Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Report: The Pirates! books by Gideon Defoe

My first book report was a bit on the serious side (anyone finished Sacajawea yet?). The book selections for this report go completely in the opposite direction.

I discovered these gems while browsing for books at my local library. I needed to find small, light books to take with me on a plane trip. These are all small and light, but little did I know how hilarious they are. I am talking about laugh out loud (no abbreviations here) funny. And when I say "out loud" I mean I was getting strange looks from the other plane passengers.

The Pirates! in an adventure with scientists (2004)
The Pirates! in an adventure with Ahab (2005)
The Pirates! in an adventure with communists (2006)
The Pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon (2008)

Gideon Defoe has an amazingly ironic, absurd, clean, clever humor that is hard to find in modern fiction. For a great sample of his writing, check out his website where I was pleased to learn that he not only has a new Pirates! book planned for 2012 but also has a movie in the work from the first Pirates! adventure. I am beyond ecstatic.

On to some plot elements. The stories follow the Pirate Captain and his band of dedicated (but completely inept) pirates on their various absurd adventures. In the first adventure, they meet up with Charles Darwin (who was trying to convince the world that monkeys could look like humans if they wore formal attire). Much chaos ensues and ham is eaten.

In the second book (adventures with Ahab or whaling depending on which side of the pond you live), the Pirate Captain and his surly band chase after the elusive white whale (after being tricked by his nemesis once again) so that they can pay for a new ship which they could not afford. At one point they sail to Las Vegas (you heard me) to earn money the way everyone in Las Vegas earns money: start a stage show. Chaos ensues and ham is eaten.

The third book introduces the Pirates to opera and communists. The Pirate Captain has his hands full with this adventure and, as always, chaos ensues. Ham may or may not be eaten.

The fourth of the pirate adventures finds the pirates with Napoleon while he is in exile. Napoleon and the Pirate Captain have a power struggle. Chaos ensues (although perhaps not quite so much), but ham is most definitely eaten.

These books are perfect for a person like myself who can never remember the names of characters in books. Defoe bestows such names as the pirate with the red scarf or the albino pirate or the pirate with gangrene. It's wonderful. Defoe also disperses little gems in each book (like the reader's guide in one and a list of pages and pages of made up titles of other available Pirates! books).

You may be saying to yourself, "These books can't possibly be as funny as this Joy person is saying."


But I challenge you to read some of the excerpts of the books found here, here, here, and here. If you don't even chuckle, well, perhaps we can't be friends any more.

But seriously, we each have our own reading tastes, and I love these books. And I'll still be your friend even if we don't like the same books. Maybe.

So who is your favorite comedic writer?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Another mini clean

After this weekend's major purge, I wanted to finish another mini-project. So I attacked the downstair's desk (not to be confused with the upstairs desk in previous posts).

Here's a before post that really doesn't do justice to the chaos that this desk has been for the last couple years (that's right, we live with chaos for years):
Before this before shot, there was no laptop because there was no place for the laptop. There was no desk top for that matter. It was a useless piece of furniture that we used to stash EVERYTHING. I'm amazed at times that we didn't kill ourselves walking past the thing with everything as precarious as it was. I can just imagine avalanches of stuff tumbling down upon us. A couple of weeks ago, I cleaned the desk enough to move my computer over here and out of the living room. It's increased my productivity immensely; however, I am falling behind on my Hulu watching. Watching tv shows at a desk just isn't as comfortable as the sofa.

But tonight, tonight I decided that the desk would finally become fully functional. It took me a bit longer than the phone corner, but it is well worth it. My productivity levels may actually go down as I sit and marvel in the beauty of a this newly clean desk.
Tomorrow I hope to have the after picture of the guest room corner on which I've been so diligently working. I have to get that done tomorrow, anyway, since we're expecting my family (and DH's family) this weekend for Easter.

I know that my cleaning habits have pretty much always been motivated by company (can't have a messy house when others are here!). Do you find that you're more motivated to clean if others will be visiting or do you do regular maintenance?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My vertical file

For this entire weekend (well, most of it anyway), I've worked on this corner. This corner has a history. The table you see is our old "dining room" table (we've never actually had a dining room). After my parent's gifted us with their old dining room table, I didn't have the heart to discard this one. It works well as a craft table (most of the time), and you should be able to see my ironing board on the top. The printer (at least one of them) is on the top of the table, too. Along with a bunch of other stuff. But my main focus this weekend was all of that STUFF you see under the table. It's been a lovely little hiding place for a couple years now. I just shoved any old thing under there. It's mostly random power cables (our wire bag), my old laptop, empty folders and binders, and papers. Lots-o-papers. My task this weekend: purge the paper.

