Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Reviews: What I Read This Summer.

Here's a quick rundown of what I've picked up and liked this summer during our faithful weekly trips to the library:

1. The Art of Racing in the Rain: story of a family told from the point of view of the dog. Quick, soulful, and touching.

2. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King: I love King and this didn't disappoint. Four short stories all with the common thread of the stranger within us. The stories are dark, so dark they are almost funny in spots, and superbly written.

3. Little Heathens: A memoir written by a woman who lived as a girl in rural Iowa during the Great Depression. It gives a vivid description of everyday life; activities, food, farming, chores, and school are all discussed and explained at length. Not the best written book I've ever read, but pretty interesting.

4. House Rules by Jodi Piccoult: Solid book from a well-loved author. This was about an 18 year old boy with Aspergers' who is accused of murder. Each chapter was told from the point of view of a different character, which I like.

5. World Made by Hand and The Witch of Hebron, both by James Howard Kunstler: Go to the library TODAY and get out these books. They tell a story of the near future in which our society- government, media, institutions, everything- has collapsed due to world events and all imports have stopped. That means no oil, no cars, no trains, no planes. Electricity is at first spotty and then ceases to come on all together. Medicine is scarce and antibiotics have disappeared, and a Mexican virus has swept through most towns, effectively halving the population. How does life go on? What does it look like? The story takes place in a small village just north of here, and there are many local landmarks mentioned, and focuses on how people learn new skills and learn to work together to re-form a community. It's like living in the 1800's but with the knowledge of what you COULD have and what you doing without. The Witch of Hebron is a sequel (and I didn't like it quite as much because it was a little more far-fetched and science-fiction-y, but it was interesting) and I am hoping for another book to come out as well.

The books are reasonably well-written, with a few hiccups here and there, but I was completely mesmerized by the idea of going back to that way of life. I was also pretty terrified about what skills I do and don't have that would help my family survive. I read this book a few weeks ago and it has really stuck with me. I think the author wrote a non-fiction book, The Long Emergency, warning about how this could happen and then wrote this fictionalized account of how it would all play out. Really, really interesting.

6. Lincoln Lawyer: Really good story about an attorney who practices out of his Lincoln and defends a man whom he firsts thinks is guilty, then is convinced he's actually innocent. Lots of twists and turns. So good I had Dan read it after me.

7. Books I passed on... Atlas Shrugged: I looked for this for weeks in my library, and then when I saw it was about 1000 pages long, I put it back. It's summer, after all. The other book I meant to read was The Great Gatsby but it's always checked out of my library. I also checked out Finn and couldn't get past the first 5 pages.

Have you read anything lately that you loved?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Michaela Libutti: Good Luck Charm.

As reported by Guest Blogger Dan: On August 25, 2011, Michaela attended her first Yankee game against the Oakland A's with her two grandpas and me.

We left Delmar at 8:45am and headed toward Yankee Stadium picking "Paga" up on the way. We arrived at around 12:00pm and were greeted with torrential downpours. When we walked through the gate Michaela was handed a Beanie Baby named "Dinger" which was given to all fans 14 and under. She was delighted.

We walked around the entire stadium and checked out Monument Park. Michaela could not believe how big it was. Due to the rain the start of the game was delayed by 90 minutes. When the tarp finally came off the field we found our way to section 211 row 3 to get ready for the first pitch and Yankee roll call.

There were on and off showers during the first few innings. The A's scored a run in the first inning and the Yankees answered with Michaela's favorite player Derek Jeter hitting a lead-off triple. He later scored to tie the score at 1. The A's scored again in the second inning and then five runs in the third.

To quote Casey at the Bat, "The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day" as the Yankees were trailing 7-1. I told Michaela she might be a bad luck charm for the Yankees which she quickly dismissed. I knew there was still a lot of baseball left to play and I was hopeful things would turn around for Michaela's first game.

Michaela asked to get an ice cream in a Yankee helmet. After we secured the ice cream she informed me that she really only wanted the helmet to put on "Dinger". This turned out to be the turning point of the day.

The rain finally stopped and Russell Martin hit a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth inning to make the score 7-2.

In the bottom of the fifth inning Robinson Cano (Michaela's second favorite player) hit a grand slam, and just like that, the home team was right back in the game trailing 7-6.

