Halloween books 2019!

On Sep 30 I realized it’s time for HALLOWEEN BOOKS and I wasn’t prepared! So I did a bunch of googling, and came up with a several options, which I promptly put on hold at the library. But one of them is a classic Agatha Christie, and I already own it, so I could dive right in.

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A fun fact about me and Agatha Christie is that I got obsessed with them (and Hercule Poirot), bought a bunch of them, read them ferociously, and retained very little. So I know I’ve read this before, and pieces of it feel familiar, but I have no clue who the murderer is. Fun!

It’s not spooky or scary, per se, but it’s called Hallowe’en Party, so this is my first October book.

(Actually, I’ve been reading Margaret Atwood’s new book, The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also not strictly speaking a Halloween book, but is pretty scary, so maybe I should count that one as well.)

Coming soon to my local library with my name on them:

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The Silent Companions

From Amazon: “When Elsie married handsome young heir Rupert Bainbridge, she believed she was destined for a life of luxury. But pregnant and widowed just weeks after their wedding, with her new servants resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, Elsie has only her late husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. Inside her new home lies a locked door, beyond which is a painted wooden figure—a silent companion—that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. The residents of the estate are terrified of the figure, but Elsie tries to shrug this off as simple superstition—that is, until she notices the figure’s eyes following her.

A Victorian ghost story that evokes a most unsettling kind of fear, The Silent Companions is a tale that creeps its way through the consciousness in ways you least expect—much like the companions themselves.”

hauntedHaunted 

From Amazon: “Haunted is a novel made up of twenty-three horrifying, hilarious, and stomach-churning stories. They’re told by people who have answered an ad for a writer’s retreat and unwittingly joined a ‘Survivor’-like scenario where the host withholds heat, power, and food. As the storytellers grow more desperate, their tales become more extreme, and they ruthlessly plot to make themselves the hero of the reality show that will surely be made from their plight. This is one of the most disturbing and outrageous books you’ll ever read, one that could only come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk.”

It’s been years since I read Chuck Palahniuk, but he’s definitely stuck in my mind, and this feels like a good opportunity to dive back in.

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The Dwelling

I do not know much about this book, and I want to keep it that way until I read it. I know it’s about a haunted house and I really love stories about haunted houses, so I’m excited for this. (Unfortunately my library doesn’t have this on hand! Kindle store, here I come.)

I have a couple other options but I’m trying to be more reasonable about how much I can actually get through in the next month. This might not be a six or seven book month. Which is okay. I’m excited to read these, and to look for plenty of Halloween stories to read to my kids to establish this tradition with them. I love this time of year.

I do think I’ll try to finish off with a reread of another one of my very favorite haunted house stories…

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Happy Halloween! What are you reading this month?

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Maybe Inside a Black Hole Is Better

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A couple weekends ago, Drew dropped me off at Pier 41 and I got on the ferry to Angel Island, to go read at Poetry in Parks with Quiet Lightning. They accept submissions on any theme, and then from what they get, they curate a literary mixtape. All the writers come and read out loud, in the midst of other artsy events. On my day where was a guitarist who did a couple sets, and there were some younger writers (middle and high school).

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I’ve never been to Angel Island, and I had no idea what was out there. There are walking trails, and you can go around the entire perimeter of the island in about 5 miles. I got there way too early, so once I figured out where I was supposed to be, I just hung out for like…two hours? and admired the view. Drew caught the later ferry and came over.

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Performing is not my thing. It was nerve-wracking. Plus, I had made some edits to my piece, but got there and realized that literally everyone was reading along in the book, so everyone would know what edits I had made. So I just went with the original, but you’ll get the smoother version below.

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After I was done, and I walked back around the crowd to sit down with Drew, a guy turned around and said, “Good job,” which was nice. Then a woman came over and sat next to me during the one after me, and said, “What you just read…that’s my life.” And I said, “Oh, how old is your kid?” And she said, “Eleven.” And—that felt really good. I think connecting over the journey of parenting is low-hanging fruit. It’s easy to bond with someone when you’re going through something so similar. And let’s face it—it may look very different close up, but from far away, it’s all the same. But it felt really good to have faced this fear, and done the thing, and then have the immediate gratification of someone saying, “I heard that, and I feel you, and thank you.” 

So…I got through it! And we spent a day hanging out in the sun at a state park neither of us has ever been to.

