Monday, October 29, 2012

Weekend of Many Antics

Battle of the BandsHomecoming DanceMe & KClean HandsScribing the TorahHot Dog
Tower of Cake

October 2012 busy weekend, a set on Flickr.

I mean, not for nothing, but we were busy.

It was homecoming weekend at my oldest son's high school, which meant many loud and festive events, starting with Thursday's parade and the Battle of the Bands. D's band has played in BotB every year so far, and they do fairly well. They should have won this year, because of course they were the best, but 3rd place is pretty fun, too. I'm not sure how loud the actual Homecoming game was on Friday, but I bet BotB was louder. (I make it a point to avoid high school football games, after 3 years of going to every one of the dang things during my marching band days.) (This particular point will be snapped off like that of a crummy pencil in a couple of years, when K starts high school and his own marching band career. What do y'all think the odds are of my convincing him to drop sax before then?)

So then it was Friday, which was so long ago I can't even remember, but probably something happened. It usually does. I worked, I came home, I wrote some words. R took K shopping.

And Saturday. D was up early because auditions for All-State Orchestra were that morning. (Good luck to him. And the other orchestra guys. Except not as much luck as I am wishing D, in case that means he doesn't get in and they do. It would be rude to wish ill luck on the kids I don't know, so I'll refrain, what with me being a stellar human being and all, but... good luck to D, especially, above everyone else.)

K's soccer team finally didn't lose! They tied. Which, at the tail end of this season, is a pretty nice result.

Also Saturday: the Homecoming Dance. One of those pics up there is D with his very cute girlfriend. Did I mention, I learned how to tie the bow tie? Because, thanks to the consistently helpful folks over at Tie-a-Tie, I can now add 'almost decent at bow tie tying' to my skills list. (Tie-a-Tie is one of the secret powers I've picked up after 19 years of living with only males.) (Sorry, dogs, you don't count. Mostly because neither of you ever let me dress you up in frilly things.)

Here's a fun parenting game: when your kid gets all dressed up for something, spend as much time as possible adjusting his tie, picking lint off his lapel, fidgeting with his hair, etc. That way, when you get to his date's house, he'll be totally nerve-wracked. It's the best!

(By the way, that whole Flickr set thing I have going up there? I have no clue how to make my mac & iphone be effortless as I feel they should be with photo sharing. They seem to be a couple of two-year-olds afraid to lose their favorite dump trucks. So this is my probably-temporary solution.)

Sunday. Oh, Sunday. You know how there's this hurricane that everyone on the East Coast is freaking out about today, because of the whole 'perfect storm' aspect? Well, the sun was shining prettily here in Houston, but it didn't stop Sunday from being a little perfect stormy anyway.

9-12:45 - K at religious school & Hebrew tutoring (his Bar Mitzvah is 2 1/2 months away. Not that I'm freaking out. At all. Don't be silly.)

2-4 - all of us at the Eagle Court of Honor for one of D's BFFs. R was the adult speaker (he had the best speech of the 4 adults speaking about the individual scouts. And not just because he left off pointed political rants about our president, even. Though that helped. Not that he would have.) (Note to self: go vote tomorrow. Even though there's no chance that my vote will count electorally in Texas, I'm all in favor of bumping the popular numbers.) (Hi, I'm a liberal. In case that wasn't clear.) Anyway, it was very sweet to see G get his Eagle (D isn't too far behind - another thing about which I will be sure to freak out soon.) He's a really stellar kid, and I loved seeing all the photos of him (often with D beside him) over the past dozen years that we've known him.

4:45-6 - (again, family, I'm sorry I was so - um, forceful about ensuring that you left the scout thing on my timetable.) (Even if I was right.) (I should have been nicer. A little nicer.) My aunt's temple is getting a new Torah this year, and she had K inscribe a letter into it as his Bar Mitzvah gift. It was so cool, you guys! After dressing up all nice and stuff (look at my guy in his suit), we went up and ritually washed our hands (honestly, they felt so very clean afterwards, I was amazed) and then sat up with the scribe, who told us about the letter K would scribe (Ches) in terms of the 8th day after Creation and explained why it's written differently in the Torah than in regular Hebrew. Then we all got to touch the feather on the quill he used to scribe the letter. And we all smiled, and the photographer got a nice shot of the gang (my family, my parents, my sister and her family.) There were a few things to do after that, reflective moments, as much as the 9 of us plus a couple of aunts and some random people we ran into there can be reflective.

