11.4.14

An Embarrassment of Riches

She carefully hands me the coins she has swept up from the corners of my bedroom, this change I didn't even notice was missing. The way she holds them and places them in my hands tells me that she would notice. Her life is so hardscrabble and close to the edge compared to mine that these few coins would make a difference for her.

I make the girls fold and put away their own clothes, sort out all the tangle that they just stuff onto their shelves repeatedly. There are dirty clothes mixed with clean ones, there are so. many. dresses. Two little girls accumulate.

She walks by the door, looks in on them as they sort it out, laughing a little at the thought of two farang girls sorting their own clothes. I wonder how many clothes are at her house, this tiny little mother who looks no older than a teenager and already has a 2 year old daughter.

I've seen her house: bamboo walls, a single room, maybe a partition, thatched roofs. No electricity. No running water.



I'm embarrassed by my riches. Literally.

The dresses strewn about the room are causing me extreme discomfort. Now I understand the way Aaron used to feel when he came home after his trips here.

I drive into town in our big old car. It was very inexpensive and it's far from perfect, but it carries me to the places I need to go. I pass people walking along the road carrying huge bundles of sticks on their heads. They look up as I pass them and I know how easy it would be to have them tie their load to the roof rack and catch a ride to where they are going.

But I'm not here to give rides.

Because even if you took away all this stuff, the clothes, the car, the money, I'd still be richer than most people here. You'd have to take away what I know, and my ability to analyze and learn, before I was as poor as them. Because it's not just material things that make me wealthy, its the more intangible things, like education and knowledge.

When I remember this my embarrassment eases. Because it's this that I came to share, to give away. My girls don't need so many dresses, and I don't need spare change, but ultimately, it's how well I share the things in my head that will truly close the gap between me, and this young woman with the brilliant smile and the tanaka smeared cheeks reverently handing me the coins she found on my bedroom floor.

28.2.14

Faery Swap - A book review

One of the awesome things about the internet is that it makes it possible for you to be friends with so many people you might not meet in real life. Like a former rocket scientist and aerospace engineer turned speculative fiction author.

I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have read that Susan Kaye Quinn has written. If I were to get around to writing the novel in my head, I would try to make it the kind of story that changes you in some way, makes you more free, more aware, or at least, makes you think different when you've finished it. Susan comes pretty close to that in her writing. All of the things I have read by her were for older teens or adults, and not something I would give to my kids to read yet. So I was delighted when she announced she was releasing Faery Swap, a fantasy story for middle grade readers. Then she said she was taking the book on a blog tour and asked for reviews.



Well, I just happen to have a voracious middle grade reader in my house. Who better to write a review of a middle grade book? (Sneaky home schooler that I am, I'm all for getting my kid to write without making it sound like work.)

I went looking for a recent picture. This one of him goofing off in the back of a truck made me laugh.
 I will tell you that the Boy was a bit proud that he finished the book in less than a day, and a bit disappointed that it wasn't longer.

What follows are his words. I did help him with editing a bit, in terms of order.

Faery Swap is about a boy named Finn that does this swap with a faery warrior prince, and then is transported to this magical world while the faery prince takes over his body. Finn lives in the modern day time in England with his little sister. His mom died and he doesn't have a dad that takes care of him so much. Finn isn't happy to be in the otherworld. In the summer solstice the worlds are close enough for the spirits of the faeries to be able to go to earth and take over the body of a human and send the spirit of that human to the otherworld. 

Here's what happens. When it's still the summer solstice the faery spirits, called Anams, can inhabit a human body and can do magick on earth. When the solstice is over faeries in human bodies stay on earth until the next swap, which is a hundred years later in earth years, if they survive that long. Or they stay on earth until they die. If the faery leaves earth and goes back to the faery world the anam of the human stays in the otherworld and their body just dies. No human anam has ever been returned to it's body before.

I liked how it included faeries and the whole thing about dimensional worlds. She did a pretty good job of making it so the faery prince didn't actually act like Finn did at the beginning of the book, like he was getting used to acting like a modern human. If he acted the same way as the human right away it wouldn't have been as believable.

The thing I didn't understand was how does math go together with magick? 

In a book that included faeries, I expected the faeries to be rather mischievous. But they weren't really mischievous. All lot of the faeries were pretty stubborn though. Some of them were a bit stupid and evil, like the king and the kings servants. Except for the house of Ul and Glinn. They were opposing his house secretly because they knew that people would die if the earth and the otherworld were connected and they cared about the loss of faery AND human life.

If you like stories about magick and people with special powers, you might like this book. If you like stories with faeries, with sort of a cross between modern day and mythical then you'll probably like this book.

He had some questions about the book, so we emailed Susan and she answered right away, because she's awesome like that. Here it is.

The Boy-What culture did you get this from? It seems bit Irish.

Susan - In my story, the faery world was torn from Earth about 4000 years ago,
around the area near Stonehenge. In the real world at that time, a Celtic
(Irish) legend that says fairies descended from the Tuatha De Danaan (and
ancient people driven to another world by a wave of invaders). Some of the
legends say this "Otherworld" (which is what I call it in my story) is
called Tir Na Noog (Tír na nÓg ), and that there, time stands still. There
are many different stories about faeries (all the original stories were
oral, not written down), but one is the story of Oisin, a Celtic man, who
accidentally traveled to the Otherworld and then was dismayed when he
returned to find that 300 years had passed. I used some of this mythology to
create the backstory of my Faery Swap, and the idea that time stands still
in the Otherworld.


