Thursday, May 19, 2011

Updates from Susan-Land

It’s been a busy few weeks.  It’s hard to believe we have less than 40 days now until Penny leaves us.  There were times we never thought this time would come, and now here we are in many ways dreading the fact that she has to leave at all!  It will be an interesting summer, though, and we have a lot planned, so I think we’ll have some fun.

P1010266 The big news this past few weeks has been that we had to have our beloved little bunny, TomTom, put to sleep.  He started acting a little punky and out of it and then just started smelling really bad, and finally had a hard time moving at all.  I took him to the vet last week and she said that he was having kidney issues and they could try to nurse him through it, but there were no guarantees and it would be kinder just to let him go.  For all the kidding around we’ve done in recent years about waiting for him to die so we could install bookshelves in his spot downstairs, it was incredibly sad and painful to bid him farewell.  This picture was taken when he was about 4 months old, and he lived to be 6, so he had a good, long life.  I know living in his pen in the basement wasn’t his favorite place to be, but we did the best we could by him, and I think as long as we gave him carrots and whatnot, he was happy.

I am busy now with two major goals, the first of which is finishing off everything I need to do in order to start school this summer.  This includes completing a checklist of things they have on the school website for the summer course I’m taking, as well as the nuts and bolts, like applying for a loan, making travel arrangements, getting the text book, getting tested for immunity to measles, and making arrangements for where I’m going to stay.  I’ve got an email address set up now for my school stuff, so I can say I’m official, and now that the bill is in, I guess I’m really going.  The worst part of it has been dealing with my doctor’s office, trying to figure out about how I can get tested for a measles immunity.  Despite my repeated phone calls, they haven’t called back, so finally I called the clinic in Central Park here in Fredericksburg and they can do the test and have the papers ready in 2 days.  I should have gone there 3 weeks ago!

The other major thing is working on getting Leah potty trained.  She has indicated a readiness and willingness for the task, as for the past couple of months, she’s gotten very upset when her diaper is wet or dirty, and tries to get it off.  If she can’t, she screams and cries pitifully.  We’ve been at it almost 2 weeks now, and she’s definitely getting the hang of it.  She likes earning little rewards and she loves wearing underpants instead of a diaper.  So I think we’re making good progress.

Last weekend, Paul Burrell, Princess Diana’s butler, came into Fredericksburg to help raise funds for the new children’s museum they are hoping to build here.  Of course I jumped at the chance to go meet him and brought Penny along as her opportunity to meet a celebrity.  We had a great time—he got right on the floor with Leah, and Penny was so happy that I talked her into going back and getting herself a book signed and asking him about the royal wedding.

P1100806 P1100801 P1100805Penny has developed an interest in the British Royal family thanks to my tutelage, so it was kind of special to share in that after we watched the Royal Wedding together and I taught her some tea sandwiches and scones to make English tea, which we did for both the Royal Wedding and for Mother’s Day.

P1100855 Today we rolled down to Westmoreland Berry Patch to pick berries and play with goats.  She LOVED it this year, as opposed to last year when she really wanted nothing to do with it.  She sat in the mud happily mashing and eating berries and then we fed the goats and had lunch.  They give you a handful of corn or a handful of goat feed for a quarter, and she was determined that the goat was not getting more than one niblet at a time, and even then he’d have to pry it from her fingers, but the goat was quite patient and happily ate whatever she was willing to give without biting.


I have been penpalling a lot lately, and have new penpals from England, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.  It’s a lot of fun and very interesting, and helping me travel vicariously, since I’m not likely to go too many places between now and who knows when!  One of my Australian penpals friended me on Facebook and it is hilarious to see her snow pictures while I’m gearing up to roast off a few pounds here with summer kicking off.

Otherwise, we’ve been sticking close to home.  Gas prices being what they are, I’ve canceled our summer travel plans and am now making plans for things we can do locally.  This past week I only used one tank of gas, which for me is astounding, since I was going through 2 a week.  We are enjoying Toddlin’ Time and MOPS, and at the MOPS event on Sunday, they were talking to me about putting Leah in pre-school this fall, which I am still thinking about.  I’ve been leaning away from doing it, but at the same time, it would give me a couple of days a week to get schoolwork done, as well as allowing her the chance to socialize and learn some things…  So we’ll see.  I would like to take her to the Richmond Zoo and Ginter Gardens this summer, and we’ll go up to DC to Mike’s new office and to meet his co-workers.  My old office is having a party next week and I’m going to go to that.  My book clubs are still going strong, and I’m enjoying them both.  Zipping around a lot with Penny now that she’s gotten more involved in school and friends.  She really enjoyed the prom last weekend, and this weekend is having Korean food with friends, volunteering at a local 5K, and wants to go see Pirates of the Caribbean.  Monday night, Mike will be out visiting some friends from RI who are coming to town, so we girls are going to have a little girls’ night, and I know she also wants to go to Charlottesville again, as well as go berry picking.  Last night was her last choir concert, tonight she has to go to an improv show for her school.  So it’s a busy time for all of us!

This summer, I’m going to go enjoy my first concert at Celebrate Virginia Live, when Barenaked Ladies roll into town.  I’m also hoping to get to see Hello Dolly over at Riverside.  I’m really excited to go to Tucson, and also to swim, spend time with friends, and start planning my dad’s 60th in September.

That’s all for now!  The fun never ends! :-D

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Some Reading Updates

I’m sure very few people, if any, care much that I blog any more, and fewer still probably care if I blog about what I’ve been reading, but I enjoy blogging, so I’m going to do it anyway.