The first task was to bring most of it downstairs so I wouldn't be distracted by the other corners of this room (sidebar: I only got distracted once twice. The first time was when I discovered a big almost empty box that was perfect for all of those greeting cards I can't throw away. The second time was when I realized I could put all of our response cards from our wedding (yes, I saved them all... and now I know the people who didn't respond but showed up anyway) into the album we used for our guest book. Great idea, but it did sap quite a bit of time this afternoon). Anywho, here is where we (and when I say we, I mean I) were at sometime early this weekend:
I know that I've been working for a while at this point because I already have two bins almost totally empty. So, the grand tour. Bottom left is my "professional" box filled with all things library. The two black bins contained an assortment of stuff and old files on who knows what. Above that is a box of professional magazines, my personal file box, and a box of empty binders and folders. Back at the bottom in the crate, we have another box of files related to my undergraduate education and random sorting piles for paper (keep, toss, shred).

Everything was going just fine until I reached that box of personal files. Mind you, I haven't opened this thing in years. Years. But what happens when I do? I remember how much care I took when assembling the assortment of materials contained in it's many folders. Just look at it's beauty:
I was sitting there staring at the thing when DH walked up to me and asked if I was ok. It was in this moment that I realized, no, everything was not ok. This box was me. This box (and here was the epiphany) was my vertical file! So, for you non-library folk, that probably doesn't mean much, and you may even need a definition. Basically though, a vertical file is a collection of important (at least to the collector) items that help paint a picture or history of the chosen topic. And in this case, the topic was me. It took me a good 15 or 20 minutes to pull the first file out. I took half a dozen pictures of the thing as it was. And then, I dove in to American Literature. It's a good thing that was the first folder because I didn't particularly care for the topic (nothing against the professor!). By the time I was done, I had purged about half of the materials in the box. To be honest, most of what I threw away was work done by other people (what ever possessed me to keep all of the handouts from all of my classmates... I may never know).

I finished the paper purge this evening. Check out these pictures:

 It's hard to read the numbers on the tape measure, but that's just over 2 feet of paper. Gone. And a box of empty folders and binders to be sent to a good cause (i.e. middle school)

And look at all that's left:
Two completely empty crates and a much more condensed collection of papers. I still have quite a bit of stuff in my vertical file, and I'm not sure that I'll ever get rid of all of it. But I think I've kept enough to make the memories real. I even kept the page of notes from my Modern Philosophy class that contains evidence of the ONE time I fell asleep in class. The stuff still needs to go back upstairs, but that's for another day. And for the DH. These boxes are heavy!

Question of the post: Do you hold on to ephemera (i.e. stuff) to help you remember the past, or do you ditch the stuff and hope the memories last?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book report: Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo

I've been thinking about adding regular book reviews to my blog highlighting some of the more memorable things that I'm reading or have read. Since I won't be cleaning again until Thursday or so (I do work some days), I thought I would start with a book that helped jump start all this cleaning in the B-house.

During my elementary school years, I became quite obsessed with all things Native American. I think this all happened when my mom started investigating our family tree and spoke of our Algonquin ancestors.

Needless to say, when it came time to do a book report on a biography, I chose Sacajawea (it may or may not have been this book. The cover looks familiar). While I was imagining myself crossing the Rocky Mountains with a Cabbage Patch kid strapped to my back, my mom was reading Anna Lee Waldo's masterpiece of a novel about this legendary woman. I just recently finished it for myself, and I find myself even more fascinated with this amazing woman.

The novel itself is huge; the paperback is 1359 pages. Ms. Waldo certainly did her research and includes transcriptions of primary source materials, speculations about Sacajawea's life, and plentiful source documents. I loved every word of this novel. The writing paints such a vivid picture of what Sacajawea's life may have been from her kidnapping early in life to her marriage to a French Canadian trapper to her travels with Lewis and Clark and so much more. This woman was inspiring and amazing if only because she did indeed travel across our country on foot with a baby strapped to her back. But her life included so much more than that life changing trip.

