A new look at the end of the world (or, another #YAlittrend)

“In the Bible, the end of the world went on for a whole book.  But the real and of the world, Aiden knew, would never be more than a paragraph or two. The real end of the world would just be small things piled up.” –Son of Fortune by Victoria McKernan

YA lit has explored all sorts of ways the world might end or change drastically in various post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels that have been popular in recent years.  The book I quote above isn’t about the end of the world at all, but I thought the quote was interesting since I’ve read several teen novels this year, including a few that will publish in the year ahead) that take on the Biblical end of the world in various ways.  The trendwatcher in me has been taking note of these:

  • vivianThis Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready explores the rapture and religious fundamentalism.  I liked the story and the suspense, and I think that the message that religious extremism should be avoided will certainly resonate with a lot of young readers looking for a middle ground.
  • Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle has a more satirical edge to it that I liked.  It’s basically a road trip novel with social commentary thrown in for good measure.  Not to mention a post-apocalyptic style world. (Pubs January 2015)
  • No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss turns this trend on its head. This book takes place after the predicted End did not happen.  The family who banked their future on the prophecy is now homeless and navigating the challenges of the same old world. (Pubs March 2015)
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman is less about the actual end of the world and more about how it feels to live with the End hanging over you.  As someone raised in a non-mainstream religion with a similar focus on an End that could happen at any moment, I related to the story of being torn between the present and the possible future.  (Pubs April 2015)

I admit that my religious history might have me seeking out books like this out of personal interest, but it feels like a trend to me.  Or maybe it’s just the usual interest in non-mainstream religion (See also: Like No Other by Una LaMarche and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock) that has always been a part of teen fiction.  Either way, I’m watching it.

See my previous discussions of trends in teen fiction here and here.

Pirate arms vs. Robot arms

One of the most common questions I am asked regarding my prosthetic arm is some variation of the following: “Why don’t you have one of those cool robot hands I saw on TV?”

My standard answer is to talk about how prosthetics are expensive and often not covered by insurance.  This explanation usually makes sense to people, but I can’t help but feel that I’m letting them down.  After all, the basic design for my prosthesis was developed in 1812.  The materials have changed for the better; they are lighter and cheaper. But I still look like I belong on a pirate ship with my body-powered, hook-shaped prosthesis.

amazingbioI bring this up now because we are in the middle of Disability History Month (at least we would be if we were in the UK), and it seemed like a good time to link to this article from How Stuff Works: How Prosthetic Limbs Work. It is a fantastic article that covers a lot of the points I usually make, like how expensive this stuff is, how they haven’t changed that much, and how they don’t last a lifetime.  People don’t usually think about these things.  They just think about the cool documentary they watched about the cutting edge stuff.  A kid might think of a book they read like Amazing Feats of Biological Engineering, which makes it seem like bionics are more here and now than they are.*  Or they think: We live in the twenty-first century; Robot arms should be a reality by now.

It does seem like we’re getting closer to that reality.  3-d printing offers some really interesting options for prosthetics, and organizations like E-Nable are trying to connect people who could benefit from the technology to the people who know how to use it.  I am excited to see where this will lead.  Perhaps sometime soon my old pirate arm will be a thing of the past.

Until then, it would be cool to see a documentary or read a book about the prosthetic devices that people are actually using right now.  Even if they do seem like they are from another era.

 

More questions about my prosthetic arm answered here.

 

* Nothing against the book.  It’s actually pretty cool to see prosthetics addressed at all, and if it encourages kids to think about this kind of technology, I’m all for it.

An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

The Great Minnesota Get Together

A few days ago a Facebook friend of mine posted the question “Why do you go to the State Fair?”

Some said that they go for the food.  Others said it’s the rides.  I like those things, but for me the Minnesota State Fair isn’t about food or rides.  It’s the energy of the fair that gets me, that makes a trip to the fair a priority every year.  I love that we’re all there to celebrate the talented people, hard work, and creativity of our state.  Some say it’s too crowded or too expensive, but it’s worth it to me to battle the crowds and pay the money to soak up that feeling of celebratory pride in the efforts of fellow Minnesotans and to explore the best of our great state.  

I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

mnstatefair

More photos from our day at the fair here

Past State Fair adventures:

A Weekend in Chicago

On our way out of town on Friday, I was scrolling through my social media feed when I saw a headline with the words “This might be the biggest Twin Cities weekend of the summer.”  That is not what you really want to see when you’re leaving for a weekend getaway.  We already knew we were going to miss Northern Spark and the launch of the Green Line, but we kept our eyes on Chicago.

It seemed that city was also having a pretty big weekend, and we were right in the middle of it.  Most of our fellow commuter train passengers on Saturday appeared to be headed to the Blues Festival .  We were there to play tourist.  I grew up outside of Chicago, and a part of me will always consider Chicago to be “my city” no matter how Minnesotan I feel these days.  It’s always fun to share my memories of Chicago, especially now that my daughter is old enough to get excited about it too.  I love that she showed as much enthusiasm for some of the more iconic scenes as she did a random playground we happened by.

