Books read in May 2017

It’s a month where I read three adult fiction books!  Amazing!

Middle grade: See You in the Cosmos
Young Adult: The Upside of Unrequited
Young Nonfiction: Stone Mirrors
Adult Fiction: Long Division

Niko Draws a Feeling
Read for Librarian Book Group
Honestly, I cannot remember a thing about this book.  Upon discussion in book group, there were good points made about people “getting” you.

Five, six, seven, Nate
Tim Federle
A fitting sequel to Better Nate Than Ever, I found this to be even more enjoyable, due to it not being quite so manic.  Insider information into a the makings of a Broadway show was also interesting.

See You in the Cosmos
Jack Cheng
Read for Librarian Book Group
Eleven-year-old Alex loves rockets, and his dog Carl Sagan.  He is headed to New Mexico to launch the rocket he built at a rocket enthusiast festival.  We know about these things, because he’s recording information on his golden iPod, which will be included in the rocket launch, just like his hero Carl Sagan launched the Golden Record into space.

Why is Alex traveling alone to New Mexico from Colorado?  Does his rocket launch go as planned?  Who does he meet on his travels? This is one of those books that reads like a dream, and manages to be funny, sad and hopeful.  It’s one of those books I read without stopping, because I was enjoying myself so much.

American Street
Ibi Zoboi
Read for Librarian Book Group
Fabiola and her mother board the plane from Haiti to Detroit, but only Fabiola makes it to all the way to Detroit, her mother is detained and sent to an ICE unit.  While waiting for her mother to be released, Fabiola acquaints herself with her aunt and cousins, as well as American culture.

Fabiola’s cousins are tough–they are known as the Three Bs in their high school.  But Fabiola is also tough. My favorite interchange comes between Fabiola and a cousin. When the cousin tries to put Fabiola in her place by mentioning drugs, guns and dead bodies, Fabiola calmly responds to her experiences with these things in Haiti.

I loved the intertwining of Haitian culture into the US landscape and the complexities of being a citizen immigrant to the US.

The Upside of Unrequited
Becky Albertalli
Molly has amassed a lot of crushes in her 17 years, but no relationships.  She tries to put herself out there amidst the backdrop of summer, her first job, her moms getting married and her twin sister falling in love for the first time.

As with Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Albertalli warmly and accurately captures the ups and downs of the adolescent self.  She also includes complex and changing relationships, among friends, parents, sisters and love interests.

Molly is fat, which is captured in a way I did not find authentic.  Other than that, this is a good time capsule of the summer when the Supreme Court decision came down and everyone who wanted to marry someone could.

Stone Mirrors
Jeannine Atkins
Read for Librarian Book Group
This is the story of Edmonia Lewis, an African American and Indian American sculptor who worked in the late 19th century.  Lewis’ story is told in verse and includes her time at Oberlin College, life in Boston and Italy, and her return as an exhibitor in the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Much of Lewis’ story has been lost to history which is why Jeannine Atkins chose to write this story in verse.  As we’ve lost many of the stories of women, I will happily read a novel in verse. Though I do think a well-written historical fiction novel about Edmonia Lewis is just waiting to be written.

The Music of Life
Elizabeth Rusch
Read for Librarian Book Group
Here’s a story of how the piano came to be.  It’s full of interesting details and those slightly messy, brightly colored illustrations that I enjoy.

Curtis Sittenfeld
Matt and I finished reading this during our 15-year-anniversary trip to Bend, Oregon.  I’m glad that I’ve spent 15 years with Matt and that I have now read this book three times.  Matt liked it too.

Long Division
Kiese Laymon
A friend lent me this book, thinking I would like it.  His thoughts were correct, I was a fan.  The story is layered in a way that makes it difficult to describe, but I enjoyed the main character, City and his many travels.

The Mare
Mary Gaitskill
Velvet, a girl from New York City, and Ginger, a childless dry alcoholic forge a relationship via the Fresh Air Fund.  Their story is told in alternating perspectives,  mostly Ginger and Velvet, but with other people chiming in now and again.