In the bottom of the sixth inning following a hit by pitch, a walk, a wild pitch, and an intentional walk the bases were once again loaded. This time Russell Martin stepped back up to the plate. In the words of Yankee broadcaster John Sterling, "Russell showed muscle" and hit the Yankees' second grand slam of the game. The Yankees took the lead 10-7.

The Yankees scored 6 more runs in the seventh inning. After the A's scored a run the eighth inning the Yankees prepared to make history. In the bottom of the eighth inning with the based loaded, Curtis Granderson stepped to the plate. When Curtis deposited that ball into the right center field seats history was made. In the 136th year of MLB the Yankees became the first team in major-league history to hit three grand slams in a game.

After witnessing history, being in the stadium for almost 7 hours, and the Yankees leading 22-8 we asked Michaela if she was ready to leave. We explained that we could beat some of the other remaining die-hards of out the stadium and get on the road as it would already be late when we got home. Michaela replied "No way, we're staying until the end! I want to see them shake hands in the infield like they do on TV."

Our seats were in the third row of the middle level. Once we decided to stay, Michaela noticed that the two rows in front of us had cleared out and asked to go sit in the first row near the railing. The first two batters of the ninth inning hit doubles and one run scored. The next batter was David DeJesus. With Luis Ayala pitching, DeJesus hit a high foul ball that as heading right at a 9-year old girl, wearing her Derek Jeter shirt and purple Yankee hat sitting in section 211 row 1. I, still sitting two rows back, yelled "Michaela, it's coming right at you!" She ducked, the ball hit the seat to her right, trickled along the ground and then she pounced on it. Right in front of my eyes my little girl had a MLB game ball- a souvenir that only a small handful of fans leave a game with. The Yankees got the final three outs and Michaela got to see the Yankees shake hands in the middle of the infield with New York, New York playing.

What a magical day.

I have been to many baseball games over the years but to see this one through Michaela's eyes was so special and a day I will not forget for a long time. I don't remember my first Yankee game but I'm sure Michaela "The Good Luck Charm" will remember hers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Family Time.

My brother and his wife and their two girls just spent a fun-filled week with us here in NY. Here are some highlights of their visit:

1. Besides celebrating my mom's birthday, Brian and Beth gave Michaela her birthday present a little early: her own set of hot rollers, clips, hairspray and a new brush. Michaela has wanted these items for years after seeing Aunt Bethie curl her own hair with them, and Michaela was over the moon with happiness. The next day we started practicing with the curlers and have been able to fine tune the process a bit. And let me add that there have been days that Michaela has curled her hair THREE SEPARATE TIMES. In one day. Of course, like any good big sister, she has also done Jenna's hair and Jenna has also enjoyed that immensely. I am seeing my future of messy, spray-laden, clip-filled bathrooms develop before my eyes. Thank goodness we moved to a house that the girls have their own bathroom. (But poor Alec.)

2. We celebrated my mom's birthday in grand style with a steak dinner with fixin's at our house, followed by cake and presents. We can't remember the last time we were all together for my mom's birthday. It was a great evening and the kids had a great time. She said it was her best birthday ever.

3. Of course, the REAL reason my mom was so thrilled was that the night before we had staged the Christmas card picture for my parents and this is what we got: a great shot of my two parents beaming with their five grandchildren, trying to keep all those wriggling, happy kids from bolting off the couch. We took about 100 pictures, but don't worry: the kids were TOTALLY able to see again in a few hours after being blinded by the camera flashes.

4. Alec's reaction was this: MORE GIRL COUSINS? Where are all the BOYS in this family? Though we did notice that he pretty readily accepted the hugs and kisses that Megan generously doled out to him. And for Alec, that's a big deal. He's not really very huggy and kissy. But she was a-okay in his eyes.

5. Jenna and Kate had a grand old time, swimming, jumping in, getting out and eating Klondike bars together for hours on end.

6. Nothing's better than Tickling hot dogs from Gammie. Meggie was mesmerized. 7. The playground was a big hit with all the kids. We played and swung and climbed and even flew a kite for a while all together.

