Sunday, December 31, 2006

Open the book; its pages are blank. We're going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity; its first chapter is New Year's Day.

[Quote by Edith Lovejoy Pierce.]

***************

Number of books read in 2006: an even 100, wrapped up with Penny Vincenzi’s huge and lovely Something Dangerous

Book I HAVE to finish: The Kindly Ones (Sandman vol. 9), but God, have I mentioned how I hate the artwork?

Book started last night so will be my first finished in 2007: Lily Brett's You Gotta Have Balls

Looking back at my list, I feel like I read some amazing books this year, but here are, for lack of any other limits, my top five:
The Sandman books – Neil Gaiman (if I counted each of these separately, it’d take up my top ten)
Broken for You – Stephanie Kallos
Hilary McKay’s Casson family series
The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier
Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem

I can’t really list my most disappointing, as I will not finish a book if I find it that disappointing. (I will say that Memory Keeper’s Daughter was a book I looked forward very much to reading but could not finish. But since that was only last month, that might have something to do with why I remember that one.) The most pleasant surprise, though: Water for Elephants. I did not expect much from this book, after all its hype, but it was a good read, with wonderful characters. The Thirteenth Tale would fall into this category as well; I know many of you did not like this book but I stand by my statement that it is this century’s Jane Eyre. And the book I was most pleased to have soldiered through a slow beginning? A tie between Sarah Dunant’s In the Company of the Courtesan and Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief.

Books that have crossed my radar enough times in the past few months and now are on The TBR List:
Snow - Orhan Pamuk. Sitting on my shelf, just awaiting my eyeballs.
The Echo Maker (77 holds!!) – I thought I’d beaten the rush on this one. Apparently not.
The Emperor’s Children - Just waiting for my personal library collection (otherwise known as our university's way-underused popular reading collection) to acquire this.
Eat the Document
Then We Came to the End
Death and the Penguin
The Lost Painting
The Ghost Map

Books liked by people I trust, so therefore I must read because I know I probably will too:
Doomsday Book (courtesy of Lazy Cow)
The Observations (ditto)
Secret River and Eucalyptus (both courtesy of dear Suse)
Almost a Crime - Penny Vincenzi (the same neighbor who gave me the Lytton trilogy)

Books that have sat on my TBR shelf long enough – this will be the year. Maybe.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
Johnny Tremaine
Shalimar the Clown
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Children’s Blizzard
Howard's End

Books I know I am going to buy:
The Christmas Quilt and Circle of Quilters (just out in paperback)
(I enjoy Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilt series, not just because I am a quilter but because her characters are real and her stories are fascinating, especially the historical bits.)
Kafka’s Parables, as part of my Winter Classics Reading Challenge, courtesy of Booklogged at A Reader's Journal.
At least the next two or three Sandman volumes; I just bought volume 1 before Christmas
One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson, when it comes out in paperback, along with Case Histories, which I want to reread.
Garlic and Sapphires – Ruth Reichl. I read, liked, and own Reichl's first two books; this one was incredibly fun and readable.

Books I am excited about:
The Art of Detection - Laurie King; but I need to finish the last Kate Martinelli book first.
Sing Them Home – Stephanie Kallos (Dec 2007)
The Terror – Dan Simmons (January 2007)
What Came Before He Shot Her – Elizabeth George
Skylight Confessions - Alice Hoffman (January 2007)

Questions to which I would like answers:
Is Rosamunde Pilcher really done writing as she's asserted?
Is Andrea Barrett ever going to write another book?
Is Audrey Niffenegger ever going to write another REAL book?
Why are circuses so popular a setting for recent novels?
What is it about Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Franzen, and Dave Eggers? I just don't get it. What am I missing?
When did Rita Mae Brown stop being funny and start being tedious?
Am I the only person who thinks Joyce Carol Oates is a hack?
Will the Shopaholic and Baby book be as dreadful as the Shopaholic and Sister book?
Will I be stupid enough to attempt to find out?

Book blogs with way better roundups than mine:
Lazy Cow's Only Books All the Time
Reading Roundup 2006

Pages Turned
End-of-year reading stats

Kimbofo of Reading Matters
Top Ten Fiction Reads of 2006

Booklogged at A Reader's Journal
13 favorite Books Read in 2006

These were some of my favorites, but you can find a comprehensive list with links here. I suggest having a pen and paper handy, or at least another document open on your computer, for your list.
There WILL be a list. Trust me.

I will try to keep better records next year, but I am not promising anything - even if I have already created a "2007 Books" spreadsheet...

Saturday, December 30, 2006

"Are you taking pictures of my socks?" - Pamela Stephenson




**************

WHERE ARE THEY?
The socks that match these, some of which were new only four - FOUR! - days ago.
I know it's the age-old question, but honest to God, I am losing my mind.
WHERE ARE THE DAMN SOCKS?
Where do they go? Out into the wild world to seek their fortunes, or into a dark corner to hide from the humdrum of their daily lives? Do they eat one another? Is some larger thing in my laundry room eating them? Are the cats selling them on the black market?

Is this clearly driving me NUTS?

Friday, December 29, 2006

"And away they all flew like the down of a thistle..." - Clement Moore, "The Night Before Christmas"

I would like to introduce you to the newest member of the family, Blue Baby.
I know, we all thought Seg was going to adopt another little girl, but his heart led him to this little boy, cleverly dubbed Blue Baby.
Blue Baby was Seg’s Christmas present to himself, purchased from the Dollar Store where he and H had gone Christmas shopping for the rest of the family.
Let’s all welcome Blue Baby, as his sisters Mimi, Luce, and Valerie have done – with open arms and open hearts.
And try not to be as juvenile as I am whenever I hear Seg lovingly refer to “Blue Baby.”
Because I am a jerk, but you don’t need to be.

****************

In other news, the ice skating went remarkably well, even if it was the most expensive half hour I have ever encountered.

