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Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

July 16, 2014

Demons of the Ocean is the first in a YA series about Vampirates.  Yes, Vampirates.  Vampire Pirates.  I know, it took me a little time to get used to, too.  Just go with it.

Grace and Connor Tempest are twin siblings whose father passes away and leaves them with absolutely nothing.  So they decide to get in a tiny boat and set sail in the face of a giant storm.  This does not go well for them, and they are separated.  Both are picked up by pirate ships, but Grace’s ship is crewed by vampires.  The first book tells the tale of the twins’ adventures adjusting to their new lives aboard their respective ships and their plans to try and find each other.

The series isn’t bad, but it often felt like a fuzzy black and white movie with random bits of cartoon color.  One moment the author would be describing a room in rich detail, including a quirky cast of characters, and the next moment he would be glossing over what felt like some pretty important plot points.  For instance, the book is set 500 years in the future, but there is very little indication of that.  I eventually managed to work out a general time line based on how old various Vampirates were, but that was halfway through the book.  Prior to that, it just felt like it was set in this weirdly nebulous past/present that refused to be pinned down.  Old timey weapons, jobs, and social roles, but lots of modern slang that was rather jarring.  Finally, the book ends on a cliffhanger which I suppose is intended to encourage the reader to pick up the second book, but there isn’t enough of an over arcing plot to this book to tempt me to pick up a second.

As far as YA books go, I would classify this one as below average.  I wouldn’t even call it candy reading.  The writing simply isn’t good enough.  It wasn’t so bad that I didn’t finish it, but unless you or some other YA reader in your life is simply obsessed with vampire pirates, I wouldn’t recommend it.

I couldn’t just leave him there

July 9, 2014

I had just come around the curve of the road when I saw him.  Walking right up the center of my lane, determinedly making his way… somewhere.  I swerved around him, and looked back at him in my rear view mirror.  Younger than I’d thought, and being rapidly bypassed by two more cars.  “Someone’s going to hit him,” I thought.

I pulled in to the next business complex, and worked my way back through the parking lots that ran parallel to the one way street I had been driving on.  I spotted him still plugging along, head down, with another car swerving around him.  I pulled into a nearby parking space, turned off my engine, and hopped out.

Up close, I could see that he was even younger than my backwards glance had been able to see.  Not a college student, a high school student.  A high school student with the soft, rounded features of a special needs kid.  A kid wearing a hearing aide.

I called out to him, and he stopped after the second time, coming out of the middle of the lane of traffic and standing next to the curb.  “Do you need help?” I asked.  He looked up at me, on the grassy slope next to the busy road and said “My mom is gone.”

My heart stopped for a moment.  “Do you need me to take you somewhere?  The police station, maybe?”

“I need to go to school,” he said, holding up the card on a lanyard around his neck.  I looked at it.  The school was on the other side of town.  This kid was trying to walk across town, through the morning traffic, to a school that was over an hour away on foot.

“Would you like me to take you to school?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, and I offered him my hand to help him up the short slope to my car.

My car was still packed from the convention.  I threw everything in the passenger seat into the back, without regard to what it was or where it might land.  I didn’t want him to have second thoughts and decide to keep walking.  I helped him into the car, and set off for the high school.

“Do you normally walk to school?”

“No.”

“Your mom takes you?”

“Yes.”

“And your mom wasn’t there this morning?”

“No.”

His voice was strained with… sadness?  Fear?  I couldn’t tell.  We didn’t talk any more on the drive over.  I was trying to remain outwardly calm while cascading through a dozen unanswerable questions.  Should I take him to the police station anyways?  How would he handle that?  Would the school be more familiar?  Would it be better to drop him off, or take him inside myself?  Should I take him directly to the main office, or allow him to go to his class?  Would the police need to be called?  Should I call work?  Did I want to explain the situation to my office while he was in the car with me?  Would it make a bad impression on him to use my phone while driving?  What had happened to his mom?

What had happened to his mom?

What had happened to his mom?

I thought it would probably be easiest on him to bring him somewhere familiar, so the school it was.  I took out my phone at a handy stop light and sent Moose a text to call my office.  He asked me to go inside once we were at the school, which answered that question easily enough.  And once I had parked and taken his hand again, I told him I needed him to show me to the main office.  I figured it would be easier to give him a goal he could help me with, rather than letting him head off on his own.

