7 Quick Takes: Composting. See it happen.


Come on, you all know what the “quick takes” picture looks like by now.  It’s on my computer somewhere, but I’ll be damned if I can find it, and my computer is tearfully warning me that it just doesn’t know what it might do if I open another tab.  I tried making it  yellow for authenticity’s sake, but it hurt my eyes.  All right, here we go.

1.  I almost never click on those touching or adorable “You’ll never guess how he proposed!” or “Wow, what an original way to process down the aisle!” stories.  They kinda leave me cold.  But I can’t get enough of stories about marriages in their advanced stages — of love and forgiveness in times of trial.  I just hear the most amazing story from StoryCorps, an  initiative that records and archives the personal stories of regular people.  It’s only a few minutes long, but it will blow you away, maybe.

(If the embed above doesn’t work, which of course it won’t, you can click here to hear the story.)

2.  I’m not sure if she wants me to use her name or not, but a dear reader gave me the most amazing gift:  the chance to pick out a pair of high-quality boots or shoes.  Not wanting to insult her generosity by ordering from the middle of the menu, I went completely berserk and picked out a pair of these:

They arrived yesterday, and it was with great reluctance that I took them off to go to bed.  I feel magnificent in them; and my husband — well, let’s just say that, if I get pregnant this winter, I feel sure that that child will somehow pick up the nickname “Bootsie.”  Who can say why.

3.  Today’s pick for 50 Books!   Normally I despise those sassy, transgressive “fractured fairy tales” or “an old story with a modern twist.”  Bleh, who needs it?  But this one is just completely charming:

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivisas an illustrated by the wonderful Helen Oxenbury.

Maybe I never really liked the original “Three Little Pigs” story anyway — why, exactly, did the little pigs have to leave their mother?  Why didn’t the more practical pig help his dumber brothers design their houses?  And the third pig eats the wolf who is presumably still digesting the pig’s brothers, really?  Anyway, this version has a much nicer, more satisfying ending, and the pictures are just great.

4.  If you can, do pre-order Adventhology, the latest project of Ryan Charles Trusell (of Ora et Labora et Zombies fame)!  Dorian Speed, Brandon Vogt, Dan Lord and I each wrote an essay for it.  You can buy the essays individually, or you can get the whole set.  Nice, manageable price, and an attractive and unusual gift.  Today I’m excerpting a passage from Dan Lord’s essay, “The Offended.”

The Subhuman reached up with his grisly left hand, his only hand, and grabbed hold of the brass knob on the confessional door. The crones bleeped and warbled.

The confessional door creaked open. The Subhuman shuffled inside, shoulders stooped more than ever, claw held out in front of him, breath scraping out from within that dark, stinking hood.

He shut the door behind him. The green light turned red.

Now that, my friends, is an Advent story.  Oh, and don’t forget that Dan Lord (husband of “Moxie Wife” Hallie Lord) has just come out with a new book, Choosing Joy, which is getting good reviews.

5.  Suzanne Temple cracked me up with this status update on Facebook:  “Oh gross, Ethan discovered how everything gets stuck in that gap in the floor under the dishwasher. #snackspot”

Does everyone have a spot like this in their house?  We have a few of them.  Some are just literally low spots, where the shifting foundations of the house have left, for instance, one corner of the kitchen distinctly downhill from the other corners, and anything that can slide, drip, roll or pool ends up there.  And other areas are just in places in the house that naturally become sort of dry land tidepools, where all the various household currents leave their debris behind in an utterly non-glorious jumble that even G. M. Hopkins would think was just gross.

Along comes Benny to her favorite buffet.  Oh, well.

6.  Are you mad at your kids?  Do you want to get them something really awful for Christmas?  Well, you might want to consider this:

It’s the See It Happen Composting Kit.  I should just charge $34.95 for people to come to my house and hang out with Benny in a Low Spot.  “See it happen” indeed.

7.  In the course of writing this stupid post, there was a broken glass, a half-gallon of milk that spilled and ran inside the only downstairs closet, a tumbling baby and a fat lip, three shrieky squabbles over who gets the remote, and then WordPress was all like, “Oh, I’m sorry, did you WANT that post, with all the links in it?  Because I know I put it here somewhere.  Wait, here it is!  Yes, here are the first three lines of it, just for you.  That’s fine, right?”

