Rulin’s Update

woody1November 1, 2013. Two months left in the year – sixty-one days. The good(?) thing about having a blog is that it can hold the writer accountable. In January, I posted my “rulin’s” for the year, just as Woody Guthrie once did. We are getting close to a point where a pass/fail can be declared, but two months offers opportunity to at least pay attention to some of these things and perhaps sprint towards success. So today, I am looking back at my intentions, recognizing those successes, and looking forward to what I might be able to salvage.

Here were my 33 optimistic rulin’s followed by where I stand with each:

1. Finish writing my book. This is going to be the year.

Oh, what a sweet, optimistic thing I was back in January! Nope, not going to happen. But, I am really pleased with some of the progress that I made, advice I have been given, and even some new connections that I have made. I am hopeful that I am on a roll and that I will use my wonderful pool of advocates to maintain the push on me to get this done.

2.  I am going to drink more water. There, I said it.

I kind of think that I have done pretty well on this. I bought a new water bottle for work that I drain once a day. If not always successful, I am certainly more consistent.

3. My gym membership will be used more. I actually had some great momentum going at one time last year. I need to figure out how to gain that back.

Bad news on this one. I had the classic great run at the beginning of the year, but I have petered out terribly. Good news, I found my way back to the gym this week.

4. I will watch less television. Dan and I discussed last night that we would do at least one night a week television free.

We have not had a regular television free night, but it does happen. What I will say on this is that I have refused to pick up new television shows this year. I have my shows that get recorded and that we stay current on. What I tend to do, however, is turn on the television at night, just because. I am pretty sure that I can do better at this!

5. I am going to learn how to dance – my Christmas present from Dan.

We did this! We took our dance lessons and had fun doing it. Dancing – with any kind of expertise – takes practice. We have not done a good job at that, but there are still sixty-one days to make that better! 

6. I am going to fit into some of those clothes that I refuse to move out of my closet.

There are still sixty-one days to make this better…

7. I am going to spend time each morning at work, planning my day.

notebooks

When I do this, I am so grateful. I have tried different versions of planning tools this year. I found these wonderful composition books that I keep as a runner. One is for work, and one is for outside work. My work book has a weekly to-do list that I add to during the week and then transfer undone things to the new week. This has worked pretty well, as has using Wunderlist for master list keeping. I can definitely step up my game on this, but I judge this a partial success.

8. I am going to clean my office at work and keep it organized and inviting.

officeAgain, partial success. It looks like 2014 will see the opportunity to finally move out of our temporary trailer home and into a real building with most of the rest of our department. I am so eager for that to happen. In the meantime, my office continues to be a pretty nice location. I have a great view of the city skyline and I have embellished by walls with fun and colorful posters. Most recently, I strung ribbon near the ceiling and hung pretty postcards from the ribbon using fancy paperclips. Just walking into my office and seeing some of those images makes for a better experience. I am kind of psyched to decorate a new place!

9. I am going to re-up my Mug Club membership because going to lunch at 75th Street every Sunday with Dan is one of the things that makes me happiest.

mug

Perhaps the easiest thing on my list. Done.

10. I am going to learn how to draw Ali’s dog Banjo better so I can write stories about her.

I’ve worked on this, but I need to get back at it. I haven’t nailed her cuteness yet.

11. I am going to send fan mail (real postage stamped mail) once a week to someone I admire. I did this a couple years ago where I sent notes to authors of books I read. It was heartwarming how many wrote back and told me how much my note meant.

DSCF7127DSCF7129

I am doing this somewhat. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden got mail from Missouri, as did some authors. This is fun and I want to do better on. And I have some great postcards!

12. I will do what I can to make the possibility of us opening a brewpub one day a reality.

While I haven’t done a whole lot on this front, there have been some great conversations about this and potential for exciting things to be happening in the coming year.

13. I will be a better leader and employee by being more positive and creative.

One thing that I have tried to be this year is a transparent leader. I share what I know almost always. I am honest in my conversations and try to acknowledge when I am wrong and when I just don’t know the answer. I try to laugh and project a positive attitude. I am partnering with a co-worker in initiating some personal development activities for our co-workers. One of them is to show a couple TED talks over the noon hour. We had our first one recently and it went well. This week we start our SEVEN HABITS IN EIGHT MONTHS discussion group. I think that I have done okay on #13.

14. I want to video chat more with Sam and Ali.

We haven’t done this a lot, but we have done it more than we had. I like it very much!

15. Books – love them. I don’t really have to put it on my list because I will always read them, but I do want to read more! Good lord, there are so many wonderful books. Just yesterday, I got one in the mail that I had to order because Sam wrote me an email about how good it is.

My list will probably be shorter than last year, but I have had some winners this year. That book that Sam recommended was John Greene’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS which is a beautiful book about two adolescents falling in love while dealing with their own mortality. I just finished BILLY LYNN’s LONG HALFTIME WALK about Iraqi soldiers being “honored” at a Dallas Cowboys game. Excellent. 

16. Magazine – love them too! I have not done a good job keeping up with the wonderful print magazines that come into our house each month. I will do better.

Still trying

17. Computer – love my computer too, but I spend too much time with it and not enough time with rulin #15 and #16.

Have not done well at this at all. Sixty-one days to do better!

