Friday, December 31, 2010

Fiction at Almost Eleven

Writing about One’s fiction consumption is hard. He devours books like his brother eats carbs – turn around and the cupboard is empty. In the past six months he’s read so many new books it’s startling to me to have to put them all down in one place; but since I’ve started writing about what the boys read and how proud I am about it, it seems a little unfair to leave the champeen reader out of the picture all of a sudden, just because his mother is dang tired of typing things at the end of yet another fiscal quarter at work.

Two more things to note: more than half of these books he purchased with his own allowance. He divides his money into even thirds: save, spend and charity. The “save” sits there (because he is, after all, his father’s child), the “charity” goes in the offering plate at church, and the “spend” goes directly to Barnes & Noble. We insist on the division into thirds, but where the money goes after that is up to him.

Second, he’s reading so much these days he will frequently keep a book on his lap in class. This used to irritate the daylights out of his teacher, until she discovered she could sneak up and ask him a question on the lesson and he would have the answer. Now she likes to see how much he can read and still retain his 96% average. As always, he’s a little hard to get used to at first, but once you do, you like him.

So here we go: One’s list of what a boy might like to read if he were anywhere between 10 and 13:

The Peter and the Starcatchers series. One has read the first three that are in paperback; he’s waiting for the 4th to be released (we’re allergic to hardcover book prices unless absolutely necessary.

Books 5 through 8 in the Swallows and Amazons series. He will read 9 through 12 eventually, but he’s taking a break.

All ten of the 39 Clues books. He can read one of these in an hour. He frightens me.

Found and Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix. These sounded a little scary to me when I first read the back, but he absolutely loves them, and for a boy who can get scared reading the Hardy Boys, wasn’t frightened at all.

Tucket’s Travels, by Gary Paulsen.

The Heroes of Olympus, Book One: The Lost Hero. Of course – did I even have to put this down here? I think he’s read it 5 times, but maybe it’s only 4.

The last of the Mysterious Benedict Society books, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. A great series.

Basil’s Search for Miracles and The Purple Mantle. Orthodox Christian literature is thin on the ground in English; these are good ones.

Fair Weather, A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck. Lots of laughing went on.

The Hornblower series up to #8. He received several more for Christmas and can’t wait to get to them.

Code Talker, by Joseph Bruchac, about Navajo Marines in World War II. Realistic, but still fiction.

Escape from Warsaw, by Ian Serraillier.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This book kinda creeped me out in elementary school, but One just shrugged when I told him that. Boys.

The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 and Bud, Not Buddy, both by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.

The City of Ember and The People of Sparks, both part of a dystopian series written by Jeanne DuPrau. He adored the first one, and it started a number of conversations about the proper role of government, which is always a good thing.

Sounder, by William H. Armstrong.

B for Buster, by Iain Lawrence.

King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and The Adventures of Robin Hood, both by Roger Lancelyn Green.

The Traitor’s Gate, by Avi.

Brisingr, the last (?) in the series by Christopher Paolini.

Al Capone Does My Shirts. I forced this one on him and he loved it. I love it when that happens.

Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, about Nathaniel Bowditch, the man who wrote The American Practical Navigator, what 18th Century sailors called The Sailor’s Bible.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. His father’s recommendation, which he loved.

The Homework Machine, by Dan Gutman.

Bob Flame, Rocky Mountain Ranger. A purchase at the RMNP bookstore that turned out well.

Jake Ransom and the Skull King's Shadow. He’s in the middle of this now (What am I saying? I’m at work. He’s done with this by now).

He’s also been into the Guardians of Gahoole, Warriors, and Wolves of the Beyond series. I can’t say I love any of these, but he does, and I therefore hold my tongue.

