Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Tsar of Love and Techno: A Review

I know what you're thinking: with a title like that, what could go wrong?

The answer, my friends, is very little. 

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra spans nearly 70 years as it delves into Russian history through the lives of (at least) 9 characters. 

It sounds a little overwhelming, but honestly, the writing was intriguing and clear, so I rarely got people or places confused. 

The story begins in Leningrad (later renamed St. Petersburg) in 1937, with a painter tasked with censoring photos of Soviet dissidents. From there, the story leaps forward and far to the north, following the granddaughter of a ballerina the censor was charged with erasing, now living on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Before long the story leaps southward to Grozny in the Chechen region of southern Russia, and so on. Despite the frequent shifts in viewpoint characters, the individual voices felt unique and discernible from one another, which I greatly appreciated. The characters are all tied together in unbelievable ways, which at time felt out of place, given that the rest of the story remains extremely grounded in realism. I found myself willing to forgive this, though, especially given the excellence of the writing. (And hey, I'm reading fiction, right? Shouldn't it be a little unbelievable sometimes?)

Because the characters are so interwoven, you get to see them from different people's perspectives. One character is introduced as a good-for-nothing teenager, so later when he arrived as a viewpoint character I was startled by my empathy for him. Additional insight into his character is given from his brother and an old high school friend, whereby a multi-faceted view of his personality begins to emerge. It was interesting to sort out how much of their perspectives was real, or, perhaps, how much of the young man's perspective of himself is actually what others see. I found this technique interesting and it made the book compelling, especially as it revealed something about the human experience.  In real life, the stories we tell about ourselves and others are both true and not true. We are the ultimate unreliable narrators. 

But I digress.

There was a lot of reference to early Soviet history and recent Russian conflicts that I don't think I would have understood if  I weren't married to a Russophile currently reading a 976 page biography of Stalin. There were still things I'd come across that I wasn't familiar with, but I personally found that intriguing instead of off-putting. For someone less familiar with Russian history, I imagine wikipedia could be a great aid in enjoying the book.

At this point, I feel the need to say that several of the characters are soldiers and/or young men, and as such there was considerably more reference to sexual content than I typically choose to read (luckily nothing too explicit). The vast majority of the time I felt that it was in service of the plot and character development, but there were a few times when it made me uncomfortable. If any of you choose to read this book (and I hope some of you do!), I just want you to know what you're getting into.

Those things being said, I really enjoyed this book. The storytelling was cleverly crafted, the characters were intriguing, and the prose was delightful. Several times I had to read a sentence over again, because there were layers of meaning in it I hadn't caught the first time. Ten pages in to the book I announced to Jesse that he had to read this next, and yet the prose was so great that at times I had to read it aloud to him, even at the risk of spoiling some of the story. 

The Tsar of Love and Techno comes out October 6th. Get your hands on a copy, or, better yet, borrow mine!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

My loves

There are days when my heart feels like it might burst with love for these three people I share my life with. Our life together is at times messy, hard, and frustrating, but it is also incredibly beautiful and rich. 

At the current moment, Miriam is crawling under my computer chair, murmuring sweetly to anyone who will listen. Nikolai is playing happily at our neighbor's house for 5 more minutes (7, if he gets his way), though earlier this evening he was in time out for play punching the same neighbor's almost-2-year-old and making him cry (3 is a hard age, for parent and child). Jesse is rinsing dinner dishes and speaking Ukrainian to himself, practicing the vocabulary he learned in class today.

"Look mama, I'n doing yoga by my castle!"

These people I love are complex and multifaceted and wonderful.


When I'm not at work these days, I'm babysitting my friend Nycole's kids so she can go to work (we have a really incredible swap worked out--it's fantastic!).

Which means I get to see a lot of this:

And this:

Sometime soon I will gather some of my thoughts about working at a library, being a working mom, and my career aspirations! 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Apocalypse moon

Instead of going to bed at a decent hour on Sunday night, we stayed up and took periodic jaunts out to our nearby soccer field to see the lunar eclipse. 

(these are the best photos I could get with my DSLR and no tripod!)