6:05-8:30 - to that same aunt's house (she's really nice) where we had a celebration of my dad's 70th birthday, which was last week. His brother and his in-town sisters were there with their spouses, and a couple of my cousins, and us all. It was barely more than 20 people, which is practically intimate for this side of my family, and it was nice to get to visit with everyone. We had it catered by a hot dog place. You heard me. Hot dogs. A couple of dozen delicious hot dogs, with a million toppings (okay, a dozen), side dishes, and this magical thing called a savory cheesecake as appetizer. It's cheesecake, but savory! We had four flavors, and while I would kick you over to get to the smoked salmon-Gouda one, I'm hardly adverse to the Santa Fe, either. The other totally congruous thing this hot dog restaurant does is cake balls, so naturally we had them create a tower of 70 of the things (sorry, had to excuse myself for a minute to scrounge a lemon flavor out of my fridge) for Dad's 70th birthday. (Some of the cake balls were cheesecake. See - not just an appetizer! So versatile!)

Meanwhile, we got a message that K's team actually won a game while we were at all of these events. Go, Thunder! See, perfect storms have silver linings, sometimes. (You know, because of thunder? Storms? ...Get it?)

For the record, I didn't pull over to have R drive home from the party because I was drunk. Don't listen to my kids. My contacts were doing that weird blurry thing to alert me that I needed to take them out instantly, and it seemed like maybe putting R behind the wheel for the interstate portion of our trip home would be wisest.

Also for the record, the wine was good.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ye Gods

Three God novels today. Well, not entirely, but that's what the titles claim. 

I wasn't at all sure about Lyndsay Faye's newest, The Gods of Gotham, when I started it. Set in New York City in 1845, in the midst of the potato famine and the resultant mass influx of Irish into the city, I was just a little put off by the 'let's analyze the ethnic interrelationships' of it all. But I gave it a chance. (Well, I returned the print version, but then I checked out the audio narrated by Steven Boyer, and was absorbed entirely.) It's not just that Boyer's voice - just tense enough, with a sweet, sad note that suited Tim Wilde's story perfectly - made the story better, though this is one of those cases that I recommend audio if you're at all an audio person. But once Faye's scene is set - Timothy is shoe-horned into a job as a copper star, the new police force for the city, by his larger-than-life brother Valentine - the novel really takes off. A blood-soaked ten-year-old girl fleeing the brothel where she was raised literally runs into Tim after the end of his patrol, and through the tissue of her lies, a truth emerges: the unmarked graves of nineteen carved up child prostitutes ('kinchen mabs' in the flash vernacular that pervades the book, most of which is incorporated without a lot of blatant translation exposition.) As Tim re-imagines his job to involve not just the stopping but also the solving of crimes, he runs alongside and sometimes afoul of a variety of well-drawn characters - the minister and his lovely daughter, the mob of newspaper sellers, the Irish being courted by Valentine's Democratic Party, Val himself, with his many moods and vices. It's a rich and complex world, well worth visiting, even as it evolves. 

I first read Neil Gaiman's American Gods about six years ago, and I was immediately on board with his vision of Old World deities fighting to maintain their place among the powerhouses of the modern age, with technology's wunderkind doing his best to stop Odin from bringing his forces together. Our hero, Shadow, is released from jail a few days early to attend his wife's funeral, and thus begins a journey that gets just a little crazier every step of the way. Anyway. During my Armchair Audies work, I often saw the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods mentioned - a full cast audio, revised and updated by Gaiman - and it took the prize for audiobook of the year. So I got it, and listened, and yep, that would be one well-deserved prize-winner right there. The cast is clearly having a lot of fun playing leprechauns and trickster spiders and carbon-copy men in black suits, and why wouldn't they? They have such an immersive text to work with. It's fully capable of enhancing twenty hours of your life.