Finally, he and his father finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo this fall. They both absolutely loved it. They took a break by reading The Code of the Woosters, which One promptly wanted to re-read as soon as they were finished. Now they’re deep in Don Quixote, which is apparently funny and full of potty humor. Who knew?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to Spend Your Day

There's nothing like a little sword fighting to brighten things up.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Christmas 2010

Things I Love about Christmas and Vacation

Not that I'm exactly on vacation: I was off Friday through Monday and am now working, some in the office and some at home, while the boys frolic at their favorite day camp. But it still feels mostly like vacation - and those four days off really felt vacation-y. So what do I like about Christmas and Christmas vacation?

  • staying home: no plane flights, no car rides, no nuthin'
  • singing Christmas carols
  • Liturgy on Christmas Eve that ends the Advent Fast with donuts in the church hall
  • reading the Christmas story before putting the boys to bed on Christmas Eve
  • children spending all day in pajamas and at bedtime, going upstairs, putting on a clean pair, and hopping into bed
  • Husband's last-minute Robert Irvine-like save of the Christmas-dinner salad, when we discovered that 80% of the lettuce had frozen in the 'fridge
  • leftover prime rib (which was cooked to perfection for Christmas dinner by Husband by the way)
  • re-reading trashy detective fiction in bed until past midnight
  • no sibling fights: yes, you read that correctly, no fights
  • chocolate mousse for breakfast
  • three hour Christmas Day Lego projects that don't require adult involvement
  • long phone calls catching up with family
  • naps
  • borrowing one of the boy's iPads to play Angry Birds
  • Williams Sonoma Peppermint Bark (they put crack in it - no joke)
  • a seven year old who stills believes in Santa, no matter what his friends tell him
  • a ten year old who never, ever lets on to his 7 year old brother that Santa isn't real
  • playing with my new laptop
  • eating meat, dairy, and eggs again
  • being a family - the very best family - the family I belong to.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fiction at Almost Eight

Two's reading ability has taken off like a jet plane (he'd like that analogy, I think). He has to read for 20 minutes every night as homework, and he's taking part in the Name that Book competition at school. The pre-test was today to see who makes the team: he's read 30 books for it, so I'm really hoping his hard work will be rewarded and he will make it. We'll find out soon.
Some of what he's enjoying:

Secret Agent Jack Stalwart: Book 1: The Escape of the Deadly Dinosaur: USA. The first in the series. He's getting a few more for Christmas. Shhh.

The Spiderwick Chronicles. He read the first three and then got a little tired. He'll pick the last two up eventually: he really likes the series as a whole. It's a flash-back for me, since these were some of One's favorite books in 2nd grade.

Judy Moody Predicts the Future, by Megan McDonald. This was one of the Name that Book reads, and he loved it.

The War with Grandpa, by Robert Kimmel Smith. Two sided with Grandpa in the war.

Some of the Secrets of Droon books. These looked a little freaky to me, but he didn't have any nightmares, and if Two is scared it comes out in nightmares, so I guess we're okay.

Mortimer and the Powerful Sword, by Kevin Kurtz. Lots of adventure and lots of laughing.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. Two enjoyed this one so much, he's getting The Adventures of Sir Givret the Short for Christmas. Shhh, again.

The second Alvin Ho, which like the first was a hit.

Three of the Flat Stanley books. Quick easy reads.

Fantastic Mr. Fox. A favorite since we read it to him several years ago, he likes it even more since the excellent movie adaptation came out.

For read-alouds, we've done everything magical:

The Story of the Treasure Seekers, The Story of the Amulet, and The Phoenix and the Carpet, all by Edith Nesbit. I think the last is my favorite, but I don't know if Two could pick one.

Edgar Eager's Half Magic, and Magic by the Lake. We're actually not quite through the latter, and we plan on reading the other five books he wrote as well.

I'm so proud of the work he's put into Name that Book so far; he loves the picture books that have been assigned just as much as the chapter books. Proving once again that you shouldn't put your child's picture books away until they're covered with dust. Sometimes there's nothing like curling up with a brightly colored old favorite, even if you suspect you might be a little too old for it. Really, you never are.