What struck me most while reading this book, though, was a continuing recurrence of Sacajawea's small pouch that she always kept close containing her most prized possessions. That's it: one small pouch. It contained a blue bead from her grandmother, a memorable feather, a medal, a bead from another time in her life, and a few other items. That's it. Granted, she had other possessions at various times in her life, but these were the things that she held most dear (at least according to the author). If Sacajawea, arguably one of the most important women in American history, only had need of these few small tokens to savor her momentous life, why in the world do I have an entire house filled with STUFF? Thus began the purge.

I think everyone should read this book. Yes, it took quite a bit of time, but it was time so well invested. I got so wrapped up in it, that I almost forgot to read the last book for the Ledger Book Club. Good thing The Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor (also a good read) was a quick read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

It's (not) a jungle out there

After yesterday's Bird of Paradise fiasco, DH and I were both a little under-excited about today's planned redo of the back yard. Actually, the hubs was in quite the grumpy mood this morning before church. Thankfully, the worship was wonderful, the message was inspiring, and the fellowship was encouraging. That, and we got to think about working with the most horticulturally talented person that we know: the bestest roomie in the world!

Let me refresh your memory about what we were dealing with so that you can fully appreciate the transformation of this space. We started with this:

 The jungle. All told, these BOP were probably about 10-12 feet high.

After yesterday, we ended up with this:

Clean slate!

Our wonderfully talented friend came over around noon, scoped out the place, and made some suggestions and calculations. After a brief stop for lunch (yummy Five Guys!), we headed to our local home improvement store (the one with the blue theme). We found just the plants for us: 4 podocarpus to create a barrier and 2 climbing fig to cover the ugly pink wall. We also ended up taking a trip to the other blue big box store to get a watering can and some veggie seeds on a whim. And then back to the first blue store for mulch. There was much labor, mud, digging, and fun had by all. And because I'm just so excited about the transformation, I'm just going to share the photos.

I think it's beautiful. And the best part about the whole thing (besides being right on budget) is that we were able to reclaim the space that is rightfully ours that one of our neighbors had tried to steal from us. I can't wait to watch these new plants grow. And because this friend who knows my gardening abilities so well chose the plants (as in, if it's in the yard, it's on its own), I know she selected plants that will be hard to kill.

I feel like a garden party may be in order. The question of the post: do you have a green thumb or do plants whither when you come into view?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In the jungle...

Today I tried my very hardest to continue on my Spring Cleaning mission. It did not go so well. Or maybe I should say it went differently than I had expected. Let me explain. The next two projects on my to-do list are the back yard:

Or maybe I should say jungle?

 And the 2nd bedroom...
slash sewing room (you may recognize my sewing corner from my first post)...

slash guest room...

slash home office.

The yard was supposed to be the easy part. DH listed the gigantic Birds of Paradise plants on our local Freecycle. Several people responded, and we scheduled with one lady to come pick them up this morning under the stipulation that she dig them out herself. Yeah, that went... terrible. First, the lady tried to tell me that they weren't BOP because they were too big. Um, whatever. See that flower right there? Yeah. Then she just moaned and groaned the whole time with her hired hand doing all the labor (hello, these are free? And you're complaining?). They chopped off all the leaves, dug a huge hole, took out one of the plants, laid it on the ground. Then she just left. Yup. It was great. So then DH got another lady to come. No hired labor for her. We helped. Those things were a beast. But they are gone, and hopefully the lady will be able to revive them and make them beautiful. So now the back yard looks like this:

No more jungle and all ready for some new landscaping!

The multi-purpose room, however, did me in. First off, I woke up this morning very much on the wrong side of the bed (actually it was the couch because someone who shall remain nameless was hacking up a lung last night). I was grouchy beyond all get out, sliced my finger open trying to cut my bagel with the injury proof bagel guillotine, and was generally angry at the world. Not so much the best state of mind to start cleaning. But I'm on a role, right? I can do this. No problem.

