Friday, June 27, 2014

Five Things Friday

Here's this week's five wonderful things, from me to you:

  • About a year ago I came across a superb idea on Pinterest for a better way to fold t-shirts.  This sounds drab and dreary and boring, I know, but just hang on, now, because this may not transform your entire life, but it will transform a couple of your dresser drawers, which sounds trivial, but I swear to you I feel happy every time I open my t-shirt drawer.

We live in an old house that's short on storage space, most notably closets, but thankfully soon after we moved in Derek's grandpa built us a pair of built-in dressers for our bedroom.  Now I had a place for my clothes, but for some reason folding them the traditional way (why does this make me laugh?  like, "ah, yes, the folding methods of yore") created a slop pile of shirts within the drawer.  Enter this new, rolling way of folding!  (Click on the link above for specific instructions.)  It keeps wrinkles to a minimum, I can fit more clothing in each drawer, and I can see each item of clothing with no digging.  Perfect.

  • This post on Ann Voskamp's blog about procrastination.  Listen, I'm a seasoned procrastinator.  Why do today what you can put off 'til tomorrow, and all that.  If there's something specific I'm putting off, my house will be clean, my books get read, I'll find all manner of things to do to put that loathsome activity off for as long as humanly possible.  I have gotten loads better in recent years (growing up and maturing and all that necessary junk), but still- I'm a procrastinator at heart.  This post helped me to fold a formidable mountain of laundry and shampoo the carpets and do a couple other things I'd been meaning to do for a day or two (WEEKS, OKAY?  I'd been putting off shampooing the carpets for weeks.).  My brain has already supplied some perfectly acceptable reasons not to wash the sheets and clean out the fridge this afternoon, so it looks like I'll be re-reading this post every other day until it sticks.  Hey, change takes time, right?

  • Thunderstorms.  This is one of the things I missed most while living in Connecticut, although Derek and I did share some gleeful chortling on the rare occasion a smallish clap of thunder would boom in the Connecticut skies, causing the natives to flinch while casting fearful looks toward the heavens.  Oh, New England.  We've had tons of rain over the past week (and by "tons" I obviously mean 3 and 5/8 inches), but I've decided not to complain about it, because that rain has been accompanied by thunder and a smidgen of lightning- nothing really severe, just fun.  

  • This book:

The woman describes what it's like to grow up lovingly ensconced in a small midwestern town with total accuracy, and does it with such humor that I had to lay my head down on the table a few times, I was laughing so hard.  This book made a rough day better.  I loved it so much I may have to get my own copy (gasp!).

  • The eggs hatched!  Last Sunday evening I went to check the robins' nest, and behold:

See it?  Sweet little Ugly there, on the left?  

Based on my highly exact method of zooming in as much as possible and stretching my arm way up to snap a picture, I think there are three hideous baby robins in there.  Perhaps four.  Their mama's gone most of the time, no doubt hunting up tasty morsels for which they'll no doubt be completely ungrateful.  I should note that even when taking photos, I try not to get too close to the nest; I don't want to scare the mother off or leave my objectionable human scent all over the place.  Babies!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Purposeful Paucity of Lists

I've been trying to wean myself off of lists.

Not in general, but here, on the blog.  I've been leaning so hard on them that, combined with the cheery nature of my Five Things Fridays lists, I've begun to feel a bit like Tiny Tim with his crutch and his "God bless us, every one!"  I'm afraid that down this list-strewn path lay the inability to form a cohesive story and an attention span that lasts no longer than four sentences.

So far all that's come of this is a certain paralysis anytime I think about the blog.  I know it may often seem as if my upper limbs engaged in an ill-advised date with the rototiller and this blog is written by two bandaged stumps merrily smashing away at the keyboard.  (They have unerring aim for the bullet point button.). There is a certain amount of thought that goes into these posts, however, and yet take away my list format, and all I can think about is how for a time my sister believed our dad was the Zodiac Killer.  This sounds absurd, unless you actually know my dad- not that he's the type of person you meet and think,  I bet you drive a sketchy white paneled van, because he's actually very charming and funny and makes a mean pot of chili.  It's just that he's also a little eccentric and has serial killer handwriting, plus he's a crack shot- I mean, I'm sure if his neighbors were informed of his newfound criminal status at first they'd be like, "WHAT?  No way! He's such a nice guy!"  But then after a day or so they'd start saying, " Yeah, I can see that."  Kelli did eventually decide our father is not a mass murderer (phew!), although not before I read a murder mystery where the demented villain just happens to share the first and last names of my father.  But then, so does one of our local meteorologists.  I don't know what that says about the weather guy- I'd have to see his handwriting.