Downtown parking: $5
Rink admission: $19
Hot chocolates after: $4
Being supported by brawny and toothless pro hockey players in my old age: Priceless.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"I'm just crazy about kosher flowers! " - Burson Fouch, "Little Shop of Horrors"

In search of "something fun to do," H and I took the boys to the conservatory yesterday.
The main exhibit was the newly-installed tropical forests of Thailand. Hello, Rogue Librarian! (You should go check out HIS photos - they're the real deal!)

While the two older boys were busy with the treasure hunt...

the intrepid explporer set off...

he wanted to go for a swim...

but watching the workmen install a new heating system was fascinating also...

Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!

For some time, The Baby and I wandered the paths haphazardly....

but finally, he grew a wee bit tuckered out and we sat on a bench in the main courtyard, he fortified with his sippy cup of milk, and we people-watched.

I don't generally like tropical plants; they all look a little too HUNGRY for my tastes.

Like this banana plant: "Feed me, Seymour!"

Dudes! A chocolate tree! Bliss!

This photo is blurry because clearly I have not had enough coffee...despite the presence of this tree...

This waterchain, used in lieu of a downspout, put me so in mind of Blackbird that I photographed it for her to model hers on.

And now, today, we are off to break in the new (to them) ice skates, I may get my hair trimmed this afternoon, and tonight, I get to hang out with Gina and The Boy, neither of whom I have seen in what feels like eons.

The leisurely Christmas vacation continues apace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"[Valentine's Day] centers around the concept of love. This makes it second only to Boxing Day as the holiday least understood by most of the world."

I spent much of yesterday immersed in Penny Vincenzi’s Something Dangerous, the second in her Lytton family trilogy. It’s a huge, sprawling book, but also surprisingly straightforward. I consistently have been impressed with how skillfully she encompasses the events of two or three years at a clip, within a paragraph. For example, one chapter of the first book ends in 1912, with a huge family upheaval, resulting in Celia and Oliver Lytton’s missing their train. The next chapter begins in, say, 1914, and within the next page someone mentions how upset Celia was to have missed their train – to the dock, to board the Titanic. Nothing particularly brilliant, but a clever and well-done passage-of-time device, which all too often can be clumsy and awkward, especially in very large books like this one. There are a lot of characters, and convoluted relationships, but by and large, it’s just a direct and fun novel, perfect for reading while lying on the couch with a cup of tea balanced on my stomach and the children systematically creating chaos and cacophony throughout the house with various Christmas presents.

I paused long enough in my reading to take a long lovely nap in the afternoon, awakening from my deep sleep to find that H had manfully attempted Christmas dinner. Unfortunately he is scared of butter and so the Christmas stuffing was more like Christmas croutons, and the turkey, which he’d cooked at 300, was still, after an hour in the oven, woefully raw and wobbly inside. We dined on steamed green beans, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce; I supplemented the boys’ meal with microwaved chicken nuggets.

I am halfway through Neil Gaiman’s ninth Sandman volume, The Kindly Ones and am finding it tough going. I think most of the problem is that I am distracted by the artwork; the drawing is clumsy and crude, without any of the nuance or striking visuals I have become accustomed to in this series. But I lost my Sandman momentum during the whole stomach-ick week, and can’t seem to just pick it up again.

I received one book for Christmas, that I had picked out myself at the Scholastic book fair, to add to my collection of books featuring librarians: Library Lion. But I fully intend to go have a good rattle round B&N or Half-Price Books later this week. I have to gear up for the Winter Classics Challenge, and track down a few intriguing-looking Aussie authors Lazy Cow discussed in her last post, and keep an eye open for secondhand Sandman volumes.

Now I have to go grocery shopping, because while Christmas was lovely and relaxing, all the bananas and bread got eaten, and all the milk drunk, and we are completely out of dishwasher detergent which could quickly become an emergency situation in this house.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious dawn."

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
([And] this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen [it], they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard [it] wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered [them] in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.


The Gospel of Luke 2:1-20 [King James Version]

Sunday, December 24, 2006

We three kings of Orient are, Bearing gifts we traverse afar...

You know, everyone gives you THINGS. Scarves, purses, sweaters, books, chocolates, pots and pans, jewelry, pets, waffle irons, coats, dishwashers, furniture, pajamas, lingerie, perfume, wallets, toys, laptops, heck, rumor has it that some people even give cars. (Not to mention the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.)

Anyone can give you a THING. I, however, being a virtual friend, am able to take liberties with your Christmas gifts, my schweet little Internetties.
And so I shall.

This Christmas I give you something that’s impossible to wrap up and place under the tree. I give you each an encounter of some sort (usually appropriate, but not always) with a fictional character, carefully chosen for my own good reasons, with you - and them - in mind.

Enjoy, and the merriest of Christmasses, my dear Internet friends!

Gina, my dear, there were so many choices perfect for you. Hope this does ok. – Afternoon tea with Elizabeth Bennett

Blackbird – Drinks with J. Maarten Troost. Ok, I know he’s not fictional but he’s lived on Tuvalu. You could have a lot to discuss!