18. Last year I bought the Hugh Acheson cook book and that became my adventure cook book for the year. I didn’t do great with it, but I did okay. I got Girl and Her Pig for  Christmas this year. That’s my rulin there.

Miserable failure on this. I have not cooked anything from this delightful book. This will happen.

19. The Italy documentation will be completed. I haven’t updated on this, I know, but I will. I am actually doing okay, but I need it on the list to keep me moving.

italy album

While I am not finished, the beautiful album that we brought back is complete, other than some captions. It makes me so happy when I pick it up and move through the page. I have to decide what to do with the left-over photos and other momentos that we brought back. I thought at one time to do an album just of the meals we ate. That may still be an option. Just writing this makes me want to gather everything and look at it. Oh Italy – what a dream come true!

20. Be a better gardener. I planted basil last summer and did not make a single jar of pesto. I think one thing that I need to do is figure out a good watering system.

Not for lack of trying, I had a horrible year for basil. I planted it three times and only towards the end of summer did I really have any plants. I think it may have been a soil issue. The marigold seeds that I thought I planted turned out to be pot marigolds that were very different from my beloved marigolds. They were pretty, but not what I want. Successes were lettuce that was used in salads, lemongrass that was delicious in a few meals, and I have a great stand of chives.

21. Keep a journal better.

Oct20

Those fun composition books have really worked here. I keep a weekly running page that I have been photographing and using as the header for my “Good Things” post. I also have been writing pretty regularly in my 5-year daily diary.

22. Do the crossword puzzle every day. It keeps your brain fresh!

Not too bad here. One of the things that I do at work is copy off the daily NYT crossword and put it in the kitchen for people to fill in while they are heating up their lunch. I keep a copy for myself. I don’t always get to it, but pretty often.

23. See my friends more, and be better about setting up times.

I will never be perfect at this, but I think I have done okay here. Always can do better.

24. More movies. This is one of those things that I really do think that if I put it down, it will make me go see more movies than if I didn’t.

Sixty-one days to see some of those movies that I really want to see. I need to prepare for Oscar!

25. More live music. Ditto rulin #24

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Not great, but not horrible here. We saw some great shows this year. Sallie Ford playing with Thao and the Get Down Stay Downs was super fun. Jim and Micaela getting in the photobooth with Sallie continues to make me laugh. I got to see my man, Jason Isbell and the super delightful, They Might be Giants. We went to hear wonderful Bob Walkenhorst a couple times (should go more), and music at BB’s Lawnside. Already have tickets to see solo Jeff Tweedy next month.

26. Keep up with my Newbery Challenge.

This is my gym reading. When gyming goes by the wayside, so does Newbery. Two months to pick it up.

27. Pick two music albums each month that I really get to know.

I would say that I have done okay on this. I have tried to highlight some albums on my blog that I do get to know. One of the things that I have done lately is to email the artists to tell them that I have done that. It has been sweet to see how many email me back to thank me and tell me that they like my blog.

28. Make a photo album of 100 pictures from 2012, and put the 100 photos from 2011 that I ordered last year into an album.

2012 album

Success. Again, I need to add some words.

29. Take more pictures.

Success

30. Figure out how to start an Etsy shop. We have some ideas that we have been kicking around and doing some stuff on. Time to get real.

I bought a book about how to do it. Hmm. Probably there is more to it. 🙂

31. Get the attic organized. I made such progress when we got to fill the dumpster, time to make it right.

There are sixty-one days in which I can make good on this.

32. Bring my guitar out of hiding and play it again.

It is out of hiding and I pick it up every now and then. I think I need to restart lessons. That can be a whole new rulin in 2014.

33. Keep Deliberate Obfuscation active and fun for me.

This has definitely been a success. It is weird how fulfilling it is to check my stats and see that people are actually reading. 

 

The 304 days that happened before today have been almost all good for me. I have high hopes for the remaining days of this year, and I am already getting excited about some rulins for 2014. Who else is doing some reflecting as we hit this countdown of the last days of this year?

Reading in the New Year

My 2012 reading log is weird.

2012 books

For reasons I can and can’t identify, I just wasn’t up to my usual level of readerliness last year. But I am ready for a new year – two books knocked out this past week.

Wednesday night I finished Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. This is our first book club book of the new year, and one that I have wanted to read for some time. What you get with this book is about 600 pages of English history with some pretty despicable characters. I am in awe of Mantel’s knowledge of the time and she sure got a bunch of it in there. I am not sure that the book wouldn’t have been better, however, if some of that was left out in order to let the story itself speak more. The book centers on Thomas Cromwell who becomes the intimate advisor to King Henry VIII. The big goings on in this installment of a series that Mantel is publishing, is Henry trying to divorce Kathryn of Aragon so he can marry Anne Boleyn. This is no easy feat and there is much bad behavior. Interestingly, Dan is listening to this book on audio and I heard a part of it the other day when he drove me to work. I think I enjoyed hearing it more than I enjoyed reading it. The reader adds much of the pomposity that I think is true to the characters. It enlivens what can be a pretty gruelingly paced novel. This is one that I am glad to have read, I learned more about an era, but it didn’t reach the level of love that I thought it would.

the-fault-in-our-stars

Then I read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Much love here. I got an email from Sam at the end of December telling me that he finished this and I should put it on my list. In his email, he said “It’s so much more clever and ahead of itself than it needs to be. And it’s a killer first love book that is unexpected in every right way and it is truly in love with literature.”  When you get an email like that, the only thing you can do is buy it immediately. There is a part in this book where the main character recites The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to the boy she will love. He has asked her to read to him, but she doesn’t have a book. He asks for a memorized poem. She starts, “Let us go then you and I / When the evening is spread out against the sky / like a patient etherized upon a table.” He tells her to go slower. She continues with it. It is breathlessly beautiful. I very much like Prufrock, but there was something about this scene that brought the poem more life than it ever has had for me. The whole book is like that, scenes illuminated with grace; conversations of almost unbearable poignancy.