And this doesn't even scratch the surface: the girls went to Lake Placid with everyone for a day and Michaela hiked up a mountain, much to her delight (and my shock that she didn't complain at all), we enjoyed an adult-only dinner with Dan and I and Brian and Beth while my parents survived babysitting all five kids (though we jokingly suggested going out to a fancy dinner an hour or two away and that was immediately shot down... "How about a nice place, you know, IN TOWN?", my mom asked), we had a night of Delmar Delights: buckets of wings from My Place and pizzas from New Village Deli, and a fun hot tub night where Brian and Beth came over after the kids all went to bed and the four of us sat in a warm hot tub until after midnight drinking adult beverages. Great times. We also talked about my return trip to Chicago by myself in the fall, with a day with Brian AND a shopping day with Bethie. Because that's only fair.

I think the visit accomplished exactly what we wanted it to: to give our five kids time to be together, get to know each other, play together and make memories together... and we adults had a great time, too.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Butterfly Garden.

Last week the kids and I made our annual trip to a local butterfly garden, which is hosted by an area middle school, complete with middle-school -aged volunteer guides who take you around and have memorized their script so well that they recite it about 10 times too fast for you to really be able to hear any of it. But they are adorable, and earnest, and the garden is fairly small, and it's a perfect kid-friendly activity. Unfortunately, I always seem to pick a day with 400% humidity to go, so we are all dripping with sweat and more than a little plant-and-butterfly-ed out by the time we leave.

It really is lovely.
The garden is filled with Monarch and Swallowtail and Painted Lady butterflies and it's super easy to have the kids put their hands out and catch one, feeling it's gentle legs tickle their fingers.

This picture is one of my favorites I've taken this summer: a shot of Michaela handing a butterfly over to Jenna. I love the way their hands are curled together and how gentle and quiet they had to be to make this a successful transfer... it reminds me that despite the bickering and pouting and she said/she said of the last six weeks of near constant summertime togetherness, the girls can be quiet and still and work together for the greater good. I also feel like I know those hands as well as I know my own and love looking at them.

You'll notice that Alec is conspicuously absent from these lovely pictures... he was occupying himself by pushing his own stroller, bumping into kids, adults, plants, butterflies, netted fencing and generally making a complete nuisance of himself. By the time we left, he was screaming and I was carrying him sideways, commando-style.

Need I mention that he will be two next month?

No, I didn't think so.

We all know how that goes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August, Already.

Hello, August! I am always so happy to see you. You are a happy time of year, the height of summer, when the newness of being constantly outside has worn off and you can have lazy days of doing nothing if you want. You are the harbinger of fall, and back to school, and my favorite season ( Harvest Toile!!! Harvest Toile!!) coming up soon. You are all about planning and organizing for the school year, buying new backpacks and sneakers and jeans and composition notebooks. (Ohhhh, the composition notebooks... I have bought SO MANY composition notebooks in the last three years, and have many, many more to buy in the years ahead...)
You are also the month of my mom's birthday, which is always fun to celebrate.
When I was a babysitter for my neighbor's sons (who are now in their late twenties, at least), they had a wonderful book about the months of the year on a farm. It was beautifully illustrated and of course I loved it because it was all farm-y, and harkened back to my former life as a Pilgrim. I loved the description of the month for August, all about the dog days of summer and being lazy and the sense of time somehow standing still -or at least slowing down- in the heat,when everyone napped under shady trees and drank lemonade. I have looked for years for that book and have never found it.
Usually it is at the end of August that I see the first couple of leaves change color.

You are the month of vacations and get aways, of day trips and amusement parks, of sweet corn on the cob and home grown tomatoes. We are not going to the Cape this year, but will be going next summer, and I am already looking forward to it. (I recently read an article that said that a great deal of the fun of a vacation is the anticipation, and I can totally understand that. I am a master anticipator. I can look forward to anything. Heck, I even ordered CHRISTMAS WRAPPING PAPER this afternoon.)

The school vacation is officially more than half over, and the girls go back to school on September 8th. We have a whole lot of fun to pack in before then, including a visit from my brother and his family, but we can do it. Michaela is going to Vacation Bible School this week, drama camp next week, and Quilt camp the week after that. Jenna is enjoying playdates with her school friends and some neighbor girls and hanging around at home. We are swimming at my parents' pool, enjoying downtime in the afternoon while Alec naps, and playing outside after dinner.

Last night at dusk we flew a kite for the first time with Alec and he laughed right from his belly as he held the string. We were in a huge open field and the sun was setting behind some big, fluffy clouds and I felt so blessed to have clean air and open space and three healthy kids and a husband to share it all with. A wonderful memory of summer with little children.

Welcome, August. I've waited all year to see you.