Thursday, June 27, 2013


First, the background...
Our sermon series in church lately is the little books of the Bible nobody ever talks about. A few weeks ago the book was Obadiah. During the sermon, I opened to Obadiah and whispered to Tucker "It's really short. You could read it all right now." And he did.

Now the story...
Tucker came in from playing outside very upset and said, "Keaton just took off on MY bike and yelled 'See ya, loser!'" It was clear he was very distraught over this terrible slight. He melted onto the couch and Trey and I continued our conversation until Keaton returned from his renegade bike ride.

A few minutes later, Keaton came in and Trey began questioning him about the slander. Of course he started in with "I didn't do anything!  I don't know what you're talking about! He was pinging me with wiffle balls!"

(So, Keaton doesn't know what Trey is asking about, yet he already has a reason as to why the thing he didn't do was justifiable bike-a-cide. Nice.)

Trey sent them both to their rooms. When he went back a few minutes later to give them one final lecture and set them free, he found Tucker reading his Bible. Trey is impressed. Obviously, Tucker has seen the error of his ways.

Once free, Tucker marches into Keaton's room, brandishing said Bible. "See!  It says it right here in Obadiah!  'You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune!'"

Then they proceeded to argue about who was gloating over whom in whose misfortune.

See? They are listening in church.

(It's Obadiah 1:12 in case you know some brothers who could use it against each other.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Book #15: Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Love, love, love this book!

It was originally published in monthly installments in a magazine (I think), so each chapter is actually one monthly installment of the novel. Each begins with a recipe for a traditionally prepared Mexican dish - quail in rose petal sauce, champandongo, Three Kings' Day Bread, etc. The food serves as a jumping off point for the wildly entertaining, hilarious story.

It's farcical and whimsical. A tall tale. A romance. The author often solves plot problems by making something unrealistic and fantastic happen, and I loved every minute of it. Emotions magically turn into things, and people are impacted physically by them. My personal favorite was the sister with the intense gas problems. If I say more I'll give it away. (I'm not a ten year old boy, but I have one!)

At the center of the love affairs and mean mother and repressed daughters, there is always the food.

Now that I'm finished with the book, I think I'm hungry.

Book #14: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a novella that recounts the details of the hours leading up to the death of Santiago Nasar.

Bayardo San Roman came to the town as a handsome stranger and decided to marry Angela Vicario, but on their wedding night he discovered she was not pure and so he returned her back to her mother's home. Angela claims that Santiago is the man who caused her dishonor, and so, disgraced, her twin brothers, Pedro and Pablo, seek out Santiago to kill him.

But they didn't really want to kill him. Killing someone is pretty bad, and they were generally good guys. The story describes all of the people who had ample opportunity to step in and stop the murder, yet because they were busy or distracted or didn't believe the brothers really would kill someone, they didn't.

Main thoughts:
1) The book can be a little mature at times, with topics like sex being discussed like talking about going to lunch. It's not that bad, but I thought I should warn you. Most Latin American literature I've read is very uninhibited compared to traditional American lit. I like it, but if you've never read Latin American literature you should know it could be a little shocking at first.

2) I wish you hear the accent I have (in my head) when I read this book. I say the characters' names (in my head) with such amazing Spanish flair. My college Spanish professors would be amazed. Even the author's name is fun  - Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez. Makes Stormy Hickman seem dull. Maybe I'll work this summer on developing my Latina name.

3) At first the large cast of characters was a little difficult to follow, but once I realized the premise of the book it didn't bother me as much. If you've never read Marquez, this is a good "starter book" because it reflects the writing style of one of his most famous novels, Love in the Time of Cholera, but it is shorter and can be read in just a few hours.

4) English teachers!  This would be a great book for a timed writing for lit analysis. The concept of moral obligations is played out in just over 100 pages (ala Of Mice and Men). There's even a religious aspect as during the course of the book the town is waiting for the Bishop to arrive on a special visit to bless them. Make kids read this book and write papers. :)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book #13: American Rust by Philipp Meyer

Oh my goodness.