Problem. This room is filled with our lives, and the first corner I picked (brilliant choice) was the one filled with all of those greeting cards I struggle to throw away. I'm not sure why I didn't pick the corner that holds all of the high school and college papers that I resolved to toss the other day, but whatever. So I spend hours sorting through pictures of people I don't speak with any more, cards from family and friends who have moved on in life or beyond life, and notes from every "best" friend I've ever had (you know, all three or four of them). By noon, I was in tears I was so depressed. Actually, I found a picture of myself that was taken around the end of 1985 when my family was moving into our new house that illustrates how I felt:

So this is what the room looks like after working on it:

I'll work on another corner later. In other news, I'd like to share a gem of an item that I found:
That's right folks, this here is a genuine deck of Quotable Shakespeare knowledge cards. Every card includes an unforgettable quote from the Bard himself (such as "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears"... which always makes me think of Robin Hood: Men in Tights) and a little background of the play. I'd love to see these wonderful cards go to a good home. For who can live without such timeless wisdom:
"He hath eaten me out of house and home; / he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his" or "For there never was yet a philosopher / That could endure the toothache patiently." Classic.

So, dear readers, what's the most interesting thing you've discovered while cleaning?

Friday, April 8, 2011

It only takes a spark...

I am realizing that there is some irony in the fact that I make my living organizing things, but when it comes to my house, I'm hopeless. If only Melvil Dewey had invented an organizational scheme for household items! I know there are catalogers out there that spend their home time alphabetizing spices (the topic comes up often in our listservs), but I am not that kind of cataloger. My spices are on their own in the cabinets, and I would say I have a good, working kitchen. But these are not the things with which I struggle. My battle is with all the other stuff in the house. The stuff stuff that usually has no practical purpose unlike most of the things found in the kitchen.

There is one exception to this in our kitchen: the phone corner. It's been a constant struggle in our house.
You'll notice that under all that stuff, there is one of those nifty charger stations that we bought years ago in order to wrangle all of our chargers. Notice how many things are plugged into the thing? I'll help: zero. Here's where some of the chargers are:
Not really beautiful, right (and yes, that is the floor)?

So this morning, I decided to attack this corner once and for all (yeah, right!). I started shortly after 10 am, put in my new Francesca Battistelli CD (her "This is the stuff" seemed particularly apropos), and got to work with the knowledge that I had a phone meeting at 11. Forty or so minutes later, we have this:
Much better, don't you think? I even made fancy, schmancy folder things for the two types of paper that accumulate in this corner: bills and take out menus. The husband almost fainted when he walked downstairs for lunch :-) I haven't picked the next corner yet, but the house is starting to feel that I mean business.

Spring was in the air

Wednesday was Spring in Florida. That's it. One day. It was certainly a beautiful day; I only wish that I hadn't spent most of it inside at my desk. I wish I had spent it enjoying the beauty of where I work. Regardless of where I spent the day, it appears that I have been bit by the Spring Cleaning bug. And I have been bit hard. I have this sudden urge to throw away everything in our house (much to the horror of my mostly understanding husband) and start completely from scratch.

The piles of paper will be the first things to go. Those boxes of random articles from college? Gone. Those old retirement plan prospectives? Outta here. Those magazines from who knows how long ago? Trash bound.

A little harder will be those little items that have some sort of strange sentimental value, but at the same time, none at all. And my husbands hats. And perhaps more clothes (I recently purged more than 4 large bags of clothes from my wardrobe). And maybe the house (you think I jest).

Why this sudden change of heart, you may ask. I spent some time browsing on the web today at many lovely places that inspired some of it. Like Thrifty Decor Chick's blog. I've wandered her way a few times in the past, but I was especially inspired by this post about organizing paper. DH and I have a terrible time with paper. Terrible. I'm getting better bit by bit, and he's been told that he'll be getting better, too. And I know there are a ton of ways to cut down on paper, but I'm stubborn. I need to find my own way.

The terrible thing about lovely sites like Thrifty Decor Chick or like the This Old Thing? store on Facebook is that this is how I think my house should look (don't we all?). My house looks nothing like this. At all. Like in no way whatsoever could you mistake my home for one of these well designed, wonderfully comfortable, shabby chic, havens of wonderfulness. Not. A. Chance.

But. I do have a few very nice features in my house that I like very much. I just feel that the stuff that continues to creep into every crevice of our home is taking away from those wonderful features. So the next couple of posts, I'll share some of them with you. And I'll share some of the stress of trying to get things in order. And perhaps I'll even share some of the ridiculous things that I find that I still have and can't for the life of me figure out why I allow it to continue to take up space in my life. Just to show you I mean it, here's a preview:
I love this wall. It reminds me of France.

So (since I seem to be making a habit of asking a question at the end of my posts), what's the one thing in your house that you absolutely refuse to get rid of just because?