Haha!  I did it! It's barely coherent, but I wrote a list-less post.  Not listless, you understand, just lacking a list.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Five Things Friday

I need everyone to do me a favor and pretend that today is Friday.  So we're all in agreement, then?  Today is Friday!  Happy Friday, everyone!  That means today is Five Things Friday!  Here's what's great this week.

  • Adelaide + Hair.  Adelaide has been working on her braiding skillz; having mastered various random triplicate strands made out of things like plastic and wax, she has moved on to human hair.  As I am the only other person in the house with a long, braidable mane, she has been working on my hair frequently, which is great because

  • Air conditioning.  I am beyond thankful for AC this week.  It's been hot, and it's been humid, and it makes me think of a couple summers ago when we didn't have a functioning AC, and I was third trimester pregnant with Caedmon and wanted to die.  I say a prayer of thanks every time the AC kicks on, every time I walk into our house which doesn't feel like a Native American sweat lodge, and at random times throughout the day when I'm not at risk for heat stroke in my own home.  I'm not sure that I'll ever take air conditioning for granted again.  Amen.

  • Librarians.  This time it's because of a great resource one of our favorite librarians directed me toward- see, I've been trying to incorporate daily math into our schedule over the summer, and while Adelaide has been great about reminding me about her daily multiplication flash cards, aside from that I kind of suck at remembering things, especially things that I don't really like to begin with, like math.  Enter!  They send you an email every day with a fun math problem for your kiddos to complete, or if you have one of those fancy smart phones, they also have an app.  Here's today's (because today is Friday, remember?) daily math problem to give you an idea- I really like the fact that I can read the same problem to all three kids, but there are different questions for each age group.  We do not, however, do these at bedtime.  I do not need one more thing to do that close to the finish line.

  • Dots.  If you value your productivity or your sanity, do not, I repeat, DO NOT start playing this game.  Derek downloaded it to our tablet for Adelaide.  She played it a few times and enjoyed it.  I decided I'd see what all the fuss was about, especially when I heard it described as "like Tetris or Bejeweled."  What I'd forgotten was Carl Jung's tidbit of wisdom:  "Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine, or idealism or Dots."  I may have paraphrased a bit there.  This game.  Gaaah.

  • Robins.  There's a nest that's been on a branch that overhangs our sidewalk for a few years now, and this spring a couple robins moved in.  As it turns out robins are the HGTV of birds and now instead of boring old twigs and grass for furnishings, they've gone for the modern look and weaved duct tape into their nest.  A nice long strand even hangs down from their newly remodeled dwelling, dangling in your face should you happen down our sidewalk.  We noticed what I assume is the mama sitting in the nest for a couple weeks straight, only leaving for short times a couple times a day.  But today both parents are present, which caused perhaps uncalled-for levels excitement amongst the Crisler offspring.  (And who hollered them out of the house with "YOU GUYS, GET OUT HERE!  IT'S MAMA AND PAPA ROBIN!"?  Um... yeah.  Me.)  

Staring at birds.  It's an exciting life we lead around here.

Anyone know when I can be expecting grand-birdies?  My knowledge of the life cycle of the American Robin is nil.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Strictly Book Reviews, With No Unnecessary Tangents

I think I can I think I can I think I can talk just about books and not Jesus weeding his garden or my abiding love for Post-Its.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Okay, so first off, I know this book sounds depressing- Harvard professor begins to experience symptoms that go beyond mere forgetfulness- bewilderment at what the items on her own to-do list could mean, not being able to find her way home in familiar surroundings, etc.  She is soon diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, and most of the story follows her descent into dementia, while her family and loved ones attempt to cope, she works for as long as she can, and tries to hold on to recognizable pieces of herself.  No, this is no lighthearted romp through the land of mental illness, but it feels important, like Genova is giving a voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves, and she does it all with dignified honesty.  Yes, this is fiction, but she evidently did the kind of in-depth research this topic demands, and this is the only novel to ever receive the stamp of approval from the Alzheimer's Association.  I read this book weeks ago, and I still find myself thinking about it.  A must-read.