Joke – An appropriately Iberic dinner with Emilio Sandoz

Badger –Dinner at Liquor with G-Man

Kilowatt Hour – A consultation with Dr. Jonathan Hullah

Carolyn –A fling with Rhett Butler

Jess –A day with the Casson family

Lazy Cow – A weekend with Ralph de Briccasart

My sweet friend Suse – Dinner – and whatever follows… - with Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant

Peg –Dinner with Mary Russell

Mary –A barbecue at Tara with Scarlett O’Hara

Rogue Librarian –A dinner and brandy and smokes with Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes

Sarah Louise – An afternoon progging with Sara Louise

Loretta – A week at Elm Creek Quilt Camp

Delta - Lunch with Clare

Katya –A tour of Dream’s library with Lucien

Rebecca – A conversation with Rose and Ruby Darlen

Liz – A (of course somewhat snarky) gossip with Anne and Cornelia

Hungry in LA…something… with Howard Roark

Amy - An afternoon in the company of Alessandra Cecchi

Katy - An instructional session with Madame DeFarge

Mscellania – A weekend at The Cloisters with Rae Strouse

Ssheers – A pleasantly long talk with Brother Cadfael

anatidaeling – A day rollerskating with Lucinda Wyman

L – A (funded) shopping trip with Becky Bloomwood

S – A journey with Dinah

Hair-in-His-Eyes Guy – Darts with Death

I am sure I missed some of you, and for that I apologize, and gift you a seat at a joint lecture by Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, operating under the assumption that it’s always a safe and pleasant idea to give people something you would like for yourself.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Next year I could be just as good, if you check off my Christmas list..." - "Santa Baby"

This has been making the rounds in email, but it made me laugh hard enough that I think a little sharing of the Christas humor might be in order.


A Mom's Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I've been a good mom all year. I've fed, cleaned and cuddled my children on demand, visited their doctor's office more than my doctor, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground.

I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmasses, since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon, on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles, and who knows when I'll find anymore free time in the next 18 years.

Here are my Christmas wishes:

I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache (in any colour, except purple, (which I already have) and arms that don't hurt or flap in the breeze; but are strong enough to pull my screaming child out of the candy aisle in the grocery store.

I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy.

If you're hauling big ticket items this year I'd like fingerprint resistant windows and a radio that only plays adult music; a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals; and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.

On the practical side, I could use a talking doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with two kids who don't fight and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools.

I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting "Don't eat in the living room" and "Take your hands off your brother," because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.

If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.

If you don't mind, I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season.
Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It will clear my conscience immensely.

It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family.

Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is ringing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the door and come in and dry off so you don't catch cold.

Help yourself to cookies on the table but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

Yours Always,
Mom

Friday, December 22, 2006

"The word is out, around the town, to lift a glass. Ah, don't look down." - Paul McCartney, "Wonderful Christmastime" [WTF does this MEAN?]

Random Christmas thoughts:

What is cherry wine, and what does it have to do with Christmas?

Songs I am digging: Michael Buble’s “Let It Snow,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” and just about any version of “Mary’s Boy Child.”

Songs I hate, or am sick of hearing, or both: anything by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the stupid cherry wine song, some chickie singer’s Spanish version of “Silent Night” (to paraphrase Dave Barry from one of the funniest books I have ever read, Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs, whoever sings this song sounds like she's having her prostate examined by Captain Hook.)
Also, enough with the Band Aid.

My most despised Christmas song of all time: Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.”

It’s fifty degrees and pouring rain; don’t think we’ll be seeing a white Christmas.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how many different kinds of cookies there are on a plate, they all pretty much taste the same after a while?
And what’s with the sudden prejudice against chocolate chip cookies for Christmas?
AND what exactly about fruit breads says Christmas? I want to know.

My particular hobby-horse: Tuna salad does NOT belong on the Christmas Eve table; if you’re one fish short of the seven, go buy some smoked salmon or something. Also, face it, no one eats the baccala and potatoes because it’s TERRIBLE, and it’s always cold. And some veggies wouldn’t hurt anyone.

Why do Seg and Primo insist on perching the shepherds on TOP of the cr√®che, right next to the angel? “Shepherds on the rooftop, la la la…”

I would like to shoot the little brat who taught my children the alternate "Batman" lyrics to "Jingle Bells."

Must I send a Christmas card to people who have sent me one but were not on my original list? I miscalculated and ordered about ten fewer than I needed, so I could send a generic card but what’s the point of that when there are charming children to be shown off?

I hate receiving cards solely preprinted with signatures, and no hand-scrawled name or message. But even worse, this year I received a card that was totally blank. I identified the sender from the return address; I am hoping this was an oversight and not a new card trend.

I like blue and silver better than red and green.

Ice skates are difficult to wrap neatly.

Does anyone ever eat their gingerbread house?

If Family A goes to Christmas Eve service at 430, and Family B goes to Christmas Eve mass at 5, and Family C attends midnight mass which in some bizarre Catholic twist is actually at 11 pm, what time does Grandma plan dinner?

My kids are all jazzed about leaving carrots for the reindeer. When did food for the reindeer become traditional? I mean, I don’t mind eating a few cookies and some milk, but I refuse to eat a carrot. Do you think they’d notice if I just threw it right back in the veggie crisper? Sigh. You know Primo would. It'd be just like him to count the goddamn carrots.

I don’t know why I keep forgetting to buy lights – is it because subconsciously I don’t want to deal with decorating the tree?

My mother used to make us drive to at least half a dozen places, and stand up and inspect and twirl at least two or three dozen trees for her, before finally, FINALLY, picking The Perfect Tree. And it had to be a Douglas fir, and it had to smell, and God forbid if a single needle dropped off while we were shaking and tweaking and twirling it. Then we took it home and I wielded the chainsaw and jammed it in the base and wrestled it into the house, after which the decorating angst could begin. The whole tree thing at my house growing up was stressful as could be. Now? We go one place to buy a tree. And I don’t care what kind it is, or if it smells a particular way, or if the needles are flinging themselves off the branches like lemmings off a cliff.

This year I told H to just bring a tree home, I really didn’t care what it looked like or how big it was, I didn't want to go get it. He was relieved, he said; he was going to get a small tree. The tree he brought home, however, is easily eight feet tall, possibly more. Thank God he didn’t bring home a BIG tree.

Should I tell the boys Santa comes down the living room chimney or the dining room chimney?

I gave in to the boys' pleading and got the cats a little Christmas treat.
But I drew the line at giving the goldfish a Christmas present.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents 'neath the tree..."

I have two brothers.

My little brother is three years younger than me, and is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s smart, cute, funny, wise, and thoughtful. I am always slightly surprised that he is related to me, even though we look enough alike to be mistaken for twins. He is easy to be with, because he truly doesn’t mind doing whatever people feel like doing, or he has some cool ideas of his own; he’s usually up for anything. He’s interested, and interesting.