That evening we made our way to the Wicker Park neighborhood (after the six year old was safely deposited at Grandma’s) for the reason we were willing to leave town on one of the best Twin Cities weekends of the summer.  Braid and the Smoking Popes at the Double Door’s 20th Anniversary celebration.  As soon as we saw that these two old favorites were playing, we jumped on the tickets and made our plans.

braid2014I grew up listening to these bands.  I mean that specifically: I listened to them in my late teens and early twenties.  They were, along with a few select others, my coming of age soundtrack.  Braid, in particular, was perfect coming of age music.  With lines like “let’s stop clapping / let’s start doing / a dream for the teens and in-betweens / and twenties yet unseen” the teenage me was conscious of the fact that these were guys just a couple of years older than me.  They often sang about finding your way, and it had a strong impact on me as I sorted out my ideas about life and love.  I saw them live a few times before they broke up in 1999.

In 2004, I caught the reunion tour. By then, I lived in the Twin Cities, and I was dating my now-husband.  I was in my mid-twenties, which meant that the band members were pushing thirty. My youthful optimism never considered that the show might disappoint, and it didn’t.  It actually made my Top Ten Favorite Shows even though it made me feel older than my years to have a reunion show on my Top Ten list.  I still consider myself an optimist, but I have to admit that it did occur to me, how ever briefly, that ten years might make a difference.

They opened with a song I didn’t know–the new record comes out next month–and then launched into a series of older songs from Frame & Canvas and other records I know so well.  There was no need to worry.  Funnily enough, lines like “a dream for the tweens, and in-betweens, and twenties yet unseen” can still resonate several years past one’s twenties.

The show could have ended there, and it would have been worth the trip.  It was already on my Top Ten Favorite Shows of all time–no matter what having two reunion shows on my list might mean about my age or taste.  But the Smoking Popes were up next.

smokingpopes2014The Smoking Popes were the first local band I listened to. They were the first band I saw play live so many times I lost track of when and where I saw them, and eventually it became no-big-deal in that way that local bands can sometimes get even to their super fans.  After a while, they didn’t play as much, and I moved away anyway.  I did catch them at the Triple Rock a few years ago.  That was a good show, but it doesn’t compare to the one I saw this weekend.  Saturday’s show was a reunion of the super fans.  It seemed like every song was a sing along in a crowd that knew every word.  No one yelled out “Pretty Pathetic” even though we all wanted them to play it.  Probably because we knew they were saving it for the end of the show with the stripped down beginning and dramatic end.  It was far from no-big-deal.

Here’s to the past for the memories and the music.  And here’s to what is still unseen.  Let’s stop clapping and start doing.

 

Thursday 3: Picture Book Preschool Updates

Most Thursdays I post a Thursday 3 picture on my photo blog, but this one seemed like it belonged here. Now that my daughter is in school, my Picture Book Preschool posts have been retired, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about them occasionally. Here are three new picture books that might be good choices for your preschooler:

20140514-074348.jpg

Is it Big or is it Little? by Claudia Rueda – I explored the topic of relative size with my daughter in this post, and it was fun to compare objects. This book is about more than just though. It looks at relative meanings of various opposites as it follows a cat and mouse around.

Have You Seen My Dragon? by Steve Light – I have already mentioned in a previous Thursday 3 that this book is a 2014 favorite of mine. It is a tour of New York City, a seek and find, and a counting book that takes us up to twenty, which makes it good for this post.

Henry’s Map by David Elliot – Who doesn’t love maps? This silly story of a neat and tidy pig trying to make a map of the farm is right on target for preschoolers. Perfect addition to this post.

Storytime Reflections

Seventy-some pairs of eyes watched last Friday as I realized I should have practiced holding up a picture book and reading it at the same time.  I was reading Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox to a storytime group at the White Bear Lake Public Library. It might seem like an odd choice of a book for someone like me to read considering I don’t have “ten little fingers,” but I’ve found it’s a good introduction to the idea of people being born with lots of different traits–only having one arm is just another possibility.  A little less common perhaps, but a possibility nonetheless.

I don’t know how much of that jived with the preschoolers in the storytime room last week, but the main thing is that we created a safe space for the sort of curiosity that people of all ages sometimes feel obligated to squash or keep to themselves.  My hope is to help people feel comfortable talking about differences of all sorts.  The more we talk, the less different we seem.

We left space for questions at the end, and at first people were shy about raising their hands. I did get a few great questions though that I thought I would answer here briefly in case you are curious too.

- Where do you get an arm like that?

I go to a doctor to get a prescription for an arm like this. Then I go to a place where they make prosthetics to get it fitted especially to me.