It reminded us of the vastness of space and creation, and I got chills thinking about how much empty space lies between us and the moon I was gazing at. 

Also, it reminded us that we really want a telescope. 

Miriam: 7 months

7 months with Miriam is delightful!

Sleeping patterns: Just after Miriam turned 6 months, we moved her pack and play to the livingroom. This came on the heels of her waking up every 45 minutes all night long, so we were very eager to have her in her own sleeping space. She was a little fussy for a night or two, tops, then she cheerily resorted to sleeping through the night again. Now she shares a room with Nikolai, and they both more or less sleep all night (this morning she woke up at 5:30 and didn't go back to sleep until 6:30, and kept everyone awake with her--thankfully we all went back to sleep and every [with the exception of Jesse, poor soul] got to sleep in until nearly 9). 

Eating Patterns: Breastmilk every 3-4 hours, and pureed baby food at least once a day, though sometimes twice. She loves the pureed stuff but has a love-hate relationship with actually solid foods. A few times, she's really enjoyed feeding herself bits of whatever we were eating, but other times she rejects it all and only wants to eat some store bought something-or-other. 

New discoveries she made: She can watch her friend Josie (a baby 3 months older than our Miri) and imitate her advanced mobility. She frequently comes home from an afternoon at Josie's house (Josie's mom watches our kiddos while I work) having learned a new skill from watching Josie. Peer pressure for the win!

Accomplishments: Crawling for real (last month she started army crawling, now she's up on all fours!) and pulling up onto her knees! This girl is going places!

Places she went: To Josie's house, to the park for Niko's soccer games, and on exciting outings with daddy while mom was at work. 

Special memories: One morning, Jesse and I woke up before the kids (a rare occurrence). The first sound we heard from the kids' room as we were getting ready was Miriam giggling! Niko had woken her up by wiggling his fingers through the bars of her crib and pulling faces. I think our hearts grew 3 sizes that day :)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just a few dirty jokes

I don't have any pictures for you today, but I do have several funny things that Nikolai has said lately.

1) The other night, as I was putting Nikolai to bed:

Niko: When I get bigger, I can get that offensive truck!

Me: What? Offensive?

Niko: No, offensive! The offensive truck!

Jesse, overhearing us: He's trying to say expensive...

2) We've been getting into the habit of reading some children's scriptures with Nikolai before bed, but sometimes we forget. 

Niko: Hey! We forgot to read strippers! 

Me and Jesse: What?

Niko: Strippers! We forgot to read strippers!

--cue laughter--

(Now we sometimes irreverently refer to them as "strippers" as well...)\

3) On the way home from a friend's house (also, it's important to note that a common phrase he uses these days is "I was just making a joke"):

Niko: I want to take a bath! I'm dirty!

Me: You're not dirty, you took a bath last night!

Niko: No! I'm dirty!

Me: You're clean!

Niko: Dirty!

Me: Clean!
Niko: Dirty!

Me: Clean!

Niko: Oh, I was just making a dirty joke.

Obviously that made me laugh uproariously. 

We sure love our silly Niko!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Silly Niko/Happy Niko

This silly boy wandered outside in my laundry sack the other day, and then proceeded to alternately sit on his bike and lay on the ground in it:

My neighbor Hyejin shared these photos with me, that she took of Niko when he was playing with her kids. It was really delightful to see what he looks like through someone else's eyes. Also, I think these are some of the cutest pictures of him I've ever seen!

That's our sweet happy boy!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


We've been giving Miriam some of our food at mealtimes lately to play with (because let's be honest, she doesn't eat much of it!) and we've noticed that she's definitely favoring her left hand. 

It's been twice now that we've noticed her using specifically her left hand, but other times during the day she seems to rely on her right.

So do we have a lefty on our hands? I'm interested to see!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Q&A a Day for Creatives: a Review

I recently got to choose another book to review (from Blogging for Books) and this time I chose Q&A a Day for Creatives.

The blurb at the front of the book describes it as "a journal of questions and prompts designed to help you explore your creative potential in a new way every day. The ritual of completing a daily drawing is an important part of keeping your brain sharp, helping you to be more focused, solve problems better, and even improve your memory."

