How to Keep Occupied on a Snowy Day

(Would you like to listen rather than read? Check out my podcast episode on this same topic here.)

This snow is peaceful. Blizzards...not so much. Image courtesy of murrysvillechurch.com

This snow is peaceful. Blizzards…not so much.
Image courtesy of murrysvillechurch.com

I wanted to keep this week’s post timely. Since storm Jonas is upon the US East coast, here are a few ideas on how to keep occupied while you’re snowed in, not just for this 2016 weekend, but also for other snow days as well.

I’ve broken the suggestions down into four categories: Netflix, Books, Art, and Being a Kid.

  1. Netflix: Here are my suggestions on fun shows to watch while sipping your warm beverage of choice.
    • If you’re in for thrills and psychological intrigue, watch Dexter & Criminal Minds.
    • The 100 provides a great sci-fi plot line and a diverse (and large!) cast of characters.
    • Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Solving mysteries set in the 1920s. ‘Nuff said.
    • How Stuff Works gives a behind-the-scenes looks at, well, how stuff works. One of my favorite episodes was seeing how contacts were made.

The next few activity categories can be done with or without power.

      2. Books: Are you a bookworm? Curl up with one of these while watching the snow fall outside your window!

    • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a whimsical yet mature tale that asks: Can a snow girl come to life?
    • The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman have fantastic artwork and have (in my opinion) a grittier storyline than the show.
    • The Sketchnote Handbook by Mike Rohde is a fun, quick read that will give you tools to spice up your yawn-inducing meeting notes.
    • The Olympians comic series by George O’Connor. Greek gods in comic form. Do you need more convincing? (If so, I don’t think we can be friends…. :-P)

      3. Art: Use the time off to get your hands dirty!

    • Fingerpaint.
    • Paint with coffee or tea.
    • Draw with whatever you have. Draw your meal, the scene outside your window, or your pets. Make the mundane frame worthy!
    • Play the squiggle game. This is pretty simple: Take out a piece of paper and draw a squiggle on it (any shape, size, etc). Have the next person add to it. You can go back and forth (or pass from person to person if there is a group of 3 or more) until the squiggle looks like something recognizable, like a person, a starfish, or a dragon.

      4. Be a kid!

    • Build a fort. Get pillows and blankets, then defend your territory!
    • Make shadow puppets.
    • Make hot chocolate with tons of marshmallows for a lovely sugar coma.
    • Tell (ghost) stories.
    • Play in the snow!

What are some activities you like to do when you’re snowed in? Share in the comments!

Explosions the Book: A Review of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris’ “Phoenix Rising”

A new star is added to my shelf of fame!

A new star is added to my shelf of fame! (Photo credit: Paulette Jaxton)

This book, like Big Machine, took me about a year to read.  And again, it’s not the that book was bad, I just have reading ADD.

“Phoenix Rising” is a book in the series “Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.”  It is a steampunk novel that takes place in the late 1800s.  Enter Agents Braun and Books, a lady with a wild streak and an uptight nobleman who has a knack for research, respectively.  You meet these two at the very beginning of the novel.  But it was this quote that really caught my attention:

“‘The Ministry remains rather underfunded by the Crown, Books, and I was given the choice of either more backup or more dynamite.’  She held up the stick. ‘I went with what I could trust.'”

After reading this, I was hooked.  A girl who likes explosions is my kind of protagonist.

But this book isn’t all mindless entertainment.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that we join our daring duo on a deadly mystery.  They research a secret society that was thought to be long gone, but is, in fact, very much alive.  I know, I’ve seen that movie too.  But what makes the plot interesting is the characters.  Yes, they are mismatched, but they learn from one another.

Perhaps what I enjoy most in fiction is characterization.  The two authors of this novel really hit the mark with Books and Braun because they are at once likable and flawed, leaving room for growth.  You know characters are well developed when you talk to the characters.  There is one scene when, on an undercover mission, Books tells  the people he is with that Braun is mute.  Given that Ms. Eliza Braun is a brazen, corset-wearing woman who likes to speak her mind, I immediately said, “Oooh, you’re going to get it later, Books!” (Wait, you don’t talk to book characters?   …I guess I’m just weird).

Another aspect of the story that I liked was the fact that it does not take place in contemporary America.  It is set in late 1800s England.  Sometimes the dialogue took some getting used to, but I enjoyed hearing about analytical engines and reading about horse-drawn carriages.  Call me old fashioned, but it was refreshing to read a book that didn’t include iPhones and the Internet.

This novel isn’t ground breaking, but it is fun.  Ballentine and Morris do a great job balancing action, suspense, and humor.  I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a light, enjoyable read.

Doubt, Faith, and Heroine: A Review of Victor LaValle’s “Big Machine”

Cover of "Big Machine: A Novel"

Books rarely take me one year to read.  This one, for whatever reason, did.  When I finished it in October, I could not remember what it was that first drew me to read it.  This all makes this book sound terrible.  It’s not the book, it’s me.

Usually when I put a book down, I pick it up again and finish it.  Since I borrowed it from the library, it kept coming due and, eventually, other books took its place on my reading shelf.  I’m glad I picked this book back up.

The story follows Ricky Rice, a guy with a janitor’s beat-down life and an addiction to heroine.  But he’s given a second chance in an unlikely way.  I know, sounds cliche.  He’s chosen to be an unlikely scholar at the Washburn Library in Vermont.  What do said luminaries look for?  Voices.  Yes, the unlikely scholars look for signs of a divine voice in newspapers and magazines.  Sounds kooky.  And I bring that up only because it is part of the premise, but it is not the larger story.

Yes, Ricky becomes a part of this rag-tag group of elites and dons suits instead of a janitor’s uniform, but it is his journey when he is placed on the field that I think makes this book worth reading.  He is given a second chance that he thinks stops at the living in the library and, perhaps more importantly, he thinks he knows what he needs to do in order to turn his life around.

His time in the field is by turns trippy, gritty, and heart-wrenching.  Through a series of vignettes that flop back and forth from Ricky’s memories of the past to the present time of the book, Ricky becomes three-dimensional.  He learns that his turn around may not be as simple as he thinks.  As a reader, I enjoyed seeing Ricky come to the realization that difficult and messy answers are not always a bad thing.  Through his transformation, the reader learns that doubt is the “big machine” as Ricky rethinks his faith and what it means to be a man.  I’m still on the fence about the time flip-flops.  They weren’t confusing, but traditional me likes to read a story in order.

Author photo of Victor LaValle

Another aspect of this book I liked was the writing.  Victor LaValle has a very keen eye for detail without bogging the reader down with needless fluff.  His writing is expansive where it needs to be, yet it always feels precise.

There is also mystery, action, and explosions in this novel.  For me, however, the most important aspects of the story were the writing and Ricky Rice’s emotional journey.  Ricky is joined by an ever-changing, colorful cast of characters, which definitely added a lot of different flavors to the book.  I would certainly recommend this book to anyone looking for a little action peppered with a lot of depth and attitude.  Because of this novel, I’m excited about reading LaValle’s other books.  I’m in the mood for short stories.  So I think “Slapboxing with Jesus” will have to be next on my LaValle reading list.