Friday, April 23, 2010

Misnamed and misblurbed

Novels about Russia always pull me in. I think it started when I read We the Living in high school. I love reading about Russia under the czars, and find stories of revolution compelling. So, based on the cover and the blurb, I picked up The Red Scarf (Kate Furnivall) from the library.

I read it quickly, very very quickly. I kept slipping away from my children to read. It had me hooked early on. It reminded me in some ways of We the Living, though I read that so many years ago. (I don't know if Ms. Furnivall had it in mind when she was writing The Red Scarf, but after reading a few reviews to refresh my memory, I noticed that Sofia's last name is the same as one of Rand's characters.)

Sofia and Anna are prisoners - enemies of the state - in a Soviet labor camp in Siberia. Anna is sick, so very sick. After she saves Sofia's life, Sofia determines to escape and save hers. And so she makes her way to a small village where, based on scraps of information from the past, she expects to find Vasily, Anna's childhood friend - and a cache of jewels, with which to buy Anna's release.

The story goes between Anna in the camp, Sofia on the run and in the village, and memories of both women's pasts. This worked well for me, and I didn't find it confusing; it really added to the story. And when those scraps of information turned out not to be entirely accurate, it didn't bother me; the complications were good, not a distraction.

But then Sofia gets to the village and things fall apart a little bit. There's that old gypsy with the eerie eyes who knows she's coming before she arrives, and has the ability to make people see and do things that he wants them to see and do. OK, a little hypnotism in a story never hurts, even when it seems unlikely that someone will look at a blank piece of paper and see identity documents. But then, suddenly there's a secret ceremony and we've got full-on magic. Including a magic rock. Not Bewitched-twitch-your-nose-and-disappear magic, but once this is introduced, seemingly impossible obstacles are overcome.

There's also a romantic element that gets a little too close to romance-novel style. And some events come together too easily even without the magic. I never did figure out how the plane ride that got Sofia and her companion closer to Anna came about.

I am always a little reluctant to express my criticism of a book. If I know so much better, why don't I write my own? Those who can write, do; those who can't write, complain about writers' shortcomings. Well, I can't write a better novel. I don't have that talent. This writer does, I think. This could have been a truly great novel without the gratuitous magic, which made me feel cheated. If the blurb had mentioned it, I wouldn't have picked this up.

And the title? The red scarf gets 2 brief mentions. It is not an important part of the story at all. I kept waiting for it to be, but... no.

If I was writing an Amazon review, I'd give this book 2 stars. I wish it could have been more!

Friday, April 09, 2010

The fish stories

Tonight just after kissing my kids goodnight, I found that our beta, Aristotle, had died. I was going to feed him. That's usually my daughter's job but she had forgotten. I am pretty sure her food forgetfulness was not the cause of death - she is good at remembering and a beta can live for a few days, at least, between meals.

This is our 2nd beta. I didn't care much one way or another about this fish. But our first beta, Joe, was a wonderful fish. So I am putting up some old blog posts, from another blog site, about the day Joe died. This was in 2006, so my kids were only 9 and 7.


Our pet fish, Joe, died today. We'd had him about a year, after buying him on impulse (sort of) at a craft store. We learned a lot about fish while dealing with various fish illnesses. He went from a tiny cup to an unheated fish bowl to a deluxe tank with heat, filter, and lots of cool plants.

Joe was a very personable fish, as fish go. When one of us would approach the tank, he'd swim over and "flare" at us. That's fightin' behavior for a betta, but we took it as a sign of affection. We'd puff out our cheeks in an attempt to flare back. He was the most interactive fish I've ever come across.

After getting to know Joe we acquired a few more fish, some corydoras, to live in a separate tank. They're cute, but don't have personality like Joe. So when one of those fish died a few weeks ago, it wasn't too traumatic. E made a little grave marker, but it was a busy weekend so we stashed him in the freezer for burial later. Um, he's still there.

We could tell Joe was getting sick, or tired, or just plain old, for a little while. We prepared the kids for his death. We talked about getting some clove oil to anesthetize him so he wouldn't be uncomfortable at the end. But we never got around to it. We were going to go this afternoon....

At bedtime one night J said "goodnight, and maybe goodbye forever, Joe." Oh my. I hate to admit it but it made me laugh. I said "I hope when I'm old you never say that to me!" He wasn't too happy about that.

As is usually the case in our lives, things don't happen in a calm, orderly manner. We were getting ready to go to our homeschool group book club meeting and the kids were saying goodbye to Joe. They were sort of hugging the tank when they realized he was dead. Oh no! E ran out of the room sobbing. J exclaimed that Joe's guts were leaking out and we had to "get him out of the tank quick!" Then he started sobbing. "I don't want to go to the book club! Yes, I want to go to the book club! Oh, I don't know what I want! Joe!! Joe!!"

So I did what any other calm, confident mother would do: I called Daddy. He very graciously offered to come home and take care of the fish while we went out. Since we'd be out he could do some work from home. What a guy! So we said goodbye to Joe one more time and left the house.