Seriously. Oh my goodness.

Let me just say that while reading the first 15 pages or so I was bored. In fact, I bought or was gifted this book two years ago, started it then, and then put it down because I didn't get into it quickly enough.

Then, before page 20, it happened.

And the rest was awesome.

American Rust takes place in Pennsylvania after recession closed many steel mills in the state. Buell, Pennsylvania, is a recently run-down town inhabited by the unemployed and underemployed. People who in recent memory worked hard and provided for their families find themselves scraping by or not getting by at all.

The story centers around Isaac English, a genius-boy whose intelligence is unappreciated in his small, blue collar town, and Billy Poe, a high school football star who passes up opportunities to play college ball in favor of staying in Buell. The two are unlikely friends, but their friendship may be the one thing in each boy's life that truly shows his character. Secondary characters include Isaac's disabled father and older sister, along with Billy's mother and her on-again-of-again love interest.

Each chapter tells the story from a different character's viewpoint, and it is done very well. Isaac's chapters were a little confusing for me at first because his intelligence is revealed through a sort of stream of consciousness ramble, but once I got used to it I enjoyed his chapters as well as the others.

I have borrowed another of Meyer's books, The Son (which I've heard is fantastic), but I'm planning to pick up a few shorter novels before I read it so that I can dwell on American Rust a little longer. It's the kind of book that will stay with you for a while. You should read it.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cuts Like a Knife

We were Father's Day shopping at Academy, and Keaton found the pocket knives. He had asked for a pocket knife for his birthday, but I forgot. Don't feel bad for him. We celebrated like 47 times over the course of a week and a half and he got lots of gifts. He'll recover from no pocket knife.

However, at Academy he found them, and he's got money. This is because he only likes to spend our money and saves all of his. He's sort of rich for an eight year old. So, when he asked to spend his own money on a pocket knife I gave him the only appropriate answer -- "I'll talk to Dad."

Academy was a zoo, so I wasn't even sure where Trey was, and in the ten minutes it took me to find him Keaton asked me about one hundred thousand more times if he could get a pocket knife. When I finally found Trey, I just told him, "I'm about to let your son spend his own money on a pocket knife." Whatever. He's eight. Let him make his own decisions about weapons.

I think Trey responded with a shrug, Keaton got the knife, and we escaped the seventh level of hell Academy.

This knife thing sounds very easy (for Keaton, anyway), but in the midst of it all Tucker got really, really upset. You see, about a month ago, Tucker dropped his ipad face first onto concrete and shattered the screen. Shattered. Sometimes Tucker is careless with things, but in this case it was truly, seriously an accident. He was crushed. It also happened right during the time that he was leaving elementary school, one of his best friends was moving away, and I was changing jobs. It was a stressful time for a ten year old boy, and then his ipad crashed and burned. I wanted to cry for him.

There is a place in town that could fix it in two hours (Sour Apple Repair -- they were awesome and will solve your ipad/iphone screen problems). It was expensive, though. More than Tucker had saved up.

So Trey and and I talked. I didn't want to rescue him. It was a life lesson in the making. But I wanted his ipad fixed. So we made a deal.

We told him we'd pay half, but he had to give us every cent he had until it was paid off. He was happy to oblige - he wanted that thing fixed more than I did. I started by taking his $47, and then his allowance every week. He also started picking up little jobs around the house for extra money -- washing windows and planting flowers. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen Tucker work so hard doing chores. It was pretty impressive and not terribly painful for him.

Until Keaton found the pocket knife.

And Tucker still owed us eleven bucks.

It almost got ugly in Academy, but Tucker asked if I would take him to the car, and I did. It got ugly there, but it was just us, so no big deal. It was a life lesson -- this is why it's no fun to owe money. Because you'd like to buy something, but you can't because you still have a loan to pay off. I encouraged him to learn now that it sucks.

