Friday, January 24, 2020

Stroytime: The Spider with the Magic Flute

There is a Cat Stevens album called Buddha and the Chocolate Box.  Matt and I were examining the album art one Saturday back in April 2013 as the record spun on the turntable.  We decided to each draft our own story, or captions, for the comic book style scenes on the back of the album.

[Sidebar: That is one of the things records have going over CDs, if you ask me, a considerably larger art space on the cover.]

I recently came across these Buddha stories--pasted into an old journal--as I swapped out my 2019 journal/datebook for the fresh, new 2020 model.  I can remember how much we laughed as we read the other's story.  It made me happy all over to read them again.

I think it does a body good to be silly and creative for no real reason.   Fortunately, Matt also subscribes to this philosophy.

Below are our Buddha and the Chocolate Box tales.
When Buddha was a boy he set out on a great journey to find his destiny.  Along the way he happen upon a giant black spider playing a magical flute in the path.  The spider played an enchanting melody that captivated the Buddha.  It cleared his mind and he felt great calm and peace.  Suddenly visions came to his mind of a beautiful paper box which had been painted with bright designs.  He opened it and saw small gold objects inside.  Unwrapping one he could smell the delicious scent of fresh, rich chocolate and gasped to realize it was a likeness of himself.  The Buddha's mind cleared again and he was quite dismayed at this vision.  He left the enchanting spider and pondered, as he walked, the meaning of all of this.  [This is my version.]
One day Buddha was hiking across the valley beyond the mountains.  He came upon a piccolo playing spider.  The spider said "I'll play and you should relax and meditate."  So Buddha thought "Great idea" and began to meditate.  His mind became empty and then filled with a box of chocolate.  He open the box, reaching inside, and took out a gold wrapped chocolate.  He unwrapped it, anticipating enjoyment.  And found a chocolate version of himself.  "Eat myself!!  What does it mean?  What should I do?  That spider plays weird meditation piccolo.  I wish he would quit following me."  [Matt's version]
I'm so tickled that the sentence "That spider plays weird meditation piccolo," exists in the world.  It slays me.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

A Thousand New Birds

Matt and I made a slight detour for a daytrip to Yellowstone a little over a week ago.  It wasn't that far out of the way so... why not?
Waxwings against a grey January sky.
Less than five minutes into our river stroll it was already more than worth it.  We almost immediately encountered a new bird--the Bohemian Waxwing!  And by that, I mean we encountered about 1,000 of them.

It was utterly delightful.  They were so thick in the trees I couldn't help but think of an apple tree laden with fruit.   A bountiful harvest!  Heavy with birds!  The boughs were a flutter with wings.  Their little heads peaked out everywhere.
In addition to coating the trees there was a steady cascade of birds down to the river's edge for a drink or a dunk--and back up to the tree again.  Matt and I stood under the trees in amazement at their constant activity.
The rocks are hopping with birds.  It was quite the bathing/drinking hot spot.
Eventually they took to the air, basically en mass, swooping and soaring off into the horizon.  It was stunning watching them shift through space as seemingly a single entity.

I love birds.  They're so neat.
Cedar Waxwings, cousin to the Bohemian Waxwing, are seasonal guests around our place.  Our nextdoor neighbors have a Mountain Ash tree which draws the birds to us each fall with its clumps of bright orange berries.  Range maps tell me it is entirely possibly for us to see both varieties in town, but we never have.  I will have to look more closely next year.  They make mixed flocks.  Perhaps I've just overlooked a few Bohemians amidst the mob of Cedars.

Both types have a super cool tail, tipped in yellow.  I always think it looks like they dunked the their tails into a tray of paint.  The Bohemians have some added red highlights to make them even flashier.  The red is actually what initially made me aware these weren't our average Cedar Waxwings flocking about.  They both sport a pretty sharp looking bandit mask.

Let's say it again, just because:  I love birds.  They're so neat.
So.Many.Waxwings.
The Bohemian Waxwing becomes number 194 on my life list.
Part of the flock is visible just above the treeline, near center frame, with the Gardner River and Matt in the foreground.  
Sometimes sightings are so brief and limited, just a little taste of things to come.  This first encounter was more like an all you can eat buffet.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Books Read (and Listened to) in 2019 + Movies, too

I read books every day, even if it is just a few minutes before bed.   Usually quite a bit more though.  During my recent holiday break I easily read for a few hours every day.  I always have a book going, but more often I am reading several simultaneously.  I don't find it tricky as long as the plots don't overlap much.  Say, only one story with wizards or queens or talking rodents at a time.
The Bookish Squirrel reading up in the garlic patch.  May 2019 
Over the span of 2019 I read 130 books.  Looking back I am pleased with the lot.  They were a solid assortment of kid's books, YA books, adult books, audiobooks, print books, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and prose.
One thing I am celebrating this year is that I didn't read any truly bad books.  None earned a one-star rating from me.  A first!  I'm quite pleased with that.  That's two years in a row that I've improved the quality of my reading choices.  Hooray!  Quality over quantity!  [Or both, at least.]