My older brother is older than me by four years. He is also smart, and I guess he’s cute, but if he were not my brother, I would never ever in a million years want to spend time with him. He is the diametric opposite of my little brother – he is the hardest person to be with I have ever encountered in my life. *He* says he’s laidback; I would argue that he is not, but he IS dull. He also says he’s up for anything, but barring anything else going on, he would sooner go to bed at seven pm and sleep for twelve hours. Not that this sort of activity does not have its place, but not while visiting in a household of three small boys. He is not interested in other people; he’s not even all that interested in his own life.

Some of my and C’s trouble is that he very much takes after my mother, and she and I did not exactly have a stress-free relationship, regardless of how much we may have loved one another. If there is offense to be taken, C takes it, and then he pouts and sulks. If he is angry, he doesn’t talk, he just withdraws.

Last summer he promised my boys he would come meet us down the shore. All day Wednesday I kept reassuring my boys, “Uncle C will be here by naptime/dinner/bedtime/when you wake up.” Until I finally reached the conclusion that 1) he wasn’t coming, and 2) there was nothing to be done about it. I was worried that maybe he’d been in a car wreck, so after repeatedly and to no avail calling his cell phone (which he never answers; if I want to talk to him, I have to leave him a message and wait for him to get back to me) I phoned his workplace; he works overnight, and he had been in the night before. He was fine. I found out months later that his boss at work would not give him the days off he wanted, and instead of calling me and explaining and maybe venting a little bit, he just did not show up, disappointing my three sons and pissing me off. He never returned any of my phone calls that week.

This Thanksgiving he said he was coming. Recalling the beach debacle, I called him to confirm a couple times. Then he called me Wednesday evening and left a message, “I am not coming.” That’s it, no explanation, no apology. When I spoke to my little brother D Thanksgiving day, he told me that C was sick. But not a word of that to me, just an abrupt “I won’t be there.”

If these were anomalies in his behavior, I might react differently, but the fact is that he has always been a difficult person, and a difficult houseguest. Honestly, he’s a bit of a strange agent; he has two broken engagements to his credit because he dates insane women, he works crazy, night-turn hours at a brainless manual-laborer position for which he is amazingly overqualified, because he can’t be bothered to exert the effort a job more befitting his skills and intelligence would demand, and he lives in revolting squalor in a pit of an apartment with his cat. I used to think it was refreshing and honest that he had arranged his entire life so as to enable him to play as much ice hockey as possible; now I just think it’s sort of sad. Especially as he got into a really competitive league but pulled out because it’s “too much hassle” to deal with scheduling the games and his work hours.
If he weren’t my brother, I would probably be even harsher, but since he is, I will just venture my guess that he is clinically depressed at the very least, and possibly a sociopath at the worst.

He says he’s easy-going but to my eyes it’s more that he does whatever he pleases, when he pleases.
He can be charming - when he wants to be.
He can be wonderful with the boys - but makes no bones about the fact that he much prefers babies to older children, because they are pliable.
He could be handsome but he always looks like he needs a good scrub.
It’s hard to believe that at one point, H and I thought it would be a great idea to ask him to come live with us, occupying the third-floor apartment.

Christmas is a time for family. But my extended family unit seems to grow smaller and smaller with each year, as my aunts and uncles, most of whom are in their late eighties, die off, and my cousins move around the country for work and/or spouses. My younger brother lives three hundred miles away, with his wife and baby, and we don’t see each other nearly as much as we would like – he lives much closer to his in-laws,, and they are wonderful people whom I would spend as much time with as possible, too. My older brother is more or less by himself – he has standing invitations to dinner, visit, or trips with a few of my cousins and younger aunts and uncles, but he keeps very much to himself. My cousin P who lives less than ten miles from him and has a son on whom C doted when little M was a baby, has not seen C in close to three years, and not for lack of trying on her part. He has voluntarily - indeed, with seemingly great effort - removed himself from the family sphere.

And he just called – out of the blue, pretty much, the first time since the message bagging out on Thanksgiving – and asked if he could come up Christmas Eve. He is invited to my cousin J’s big family Christmas Eve soiree, and Christmas dinner at P’s. But he wants to drive three hundred miles up here, to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with me and my boys.

And I am conflicted.
Relations between H and me are decent, humming along fairly nicely, due to hard work and lots of communication effort. I’d rather not jeopardize the fragile peace we have achieved by adding the strain of socializing with my misfit brother to H’s tasks.
I have no interest in setting up my children for another round of disappointment, lest Uncle C not show – as seems to be quickly becoming his habit.
And Christmas Eve at my in-laws is the most stressful day of the year for me; I need some serious alcohol and maybe a Valium to get through it relatively unscathed.
I don’t want to add C to the mix.
I DON”T WANT to add C to the mix.
It’s that simple.
I just don’t want to.

I called my little brother’s wife, who is a generous and sweet woman, to discuss my feelings with her. She is nice enough to want to do the right thing, but smart enough to understand the dynamic in our family. She is the objective outsider with the inside track. I knew she could guide me a little bit. She thinks I should tell C that he is welcome anytime after Christmas, anytime that whole week, but Christmas Eve is going to be stressful enough, and we have all been ill, and he should come up at the earliest Christmas night.

I want to accept this verdict. If only I were not so conflicted. I trust her, and her instincts, and what she proposes is reasonable. (Chances are distinctly good that just my hesitation, my “Let me check and call you back” rather than my usual, “We would love to see you anytime!” already told the tale to C, and he is possibly already in a snit, and won’t show up or call for months again now.)

I don’t WANT him here for Christmas.

And yet – Christmas is a time for family.

And yet…

And yet…

And yet.

What child is this, who laid to rest on my living room floor, is sleeping?