I was uncomfortable reading this book. The characters fall into standard brown/white racial stereotypes, Velvet’s family is poor, and her mother is verbally abusive, while Ginger is a well-off artist (who doesn’t paint anymore) married to a college professor. The author’s photo indicates she probably falls into the Ginger camp of life experience, rather than Velvet’s, and I had a lot of “own voices”-type struggle wondering if this author should be telling this particular story.  (And yes, I made that judgement based on a photo and with no additional research, which I shouldn’t have done.)

The story shines while showing nuance in the day-to-day interactions of the character’s lives, particularly Velvet’s experiences in school and with unrequited love.  And then there are the horses.  Velvet’s powers of observation and connection with the horses (again, are we trending toward stereotype here? Would I be thinking the same thing if the main character was a poor white girl?) is masterfully written, with many painful moments due to one of the trainer’s psychological training styles.

What may have set me off on the wrong path was the blurb printed on the cover, something about “an amazing story of hope.”  What I got was a long and meandering–but carefully observed–novel that had a hurry-up ending that was not at all full of hope.


Three sentence movie reviews: Everything Everything

A delicious adaptation of a swooney love story written by unapologetic romantic Nicola Yoon.  I loved how they managed to make a relationship that developed over text message and email seem more immediate and cinematic.  Both leads were quite good.

Cost: $5.35
Where watched: Regal City Center Stadium 12

poster from:

Song of the Month: May 2017

“Fill in the Blank” by Car Seat Headrest

Thanks to Jan for featuring this song on her blog.  I love it so much. Lyrically,  I think it has the potential to be one of the go-to songs on the days when I need to buck up.  Musically, it hits a lot of pleasure centers, with the opening riff, the rough harmonies and that great double lyric part at the end.  The video is fun too.

“In the Long Run”  The staves

I also have Jan to thank for this song.*  The Staves have lovely harmonies, and also I love the content of this song.  I’m a big subscriber to the view that people will come back around.  You’ll see them again.

Castle on the Hill by Ed Sheeran

This will not be a song I purchase, because I’m going to get very sick of it very soon,  but this is totally a song of the month.  I think right now certain stations have this in an every-other-song rotational format.  It’s also being used in the trailer for Ferdinand, the animated film somewhat based on the classic children’s story.  In the trailer, they do not play the parts of the song about drinking, throwing up, smoking or kissing.  Mostly, they just loop the chorus.

I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story, especially a reflection-of-youth story.  “Summer of ’69” by Brian Adams, “Blood on Blood” by Bon Jovi, even “Jack & Diane,” before they played that Mellencamp song to death.  So this is a winner for me, even though I think it’s overly long and clunky in places, especially when he updates us as to what his friends are up to.  He has a lot of friends.  There are a lot of updates.  For how to do this a little better, see the aforementioned “Blood on Blood” where you get two lines: Now Bobby he’s an uptown lawyer, Danny he’s a medicine man / and me, I’m just the singer, in a long-haired rock and roll band.”  See?  Done!

I also am confused by Ed Sheeran.  While listening to many of his songs, the feeling I come away with is uncomfortable embarrassment. He seems to be trying too hard.  And I often don’t love what he writes about women.  Matt and I had a text message exchange about a one of his songs where one of Matt’s responses was, “That’s the song I was telling you about! She is clear with him about how she sees the relationship, and he writes a mean song because he wants to change things up and she doesn’t!”

I get the feeling that Mr. Sheeran grew up nerdy, but rejected the nerdy and now there’s this uncomfortable trying-too-be-cool vibe about him.  I’m also quite curious to know what he looks like in concert.  Does he dance around?  Stand still?  (I’m apparently not curious enough to pause what I’m doing here and google.)

*Jan.  Supporting this blog not only with comments, but also with post content!