The journal has you address the same question every year, in theory so you can "observe how your technical skill progresses, or how your perception of the questions changes over the years." 

I chose this book for a few reasons: 1) I'm always looking for more ways to foster the creative aspects of my personality and 2) I have become terrible at journaling in recent years, and this seemed like a good way to sneak in a tidbit of that each day. 

Each page looks like this: four blank squares to draw in (one for each year) and a prompt to use every year on that date. 

The prompt above was "Illustrate your favorite use of an apple. Pie? Cider? Worm bait?" I decided to use this prompt to do some journaling, so I sketched an apple wedge and commented "My favorite: cut into slices, preferably eaten with Nikolai (like we did at lunch today!)"

Some other prompts, and how I interpreted them:

"Make a color wheel that showcases the various colors you see today."

"Draw some simple stick figure people waiting in line. Now draw what they're waiting for."

I babysat that day, so I drew the hour-long process of getting all 4 children down for naps/quiet time. 

 Other prompts have been a good excuse to practice drawing (emphasis on practice):

(Please note that the above drawing was done of the sleeping Niko in his darkened bedroom, and I sketched it in yes, it turned out a little wonky. Also, I guess I'm feeling self concious about sharing my drawing!)

"Try to draw something in the style of a classic comic strip."

The above drawing was on my first day of work, and I was excited to use the space to memorialize that a little. 

Other prompts utilize the 4-year nature of the journal, like this one:

"A four-parter: Draw a step-by-step process (one step per year) of a popcorn kernal popping."

Things I've liked and disliked so far:

I've liked: The colorful cover and unique prompts--both make me want to open it every day!

I've disliked: The fact that the cover is a thin cardboard and is already scuffed around the edges. How will it look in 4 years? :-/

I've liked: The opportunity to journal and to have a creative conversation with myself over 4 years.

I've disliked: thinking that I perhaps won't use it for 4 years (such a long time)!

But finally, I've really liked the chance to sit and be creative for 15 minutes a day. I've enjoyed the challenge to take time to think creatively every day, and the fact that I can make the projects as small or as complex as I want/feel creatively inspired to do. 

I've really enjoyed this book so far and I look forward to making it a fun daily routine!

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Realism Challenge Update

The other day I had some time and decided to complete another project in my Realism Challenge book (the one I posted about here). 

Here's how it went!

Something I really enjoyed about this project was noticing how the shadows of the leaf were often tinged with color from the leaf, as seen below:

This project has been a really excellent opportunity to slow down and notice details that I've never paid attention to before. Also, I think I'm going to spend a lot of time this fall drawing lovely fall leaves! 


Hello friends and loved ones!

It's been busy, so I haven't had much time to post! Jesse started classes 2 weeks ago so we've all been caught up in the whirlwind that is getting back into the swing of classes. Additionally, I started working part-time at a local library last week (and it's been fantastic!) so that has added some complexity to our schedule as well. 

Here's a few of the other things that have been keeping us busy lately:

 A Star Wars marathon with some friends (one of whom hadn't seen ANY of them!).  I made some healthy snacks to balance out the boxes of doughnuts hiding towards the back of the photo:

Miriam and Nikolai have brought us a lot of joy lately, especially when Nikolai finds good ways to play with our little miss. Here, he was hiding under her booster chair and playing peek-a-boo with her, which she thought was silly :)

We hung out with some board game loving friends yesterday and it was great. The only catch was that we have 5 kids under 4 between our 2 families, so at one point 3 of us were holding babies:

(Also note that we're playing Agricola, our most complex and table-intensive game). 

It went shockingly well for how many littles we had around (we had a few potty accidents but no fights and not one little person came and swept the game off the table!).

I'll be posting a few more times over the next few days with some other things we've been up to lately, and I hope to get back into blogging more regularly as we settle into work and school!


I got Nikolai some new finger paints the other day, and we set to work using them on an easel we got from a friend awhile back.

This little artist wanted to use two brushes at once:

I really enjoy finding ways to 1) do something with Nikolai that I enjoy and 2) engage his creativity.