This is categorized as Young Adult, but it brings it for anyone lucky enough to pick it up. The story is brutal. Two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group. Hazel Grace and Augustus. I don’t want to write too much about the story because it needs to be read fresh.

Next up, Imagination Illustrated: The Jim Henson Journal.

How Do You Start A Year Right?

woody1The wonderful list above was posted a couple years ago on Boing Boing and it is popping up again as we start a new year. The 33 rulin’s were penned by Woody Guthrie sixty-one years ago. It is a mighty fine list.

New year’s resolutions were pretty simple and private things pre-Internet. Like Woody, you may have written them down, or shared them with another over your New Year’s Hoppin John. That was about it. Today, there is so much on-line guidance about how to get yourself on track. There are so many nifty tools available to track your progress/failures. Like a lot of people, I definitely want to make sure that my year is set up for good things, and that my failures of last year won’t be repeated. But what is the best way to do that?

I must divulge that I give myself a little slack in getting my act together for the new year. You may notice that It is January 4th and I am really just getting serious about this. But it is okay. I have a January birthday! I have decided that my new year’s resolutions need to be made by my birthday. If procrastination is one of my vices, I don’t have to be mad at myself until January 18th rolls around and I am still resolution-free. If I get this blog post done today I am winning!

Last year I started this blog as a writing exercise and an accountability thing. While I have not followed through on some of the things that I claimed I would do, I did post fifty-two times last year. I am proud of that; I have very much enjoyed it. There seem to be a few people who read this, and it gets me to write. There really isn’t a good reason that this shouldn’t be my place to set my goals. It is public enough that I feel sheepish when I really drop the ball, but I don’t have to worry that the few people who do read this will rise up against me and call me a fraud should I not drink my 32 ounces of water every day.

So let’s get this done. What is it that I want out of this year and myself? What would be my 33 Rulin’s?

  1. Finish writing my book. This is going to be the year.
  2. I am going to drink more water. There, I said it.
  3. My gym membership will be used more. I actually had some great momentum going at one time last year. I need to figure out how to gain that back.
  4. I will watch less television. Dan and I discussed last night that we would do at least one night a week television free.
  5. I am going to learn how to dance – my Christmas present from Dan.
  6. I am going to fit into some of those clothes that I refuse to move out of my closet.
  7. I am going to spend time each morning at work, planning my day.
  8. I am going to clean my office at work and keep it organized and inviting.
  9. I am going to re-up my Mug Club membership because going to lunch at 75th Street every Sunday with Dan is one of the things that makes me happiest.
  10. I am going to learn how to draw Ali’s dog Banjo better so I can write stories about her.
  11. I am going to send fan mail (real postage stamped mail) once a week to someone I admire. I did this a couple years ago where I sent notes to authors of books I read. It was heartwarming how many wrote back and told me how much my note meant.
  12. I will do what I can to make the possibility of us opening a brewpub one day a reality.
  13. I will be a better leader and employee by being more positive and creative.
  14. I want to video chat more with Sam and Ali.
  15. Books – love them. I don’t really have to put it on my list because I will always read them, but I do want to read more! Good lord, there are so many wonderful books. Just yesterday, I got one in the mail that I had to order because Sam wrote me an email about how good it is.
  16. Magazine – love them too! I have not done a good job keeping up with the wonderful print magazines that come into our house each month. I will do better.
  17. Computer – love my computer too, but I spend too much time with it and not enough time with rulin #15 and #16.
  18. Last year I bought the Hugh Acheson cook book and that became my adventure cook book for the year. I didn’t do great with it, but I did okay. I got Girl and Her Pig for  Christmas this year. That’s my rulin there.
  19. The Italy documentation will be completed. I haven’t updated on this, I know, but I will. I am actually doing okay, but I need it on the list to keep me moving.
  20. Be a better gardener. I planted basil last summer and did not make a single jar of pesto. I think one thing that I need to do is figure out a good watering system.
  21. Keep a journal better.
  22. Do the crossword puzzle every day. It keeps your brain fresh!
  23. See my friends more, and be better about setting up times.
  24. More movies. This is one of those things that I really do think that if I put it down, it will make me go see more movies than if I didn’t.
  25. More live music. Ditto rulin #24
  26. Keep up with my Newbery Challenge.
  27. Pick two music albums each month that I really get to know.
  28. Make a photo album of 100 pictures from 2012, and put the 100 photos from 2011 that I ordered last year into an album.
  29. Take more pictures.
  30. Figure out how to start an Etsy shop. We have some ideas that we have been kicking around and doing some stuff on. Time to get real.
  31. Get the attic organized. I made such progress when we got to fill the dumpster, time to make it right.
  32. Bring my guitar out of hiding and play it again.
  33. Keep Deliberate Obfuscation active and fun for me.