Outside of the school, a bus driver questioned me about him.  I can’t remember much about what she asked.  I got the impression that she had been worried he hadn’t been out at his bus stop, and seemed confused about why he had been on that particular road and why a perfect stranger would be bringing him to school.

Inside, he led me straight to the main office.  The lady at the desk was relieved to see him, his teachers were called to come talk to him, his mother was called, and a police officer quickly joined us.  The mom had gone to the bathroom, she said, and the boy had simply walked out of the house.  They had been about to put out an Amber alert, she said.  The pledge of allegiance began to echo over the loudspeaker.  I put my left hand over my heart, because my right was still clasped in his and I didn’t want to let him go.

Everything after that is a bit of a blur.  I had made it this far being calm, composed, and capable.  Now I was simply ready to go somewhere and cry.  I gave my driver’s license and phone numbers to the officer.  The ladies who gathered around him like protective mothers all thanked me for picking him up and bringing him in.  One of them said “Not many people would have.”  I don’t remember much about how I responded, other than “I couldn’t just leave him there.”

It wasn’t true, of course.  I could have.  I could have kept driving, gone on my merry way to work, never having stopped to find that the stranger walking down the middle of the lane was barely a teenager with the mind of a child half his age.  I could have let him keep walking, crossing every major street in town on the way.  I could have clicked a link tomorrow and read about the poor kid who had been struck on his way to school and wondered.

Except…  I couldn’t have.  Even when I thought he was some random college student dragging in to his morning classes, I couldn’t have left him there.  I couldn’t have left someone to walk down the middle of a lane, head down and seemingly oblivious to the traffic around him.  And when saw his face for the first time, I had a dozen questions, but only one fact that mattered.  I couldn’t just leave him there.

I am not sure how long he had been walking when I picked him up.  The officer who followed up with me said that he appeared to have been walking along the bus route.  Combine that with the confusion about him being on that particular street, and I’m afraid he may have walking for a while before I spotted him.  I doubt I will ever know the answer to that.  Not that it particularly matters, other than how lucky he had been to get as far as he did.

I wrote most of this the day after it happened, over a year ago.  But I didn’t publish it until now because I was uncomfortable with the praise I’d received.  I knew deep down that if I hadn’t looked into my rear view mirror and seen the two other cars also swerving around a young boy, I wouldn’t have stopped.  But I’m glad I did.

The Diaper World Cup

July 5, 2014

Today I feel like diaper changes would be a lot easier if they came with some kind of sport commentary.

“And we’re here today with Acorn who has chosen the exersaucer for her event… And there she goes, Jim!”

“Yes Bob, it’s a particularly wet one by the sound, let’s see how the whole thing comes out.  Oh!  Yes indeedy it’s out the sides and up the back and rounding the corner for a truly impressive finish.”

“Here comes Mom for the liftoff…  It’s a strong passoff to the changing table.  Mom’s got some good form here, Jim.  Arms extended to limit spread and a quick pace to the table.  And there’s the drop.”

“Oh, that’s a real shame about the pad on the changing table, Bob.  It looks like another load of laundry for Mom.  But here she is with the change and whoa, nelly, there are not enough wipes in the world for that one!”

“Yes Jim, she might as well cut that onesie off because there is no way that is coming off cleanly.  Acorn always puts up a good fight on the removal…  But wait!  Yes, she does it!  Mom’s got the onesie off and the wipes in hand for the clean up!”

“What a great showing by Mom and Acorn, Bob.  Mom’s got a little scrubbing up to do and a fresh onesie for Acorn, but it’s all down hill from here.  Thanks for joining us, folks.  This has been brought to you by Pampers:  Your baby’s butt deserves the very best, even when what comes out of it is the worst.”

—-

Someday, my child is going to be utterly mortified by these sorts of things.

The Hospital Bag

June 11, 2014

A friend asked about my hospital bag, so I figured I would post about it here.  I WAY over packed, so I will note the things I did and did not need as applicable.