- How often do you have to get a new prosthetic arm?

When I was a kid, I had to get new arms frequently–at least every year, sometimes more often depending on how fast I grew. Now that I am not growing, they last a bit longer. My current prosthetic is 13 years old at this point, and I am sincerely hoping it lasts many more years.

- How do you get dressed?

This is a really common question from kids, and I have the hardest time answering it because I don’t really think about how I get dressed. I just do it. I suppose my left hand does most of the work with any buttons and zippers.

- Do you sleep with your prosthetic arm on?

No, I take it off to sleep, bathe, swim, or just relax. Prosthetics are very helpful, but not very comfortable.

- What kind of exercises can you do with one arm?

I am a bookish sort (surprise!) whose main form of exercise is taking long day dreamy walks, so I am not the most qualified to speak on this. But I will say that some of the yoga I have tried require a bit of adaptation to do them with one hand. If I were serious about fitness, I imagine a trainer could help me modify most exercises to suit my needs.

Do you have a question? Check out my FAQ or feel free to ask in the comments. :)

Welcome home

20140506-070418.jpg

What makes a house a home? (Or an apartment a home, in this case, I suppose.) My daughter is nearing the end of her first year of Unitarian-Universalist religious education, and that has been the focus of the program for her age group: Creating a home.

Note: If there’s ever a good time to move, it’s when your child is immersed in a weekly lesson in creating a home.  That was a happy coincidence for us.  Each week she would spend her Sunday mornings immersed in the idea that we can be intentional about our homes, that our homes are safe spaces we journey from and return to every day.  I realized as I listened to her talk about what home meant to her that moving would be easy if we were intentional about it.

We have spent the last couple of months creating a home in a new apartment in a new neighborhood.  There are still items in boxes or in not-quite permanent locations, and there isn’t much on the walls yet.  But it’s feeling more and more like home every day.

What has made this place a home for me:

  • Finding a nearby Little Free Library to adopt as ours.  It’s far enough away to be a mini-adventure and close enough to be convenient.  We’ll make regular stops there now that it’s nice outside.
  • We met our neighbors.  It turns out we are surrounded by six year old girls.  My six year old is delighted.
  • We adopted a cat and named her Disco.

Last weekend, my daughter and I cuddled in a comfy chair to watch Cosmos, and Disco joined us, purring.  That’s home.

20140506-070506.jpg

Mothers, Daughters, and Stories

20140318-065320.jpg

This past Saturday I stood in front of a very small group to read an essay that is probably the most personal thing I’ve written outside of the pages of my journal in years.  That group will decide whether I will be offered an opportunity to read my essay in front of a much larger audience as part of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show.  I won’t hear until the end of the week whether my audition was successful.  In all honesty, I’m not sure which outcome I’m rooting for.  

Most of the writing and speaking I do these days is focused on books.  I like it that way.  It is much more comfortable to talk about books than it is to talk about myself. The essay I entered for consideration in LTYM is not at all comfortable.  There are no books.  It’s just me.  I felt a little naked up there without a stack of books to take the eyes and attention away from me.  Maybe more than a little.

My essay is about the mother-daughter relationship.  If I were to turn it into a booktalk, I would have to start with the dedication page of Dreamer, Wisher, Liar by Charise Mericle Harper:

“For my mother and my daughter–I wish we could be twelve together.  Just for a day.”

I should note that in this advance copy of the book nothing is final.  Perhaps the dedication will change before the book is published, but I hope it doesn’t.  It’s what made me pick up the book.  I can’t help but wonder what that wish would turn into for me.  

When I read What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren I felt myself getting teary eyed more than once at the relationship between Esther and her mother.  It’s a small book and perhaps a bit old fashioned, but it isn’t far off from my story.  Maybe you’ll see some of yours in it too.

If you are an 8 to 12 year old girl or just remember what it’s like to be one, you might like Dreamer, Wisher, Liar or What the Moon Said.  

Meanwhile, make a note of the date: May 8th.  Whether or not I am part of the show, Listen to Your Mother will be a good one.

Thursday 3: New Teen Fiction

Teen fiction is my preferred reading material, and I’ve been rather immersed in it in recent weeks as I prepped for a presentation at the Minnesota Educational Media Organization Conference in which realistic teen fiction was my responsibility. Here are a
few of my favorites from my part of the presentation.

  • Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon – It’s a novel set in hospice care, so be ready to cry. But it’s also pretty funny.
  • The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider – This romance/coming-of-age novel reminded me a bit of Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas, which I loved.
  • Hostage Three by Nick Lake – I read this modern day pirate thriller in one sitting. It doesn’t come out until November, so add it to your library hold list now.

  • My apologies for the lack of links and pictures in this post. I am having some computer issues, and I used the WordPress app on my phone to write this post.