My sister Kelli told me about this book that she read as a child:  "You mean you've never read the one about the post-WWII little Japanese girl who gets leukemia because of the atomic bomb radiation and whose friends and family try to help her make a thousand paper cranes believing it will save her, but it doesn't and she dies anyway and it's the saddest book ever?"  To which my response was "SIGN ME UP."  

This book will take you maybe 15 minutes to read.  It is tragic, heartwarming, quality children's lit.

I have friends and family on both sides of the vaccine debate; I myself come down most decidedly on one side.  I am not going to make this blog a platform for this debate, as I do not want the comments section to become a filth-arium of spewing vitriol and hatred.  I will tell you that I love this book.  I will tell you that I have read it twice so far.  I will tell you that I gave it five stars on Goodreads.  I will tell you that if this blog were a classroom and I were the professor and you were my to-be-pitied students, this book would be required reading.  

That is all.

A boy with a talent for thievery must steal a legendary talisman under threat of death.  Terrific fantasy quest YA literature, with a healthy subtextual morality lesson.  I'm only two books into the series, and am really enjoying it so far.  I've been reading a substantial load of heavy fiction and nonfiction recently, and Turner's books have been wonderful escapist page-turners when I need a break from Alzheimer's and pro- vs anti-vaxxers and little Japanese girls dying from radiation poisoning.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Reviews

I've been meaning to do some more book reviews, but then I looked at my Goodreads account to remind myself what all I've read recently and got overwhelmed.  It would appear that I read too much.   (KIDDING.  That's not possible.)  Soon enough, though, I realized I don't have to tell you about all the books I've read ('cause I'm smart, see), and decided that anything I gave three stars or fewer on Goodreads wouldn't get a mention on here.

And now I'm thinking you really don't need any of the information in the above paragraph.  I could have just started straight off with the book reviews.  I refuse to devote any more mental energy to this, however, so it's staying.

Education of a Wandering Man:  A Memoir by Louis L'Amour

 Okay, so first off, this graphic is bothering me- just know that my copy of this book is blue and silver and not-ugly, and is only fuzzy when I'm not wearing my glasses, although then it's more of a blueish blob, because I have truly terrible vision.  (Gracious.  Apologies for my unchecked garrulousness today.)
I doubt I would ever have picked this book up on my own, but a lady from my book club brought it one day recommending I read it, and because we have similar taste in books (totally unrelated side note: she has excellent taste), I decided to do as she said and read it.
Like many of you, I grew up in a house full of books, including one entire shelf full of brown leather-bound volumes whose titles were gold-foiled:  The novels of Louis L'Amour.  As it turns out, he lead a fascinating life before he was ever even published:  sailor, mine caretaker, boxer, self-proclaimed hobo, all before and during the depression.  As he puts it:  "Over the years the terms applied to wanderers have been confused until all meaning has been lost.  To begin with, a bum was a local man who did not want to work.  A tramp was a wanderer of the same kind, but a hobo was a wandering worker and essential to the nation's economy."  The tales of his travels and his impeccable memory of the books he was constantly reading throughout make me feel both lazy and ignorant, but in a good way, somehow; a way that makes me want to get off this couch and do something, for Pete's sake.
As with most nonfiction, I had the insatiable urge to write in the margins of the text; but as this is not actually my book and I am not a heathen, I wrote on little scraps of paper every time I was struck by something or other he said.  As such, the book looks like it's been hit by a Post-It plague.  A few things I evidently felt were worth writing down:  "It is constantly reiterated that education begins in the home, as indeed it does, but what is often forgotten is that morality begins in the home also.  It also begins in the car seat, where many a budding criminal career is born when the child not only watches his parent repeatedly breaking traffic laws, but hears him lie about it when caught.  The example is not, supposedly, expected to influence the child (p 4)."  "We do not at present educate people to think but, rather, to have opinions, and that is something altogether different (p 75)."  "Look up Stephen Vincent Benet"  (I still haven't done that one.)  I highly recommend this one, both as a wonderful memoir and a commentary on a vanished way of life.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