On the other hand, I just remembered that I only had half a cup of coffee this morning, so I still have another half coming to me!  O happy day!


Guess what?  I’ve been putting a lot of old books on my 50 Books list, but today is different.  Today’s book is so new that you have to pre-order it.

AND, I wrote part of it!  Yes, inching my way slowly and angrily toward actually writing my own damn book, I was delighted when the strange and wonderful Ryan Charles Trusell of Labora Editions — YOU KNOW, THE ORA ET LABORA ET ZOMBIES GUY — asked me to join Dorian Speed, Dan Lord, and Brandon Vogt in writing short essays on the theme of Advent for a new “micropublishing” venture.  Naturally, I jumped at the chance to be involved in such a cool project with such cool people.

Here’s the cover for my contribution:

and here’s the official blurb for the whole set, which includes booklets from all four writers:

A subversive baby king, a lumbering grotesque, the empress of holiday traditions, and an epiphany on the day after Epiphany… All of this and more awaits readers inside the four slim volumes of the Labora Editions Adventhology. This new micropublishing adventure brings together four short pieces by four well-known Catholic bloggers, united by the common theme of the season of Advent and its culmination at Christmas. Each piece is published separately, as its own small booklet, of fine paper with a hand-printed softcover.

My dears, how much do you think a gorgeous hand-printed set of four original essays would cost you?  Well, nope!  It’s just $12 for the set, or you can buy each booklet separately for a mere $3.50.  This will make a lovely present, or (and you know this is a  high compliment from me) excellent bathroom reading.  Pre-order!  Shipping begins November 23.

Hoping to get some excerpts up tomorrow!  I’ve only read little bits of what Brandon, Dan, and Dorian wrote, so I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this set.  Thanks to Ryan for including me, and for changing the cover at the last minutewithout breaking an apparent sweat, when I changed my mind and didn’t want to write about caterpillars after all!  Whew.

50 Books: Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters

Today’s pick:

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

A simple and satisfying story of two daughters, based on an African folktale.  One daughter has a gentle and generous heart, and she is tested and rewarded; one is petty and grasping, and she gets what she deserves.  The story is engaging and nicely phrased, but the illustrations are what makes this book a real delight.

They are absolutely luminous, deeply textural, warm, and brilliant.  The subtle expressions on the faces of the two daughters tell the story very well, and the joy at the end of the story radiates off the page.

The book is for pre-K to grade 3, it says, but I never get tired of reading it (and often catch the older kids listening in).

50 Books: Hokusai!!!!!!!!!!

I wanted today’s book to have a nice tie-in with today’s post, but, it doesn’t.  But it has something much, much better:  HOKUSAI!

The book I looked over a thousand times when I was little is

Masterworks of Ukiyo-E: Hokusai Sketches and Paintings

If you think that Japanese art is stiff, formal and impenetrable to Western eyes, then your cure is HOKUSAI!  You probably know his famous “Great Wave off Kanagawa”

This is a woodblock print.  A WOODBLOCK PRINT.  Have you ever tried to do a print?  Okay.

But what I really remember from this book is his little portraits.  Tender, grotesque, hilarious, occasionally obscene, and all done with an economy of line that — I don’t even know how to say it.  It will slay you.

It’s my constant lament that we never manage to bring my kids to art museums.  I do try to copy my parents’ example and pick up large, colorful art books at book sales, though, and leave them lying around for the kids to leaf through.  (This has its perils, of course; just because it’s art doesn’t mean it’s okay for kids to see certain things!  So you have to use your common sense.)

If you kid is, like mine, into manga (which is also a constant lament of mine, but I try to keep it to myself), maybe you could introduce him to Hokusai.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and link to another book which I haven’t actually read, but which I’m thinking of getting for my kid:

Hokusai, First Manga Master

Here’s the blurb:

More than a hundred years before Japanese comics swept the globe, the master engraver Hokusai was producing beautiful, surreal, and often downright wacky sketches and drawings, filled with many of the characters and themes found in modernmanga. These out-of-context caricatures, which include studies of facial expressions, postures, and situations ranging from the mundane to the otherworldly, demonstrate both the artist’s style and his taste. In addition to the landscapes for which he is beloved, Hokusai’s mangas reveal his compassion for farmers, artisans, and peasants, as well as his keen eye for the absurd.

