Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review:: Icy Sparks

The synopsis on the back cover reads:

Rural Kentucky in the 1950s is not an easy place to grow up, and it's especially hard for ten year old Icy Sparks, an orphan who lives with her grandparents. Life becomes even more difficult for Icy when violent tics and uncontrollable cursing begin-symptoms brought on by a troubling affliction that goes undiagnosed until her adulthood. Icy's adolescence is marred by the humiliation of her illness, and its all-too-visible signs are the source of endless mystery and hilarity as everyone around her offers an opinion about what's troubling the girl. Eventually, Icy finds solace in the company of Miss Emily, an obese woman who knows what it's like to be an outcast in this tightly knit community. Narrated by a now-grown Icy, this novel shimmers with warmth and humor as it recounts a young girl's painful and poignant journey to womanhood-and the many lives she touches and enriches along the way.

Random List of Tidbits About this Book

* I've been reading this book for over a month, and not because I was savoring it but because I found it very, very boring. There were times I went days without reading any of it and I was worried that when I picked it up again I'd have forgotten what happened. No need to worry. Nothing much happened throughout the entire book.

* The synopsis on the back cover seems as if it was written by someone who never read the book, or maybe read only half of it. That part about "Eventually Icy finds solace in the company of Miss Emily..." makes no sense because they were friends from the start of the book and remained friends until the end. Also, I found no "humor" or "hilarity" in this book.

* I really wanted to like this book. I had never before read a book with a main character (or any character for that matter) who suffers from Tourette Syndrome and I thought it would make for an interesting read. I was wrong.

* About half way though the book Icy gets kicked out of school and is sent to live for a short while in a mental hospital. This was where I thought, Okay, now the fun is about to begin, because I think that mental hospital life makes for some awesome reading. Again I was wrong. It was just the usual mental hospital stuff: the patient who poops himself, the one who doesn't talk, the one who bites, the one who butts people with his head, the one abusive orderly (because there is always one). Yawn.

*There were times that the dialogue in this book made me want to stab myself in the eyes. Take this passage, for instance, where Icy is at the mental hospital trying to convince her doctor to let her go home for the holidays:

"So let me go home," I said.
"We can't," Dr. Conroy said. "At least, not yet."
"So let my folks come and see me," I said.
"We can't," she repeated. "not yet."
"For Christmas?" I asked.
"Maybe," she said.

OH MY GOD. It's all so trite! To be fair, it wasn't like this through the whole book, but it happened often enough that around page 250, I was pretty much just skimming until the end.

*My friend Kashoan sent me this book, which makes me think she doesn't like me as much as she claims to. HA. I kid. Really though, I called Kashoan and asked her if she liked the book and after some thought she said, "Yeah. I guess. But I kept waiting for something big to happen and it never did." That pretty much sums it up. I'm still glad she sent me the book though because I really LOVE writing reviews for books I don't like, and I don't get the chance often enough.

*The ending of this book was totally bizarre. Icy goes to some raucous church revival with her grandma, there was a lot of Praise the Lord and Amen! and Onward Christian Soldiers (Seriously, it was like this from page 279-284. See: trite dialogue.) and then Icy decides to join the church choir and go to college. What?? How did we get to that point? I just didn't get it.

*Inexplicably, a lot of people like this book. I was reading reviews of it on Goodreads and they were mostly positive. Except for this one by someone named Jeff-is Moderately Brilliant which made me laugh:

"Ugh. I just saw the book cover, and wanted to hurl. My sister told me to read it. That's the last recommendation she ever gave... I killed her."

Hopefully he's joking, and Kashoan you have nothing to worry about, I'm not coming to kill you. But his statement does lead me to believe that when it comes to this book there is no grey area, you either love it or hate it.

I feel like I'm taking the easy way out by not writing a proper review but I honestly don't know what else to say. Girl has Tourette's, stuff happens, people come in and out of her life. The End. I'm just glad I'm done with it so that I can devote time to reading something else.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Chihuahua Public Service Announcement

About a week ago we made the tough decision (confession: the decision wasn't that tough) to get rid of our chihuahua. Jay and I had grown tired of Sadie long ago but had held on to her because the boy liked her. (The girl has always been indifferent at best.) Finally though, after having to pick up chihuahua crap one too many times, the boy gave up. I think his exact words were, "Why do I do this?! That dog isn't even nice to me!" Of course he was right, the dog wasn't that nice to him. In fact, the cruel irony of it was that the only one the dog liked was me. So this really was a losing situation for all involved-I didn't want her around me but because she wanted to be around only me, she was pretty much starved for affection. (Well, for a chihuahua.)

