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Christmas was wonderful.  It was lovely to see lots of people at the Christmas Eve service, after last year’s snow keeping most people at home.  We feasted liturgically, then feasted on food, then refused to be shushed while the choir sang some carols afterwards.  Really, who wants to be shushed at 1:30 am when all you really want to do is catch up with your out of town friends?

Then off to bed for a few hours of sleep before getting up to make cinnamon rolls – something that I’ll hopefully manage to turn into a Christmas tradition.

We went through our stockings, and ate buttery cinnamon rolls, and opened gifts.  In the afternoon we packed the car full of sweets – chocolate gingerbread, blueberry strata pie, chocolate cheesecake, and a bonus pan of cinnamon rolls for the cousins – and headed over to have dinner with the other local branch of the family.

Fortunately for me, it was a lamb-tastic Christmas – yes ma’am, Greek-style lamb, potatoes, those delicious grape-leaf things whose name I can never remember.  Mmm.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Gosh, now I’m finishing up this post a week after the fact and I don’t remember what all I was going to reminisce about – let’s just say there was good company and good food.

I got out my camera and went a little crazy, which I hadn’t done in a while – the camera or the crazy.  They were both great.  I always love looking back at pictures, but I don’t always remember to get out the camera.  Or I’m just not in the mood to document – I only want to sit back and enjoy the moment.  I don’t know what makes the difference between a photographed occasion and an undocumented one, but I do know that once I get in the habit, I keep it up.  Also, once I get out the camera, it’s easier to just keep taking pictures.

The next morning, I rolled and baked the rest of the cinnamon roll dough – I love how they looked before the frosting got drizzled on and ruined their nice Greek key look.  I also gave away two more pans, in case you think I sat around my house all day eating cinnamon rolls.  For your information, I only had them for breakfast and as an afternoon snack.  Ahem.

Then I kept up the baking theme with a cocoa-buttermilk cake for my god-daughter’s baptism, which was on Sunday.  I never actually got to try it, since I was too busy eating lamb stew (yes! more lamb!) and drinking glasses of wine.  Yes, yes, I did move straight from my first cup of coffee of the day to my first glass of wine.  It’s not everyday you get a wonderful new baby to see exorcised, blessed, baptized, and Chrismated.  She was very cooperative through the whole thing, sleeping right up until right before she was undressed and dunked, then (of course) kicking up a fuss when she re-emerged, then having a snack and sleeping peacefully to save up energy to focus on her Chrismation.  And focus she did – giving Fr. David and her godfather good hard looks before rubbing chrism into her tiny fists. 

This is perhaps not her most flattering angle, but I was a bit busy doing god-parenty things during the actual baptism and will have to rely on others to furnish me with pictures.  Needless to say, I’m completely smitten and honored to be her godmother.

Since then I’ve gone on to bake two pans of brownies (coworkers birthday) and Dorie’s Orange Berry Muffins (holiday party at work), which might be my new favorite blueberry muffin recipe.  In fact, I’ve got more buttermilk and more blueberries (the last of the measly quantity I froze last summer) so I just might make more this weekend.  And now that the Advent fast is over, I can eat whatever I please – it’s so fun!  I’m roasting a chicken to close out 2009, and I have three kinds of cheese in my fridge.

And it wasn’t until I started hearing lots of “best of the decade” lists that I even realized that we’re at the end of a decade.  I have a hard enough time with best of the year!  I haven’t been keeping good track of my reading for the whole decade, so I’ll probably just stick to my usual end of the year lists in random categories, unless I get really inspired.  But the whole decade?  Sheesh, I was 18 when it started.  I graduated from high school and started college.  But I will come back soon with my usual year-end round-up, and an update on my mock awards reading the status of my to-read shelf, and what I’m thinking of getting with my Powell’s cards.

