Tuesday, January 3, 2012

B is for Bialystok

I started this year with a stellar book. It's The True Story of Hansel and Gretel (a novel of war and survival . Have you ever picked up a book just because of the title or cover. Have you ever started a book and within the first page or two, you knew it was going to be good?

That happened to me with The Red Tent. It started out with a sentence.... something like....
"My sisters, you have been lost to me for so long." and I thought, "Wow. This is going to be good." And it was! I've read that book several times and I always find something new and lovely in it.

I was wondering around the library and saw Hansel and Gretel on a table of new books. I love the cover and the subtitle. I read the premise on the back and took it home. Same as with The Red Tent, the first paragraph, all I could think was, "Wow. This is going to be excellent."

It is a beautiful, deeply colored book. It starts with a paragraph or two from Magda the Witch, explaining that the story you know has been passed down and twisted through time and that now we are going to have the real story.

It's set in Poland and this family has escaped the forced ghettos of Bialystock. A man and his wife are on a motorcycle, fleeing Nazi's (also on motorcycles). The wife keeps urging the man to let his 2 children (riding in the sidecar) out. They are weighing the bike down and they will all die if he doesn't let the children out. Finally, he gives in to her urging and lets them out into the woods. The Stepmom tells them to use non-Jewish names, Hansel and Gretel, and for the boy to never undress in front of anyone so they won't see his circumcision. They run into the woods. The girl is 11 and the boy is 8.

After wandering awhile, they find Magda's house. She is the village witch (in other words, she is a healer and abortionist) and she takes the children in. Her brother is the village priest and she makes him get papers for the kids.

The story follows the kids and it also follows the parents and their struggles through the war. The Stepmom isn't as bad as she is made out to be and Magda is an old woman who puts her own life in jeopardy to take in these 2 small strangers.

The village has a Nazi but he's not too bad (as Nazi's go) and then the batshit crazy Nazi shows up and things start to go south for everyone.

The book is so compelling. I spent much of our small trip to the mountains engrossed in this book. I couldn't put it down. There's so many layers to each character in the book. It is a story of war, so yes, there are some truly heartbreaking moments, but it's also a story of humanity and love.

I, of course, have to buy this book now. I can't imagine a world where I don't have access to reread it whenever I want to!

At the back of the library copy, there was an interview with the author (Louise Murphy). She was born and raised in San Francisco and has no ties to the Jewish community. She researched for THREE years before she started writing this book. She also gave a small statistic in her interview that wrenched my heart out of my chest.

In the book, Crazy Nazi's job is to go from village to village and find children that look Aryan and take them from their families, sending them to Germany to be raised by Aryan German families.

Ms. Murphy's statistic that hurt my heart so, was that during WWII, Poland lost 20% of their children. TWENTY PERCENT. Either to hunger, bombs, or outright kidnapping. I can't imagine.

This book is easily the best book I've read in years.

Other books I've read lately....

I listened to Alice I Have Been on audiobook. It's a moving, if somewhat disturbing account of the woman that Alice in Wonderland was based on. It's one of those incredibly researched, fiction presented as non-fiction type books. Apparently, Lewis Carol was an inappropriate man and Alice's family actually banned him from ever seeing her again. Ew. The book was very good and the woman who read it is an excellent actress. Most audiobook readers have inflection and some can do a variety of voices for the different characters. This reader showed real emotion and there were parts (towards the end) where she was so devastated over events in her adult life, that I was actually crying while driving to school!

My knitting group is reading The Hunger Games for a mini-book club. I had already downloaded it to my ipod and already had plans to listen to it once school started up so it was perfect timing!

I have this thing about downloading books from the library. I use the CD's even though it's a pain in the ass. But that way, I don't run out of time on a download before I can actually listen to it! After I listen, I always delete it. So far, haven't found any audiobooks that I'd want to relisten to. Not that they're bad books - quite the contrary! It's just that none of them have been as moving as the above mentioned "real" books I've read.

The thing with downloading CD's is that the makers are on to us. They never download right. They end up out of order and then there's usually one CD out of say... 16 (looking at YOU, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) that doesn't have any info on it and you have to enter the 22 tracks manually.

With Hunger Games, I somehow missed Disc 5 out of 9. I loved the book and it was flying along from the very start! I went online to put the audiobook on hold again and there's 245 people on hold for it! WTF! I ended up borrowing it from my friend through our Nooks. I didn't even go back to the rest of the discs. I flew through reading the rest of the book in just a couple of days. I can't wait to read the other 2 in the trilogy!