Monday, December 13, 2010

History and other Non-Fiction: the Ten-Turning-Eleven Edition

One is still up to his old tricks of devouring history books every night before he falls asleep; as has been his thing for years, we know he's fallen asleep when he lets the book fall out of his hands and bang on the floor over our heads every night. Since June he's read a lot of history, and branched out into some other non-fiction as well. Here's the big list:

Four books from the Essential Histories collection: The Spanish Civil War, The Zulu War 1879, The Indian Mutiny 1857-58 and The Boer War 1899-1902. Most of the books in this series have been hits. A few of them are too detailed on tactics and troop movements to interest him, but mostly he loves the chance to dig into different historical events in a little more detail.

The Mexican Revolution: the last of the four-book series, The Story of Mexico. This has been one of One's favorite history series. They are well-written and move along quickly. And he just plain likes Mexican history - just like both his parents.

The Spanish American War, by Georgene Poulakidas.

Battle in the Arctic Sea: a Sterling biography, which is a series that we've come to love. We've pretty much run out of them, though, which is why the Essential Histories collection is even more of a find. One other Sterling read in the last six months was Albert Einstein: The Miracle Mind.

The Tuskegee Airmen, by Phillip Brooks.

Going Solo, by Roald Dahl. The 2nd non-fiction work of Dahl's that One has read. He loved it as much as Boy.

I Remember Korea, by Linda Granfield. One loved the voice in this book, as the author used a tactic similar to Stephen Ambrose's of using different voices to tell the story.

We Shall Overcome, on the Civil Rights movement.

Another Sterling book, Martin Luther King, Jr., A Dream of Hope.

Revolution is not a Dinner Party, by Ying Chang Compestine. A fantastic look at China at the end of Mao's rule; One was both disgusted and enthralled.

The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sis. Another "I love this, I hate this" kind of book. In other words: he loved reading it and looking at the powerful drawings, and he hated communism even more when he was finished.

Marooned: The Strange but True Adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the Real Robinson Crusoe, by Robert Kraske. This was a fascinating look at the man whose life inspired Daniel Dafoe's novel.

Jack London: A Biography. London might be one of One's favorite people after reading this. How can a boy not like an adventurer and a writer in one?

It's Elementary! How Chemistry Rocks our World, by Robert Winston.

Mystery of the Periodic Table. Another favorite. Both boys love chemistry - and to talk about chemisty - prompting Husband to comment recently "I'm glad I paid attention in high school chemistry; otherwise you two would be driving me crazy."

The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of the Ancient Christians, by Frederica Mathewes-Green. I've read this at least five times; I told One to keep reading it and someday he'd get everything out of it. Compact and full of goodness.

And circling back around from modern to ancient history (thank you, Susan Wise Bauer):

Archimedes and the Door of Science, Herodotus and the Road to History, and Galen and the Doorway to Medicine. All three are from the Living History Library, and were all well-received.
Heroes and Gods and Monsters of Greek Myths. He eats this stuff up, as you can imagine.

Peril and Peace: Chronicles of the Ancient Church. One is in the middle of this one now, and has more to say about the Arian heresy than any decent 10 year old should.

I hoping this won't be the last year he can do his history reading at bedtime. He really enjoys it, but middle school homework may take its place, unfortunately. I guess we'll just not worry about that right now, though, and let him continue to enjoy all the books he wants to.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Church Home

Since I took the camera to church today to record the glories of the boys' Christmas pageant I took the opportunity to take a few pictures in the sanctuary itself. Cameras aren't a strange sight in an Orthodox church, so this really wasn't weird of me. Seriously: when the Bishop visits people take pictures of him as he's celebrating the Liturgy. Yup, they just hold up their camera in the middle of the service (yes, they are already standing - we're Orthodox) and snap away. So since now you know I wasn't being weird, you can enjoy the photos even more. Here you go.

Oh, and pictures of the pageant? Nope: the camera went all wonky on me as soon as we sat down in the hall, so it's taking a trip to the camera hospital tomorrow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."

