Friday, December 30, 2011

Discoveries 2011

It was just about 3 years ago, when my husband came home from work early one day to tell me that either we'd be moving to the Boston area, or he'd be looking for a new job. It didn't feel festive. It didn't feel lucky. It felt scary and unknown. There was also a twinge of excitement in new opportunities.

Well, by that April, he was commuting from NJ to MA during the week. By June we had sold our old house. We moved into a new one in July. The kids started at new schools in September. Everything was unknown. I got a GPS so I wouldn't get lost all the time.

The best thing about this year is that finally, after 2 1/2 years, I've learned my way around. This now feels like home. In many ways, the move from NJ to MA now feels like one of the luckiest and best opportunities we could have had. With a passion for this place, I set out to learn more about its natural and historical attributes.

Here are some of this year's highlights:

Pod Meadow: a little jewel in our town landscaped by beavers

Heard Reservation: another local gem with a revitalized orchard and some old trees too

World's End

Ward Reservation, Massachusetts' mini Stonehenge

Arnold Arboretum: It has a bonsai collection with specimens older than the United States and a vine collection. Every month they also put out a letterbox that teaches about a certain kind of tree.

Harbor Island National Park

Cape Cod's Rail Trail: J and I rode a 17 mile stretch.

and White Cedar Swamp

A little farther afield we discovered:

The Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian and

New York City's High Line: note the new Frank Gehry building at the top left.

I look forward to exploring both close to home and farther afield next year. We're planning a trip out West next summer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Books 2011

Here's a list of the books I read and remembered to document in 2011.

My favorites that I'd want to read again in the future were:
Jane Eyre
Room by Emma Donoghue
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks discussed here
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

The Night Circus is a transporting book. From the beginning, you enter a world of the senses: visual and aural. Both scent and taste are sated. Even in black and white, with a touch of red. The creations of the dueling wizards include a forest of love poetry, a "pool of tears" where you can leave your sorrows, and an ice garden.

Tom Perrota's Leftovers gets an honorable mention for the way he imagines how citizens of a suburban town continue their lives after a Rapture-type event. For some, they slowly return to normal, others are changed forever because family members have disappeared or perhaps because they themselves didn't. The characters are well developed. The situations are varied, interesting and present many ethical quandaries. The book overall is highly readable. I also liked the ending. Sometimes I enjoy a book, but an unsatisfying ending can taint my overall impression.

Here's a favorite quote from Leftovers:
"Laurie herself was more focused on the years when her kids were little, when she had felt so necessary and purposeful. a battery all charged up with love. Every day she used it up, and every night it got miraculously replenished. Nothing had ever been as good as that."

The opposite happened for me in Jeffrey Eugenides, Marriage Plot, a book that was on most critics' top 10 lists. I thought it was well written, but too long. The characters were well defined, but far from people I'd want to befriend or travel with. The book describes in excruciating detail, the education and relationships of the main characters lives from age 18 to 25. Perhaps, it would be highly interesting for those in that age group, but I feel like I've moved beyond that. The ending turned out better than I had expected. It reminded me of one of my favorite children's picture books, Shirley Hughes' Ella's Big Change, an unexpected retelling of Cinderella set in England in the 1920's (imagine a ball full of awesome flapper dresses!) But overall the story was depressing and sometimes too violent or threatening. There's too much abuse of women throughout the world in real life. I really don't want to read more about it, especially in a graphic way.

That brings us to Room, mentioned above as one of my favorites. While it does document the aftermath of a child abduction, it's written so sensitively and beautifully, it is an exception to my abuse rule. That such a tender, positive story could come out of a dismal theme is a testament to the writing and imagination of Emma Donaghue.

1. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
2. Big Girls Don’t Cry by Rebecca Traister
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. Cries of the Spirit (poetry anthology) by Marilyn Sewell
5. Henry Knox : visionary general of the American Revolution by Mark Puls
6. The Water Giver by Joan Ryan
7. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
8. Room by Emma Donoghue
9. Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup
10. The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins
11. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jaime Ford
12. A handmade life : in search of simplicity / Wm. Coperthwaite
13. Tomorrow’s Garden by Stephen Orr
14. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
15. Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
16. The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
17. EcoMind by Frances Moore Lappe
18. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
19. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing
20. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
21. The Leftovers by Tom Perrota
22. Earth Then and Now by Fred Pearce

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday Crafts

Here are just some of the crafts we've been working on for holiday gifts and decorations.

My son is a pro at technical paper crafts.

My daughter enjoys sewing crafts, this one an adaptation from the book Softies.

She also loves beading and making jewelry. She made almost all the necklaces on a cork jewelry holder I made her for her birthday.

I made a bunch of little polaroo felties as gifts for her birthday party guests. They are from this Felties book.

So last night began the holiday season of Hanukah, Christmas and my daughter's birthday. But no matter how many wonderful gifts arrive, the best ones are always part of the packaging. This "Darth Vadar" helmet arrived in a tower of edible gifts. An empty wrapping paper roll makes the perfect "light saber".

By the way the cardboard tube has been rated as one of the 5 best toys ever! Others include a Stick, String, Dirt and ... the Box. Check out a great article about it in this article from GeekDad at Wired magazine.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Decorating the Tree

We started decorating our tree this weekend. Pulling out and hanging the ornaments is like a review of crafty projects of the past. Here are some that stand out.

These charming felt ornaments were made from the book Felties by Nelly Pailloux. Now they are on the tree along with a tree ornament inspired by a wonderful blogger whose inspirational post I can no longer find.

We've been working on this tree skirt since the year 2000. The original idea and instructions came from an article in Family Fun magazine. Every year the kids put their hands in gold paint on the purple, velvety fabric. My son's hands are huge now.

He's growing like a weed. He'll be putting the star on the top of the tree this year.

My daughter's growing up so fast too. She's outgrown wanting the new ballerina/princess ornaments we'd previously gotten her each year.

But thankfully even at 15 and 11, they are still excited to put up and decorate the tree.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

November Riot Numbers

According to the Riot calculator here, the results for the items I tracked for the month of November 2011 follow for a household of 4 people:

transportation: 58.2 gallons + about 400 public transportation miles between school buses and the T, 29 % of US average
electricity: 392 kwh, 43 % of US average
heating/cooking: 59 therms, 72% of US average

The heating/cooking average has gone up considerably from last month, but we're moving into the cold months. I'm not even sure that a yearly measure is relevent here. How is one to compare heating therms here in New England where we'll use a lot more heat to warmer climates where more electricity will be used for cooling in the summer months? We've put up the storm doors and have closed off the TV room (the coldest room in the house over the garage) from the more heated portions of the house for the season. A programmed thermostat keeps the heat at 58 degrees overnight and between 61 and 63 degrees during the day depending on who's in the house and if it's time to get up and shower.