Happy new year all! 33 is a lot of rulins, but I am pretty sure that I can keep on task. Nothing here is impossible, and all of it will make it a better year. How are your rulin’s coming along?

Newbery Challenge – Boys Without Parenting

It has been awhile since I have written about Newbery’s. It has partly been due to other things that I wanted to write about, and, unfortunately, also due to the fact that I have not been going to my favorite Newbery reading venue (the gym). But here are two more to add to my challenge list, both that involve children left on their own to make their own way:

Book:  I, Juan de Pareja 

Author: Elizabeth B. de Trevino

Something about the author: Elizabeth B. de Trevino was a California girl who ended up moving to Mexico as a young wife and living the rest of her life in a new homeland that she loved completely. She was born in Bakersfield, California and from the time she learned to read she began to write herself. When she was eight years old, she presented herself at her local newspaper with a poem that she had written and saw to it being published. She graduated from Stanford and moved to Boston where she reported for the Boston Herald. A subject of one of her interviews would become her husband.

What it’s about:  Juan de Pareja was a real man. There is not much known about him, but the famous Spanish painter, Diego Velazquez painted Juan in the mid-1600s. When Elizabeth de Trevino’s son told her about the mysterious subject in the painting, she used the mystery to build her own version of Juan’s story. In de Tevino’s novel, we meet Juan as a young African slave in the home of a kind Spanish owner. His life changes drastically, however, when his mother dies of the Plague and then his owner also does. He is sent to live with his master’s nephew, Diego Velazquez. The story follows Juan as he secretly learns to read and paint. He earns the respect of the family he serves and the famous who come into the house. Juan’s is a story of achievement that ultimately ends in his being released from slavery and allowed to pursue art on his own.

Year it won: 1966

Somethings about that year: Back at Ms. de Trevino’s alma mater, the student anti-war movement was heating up, and young, freshman student Mitt Romney protested the protesters.

Favorite part:  de Trevino captures the Spain and the times nicely. When Juan is out and about in the city, you can feel how busy it is and the activity all around him.

Favorite character:  I really liked Diego Velasquez. He was kind and talented; a good husband and father.

Book:  Adam of the Road

Author: Elizabeth Janet Gray

Something about the author: Three years after she won the Newbery, 44 year old Elizabeth Gray (Vining) was chosen to come to Japan to teach the future Japanese emperor. It is presumed that General Douglas MacArthur had a hand in choosing the Quaker widow to teach the young boy who would grow up to lead the new Japan – post World War II.

What it’s about:  This time our boy hero is Adam. Adam is the son of a thirteenth century English minstrel. When we meet Adam, he and his trusty dog are in a monastery school. Then, his dad shows up. School is ditched and he and his dad start caravanning with the rich folk. Dad provides the patrons with whimsical entertainment, while Adam looks on and starts to hone his own craft on his little fiddle. Life seems to be going well until dad gets paid and loses it all in a gambling binge. He also manages to get Adam’s dog taken by the bad guy. All hell ensues when Adam goes chasing after the bad guy and ends up lost and on the road by himself. Everyone lives happily ever after – or as happily ever after as you could in thirteenth century England.

Year it won: 1943

Somethings about that year: In 1943, the world was entrenched in war. In the US, it was the year that food rationing began and income tax deductions on paychecks started.

Favorite part:  I didn’t really like this book very much. Perhaps it is historically accurate, but this isn’t a time period or place that I enjoy a great deal, and I found the dad to be so terribly negligent that I couldn’t enjoy the people that much. I guess I liked the school part the best because that seemed a nice, safe place where a little boy and his dog should be.

Favorite character:  When Adam was going to school, his good friend was a boy named, Perkin. Perkin was smart and wanted to be a lawyer, but his family was poor and it was hard to keep him in school. At one point in the book, Adam stands in for Perkin at his home, doing work on the family farm, in order to allow his friend to stay in school.

June Newbery Reads

My Newbery Challenge continues. I got my wish, and there were no talking animals in these two additions to my “Read” list.

Book:  When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

Something about the author: Rebecca grew up in and loving New York City. I have read and watched several interviews with Rebecca and each one reveals an element of her own history that shows up in When You Reach Me. In a Today Show interview, she tells a group of kid readers that when she was in elementary school she used to make sandwiches at a deli during her school lunch hour – just like Miranda does. The best one for me was that her mother really was a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid with Dick Clark, but (spoiler) her mother did not win the money. Her consolation prizes were a case of Dentyne gum and wood panel polish.

What it’s about:   Miranda is a sixth grader living with her single mom on the Upper West Side of New York in 1979. The book brings several plot lines together including an encounter on the street that changes the relationship between Miranda and her best friend, her mother’s practicing to appear on the $20,000 pyramid, her love for A Wrinkle In Time, and an accident. This is not an easy book, but it is fantastic. The central premise of the book that brings everything together centers on time travel. In an interview, Rebecca said that she was having a hard time with getting it right. She sat down with her Dad – who is a puzzle lover – and talked it through. After that, she knew she had it right.

Year it won: 2010

Somethings about that year: It was in 2010 that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act  – and we are still talking about it. It was also the year that J.D. Salinger died.