The Family Fang is the book to read if you want to laugh and feel better about your own crazy family.  It will also make you want to call your siblings, those fellow veterans of that little episode known as "childhood."  It's told from the perspective of an adult brother and sister whose parents were performance artists.  As children, these siblings were roped into every wackadoodle scheme posing as "art" their parents could dream up.  I've never read anything by Wilson before, but based on this book alone, I'd say he has the gift of creating characters that evoke incredible emotions; I rarely love or hate characters the way I did those inhabiting this story.  I even felt the urge to write my thoughts down in the margins of this one, and it's fiction!  Although I own this book (raise your hand if you love the book section at Goodwill of insanely cheap books!), for some reason I can't quite make myself scribble in the margins of novels.  Nonfiction, sure, that's just commentary on things that have happened, the world we live in, etc, and why shouldn't I add my own opinion to those already on the page?  Whereas with fiction, we're talking about a created world, an alternate reality contained within the ink and paper, and to sully that with asterisks and scribbles that don't belong, I would be forcibly breaking the spell cast by the author, and I like to think my ego will never be so big as to make me that bold.   So let's see, what do these little post-its stuck in here say... (it's always strange for me to look through my bookcases and find books littered with Post-Its, reading whatever thoughts I had while reading and felt were important enough to write down)... "It is so hard, so hard to find fiction that manages to voice those truths that strike you right down to the bone but are at the same time utterly without pretension, and, in the case of modern fiction, also completely lacking anything like light or hope."  Huh.  I guess I really liked this book.  So yes, I do recommend this one, but with the caveat that it's... PG-13, maybe?  There's a little cursing, and my gosh, do the characters make some questionable decisions that make you stop reading and lay the book open on the top of your head so that some of your good judgment will for once seep out of your brain and into the plot of the story.  This has yet to happen, but I keep trying.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

When I first saw the cover of this book, my first thought was, Oh, great.  More vampires.  But I was wrong!  Not vampires, but yellow fever!  Huz...zah?  The protagonist is Mattie Cook, a sixteen-year-old girl who lives with her mother in an apartment above their coffee shop in 1793 Philadelphia.  She tends the garden in their tiny backyard, runs to the market for her mom, helps run the coffee shop, banters with her beloved grandfather, generally living a fairly average life for an eighteenth century working-class city girl- then the yellow fever epidemic hits.  Loved ones become ill.  Food becomes scarce as farmers surrounding Philadelphia refuse to enter the sick city. Her courage is tested.  I loved every piece of this book:  the setting, the simultaneously vulnerable and strong heroine, the reminder that we're ridiculously lucky to be living a 21st century life.  Please read this book, then rip The Selection or whatever other trash your daughter is currently reading out of her hands and replace it with this book.

More books tomorrow, and I promise to do a better job of staying on-topic.  (And if you believe that, you must be new around here.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

It's Like a Horror Movie Around Here

We're two weeks into summer vacation, which means the collection of toys on top of our kitchen cabinets is growing (every time the boys fight over a toy, I pluck it out of their hands and put it on top of those cabinets, that way they can see it but not actually play with it, my own personal brand of child torture.  It must stay up there for a minimum of one month) and every day Adelaide is critiquing my lunch choices ("Mom, you can't just have chips and salsa for lunch," "Mom, popcorn is not an appropriate meal for an adult."  This makes me feel like I'm in a Friends episode as I rage, "SO I CAN'T DO ANYTHING I LIKE?").

Summer vacation also means at least one member of the family sustains a new injury every day.  I had to buy a new box of band-aids today, and I generally only give those suckers out if there's enough blood to stain the carpet or furniture.

