Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday Snapshot ~ guitar cat

We're having friends over on New Year's Day tomorrow, and some of them have never been here.  This guitar-playing cat is their clue that they've found our apartment.

(Do you like how I managed to post a cat on Caturday?)

Saturday Snapshot is a meme hosted by Alyce from At Home With Books.  To participate, post a photo taken by you (or a friend or family member).  Your photo can be old or new, as long as its subject is appropriate for all eyes to see.  Check out snapshots others are sharing this week.

A year's worth of reading ~ 208 books

I've never used charts before, so it's been fun to see how my reading breaks down.  The "low" months reflect my July move from St. Elmo to Hixson (from the southside of Chattanooga to the north of town).  I read 208 books in all.  That's a lot, even for me!  I tried sorting out the children's books, thinking maybe my high numbers were all picture books.  Nope, reading 160 adult and young adult books is still a lot.
160 adult / YA books
+48 children's books
208 books read in 2011
So I sorted them out by categories, though fewer than I show in my page of books read in 2011.  It's already hard enough to read the categories below the colorful stacks on the chart.
Left to right, the categories are:  fiction, YA, children's, memoir, religion, and other NF.  Hmm, I didn't read as much in the field of religion as I thought I did.
72 fiction
38 YA
48 children's
13 memoir
08 religion
29 other NF
208 total
This is my simplified chart, showing only fiction, nonfiction, and children's books.  Looks like fiction, which includes adult fiction and YA fiction, is my main category.
110 fiction
50 nonfiction
48 children's
208 total
What about you?  Did you count how many you read in 2011?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Beginning ~ at a graduation

11/22/63 ~ by Stephen King, 2011, fiction (Maine and Texas)
Harry Dunning graduated with flying colors.  I went to the little GED ceremony in the LHS gym, at his invitation.  He really had no one else, and I was happy to do it.
With JFK on my mind, this beginning sounds boring, but I'll keep reading because I lived through that day and really, really, really want to see what Stephen King will do with this revised history of his.  Here's a summary of the book:
"It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes.  He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away — a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer.  Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life — like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963 — turning on a dime.  Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret:  his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958.  And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession — to prevent the Kennedy assassination."
If you want to share the first lines of a book you are reading, click on the link and visit Katy at A Few More Pages.  (Today's list.)

Browse there to find interesting books for your own reading list.  And don’t forget that Katy and all the contributors to this meme (including me) love comments.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Best of 2011 ~ BTT (#17)

Rating books is an inexact science.  In fact, it isn't science at all, but how I feel about a book at a particular time.  How much we like or dislike a book is based on what's going on in our lives at the time we read it.  As I look over these "tens" (books I rated 10 out of 10) in 2011, they are all still among the best and most memorable.  You can read what I wrote earlier in the year about each book by clicking on the title.  Here's what I remember liking about each of these, shown alphabetically by category:


The Art of Racing in the Rain ~ by Garth Stein, 2008, fiction, 10/10
I love Enzo, the dog who is the main character of this novel.  Yes, even though I'm a cat person, I love this dog.  He makes more sense than some of the humans I know, and I like the way he thinks.  If you haven't read it, I highly recommend this book.  Photo found here.

Bitsy's Bait and BBQ ~ by Pamela Morsi, 2007, fiction (Missouri), 10/10
My friend Donna bought this one for me as a joke.  My childhood nickname, which I never liked, was "Bitsy."  I didn't expect to like the book, which was indeed light reading.  It must have hit me at exactly the right time, because it was fun to read.  Two sisters buy a "B and B," which turns out to mean "Bait and BBQ."  They know nothing about fishing or running a restaurant.  Having owned a bookstore, I know it isn't this easy to set up a business and have it succeed beautifully.  But I enjoyed the happy ending.

In the Bleak Midwinter ~ by Julia Spencer-Fleming, 2002, mystery (New York), 10/10
I rarely read mysteries and got this because the protagonist is a clergywoman — an Episcopal priest.  Yup, she also helps the local lawman solve a case.   Both of them are former Army, and she flew helicopters.  She's also a Southerner, like me, and managed to get stuck in two inches of snow, which I mentioned in my review.  Because this author kept me reading nonstop through this one, I plan to read more of her books.