Favorite part:  It is hard to pick one, but I think Miranda’s conversations with another character about the logistics of time travel are wonderful.

Favorite character:  Miranda is right up there with my all time favorite childhood character, Harriet the Spy. She is smart, loves books, brave and she tells a great story.

Book: The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Author: Elizabeth George Speare

Something about the author:  During her lifetime, Elizabeth wrote five books. Two won Newbery Medals and one was a Newbery honoree. That is quite an accomplishment for a woman who did not start writing until her children were in middle school. The subject of The Witch of Blackbird Pond recalls the persecution of alleged witches in Puritanical New England. Speare wrote and published this during the McCarthy era, mening almost certainly, to make a statement.

What it’s about:   Kit is a sixteen year old orphan who lives with her grandfather in Barbados. Her life is ideal until her grandfather dies and she realizes that he left many debts to be repaid. After repaying all of them, she has little left, but she does have an offer of marriage from an old man. The only solution she sees to escape that fate is to sail to New England where her only living relative, an aunt, lives. Wetherfield, Connecticut turns out to be a staunchly puritanical community. Kit’s arrival brings controversy from the start because of her fancy clothes and the fact that she jumped into the water to save a doll and she could swim – very witch-like. The novel traces Kit’s life in Connecticut and her refusal to conform.

Year it won: 1959

Somethings about that year:  This was the year that the wheatback penny was replaced by the Lincoln Memorial version. 1959 also saw the introduction of Barbie and Playboy Magazine.

Favorite part: The initial sea voyage when Kit is sailing to New England on her own is fun and interesting. You get to see what kind of girl Kit is, and you get to know what life on a ship would have been like.

Favorite character: Kit’s uncle, although unbending to his family, showed courage and compassion when it came to standing up for Kit. I think Speare did a great job or writing his character.

My May Reading Pile

We are now into month six of 2012 – soon to be halfway through another year. I am assessing how I have been doing on the goals that I set for this new year. Things look pretty good, and for those places where I am still not on target, I at least have some good and reasonable hopes.

My reading goal is 50 books for the year. Right now I am saying that I can surpass that. I tend to do most of my heavy lifting reading on the weekends (often combining it with a nap). Because my television jones is arrested with rerun season, I am now making some changes to do more weekday reading. Unfortunately, it means getting into bed earlier to read and that makes me sleepy. Good intentions for reading may actually lead to more sleep. That isn’t all that bad.

My reading list for the month of May, included some good ones. While I realize that this kind of post may not be very exciting for someone coming to the blog, it does fit the intention of the blog – to write about the things that make me happy. I also find that if I write about a book that I have read, it helps me to process it better.

Newbery wise, I only got in two. This could call me out for not getting to the gym as much as I should have, but actually, I think it had more to do with going for more walks outside. I will write about the two Newberys separately, but of the two I finished, When I Reach You by Christine Stead beat out Gayneck by a mile.

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons is a page-a-day book written by Mo Willems. Mo is best known now for the kid’s books that he writes. He is awesome. He wrote/drew this book several years ago when he took a year to travel the world. Each day he drew a picture and wrote a little blurb about something that he saw or heard. Some are funny. Some charming. His style is fun, with lots of angles and extremes. He travelled light and frugally so his experiences involved lots of living among the locals and just getting by. I am inspired to do something like this when I take trips, but I don’t  know that my drawing talents could get me too far. If I saw a lot of teddy bears and daisies on my journeys, I could probably be able to make it work.

Staying in the illustration genre, Krazy Kat & The Art of George Herriman: A Celebration by Craig Yoe, was a book I picked up on a whim at the library. It is the kind of book that I am drawn to: graphics, ephemera, photos and words. I recognized the Krazy Kat cartoons, but I really had no clue about their content or the man who drew them. The Krazy Kat strip gives the reader the adventure of Krazy, a mouse(Ignatz), and a police officer (Offissa Pupp)(who happens to be a dog). Their relationships are complicated by the fact that Krazy loves the mouse, the mouse is always out to get Krazy, and Officer is fond of Krazy. Hijinks ensue. Herriman started drawing the strip in 1913 and continued for thirty years. They are fabulous in so many ways – the art that depicts landscapes in stunning ways, the smart and silly language, and the story lines that are funny and sharp. I am a fan and now want to find some Krazy Kat stuff!

Talk Talk by E.L. Konigsburg ended up in my hands because I was so taken with her Newbery winning books and I wanted to know more about her. This is a series of talks that she has given through the years. I don’t know if I gained much more insight through the read, but the one that really stuck with me was her first Newbery acceptance speech. She discussed how kid’s books during her childhood were filled with children and family who lived lives that were so different from hers – perfect families, homes, friends. Her own was not like them. Was she not normal? She understood later that she was the normal one and the books just didn’t depict normal. She wrote her books with the intention to show it like it is – warts and all. She said, “I believe that the writing of it makes normal of it.”

[sic] a memoir by Joshua Cody was another library pick up. Cody was diagnosed with cancer as a young man and ended up going through chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and a bone marrow transplant (another book that panders to my interests). His treatment story is pretty horrific – as was some of his healthcare experiences. I had a hard time with this book, mainly because Joshua does not write himself as a very nice guy. Maybe that is important. Every cancer story does not have to be a heartwarming tale of heroics. Everyone can be there. The way the scenario plays out depends on so many things. His story is a different kind of cancer story.