Caedmon has conveniently timed all his incidents to occur right before we head to the library.  I can't help but think this is because they do things like gasp dramatically when he walks in and there's blood running down his face (okay, so that time his eyebrow had connected with the corner of a wooden box shortly before we left for the library, and I had staunched the initial flow of blood before we left the house, but then he put a vikings cap on so I didn't even see his face again until he looked up to smile at all his Lovely Library Ladies, and he was smiling, okay, even with all that blood) or give him an enormous band-aid when he's missing a layer of skin from his knee and then carry him around the library when he insists he can't walk (he tripped on the sidewalk on the way to the library, and I wasn't about to turn the circus that is our family around just to clean up one bloody leg- besides, he got loads more sympathy at the library than he ever would have gotten at home).

As for the rest of us, Atticus acquired an impressively skinned knee trying to skateboard, Adelaide has assorted bruises and scrapes from God only knows what, Derek pulled a muscle in his chest, and I am sporting one bruised and bloody toe because I'd forgotten the horrors to be had in taking all three children to the grocery store at the same time- I had already admonished Caedmon not to stack cans on the quarter-holder-thing that's attached to the handle on the carts at Aldi, I turned around to grab some produce and tell A and A to for heaven's sake stop horsin' around, and that this is not a playground and will you please quit scraping the frost off the inside of the freezer cases and eating it, that's disgusting, when I distractedly began to push the cart forward again, causing three stacked cans of Rotel to come crashing down onto my big toe.  It was one of those moments where all three finally did stop horsing around and stared at me with big eyes that clearly read "The cooling mechanism twirling above our heads is covered in excrement.  Take cover."  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, opened my eyes, looked down at my bloody, bloody foot, wrapped my fingers ever so tightly around Cade's upper arms and quietly told him:  "Do not move.  Do not speak.  Do not breathe."  He looked scared, stuck his fingers in his mouth for comfort, and we all limped through the check-out and out of the store.

And it's only the middle of June.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Questionnaire 2014

Happy Father's Day!  By some not-so-minor miracle, I've remembered to do this Father's Day Questionnaire with our kiddos for three years running (here's 2012 and 2013).  I think I'm able to remember because we have a physical copy of these, as I print them off every year, slip them into those plastic paper-protector-thingies, and store them all in a Father's Day binder.  Except that now I have to remember to print these off tomorrow even though Father's Day will be over and therefore completely and totally wiped from my brain for an entire year- our ink cartridge is empty and our printer is the devil.  Aaaaanyhoo, here's this year's.  Oh, yeah, and as always, Adelaide's answers are in pink, Atticus's in green, Caedmon's in blue.

All About My Daddy

By Adelaide Crisler, Age 8

My Daddy’s name is Derek.

He is 6 feet 5 inches tall.

He weighs 164 pounds.

His hair color is blondish-brown.

His favorite tv show is The Master’s golfing.

He likes to go to golf courses.

His favorite food is He likes everything except bad food.

His favorite drink is iced tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to throw things at you and make you squeal.

I love it when Daddy makes you squeal.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is when he makes me fly.

One funny thing about my Daddy is he’s really sarcastic.

If I could give my Daddy anything in the world, it would be a golf tournament he got to play in.


All About My Daddy

By Atticus Crisler, Age 5

My Daddy’s name is what I call him is Daddy, but his name is Derek.

He is 40 feet tall.

He weighs 100 pounds.

His hair color is kind of blackish.

His favorite tv show is football.

He likes to go in a place that has boy stuff.

His favorite food is cookies.

His favorite drink is Mountain Dew.

For fun my Daddy kicks up the ball.

I love it when Daddy does good workouts.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is when he be’s a cookie monster and when he hugs me.

My favorite thing to do with Daddy is golf.  Golf golf golf.  Now I want to go golfing.


All About My Daddy

By Caedmon Crisler, Age 3

My Daddy’s name is Daddy.

He is 52 years old.

He weighs kind of like this *pinches his fingers together* pounds.

His hair color is black.

His favorite tv show is Captain America.

He likes to go to work, and he also likes to go to the gym and church.

His favorite food is pancakes.

His favorite drink is tea.

For fun my Daddy likes to play with me.

I love it when Daddy plays with me and goes to the Ankeny Playground with me.