This? Does not bode well for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"...let your heart be light. From now on, our troubles will be out of sight..."

This is what I remember from my grade school Christmas concerts: we all wore white smocked robes, with big red bows tied at the neck, and we walked up the aisle of the church auditorium (I went to private Christian school) holding lit candles. Now that I think about it, there couldn’t possibly be any way they were actually real, lit candles – could there be? They must have been similar to the battery-operated candles the acolytes at our church carry. I mean, no one, not even crazy-ass fundamentalist Baptists, would set loose in a packed auditorium thirty-five kindergarteners with real fire.
Would they?

I haven’t the foggiest recollection of what we sang, although I can make an educated guess: “Away in the Manger” or “Silent Night.” I can assure you there were no ecumenical displays of musical catholicism – no menorahs, no “Dreidl Song,” no African drumming.
I do recall the excitement, the feeling that now Christmas was really coming, it would be here soon. I recall the thrill of being out long past my bedtime, and bundling up into the car for the ride home through the dark, cold night. The sky was always a giant expanse of midnight blue, sparkled with thousands and thousands of clear, brilliant-white stars. And I drowsed in the backseat with my brothers, my Dad driving, my Mom all dressed up – you always knew it was a special occasion if my mom deigned to put on her girdle – sitting beside him, her good black purse, stocked with peppermints and notepads and pencils for restless children, nestled in her lap.

As we grew older, the performances grew more complex; students played instruments, we sang real chorale-type music, from real sheet music. I was ostensibly an alto but I can’t read music and am essentially tone-deaf, so pretty much was just along for the ride. And quite the ride it was, too – those Baptists really know how to get into the holiday spirit - I distinctly recall one cheery Christmas cantata entitled “Born to Die.”

Last night Primo sang in his first school holiday concert (NOT a Christmas concert, thank you very much, although the musical selections were heavily weighted towards the Christ Child and Santa Claus). But his class sang “My Dreidl” and it was a quick performance. Of course, my camera batteries crapped out on me the moment the kindy kids were taking the stage, and as I fumbled around replacing them, they sang their song and filed offstage. Damn it.

Because what brings Christmas cheer more than a shaky home video of a bunch of cutey-pie kindergarteners singing loudly and off-key, but with such enthusiasm and heart that it could – and did – bring a tear to one’s eye (Not me! No! Not me. But, you know, people. People sitting next to me. And behind me. And, uh, in front of me, too.)

The teachers got in on the act as well, and regaled us with a version of “Jingle Bells” played on – I kid you not – these plastic tubes with which they smacked the music stands; sort of the pool-noodle equivalent of playing the water glasses, it seemed.
And they sang and rapped a silly little song called “He’ll Be Coming Down the Chimney When He Comes.” Needless to say, the teachers received huge applause, as did the music teacher and the principal who belted out a duet of a bluesy/jazzy/gospel "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

If it hadn’t been a school night, I’d have swept my boy off to the coffee shop for some hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, and happily allowed him to regale me with excited tales of the dress rehearsal and who was bad and who got yelled at and why his best friend was chosen Student of the Month and how some kids forgot to wear their uniforms last night and did I see how the boys played the steel drums and how did they do that and did I see the xylophones and wasn’t it cool when the teachers played the boomwhackers and…and…and…

The concert made me start to feel the Christmas spirit that so many of us seem to be saying we are missing this year: the concert, and the church pageant rehearsals, and the carols that the boys have been warbling around the house for weeks, and the lists for Santa laboriously drawn up and scratched out and redrafted, and the itching to get the tree UP and DECORATED and LIT, already, what are we waiting for?! and the presents to be picked out and given to cousins and grandparents and beloved teachers. It is a clich√©, but it’s a cliche for a good reason: There’s nothing as fine as Christmas through the eyes of a child.

Only six days to go, and I am finally feeling it.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Hey! Unto you a child is born!" - Gladys Herdman, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

Lazy Cow wrote a charming post about Christmas books, and the suggestions and reminiscences poured into her comments box.

I myself adore How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which I read to my boys probably once a day over the Christmas season, and A Christmas Story by Jean Shephard, on which the hilarious movie is based, and William Dean Howell’s wry and snarky “Christmas Every Day,” and Margaret Sangster’s moving story, “The Birthday,” which I have not yet read to my boys as I think they need a few years yet to appreciate its beauty and poignancy. I like The Polar Express well enough, and am enjoying the intricately illustrated Mary Engelbreit Christmas alphabet book I just bought for the children, and also the self-deprecating humor of the Thomas the Tank Engine Christmas book which winds up with Thomas getting a stocking full of coal, for being a VERY USEFUL ENGINE.

I just ordered Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas and Father Christmas Takes a holiday from amazon.co.uk, where these books are still in print and readily available, and I intend to buy a copy of Martin Waddell’s sweet Room for a Little One, because we are light on the Nativity-story side. I picked up Norman Rockwell’s Christmas Book at an estate sale recently (for two dollars), and am looking forward to exploring its contents more fully. I also want to buy Rebecca Ben-Zvi’s Four Sides, Eight Nights: A New Spin on Hanukkah, because Rebecca is the mother of one of Primo’s classmates, and is there anything cooler than knowing the authors of the books on your shelf?

But most of these are in theory, if not absolute fact, children’s Christmas and holiday books. There is indeed an adult market for Christmas stories, and I do not mean just the usual crop of themed Christmas mysteries (cringeworthy but amusing titles notwithstanding).

In my quest to find the perfect children’s Christmas books, I came across the following books that seem clearly destined for an adult’s nightstand or armchair this holiday season. God knows it’s bad enough we have to share the Christmas cookies with the kids; we are certainly permitted to keep some Christmas stories for ourselves!

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas: Drawings by Edward Gorey - John Updike. Edward Gorey + Christmas = Need I say more?