Back to the knife. Keaton owned it about two hours before there was blood.

Trey and I were both in the kitchen cooking for Father's Day brunch tomorrow - him frying bacon and me making cinnamon roll cupcakes -- when Tucker came running into the room.

"BLOOD!  Keaton is bleeding!!  He's trying to come in here but he's dripping blood everywhere!  It's all over the floor!  BLOOD!"

Keaton came walking hurriedly around the corner, holding his finger and looking decidedly scared/in pain. "I wasn't doing anything!  It just cut me. I wasn't doing anything!"

I knew immediately that he was pretty sure he was in big bad nasty trouble.

"Keaton," I said, "you are not in trouble when you're bleeding. You might be in trouble later, but while you're bleeding you are not in trouble. Let me see."

Only I couldn't see because of all the blood. It was pouring out of his finger. Pouring, I tell you!  I grabbed a paper towel and squeezed. Check the wound. Still too much blood. Squeeze some more. Repeat. Blood. Blood. Blood.

Finally, I decided that the drips were drying on my floor, so I showed Keaton how to hold pressure and raise his hand above his heart and grabbed my cleaner and a paper towel.

I should mention here that Trey never, ever stopped frying bacon. Never. When I said under my breath (so as not to alarm the child bleeding out in my kitchen), "There sure is a lot of blood. You might want to look at this," he actually put more bacon in the skillet.

Keaton may have a future as a medical professional because once I cleaned up the floor and checked the wound, I could actually see it. There was a good bit of flesh showing, but it was a clean cut and on the joint, so I decided that some stitches tonight were probably not essential. I asked Trey to concur, so he said, "Keaton, come over here," and he glanced at it while flipping bacon. We decided if it was still bleeding tomorrow, maybe we would seek medical attention. The kid's probably got lots of blood, right? At least twelve hours worth until Urgent Care opens in the morning.

I put on the tightest band aid I could and instructed him to stay off the furniture until we were sure the blood wasn't going to seep through the band aid. Without me even asking, Safety Man Tucker delivered the evil pocket knife to me. We had a quick conversation with Keaton about only using the knife with permission, and he went on about his furniture-less merry way.

About an hour later Keaton came in from playing outside because blood was coming out of the band aid, and Trey suggested he should think about staying inside for a little while. He said, "Nah. It doesn't even really hurt anymore." I guess it was bleeding less profusely than before, so it was probably time to get a little dirt in it.

And so, two life milestones in one afternoon...Keaton's first pocket knife and Keaton's first time to cut himself with a pocket knife. He seems to have lived, so I hope the memory he has is of pain instead of recovering quickly so that he will be a little more careful next time. But let's be honest. He's probably whittling a clubhouse out of our coffee table right now.

Remember the Mediocre Mommy?  I think she's back.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book #12: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

"I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish was not good to that person. You will never think that."

I love Khaled Hosseini's books. This is his third, and I love all three of them.

If you're a reader at all, you've probably read (or at least heard of) The Kite Runner. His second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was also pretty fantastic. I read both of these books while teaching junior English, and I had many students in my classes who moved to the US from countries in the Middle East. Several of these awesome kids became my book buddies, letting me ask questions about culture and tradition and religion, even translating Farsi for me when it was used in the book and I wasn't confident in my context-clue-decoding ability. It connected me to them, which made my experience with the books so much richer than just the text.

And the Mountains Echoed is filled with raw humanity, much like the previous two books. Unlike the other books, it ventures outside of the backdrop of Afganistan, following characters to Paris and Greece and the United States. The book starts with a simple, sad story of a brother and sister who are lost from each other, but then Hosseini weaves an intricate story which follows the major and minor characters throughout their lives. We see how a single event changed the course of life for many people -- generations of people.