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Maybe Inside a Black Hole Is Better 

A woman writes the code that manages to get the first ever photo of a black hole. It looks like a blurry Spaghetti-O and for two days everyone is sharing the photo and making Interstellar jokes and talking about aliens and how This Is the Beginning of The End. You look at the photo and think it’s cool, and then for a few days you see a lot of online content hyping the coder who helped make it happen, and then the Mueller Report gets released and it kind of pushes the black hole thing out of the news cycle. 

Your daughter’s sleeping is shit. She’s never in her life been a good sleeper—and now, at age three, she goes through cycles where she’ll sleep all night long and you get used to it, and then she’ll start waking up at night. Lately, she’s been waking up at night. A lot. The first time it happens in a night, you’ll stay calm and soothing, talk gently to her, give her water or blankets or find the unicorn she dropped. But then it seems like that’s all you have to give, because when she starts crying again, less than 20 minutes later, you feel your internal thermometer spike and you don’t have that calm, soothing voice anymore. You whisper threats at her and swear that you’ll take away her favorite toys if she doesn’t stop. making. noise. right. now. It never works, and now you’re up for a chunk of time in the middle of the night, looking at Twitter even though you know that’s not helping. The black hole photo doesn’t come up anymore…now it’s all uproar about a transphobic kids’ book that’s come out, and memes of this guy pretending to ride a miniature pony.

On the fourth night, when the crying starts at 1:45, you fight it for a moment, feel your body try to sink into the mattress. But your husband has already been in there around midnght. You wonder if other people think about the Path Not Taken as often as you do. Then you throw the covers back and put your glasses on and pad to your daughter’s room. She doesn’t seem to actually be awake. 

You slide back into bed and google the black hole. Your husband is awake and he asks what you’re looking at and you tell him. “That thing scares me,” he says, without rolling towards you. The phone screen reflects off the white wall beyond his side of the bed. It’s probably keeping him from falling back to sleep. You scroll. Your daughter starts to whimper, and the whimper turns into a full-blown cry. 

“Maybe inside a black hole is better,” you say, rolling back out of bed again. The brightness from the picture on your screen—even a picture of a blurry black hole—has thrown off your night vision. You don’t need it to find your way into her bedroom and to the side of her bed, but then your pupils still haven’t adjusted and where her head should be on her pillow, all you see is the fire-red outline of a black hole, 26,000 light-years away from Earth. From inside comes the pitiful, grating, debilitating sobs of a child who can’t stay asleep, and can’t explain why. 

You wonder if she would agree with you. If there’s a way to send your entire family directly into the center of the black hole. You wonder what you would find there. If it would be calming. You can do this. You take a deep breath and summon up your most gentle voice, gentle touch. You rub her back. You know it will get better. You picture the quiet stillness at the center of it all.

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Of chickadees and endermen

My kid B is six and a half years old, and almost done with kindergarten, which means he’s been in public school for almost two whole years, which is buca di beppo (this is a fun new way of saying something is hard to believe or seems extraordinary, without having to use language like “crazy” or “insane”). Here are some things that my six-and-a-half year old kid is super into lately:

Googleplex: I’m not sure where he learned about googleplex, because I didn’t teach him, but he knows it’s a 1 followed by 100 zeros, and he knows it would take him a long time to count that high. (Not that he doesn’t try.) When I say “Five minutes till pajamas” he likes to say “Thank you googleplex minutes” and hope I don’t notice. He has taught the other kid, H (currently aged three and a half), about it and now they both use it as a general punch line for jokes.

STOP THE PRESSES I JUST GOOGLED (ha) IT TO SEE IF I WAS EVEN RIGHT AND I LEARNED TWO THREE THINGS:

  1. It’s googol not google
  2. A googol is 1 followed by 100 zeroes
  3. A googolplex is 1 followed by a googol of zeroes

Talk about buca di beppo! What a rollercoaster this was. Whew.

minecraftMinecraft: OMG he’s OBSESSED with Minecraft, and sometimes I think it’s adorable and he’s building skills and doing A LOT of reading (and writing his own signs) within the game…but sometimes when he’s starting every single sentence with “Mama, you know in Minecraft…” I just want to never see another cube again. He’s so into it though. He started, like, a month ago? And has gotten so good at it. It’s so weird to see kids and technology. Like the way H knows to swipe and how to zoom in and out…they just GET this stuff.