Here If You Need Me: A True Story ~ by Kate Braestrup, 2007, memoir (Maine), 10/10
This protagonist became a clergywoman after the death of her husband, though she didn't serve as pastor of a church, as I did.  Rather, she served as chaplain for search-and-rescue missions in the Maine woods, giving comfort to people whose loved ones are missing.  I am a little bit knowledgeable about search-and-rescue work because I read a book Wendy recommended in 2007, when I was a new blogger:  Place Last Seen by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, 2000, fiction (California), which I rated 9 of 10.


If I Stay ~ by Gayle Forman, 2009, YA fiction (Oregon), 10/10
This novel is about 17-year-old Mia, a talented cellist, who has been in a terrible auto accident.  She lost family members, and life will never be same again.  If she decides to stay.  Although she's unconscious, she is aware of the people around her — nurses, grandparent, boyfriend.  And the whole book is about her decision.  What will she do?  What would you do, if you were in her place?  Having played bassoon in my high school's concert band and orchestra, I liked that the book centers around music.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret ~ by Brian Selznick, 2007, YA fiction (France), 10/10
This book is like a "verbal video," starting with being told to "picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie.  On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city."  That city is Paris, and Hugo lives in the train station.  I enjoyed the drawings from the book, several of which I included in my review.  It's an imaginative book that makes the reader open her mind and "see."

Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools Around the World ~ by Susan Hughes, 2011, essays for middle grades, 10/10
There’s a whole world of unusual schools:  schools on boats, in a cave, on train platforms, on buses, and even in a treehouse.  My friend Donna taught for twenty-plus years, mostly middle school English, and has an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, so I got her to read this too.  I was impressed by the innovative ideas, like curved hallways for blind students, rather that the long, straight halls of most schools.  Donna liked the way the book was organized, with activities that could be used, and yet it wasn't "dumbed down" for middle school readers.

Runaway Twin ~ by Peg Kehret, 2009, YA fiction, 10/10
The only time I mentioned this book, I just discovered, was in the comments on a library loot post about two books about twins.  Tongue in cheek, Sean said, "I sense there's a theme you are hinting at with your choices."  Yes, I learned about the two library books at the same time and put both on reserve.  Then I discovered — on my own dining table — that my roommate had a copy of this book.  My daughters are identical twins, so I always notice books and articles about twins.  A 13-year-old travels from Nebraska to Washington state to find the twin sister from whom she was separated at age three.  It's the best of the twin books I read in November.

Turtle in Paradise ~ by Jennifer L. Holm, 2010, YA fiction (Florida), 10/10
One of my blogger friends, one I've actually met, was in Key West when I came across this book, which is set in Key West.  There's probably little or nothing the same as what my friend experienced there, since the book takes place in 1935, but I did recommend it to her.  It's a 2011 Newbery book, filled with adventures of the 11-year-old kind, including a search for pirate treasure and the hurricane of 1935.


Epaminondas and His Auntie ~ by Sara Cone Bryant, 1907, children's, 10/10
This book has been challenged as racist because it depicts a black child as “completely idiotic and stupid.” Epaminondas is neither stupid nor an idiot.  He is struggling to do the right thing, just as I did, when I was a child.  If the adults had been careful of their language, which the poor kid took literally, the outcome would have been different — though we wouldn't have much of a story here.  This book is like Aesops Fables, something that makes us think.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! : Voices from a Medieval Village ~ by Laura Amy Schlitz, 2007, children's (England), 10/10
This one reminds me of one of my all-time favorite children's books:  Cathedral by David Macauley, 1973, showing step by step how a cathedral was built.  Laura Amy Schlitz shows us the makeup of a medieval village, looking closely at the various activities of young and old, merchants and craftsmen.  I had a little trouble finding all the tiny people, but the book kept my attention and taught me a lot about medieval times.

