to eat and talk without worrying quite as much about being quiet or proper. It gave us a little freedom, and made us feel more grown-up than we were.

Good memories of the kids' tables. And equally good memories of being able to "graduate" to the adults' table when I got married.

It sounds cheesy, but I want my kids to have the same kinds of memories with their cousins that I did. So when family comes down to visit (because who wouldn't want to come visit us in Florida?), I want to have a table for the cousins to sit together while the adults sit elsewhere and have boring conversations about the price of gas, the weather, the economy, or whatever else adults talk about during holiday dinners.

Our nightly family dinners may still be at the big table. It's important to me that we eat around the table together as often as possible, especially since I know the kids' schedules will become more chaotic as they grow. But it will also be good to have a kid-sized table and chairs for them to use however they want, even if the cousins aren't visiting.

06 September 2013

Let's pretend it's a vacation.

On our way to play putt-putt
So....  I have a place to live, but I can't move in until the 16th. It's a great little place, perfect for what I want right now, and I'm content to wait for it. It's just meant that I've had to make this week a bit of an adventure with the kids since we're staying in a hotel.

They've loved it--they've gotten to watch their shows on the bed while coloring, every meal has been a picnic, and Puck has been ecstatic about getting donuts with breakfast in the mornings.

Yes, they've become a bit spoiled this week. But it's my first week in Florida and we're in a hotel. When I get them back after they're at Monty's next week, things will be different and quite a bit back to normal. I'll even have a place to hang our big family calendar so we can keep better track of our schedules!

It'll be so good to get back into our regular routine once we're settled in the new place. I don't like this whole no-real-routine thing I've got going on. Sure, I can pretend we're on a little vacation, but it's still weird. I want a real kitchen to make real food in, my own washer and dryer, and more windows.

But, for now, we're pretending it's a vacation.

05 September 2013

Puck's Literacy Folder

Nanny reading to Puck and Bug (2011)
Puck is in pre-K this year. It's a half-day (his class is the afternoon class, which works well) at the same school he'll attend for elementary school. I'm happy for him. He's a smart kid, and he's getting the chance to learn more, make new friends, and have a new, exciting experience in his life. It's good.

And, because reading is important to me, I love the weekly Literacy Folder Ms. C has. Each Wednesday, Puck brings home a book and a journal. Together, we read the story and he draws in the journal what the book is about. The folder goes back to school on Monday.

I don't know if this is a common pre-K (or kindergarten) practice, but I'm excited that Ms. C is taking this step to get parents actively involved in the students' educations, and helping to create a connectivity between classroom learning and home learning. Puck loves reading and drawing, so this is a really good exercise for him. And he was astonished yesterday when I told him he had homework to do! Of course, he wanted to fill his whole journal with pictures about this first book. I convinced him we had to save room for the rest of the books we'll be reading this year. It worked. This time.

Do you have little ones in school? How do their teachers encourage parental involvement and home learning?

04 September 2013

Well, I'm in Florida.

I haven't officially moved quite yet (long story), but I'm in Florida, and I do have an apartment pre-leased (another long story).

It's strange to be here, especially so close to where I lived when I was here before. There are some things that seem very different, and other things that haven't changed at all.

And even though I've driven past certain stores or restaurants and said, "Oh! I remember that!", it feels so, so different to be here now after being away for (almost exactly) two years.

For one thing, I never thought I'd live here again. Like, ever. Not even in retirement. But now that I'm here, I'm taking ownership of it as my home (at least for the next 16 years), and reminding myself of why I enjoyed living in the state, and in the area I'm going to be living in.

The apartment I have lined up is perfect for what I need, and in a great location. Not only is it close to Puck's school, but it's located close to shopping (and entertainment), and I'm familiar with the area.

There's lots to do in the area for the kids, as well as for me (when the kids are with Monty). I'm close to the beach, and at least one member of my support system is planning to move nearby-ish as a snowbird beginning fall/winter 2014.

Here's the thing. I live in Florida now. And even though it wasn't in my plan, it's where I am. I have to find happiness where I am. And, more importantly, it's where my munchkins are. As long as I have my munchkins, I'm good.

So I'm in Florida.

03 September 2013

Looking ahead to Christmas

I know it's barely September, that the weather is still very warm, that my life is a bit chaotic. But I'm still thinking about Christmas already.

For our Christmas celebration with my siblings and mom, we do things a little differently. We draw names (each person draws one name), and the person is responsible for making a gift for that person and getting a small stocking stuffer for that person. The rest of the stocking stuffers are bought by people who are willing to contribute candy or small toys or whatever else.

This year, I'm doing the contributing. I'm sure Sisi or Nanny will have candy to add to the bags, but I'm also going to take advantage of the fact that it'll be my first year back in Florida, and I plan on getting cheesy, touristy tchotchkes for everyone. (What better excuse for buying someone a Hawaiian shirt-clad Santa with sunglasses?) So I'm keeping an eye out for cheesy little cheap stuff I can get for everyone to put in their stockings. I think it's going to be fun shopping for everything.

Of course, in addition to planning for the stocking stuffers for everyone, I'm planning for the actual trip up north. There are a lot of people the kids will want to visit, so our calendar will likely be pretty busy for that week. (And, if I have the chance, I want to make a specific stop on the way up or down for a little side trip.)

It's going to be a fun trip with the kids. I'm looking forward to taking them to see family for the holiday, and I hope there will be snow for at least part of the trip. One of Wyatt's concerns about my move to Florida was that there wouldn't be snow in the winter anymore.

Still, even if there's no snow, there's lots to look forward to this December: a road trip, family, and cheesy Florida tourist gifts for everyone!

Are you thinking about the holidays yet? What are your plans?