Interestingly, one of my lowest rated book--Speranza's Sweater which I gave two stars--was the highest rated overall by other Goodreaders of my 2019 titles.  This just goes to show that just because something is popular with the masses doesn't mean it will be popular with me.

Among the books I read last year, the first Harry Potter is still the most popular by total Goodreads count.  At almost 6.5 million people, there were almost a million new readers during 2019 though.  I think that is pretty dang impressive.  I mean The Sorcerer's Stone was published more than twenty years ago!

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Harry Potter is a force.  More on that to come, actually...
As always, it was tricky to pin down my favorite reads for the year, but here goes:

Top Ten Reads of 2019, in no particular order.
  • The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley)
  • Naked (David Sedaris)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale duet (Margaret Atwood)
  • Caffeinated:  How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us (Murray Carpenter)
  • Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling)
  • Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
  • Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors (Arnold, Graesch, Ragazzini, & Ochs)
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Bill Bryson)
  • Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • The Giver (Lois Lowry)

It was so tough to pick my top ten, actually, that I ended up with an almost equally long list of Honorable Mentions:  
  • Maniac Magee
  • Double! Not Half
  • Bud, Not Buddy
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography (Russell Freedman)
  • O, Pioneers!
  • The Secret Life of Bees
  • and basically everything by David Sedaris, especially in audiobook form since he reads his own books.

If I had to pick a least favorite it would probably be Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  I found that book...let's say...challenging.  But even it was still "okay."
During 2019 I rediscovered how much I love baths--and reading in the bath.  September 2019
2019 Annual Stats
Number of young adult or children's books:44
Number of adult books:24
Number of audiobooks (both adult and YA/children):61
129 Total Books (compared with 128 total books for 2018)

There were books I read more than once during the year (namely Harry Potter and David Sedaris) so it is only 105 unique book titles.

