Thursday, August 26, 2010

what we've been up to

When he wants to be, he is a true rolling machine...

This is his new toy...

Watermelon might not be on the list of foods to feed a 5-month old, but he sure does love it...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Hungry for good literature? Summer Reading Extravaganza continuted

At some point in the future the United States of America will cease to exist. In its place will be a unified North American government. That will eventually be ripped apart by rebellion which will destroy vast swaths of land and leave the people living in 13 districts.

As a reminder to the people that rebellion will never succeed, and a reminder that the Capitol has total power over its citizens, the Capitol has a game every year. The rules are simple—fight to the death.

 Such is the story of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Each year two tributes are picked from each district; two children between the ages of 12-18 are randomly picked to play a gladiator style game where the last person alive is the winner. The Hunger Games is narrated by Katniss Everdeen, a 15 year old girl from district 12. Though she is a skilled hunter in the forest, she knows she will not have good odds of surviving, especially when the boy from her district, Peeta, is so much larger than she. She also knows that other districts have tributes who have trained for years to be killers.

Katniss is determined to survive, though. As she tells her story, she reveals that she is distant, emotionally cold, and very calculating. She carefully considers each and every action by how it will affect her survival. Still, she is very likeable and you will root for her survival, even though it means watching her kill other teenagers. The reader, like the characters, has to walk an intense, fine line between rooting for a winner, (while watching other children be murdered) feeling the excitement of battle, (while understanding that it is simply a tool used by the government to maintain power) and maintaining a human connection (even though it is clear that the game must be played).

Katniss is such an honest and engaging narrator that you can’t help but be drawn into her world. She tells you the events in the present tense (a remarkable stylistic device) which creates the sense of urgency and speed that will rush you along.
This book is amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I’ll give you a minute to rush out and get your own copy. (Costco now sells The Hunger Games in paperback, or you could click on the link below and purchase this book from Amazon!)

Okay, got your copy? Good, now read it because the story continues in book two of the trilogy, Catching Fire. This book is as good as the first. I must be careful, however, about how much I say because I don’t want to give away anything about how the first book ends. Just know that as soon as Laura finished the first she jumped into the second. So did I. So did my mother-in-law. So did my mother. So will you too. Just know that it will not disappoint.

Finished book two? Well, I’ve got more good news for you. Book three, Mockingjay, is going to be released this week so you won’t have to wait for the conclusion like the rest of us did.

Have I mentioned that this is a great series? It is. A pesky colleague recommended it. I hemmed, I hawed, she threatened my life, and so I read it. (Well, that's not really how it went but that's how I'm going to remember it.) As a high school reading teacher, I've read quite a bit of Young Adult literature. Some of it is enjoyable enough, but let's face it, it is written for 12-17 year olds. But The Hunger Games is a new force in the Young Adult genre. This is a book for mom, dad, and the kids. Everyone will enjoy it. (And there are no sparkling vampires-so it is a dozen times better than any other YA books on the market.) It was so good that Laura and I bought our own copies of these books. Our copy of Mockingjay has been preordered and should be delivered next week. We can’t wait.

Okay, your turn. Once you’ve read the series tell me what you think. Leave your comments below.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer Reading Extravaganza!

As you all know, Laura, Garrett, and I took a wild ride up and down highway 5 this summer.  We spent a lot of time driving, a lot of time with friends, and a lot of time with family.  But we also spent a lot of time with books. 

One of the highlights of the books experience this summer was our trip to Powell's Bookstore in Portland.  That place is amazing.  It is my wish for everyone to take a trip there someday.  I have mentioned before how I receive daily book reviews in my email via Powell's Review-a-Day newsletter, so I've had an invested desire to visit the actual store at some point.  It was more than I could have hoped and it made me desire a good, local bookstore all the more.  This place is no Borders or Barnes & Noble.  Though organized, there is no simple floor plan, no chairs dispersed throughout the store.  It has a gritty, hard edge to it that screams in your face that this is a used bookstore, a proud used bookstore that won't apologize.  And it doesn't need to.  There is a tremendous selection of books.  And one of the best aspects is that new editions are placed right on the shelves next to their used counterparts.  So, while browsing, you can decide to purchase a new copy or a cheaper, more loved, used copy.  Brilliant!  It was so fun, going up and down the stairs and aisles, searching for who-knows-what and finding books on everything (even entire books devoted solely to fountain pens!).  We spent about 4 hours in there and it was not nearly enough time.  We also spent a pretty good amount of money which was not really enough (but I had to cut myself off at some point.)  We walked out having bought something for everyone, but it was the experience I will treasure.  Okay, it is really the books I'll treasure, but the visit to the world's largest independent bookstore was special. 

As for actual reading, I've done an impressive job of covering some written ground this summer.  So I'll just jump right it with my reviews and when I'm done you can tell me how impressive it really is.

Book one: I started Under the Dome by Stephen King the beginning of June.  It took me just over a month to complete it.  I thought the 1072 pages would take me all summer.  But this book really is a quick read.  And it is fun.  In the author's notes King says "I tried to write a book that would keep the pedal consistently to the metal."  He delivers.  He most certainly delivers.  This books was a thrill ride that starts on the first page and keeps going; which is why it was such a quick read.  There were many nights where two more pages turned into 20 more pages.  It was just as hard to put down as it was to pick it up (Ha!  a joke about its size). 