The Dysfunctional Family Christmas Songbook - John Boswell and Lenore Skenazy. All I needed to convince me that this book belongs on the list was the following snippet of (admittedly twisted and WRONG-oh-so-wrong) lyrics quoted in the Amazon review: Grandpa fell, Grandpa fell, Grandpa fell down drunk… sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells.” You may think this is crazy, but I personally have always been a huge fan of songs like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and sing them to my children. Please don’t call CYS.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus - Jeff Guinn. The REAL story behind The Man.

How Mrs Claus Saved Christmas - Jeff Guinn. Those pesky Protestants, trying to ruin everyone’s fun! But dear Mrs. Claus thwarts them! Yay!

Letters from Father Christmas – J.R.R. Tolkien. I ordered this yesterday evening from half.com, and then got an email this afternoon saying, oops, here’s your refund, it’s out of stock. I tend to take these sorts of things as a sign, since it takes so much for me to work up to spending the money. Any comments to the contrary much appreciated.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever - Barbara Robinson. The boys and I just began tonight our annual reading of this humorous tale of what results when the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide to participate in the church’s annual Christmas pageant. As an aside, the ONLY time in my entire life, including college (and I was a drama major) that I stepped onstage was in the seventh grade, and I played Gladys, the youngest and worst Herdman, who co-opts the part of the Angel of the Lord so beautifully. Shazzam!

Tales from a Texas Christmas Tree Farm - Darrell Bain. This book only caught my eye because it made me think of Badger, and what she would say to the thought of a Texan Christmas tree farm. Careful, Santa’s listening!

I Saw Mommy Kicking Santa Claus - Ann Hodgman. I don’t care if I ever open this book, the title is simply fabulous and reminds me of the one story my mother-in-law tells that can make me roll on the floor with laughter. I can’t even hope to replicate the telling here, but suffice it to say that it involves my father-in-law having a wee little bit too much to drink on a Christmas Eve many years ago and falling asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree, and in the morning, he could not understand why he was sooooo sore.

So, you know, enjoy your carols and your cocoa and your Night Before Christmasses, there’s plenty of room left for “O Holy Fight” and spiked eggnog and crazy Santa Claus capers.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

"And now you know..."

I was tagged by Rebecca over at Illiterati at least a gazillion years ago. Finally, I have come up with five vaguely interesting facts you may not already be aware of, all about ME. (Because it IS all about me, didn’t you know?) Sorry it took me so long to think of anything the least bit compelling, Rebecca!

Five Things You May Not Already Know About Me

I was the private-school state spelling champion in the fifth grade.
[I know, glory days.]

I run an eleven-minute mile.
[The proper verb is probably ‘plod.’]

I was proposed to (seriously) by three men (two wielding rings, the other a fraternity pin – long story for another day) – before H proposed successfully.
[Over the course of about five years, not all at once. (The three other proposals, not H's.)]

I love to play basketball. [NOT that I am any good at all, although I am a consistent foul shooter.]

I love the ocean and dream of someday retiring all by myself to an eensy little house on the Jersey shore. [It would have to be a shack for me to afford it, but that’s ok.]

…the rest of the story!

"Light gives of itself freely, filling all available space. It gives of itself and is not thereby diminished." - Michael Strassfeld


I Maccabees 4:36-59
Then said Judas and his brethren, Behold, our enemies are discomfited: let us go up to cleanse and dedicate the sanctuary.
Upon this all the host assembled themselves together, and went up into mount Sion.
And when they saw the sanctuary desolate, and the altar profaned, and the gates burned up, and shrubs growing in the courts as in a forest, or in one of the mountains, yea, and the priests' chambers pulled down;
They rent their clothes, and made great lamentation, and cast ashes upon their heads,
And fell down flat to the ground upon their faces, and blew an alarm with the trumpets, and cried toward heaven.
Then Judas appointed certain men to fight against those that were in the fortress, until he had cleansed the sanctuary.
So he chose priests of blameless conversation, such as had pleasure in the law:
Who cleansed the sanctuary, and bare out the defiled stones into an unclean place.
And when as they consulted what to do with the altar of burnt offerings, which was profaned;
They thought it best to pull it down, lest it should be a reproach to them, because the heathen had defiled it: wherefore they pulled it down,
And laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, until there should come a prophet to shew what should be done with them.
Then they took whole stones according to the law, and built a new altar according to the former;
And made up the sanctuary, and the things that were within the temple, and hallowed the courts.
They made also new holy vessels, and into the temple they brought the candlestick, and the altar of burnt offerings, and of incense, and the table.
And upon the altar they burned incense, and the lamps that were upon the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple.
Furthermore they set the loaves upon the table, and spread out the veils, and finished all the works which they had begun to make.
Now on the five and twentieth day of the ninth month, which is called the month Casleu, in the hundred forty and eighth year, they rose up betimes in the morning,
And offered sacrifice according to the law upon the new altar of burnt offerings, which they had made.
Look, at what time and what day the heathen had profaned it, even in that was it dedicated with songs, and citherns, and harps, and cymbals.
Then all the people fell upon their faces, worshipping and praising the God of heaven, who had given them good success.
And so they kept the dedication of the altar eight days and offered burnt offerings with gladness, and sacrificed the sacrifice of deliverance and praise.
They decked also the forefront of the temple with crowns of gold, and with shields; and the gates and the chambers they renewed, and hanged doors upon them.
Thus was there very great gladness among the people, for that the reproach of the heathen was put away.
Moreover Judas and his brethren with the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days, from the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu, with mirth and gladness.


************************
I like the story of Hanukkah - it's full of faith and hope, and awesomely, the underdog - Judah and his brothers and their troop of resistance fighters - triumphs.

Last year my friend D had me and the boys over for dinner the first night of Hanukkah, and it was wonderful. I was inordinately pleased to find out about the whole doughnuts-for-dessert tradition, and the boys received dreidls to play with, and gelt, and we all sang a variety of holiday songs. The lighting of the candles and the saying of the prayers were solemn and lovely.