My favorite thing about my Daddy is him screaming and scaring me.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Maybe Five Things Fridays?

A while back I stumbled across a blog who regularly has posts entitled "5 Things"- if I remember right, five things she currently loves.  I did not bookmark or otherwise write the name of this site down in any way, assuring myself that I would remember, because it would appear that I will never learn.  I loved the idea of this "5 Things," because it's in a list format (lists!) and encourages gratitude, something I can always use to combat my inner cranky old woman.  Because I can't find this blog now, if anyone has any idea what blog originally had this idea, I would like to know so I can give credit where it's due.

So!  Onward!

Five Things For Which I'm Currently Grateful:

  • T-shirt Capes!  I found this idea on Pinterest, and I loooove it because it was cheap (Goodwill t-shirts) and took right about a minute per shirt.  Our boys are currently in the grip of an all-consuming passion for superheroes, which means I'm asked to tie their beach towels around their necks as makeshift capes approximately four dozen times a day.  But no more- these slip on and off easily without my help, praise the good Lord.  

Adelaide also got to pick a shirt out at Goodwill, and she chose the red cardigan, which is 1000x sparklier than the above photo lets on.  Once we were home, she instructed me to cut off the sleeves (which you also can't see in the photo), so that the cardigan became a vest with detachable sleeves, which naturally allowed her to become Firegirl, who appears to shoot fire at any and all ne'er-do-wells.  

  • Mild summer weather.  We're enjoying 70-degree days, which makes it criminal to spend any time indoors at all- matter of fact, I'm typing this on the front porch.  The Japanese beetles have yet to appear, the humidity has finally gone down, and it is gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.  This is the type of weather and time of year I try to keep in mind when I spend day after frozen, snowy day trapped in the house and staring forlornly out my kitchen window throughout our long Iowa winters.  

No, Adelaide is not engaged in an impressive-looking yoga pose; she's coloring with chalk while I type on the porch and Viktor watches over us all (see him there, in the background on the left?  Our ever-vigilant viking Viktor).  

Speaking of Adelaide, she just found out her name means "noble, kind," and she is pissed, not to mention royally jealous of Derek and Atticus's shared middle name, simply because it means "dark warrior."  I'm grateful for her, too, so I can include it in this list.

  • This book:

One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp.  I've spoken to a number of women who couldn't really get into it because of claims like "it's too flowery" and "just not really my style."  While I can certainly see what they're saying, I am loving this book, possibly because I'm treating it like a devotional, so I only read two to three pages per day.  I'm finding more meaning and connection to God in the smallest moments of my day because of this book, and where some have called Voskamp's style of writing "flowery," I think it's poetic and beautiful.  I'm only about halfway through because I've been taking it soooo slooooowly, which is really hard for me- I've had to bank several urges to race ahead- but I think it's definitely the way to read this book, at least one time through- maybe after you speed-read it the first time, if you just can't help yourself.

  • Flowers.  (OF COURSE.)  The peonies are just about done, but the blue delphinium and various colors of poppies I just planted are blooming already (every time I see the poppies I have no choice but to croon, "Poppies.  Poppies will put them sleep," a la everyone's favorite wicked witch) and the yarrow is just starting to show its colors.  I also had one of the iris my grandma dug up for me last summer finally bloom:
She described them as "bronze-colored," which pegs their color just about perfectly, although they look a little more peachy in this photo.

  • We finally got rid of the ants that have been plaguing our house for weeks now.  They do their level best to invade our living space every spring, but this year they just wouldn't go away.  I finally found this recipe for homemade ant-killer via a google search (ten spoonfuls of jelly plus half a spoonful of borax- which we already had; it's one of our laundry soap ingredients- mix well, spoon into bottle caps and set around your house wherever you've seen ants), and it was one of those things that, while I was doing it, I was just sure that it was a mindless prank that some idiot with too much time on his hands put on the internet just to see who'd fall for it and put blobs of jelly all over their house to drive away sugar-loving insects.  But it worked!  I did it two days ago, and have only seen one ant in that time, as opposed to the entire ant families who were not-so-subtly trying to claim some kind of squatter's rights.  I'm super grateful for this one.