Documents

  • Pre-reg forms – These actually got faxed in early, but I brought a copy just in case.  (ETA:  My doctor is affiliated with the hospital we used and gave us these forms.  Check with the maternity ward of the hospital you plan to use to see if they have something similar.)
  • Insurance Card – I also had a copy of my driver’s license on the off chance that I somehow wound up in the hospital without my purse.
  • Birth plan – I had intended to have several copies of this for the nurses and my doula, but only managed one.  Fortunately, it was also on my Google Drive.
  • Emergency Contact Info – In the birth plan.  Good to have, but wasn’t needed.
  • Notification phone list – Same as above.

Clothes for Me

  • Robe – I bought a nice light robe that packed up very small.  I wore it a lot.
  • Non-skid socks – The hospital provided me with some and I pretty much wore them everywhere.
  • Slippers – Sometime between the delivery room and the recovery room, I lost one.  I was sad.  I probably would have worn these more than the socks if I’d had both.
  • Sleep gear – I slept in my hospital gown.  Though next time I may take the time to convert the two sleep shirts I bought, because hospital gowns are itchy.
  • Underwear – I wore the hospital issue undies for the most part.  I will probably only pack one or two next time.
  • Nursing bra and pads – A must.  I probably could have left out the sports bras and packed more sleeping nursing bras.
  • Sports bras – See above.
  • Going home outfit – I wore this both on the way to the hospital, and on the way back when Moose had to take me to the emergency room because I couldn’t breathe.  So it did double duty!
  • Ballet flats – I could fit in exactly one pair of shoes by this point, so I probably could have left these out.
  • Comfy clothes – Again, I spent most of my time in my hospital gown.  These probably could have been left out.
  • Flip flops – I honestly can’t remember if I ever wore these.

Clothes for Baby

  • Booties
  • Hat
  • Scratch mittens
  • Bodysuits
  • Baby blankets
  • Going home outfit for baby – The hospital dressed Acorn as needed in loaner outfits, so this was the only outfit she actually wore while I was in the maternity ward.  I was glad I packed a short sleeve and a long sleeved outfit when the weather changed suddenly.  Of course all of the above was super useful when we wound up making the aforementioned trip to the emergency room.

Clothes for Hubby – I am fairly certain that I forgot to pack any of this.

  • Underwear
  • T-shirt
  • Socks
  • Pants

Toiletries for Me

  • Lip balm – Used it constantly.
  • Make-up – Used it twice.  Still grateful to have it, but I probably could have done with just my tinted moisturizer.
  • Shampoo – The hospital provided some, but I was still grateful to have my own.
  • Conditioner – Ditto above.
  • Facewash – Washing my face was THE BEST.
  • Toothpaste – Also provided, but still nice to have my own.
  • Toothbrush – Ditto above.
  • Soap – Smelling like my usual self after that first shower was GLORIOUS.
  • Lotion – This definitely came in handy.
  • Deodorant – Also glorious.
  • Hairbrush – Super long hair does not do well when bedridden.
  • Hair bands – I wore out a couple of these.
  • Glasses – I never actually wore these (that I recall), but they were nice to have.
  • Saline Solution – For obvious reasons.
  • Contact case – Ditto.
  • Heavy Flow sanitary pads – The hospital provided these, but they were useful to have at home when my water broke, and it was nice to know they were there.
  • Medications – The hospital actually required that they provide all of my medications, but I still probably would pack these just in case.
  • Tissues – Plenty of tissues in the room.
  • Bath Towel – The hospital provided tiny, tiny towels, but I didn’t have to worry about washing them.  So it was worth using the teeny towels.
  • Hand sanitizer – There were dispensers in the room, the hall, the nurses desk, the NICU, everywhere.

Toiletries for Baby – We used none of this.  The hospital provided diapers and a nasal aspirator, plus bunches of other baby stuff.

  • Baby wipes
  • Vaseline
  • Nail clippers
  • Nasal Aspirator
  • Newborn diapers

Food

  • Lozenges – Mints, ginger drops, and some hard candy.  Ate all three.
  • Dried Fruit – This was more useful for the people with me than for me.
  • Snack Bars – Ditto above.
  • Bottle and drink flavoring – The hospital gave us giant plastic cups with fancy lids and straws.  But the drink flavoring was nice to have.