--- Ronald Reagan

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Officially Orthodox

I will have more to say - perhaps deeper thoughts, perhaps not - in the next few days, and I will also have pictures, but I wanted to post and tell you that at 6:25pm tonight, when the bells rang from St. George's Orthodox Church, we four were officially Orthodox Christians. We are confessed and Christmated, and now we will fast until after we have taken our first Communion tomorrow at Liturgy. Tonight the four of us stood in the dimly lit and gloriously golden church with our sponsors, took our saints' names, held our candles, prayed, were anointed with oil, and became Orthodox to the sound of the congregation singing God Grant You Many Years. To us: they sang to us. Of all the times we've sung that to others, this time we stood silent and our church family wished us many years of God's grace.

It's all unbelievable to me. God has brought us to this place - this blessed, holy place - and it is the greatest of gifts. I am more thankful - and on a very appropriate weekend, I'm sure - than I have ever been. For my 10 year old, who gently pushed his bangs out of the way to receive the oil on his forehead, for my seven year old who bravely stood up with all of us despite doing so being one of his greatest fears, and most of all for my Husband, who bowed his head and braved Confession, and radiated God's mercy and grace throughout all of the Christmation and Vespers service.

God bless and keep you all, friends. And parting on a humorous note, let me note for the record that, if you, too, become Orthodox, make sure you don't wear tights to your Christmation like I did. Why? Well, they anoint your feet, too, and tights make that kind of awkward.

Blessings, y'all. Many years ...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Five Links for Friday

I am still carrying around my Thanksgiving food-baby, or at least it feels that way when I try to wear anything but elastic waist pants, so I can't say I have much to offer the world of the internet tonight. But here are a few links, in case you're up late, digging into the leftover pie and wondering if there's anything good on TV (there's not, there never is: give up now).

Katie Roiphe has a wonderful piece from the Financial Times about everyone's favorite topic: helicopter parenting. She doesn't call it by that name, but if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck ... Anyway, a very good read. Pour a drink, neglect the children, and read away. HT: Instapundit, where all my good ideas come from.

Adam Savage from Mythbusters took a flight to Seattle recently with 12" razor blades nestled undiscovered in his carry on. Whoops. I guess the TSA is so busy taking the shirts off 6 year old boys, they've forgotten how to operate that x-ray thingy they run our bags through. Good thing we're all safe, though ...

The boys' school is an unofficial Guinness Book of World Records holder for the largest game of tag ever held. 937 screaming children (and adults) played this past Monday to highlight the problem of childhood obesity. The game was organized by two girls in One's class, and as such the honor of "taggers" went to all of One's class. I think it's safe to say that a good time was had by all.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we're thinking Christmas around here. Hopefully the big hits this year with the boys will be new swords, a Rokenbok building set, and some sort of reading chairs for their rooms. We're having a terrible time over the the last item; we love these iChairs from Pottery Barn Teen, but the price is more than unpalatable. We may have to (gasp!) leave the house and shop in actual stores to find something suitable.

Back to Thanksgiving for a moment, John Stossel was on TV tonight explaining how the first Thanksgiving owes its existence to the idea of private property rights. Not what they taught you in elementary school, is it? His piece is written up here; it's an interesting read.

And that's all I got. Have a wonderful long weekend - mine is likely to be spent unplugged, unless I motivate myself to post a picture or two. Enjoy, y'all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I'm Thankful

I'm thankful for a lot these days - as I should be every day - but there it is again: you don't always think about how great something is until you're missing it, do you? What specific things, small and big, am I thankful for?

I'm thankful that when Two came down last night to ask for warm milk, he had every intention of making it himself. And he did.

I'm thankful that One's bake sale today to raise money for Living Water was a success, and that the Principal, IB Coordinator, and his teacher all complimented him on his responsibility and hard work. Fine praise when you're 10 - or any age, come to think about it.

I'm thankful that when the battery died in the minivan this afternoon, it did so after the bake sale was over, so while we had to miss a doctor's appointment waiting for a jump, we didn't miss any of One's wonderful sale.