My only wish is that I had taken notes as I read. I kept thinking I needed a chart to keep track of the characters and how their lives were intertwined. Had I been reading a paper book I likely would have done this in the front cover, but I read it on my Kindle and so only highlighted. A character diagram (like the one I used to draw on my classroom white board when I introduced Gatsby) would have kept me from having to flip back to past chapters to make sure I had things straight.

Perhaps my favorite character was a single mom and teacher, Odie. She cares for a child who has a shocking facial deformity, and when she first enrolled the child in school she stood on a bench and held up the child. "'This is Thalia Gianakos,' Mama cried, 'As of today...' She paused. 'Whoever is crying, shut your mouth before I give you a reason to. Now, as of today, Thalia is a student at this school. I expect all of you to treat her with decency and good manners. If I hear rumors of taunting, I will find you and I will make you sorry. You know I will. I have no more to say about this business.'" Odie is my new hero!

Critics of Hosseini's other books comment that his work can be overly poetic or predictable. I can see where they're coming from, but I find very little of that in Mountains. Honestly, I don't mind these moments of direct life lessons because I find them appropriate in their placement. One such case is when a plastic surgeon explains his calling to correct the deformities that a "disgraceful" world uses to judge people. It's preachy, yes, but it's also a darn good point.

And the Mountains Echoed made my reader's heart happy. As long as Khaled Hosseini keeps writing books, I'll keep reading them.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I Need a Vacation from my Vacation, part two

I'm changing schools, but that's for another post.

On my very last day at Greens Prairie, my last day to work at the school where both of my kids go, we got out early. I decided that we should go get the boys passports to open up our vacation options. I didn't know if they would come in before our vacation this summer, but even if they didn't, we'd have them for next year. After a very sad day of goodbyes, prepping for vacation seemed like a perfect plan.

Several people asked what our plans were for the afternoon, and when I shared my passport idea I was met with skepticism. "Do you have an appointment?" No, I was just going to go to the passport office where their job is to order passports. "Have you called ahead?" No, surely they will know when I walk into the passport office that I'm there to get a passport. These people obviously had negative passport-obtaining experiences, but I figured that was probably out of the norm. I'd be fine.

Since both parents have to be there to get a kid's passport, I convinced Trey to meet me at the College Station Post Office, home of the Passport Obtaining Place, even though it is quite difficult for him to get away from work during the day at all, much less on a Friday. The boys and I were waiting patiently in line when he arrived. When I got to the front, a very nice postal worker lady said, "We only do passports by appointment, but I can make you an appointment if you like." the hours posted that indicate when passport getting is available are really just hours during which I can make an appointment?  Interesting. No big deal. I'll just make an appointment.

(Remember, I had a day of pretending not to be overwhelmingly sad about getting a promotion, which in and of itself is absurd at best, and I was determined to be positive about this.)

"Yes, ma'am. I'd like to go ahead and make an appointment."

"Okay," she says, as she flips through a paper calendar. "The next appointment we have is June 26th."

"What? As in, one month from now? That June 26th?" In my head I am telling myself over and over that this is just the lady with the calendar. She doesn't make the rules. It's not her fault. It's not her fault. It's not her fault.

"Yes,would you like an appointment on June 26th?" she replies.

I'm working very hard to keep a smile on my face with the woman (whose fault it isn't). "Seriously. Is that truly the soonest I can get one? Is there anything else I can do?"

"Well, the Department of Study Abroad at A&M does passports, and I have their number right here if you'd like to call them."

Yes, I would like to call them. And I did call them. And they said to come on over because they could let us order passports for the boys anytime before three. Score.

Trey mumbled incomprehensibly under his breath about government redundancies and scheduling and poor service, but he did agree to follow me over to campus to get the passports. It was already pretty close to two o'clock. We decided we needed to hustle a little bit so he could get back to his office. I checked the campus map on my phone, realized we needed to be near the MSC, and asked him which way to go. He didn't care, and he decided he'd just follow me.

So, hurriedly, we trekked over to campus.