Other

  • Nursing Pillow – Useful for baby and me!
  • Small change – Moose was very impressed by my forethought in packing this.
  • Camera – We mostly used our phones.
  • Notepad – Middle Sister gave me a nifty little moleskin for the shower gifts, and it was perfect.  I wrote down feedings, medications, everything.  Later, I bought Feed Baby Pro for my phone, which was just as useful.
  • Pen – For the notebook.
  • Book – I didn’t actually read my book.  Mostly if I needed something to do for a bit, I played with my tablet or my phone.
  • Baby book – This didn’t get used at all until I got home.
  • Cell phone charger – A must have.
  • Head phones – I listened to my audio books a bit, but mostly I fell asleep to them.
  • Gallon size ziplock bags (for dirty clothes) – I probably could have done with just some grocery bags.

For Later

  • Personal Pillow – It was very nice to be able to sleep on my own pillow.
  • Blankets – The hospital had plenty of blankets, and I didn’t have to wash them.
  • Car seat – Moose took care of this.  We actually bought it the night before, but that’s a story for another time.

Babies Are Weird

June 10, 2014

Sometimes when I am holding Acorn, I press my face to her head and inhale the scent of her. There is something in that smell that makes my instincts shout “THIS IS MINE.” It is a smell that is both comforting and deeply satisfying. I have been tempted to put a worn onesie into my bag to take with me to work and I haven’t yet decided if having that will help me cope with being away from her all day or just make me miss her more. When I’m away from her, there is a hole in my chest that I long to fit her into, an empty place over my heart where her little body fits perfectly. When someone else is holding her, I have to resist the urge to snatch her away from them. Even my own husband is not immune to these reactions. I recognize all of this as being very animalistic reactions, driven by pheromones designed by evolution to ensure the survival of one of the most demanding offspring in the known universe. And the recognition that despite all of our sentience and intellect we are still nothing more than animals is very weird. Hell, babies in general are just weird.

Babies are these tiny doll-like creatures that move on their own, blink at you with huge trusting eyes, and flail about because they haven’t quite figured out how their arms work. They have independent needs, desires, and personalities and absolutely no way other than crying to communicate any of that with you. They poop and they pee and they spit up and whenever someone told me that I would feel different about all of that stuff when it was my baby, I would smile indulgently because there was no way in hell any of that stuff would not be gross to me. But (for us at least) it’s true.[1]  Acorn recently had an epic spit up all over her car seat and Moose’s first reaction was to take a picture.  He thinks her farts are completely hilarious.  I think my daughter’s dirty diapers are cute, even the really stinky ones. And that’s just weird.

Everything about her is just under the surface of her skin, so close that I can feel her body working under my finger tips.  Her little heart pulses away in her chest made up of bones that are both fragile and flexible.  Her joints sometimes crackle and while I was afraid that something was wrong which I first felt those tendons pop, apparently it’s perfectly normal, especially in girls.  Tiny little bones make up tiny little feet with not so tiny toes that learned how to pinch before her tiny little fingers did.  When she is feeding, I can hear every gulp as it travels down her throat and hits her stomach. It gurgles and burbles and I feel like if I pressed my ear to her tiny little tummy I would be able to follow the track of her meals through her miniature digestive system.

All of that food? Is coming out of me. I am apparently not the only mother who looked down on the tiny creature latched onto her chest and thought “Holy cow. I’m a mammal.” This part of my body that before now has always been viewed as an object of desire is now producing this weird fluid that normally comes out of other creatures. Milk is a thing you get from cows and goats and other animals with udders. And now I’m not only producing it, I’m collecting it in little plastic bags so that someone else can put it in a bottle and feed it to my daughter when I’m not there. I have this machine that I carry around with me and regularly strap to my body for 15 minutes at a time. After a few uses, I finally identified the hissing noise it sometimes makes as the sound of milk hitting the back of the valve connector at high speed.  And even though I sometimes feel like crying when I strap the thing on, because I want so badly to be feeding her myself instead of a machine, I still do it because I want her to have it.  I simultaneously can’t wait until she’s ready for solid foods so I don’t have to be her only source of nutrition and dread the weaning process because I will miss that precious time when it’s just her and me in our nursing embrace.