treeI got a Christmas tree this year, which seemed a little silly since it’s just me (my roommate is out of town with her family for three weeks) and I’m spending Christmas at my parents’ house, as usual, but it’s not silly because it makes me happy every time I walk through the front door and see it.  I also have to resist the urge to lay on the floor under it.  It’s perfect for wrapping presents in front of, and now all those wrapped books – I mean gifts – I mean books – are sitting under it.  Yes, it’s a book year.  Once I got started with buying books for all the kids, it was hard to stop when I started shopping for the adults. After some late-night gingerbread baking, I feel on top of things.  Today is (hallelujah) my half day, which means plenty of time to frost that gingerbread, throw together some cinnamon roll dough, and get a last-minute gift for my dad, if I’m lucky.  early bird

Last night I made two pans of Dorie Greenspan’s Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread (follow the link for the recipe, which is online as part of the Tuesdays with Dorie project).  I tried turning the first cake out of the pan like the instructions call for, but it just started to fall apart into big chunks as soon as it was out, so I quickly flipped it back into the pan to finish cooling, in the hopes that it will seal itself back together.  The other pan I left alone – I figure I can just frost them in-pan, which is probably better since they both need to travel before they get eaten.  One for the church potluck tonight, one for Christmas dessert tomorrow.

It’s hard to believe that last Christmas we were up to our ears in snow (which reminds me that I still need to finish rereading The Long Winter) – right now the sun is out and it’s cold, but the only snow I’ve seen when I was visiting Olympia a few weeksangel ago.

It was a thrill to finally have a white Christmas last year, but believe me – I like this weather a whole lot better, especially now that I live on a hill.  Last year, barely anyone made it through the snow to the Christmas Eve service, so it will be good to have the usual bustle and crowd (and early morning feasting).

The library has been full of kids out of school and people looking for Christmas movies, and storytime is on hiatus until February.  The breakroom is full of treats and the staff is often unable to answer the phone due to caramel consumption.  elf

I finally got my meet my new god-daughter the other night, the sweet sweet Linnea, who was a model baby all evening.  Which probably means she’ll cry through her entire baptism on Sunday.  I’ll love her anyway.  Hopefully someone will take pictures, because my hands will be full.  The perfect Christmas present.

It’s hard to believe, though, that now I have three godchildren – and all very nicely spaced, from an infant to a six year old, two girls and a boy.  And since both of the girls are daughters of good friends, who both happened to be named Katy, that’s extra sweet.  Gosh, I’d better get to work before I get too sentimental.

As usual, I’m having a lazy Thursday morning, finishing up my Christmas cards and thinking that I really ought to get started on that whole buying Christmas presents thing.  I should also plan out some post-Christmas baking.  In the meantime, though, I’m admiring my tree (an impulse buy as I passed dozens of tree farms on my way to pick up milk last week) and enjoying the quiet morning and contemplating a slice of pumpkin bread (the King Arthur Flour recipe, with chocolate chips and pecans but absolutely egg and dairy free).

I’ve become overwhelmed by the number of library books that I keep renewing and renewing, so I’m trying to cut back on checking out new ones (except Mock Printz and Mock Newbery titles) until I clear off my shelf a bit.  I managed to get through three that have been lingering – What Was Lost, The Children of Green Knowe, and Half-Moon Investigations.  I definitely recommend What Was Lost, and I’m glad I gave it a chance before I ran out of renewals.  Green Knowe was one I hadn’t read since I was a kid, when I went through the whole series and was captivated.  I’d like to keep rereading the series, but it’s that old-fashioned, gentler kind of series that doesn’t leave you gasping for breath until you get your hands on the next installment.  Half-Moon was me giving Eoin Colfer a second chance – I didn’t really care for Artemis Fowl – and I enjoyed it although it wasn’t quite my thing.

Next up on my “had it out too long” list is Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, a collection of essays about eating alone.  I might browse through it, rather than reading straight through, but I’m really craving something fun and moderately fluffy, which means I might skip ahead to the Georgette Heyer that I haven’t even had to renew once yet – Devil’s Cub.  Kind of like eating dessert before dinner, which I can do because I’m a grown up.