Reading Jurassic Park with Ginger.   January 2019
I will carry on with a few reading objectives this year.
  • Read all the Newbery Award Winners:  I am going to complete this project in 2020.  I am currently on the 2006 winner.  Even if I stick to my six-months-per-decade speed I will wrap it up this year.  Of course, the Newbery continues to be awarded annually so the project will never really end.
  • Read 50 Books Set in 50 States:  This is something Hannah and I started in 2018.  I have 14 states left to go.  I could probably knock that out this year, too, but odds are...I'll get distracted.  It is a sort of, oh, passive challenge, if you will.  I read whatever I want and then see how they fit in after the fact.  That wasn't how I started out though.  I thought I could use it as a way of reading books I'd always meant to, but never had.  That isn't exactly how it is working out in practice though.
While I hope to focus on more non-fiction reading this year, I really only set one true goal for 2020. 
  • Give Harry Potter some space.  It is no secret that I love the Harry Potter series.  They've made my top ten lists the last three years running.  Basically, the rule is that if I read the HP series that year...it makes the list.  This year though...I went off the deep end.  Even I know that.  For months on end I had the HP audiobooks going in a constant loop during my free time.  I borrowed copies of the UK editions and read them to compare and contrast the UK and American English used throughout.  For the Prisoner of Azkaban I sat in the bathtub listening to the American audiobooks at double speed while reading the UK print book simultaneously.  I read an astonishing, obsessive amount of Harry Potter last year.  I read each of the original heptology four times through, a couple even five times.  Basically:  Harry Potter made me lose my mind.  I don't want this to happen again this year.  I think I need to give Harry Potter a little space.  At least the main canon of books.
I did a massive weeding project in 2019 and reduced our book collection to what you see here (plus cookbooks which are in the kitchen).  August 2019.
Below is the full record of the books that I read in 2018, listed in reverse order with the most recent at the top of the list.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris)*
  • David Sedaris: Live for Your Listening Pleasure (David Sedaris)*
  • Naked (David Sedaris)
  • The Polar Express (Chris Van Allsburg)
  • My First Picture Book of Christmas Carols (Rand McNally, publisher)
  • 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore)
  • The Night Before Christmas (David Ercolini & Clement C. Moore)
  • Crispin: The Cross of Lead (Avi)
  • Holidays on Ice (David Sedaris)*
  • Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights (Julie Nelson & Mary Gallagher)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore)
  • The Night Before Christmas (Charles Santore & Clement C. Moore)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book (Tasha Tudor)
  • The Mouse Before Christmas (Michael Garland)
  • A Single Shard (Linda Sue Park)*
  • A Year Down Yonder (Richard Peck)*
  • The Familiars (Adam Jay Epsetin & Andrew Jacobson)*
  • The Poppy War (R.F. Kuang)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)*
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Bill Bryson)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Thunder Boy Jr. (Sherman Alexie & Yuyi Morales)
  • The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues (Patrick Lencioni)
  • The 28 Day Alcohol-Free Challenge: Sleep Better, Lose Weight, Boost Energy, Beat Anxiety (Andy Ramage & Ruari Fairbairns)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Testaments (Margaret Atwood)
  • Soar, Elinor! (Tami Lewis Brown & Francois Roca)
  • At Night (Jonathan Bean)
  • Bud, Not Buddy (Christopher Paul Curtis)*
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
  • My Beautiful Birds (Suzanne Del Rizzo)
  • Robopocalypse (Daniel H. Wilson)*
  • The Tao of Pooh (Benjamin Hoff)
  • The Firefighters' Busy Day (Richard Scarry)
  • Holes (Louis Sachar)
  • Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn (Kenard Pak
  • Earth-Blood & Star-Shine (Lowell Jaeger)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Mutant 59: The Plastic Eaters (Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis)
  • Out of the Dust (Karen Hesse)
  • This Day in June (Gayle Pitman & Kristyna Litten)
  • A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo (Jill Twiss & E.G. Keller)
  • The View from Saturday (E.L. Konigsburg)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - UK ed. (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Midwife's Apprentice (Karen Cushman)
  • Quidditch Through the Ages (Kennilworthy Whisp & J.K. Rowling)
  • The Wolves of Currumpaw (William Grill)
  • Wampeters, Foma, and Granfalloons: Opinions (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Song of the Lark (Willa Cather)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Read the Book, Lemmings! (Ame Dyckman & Zachariah OHora)
  • Prison Paws: Max's Story (Donna Cochran & Robert Rath)
  • Birds of Every Color (Sneed B. Collard III)
  • Double! Not Half (Rodney Gottula)
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (Shel Silverstein)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Caffeinated:  How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us (Murray Carpenter)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Book of the Dead and Elysian Fields (A. Gaddis & G. Seif)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Calypso (David Sedaris)*
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The First Four Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)*
  • These Happy Golden Years (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Men Explain Things to Me (Rebecca Solnit)
  • Walk Two Moon (Sharon Creech)
  • Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast (Robin McKinley)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Little Town on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)
  • The Giver (Lois Lowry)
  • The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World's Happiest People (Meik Wiking)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
  • The Sleeper and the Spindle (Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell)
  • Blizzard!: The Storm That Changed America (Jim Murphy)*
  • Missing May (Cynthia Rylant)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Long Winter (Laura Ingalls Wilder)*
  • Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 (David Sedaris)
  • Shiloh (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)
  • Holidays on Ice (David Sedaris)*
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames (David Sedaris)*
  • Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown (Charles M. Schulz)
  • A Smurf in the Air (Peyo)
  • Finding Lincoln  (Ann Malaspina & Colin Bootman)
  • Speranza's Sweater (Marcy Pusey & Beatriz Mello)
  • Maniac Magee (Jerry Spenelli)*
  • Number the Stars (Lois Lowry)
  • Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices (Paul Fleischman)
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Lincoln: A Photobiography (Russell Freedman)
  • Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (David Sedaris)*
  • Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (David Sedaris)*
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)*
  • You're Only Old Once!: A Book for Obsolete Children (Dr. Seuss)
  • Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • And That's Why She's My Mama (Tiarra Nazario)
  • Farmer Boy (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (David Sedaris)*
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
  • The Whipping Boy (Sid Fleischman)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan)
  • The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley)
  • Woolly Different (Rayne Reynolds & Edward Tanzosh)
  • Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors (Arnold, Graesch, Ragazzini, & Ochs)
  • There's a Wocket in my Pocket (Dr. Seuss)
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)*
  • The Spice Alphabet: Herbs, Spices, and Other Natural Flavors (Jerry Pallotta & Leslie Evans)
  • The Lost World (Michael Crichton)
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)*
  • Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton)
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (J.K. Rowling)*
  • O, Pioneers! (Willa Cather)
  • The Wife Between Us (Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen)*
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (Hunter S. Thompson)
My Prof. Trelawny props for the Harry Potter Ball on campus.  February 2019.
I ended up watching 33 movies this year, listed below.  That's a lot!  Four more than last year...which I also thought was a lot.  Once again, those gall dang Harry Potter movies are a major contributor, being almost 1/3 of the list right there.  I finally watched Back to the Future (and its sequels).  This was one of those movies (like Goonies) that has a tendency to make people goggle at me when I report that I'd never seen it.  They were pretty entertaining, too, especially the first and third ones.  Maybe this year I'll finally get around to Goonies.
  • Jumanji: The Next Level
  • Men in Black: International
  • Aladdin (the new one)
  • Hocus Pocus
  • Back to the Future III
  • Back to the Future II
  • Clue
  • Back to the Future
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
  • Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince
  • Toy Story 4
  • Toy Story 3
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • Toy Story 2
  • Toy Story
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Yes, I watched it twice.)
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
  • 50/50
  • Clue
  • Idiocracy
  • Isle of Dogs
  • Jurassic World
  • The Secret Life of Pets
  • The Lego Movie
  • The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Jurassic Park
  • Mulan  (Yes, I watched it twice...it was an accident.  Don't ask.)
  • Mulan
This photo looks remarkably like one I could have taken this week rather than a year ago.  Reading with Ginger on my lap make a good thing even better.  January 2019.