I appreciate that my boys are learning about other religions and cultures, that they know that all of our friends are good, kind, generous people, and I am pleased and touched that my friends are open-hearted enough to include us.

Plus, Hanukkah gives us Gentiles a great excuse to eat latkes, which are one of the yummiest foods ever.

My friend R makes sweet potato latkes, which sound amazing. I don't have her recipe, but I offer this recipe, which is one of my favs throughout the year, but would work nicely for Hanukkah, too, I suppose (providing I haven't broken any major dietary laws?) I have been known to eat an entire batch of these for dinner. And not just when I was gestating.

********************

Yam Cakes

[from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking]


1 large yam
2 eggs
4 TBSP flour
a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes
2 healthy tsp fermented black beans

Peel and grate the yam.
Beat up two eggs, add, and mix.
Add flour to make mixture cohere. (You can add more if needed.)
Add red pepper flakes to taste, and black beans. Mix.
Use a soup spoon to form little "cakes" and fry in olive oil until golden brown on both sides.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice...


My boys gave me their Christmas lists for Santa Claus this week. And here I thought I was done shopping – because Santa may be magic, but Mama, not so much. Sadly, disappointingly mortal and UNmagic. Which means that I tried to get the shopping done while I had some free time earlier this month, and considering the stomach thing that laid me out yesterday, my last free day pre-Christmas without the boys, it’s a damn good thing.
So I was pretty pleased with myself – they’ll have books a’plenty, and Spiderman umbrellas, and some crafty sorts of things – crayons, make-your-own-kaleidoscope kits, PlayDoh; and some necessary clothes like t-shirts and socks and underwear. I got Seg his longed-for Cars backpack. Yes, I suppose we’re a leetle heavy on the books and Lightning McQueen front, but it’s ok.

So then they hand me their lists.
And I am charged with stamping them and sending them off. Which I duly did.
But not before I read them. And scanned them so you could read them.
(Landing me solidly on Santa's 'Naughty' list.)



Primo: (I rendered the capitalization legible but left his spelling, and indeed followed his sense of fair use by inserting trademark symbols where he did.)

Dear Santa This is my list of toys.
- Twistible crayons (Crayola)
- Go Diego Go set
- Klutz® building cards how to build spaceships
- NHL viedieo game
- Marc-andre flery t-shirt
Sincersly Primo
P.S.: BOOKS
1. Z is for Zamboni a hockey abc’s
2. Baby Brains
3. Magic Trehouse® blizzard of the blue mountain


- The video game - NOT going to happen – sometimes I let them play computer games on the PBS website or Nick Jr website, but no way am I doing the video game thing, not yet at least. In fact, a coworker offered me his sons’ GameCube (they are 3 & 8) because he bought them a Wii. It went to a good home with Gina’s son instead, who in my opinion is indeed old enough to play video games occasionally.
- A Penguins t-shirt – he got a Sidney Crosby shirt AND a Pens jersey for his birthday from various relatives; I think he is outfitted well enough in Penguins paraphernalia.
- The “Go Diego Go” playset: the Amazon reviews were uniformly lousy, and I think it’s too young for him. I may compensate with some Rescue Heroes figures. Or not. Probably not. I will feel rotten about this all year long.
- The Klutz Build-Your-Own-Spaceship book. I bought him the pirate ship book at the Scholastic book fair and he had a blast putting the ship together, with his dad and Seg. You can take it all apart and put it together again, either the same way or in a variety of other formations. I had already picked up the spaceship book while shopping for his cousins, so that’s covered.
- Crayons – I automatically buy them new crayons every year, and we LOVE Twistables in this house because they are more difficult for The Baby to eat and they don’t break when Mama steps on them in the middle of the night, or anytime, for that matter.

*********************


Segundo: (He dictated this to me. I wrote it down just as he asked. It cracks me up the way he refers to himself in the third person.)
Dear Santa Claus: For Christmas Seg would like to have:
1. A Titanic
2. Jingle bells (yellow ones)
3. ice skates
4. Little Einsteins video
5. picture of Washington DC
I have been a very good boy.
Love, Seg Babe


- The Titanic, to complement his little plastic yellow submarine and his sailboat, both of which get tons of use in and out of the bathtub. He told me he has another little ship that will do for the Carpathia, but the Titanic must have four smokestacks. I am having a dickens of a time finding any kind of ship other than pirate ships for him. I did track down a very cool sink-your-own-Titanic type kit, but it’s too old for him just yet. I think on my lunch hour Tuesday I am going to the old-fashioned toy store downtown to see what they have. I had better stock up because I have a feeling he is going to request the Lusitania next.
- Jingle bells, like in The Polar Express, only “yellow.” I take it this means gold. Not a problem, a quick visit to the craft store should do the trick. But could he BE any cuter?
- Ice skates. Skates were something H and I were contemplating anyway, but they just moved to must-haves. I called a Play It Again Sports store up north, and they have two pairs, used, that will work just fine, for fifteen bucks a piece. Perfect, I’ll go pick them up tomorrow before work. [Got 'em. Tried to get skates for H as well, but they did not have his size, used.]
- Video. I don’t mind the Little Einsteins in the least but I am sort of opposed to buying videos. We already have a ton accumulated in a variety of ways. It really depends though on whether or not the grocery store has any in their displays near the video rental part of the store.
- Picture of Washington DC. “Like that picture, Mama” and he points to the framed Carnivale poster from our honeymoon in Venice, complete with masked revelers and Saint Mark’s recognizable profile against an unnaturally vibrant sunset. Seg likes pictures of things – he often asks me to cut out photos from the newspaper of things like buses, hockey players he likes, or certain animals like the new polar bears at the zoo, and then we tape them up on his bedroom wall. The boys have Washington DC placemats H brought back for them from a business trip. So maybe he just likes the way the city looks. I’ll do what I can. Thank God for the Internet!