On the way to book club we started a new audio book, called Poppy. It's about some mice, and an owl. Within the first few minutes one of the mice is captured and killed by the owl. More wailing, and a quick hit of the eject button on that one. One dead animal a day is our quota.

At the book club we learned that another family had dealt with dead fish today. But they had simply flushed them. E was appalled. "They flushed them? Down the toilet? We are not doing that to Joe! Or to any other fish we ever have!"

Tomorrow we will have the funeral for our two fish. Stay tuned!


Today was the funeral. I had thought the kids would be upset and ready to do it early in the day, but they didn't even mention Joe at all. Yes, the same kids who yesterday asked, wailing, "How are we going to live without Joe?" didn't seem to even remember him this morning.

But in the afternoon when we asked them about the funeral they got all somber. Yesterday they had said they just wanted to keep the fish bodies in some kind of box so that if we move, we can just take them along with us. I informed them that that's not the way it works, and that depending on how many pets they have over their lifetimes, they'd have a mighty big burden eventually. So we decided to do the burial under our favorite maple tree. E had a difficult moment of wondering how we would get the fish into the hole. I think she was worried that we were going to make her touch the dead fish. Eewwww! Daddy explained the procedure and she was satisfied. J said he wanted to plant some forget-me-nots there and was satisfied when we said we'd do it in the spring. (As if he'll remember.)

E found the grave marker she'd made when the cory died and put Joe's name on it. Cheater! I guess the cory didn't deserve a marker anymore. It's just made out of a craft stick and some wooden shapes. Pretty cute, actually. The kids went out and picked the last of the flowers to stick in there too.

C slipped the fish into the hole - E refused to watch - and the kids covered it up and then decorated it. Then C said a prayer. He did a fine job of thanking God for all the creatures and the opportunity to care for some of them, and the joy they had brought us. Everyone was crying by this time.

I was surprised that no one asked if we'd see Joe in heaven. Glad, too.

And I'm really glad we didn't just flush them.


This entry won't make sense unless you have read the previous one about our fish dying.

When we arrived at the book club and were parking, I noticed the truck was acting funny. The steering was hard, or maybe the transmission wasn't quite right. We went in, and while the book discussion was going on, I went back outside to check it out. Drove up and down the street a couple times, and there was just something wrong. Great.

Once again I did what any confident, intelligent woman would do: I called my husband. He said he'd drive over and see what was up, as soon as he finished dealing with the dead fish. It was about a 25-minute drive.

When my cellphone range, the official book club meeting was over, the kids were playing, and the moms were drinking coffee and chatting. I answered while starting to walk outside to get the bad news about the car. I wondered if we'd need to have it towed.

"Honey, you have to take the truck out of 4-wheel drive."

"Huh? I've never had it in 4-wheel drive! I don't know if I know how to put it in or out of 4-wheel drive!"

Apparently I'd hit the button while on the road and never noticed it. I figure it must have been when I was hurrying to eject the story of the murderous owl and the hapless mousie.

My husband is a patient, patient man.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The bicycle

A long time ago, it seems, we bought our little girl a bicycle. We got it at a garage sale, and it was a little big for her, but we thought it was time she had a bicycle. We got training wheels for it, too.

That first year it was just too big. The second year it was a better fit but felt tippy even with the training wheels so she really didn't like riding it. The third year the training wheels came off but it was too hard to learn, and I was too impatient and mean to her, and... she didn't learn to ride. And we moved, so there wasn't a lot of bike time. The fourth year she just ignored the bike. We didn't ask her about riding it.

Now it's the fifth year. The girl is 11. She decided last week that it's time to ride the bike. So we went to a local school during spring break and she tried to ride around. I remembered her comments about my past meanness so I tried extra hard to be patient. She made a little progress. We went back the next day but our time was cut short by a scraped knee. Then we went away for the weekend and didn't get back on the bike.

Tonight we went back out for the first time in 5 days. She got up on the bike and started. And she was off. No more wobbling. No more falling. She figured out how to brake and stopped dragging her feet on the ground. She's got it.

There is a lesson here. I learn it over and over but it never takes.

Some things just don't work until the child is ready. We can try and try and try all we want, and force the child to try too, but sometimes it just won't take till the child is ready for it. This could be reading, or swimming, or riding a bike. Mastering multiplication. Whatever.

I have no idea why my graceful, athletic child had such trouble with the bike. I do know it bothered me that she was "so old" to be a nonrider. Forget that I had not learned to ride till I was just a little younger than she is now. I didn't have a bike. She has had one for a long time. But it didn't matter. She couldn't or wouldn't learn till she was ready. And once she was ready, she flew.

Of course she will need a new bike soon. We think we can squeak out the rest of this summer with the current bike. She doesn't care that it's not new, that it came from a garage sale, that it only cost us a dollar. She is happy to be riding, finally.