Along with the books, I read some great magazine articles in May. My habit is to purge stacks of magazines every now and then – tearing out the articles that I wanted to read but hadn’t gotten to, and recycling the rest. Tina Fey wrote an article for Esquire back in 2010 that was funny and very Tina Fey. It made me laugh. The other great one was Adam Gopnik’s Sweet Revolution published in The New Yorker in 2011 which visited the topic of the new sweets and the great chefs who make them. Adam Gopnik flew to Spain to eat desserts prepared by some of the most innovative chefs in the world! He describes a dessert created to capture the joy that a famous soccer player feels when he scores a goal. It is outrageous. I think Adam Gopnik is one of the luckiest people on earth.

May Newbery Challenge – Too Many Talking Animals

Two more Newbery’s down. After these two, I am ready for some that do not feature animals as their main characters.

Book: Gayneck: The Story of A Pigeon

Author: Dhan Gopal Mukerji

Something about the author: This is one where I find the story of the author much more compelling than the book itself. Mukerji, born in India in 1890, was destined to be a high caste priest. He took himself out of that tract, however, travelled to America, went to Stanford, and began lifelong relationships with freethinkers and radicals of the day. He became very involved in the movement to bring independence to India and was a friend of Gandhi. Mukerji became the first successful Indian author in the United States – a claim certainly boosted by the Newbery award. He was a harsh critic of what he saw as mindless cultural trends of the times. In a lecture in New York, Mukerji blasted the popular novel of the day, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, by stating, “It is much better to take opium and put your brain to sleep than to put it to sleep with such nighmares as this. The curse of cleverness is a blight on the English language.” [NYT 2/6/28] Mukerji wrote several other works during his life, but sadly hanged himself in 1936 at the age of 46 after a prolonged bout of mental issues.

What it’s about:  This was a tough one for me. It was less than 200 pages, but it was incredibly slow paced. Gay-Neck (yeah, I know), is one of the pigeons raised by a young Indian boy. The book is the life trajectory of the bird as it loses it parents, recovers from various traumas to become one of the bravest and smartest pigeons around, and ultimately becomes a carrier pigeon in World War I. There is a lot in here about the connection between man and animal and the outrageous atrocities that are inflicted on both. It is a rather slow ride and I was particularly not into the long sections told in the pigeons voice.

Year it won: 1928

Somethings about that year:  The first television station started broadcasting daily programming in Schenectady, New York. In Chillicothe, Missouri, the first machine-sliced and wrapped loaves of bread came off the line and were sold. This was a long time ago, folks!

Favorite part:  There are some really cool woodblock type illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff. Isn’t that a great name for an artist?

Favorite character:  During periods when he is troubled and unsure, Gay-Neck falls in with a bunch of swifts. I really liked those swifts. They built cool nests and just seemed to want to hang out and stay out of trouble.

Book: Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH

Author: Robert C. O’Brien

Something about the author:  Robert C. O’Brien was the pen name of Robert Conly, a writer for magazines such as Newsweek and National Geographic. He started writing children’s books after he developed glaucoma and couldn’t drive anymore. He moved closer to his office and the time he saved in commuting, he used to write children’s books. Conly wrote under a pseudonym because National Geographic did not approve of its writers doing outside writing.

What it’s about:  Mrs. Frisby is a widow field mouse living with her children in a hole in a farmer’s field. Shortly before the spring plow, her son gets sick and despite being cured by the medicine provided by a local mouse MD, he cannot be moved to the summer house for fear of relapse. This all leads to Mrs. Frisby becoming acquainted with the rats of NIMH. This is a remarkable colony of rodents possessing human-like abilities such as reading, machine building, and all things logical. NIMH, it turns out, stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, where the founders of the colony were trained as lab rats, experimented upon, and ultimately escaped. The book is full of adventures and ahas!

Year it won: 1972

Somethings about that year:  In 1972 Richard Nixon was re-elected and the Watergate debacle came to light. People also started sporting awesome digital watches and taking photos with the Kodak 110 Pocket Instamatics.

Favorite part:  Of course, I very much liked the description of the lab at the NIMH and the experiments that the rats went through. The idea for the book came from the experiments conducted at the real NIMH by J.B. Calhoun, and seem very true to form.

Favorite character:   Justin, the plucky rat who rescues Mrs. Frisby after she was caught by the farmer’s child and put into a cage. There are a lot of close calls in this book!

Two Newbery’s Knocked Out on the Treadmill in April

Today’s Newbery rundown include my so far favorites. I believe that I want to be E.L. Konigsburg. Besides the two books that I am writing about today, she has written several more – three that feature her grandchildren. Goodness, gracious that gets me.