Hokusai!!!!!!!!!!!  It’s also fun to say.

Oh, I forgot!

. . . Sed Noli Modo put up the interview she did with me a while back, for Catholic Speaker’s Month.  Check it out!

50 books: Sabbath edition

Yarr (that’s my “shamefaced pirate” voice), it’s Sunday.  Not supposed to conduct commerce on Sundays.  But if I skip a day, I’ll never get back on track, believe me.  So out of respect for the Lord’s day, for today’s book for the “50 books” list, I’m recommending a children’s Bible which is being sold used for under $2; so if I’m corrupting the Sabbath, I’m certainly not doing a very good job of it:

The Golden Bible, Old Testament, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky

We own approximately 523 children’s Bibles, and this is far and away my favorite one.  The illustrations are completely magnificent.  Unforgettable, every single one of them — lively, absolutely blazing with color, and bursting with the strange glory and tenderness of the stories.  Even the endpapers are full of fascinating detail.  If you want your kids to come to you and say, “What is THIS about?” then leave this Old Testament where they can find it.

This is an oversized, hardcover book, printed back when books didn’t shed their pages after being read by kids a few times.  I’m having hard time finding examples of the illustrations online (and of course our scanner is broken), but here is the cover of one edition, showing creation:

I wish I could find the illustration for Solomon, with the false mother calm and pale as death, dressed in dainty pastels, and the real mother so earthy and passionate as she begs for her baby.  I wish Rojankovsky had done a New Testament!  I guess it’s that old Inferno/Paradiso problem – -it’s so much easier to tell a compelling story when it doesn’t have a happy ending.  Not that the Old Testament doesn’t have a happy ending, but you know what I mean.


50 Books, Day 6, I think

Poetry!  We all want to have read it, but we don’t want to read it!  Amiright?  How about this:

The Rattle Bag edited by poets Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes

Here is a great anthology to leave lying around.  It’s designed to surprise you.  It isn’t organized chronologically or by theme — it’s in alphabetical order of the poets’ names, so you can open it up and find ANYTHING (and there is a glossary and index in the back, too).  It isn’t horrifyingly thick, and the pages aren’t frustratingly thin.

Most of the poems are short, and most of them are great, but chosen to be a little more accessible to modern readers.  This doesn’t mean it’s a watered-down, pandering collection; it’s just been put together by people who know how to suck unsuspecting readers into enjoying something they might never have chosen deliberately.

It’s the perfect anthology if you’re intimidated by poetry, and don’t know where to start — or if you used to like poetry, but can’t get into it anymore — or if you read poetry every day, but are in a rut with your same old familiar favorites.

Guest Post! — 7 Quick Books

Hey, I know the world ended on Tuesday and everything, but  they can have my seven quick takes

when they pry them from my cold, dead hands.  By which I mean we never really planned to put the computer in this area, so there is no heat in my workspace.  My hands hurt.  Stupid winter.  I blame Obama.  And Ron Paul, Mark Shea, Jane Fonda, Ashton Kutcher, Burt Bacharach and effing overrated Joan Miro.  I’m sorry, what is that?  Is that a chicken, some tinker toys, and a piece of macaroni?  Wow, that’s nice.  Here’s a million dollars.

Today’s post was written by my fourteen year old daughter, who is just as cranky as I am, but who hides it better.  Hoping to diversify my “50 books” list, I asked her what her favorite book was these days.  She said, “Just a minute!” and dashed upstairs.  A short while later, she came down and casually tossed onto my desk two pages of single-spaced book reviews of her seven favorite books.  This is what she said:

1.  Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

An excellent alternate history sci-fi novel.  It takes place in Europe during World War I, but a Europe that is divided into two opposing forces:  Clankers, who have steampunk machinery, and Darwinists, who have genetically engineered “beasties” for performing everyday tasks.  There’s also romance, action, snappy dialogue, lovable characters, and amazing ink drawing in every chapter that will keep you turning the pages around the clock.