To those of you who've never owned a chihuahua it may seem as if I'm being cruel, which is why I'm taking a few moments out of my time to share with you some tidbits that I had to learn the hard way.

*Chihuahuas tend to latch on to one person. In this situation that person was me. When we first got Sadie six years ago this wasn't much of a problem, but as life got more hectic spending time with her just started to feel like work. It was as if I had a third child. If I sat down, she jumped in my lap. If I walked around the house, she followed me. If I went in the bathroom, she sat by the door. This went on for six years. I know you're thinking that she just loved me, but it wasn't that. It was more like she was forcing me to love her. Which brings me to my next point:

*Chihuahuas have a strong sense of entitlement. They assume that no matter what they do, it's going to be okay with you. And if it's not, screw you, you better get used to it. There were numerous times that Sadie would jump in my lap and I'd push her away only to have her jump back up not ten seconds later. There's a woman in my neighborhood who has two chihuahuas and when I was explaining this to her I ended my statement with the phrase, "Chihuahuas are just so dumb." She looked at me and said, "No, they aren't dumb at all. Just really disobedient." Well, there you go. (For the record, this woman loves these dogs and says she'll never own another breed. Clearly she's off her rocker.)

*Chihuahuas are notoriously hard to housebreak. After six years, Sadie still never went one full week without pooping in the house, despite our best efforts to train her. If she needed to poop, she didn't let the minor fact that she wasn't outside stop her. She would poop wherever she was. In the kitchen, underneath the dinner table, right in front of me as I sat on the couch, etc. What made matters worse was that she just didn't care. Chihuahuas, unlike other dogs, aren't eager to please their owners. We'd be cleaning up after her and she'd be dancing around us wagging her tail. Her lack of shame always really bugged me.

On the off chance that you guys don't believe me and think that I just had a defective chihuahua or that I didn't devote enough time to training her, let me assure you that in the years that I owned Sadie I spoke to a lot of other chihuahua owners and the general consensus was the same.

My best friend, Dawn, had to put her chihuahua to sleep last year, after something like fifteen years of servitude. After a short period of grief she soon realized how much better her life was. It wasn't long before she was bragging about NOT having to pick up poop. (I have to admit that I was kind of jealous of her at this point. Misery loves company.) When I told her that we were looking for a home for Sadie, she was definitely excited for me, saying, "Your quality of life is about to greatly improve." She also admitted that even though her dog has been gone for over a year, whenever she sees something black or brown on the floor, maybe a Lego or other small toy, her first reaction is to assume it's dog poop.

In writing about all of this, I'm not saying that chihuahuas are bad pets for everyone. I know a lot of happy chihuahua owners. That woman I mentioned earlier? She's older and her husband has to travel a lot for work, so I think she probably likes the neediness of chihuahuas and doesn't mind them following her around all day. But I think that chihuahuas aren't the best pet choice for most families.

As for Sadie, Jay wasted no time finding her a home. Within a day of Monty declaring he had had enough, Jay talked to someone through work who had owned a chihuahua before and was looking to own one again. In my mind this was the perfect person for Sadie to go to-someone who knew what chihuahuas were like but yet wanted one anyway. (As much as we were all sick of Sadie, we weren't going to let her go with just anyone. We wanted to make sure she'd be loved.) I sent her this picture to seal the deal:Last I heard, Sadie was snuggled in the lap of her new mommy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Worst Saturday Ever?

Well, not for me. My Saturday was fine. Typical, slightly dull, and mildly productive, but fine. My son though, had a rough time. Why? The Playstation Network had been down since Wednesday. What this means, for those of you who are noobs and not in the know, is that my son could play PS3, but he couldn't play online with all of his pasty white nerd friends across the country. (I tell myself that these friends are no different than the friends I've made through blogging. Right?) This was all mildly annoying during the week but he wasn't too bothered since he was at school. But by Saturday, when it became clear that he would be missing out on some prime gaming time, he was aggravated. Let me tell you, a nerd on gaming withdrawal is grouchy. I'll be the first to admit that I may have looked at him and uttered the phrase, "Wow. Someone has their period." (That right there shows you that I probably spend way too much time talking to middle school boys.)

After turning the PS3 on and off half a dozen times and reading news articles about the outage, the boy decided he may as well find something else to do. Here's a short list of some of what he did:

*Annoyed me. First and foremost. I have no patience for someone flopping around the house complaining about their lot in life. I get it. You can't pretend to kill people. I feel your pain and kinda miss it myself, but life goes on.