Speaking of being a grown up, my library’s fall storytime session is over, and now we take a break until February.  It’s nice to have the planning time, but I’ll miss it.  We were really getting into the swing of things, with me being more comfortable and confident, and the kids getting to know my regular songs and rhymes (and me getting to have regular songs and rhymes!) and I’ll miss seeing my regulars every week.  But, announcing that we’re taking a break and hearing the groans of disappointment from the adults?  That’s a nice confirmation that you’re doing something well.

The Gone-Away World The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

How do I even attempt to describe this book? It’s big, and full of digressions – ninjas, mimes, some sci-fi elements that never quite take over the story, leaving it supremely about character, place, and the way the world works. It was infuriating at times, and I almost quit once or twice, but it was worth it in the end. However, I wouldn’t recommend it lightly. If you want a big, all-encompassing book that is hugely imaginative and bizarre, PICK IT UP. If you want an orderly, sensitive story, stay the hell away. This is not that kind of novel. If you like to think about history and war and politics with a healthy dose of absurdity, give it a go. It was a bit like Catch-22, only longer and with more digressions, and that sci-fi bit.


There’s a plot twist. I read all these reviews that mentioned the plot twist, and Nancy Pearl told us there’s a plot twist, so if you like to try to guess those kinds of things, have at it and good luck. I was sort of onto it by the time things were revealed – I had a close guess, without all the nuances figured out. But I would NEVER have seen it coming if that plot twist hadn’t been hammered into me. But that didn’t in any way detract from my enjoyment of the story, and it took me a long time to even begin to guess.

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Carter Finally Gets It Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford

Carter wants to make the team, get the girl, make it through 9th grade, beat his nemesis, lose his virginity, save face in front of his friends, fake his way through parties with a beer bottle of Mountain Dew, and not get his head pushed through a wall by his sister’s boyfriend. He’d probably want to make up for his mistakes, too, if he realized he’d made any. Oh, and Carter also has ADD, which makes this first person narrative a hilarious ramble through the first year of high school. The audio version is fantastic, capturing both that wandering thought process and the sense of being on the verge of greatness if only you could accomplish this one thing. There’s plenty of humor, sometimes gross, and it’s packed full of hi jinks and misadventures. The resolution is satisfying, and on a personal level I loved the way a high school production of Guys and Dolls figured into the story.

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Copy from the public library.

A quick update on what I’m reading while I try to find the energy to review The Gone-Away World.  I’m so glad to be done with it and moving on to quicker reads, which is not to say that I didn’t like it or think it’s great.  It’s a complicated relationship.

These days, I’m skipping through Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver and so pleased to see that Scholastic has given it a great cover after the slightly embarrassing cover of Lament. (Which reminds me that I still want to read Ballad, the sequel to Lament.  In case you forgot, Lament is the one about fairies that’s kind of like Wicked Lovely, except better and with more snark.)  Shiver is one of those fun, quick books with enough suspense (and werewolves) and romance to keep you hooked.  I’m curious to see where it goes, especially since it’s supposed to be the start of a new series.

In the car, I’m listening to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna.  Man, I’ve been waiting for a new Kingsolver novel forever.  Okay, since I got my hands on Prodigal Summer back in 2000.  Nine years!  Sure, I loved Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (loved!) but it’s not a NOVEL.  So far, it feels more in the vein of The Poisonwood Bible than, say, Animal Dreams or The Bean Trees or even Prodigal Summer.  It’s got history and scope and does interesting things with the point of view.  And Kingsolver reads the audio book herself, like she’s done with her last few books, and she’s pretty darn good.  I like being able to hear the bits in Spanish and so on.  I’m only on the second CD, and it’s a big book, so we’ll see how it goes from here.  I’m confident that I’m in good hands.