2.  The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Despite being dead for several decades, Tolkien is still the reigning king of fantasy.  If you haven’t read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings yet, then now is the time to start.

3.  Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

Even more than his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Dirk Gently and its sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul showcase Adams’ ability to portray the insanity of normal people.  A lot of strange, screwed-up, and/or wicked funny things happen, and in the end it turns out that every one of them is connected.

4.  The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The plot is devilishly complex, and the main character is sympathetic and appealing from the very beginning of the novel.  There are two sequels which I have yet to read, but my cousin says they are actually better.  Inconceivable.

5.  A Dog’s Life:  The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M. Martin

Despite common misconception, Ann M. Martin of Babysitter’s Club infamy is not a bad writer.  When she’s not writing about whiny, babysitting obsessed teenagers, Martin is actually a wonderful writer.  A Dog’s Life is one of the most bittersweet and touching novels I’ve ever read.  Luckily, it has a happy ending.

6.  The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson

Realistic fiction about adolescents with troubled pasts is hardly my cup of tea, but Katherine Patterson is the only person who can make it readable.  Even wonderful.

7.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Kit is a girl from Barbados, and when she moves in with her Puritan relatives, she refuses to act like a decent Puritan girl and behaves as though she is still free as she was on her island home.  Not to sound sappy, but it’s really a timeless novel.

Okay, this is me, Simcha, again.  I have to say that I HAVE NOT READ ALL OF THESE BOOKS.  I know you’re supposed to be all up on what your kids are reading, but dude, I have nine kids.  That Leviathan one and The Thief make me a little  nervous (although not as nervous as I was when I thought she was telling me that she was reading Thomas Hobbes for pleasure.  I thought I had given birth to an alien). But I did realize that, even if my daughter is reading books she’s not supposed to be reading, she would be smart enough not to let me know that she’s reading books she shouldn’t be reading.  So I think this is a pretty safe list.

Happy Friday, and don’t forget to check out the other seven quick takes by people who probably had to actually do the writing themselves, ha-ha!

I was of two minds

Like a tree, in which there are three blackbirds, but one of them is actually just a regular blackbird.

On the one hand, yesterday’s election results want me to take everyone by the shoulders and remind them:  Hey, it’s okay!   We still belong to one family, the family of man.  Life goes on.  Obama is just a guy, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Donna Summer, it’s that there is no guy who can make life not worth living.

But seriously, here is a book which reminds you most gorgeously of the timelessness of human experience, which perdures with dignity no matter which clown is in the oval office:

The Family of Man by Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg

This is the book version of an exhibit which collected over 500 photos from 68 countries, interspersed with illuminating fragments of verse and prose.  I looked through this book maybe twelve thousand times when I was growing up, and I think I remember every single image in it.  I consider this book to be an absolutely essential part of a basic education.  There is no message; it simply shows you what life is like.  It’s completely accessible, not overly arty — but never descends into cliches.  Magnificent.

On the other hand, there is this (WARNING:  uses the f-word):


50 books, Day 2

For today’s book, I was torn between choosing something that would be appropriate for the election, and something that would take your mind off the election.  So I decided to go with both.

I know I’ve mentioned this one before, but seriously, you need to have this book in your house:

It Could Always Be Worse:  A Yiddish Folktale written and illustrated by Margo Zemach

This is the book that my five-year-old says is her favorite.  She reviews it this way:  “There’s feathers in the soup!  And he keeps on coming to the rabbi.  Sometimes he pulls his beard to think!  It was hilarious.”  That’s pretty much it.  A poor man lives in a one-room hut with his wife and six children.  They are so cramped and crowded and quarrelsome, he can’t stand it anymore, and runs to the rabbi for help.  And the rabbi gives him some very strange advice.

An amazingly compact little story, completely satisfying at the end.  It’s lots of fun to read (you know how some books just aren’t?  It’s like the authors have no ear; but Zemach definitely does) and the pictures are a scream.  The kids’ favorite part is when things get so bad that the moon comes in the window.  Warning:  There are some contextually relevant tushies involved.