*Annoyed the girl. This is when you know you've taken being a pest to a whole new level, when the girl actually asks you to leave her alone.

*Read a book. This one didn't last long.

*Watched Youtube videos of other people playing video games. This is like the nicotine patch for addicted gamers.

*Made a fake Facebook page for someone named Boonar Testisack. (Because the name 'Boner' didn't make it past the Facebook censors.) It should come as no surprise that Mr. Testisack works as an FBI agent-Female Body Inspector.

But somewhere around 8:00 PM, as I was drinking my nightly glass of wine, the boy, probably realizing that once Mom pours her wine the chances of us going anywhere are slim to none, agreed to play a game of Scrabble with me. The TV was off, the girl was in bed and Jay was at work. It was just the two of us. And we had the most fun. Not only was he being jovial and silly but he actually tried to win, so the game was challenging to me. (Of course he didn't win, but the score was surprisingly close considering you can only spell penis and balls so many times.)

Board games are nothing new around here. We play them a lot. But because the boy is at the kind of jerky-almost a teenager age, I always get the impression that deep down he doesn't really want to be with us and that if something better were to come along then he'd drop us like a bag of dirt. Last night though, nothing better was coming along, and he knew it. So he let himself have a good time.

I know that I can't force what happened last night. If I were to institute a mandatory Family Game Night it just wouldn't be the same, there would be a certain level of resentment. A lot of things had to fall into place for last nights fun to happen. I'm glad they did and I'm glad I was here to enjoy it.

But..... as of my last checking, Playstation Network is still down so I may be able to milk this a little bit longer.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Book Review:: Just Kids

Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were many things-lovers, artistic collaborators, each others muse, and lifelong friends. Just Kids chronicles their relationship from when they met as teenagers up until the time of Robert's death in the late eighties. Throughout all the incarnations of their relationship, they both had one main goal which was to create art, Patti through poetry, drawing (and later, music) and Robert through drawing and photography.

This book isn't plot heavy, it's simply their story, the story that Robert asked Patti to tell. There is no one big moment in the book, but the beauty is in the little details: the way they would go to Coney Island and share a hot dog and soda because they were too poor for anything else. (He would eat the hot dog, she's eat the sauerkraut.); the gifts of drawings or thrift store trinkets; the way they essentially stayed "together" throughout their adult lives even though Patti married someone else and Robert ended up in a committed relationship with another man. They had vowed never to leave each other and ultimately they never did.

One of the things I loved about this book was that it ends right as Patti Smith begins to get famous. Having never really been a fan of Smith's music, I started to lose interest when she describes recording sessions and gigs. But, she kept that part short and then fast forwarded to Robert's death due to AIDS complications. The last ten or so pages describing his death and all the emotions surrounding it were gut wrenching and I found myself choking back tears.

The fact that a large portion of this story takes place during such an interesting time for pop culture-the '60's and '70's, made reading this somewhat of a history lesson for me and from time to time I found myself putting the book down just to do internet searches on so many of the fascinating people who were in the news at that time. Like Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski's wife who was brutally murdered by followers of Charlie Manson. I had no idea she was eight months pregnant at the time of her death. Or all the crazy characters who Andy Warhol surrounded himself with. Previously, these were all just names to me.

Through this book I was also introduced to the work of Robert Mapplethorpe which is breathtaking, beautiful, and at times brutally graphic. If you aren't familiar with his work I urge you to do an image search and check it out. (Although be warned that what pops up is NOT safe for work, not for child eyes, and frankly, may be offensive to some adults.)

Just Kids is more than a memoir. It's the story of two friends on their journey to become artists. It was a smooth, easy read and will probably end up being one of my favorite books of the year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Balloon Fun

About two weeks ago the girl bought a balloon animal at the Saturday Market. Initially, it was a pink cat on a white leash. A sweet and innocent enough balloon animal. But now, in its half deflated state, it doesn't look so innocent anymore:

I'm not going to lie to you, the whole thing makes me a little bit uncomfortable.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Playground Tale

"Tell us a story" said my daughter, as the four other little kids at the park sat down in front of me.

This is what happens when you're the only adult at the playground. I sighed, "Fine. Once upon a time there were five little kids and they were all really annoying and they kept bugging a lady who just wanted to sit on a bench at the park. The End."