Requiem: Fan, CD player

After I graduated from high school, I went through all my things and discarded large swaths of my childhood. I donated a big box to my friend’s father’s favorite cause.  They had a fundraising garage sale every year.  I also renovated an antique trunk to store all my important childhood things in.  I prepared to leave home, but I don’t remember doing much to prepare myself for college.

My mother did a lot of that.  The college sent a list, and that summer I would come home from work to discover things had been purchased. I still have the stapler she bought me, and I probably haven’t yet gone through the box of staples that came with it.

One of the things that we did buy was a fan.  I was thinking this was bought in Boise, but it might have been one of the items we waited to purchase when we got to school.  If that was the case, it came from Walmart, which was the only shopping option in Nevada, Missouri.  If not, I think it came from K-Mart.

And this was my fan, for years and years afterward.  When the weather cooled off, I disassembled it and put it back in its original box.  It was mailed back to Boise when I finished up at Cottey, and I mailed it from Boise to Amherst when I went to UMass.  Then it traveled back across the country in the moving truck when I left Somerville.
I haven’t used it the last few years. Matt brought home an oscillating fan from work that is in better shape, so I haven’t gone through the ritual unboxing and assembling.   We were cleaning out one of the sheds and I decided it was time to let it go.  Thanks fan, for keeping me cool all those hot and humid summers.  And thanks, Mom, for making sure I had what I needed for college.


I was very resistant to the compact disk.  I loved records, particularly loved 45s, and hated how CDs took over and the 45s disappeared from the stores.  I hated that they were more expensive than records or cassettes and it drove me crazy that everyone made the switch. They didn’t sound THAT much better.  I didn’t start buying CDs until 1997, when my college boyfriend was getting rid of his old boom box (we might have still been calling them ghetto blasters then?) and asked me if I wanted it.  I said yes, and bought a few CDS.  One of them was “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Soundtrack Volume 1,” another was The Brian Setzer Orchestra, “Dirty Boogie.”To this day, I can’t listen to either of those CDs. I played them too often to ever hear them again.  (Though I still enjoy certain songs of Ella Fitzgerald’s from that album.)

I can’t say I loved this boom box, it was more of  a means to an end. But for the past decade I’ve felt warm feelings while looking at it, remembering the things I liked about the college boyfriend, remembering being young in the big city of Boston, cooking dinner and listening to my CDs.  There are so many things I don’t miss about that time in my life, but it was the time I was young, and I’m happy I got to be young, living in an old town, trying to figure my post-college life out.

There is an imagined parallel life that is running constantly in my mind. One where I got married and had kids when my mom did.  If I’d replicated her life, my daughter would be 12 now, and my son 10.  I remember being 12 and that things in my childhood that had always been there started to wear out and be replaced.  It felt weird to have new dishes when we’d always had the white ones that were wedding presents.  I think about how maybe that imaginary daughter would be astounded to see something leave that had always been there, something that she had spent her childhood playing CDs, before she discovered streaming.

Or maybe she wouldn’t have noticed.

Dead Relatives Tour 2017: snowball bush

The snowball bush didn’t do so well during the hard winter, it’s being propped up here and there. My grandmother loved snowballs, and when it’s in bloom and also Memorial Day, she gets a bunch on her gravestone.

We made the tour as usual this year, despite my Aunt Pat being under the weather.  Basil and Basiliki and George and Helen were visited, and then Matt met up with us at Verde Cocina for a delicious lunch.

Blanket for Baby L started. And finished.

Baby L is due to arrive in June.  That made it time to get out the standard baby blanket pattern, which, come to think of it, made its debut with soon-to-be Baby L’s older brother, who will be two in September.

I’ve made some changes since that first blanket.  I do not hand monogram any longer.  That is an exercise in patience I don’t need to undertake again.  Instead, I machine monogram in a fun color. (My monogramming method involves a zig-zag stitch, not a monogram machine.)

This was the first time I used satin blanket binding instead of making my own bias binding.  My mother reminded me how much my brother and I liked the satin blanket binding on our blankets when we were children.  I couldn’t disagree, so satin binding it was.