It's a Book ~ by Lane Smith, 2010, children's, 10/10
Although I read this picture book in a few minutes, I didn't return it to the library for several days.  Donna, my roommate, fell in love with it and wanted to show it to several friends.  She plans to buy herself a copy.  Yes, she's that in love with the book.  I'd have gotten her a copy for Christmas, but I was afraid it wouldn't arrive in time.  The jackass can't relate to anything but his laptop, no matter how many times the monkey and the mouse say, "It's a book."  It doesn't need a password, it doesn't toot its horn, and it doesn't have to be recharged.  It's a book!

My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World ~ by Gilles Bachelet, 2004, children's, 10/10
The guy has a cat, but it isn't a cat at all — it's a big gray thing with a trunk.  Aw, c'mon!  You know what it is.  An elephant, see?  The guy paints his "cat" in all sorts of art styles, having it do cat kinds of things:  eat, sleep, chase a ball of yarn.  Children will have fun thinking they are smarter than that artist who can't tell a cat from an elephant.  And a very agile elephant it is, too.

Old Turtle and the Broken Truth ~ by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jon J Muth, 2003, children's, 10/10
This is the sequel to Douglas Wood's bestselling fable of ecology and spirituality called Old Turtle.  I like this one even more that the first.  The whole earth is full of suffering and war until one little girl seeks Old Turtle, who tells her about a "broken truth" and how mending it will help her community to understand the common bond of all humanity.  The partial truth the people had was that YOU ARE LOVED.  But the missing part has the possibility of bringing people together.  What's missing?  ... AND SO ARE THEY.

You Can't Take a Balloon Into the National Gallery ~ by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman, illustrated by Robin Glasser, 2000, children's (Washington, DC), 10/10
A girl arrives with her brother and grandmother at the National Gallery with an orange balloon.  She knows she can't take it inside, so she finds someone to take care of her balloon until she returns.  In side-by-side pictures we see the balloon's adventures, which parallel what the children are inside.  Of course, the balloon floated away.  And of course, it ends happily.  The sisters who dreamed up this book together did a great job.


A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children ~ by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon J Muth, 2005, poetry, 10/10
I like the combination of wonderful poems and paintings, which means this book can be enjoyed by adults as much as children.  And I like what Caroline wrote in the Introduction:  "In our family, we were encouraged to write or choose a favorite poem for each holiday or birthday as a gift for my mother and grandparents instead of buying a card or present.  My brother and I would copy over and illustrate our choices, and my mother pasted them in a special scrapbook.  When I look through that poetry scrapbook today, it reminds me of our last-minute races to find the best poem, and it evokes who we were as well as if it were a photo album."
As I looked over this list, I decided to choose the best of the best.  In other words, my favorite of all the books I've read this year.  Since I had already lined up the five categories and alphabetized the titles within each category, it is a total coincidence that my favorite happens to be at the top of the list.

Booking Through Thursday (BTT) asked (on Thursday, the day after I posted this):
What were your favorite books of 2011?
Funny you should ask.  See above for my BTT (#17)

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Silent Boy ~ by Lois Lowry

The Silent Boy ~ by Lois Lowry, 2003, YA fiction, 9/10
Because Jacob can communicate with animals, Katy thinks of him as someone special, even though the townspeople say he's touched.  He doesn't speak, but he isn't a deaf-mute.  He has a special affinity to the animals, and young Katy likes him.  When she is an old lady, she needs to tell Jacob's story, even if others don't want to hear it.
Katy and her father, the doctor, have a discussion about the "irrational" things people do to make themselves feel protected (p. 134).  For Jacob, it was that hat he wears and never want to remove.  I think it's sort of like Linus's blanket or the pacifier a baby doesn't want to give up.  Jacob's hat helps him feel safe.