Thinking about my history with Barbara Kingsolver makes me think of other authors who I will read no matter what – the ones I wait for anxiously.  I don’t think that series count, because they’re designed to make you eager for the next installment.  But the authors whose stand-alone books have you pre-ordering a copy before you’ve read a single review, or scouring the internet for signs of  a publication date.  I definitely feel that way about Kingsolver, and Kate Atkinson, in the grown-up novel camp.  For young adult books, I can’t wait to see what M.T. Anderson does next in terms of his big books, and as much as I love the characters in Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books, she could write a story about anything and I’d line up to buy it.

Speaking of, I need to schedule my rereading of Turner’s books before A Conspiracy of Kings (squeal!) comes out on March 10th.  But first, Shiver.

For us YA lit junkies, there’s nothing like award announcements to get us excited and adding more books to our towering to-read piles.

The William C. Morris Award is only in it’s second year, and it goes to debut authors, which narrows the pool nicely.  Also, they announce a shortlist of finalists so that we can get reading and have an opinion when the winner is announced (on Monday, January 18, 2010, along with the rest of the ALA awards – Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, etc.)  I just took a look at the description on the award website, and it’s very interesting:

The William C. Morris YA Debut Award celebrates the achievement of a previously unpublished author, or authors, who have made a strong literary debut in writing for young adult readers. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by:

  • Compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration
  • The integrity of the work as a whole
  • Its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers

Not only are they supposed to be books written for a teen audience, but they will “illuminate the teen experience” and have “proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers.”

This year’s finalists!

  • Ash, by Malinda Lo
  • Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  • The Everafter, by Amy Huntley
  • Flash Burnout, by L. K. Madigan
  • Hold Still, by Nina LaCour

I haven’t read any, but I’ve heard good things about Ash and Beautiful Creatures.  Good thing I’m almost done with my Mock Printz reading, because my list just got longer.

Why did I wait so long to watch the 2009 Printz acceptance speeches?  They’re fantastic, of course.  M.T. Anderson talks about the last taboo in YA books, Terry Pratchett has a sword being made in the background, Margo Lanagan and Melina Marchetta talk about the writing process and overseas phone calls, and I’m just about to watch E. Lockhart’s.  Melina Marchetta’s speech is at the Booklist site, and there are links to all the others on that page (click on the author names).  Do yourself a favor and watch them.

Dang, now I want to reread all of them!  Except Octavian Nothing, because I just reread it on audio a little while ago, and I think I did the same thing with Frankie in the spring.  But Nation, Tender Morsels and Jellicoe Road are all ones I’m confident will be just as great as rereads.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose

With clear, compelling text and a nice complement of photos and newspaper clippings, this is a stand-out piece of non-fiction. It focuses on Colvin’s part of the story of civil rights, but also gives a sense of the larger picture. The text features extensive quotes from interviews with Colvin, which blend fairly seamlessly with Hoose’s narrative. Great for elementary and middle school readers, there’s plenty of explanation of things like Jim Crow, but these bits of information never bog down the story. Because so little has been written about Colvin, there’s a great element of suspense as you read the story. Extensive notes and bibliography.

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Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1) Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

What really stands out in this fairy tale inspired fantasy are the setting – Transylvania, sometime in the past – and the weaving in of various stories. Marillier uses not only the obvious Twelve Dancing Princesses story, but also regional folk tales and the odd bit of extra fairy tales (to tell which ones would be giving away a plot point). I’ve always been a sucker for those dancing princesses, and here there is plenty of backstory offered on where they go and why. How did they come to be able to pass through to this other realm? What are the true consequences of going? All of these fantasy elements are tightly linked to the setting, which becomes almost another character.

I was less enthusiastic about the characters – smart and determined Jena narrates the story, but she never quite jumped off the page. The frog, Gogu, was probably my favorite character. Several long, expositional conversations/arguments slow things down a bit, but otherwise this is a great pick for fairy tale enthusiasts. I’d recommend it for strong middle school readers and up.

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December 2009

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