Here's the plot: an impenetrable dome drops out of no where on the small of Chester's Mill in Maine. It locks the people that were in town in, and the rest of the world out.  This even happens in the first two pages.  The rest of the book deals with the ramifications of people being locked up with ever dwindling resources. 

But I would be remiss not to mention at least one of the characters, Big Jim Rennie.  You'll hate Jim Rennie.  He is a big fish in a small pond and instead of looking for a viable option of getting out from under the dome, he uses the dome as an opportunity to assert his power and agenda over the towns folk. 

There are numerous other characters (and a convenient character list at the front of the book).  You'll root for the two main protagonists, Dale "Barbie" Barbara and Rusty Everet and all the people that join their side, once it is clear that sides are forming in this small town.  But the biggest reaction you'll have is to wonder what you would do in such a situation.  You'll wonder how totally out of control life would spin if a dome locked you inside with 2,000 other people. 

King's writing is tremendous and I feel terrible for brushing him off as a cheap horror writer.  He is an expert story teller.  Though intense, this is no horror story.  It is a thrill ride.  The riot that breaks out at Food City is told with such speed, urgency, and pacing that it was delightful to read; it was really more like watching it in slow motion where you can catch every tiny detail yet it kept the pace and excitement of intense moments of action. 

He also makes sudden shifts of narration on occasion which help break up the story.  He does it expertly, not in an annoying way at all. 

Bottom line, 5 out of 5 stars.  The resolution, I think left a little unexplained.  I feel he might as well just gone on for another 200 pages to round it all out, but the resolution still worked and did not leave me disappointed.  Oh, and the bad guys use bad language and do bad things.  The good guys also occasionally let a soft swear fly.  And King doesn't shy away from gritty descriptions, but that made it all so real. 

I'm realizing now that this could end up being one really long blog post that no one will bother to read.  So, I think I will cut it off for now and just like Pastor Ken, will take my one part book review and turn it into a 3 or 4 parter.

Friday, August 13, 2010

to Portland and back again

We spent only a couple of days in the Bay Area with family before re-loading the car and kid (no dog this time) into the car and heading North again.  We drove over two days to Portland, Oregon.  We made this massive drive to visit our dear friends the Welbourns.
While there we took in the sights of downtown Portland, namely Powell's Bookstore (more on that to come from Adam, I assure you).  We spent 4+ hours perusing the many floors of books.  We each walked away with at least one book.  Ok, Adam walked away with at least 4, maybe more.

We also enjoyed lunch at Deschutes Brewery, browsing the shops, and just chatting.  Garrett was a champ in the stroller and was usually pleasant enough.

We spent one day visiting my cousin in Camas, Washington, just over the river.  She and her family live on 6 acre farm.  They have beautiful property and gave us the grand tour of their land, complete with chickens, bee hives, 2 greenhouses, and rows and rows of growing veggies.  We left laden with delicious gifts- fresh garlic and honey.  And a  handful of fresh raspberries straight from the bush.

After a week of friends, we made the drive south back to the Bay Area.  We spent two weeks just enjoying our families.  We went to the pool, went out, stayed in, let the grandparents get in all the Garrett holding they could manage.  It was lovely. 

Adam had the opportunity to spend 4 days in Yosemite with his dad and brother.  Garrett and I were thankful to be at Grandma's house while Adam was gone.  Grandmas and uncles are so wonderful!  Because then you get pictures like this...

keys and other excitement

The Adam DeClercq family of four (because we count the dog) made our first big road trip.  We left at o-dark-thirty to avoid LA traffic (the true bane of our So Cal existence) and to get a couple of good hours of driving under our tires before we stopped to feed Garrett.  It worked like a charm.  We had decided that we would stop when we needed for as long as we needed and just not think about how fast we used to be able to make this drive. 
Our first big drive was virtually painless... minus one major incident at a gas station somewhere in central California.  I took Garrett inside for a quick diaper change while Adam gassed up the car.  He also thought it would be a good time to give Bobby a little drink.  So, he walked around the car and in those 2 seconds, Bobby jumped on the electric door locks, thereby sealing him in and us out.  Yep, the dog locked us out of the car.  Away from both cell phones and both sets of keys.  Because who has the foresight to grab their keys as they walk around the car... since you never know, that dog might lock the doors?
When I walked out of the bathroom, Adam was in a near panic, standing over the passenger window that was providentially cracked an inch (another point in the fresh air vs air conditioning argument).  When he told me what happened, I just laughed out loud.  What else can you do? 
We agreed to try and get his keys ourselves before calling a locksmith.  His keys were nonchalantly lying on the center console.  Adam scavenged a stick and very carefully maneuvered it through his key ring.  Just as he was about to oh-so-carefully lift the keys, he lost his grip on the stick.  Now, the dog, cell phones, keys and stick were all locked in the car.
He went to find a new stick.  He came back with a short stumpy twig, took one look at the window and threw the stick down in dismay, screaming "STUPID STICK" like it was the stick's fault.  The next stick was of appropriate girth and length.  He was able to lift the old stick still threaded through the keys back up to the window with the new stick.  To say we cheered and jumped up and down when Adam snatched his keys through the window would be an understatement. 
Luckily the remainder of the driving was much less eventful.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Videos of a cutie

We know, we know.  We've got a lot to blog about, but we really wanted to give you some of the good stuff.

Here is the first:

Here is the second: