Summer Reading, The Grown Up Version

No, I’ll not be reviewing The Adventures of Arnie the Doughnut for you today. 

Clearly, the literary world realized that there was a supreme lack of decent material being published lately, so they all decided it was time to get back to business. Thank goodness.

I’ve read more this summer than I have in the past 9 years (which, oddly enough, coincides with how long I’ve had children). My Scout’s-Honest brief reviews of the things I plowed through from June to August are included below. Some are fluffier than others. Some are just plain stupid. No judging allowed, even though, you know, I’m judging these books. We can stay friends that way.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Best book I’ve ever read (it pushes The Secret History out of top place; that’s really saying something). A painfully poetic, honest, brutal examination of war, love, and duty. It starts off beautifully, but then hits a fever pitch around page 20, and your family won’t see you for a few days because you’ll be squirrelled away in a corner, devouring this book. It’s brilliant.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I must admit I was scared of this one–not because of the dysfunctional family theme or the, ahem, cohabitating ape–but because of Fowler’s previously published novels, all of which are uber-fluffy, pastel covered, chick-lit titles. This one is excellent–full of psychology, emotion and dysfunction–all without being smothered by the silly, miserable women who typically populate her tales.

Crazy, Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Complete trash but introduced me to the crazy, rich culture of Singapore, which seems to be a hot topic lately as evidenced by the second book about crazy, rich Asians released this summer, 5-Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw (which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize). One dose of spoiled, richer-than-God characters was enough for me, thank you very much (though I will admit Kwan’s book has a serious rubbernecker factor; these punks are so spectacularly repugnant and awful.)

The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. I am a space junkie. Nerd alert: I once spent an entire summer reading everything from The Right Stuff to Apollo 13, from John Glenn’s autobiography to the monstrous A Man on the Moon (all 729 pages of it). It was all space, all summer; that’s about 2,089 geeky pages total–in case you’re wondering–and yes, no one wanted to hang out with me. My freakishness about flying makes just thinking about being shot into the heavens on a rocket give me an anxiety attack. But enough about me. Lily Koppel’s nonfiction book gathered a lot of buzz early in the summer, and it’s tolerable enough. But it’s also candy-coated and repetitive and, well, girly, which is the opposite of how the rest of my oeuvre of space cowboy books describe these maniacs. If you want to read about how these gals chose the dresses they wore for their Life magazine photo shoot, this is for you. If you want the true nuts-and-bolts of being an astronaut–including all the grisly bits–opt for one of the other space books.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver. Riding on the coattails of Orange is the New Black, this novel about a death-row inmate has an interesting premise, to say the least. But then it goes nowhere. And it goes nowhere quite slowly. I might have said Noa P. Singleton was the most irritating character ever created, but I’d already read Crazy, Rich Asians by this point, and there is just no topping that cadre of idiots.

Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glaser. Ooh, I bet you just perked up. This one sounds like it would be dirty, doesn’t it? Sorry to disappoint you; it’s just the history of women and their consumption of wine. Seriously. It’s an interesting, scientific/historical read, but it’s also a supreme enabler. Nothing like reading about women drinking wine to encourage drinking wine yourself. All in the name of science, of course.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Or, The Time Traveler’s Wife in half as many pages. This tale is an exercise in the willing suspension of disbelief, to say the least, and if you read Audrey Niffenegger’s book a few years ago, you’ve already covered time travel and might find yourself disappointed (See, above: The Astronaut Wives Club). Where The Time Traveler’s Wife gets under your skin and makes you think, Greta Wells flits back and forth through time with the aid (?) of the electroshock therapy prescribed to her for manic depression. Um, right.

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls. I was burning through this novel like wildfire when Jack came over, picked it up, walked around with it, and put it down in a location that has yet to be found. This Jack, by the way, is a grown friend of ours, not my son.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. This poor book endured a fate similar to that of The Silver Star; I lost it before I finished it. Well, actually, I lost my Nook charger which in turn means I lost this book since Barnes & Noble no longer makes chargers for the plain old Nook Color. (What the heck, B&N?) This story, set in 1930’s New England, had the flavor of Rules of Civility, and it was a lovely little bedtime read. But the best thing about this book is that it brought me back from the dark side of eBooks, and I reconnected with my best old pal, the book store. Every other book I read this summer (all listed above) are now stacked on my shelves.

Ahh. The smell of printed paper.

It does an English major good.

What was on your summer reading list? Discover anything new?

The Big Chicken

Here in Atlanta, we have a ridiculous landmark:  The Big Chicken.


photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The Big Chicken is big, ridiculous, ugly, garish…you name it. Her eyes roll around in her head, causing a distraction when one drives by (as if driving past a 56 foot tall chicken isn’t a distraction enough). She’s a landmark who’s marked her space at a major intersection here in the big city since 1963. She’s what all other chickens strive to be. She’s the biggest chicken ever.

Unless you count me, that is.

I’m scared of everything:  flying, needles, tornadoes, the dentist, spiders, dislocated joints, lake water, enclosed spaces, confrontation, math, major commitments, asking for help. Fear and anxiety are second nature to me; I completely identify with another famous chicken, Chicken Little, who fretted constantly about impending disaster and what-ifs. I have a penchant for doom and gloom. 

I’m scared. A lot. 

It ain’t pretty.

If I take a deep breath and attempt to think rationally about this chicken-ness, I realize it all boils down to one key thing:  I don’t want my children to lose me. 

How terribly and catastrophically vain, no?

It’s not just my children whom I want to ensure keep their mother; it’s all children. Moms aren’t supposed to die. Not in tornadoes, not from rogue Calculus problems, not from a tarantula bite, and certainly–most certainly–not from cancer.

You want to talk about some brave warriors, some true heroes of our age, some folks capable of tapping into the superpowers others of us just dream about? Let’s talk about those who are fighting cancer.

Angie. Elaine. Ellen. Jeannette. Lynn. Marlene. Marsha. Mary Ann. Pam. Valerie.

You likely know them by other names:  Friend. Sister. Aunt. Grandmom. Mother-in-Law. Daughter. 



Or maybe even, Me.

These folks suck up courage from the ends of their eyelashes to the tips of their toenails to go head-to-head with one awful, ugly, hideous, garish bad guy. They have parts of their bodies lopped off, tubes shoved in their chests, needles poked in their arms, and yet they’ll still think to ask you how you are doing. They have poison injected into their bodies, watch their hair fall out in clumps, field the toughest questions ever from their children, and yet their braveness still shines through huge eyes and shiny white-toothed smiles. While some of us sit around worrying about whether our child will be in the same class as his best friend, they are forced to stare at a phone, cloaked in a wet blanket of anxiety, awaiting the results from the latest PET scan. There is no room for The Big Chicken here; there’s no room for the tiniest baby chick.

Kinda makes my silly little fear of commitment look ridiculous, doesn’t it?

These warriors put on a brave face and tackle the unknown, going head to head against one of the world’s worst monsters. 

Now, that’s what I call a hero.

We live on a planet that has sent scientists to live on both inhospitable ends of it. We’ve sent people to the moon, astronauts to live for months in outer space. We can create a baby in a dish. We can build a robot the size of an insect, and we have unwound strands of DNA. But we haven’t found a cure for cancer.


In less than 10 weeks, I will be walking 60 miles with a fabulous team of folks–women, men, moms, dads, sisters, wives and daughters–who all have the same goal in mind: TO HELP FIND A CURE FOR BREAST CANCER.

Feet to Beat Breast Cancer has 28 members. We have 49 children among us. At least 12 of our members have a grandmother, mother, sister, or wife impacted by breast cancer. Five of our folks are currently knee-deep in their own battle with the disease. In fact, this year alone, over 290,000 women and men in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer. In a world where we have sent a rover to Mars but have yet to discover a tolerable treatment for this disease–much less a cure–this is unacceptable.

Feet to Beat Breast Cancer first teamed up in 2005, and since its inception has dedicated itself to raising funds to support the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Last year alone, the team raised over $88,000. So far this year, our team has raised close to $40,000–we’re about 40% of the way to our team goal of raising $100,000 by the first day of this year’s walk in Atlanta, October 18, 2013.

So here’s the point where I, Chicken Little, tackle my own personal Big Chicken and do something very, very scary. I’m asking for help.

Would you please support me as I move into a space that makes me uncomfortable? Would you consider donating to help me help our team fund research so that one day NO ONE will have to go into battle against breast cancer?  The link will take you to my personal page on the 3-Day website where you will find a way to make a donation.

If a monetary donation is not in the cards for you right now, may I still count on your support and prayers as I undertake this challenge? I am excited to push myself to the limits. I’m ready to move out of my comfort zone. I know that walking 60 miles is nothing compared to that journey so many women and men must take once they hear those awful words:  breast cancer.

60 miles is nothing compared to the journeys undertaken by Angie, Elaine, Ellen, Jeannette, Lynn, Marlene, Marsha, Mary Ann, Pam, and Valerie.

So far, I’ve been very, very fortunate. Among those names listed above, I also know them as cousin or friend, but not mom or grandmom or, thank goodness, me. Will you please help me help researchers find a way to let us all know these brave, brave individuals by one more name, the most important name out there?


We can do it. We can find a cure for this monster.

Let’s do this thing.

Thank you so very much from the bottom of my heart.

Please visit the 2013 3-Day home page for more information. 

The Susan G. Komen Foundation graciously accepts matching gifts; please check to see if your business or company makes matching donations!

My participant ID is 6987448 and the Event ID is 1810.

The Great Domino Party

Theo the Domino Maniac requested a Domino Track themed 5th birthday party.

Say what?

After watching every single domino track video on YouTube (there are hundreds; trust me), Theo and his brothers have pretty much mastered fallbacks, pyramids and all other tricky domino track maneuvers. [Yes, I realize how cool we’re looking right about now. It’s summertime, y’all. Cut us some slack.] Theo was certain his friends had spent the past 10 weeks doing the same tedious activity and as such, were ready for 2 hours of nothing but domino track building.

Even in the best of worlds, 20 kiddos about to start pre-K are not going to patiently line up dominoes for 2 minutes, much less 2 hours. Mama had to get creative. Big time creative.

our new house has a perfect place to hang birthday banners

it was so unbelievably humid that Theo’s number 5 balloon did not want to cooperate…at all

Theo, Digger, and Tucker wait for the guests to start arriving

We set up several stations for building things. The most important one, of course, was the domino track station.

see how nice and organized that is?

Next stop: the marble track area. Jack loves our Quadrilla set, but it’s not the easiest thing to build. A few years ago, I cut out all the pictures of sample marble tracks from the boxes the sets came in. We keep these cutouts in the bin with the 23,987 Quadrilla pieces.

Having these sample pictures is a must if one wants to keep a child from losing it while trying to build a track that actually works. They are lined up against the wall on the left.

Magnatiles. We learned about these in Theo’s classroom last year. Greatest investment ever. Every kid I know loves these things. Well worth the price.

The Lego area. Huge hit, of course.

While I was out running last minute errands, the boys took a brand new bag of Solo cups and decided to build a ginormous cup pyramid. Cup stacking wasn’t in the plans, but now that all [200 of] the cups were dirty, we added a cup pyramid station to the mix. Bonus points to me for not freaking out and just rolling with it.

And then we have the worst idea of the day: melty-beads. If you’ve not encountered these little drops of the devil, spare yourself. I implore you. We went down this path a few summers ago, and after picking up the tiny beads for the next 2 years, I finally cut bait and tossed the entire set out. These things are worse than Gremlins.

But I made a crucial error by taking the boys with me to Michael’s, and my creative crew begged to get another set. Jack had the idea to make miniature dominoes to use as decorations. Theo was convinced his female guests would love to make designs. It sounded like a good plan.

I put the trays and the bucket of a gazillion beads on a rimmed cookie sheet. See how smart I am? Going to contain that mess, baby. I. Am. Brilliant.

At one point, I looked over to see 2 moms hunched down on the floor trying to finish the trays their daughters had started and were nearly in tears over. At another point, I busted the dog, snout deep in the bead bin, woofing down a tasty treat for himself.

Like I said:  total disaster.

Moving on to another total disaster:  Theo’s cake. The child wanted a chocolate cake with whipped cream. No icing…just whipped cream. That sounds easy enough. It was easy enough.

And ugly enough.

If this were a Home Ec project, I’d have earned a C+. Maybe, if the teacher was feeling extremely sympathetic that day.

Aesthetics didn’t matter though; these are 5 year olds. One dad even told me that this was the first time his son ate birthday cake because he’s never liked it at any other party. Take that, Publix, and your gloppy, rainbow-colored, too-thickly-frosted sheet cakes.

The sparkler candles didn’t make sparkles, but again, that’s ok. Theo still was in hog heaven.

I hate goody bags.

Actually, I’ll confess:  that’s not entirely true. I hate the idea of goody bags (that a kid gets a “prize” for coming to a party) and I hate the trinket-y junk that often comes with them (fake tattoos and plastic doodads that break in the car on the way home), but I like the idea of having some type of small souvenir to remind you of the party. We usually do mix-cd’s with songs that match the party, but other than Van Morrison’s fab song, “Domino”–which none of these little party-goers have likely ever heard since the song was written 36 years ago–the musical pickings are slim for this type of party.

Instead, I hit up VistaPrint and had t-shirts made with the same bright design from Theo’s invitation. Crazy? Yes. But memorable? Absolutely. And I bet none of them have broken yet, either.

Theo has the most adorable little friends.

Nice photo bomb, Buckley-Dog. How are those melty-beads treating your belly?

In the end, the party was a mad success.

However, it must be noted that this type of soiree is not for the neat freak. Holy Nelly at the disaster. Millions of Legos and dominoes were scattered everywhere. At least 10,000 melty beads were on the floor, under the sofa and inside the dog. Solo cups were in every room, upstairs and down.

But it was worth every single second of it. It was exactly the birthday party this guy had in mind when he asked for a Domino Track Party.

And with that, we are done with birthday parties for the year.