Katy has always wanted to be a doctor, like her father.  Though he tells her that not many women go to medical school, Katy is undeterred (p. 119):
Father had already explained to me that not many women became doctors, and those who did might have a hard time of it.  He had known a girl in medical school, he said, and the other students — even Father, though he was ashamed of it now — had played some cruel tricks on her, to see whether she had the stuff for medicine.  And she did.  She ignored their pranks and became a doctor.  But she never married, Father said, and never had children, which was a loss, he felt, to a woman.

I decided I could do it all, and would.  I would go to college.  Then I would become a doctor and I would marry Austin Bishop and have children one day, and maybe would travel, too.  I thought I might go to Africa and China and all the places we studied in school.
I like Katy, the protagonist — she's the main character, though she tells the story of Jacob.  She's a spunky girl, who sees the world clearly.  She notices things, which helps the reader understand even more than the little girl telling us what she sees and hears around her.  I rate the book 9 of 10.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Celebrating at my house ~ with books, of course

Jaxon, my 1-year-old great-grandson, with his grandpa (my son) holding him and First 100 Animals, a board book.  Jaxon kissed that big tiger picture.

Raegan, my 2-year-old great-granddaughter, reading Blackboard Bear by Martha Alexander.

My daughter Barbara, on the right, with her three children:  Chase, Cady, and Cali.  Barbara is holding her copy of the family stories book I gave my children.

My daughter Sandra, trying to figure out why I gave her an old pink doll blanket.  Ask me, and I'll tell you the reason.  Her husband, Pat, managed to stay out of all my photos.  Behind her are her granddaughter Raegan, her son-in-law Michael (whose head seems to be missing), and her twin sister Barbara.

My grandson Jamey with his other grandmother (Patti) and his girlfriend, Amanda.

My granddaughter Kenzie, mother of Raegan.  Kenzie's husband, Michael, didn't get in any of my photos that turned out.

Jaxon, with his parents Whitney and Kendall, David, and my brother Jim behind them.  Jim's wife, Carol, avoided being in any of my photos.

My granddaughters Cady and Brandy, with Sharon, my favorite (and only) daughter-in-law.  I am blessed.

My son-in-law Greg, who is Cady's daddy.

Raegan, playing the piano for us, one note at a time.

David, wearing Jaxon's Cookie Monster backpack on one shoulder.

Our salon discussion today takes place here, in my living room.  Although temps have dropped below freezing a few times, it hasn't really been cool enough to light a fire, which is why I could line gifts up on the hearth in front of the fireplace before the family arrived.  Hey, Bookfool, that carefully assembled pile of books in the corner is the book tree that never reached the heights I imagined for it.  At the rate it was NOT tapering in, it would have had to reach the ceiling before it looked like a pointed fir, so I simply topped it with a steepled church (which has a light inside to show stained glass windows) and put the lights around it.  The red thing?  That's a wide ribbon hanging from the mistletoe on the ceiling fan.

More Sunday Salon posts can be found on Facebook.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve story ~ about my baby brother

Here's the story I promised to tell you on Christmas Eve about my favorite holiday tradition.  It's about my baby brother, who is nine years younger than I am.  This story takes place in 1964, the first Christmas after our dad died in traffic.  In other words, it was the first Christmas without Daddy.  Jim was 15 and facing a difficult Christmas morning alone at home with Mom, so we invited him to our house, where he could take part in our family tradition of letting a child fill the family's stockings when they had learned about Santa.  Jim, of course, was long past the usual age, but as the last child, he had never gotten to fill anyone's stocking.

Jim, who was in sixth grade when the girls were born, enjoyed being an uncle.  Our twin daughters were four that year, and our son was only a year old.  After the little ones were in bed, Jim had great fun stuffing their three stockings plus one for himself that we provided:  small toys, apples, oranges, nuts, more little toys.  But the real fun came the next morning.

He ooh'd and aah-d over every item the children took out of their Christmas stockings, enjoying their happy faces and the squealing.  Then the twins realized he hadn't pulled anything out of his stocking.

"Do it, Uncle Jim!" they chorused.  And he did.