Books: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1968)

           A View From Saturday (1997)

Author: E.L. Konigsburg (1930 – )

Something about the author: Elaine Konigsburg went to college to be a chemist, but she did not find life in the lab suited for her. Moving to Florida with her husband, she taught high school chemistry at a private girls’ school. In later interviews, she remembers that she went into the job thinking that she would find a bunch of privileged, spoiled girls, but what she found were girls just like she once was – wanting to please, wondering about the world; figuring out who they were. When Mrs. Konigsburg stayed home to raise her children, she used her own experiences, her students’ experiences, and her own children’s experiences to build her stories. Without ever having published anything, she sent her first book with her own illustrations to a publisher. It was published in 1967.  Her second book was accepted and published that same year. Those two books, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler became the Newbery Honorable Mention and the Newberry Medal winners in 1968. It was the first and only time for any author to accomplish this. Twenty-nine years later she was awarded her second medal with her book, A View From Saturday.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

What it’s about: Eleven year old Claudia needs to get away from her family to escape her plight of just being Claudia. She is not appreciated. There is sameness to every day that she must escape. Because she appreciates the creature comforts, she could not imagine pulling off a traditional runaway. Her plan involved heading into New York City and camping out in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She recruits her nine-year-old brother – he has the most money and is the least obnoxious of her siblings. The two children make it to the city. They live in the museum for over a week. Best of all, while they are there they investigate the authenticity of a sculpture sold to the museum by a Mrs. Basil Frankweiler. The sculpture is drawing crowds to the museum, and it may or may not be a work of Michelangelo. Through their work and their eventual encounter with Mrs. Frankweiler, Claudia finds what will return her home with the difference that she was looking for.

Year it won: 1968

Somethings about that year: What do you say about 1968? It was the year of the My Lai massacre, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassination, and the emergence and expansion of the Civil Rights, Anti-war, and Feminist movements. In an essay, Konigsburg notes that the book did not include notes about the contentiousness of the times, because the children would have been unaffected by it. She wrote. “Theirs was a journey inside, and Claudia’s war was with herself.” 1968 was also the year that Laugh-In made its debut. It was needed.

The other thing about 1968 and the Newbery’s is that the awards dinner was held right here in Kansas City. The edition of the book that I read contained an afterwards written by Konigsburg for the 35th anniversary of the book. She also included a piece that was included in the Newbery program that year that featured a drawing of Claudia and Jamie and a script of their discussing the Newbery honor. Charming.

Favorite part:  Claudia has very definite thoughts of what they need to do to maintain a proper lifestyle – even as runaways. She changes her underwear daily. They go to the laundromat. My favorite is when they gather paper towels and powdered soap from the museum restroom and take their after hours bath in the huge fountain in the museum’s indoor courtyard. The two page illustration that goes along with this reminded me of a painting of Matisse. Joyful.

Favorite character: While I want to say Claudia, I think I need to say brother, Jamie. Jamie is the one who identifies the rings left by the sculpture as identical to the logo of Ballentine beer. He then takes time to start humming the theme song that he heard on a commercial – much to the annoyance of his sister.

 

Book: A View from Saturday

What it’s about: Epiphany Middle School needed to choose an Academic Bowl team with the hope of it advancing beyond the school competition. Mrs. Olinski’s choice of three sixth-graders didn’t really make sense to anyone. They weren’t the best students, and they were all a little quirky. But they kept winning. They beat the other sixth graders, the seventh graders, the eight graders, and it was on to the regionals and state. They were unstoppable, and the stories that brought each of them to a place where their position on the team made perfect sense, are charmers.

Year it won: 1997

Somethings about that year: 1997 gave us Radiohead’s OK Computer and The Spice Girls’ Spice. Yea, I know.

Favorite part:  Noah is told by his mom that he needs to write a thank you note to his grandparents in Florida. Noah’s story in the book, involves him dissecting why writing a thank you really doesn’t make sense since it was he who really provided the thanks-worthy services. He, after all, was a best man stand in for his grandparents’ friend, and he kind of made the wedding a success. Noah’s breakdown of the events is great.

Favorite character:  Noah. He learns how to do calligraphy and teaches his friends. Hero.

“There’s a lifetime of secrets in those files. But there’s also just a lot of newspaper clippings. Junk. It’s a hodgepodge. Like my art collection. Now, you’ll tell me all about your running away, and I’ll add that to my files.”   –  Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

My Newbery Challenge Update for March

I am continuing my march through Newbery winners during my treadmill time at the gym. One of the winners that I highlight today (A Year Down Yonder), made me cry during my workout. Now I am the odd lady who always is reading children’s books at the gym and who is known to weep on the machines.

Book: Ginger Pye

Author: Eleanor Estes

Something about the author: Eleanor Estes, born in 1906, grew up in West Haven, Connecticut. By all accounts, her childhood was as idyllic as the scenarios she created in her books. Her hometown’s website describes Eleanor’s view from her  bedroom window. She could see her school, trains going to places far and near, and fishing boats in the harbor. Eleanor grew up to become a children’s librarian at the beautiful New York Public Library and when she contracted tuberculosis, she began to write fictionalized accounts of what it was like growing up as she remembered.

What it’s about: Jerry Pye and his sister fall asleep each night telling each other stories and talking through the walls of their bedrooms. One night, he asks Rachel if she thinks it would be okay to bring a dog into their house, in that they already have a very entrenched family cat. They decide that their cat can take the change, and after some providential fund-raising, Jerry buys a cute little puppy they name Ginger. The story pursues the kidnapping of Ginger, the quest to find him, and his eventual reunion with the Pyes.

Year it won: 1952

Somethings about that year: The New York Times article reporting on the awards’ dinner where the Newberry was presented to Estes, recounted a talk given by the editor of The Saturday Review. The speaker had words of warning for the “youth of today, reared in the blare of radio and under the influence of television.” Amy Lovemann told the audience that books must not be cast aside for the “conglomeration of facts that (radio and television) provide.” Familiar.