I am still captivated by Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series, and The God of the Hive is absolutely no exception. I've read ten books in the series over the past five months, and my appetite for Russell and Holmes is still so strong that I'm beginning to experience anxiety that King has only published two more so far. That'll take me into next month, but what then? How will I slake my desire for all things Holmesian? (That's not a real question. There are a plethora of options, including the first novel by the aforementioned Lyndsay Faye, but I don't know that anything will really satisfy in the same way.) So, at this point, Russell and Holmes are married, and have been through trials across the globe. They are recently returned to England, where they meet (in The Language of Bees) Holmes's son by Irene Adler. Damian is a bit older than his stepmother, but his relationship with Holmes is far newer. He brings trouble along with his presence in their lives - for himself, his wife, and his young daughter.  Holmes and Russell, of course, jump into the fray, and as this book opens, they are on separate - and dangerous - journeys to protect the various new members of their family. They both meet with new associates who they hope will become allies, as they progress together via cryptic messages and their sure knowledge of how the other is likely to act. There is whimsy and wit and a certain amount of ripping apart of the known to get to even deeper truths. Have I mentioned I love this series? I love this series.

Friday, October 12, 2012


This is the first quilt I made. I just kinda made it up and dove in, which means if you take a close look (okay, a cursory glance) at it, you’ll find all kinds of uneven seams and a whole mess to do with batting and the washing machine and their basic incompatibility, the way I built the layers. But it hangs on my wall anyway, and I love it. 

I started quilting when I was in college - no particular reason why. I mean, in 3rd grade when Santa gave me a sewing machine, I immediately loved making clothes for my Barbies and so forth, but despite my mom's prodigious skills at kid clothes and the best Halloween costumes ever, I never really became much of a seamstress. So the quilt thing was a little random (wait, I remember why: I did a docent thing for the AIDS quilt when it was passing through Santa Cruz and was impressed by the diversity of the construction as well as the messages, of course.) 

Since then I've made maybe a dozen quilts, mostly small, with a few big ones thrown in. Some crazy quilts, some traditional patterns. (This one is a strip quilt out of flannel, so dang cozy, which we often fight over at my house.) I've made them for nieces, siblings, my parents, a couple of baby quilts for friends, etc. My sons - well, there's this whole big project where I made a 12" square for each year of their lives, with the intention to combine them someday into a story quilt of their childhoods. Yeah. I have a lot to catch up on. Most of my Giant Armoire of Fabric is full of fat quarters I picked up for those quilts. 

One of my favorite places to fabric shop is the International Quilt Festival, which will be back in Houston at the end of this month. It's simply astounding to wander the aisles of quilts (and note how very accomplished these quilters are, and how very rudimentary my own skills are.) I'm so inspired by the fabric artists - my first novel is about a quilter at an artist's retreat, in fact. The things they manage with cotton and thread would bowl you over.

One of my most artistic quilts is the one I made for my mom's 50th birthday. I crafted a Texas Star, with each arm of the star representing a decade of her life. (One of her doll's dresses for the first 10, baby handprint fabric for her 20s, when she had the four of us, etc.) Then I had my grandmother, my dad, and my three siblings each make a smaller star which I floated in the spaces between the arms of the main star. All of the background fabrics are celestial patterns. It was my first really big project and I love how it turned out. 

I made a small (tiny) quilt for my dad's 60th. It's a pictorial square that I floated in a frame. It's inspired by the yard of the house where I grew up - the view from my bedroom window was of a live oak tree with a garden of azaleas and the lawn. I embroidered his initials at the top and mine at the bottom, and it's kinda pretty.