Once we parked in the garage, I pulled up my campus map and told Trey which way I thought we should go. In my defense, I did tell him he might want to double check me, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, he decided to trust me with directions on this hot May afternoon. Let me state again. He trusted me with directions. Big. Mistake. 

When we got about halfway around the MSC, I realized that we had gone the opposite way from what we should have done. Meaning, we should have just walked straight to the front door of the Department of Study Abroad, but instead we walked all the way around the famous (and large) Memorial Student Center of Texas A&M University. It was also about halfway around that I realized Trey was looking hot (yes, that kind of hot AND temperature hot) in his Friday banker garb -- nice boots, dark jeans, black shirt embroidered with the bank's logo. Clothes made for a busy day of handling people's banking business. Not made for hiking miles across the humid landscape of Central Texas in the middle of the afternoon in late May.

I swear when I spotted the sign in the distance, it was like an oasis in the desert. Sweat dripping into unmentionable crevices (see sweaty bra post from 2009), my family of four entered the Study Abroad office.

The people there were so nice. They handed us forms, gave us desks to work at while filling them out, took the boys' photos one at a time. This was all going to be worth it.

Until we realized we needed a check. An actual paper check. Which we did not have.

Trey thought he had a checkbook in his truck, so I offered to run back to it (the shorter way this time) so he wouldn't have to be in the heat again. When I got to the truck, no check book. No check. Nothing. I looked everywhere short of under the hood, and there was no check to be found.

"He's going to kill me for dragging him through all this for nothing," was all I could think. Not that he would kill me for real, or even that he would be mad at me, but he would be sweaty and hot for no good reason AND he would have to leave work again the next week in order to make another passport attempt.  This would not make him jump for joy, my fault or not. Cautiously, I called to inform him of the no checkbook situation. "Just come on back," he said.

As I walked back to meet them, I noticed them from a great distance because they were all but running toward me. I thought something must have been wrong. When I got to them, Trey said, "I'm going to my office to get the checkbook. I think I have time." The he sprinted away in his good boots and black shirt in the Texas sun.

I think the time then was 2:42. I decided that he was, indeed, insane, and that this was an impossible task, but that I would humor him and wait around until 3:00 when the office closed and he wasn't back.

While he was gone on his futile effort, the boys and I hopped in my car to move it to closer parking that we'd found on our hike, but when we got to that parking we realized it was all taken. I decided to go ahead and park in "service vehicle only" parking since I didn't figure I'd even be getting out of the car. I had given up.

Then at 2:57, straight out of a movie script, Trey's truck came flying around the corner on two wheels and slammed on the breaks in the middle of the bike lane. It wasn't an illegal parking spot - it wasn't a parking spot at all - and there was Trey Hickman jumping out of the truck and sliding across the hood just like Bo Duke!

(I made up the sliding across the hood part, but he could totally pull it off.)

I jumped out of my car, and Trey and I ran into the passport office and made the boys stand watch on our two illegally parked vehicles lest a bored tow truck driver appear from the sky. We wrote some checks, took the oath that says we're really citizens and really Tucker and Keaton's parents, and we got those blasted passports ordered. It was a miracle. A Trey-Hickman-Can-Get-Anything-Done-When-He-Decides-To miracle!

Immediately, Trey rushed off to work, and as the boys and I strolled toward my car in the service vehicle space I noticed a lady on a moped approaching my car. Ugh! After all of this I was going to get (a well-deserved) parking ticket.

"That's my car," I told her as we approached.

"You're parked in a service vehicle only spot," she replied without looking at me.

"I know," was all I could say.

Then there was a good long minute of silence while she tapped away on her little ticket making machine. Finally, unable to stand the quiet, I asked, "So will I get my ticket in the mail or do I need to wait for it?"

She scowled at me. "Lady, if I was going to give you a ticket I would have done it already."

Score again!

"Quick!  Get in the car, boys! We're getting ice cream to celebrate the last day of school!'

And after all of the tears and sadness and goodbyes of the day, we got ourselves a win.