Favorite part: At one point, Ginger is in the family yard and wondering where the kids go most days. He decides to use his dog skills and follow his master’s scent to find his boy. Ginger’s trailing of Jerry’s smell and the shenanigans that he manages to get into before triumphantly appearing in the window of Jerry’s classroom, were very sweet. I recently read The Art of Racing in the Rain, and this section made me think of that book quite a bit.

Favorite character: Sam Doody is the neighbor boy who seems to have it all. He has enough money to buy a purple suit, gives Jerry the opportunity to earn money to buy a puppy, takes photographs, and drives a swell jalopy. All that and his name is Sam Doody!

Book: A Year Down Yonder

Author: Richard Peck

Something about the author:  I think that Richard Peck must be kind of a superman. He was a marine, has written books, screenplays, plays, poetry and he has been the president of three universities. His website now lists his activities as “restrained meddling in the lives of his children and grandchildren, golfing at a level far below his aspirations, and writing.” I am charmed.

What it’s about: In 1937, because money is tight, Mary Alice needs to leave her parents in Chicago and go live with her Grandma in the country. Grandma is as independent, clever, mischievous, tough, gold-hearted character as you will come across. Mary Alice’s year at Grandma’s starts out shaky, but ends with connection and devotion – both to her Grandma and the town.

Year it won: 2001

Somethings about that year: The year that this book won, was the year that Wikipedia was launched on the web. What did we do before then?

Favorite part: It is hard to pick out my favorite prank of Grandma’s, but I am going to have to go with her wielding her way into hosting a tea party for the Daughters of the American Revolution in her parlor. She is able to do it because she is the best baker in town, but she is also the most willing to take hoity-toity people down a notch. She invites some non-DAR ladies to the gathering and the upset that ensues is quite funny.

Favorite character:  So easy! Grandma. She is fantastic.

 

Next up on the Treadmill: The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong, 1955 winner

My Newbery Challenge Update for February

I wrote earlier of my plan to read all of the Newbery Award winners that I have not previously read. I began my quest and happily discovered that taking these books to the gym is a great way to combine two of my year’s goals. The books – because they tend to have larger print – are easier to read on the treadmill that I have vowed to return to at least three times a week!

Rather than do a standard review of the books, I thought I would just provide a little this and that about the book, the author, and the times. Here are my first two reads on my Newbery journey:

Book: The Higher Power of Lucky

Author: Susan Patron

Something about the author: Susan Patron is a retired Los Angeles librarian who wrote her first book in 1990. When Lucky was awarded the Newberry, there was much controversy over her use of the word “scrotum” in the book’s first pages. The context of the word was as part of a story about a dog getting bit in said place by a rattlesnake. About the controversy, Patron said that she took the event from a real life story, and that the use of the word was intentional.

What it’s about: Lucky is a ten-year old girl who is living in a small California desert town with a Guardian – who happens to be an ex- of her father. Lucky’s odd job is to clean up around the town business where all of the twelve step groups meet. Through her listening in on conversations, Lucky is introduced to the idea of a Higher Power and the benefit a Higher Power can bring to a person. In her quest to find her Higher Power, Lucky goes on an adventure that leads her to her own answers.

Year it won: 2007

Somethings about that year: Nancy Pelosi became the first speaker of the House, the IPhone was introduced, Bush orders more troops to Iraq, Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award for fiction.

Favorite part: When Lucky and Lincoln go on a quest to change the punctuation on a traffic sign. In this section, Patron brings the friendship between Lucky and Lincoln into focus and you realize how important they are to each other and how much each admires the other.

Favorite character: Lincoln is Lucky’s friend in town. Lincoln’s mom thinks that he is going to be President, but all Lincoln wants to do is tie knots. He can tie some of the most exquisite knots in the world and he is always seeking out more and better knots.

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Book: Rabbit Hill

Author: Robert Lawson

Something about the author:  During World War I, Lawson served as a member of the first Camouflage Company. The role of the company was to create fakes to fool the enemy. Its members were other artists that served in the unit stationed in France. Lawson wrote and illustrated his first children’s book after the war.

What it’s about: The animal residents of Rabbit Hill farm are in a tizzy about newcomers to their abandoned farm. Their emotions range from lust for the food that will finally return, to fear that there may also be dogs or cats that come with the newcomers. The family that arrives turns out to be more than the animals could have wished for. The couple seems to enjoy their animal neighbors, their cat is too old to care about anything beyond its reach, and they seem to be planting a giant garden. A minor hiccup occurs when one of the spunky young rabbits is injured and retrieved by the couple, and speculation about the too-good-to-be-true owners rages among the animals.

Year it won: 1945

Somethings about that yearGoing My Way won the Oscar for best picture, Alexander Fleming won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of penicillin, World War II comes to an end.

Favorite part: The animal procession through the garden at the end of the book is completely charming.

Favorite character:  Papa Rabbit who is a Southern Gentleman living in Connecticut. None of his fellow animals care to hear his tales of the good life in bluegrass country. It is hilarious how Lawson writes the other characters cutting him off when he starts in on his reminiscences.

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What’s on the treadmill now? Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1952)