I went over to the soon-to-be-defunct Joseph Beth the other night with my buddy Jacalyn, and we roamed around look at sale books.  I had my iPod out and my PBS Wish List open, and that way I was able to try to find books I had been wanting. 

I’ve ready one serious book and one silly book this week, and considering that only puts my total on the year up to 15, 2 books is a significant amount of reading for one week.  That they were both excellent reads was even better.

LITTLE%20BILLY'S%20LETTERS%20cover One book I found at Joseph-Beth completely by accident is Bill Geerhart’s Little Billy’s Letters.  Here’s the description from

What do Tori Spelling, the Church of Scientology, and Donald Rumsfeld all have in common?: They -- and many others -- have answered letters from "Little Billy", a grown man with a cache of stamps and far too much time on his hands. Funny, touching, and delightfully quirky, Billy's letters cover a broad range of subject matter:

  • Operation Drop-Out: Considering dropping out of elementary school, Billy writes to serial killers and celebrities seeking their wise counsel.
  • Billy's Law: Which Supreme Court Justice prefers the Big Mac to the Whopper? Who is Janet Reno's favorite crime fighter? What does Robert Shapiro say is the best defense for being framed for murder? Billy finds out.
  • The Making of the Class President: Billy runs for class president and collects "endorsements" from Nancy Reagan, Dick Cheney, George HW Bush, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, Ken Starr, and Colin Powell.
  • Choosing My Religion: Billy asks representatives from the Catholic, Presbyterian, Mormon, Raelian, Satanic, Scientologist, Hare Krishna and Unification Church (Moonies) what is "cool" or "easy" about their religion.

Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Celebrities, Heads of Corporations, Serial Killers, Robot Makers, and the NesQuick Bunny have all replied to "Little Billy's" scrawled questions.

This book was absolutely hilarious, riveting, clever, and fascinating.  I started reading it while standing at the humor shelf in the store, and couldn’t put it down.  Jacalyn and I were dying laughing over the letter to and from Charles Manson (Jacalyn, if you’re reading, there’s a second letter from Manson that’s even crazier than the first one!), and I absolutely loved that so many of these people took the time to respond to these letters in so many different ways—some just sent a picture, some actually wrote whole letters, you name it, it was done.  The letter from Mr. Rogers will make you cry, unless you have  a heart of stone.

An added bonus is that this book counts towards the What's In a Name? reading challenge, as a book with a size in the title!  Woo hoo! 

The_Magicians_Assistant-120361598275115 The second book I read this week was Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant.  I had previously read 2 books by Ann Patchett, The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto, both of which I consumed and adored. I have had The Magician’s Assistant on the shelf for a while now, and I tell you why:  it’s Ann’s books.  I need to take serious breaks in between reading them.  Whenever I think of my favorite authors, I never really remember Ann Patchett, but as soon as I read one of her books, I’m reminded again of how fantastic a writer she really is and I remind myself that I need to include her in my top 10 list of authors I love.  Every book is a beautiful story, so densely packed with characters you love even if you hate them a little bit, a story line that literally has me biting off my nails even if it’s not a taut thriller, and I’m pleased to say The Magician’s Assistant was no different.

I’ve had this book so long, I honestly can’t remember where I got it.  It strikes me that I got it from the library book sale, because I can sort of remember saying to myself, “Oh, Ann Patchett, I think I’ll pick this up.”  This past week with all the nuttiness happening, I’ve been in the mood to just read an excellent story, and I had a feeling this book would deliver.  And somehow, after putting TomTom to sleep last week (SOB!), seeing the rabbit on the front cover of this book was an absolute comfort to me.

The story revolves around Sabine, who has been magician Parsifal’s assistant for more than 20 years and wife for just a few years.  When Parsifal dies suddenly and unexpectedly, Sabine’s attorney finds mention of a family in Parsifal’s will that Sabine never knew existed.  She had lived with the assumption that Parsifal was an orphan with no relatives, but in fact, his mother, sisters, and nephews are alive and well in Nebraska.  She chooses to meet them and learns much about the man she thought she knew, and about herself in the process.

The minute I dove into it, I knew I was in trouble.  I did not put the book down much, I can honestly say.  But Monday, as I got to the bombshell I never saw coming, I literally had to put the book down and walk away.  Just reading the middle section of the book exhausted me.  And yet, within hours, I was ordering Run off PaperBackSwap, and I’m hoping it comes soon. 

Where Patchett shines in The Magician’s Assistant is in not bashing the idea of Sabine’s grief into your head.  The story really is focused on Parsifal’s family, and on Sabine’s discovery of that family, on what she assumed and thought and what they assumed and thought, and how the truth was in that grey area in between.  Exploring all that underbelly stuff could get complicated, but Patchett manages to never let it get messy.  When I began weeping 100 pages before the book was done, I knew good and well I was in deep.  Typically I can’t stand neat and tidy endings, but in this case, I was cheering for Sabine to make certain decisions, and while she did make them, we are left to make up our own mind about how those decisions will play out in the future. 

I felt so deeply for Sabine and for Parsifal’s family, that to close the cover on this book was nearly devastating in itself.  I’ll be adding Ann Patchett to my “must read” lists in the future, and while I may take another lengthy break before investing in her again, I am very pleased to see that she’ll be appearing in DC on June 8th and have every intention of going to meet her and get some books signed…  That is my neat and tidy little ending, and one I’m very excited about! 

I gave Little Billy’s Letters 4 stars on GoodReads and The Magician’s Assistant 5 stars.  I highly recommend both of them!