I'm thankful for working from home this week, and being able to get things cleaned in between work projects. That's a lot better than washing wood floors at 10pm!

I'm thankful that I am NOT in charge of the turkey, but that it is in the uber-capable hands of Husband, who will once again, I'm sure, produce the best.bird.evah. I love to cook all the side dishes, especially things like green bean casserole, and I'll even make the gravy, but knowing that the turkey is not my job just makes Thanksgiving Day that much more sweet.

I'm thankful that the boys have their first pieces of music to learn on the violin. I'm not so certain I'm glad I get to listen to Jingle Bells all weekend long, but it could sound okay ...

I'm thankful that, however much work I have to do tomorrow, the laptop will be stowed in its bag by this time tomorrow night, and it will not see the light of day until Monday morning. Four whole days!

Those are mostly small things, but they're the sort of things that make life better in so many ways. I'm grateful beyond belief for so many big things - the kind of things so big they make you cry when you think about them (like the sight of the cross hanging around Husband's neck, for instance) - but I think I'll save all of those for another day.

God bless y'all, and when you count your blessings may they be too many to list.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thoughts on Government

Husband has this dream in which the various federal departments are not only forced to slash their budgets and payrolls by enormous percentages, but also are divvied up by region of the country. Why? Because wherever government congregates in too large a crowd, our money is spent at an even more alarming rate. The harder you make their jobs, the less they'll be able to do. And the less they can do, the more we'll be left alone.

So where do they all go? Here's our joint list:

IRS: Nome, AK. Pure punishment.
Treasury: NYC
Commerce: Chicago
Defense: Omaha
Justice: stays in DC with the Supreme Court
HHS: Minneapolis
Education: Boston
State Department: Miami
Labor: Cleveland
Interior: Denver
Agriculture: Kansas City
Energy: Houston
HUD: New Orleans
Transportation: Los Angeles
Veterans Affairs: San Diego
Homeland Security: Oklahoma City
EPA: Newark
US Trade Rep: El Paso
UN Mission: Guam
NEA: Orlando, so they can wear mouse ears
Social Security Admin: Phoenix
Post Office: Memphis, so FedEx can show them how it's done
BIA: Albuquerque
BATF: Waco
INS: Ciudad Juarez (don't forget to duck, guys)
CIA: Pigeon Forge, TN, because they're all a bunch of boobs
FDA: 3 Mile Island, so they might get faster approving cancer-treatment drugs
FBI: Chicago
DEA: Humboldt County, CA
NSA: Detroit
Weather Service: Mt. Washington, NH
Amtrak: Molokai

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I'd Like to Tell You

that my kitchen counter doesn't have a pile of dirty dishes on it, but I can't.

that I've started teaching One how to write with the fabulous Writing Mysteries book I bought him, but that would be a lie.

that I manage to put a simple home-cooked meal on the table for my family every night, but if I did I'd be talking about someone other than myself.

that I jump at every project my boss suggests, and am her favorite "go-to" person in the department ... but I'm not.

that there's not a constant, rotating pile of laundry on my formal living room couch, but then you'd come over and sit on the couch and notice that I'd fibbed to you.

that I know exactly what kind of middle school my 10 year old needs to attend next year - provided that I actually, um, did know that important bit of information.

that I'm not sick-to-stomach about making my first confession ever in three weeks, but I am.

that I end each day thanking God that I lived it with intention, but that would be the biggest whopper of them all.

I am a jack of all trades, master of none. Just call me mom.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Red Belts with Black Stripes

The boys haven't tested since April; we took a lot of time off from taekwondo this summer and they fell a bit behind. They are back in class three or four times a week now, and are on track to test for their black belts in May. Tonight they added a black stripe to their red belts; one more test and they are officially practicing for the Big Kahuna Black Belt. Over two years so far, and another eight months to go: these two are a object lesson in perserverance. I can't imagine being prouder of them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

Being a Zealous Advocate

For many years, lawyers were called upon to be "zealous advocates" for their clients. This language has fallen out of favor with the attorney-ethics community, and now no state in the US uses such term. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (and is that title so lawyerly or what? Why use two or three words when you can use more?) requires "competent and diligent" representation, although it does use some more high-flown language in its preamble, where both "zealous" and "advocate" appear - just not next to one another.