With the weather cooling and the quilt show coming to town, I've been thinking about my quilting a lot lately. It's been - well, my youngest niece is almost five, so I guess about that long since I actually finished a project. My oldest son just turned 17 (yikes!) which means I have a lot of work to do if that old goal of a 'your life in fabric' quilt is going to happen, so watch out, everyone. Once I re-open the Giant Armoire of Fabric, just about anything could happen. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Return of the Vampires

Here are 3 sequels to big vampire novels. (By big I mean you're likely to hear of them even if you're not a paranormal reader - two of them are also big as in hefty, but that's a good thing.)

Justin Cronin's The Twelve is the second in The Passage trilogy. The Passage was published pre-Overreader, but trust me when I say that the night I stayed up until 4 a.m. reading it because Icouldn't put it down is burned like post-apocalyptic fire in my mind. (I ain't even saying so because I know the author. But I do know the author. It's not through him I got the advance copy, though - his publisher has me on a list from back when I did reviews for the Houston Chronicle. Still, I'm going to his launch party in Houston on Friday, so full disclosure on the amount of gushing I'm about to do.)
Anyway. I listened to the first book earlier this year, because I wanted to be caught up on all the action. Turns out I didn't need to, since Cronin starts with a clever and effective Book of Genesis-style prologue recapping The Passage. We're then thrown into the action, tracking various displaced First Colony residents, mostly in Texas, as well as going back to the beginnings of the viral outbreak that spread vampirism to start with. Here's the basic thing: while The Passage was a headlong hurtle, almost manic and full of terror and raw survivalist emotion, The Twelve is one of those conspiracy theorist's crazy rooms full of maps and post-it notes and yarn strung from one pinpoint to another. Just enough time has passed for the survivors to have established governments and routines, just enough is now known about what caused the Virals, that Peter and Alicia and Amy and the rest are forced to be politic negotiators as well as adventuring warriors. There is a lot about faith and prayer and higher powers, a lot about corruption and willful ignorance and the futility of acting both within the system and outside of it. Also, there are a lot of people being killed, loved ones being ripped away, desperate hopes for reunion, terror, sadness. So, yeah. It's great.

Also great, but about a very different kind of vampires, is Deborah Harkness's Shadow of Night. This is the follow-up to A Discovery of Witches, which I raved about when it was my 100th book last year. This begins where that left off - with Diana and Matthew, the witch and vampire odd couple taking the academic and non-human worlds by storm, leaping into the past so that Diana can search for a missing book of spells. Kit Marlowe isn't too happy to see her (he has a crush on Matthew) but Sir Walter Raleigh and the rest of the Elizabethans are helpful. Except the suspicious witches who don't understand her hanging out with vampires. And the demons who want to run their spy network without all the attention she's garnering. And the vampires whose turf she's invading. I loved how damned uncomfortable Diana found the whole experience: the clothing, the food, the role of women. She went from being a historian entrenched in the ideas of the time to being a participant actively excluded from engaging with those idea-makers, and watching her find her place in this world, especially when Matthew's vampire nature was let loose to shine in all kinds of new-to-her ways, was compelling. The setting - and ability to connect with his father again - also gave Matthew a whole cocoons worth of layers through which he had to struggle to emerge as a true husband and partner to Diana. Harkness handles both of their journeys with deep understanding of her characters and a fine grasp of how to make their time-jumped reality mold them individually and as a couple. I can't wait to see what she does to them in the final book of the trilogy.

These last vampires, I don't have so much to say about. Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series is the basis for True Blood, which I've never seen since I don't have premium cable. Living Dead in Dallas is the second book, after Dead Until Dark, and I will say that it is much better written than the first. This series has a fun set-up (Louisiana mind-reader bar waitress meets and falls for undead local boy, much murdering and vendetta-having and bleeding ensue) and I didn't pick them up expecting great literature. Still, I found the first one clunky and badly edited, and those issues improved in the second. And stayed better in the third - so, yes, I'm a series completest, it's one of the reasons I've posted so little lately, since I've been reading more in series I've already blogged about. The Sookie books are easy downloads from my library, and I'll probably keep throwing them on the Kindle because, you know, why not. But on the other hand, now that I've experienced them and get the whole vibe, why?