B came home from school the other day with the best book I’ve ever read, plagiarized mostly from the Minecraft Netflix show (it’s a choose your own adventure show!). But it was a full story with a plot arc, and nicely illustrated. I love it so much. It’s my new favorite book. (Was I clear that he wrote this book? I’m not sure that was clear. He wrote and illustrated it.)

(P.S. Endermen are like…some of the bad guys in Minecraft? They’re actually kind of terrifying, just black shadows with really long arms, glowing purple eyes, and they leap from one place to another.)

Chickadees: I have no idea where this one came from, but B and his bff from school have invented this elaborate thing where at recess they study chickadees, draw pictures of them, and come up with facts about them. Then they make up quests to send each other on, relating to chickadees. Here are some “facts” about chickadees:

  • They only come out when it’s really cold
  • They eat bumblebees
  • They are preyed upon by turkey vultures

It’s a very nice contrast to the Minecraft thing, the idea that these two little boys are wandering around making up stories about birds. (I guess they could be actually spotting real chickadees, but I’ve always just assumed they’re looking at a variety of smallish birds around their school.)

James and the Giant Peach: A while back I got The Fantastic Mr. Fox from our local bookstore, and read it to B. It’s a shortish book, with big pictures on every page, so it was a good intro to “older” books. He really liked it, and we read it over and over–we could generally read half of it one night, and finish the next night. Then I tried other Roald Dahl books of a similar length: The Magic Finger (not one I knew from my childhood but good because in the first five pages, a teacher gets turned into a cat) and Esio Trot, both good two-nighters, although if you’re feeling really snuggly you can do the entire thing in one go. Then I wanted to try something longer, so I got James and the Giant Peach.

James has multiple pages with no pictures on them, so you have to have a bit more patience. It also has maybe twice the amount of pages as the others. The first time I tried to read this to him, he didn’t really settle in for it, so we put it down for a few weeks…and then I tried again. And he got sucked right into it.

82C9B49B-2E1C-4C73-8E9C-54D026648CA1We would do 3-4 chapters a night, generally, and we were getting through it at a pretty good clip. But then around the same time, we started doing this thing where the kids go to bed around 7:30 (ha) and then we let them keep a lamp on and they’re supposed to read quietly (haha) until we get fed up with them not actually reading, and turn the lamp off.

B will actually sit in bed and read through books. It’s one of my favorite things about this age. So on multiple nights, we would read a few chapters, and then he would take the book and read ahead. And then, the next day (or sometimes that night when I turned off his light) he would tell me about what he read. So it’s like, he’s a) reading for fun and b) actually retaining what he’s reading! Incredible!

It got to the point that when we were maybe 15 pages from the end, he took the book to bed one night, and then finished it by himself. So I was like, “Oh great, wow, amazing, what a great reader you are,” but truly it was a little bit anticlimactic, because like, I thought we would cross that finish line together. So then one night I said, “I didn’t get to finish this with you, let’s read the end together,” and so we picked up where we had left off together, and we finished the book. And it was so cool because he already recognized the story, and so he was excited about me hearing it for the “first” time, something that he enjoyed.

I’ve been gathering this list of things I wanted to write down about B, because he’s changed a lot over the last year, and he’s been doing some pretty amazing things. This last six and a half years has sometimes felt like a lot longer than that, but I’m starting to see what kind of person he’s going to be, and I think it’s all going to be okay. (Parents–especially ones with little kids–will understand what I mean, I think.)

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Eeny Meany Miney Mo

I’m constantly surprised by how much the younger kid picks up from the older kid…and then what she builds on top of it. Watch out, world.

Recently they’ve both picked up Eeny Meany Miney Mo. Which is great. They use it indiscriminately:

I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which one of us gets dressed first.

Wait, I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which thing on my plate to eat.

I’ma Eeny Meany Miney Mo which blue puzzle piece is better.

Look, I’m going to Eeny Meany Miney Mo whose name is Mommy!

Sometimes Eeny Meany Miney Mo ends in tears, because they haven’t yet figured out that you can always plan ahead to make sure it lands where you want. And if you don’t, you just go, “My mother said to pick the very best one. And it is you. For the entire day. Ay” until you get it.

(Sometimes Eeny Meany Miney Mo ends in tears because it seems like everything around here occasionally ends in tears…just to keep life interesting.)