Speaking of trilogy's....
I'm currently reading (hardback, borrowed from the library) the third of The Strain trilogy. It's very good! The first 2 moved much faster but it's moving along and I can't wait to see how it ends...

Also, my current audiobook is the first in the Dexter series. I have been watching the show for a couple of years now (love it!) and wanted to listen to the books it came from. So far the first book
is dead on to the show, so no real surprises, but it's well-written and the reader is very engaging. It's nice, mindless entertainment for my school commute.

Here's my reading goals for this year....


I have SO many books I've downloaded, it's mental. And, yet, I still get more (coughDextercough). I need to go through my ipod playlist, see just what I have and make a list of them. That way, I can get a better handle on what I want to listen to, when.
I will definitely listen to...

all the Dexter books
A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty - Joshilyn Jackson (I've listened to her read all her books - love them!)

Nook books...

My friend turned me on to Project Gutenberg. Most of my nook books are from here. It's almost all the classics (Dumas, Shakespeare, Shelley, Poe, etc.) and they are all free! So far I've downloaded...
Complete Edgar Allen Poe
Alice in Wonderland
King Lear (and several other Shakespearean works)

"Real" books...
Garden of Beasts - Jeffrey Deaver (released 2005) (isn't that weird? Almost exactly the same title and VERY similar premise. Bizarre.)
Hansel and Gretal - finished - see excessive gushing above

Eternal Night - 3rd in The Strain trilogy (currently reading)

Wolves of Calla - Stephen King (read all the Dark Tower series before this, need to keep going on it!)
DayWatch - more series books!
Fool - Christopher Moore (after I read King Lear on my Nook)
The Litigators - John Grisham (got this free as a buzz agent and feel obligated to read it)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies - got this in a swap and still haven't read it yet. Still obsessed with zombies so this is high on the list this year!
Looking Glass Wars - first in another type of series.

(Sorry I stopped with the links, but blogspot got weird on me halfway through writing this post and I didn't feel like fighting with it.)

Another book goal this year is to go through my bedroom bookcase and cull whatever I can. I have such a tough time doing that! I'm a total hoarder and I adore all my books and don't want to get rid of any of them. But that bookcase is getting truly out of control.

Looking for the next great novel, Ruth!

A is for Awesome

I know that my generation is the one who minimized and ruined the word "awesome". Gotta love the 80's! But this past weekend was awesome!

Dave has figured out that a last-minute trip is a much cheaper trip to take. He got us a nice condo in Winterpark for $100 a night. He actually haggled with the guy - so not like Dave! - and finally worked it out Friday night for our weekend trip on Saturday.

We spent more time than usual in the actual dwelling but there was a Husker Bowl game on Monday, so I don't know if that counts.
We left right after I got off work on Saturday (3p) and on our drive up, we weren't even all the way out of town when the wind was whipping across the highway so badly that we saw TWO semi's and one unattached trailer that had been blown over before we got there!! The hitch on the lone trailer was a thick twist of metal.

That made us a bit nervous about the drive up, but we arrived without incident.

We went to the condo, threw our stuff in and then kicked back for a bit, deciding where to eat. We chose Moe's BBQ (mostly because Dave's nickname throughout high school and college was Moe). It was an excellent choice!! The boys got hamburgers that were full size without being giant and very well cooked. I got the pulled pork platter with beans and coleslaw and Dave got the special of a 1/2 rack and 1/2 chicken.

Everything was so tender and delicious!! The BBQ sauce was a bit plain but when mixed with their special hot sauce it was perfect.

Then we went back to the condo and changed into snow clothes. We went to the local park because we read that they were having a family event for New Year's Eve. They had about 20 super cheap saucers and little plastic toboggans for everyone to use on their icy snow hill. There were 2 fire pits with fixin's for s'mores and also hot chocolate - all free! (The s'mores fixin's were marshmallows (some as big as your fist), wooden skewers, and those keebler cookies that are round and have fudge on one side - brilliant!)

We spent over an hour sledding and having a blast! There were about 60 or 70 people there and we shared our 3 sleds and used the cheap ones too (so much faster!!). At one point I was racing down headfirst, hit some killer snow ramp, and landed half off the sled, slamming my knees into the icy hill. Yea, that bruised beautifully! Half the fun was walking back up and dodging all the people coming down. The sledders were of all ages and everyone was laughing and sledding, dodging and being kind to each other, and it was a lovely evening.