The kids giggled but took the hint and moved on to doing other things, all except for my girl and a girl named Morgan, who sat in front of me making a home for a worm they had found. They were deep in conversation about what to name the worm when Morgan, who had been listening to Lucy stutter for the last half an hour, finally asked, "Why do you talk like that?" Lucy, still stuttering, just said, "I don't know. I just sometimes do." I estimate it took her about a minute to get those seven words out. I was so thankful when Morgan said, "Oh, okay" and they went back to playing. Thank you Morgan, for being an awesome, sweet girl and just dropping it.

I struggle with these moments. I try to let my kids fight their own battles. They know I'm here, in the background waiting to jump in at a moment's notice, but ultimately I want them to handle things themselves. But, in regards to the stutter, it is so, so hard. I want to immediately spring to action and fix things. But I can't. Even if I decided to, it's just not possible to pull words, perfectly spoken, from her mouth.


As we were walking home I asked Lucy if it bothers her when people ask why she talks differently. She said "Yes" and nothing more. So then I asked if it embarrasses her. She said, "No. I just don't know what to say."

And that was when I nearly lost it. That was the moment when I realized how confusing this whole thing must be for her. I feel like in some ways maybe we dropped the ball on this one. In an effort to not "make a big deal out of it" (which was what all the well-meaning experts say to do) we neglected to educate Lucy on her stutter. She had no idea what it was or why she did it. It was all I could do to not cry. I did my best to compose myself and I said, "Well, it's called a stutter. Right now, it means you're really, really smart and your brain goes faster than your mouth, but eventually your mouth will catch up and one day you'll wake up and you won't stutter anymore."

Okay, I know that's not the clinical definition of what the girl has going on, but it was the best I could come up with and it seemed to work for the girl because as soon as we got home she excitedly ran up to her brother and, still stuttering, said, "Hey Monty, you know why I talk like this? Because this is just how really, really smart people have to talk!" Monty shot me a confused look out of the corner of his eye, halfheartedly said "Oh wow. Cool." and went back to what he was doing.


That evening, when Lucy was playing a loud video game and I knew she wouldn't hear me, I went into my room and cried. Jay was reading and the boy was using the computer. They both immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at me, surprised to see me walk into a room and start bawling. I explained what happened at the park and I told them what Lucy said. They were both really quiet. Although our whole family is incredibly patient with Lucy's stutter, I don't really think Jay and the boy understand the magnitude of it on a daily basis. They don't see the way other kids look at her or whisper about her. They aren't around to be on the receiving end of the sympathetic looks from other parents. I hate what Lucy has to deal with, and I feel sorry for her, but I don't want anyone else to feel sorry for her. She needs no ones sympathy.

I know that in the grand scheme of things a stutter is no big deal, especially a stutter that everyone says will disappear by the time she's eight. But right now, watching her struggle with it can be brutal and some days it rips me up inside.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Grant Park

I've been reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to the girl. While I knew that Beverly Cleary was from around here, I never realized how often this area was mentioned in her stories.

This is the first true chapter book I've read to the girl, and in doing so I'm really trying hard to bring the story to life for her so that she doesn't lose interest. Ramona mentions being able to see Mt. Hood from her classroom window. Hey, we can see Mt. Hood too. When Ramona's dad gave her a Pink Pearl eraser for the first day of school, I went out and bought one for the girl. (Although she was thankful, I have to say that the girl wasn't nearly as excited about the eraser as Ramona was. Sadly, in an age of $60 video games, a 49 cent eraser doesn't have the same appeal it once had.)

This past Sunday, Jay had the idea of taking the girl to Grant Park. Grant Park pops up in a lot of Cleary's stories and the real Klickitat Street, where the Quimby's and their friend Henry Huggins lived, is just a few blocks away.

The highlight of the park was the Beverly Cleary sculpture garden. As soon as Lucy realized this was a sculpture of Ramona, she ran up and held her hand as if they were about to go splash in mud puddles together.

This is the first time I've read a Ramona book in decades and I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying it. Ramona is so sweet but still a bit rough and tumble-the perfect heroine for a little girl who is not above causing her own harmless shenanigans.

This Saturday the library is hosting a 90 minute Ramona walking tour, where you visit the places mentioned in the books. If the girl was just a wee bit older, I'd be all over this. But at this point I just don't think she'd have an appreciation for the full tour, since we've only read the one book so far. Maybe next year.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Posing at the Portland Saturday Market

This made me realize two things:

1. I will never be able to scrape my way into upper middle class if I keep giving money to dogs.

2. My own dogs need jobs.