I love the colors of this blanket, which do not really come through in this photo.  The schema came to me in a dream (no kidding!)  I woke up and emailed my friend. “I want to find some material that has to do with space, or the galaxy!  And the backing should be a royal purple!”  And lo, we found purple-tinted space fabric.  Fabric Depot really is amazing.  I also like the green flannel backing, which nicely sets off the purple of space.  Picking out white as the binding color was the hardest part. We tried many colors, but white worked the best.  I’m sure it will be stained immediately, but such is life with children.

I also love the monogram, which is some odd font that utilizes a rectangle and a triangle to make the letter L.

The material was purchased a few months ago, washed and neatly folded.  I then made a step-by-step plan to complete this project.  I figured it would take me a few weeks once I got going, because that’s how it usually goes.

But it turns out that satin blanket binding is supposed to be zig-zag stitched on a sewing machine.  Previously, I would get everything cut to the right size and laid out, then attach one side of the bias binding to the edge, then press and spend a couple of hours invisible hemming the other side.

Not satin blanket binding.  It was a couple of hours of zigzag sititching. And then I was done.

I don’t love the look of the zigzag, partially because I didn’t have any extra material to test tension on, which meant I was trying to find the right tension as I went. I failed, so it’s not an even zigzag.

Also, it doesn’t line up on the backing.  There’s an edge I don’t like.

Still, I made this in a day.  And it looks really snazzy.  Overall, I’m pleased.

Three sentence movie reviews: Drugstore Cowboy

I love this movie, from Matt Dillon’s blank, yet compelling, performance to all the Portland sights, (many of which have changed dramatically, or disappeared.)  I love the bleakness of the story and how it still manages to be a lighthearted sad movie. It is not a glamorized portrayal of drug addition, and that is another thing I love about it.

Cost: $3.00
Where watched: Laurelhurst Theater with S. North.

Watching this, I realized I knew nothing about Matt Dillon, the person.  It seems odd, no?  He’s been around for a while, yet I couldn’t tell you anything other than what he’s been in.  Old school!

poster from: (fold marks!)

The Art of the Lego @OMSI

Free passes for this exhibit were available and so Matt and I spent a sunny Friday afternoon taking in the Art of the Brick.

Before we got started, we found out how tall we were in LEGO bricks.

Matt nearly reaches Albert Einstein’s 184 bricks.

I am a less-impressive 153 bricks.

Note that I am MUCH taller than a Minifig.

All of the LEGO art we are going to see was created by Nathan Sawaya, a former corporate lawyer who now is a full-time artist.  The first  part of the exhibit was Sawaya’s recreations of famous art works, in LEGO.  I liked this, because most of them were in a 1:1 scale, which let me get a sense of size that the internet does not allow.

This was my favorite creation, which is not a 1:1, but rather 1:6 scale.  I liked how they had it hanging so that you could see the light shining through the window.

Favorite part of this?  The use of minifigs.

The next portion of the exhibit was Sawaya’s original art.  You can see how he fashioned even the frames out of LEGOs.

I found much of Sawaya’s original creations, especially when paired with the artist statement of each piece, to be art that it would seem like a motivational speaker would create.  Matt pointed out that Sawaya is a motivational speaker.

I liked better this reproduction of a T-Rex.

Matt has a chat.

The third part of the exhibit had a mashup of photography that included LEGO figures, such as the tree in this photo.

You could see the tree in person.

I also enjoyed our PDX carpet corner of the exhibit.  Sawaya was raised in the area.

One of the last items were these hugging figures, which Sawaya leaves in parks in different cities.

Things that were missing from this exhibit?  Process.  How does Sawaya create his art?  Sketches? Computer modeling? Trial and error? Does he purchase his LEGOs, or are they supplied by the company?  Since the exhibits dates overlap, does he have multiples of each thing, or does each city get their own special items?  Does he have assistants?  How long does it take him to make things?  So many questions!