The only thing that could've made it better would be fireworks. Good thing they had those, too! They set them off at 9p because it was a family event and there were lots of sleepy kids around.

We got home about 10p and the kids went right to bed. Dave and I stayed up a little longer and rang in the New Year right (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

Sunday we didn't sleep in too late; we ate at a breakfast place that had all the good reviews. It was pretty good. It's called Sharkey's and they specialize in benedicts. Unfortunately, none of us like benedicts. Dave got their biggest breakfast (the 18-wheeler) and I got an English muffin. We split his giant meal and the kids had pancakes. I'm of a mind that breakfast food is breakfast food and it's hard to mess it up - Sharkey's was great! They make their own jam and y'all know what a jam whore I am. They call it Shark Bait and it's a strawberry jam (maybe with some raspberry thrown in?) and it's a red not found in nature. It's a bit thin, almost like strawberry syrup and it's delicious!!

After breakfast, we went to the tubing hill. It's weird because there are two tubing companies RightNext to each other. We went to the one that had their shack at the bottom of the hill. They also had "snowscoots" - miniature snowmobiles for the kids. We tubed for an hour and then we got the boys on the snowscoots.

T cracked me up - he was riding really straight-backed with a big grin, lookin' like gentry....

D2 was all hunched over his snowscoot, very intense looking and serious.

That night we got movies and frozen pizza from the Safeway. The pizza was for the kids; for us, we went to a Chinese place (Pearl Dragon II) and got food for us. That was the best Chinese food we've had since we moved to CO. Wish there was a place like that near us!

We watched the Green Lantern and then we played the game of Life. It is super-complicated to start out with, but once you read all the rules, it's pretty easy. My brother and I used to play that game ALL the time when we were kids! I'd forgotten how much I love that game! We got it for the boys for xmas and I'm so happy I made Dave put it in the car to play on our trip! (T won)

The next day, Dave made his famous breakfast burritos for all of us and we did a whole lot of nothing. Just kicking back and messing about until the Husker Bowl game came on. (Huskers lost) There was a frozen river behind our condo which the boys were fascinated with. Dave was able to stand on it, so they wanted to play on it constantly, too. It freaked me out severely but I tried to hold my tongue and let them be boys and play on it. Even though the ice was easily at least a foot thick, I lasted about ten minutes then I made them come back inside (I was with them on the ice the whole time) and play Life again. The two of them played while Dave and I watched the game.

After the game, we took them to Winterpark proper (our condo was in Frasier) to look around. We were looking for Back Bowl Soup and we found it and it was delicious. Homemade soups and sandwiches. T and I had the Black-eyed Pea and Ham and Dave and D2 went around the corner for pizza (none of the soups appealed to them). Time was spent in a tiny arcade and then we took the boys and rented them some ice skates so they could skate on the tiny frozen pond.

They had someone out there giving "free lessons" and by that, they seem to've meant a nice lady giving tips, "Bend you knees".

Davis started with the stabilizer thing....

He kept falling down a lot and had a hard time figuring out how to get back up. The nice lady showed him how to get up and then he ditched the stabilizer for most of the rest of the time....
(See the lady in the background texting? Her daughter kept saying, "Look at me, mommy!" and the lady kept texting. So stupid.)
T picked it up pretty quickly without the stabilizer....
They had some speed competitions....
As always, the best of friends....

We got back to the condo and the boy's took a warming bath. Hot chocolate and popcorn were the dinner meal and we watched Thor (hot!!).

Dave kept looking in the ads at all the condo spaces for sale. 2 bedroom, fully furnished jobbies for like $100K. That's pretty cheap for that type of thing!

Then, the first night, the train came through every couple of hours, laying on it's train horn each time.
But we had a sleep-number bed! That was kinda cool if for no other reason than I now know I'd never buy one. It was such a subtle thing and it didn't seem to make a difference in my sleeping. Fun to try out, though!

On Tuesday, we had donuts at a local shop (Ziggy's), then we went to the other tubing hill and spent another deliciously exhausting hour tubing and laughing. It was a much warmer day and we ended up in snow pants and short sleeves.

On the way down the mountain, we stopped at Beaujo's pizza. That seems to be a tradition we are starting. We've done it three times now. Another tradition is T getting all dramatic about being car sick. He doesn't throw up, he just feels awful and is all mopey and poopy until we get some crackers in him.

He and D2 said this was our best vacation ever! They say that at every vacation and it makes me happy that they think it's so much fun spending time with us!

Best start to a New Year ever, Ruth!