But what did it mean to be a "zealous advocate?" Why did that term motivate attorneys for over 200 years? I dug out the OED (and accompanying magnifying glass) and looked for the word etymologies and definitions to see if I could find a clue:

advocate ... [a. OFr. avocat, ad. L. advocatus, one summoned or 'called to' another, esp. one called in to aid one's cause in a court of justice; prop. pa. pple. of advoca-re, f. ad. to + vocaire to call. ... lit. one called in, or liable to be called upon, to defend or speak for. ... 2. fig. and gen. One who pleads, intercedes, or speaks for, or in behalf of, another; a pleader, intercessor, defender. ... b. Specially, applied to Christ as the Intercessor for our sins.

zeal ... 2. In a specialized sense: Ardent love or affection; fervent devotion or attachment to (a person or a thing).

zealous ... 1. Full of or incited by zeal; characterized by zeal or passionate ardour; feverently devoted to the promotion of some person or cause; actively enthusiastic.

So, in essence, attorneys are ones who are called to be a passionate and enthusiastic voice for their clients, to plead for the promotion of their cause with fervor, and to (how odd) have an attachment and affection for their client and their client's interests.

Boiled down, we speak for them. We are called to be their voice. In representing them, we act not on our own behalf but always on theirs - we give our voice to them and their interests, never to our own. All of which sounds fairly easy when you think of the classic lawyer example in fiction: Atticus Finch, who gives a voice to a man who has none in society. But none of which sounds like what we do each day when we walk into the office each morning and pick up where we left off the night before - and that office is just one of thousands in the sea of minnows that make up a large corporation.

It is hard to square being a zealous advocate with working for a large company, full of people with competing interests. It is confusing sometimes to sort out the true interest of our company as the client, and make that our goal - shutting out all the competing voices in an effort to remember whose voice we are called to be and on whose behalf we are really interceding. Nevertheless, it is a calling, and a noble one at that. Being given the opportunity to be a voice for another is no small responsibility; may we all fulfill that responsiblity in a way that would make Atticus proud.

Postscript: Many thanks to the Livesays, who used this "advocate" definition in another context and got the wheels of my brain turning on the subject.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Smack, it's What's for Dinner

Here's just what we all need to bring sanity and reasonableness to the debate surrounding childhood obesity and what we should feed our kids:

Isn't this how you feel when you treat your kids to burgers? And don't you think this ridiculously-overboard load of guilt will help parents who feed their kids fast food more often than they should stop and give them tofu instead? Sure it will. Of course. Because nothing motivates people like hysteria and obvious manipulation. I don't know how I get the boys to do anything without those two key parenting tools. ::thickwithsarcasm::

HT: James Lileks.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Life in the "City"

I found this item in the free neighborhood newspaper dropped unwelcomingly on the lawn this week. It's from the police blotter of a nearby "city within Houston" - a "city" that has its own government, including its own police force.

"Police arrested a man Sept. 16 in the 6300 block of XXX Street for walking on the roadway where a sidewalk is provided."

No, really. That says "arrested" and not "ticketed", and is a perfect example of why I live in the real City of Houston and not in one of these miniature "cities" that are scattered throughout the Houston area. I can't imagine the real, actual Houston Police Department wasting its time on such things. Nor can I imagine them throwing one of my sons up against his car after stopping him for what amounts to "driving while teenager", which is what happens not infreqently in "cities" like these, with "police forces" such as they have.

We promised the boys when they were way too young to understand, and it's a promise I intend to keep: we'll never live where they have fake police, if you promise never to attract the attention of the real police. Deal? Deal.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall Evenings

There's nothing like a fall evening when mom is working and running late with dinner to really get your creative juices flowing. See what I mean?