Eeny Meany Miney Mo is one of those things so quintessentially childhood…like when B came home from school on a rainy day recently and said that his class had played Heads Up Seven Up, and Drew and I swooned. So I like hearing them do it, and it validates my parenting. I can’t be messing up too much if they have the time, the attitude, and the inclination to play silly childhood games. I try to keep this in mind when someone has to Eeny Meany Miney Mo which shoes out of her 14 pairs of shoes to wear today (and then gets upset when it doesn’t land on the pink boots WE ALL KNEW she wanted).

Take a moment this weekend to Eeny Meany Miney Mo something—whether it’s something you need to choose between, something you are going to rig the game towards, or even just “Whose name is Mommy?” See if it doesn’t just warm your heart.

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Eek! Halloween reads 2018!

Here’s what I’m reading for Halloween this year!

haunted

I’ve come to realize that I am really spooked by haunted house stories, for some reason.

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Picked this off a “scary books” list based on the cover.

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I’ve seen this movie, and thought it was great and creepy.

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Picked this off a list too. Wish me luck!

And of course I’ve restarted listening to the podcast Lore, which tells 30-minute creepy stories, perfect for this time of year.

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I. Love. October.

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In the Shoe Tree

A few months ago, I entered a writing contest with this organization that provides an opening and closing sentence, and then you have to write 48 (!) paragraphs in the middle to create a story. Each paragraph has to have at least 40 words (!), and there is no dialogue allowed (!!).

I did not win the competition, but I was a finalist, and so my story is being published in an anthology along with 3 winners and 22 other finalists. I’m told it will be available on Amazon shortly.

I’m going to be honest with you—I don’t love this story. But I’m excited that it’s included in this group. I’m looking forward to reading the other entries. If you want to read my version of what happens between the first and last paragraphs, a story I’m calling “In the Shoe Tree,” just click here

Beaver, AR shoe tree.

Shoe tree in Beaver, Arkansas / Photo roadsideamerica.com

 

 

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Goodbye, changing table

Did you know there’s a reboot of The Magic School Bus? It’s called The Magic School Bus Rides Again, and features the same class, back for a new year with a new Ms. Frizzle. She’s the original Ms. Frizzle’s younger sister, voiced by Kate McKinnon. The original Frizzle (Lily Tomlin) still makes appearances, and also does the end-of-show Q&A sessions—she’s Professor Frizzle now, and travels the world doing science. It’s the same theme song but updated and sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s actually a really solid reboot. My kids love it, and now they talk about things like metamorphic rock (“metamorphic means change!”), and farming tools like tensiometers (they measure the water in the soil), and how different kinds of birds have different kinds of beaks and feet (for different purposes).

I may not know much about farming implements, but you know what I do know about? Marketing. (Bear with me here.)

So about a month ago, we decided to get rid of the changing table we’ve had since before B was born—we got it almost exactly six years ago, actually. H is out of diapers except at night, and we usually end up chasing her down and putting those on her in whatever room we can catch her, anyway.

So I posted the changing table on Nextdoor, figuring I would see if I could sell it before I just gave it away. At first I just typed, like, “Changing table, $40, in good shape.” And then I was like, I have a few useful skills, let’s see what we can do here. So I started over and wrote something like, “You need this changing table! Our daughter is out of diapers (yay!) and we’re finally ready to part with our changing table. Solid dark wood, beautiful sleigh style, one drawer and two lower shelves, this will look great in your nursery and your baby will love it.” Something like that. Marketing is all about storytelling.

And it worked! I sold it. I got a message from a woman who wanted to buy it to repurpose it into a beverage cart. Which is totally fine by me. I mean, there was a tiny part of me that wanted this to go to someone who was starting out on an exciting journey of parenthood. But whatever. I liked our changing table; it inadvertently matched the crib, which was nice. But I also like that we’re now beyond needing it, and moving forward.

So after some back and forth, we finally made it happen, and her daughter came and picked it up. My daughter was not super excited to find out that “her” changing table was emptied out, cleaned off, and waiting outside to be picked up. Even after it was gone, she asked about it for a day or two.

But my marketing skills came in handy and I sold something on Nextdoor. Which I didn’t really believe would work out. So yay!

When we were trying to explain to B and H how the changing table was gone now, and this is great because now there’s more space in their room for their toys, B said:

“Mommy, you know what? Now you have to metamorphic H on the floor.”

…What?

“Metamorphic means change, mommy.”

So here’s to moving on, moving forward, spending less on diapers, and moving kid stuff out of the living room and into their room. And here’s to a new Frizzle teaching science to a new generation.

 

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