She smiles at us when we play with her and is currently fascinated by fans.  And sometimes when I am holding her it strikes me all over again that this tiny new creature is real.  Just a few months ago she was a squirming Other inside of me that was just a concept and a nickname.  Some time around this time last year, she wasn’t even that.  Just a couple of cells that smashed together and started multiplying.  She is a creature which didn’t even exist and now she does and all of that is profoundly weird.  Beautiful, amazing, glorious, and utterly awe inspiring.  But still weird.

[1]  I have some very complicated feelings about people who flat out state that it’s different when it’s your own child, especially to people who don’t want children, because sometimes it’s not and what if that’s just the way it is and just how much would it suck for both mother and baby if it wasn’t because it’s not like there’s a 90 day return policy and I will probably write that some day but not at this exact moment other than to write what may very well be the longest foot note I’ve ever put in any of my writing ever.  I’ve been reading a lot of Pratchett.

The Haunting of Pico

May 7, 2014

The Haunting of Pico by Patrick Kampman

This was my one small publisher purchase from this year’s AggieCon.  This particular publisher managed to slide their application under the wire just as I was running out of tables, and I hope they come back next year.  I quite enjoyed having them.  Tangent…

Adoptee Chris and his sister Eve are dragged by their parents from their big city life in California to Pico, Texas, a small town with more than a few secrets.  As an Asian, Chris is understandably wary of living in a town where the high school is named after a civil war general and the mascot is “The Rebel Chickens.”  He quickly adapts to his new life and things wouldn’t be so bad… if only his house wasn’t haunted.

The book is a good, quick read with a lot of really excellent characterization.  I really appreciated that each of the main characters seemed to have their own speaking style, and the dialog was quite witty.  It’s definitely a young adult novel, with all of the high school dating drama that generally comes with that genre, but the structure of the story is quite sophisticated.  The haunting wasn’t so much a horror as it was just a bit spooky.  I think this is in part because the two main characters take the whole thing in stride, as though they hear ghostly crying and footsteps all the time.  I sometimes felt like Chris was more concerned with his video games than with the supernatural entity stomping across his ceiling.  Overall though, quite a good story.

The one major beef I have with this book is the entire plot around the character Rose.  Her resolution makes the ending feel tacked on and rushed.  And once I realized where Kampman was going with the character, I very nearly gave up on the book.  It was only his excellent writing that kept me going, in the hopes that he would manage to surprise me.  I was sadly disappointed.  I feel like the entire subplot involving Rose could have been cut out and the whole book would have been much improved.  The solution to the mystery of the haunting could have been solved in some other, much more satisfying way.  And while she did add to the love triangle element of the story, I feel that she distracted from the haunting much too often.

I feel like Mr. Kampman has a lot of potential, and I’m optimistic about his Chance Lee series, which I plan to pick up for my e-reader.

Blood Meridian

April 30, 2014

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian seems to be one of those books written solely to be about horrible people doing horrible things to other people.  Some of the other people are also quite horrible, but for the most part, it’s just innocent people getting killed for the hell of it.  It’s really not my kind of book and honestly if it hadn’t come as an audiobook with one of my Humble Bundles, I wouldn’t have finished it.  Even still, it took me a while to finish it because I avoided listening to it when I didn’t have anything else to focus on.

There isn’t really what you would call a “plot” for this book.  It’s basically about The Kid and his time spent with a group of mass murdering scalp hunters.  I am sure that there is an English Professor somewhere who would be thrilled to get a paper on the subject of The Judge as a personification of Lucifer, but I was honestly surprised that this book wasn’t on the Banned Book List for its considerable use of one particular racial slur which was probably historically accurate in its regular use, but was jarring nonetheless.

After having read The Road, listened to Blood Meridian, and read some of the reviews on Amazon of his other books, I’ve decided that I simply do not like McCarthy’s writing style.  So if you are one of those people who liked The Road, you may find Blood Meridian right up your alley.  As for me, I’m just going to cross him off of my “To Read” list.  There are far too many other books in this world to spend my time reading someone whose work I simply don’t like.

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