The Boy-Where did you get the idea for a spriggan?

Susan - Spriggans are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spriggan real (mythical)
creatures from Cornish (English) faery lore. I used a picture from Faeries
by Brian Froud (a collection of faery art) to imagine what a spriggan would
look like. Then I used the idea of House Elves from Harry Potter to make
them loyal to a particular Faery House. Pyx's personality belongs all to
himself.

The Boy-Where did you get the idea that the faeries need to understand math to do
magick?

Susan - To me, mathematics seems kind of magical to begin with-in math, simple
numbers or symbols can capture tremendous knowledge into a simple equation
(like E=MC2). When I think of magic, I think of incantations and spells and
symbols... just like math. Add in that the faeries in my story use
dimensional magick-basically manipulating the spacetime forces around
them-and it makes sense that an understanding of math and physics would
enhance their ability to do that kind of magick. Also: I just think math is
cool.

Thanks Susan, for writing such a fun book, and giving me something different to do to encourage my son to write and answering his questions.

You can get your own copy of Faery Swap, in print or your e reader of choice. Check it out.

25.2.14

Delegation

You guys, I have a confession to make. I'm a little embarrassed about it, to tell the truth. I'm worried you won't understand. Plus, I feel like I should be able to do it all myself. It's my mid-western, self reliant, up bringing I suppose. But it's time to come clean, literally. I've hired house help.

I know. I live in a big house in the country, and now I have people cleaning my house for me. Next I'll be sipping mint Juleps on the porch while fanning myself with my big hat. (Actually, that sounds good. I just put mint into my garden. I'm going to have to do that when it grows enough.)

But here's how it happened. We had a big party here at Christmas time. We invited pretty much the whole city to come to our house for festive things like cookie decorating, and hot chocolate, and singing. You know me, it's not a party without singing. Not too long before I went and bought new glasses, finally laying to rest the lenses I had been using since 2004. Seriously, 2004. I got home with my brand new, shiny, not scratched a bit, lenses, and realized just how deeply covered in grime my house was. Did I mention that all of the downstairs floor is white tile? Do you know what happens to white tile when kids with dirty feet step in a bathroom puddle and then walk all over the house? It really ain't pretty.

One of my friends had mentioned that her mae baan was looking for extra work. (That's Thai for house maid, or something close.) So I asked how much she charged and if she could come over the day of the party to help get it really, really clean. That led me to a referral to another friend, who referred me to Christine.

Christine is Burmese, but she's been a Thai resident for at least 20 years, worked a long time in Chiang Mai, and has experience as a Mae Baan. She now lives in a little bamboo house in a migrant work camp just outside our village and she and her husband have planted a little church there. She is teaching some of the women there how to be Mae Baan, instead of field laborers. It's a much better job.

So, for the equivalent of $10US!!!! she came to my house the day of the party, with a younger woman named Giley, and they made my house sparkle! It was amazing, like a miracle from heaven.

I had no idea how little it cost to hire someone. I'm told she's expensive compared to others, but I do have a really big house.

A little later I read this article, True Confessions of an Extreme Outsourcer. I realized that my pride was getting in the way of my productivity, in a big way. I mean, I don't expect to get any office work here done without our office assistant. That's just crazy talk. So why do I somehow think that I ought to be able to,
  • be up several times a night with short people
  • administrate a nonprofit corporation long distance, including managing volunteers and contractors on that end
  • Home School 4 children, including a wild and crazy toddler, and a pre-adolescent, while taking care of a baby
  • cook 3 meals a day
  • run an NGO office locally, manage staff and volunteers
  • design training materials for local women and families, and teach those classes
  • write 2 blogs and keep them current, plus manage 4+ facebook pages, and other social media
  • write monthly updates to all our supporters
  • create and edit content for new promotional materials
  • add any new chapters to the book we're trying to write. (that has totally not even been on the list the past several months)
  • Garden and do yard work
  • AND keep the whole house clean?
See that level of crazy going on right there? I am a firm believer that my kids should be responsible to clean up after themselves and the messes they make. And they do, they keep this house running. You can tell a day that they didn't do their jobs, because the whole place is awful. Which is testament to how much help they are on days when they do get things done.

One thing the article asked is what things would you delegate? On that whole list, housework would be the first to go.

So I started out by asking them to come every 2 weeks, just to help me deep clean, and keep on top of things.

After a month of that I said, come every week. If I had more money I'd have them come twice a week. They both have a little girl and they bring them along, I asked them to, and they run around and play while the mommies work.

We went to Chiang Mai for a week and it was a really messed up weekend. On our way out of town I stopped to give Christine the key and pay her in advance to come in while we were gone and clean. It was like a miracle. We got home, after a long hot dusty drive, and the house was perfect, more perfect than it's ever been, now that we were out of the way so they could work. I can't tell you what a gift it is to come home to something so peaceful. It lasted a whole 4 hours, because we went to the pool right away after unloading the car.

I am so much more relaxed about messes these days. "Sure we can eat noodle soup in the living room while we watch Ender's Game for family night." Worst case scenario, if I don't get to mopping the floors after that experiment, it will get done in a day or two anyway. It's not like I am not still totally swamped, and don't still fall asleep mid sentence with my hands resting on the keyboard of my laptop every second day or so, but it's one stress gone. I don't even try to clean up before she comes anymore.

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