He ooh'd over the little items he'd put in his own stocking the night before.  He was appropriately "surprised" by all the small items "Santa" had brought him.  He was hamming it up in his new role as an actor.  I had the camera ready as he reached the bottom of his stocking, and his hand closed over something he didn't recognize.  The look of surprise on his face was perfect when he pulled out the nice watch he had been wanting.

Getting to play Santa is such fun!

There's more.

Jim, shown here with one of his grandchildren, is now 62 years old and looks a lot more like the "real" Santa Claus.  This summer, after my laptop was stolen, Jim and his wife Carol took me shopping for a new one.  They and my other brother, Bill, bought me the laptop I'm using right now to type this Christmas story.  Jim's still acting a lot like Santa, if you ask me.  (I love you, little brother.)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Beginning ~ with an old woman

The Silent Boy ~ by Lois Lowry, 2003, YA fiction
I am a very old woman now.  My great-grandchildren — who call me Docky, a name my youngest patients gave me years ago — ask me to tell them stories, and I make up tales about talking pigs with pink hair ribbons on their curly tails, or monkeys who wear vests and carry canes.   I am as good at foolishness as I once was in the operating room.

If I tried to tell them this story, the one I am about to set down here, their parents would send me warning looks over the heads of the children.  Don't, the looks would say.  Stop.
Even as a child, Katy Thatcher knew that she too wanted to be a doctor.  Because Jacob can communicate with animals, Katy thinks of him as someone special, even though the townspeople think he's an imbecile.  But the key words on the back cover that make me want to read the book are these:
He meant to help, not harm.  It didn't turn out that way.
Lois Lowry is a fantastic writer.  I've read both of her YA novels (young adult fiction) that have been awarded the Newbery Medal:  Number the Stars and The Giver.  I look forward to hearing the story Katy will tell us in this book — about Jacob.

Would the first few lines of your book make you want to read on?  To share the first lines of a book you are reading, click on the link and visit Katy at A Few More Pages (today's participants).  Browse there to find interesting books for your own reading list.  And don’t forget that Katy and all the contributors to this meme — including me — love comments.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday cards

Since I can't hang these with the other cards I've received, I decided to hang them here, to share with all of you.  I may add more later, as they arrive.  Be sure to turn on your sound so you can listen to some of these.
From Maggie B:  Christmas reindeer music

From Carla C:  Woodland creatures build a snowman

From Jane Y:  Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
played on a glass harp

From Beth Kephart, to her readers:  Holiday wishes

From June D:  Merry Christmas eCard

From Colleen R, to her readers:  Interactive Christmas card
May your holidays be as delightful as these special greetings.


On the 24th, I'm having open house for my family — my children and their spouses, grandchildren and two spouses and two children, plus at least one grandson's girlfriend.  One of my grandkids can't have anything with gluten in it, and I've had a major learning curve this week, shopping with his mother to know what ingredients are safe and how dangerous a tiny bit of the wrong thing can be.  She brought along a double-sided, small-print list of what to avoid and a thick paperback book for looking up brand-name items that are safe.  What I have at home may or may not be okay (food coloring or "additional" unnamed things can be a problem).  I bought these items so he too can have something salty and something sweet:

Corn chips (nothing made of wheat)
Roasted garlic crackers marked "Gluten Free"
Tostitos salsa con queso dip (okay, per the book)
Lay's french onion dip (okay, per the book)

SWEET (fudge wreath, Rachael Ray's recipe)

Photo by Michael Piazza
Land O Lakes unsalted butter (which I forgot to take out of the fridge for this photo)
Nestle's semisweet chocolate chip (okay, per the book)
Nestle's premier white morsels (substituted, because butterscotch chips didn't pass the test)
Publix sweetened condensed milk (okay, per the book)
McCormick pure vanilla extract (passed the test)
Walnuts (they're okay, no gluten)
Raisins (they're okay, no gluten)
Maraschino cherries (red ones are okay, but not the green ones)
Additional instructions from my daughter:
Don't use wooden spoons, which may have gluten from being used before.
Use metal spoons.
Use a well-cleaned metal pan.
It's complicated, but I love him and want him to enjoy the visit along with the rest of us.