Friday, February 22, 2013

Self portrait with sister

The Bug has pretty much always been into art: coloring, painting, sculpting, whatever.  And she's pretty good at it.  One of the things she's been working on in school is attention to detail.  Her teacher wants to know the setting (Is the sun out?  Is it night time?), what the characters look like, that sort of thing.  [N.b., As part of her animal report about black panthers, she had to write/draw about what it eats.  She drew a smiling deer next to a smiling black panther... I guess the deer didn't know what was coming.]

All of this is pretty easy for the Bug - she envisions all of those details, and translating them to paper is intuitive to her.  She also enjoys making pictures for her sister, Mommy and Daddy, Mima and Boppie, Aunt Jessie, the baby cousins, etc., etc.  They don't always make it into the hands of the intended - she's always adding detail, and cutting them up.  I was able to snag this card to the Bunny before it was too destroyed.  Inside she wrote, "I love you [Bunny]. You r the best.  From [Bug]"

As you can see here, the front of the card depicts the Bug (on the left), the Bunny, a smiling bumble bee, dragonfly and butterfly, an ant hill, and an owl in a little tree.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Shanghai Girls

I read Lisa See's Shanghai Girls for a friend's book club, which will hopefully be my new book club, too.  First meeting is tonight, so fingers crossed.  Anyway, it's not a book I would have chosen on my own - the cover depicts two beautiful, smiling young Chinese women.  It looks pretty chick-lit.  Yeah, I know, you can't judge a book by its cover.  Except that sometimes you can.

The novel follows the lives of two sisters, our protagonist Pearl and her younger (and very much beloved by everyone) sister May, as their privileged Shanghai life crumbles before their eyes.  Their father has gambled away their fortune and arranges marriages to two American brothers to pay off his debts.  As the girls attempt to escape this fate, the Japanese army invades Shanghai as the Second Sino-Japanese War begins, and they ultimately land on a boat to the United States with the goal of reconnecting with the husbands they've only met once.

As their journey unfolds, they are hit with a series of tragedies: the brutal murder of their mother, a vicious gang rape, an unplanned and secret pregnancy, the discovery that their American husbands are broke, a struggle against racism and for American citizenship. 

The plot is actually intriguing, and See has done an incredible job of researching this book.  There are times when the women's story seems only to serve as a structure within which See can show off her knowledge of Chinese-American history.  In addition to the Battle of Shanghai, the Angel Island Immigration Station figures prominently, as does the Chinese Exclusion Act, Chaing Kai-shek, the rise of Mao's Red Army and historical figures from Los Angeles's Chinatowns (there were a couple of them) in the 1930s-50s. 

Unfortunately for See, her writing is not up to the ambitions of her story.  The book is told in the first person, present tense.  There are rare successes in first person, but I can't recall ever reading anything of substance in the first person present.  It's painful at times.  Further, she can't resist rubbing your face in the lessons of her novel.  For example, she wraps up a hundred pages that demonstrate the at times tense, always strong bond between May and Pearl with a lousy paragraph that states exactly this point.  Or she sticks a crummy paragraph about the perceived strength of men versus the inner strength of women in the middle of a book that shows exactly this. Also, the ending is completely contrived.

Next up: Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, translated by my favorites, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.  A neat, old hard copy - a gift from a friend one Christmas - has been sitting on my shelf for years, but as soon as I learned these two translated the novel, I picked up the new version. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hearts and hats

Valentine's Day happened as scheduled last Thursday (but it was followed by yet another extended weekend - four days off - so no time to write!)... And as scheduled, I was in charge of the class party.  Unfortunately, it was also a grand success, so I fear being called upon again.  Thanks to everyone who sent me suggestions!

We landed on the following:

  • Craft #1: newspaper hats for the kids to decorate
  • Craft #2: salt-dough ornaments for the kids to paint
  • Game: plucking candy hearts out of a bowl of rice... with chopsticks
  • Snack: red foods
Three hours and a bottle of wine later...
The salt dough ornaments were actually really easy.  2 parts flour, 1 part salt, 1 part warm water.  Mix, knead, roll, cut, bake.  The Bug's unstoppable sweet tooth led her to taste the dough, which looked to her like cookies.  Do yourself a favor and don't ever do that.  This is pretty good craft, too - the kids did a lovely job painting them, and they really didn't take me that long to make, all things considered.

The hats were hysterical.  I made them the night before, and it took hours.  No joke.  But it's kinda funny to have a bunch of privileged kids wearing newspaper on their heads. 

The game, also pretty funny.  A couple of the kids were big cheaters.  A couple absolutely could NOT get the hang of it.  Generally, though, they cheered each other on, they had fun, they weren't mean.  Plus, easy to set up.

The snacks.... who knows?  The punch looked horrific, the fruits looked pretty tasty.  But I missed snack center entirely trying to monitor the game. 

In other news, the Bunny's little class of 3-year-old boys + her voted on what they wanted for their party.  Basically, the boys agree with anything she suggests.  So they had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with strawberries.  Whatever will she do when she's not the only girl in class and therefore no longer pulls all the strings?

So, yeah, back to the party: total success.  Will I do it again?  Hopefully not.  But if I do, expect to see the New York Times plopped on your kids' heads. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Until Santa left Neverwhere in my stocking this Christmas, I was not aware that Neil Gaiman had written any novels for adults.  I have seen Coraline, I knew of some of his graphic novel work, I follow him on Twitter, but I'd not yet read anything of his.  So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I started this novel, and Gaiman's creative mind is something to behold.

Richard Mayhew is our protagonist, a Scot living in London with his first real job, an apartment, a fiancee and a generally normal life.  One night he finds - and helps - a young woman who's bleeding on the sidewalk.  A few hours later she disappears, and along with her goes the rest of his life.  He is no longer visible to taxis, his bank cards don't work, his super is renting his apartment to another couple.  He has slipped through the cracks.

And when someone slips through the cracks, he finds himself in London Below, a completely separate place that coexists alongside the regular London Above.  But it's different.  Richard finds himself traveling through the city's sewers and subways with the Lady Door, the girl he'd helped in London Above, and her bodyguard Hunter.  There are medieval monks who guard a mysterious key, assassins who appear to be some sort of humanoid except that they don't bleed, characters who adeptly straddle the good guy/bad guy divide, rats and the people who speak to them and more.  Richard's efforts to help Door - without inadvertently finding himself dead - take him deep into London Below.  And each adventure finds him better suited to surviving in this world, while even more desperately wishing to return home.

The world created by Gaiman is fascinating.  It also beautifully demonstrates one of the key attributes of great fantasy: a world so close to our own, the reader can truly imagine its existence.  London Below is frightening in this regard.  Gaiman calls upon the nightmares of any person who's lived in a big city: the beasts under bridges, inside the subways... the real reasons you "mind the gap."  He plays on London's landmarks in a way that makes you think, "So *that's* how Knightsbridge got its name..." 

I am less enthralled, however, with Gaiman's style of writing.  The characters at times feel so real I can visualize the contents of their pockets.  But he tries too hard with his use of overwrought similes and metaphors.  Too often he says something that he could have shown.

That complaint aside, I am very happy to have read this imaginative (and at times terrifying) book.  I am also going to pursue more of Gaiman's books in the future; both Coraline and his best-known novel American Gods are certainly on my list.

Next up: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See.  I know nothing about it, but I'm reading it to join a friend's book club... first time I'll have a real book group discussion since the Fearless Readers!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Special Mommy time

Joker was in Steamboat for the past few days, leaving me with a nice stretch of solo parenting.  It also quite nicely and unexpectedly afforded me a little special time with each of the girls.

Mima and Boppie had the great idea of having just the Bunny up to the farm on Friday night.  This is definitely her first time there without her big sister; they thought it would be fun to have a little focus on her.  So Friday morning she stayed home with me.  We drove down the hill to my grandparents' house where we met up with Mima, then traveled en masse to a very special circle of hell called Casa Bonita.

If you've never been to Casa Bonita, the description of it being the bastard child of Disney and Tijuana, left in the middle of an awful strip mall, is pretty spot on.  The food is atrocious, the plastic flowers and palm trees haven't been updated (or cleaned) since it opened in 1974, and the cliff divers are teenagers.  However, it *has* cliff divers, and mariachi bands, and an arcade.  It's amusing for kids, I suppose.

Anyway, after Mima took the Bunny up to the farm, I picked up the Bug at school and took her to the local fro-yo place.  Then we played Chutes and Ladders and ate spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.  After that, she sat on my lap to watch a movie - something we haven't done in years.

Saturday morning we went to CrossFit and out to brunch with friends, hit the playground and went to a very cool birthday party, all before joining the Bunny up at the farm.  It was really nice to have a little special time with each of the girls.  I need to find a way to do it more often.