***************

Terzo is too young to give me a list, thank God, so I just got him what I felt like getting him – a couple Thomas trains of his own, and the Fisher Price Noah’s Ark, and some cute t-shirts, and some new sippy cups, and a couple of warm, fuzzy sleepers because he looks so CHEWY in footie pajamas.

****************

I feel on one hand like I am spoiling them rotten, but on the other hand that I adhered to an agreed-upon set budget and because they are still little, that (very reasonable amount of) money goes farther.

I do think next year that I will restrain myself on the book buying a bit (in my defense, most of them were purchased secondhand at Goodwill, the library, or this summer’s church book sale), and maybe wait till closer to Christmas to do the actual shopping, so as to avoid this excess-of-presents question and/or guilt.

The truth of it is that my boys don’t NEED anything. They have toys and clothes and school supplies and plenty of hand-me-down videos and DVDs and games. They have sports equipment and bikes and stuffed animals and winter coats and shoes. Just because I have not been the one who has bought these items, or even paid full-price for the ones I have, does not assuage my guilt that I am somehow screwing up and raising spoiled, whiny brats who expect everything to be given to them. Which is not the case at all; my boys are usually gracious and generous, and they share well, and they understand that they are very lucky – but I live in terror that they could wake up tomorrow as entitled monsters.

They've been very good boys.
I should stop feeling guilty.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"I’ve the most extraordinary longing to say: ‘Bloody hell!’" - Nora, "A Doll's House," Henrik Ibsen



Family legend contends that Mimi was my baby doll when I was little. I assume this is indeed true as I have a vague recollection of lopping off all her hair. Family legend also contends that my mom gave her to me because her name was my first name (not Mimi, that is what Seg calls her). I have looked high and low, all over eBay and elsewhere and find no evidence of this whatsoever. Of course, this story came from my mother, who also told me she named me Babel instead of Jennifer because I was born the same year that the movie "Love Story" came out and every baby girl born then was named Jennifer, that I was the only baby girl in the entire maternity ward NOT named Jennifer. This is a terrific story, especially as I invariably had at least three Jennifers in every single class in grade school. The only problem with it is that I was born in April and "Love Story" came out in December. So a story is all it is. And I suspect that is also the case with Mimi’s provenance.

Nevertheless, I had hung onto her all these years, along with my Cabbage Patch doll, the two Fisher-Price "My Friends" dolls, and most of my Madame Alexander dolls. When we moved almost three years ago, Seg came upon Mimi in the unpacking and claimed her and never looked back. He adores her, and thinks she is the prettiest thing alive, although “hair for Mimi” did make it onto his original Christmas list this year.
I’ve told him that Santa is magic but he’s not a miracle worker.

Seg has since adopted a cloth-bodied/plastic limbed baby doll I bought for a quarter for him at the neighborhood yard sale two years ago. He promptly dubbed her Lucy (since shortened to Luce) and stripped off all of her clothes.

Then he discovered the bag of Madame Alexander dolls in various states of disrepair, that I never got around to transporting to the doll hospital for use as parts (I am heartless, I know.) He fell in love with the strawberries-and-cream-complexioned Beth, from the "Little Women" series. Her black velvet Mary Janes, little white socks, lace-edged knickers, beaded white lawn pinafore, and frothy petticoats are long gone, but she does retain her pretty pink dress. He has named her after me. (Finally! Three grandchildren before I get a namesake!) I was never allowed to even touch my Madame Alexander dolls (my mother was the misguided soul who undressed them all, washed all their clothes, and then never put them back together), let alone play with them.
It gives me great pleasure to watch Seg tote the delicate little Beth, er, Babel, around the house by the neck, cradled in his arms next to her sisters Mimi and Luce.

I have thought of finding a nice sibling for them; what do you think of one of these scary girls? (They are all from the same toy manufacturer from which Mimi originated, according to the stamp on the back of her neck (right next to the “I Love Seg” tattoo I recently gave her.))

This is the baby version.

The others all seem to be blond.



They all have the same dimpled hands and Hobbit feet, and chubby limbs.
And these happen to have hair, which improves their looks immensely.

But Seg doesn't care. He loves him some Mimi.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” - Elizabeth I

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog for an 24-hour episode of "The Stomach Bug," starring BabelBabe.

Whn we return:
The Story of Mimi
BabelBabe's Annual Christmas Song Round-Up
Some Book Reviews
...and much much more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Having the baby changed my life a lot. I don't want to go on the road. " - "Mama Cass" Elliott

Did anyone else see this article on Salon’s Broadsheet? And the letter that spawned the article? And the reaction spurred by both? Wow. There are people out there who hate them some kids, and the people who have kids, and conversely, there are parents out there who hate them some childless people. The letters pretty much covered any angle I could, but the whole thing got me thinking of ways in which my life changed after I had children.

Then: Fairly certain the vomit in my hair was mine.
Now: Certain the vomit in my hair is The Baby’s.

Then: Able to shower and wash vomit out of my hair as soon as I could stand up without passing out.
Now: Able to shower and wash vomit out of my hair the next time an adult I know even slightly comes to the house. The piano tuner coming this afternoon does not count as I have never seen him before in my life, and he’s never seen me (and isn’t he in for a treat?!)
Therefore I estimate showerability sometime around 8pm this evening.

Then: Before getting so drunk as to puke, ate lovely dinner at nice restaurant, perhaps with attentive, attractive male; or alternately, giving me the benefit of the doubt, before succumbing to the stomach flu decimating the entire freshman class, ate lovely dinner at nice restaurant, perhaps with attentive, attractive male.
Now: Before being projectile-vomited upon by The Baby, *he* consumed a hefty helping of Kraft mac and cheese (yes, the electric yellow kind), and a banana and a half, and milk. I had a few spoonfuls of plain macaroni, a glass of water, a birth control pill, and a multivitamin. Was planning on eating after the boys were in bed but was too tired to make anything so ate the same thing I’d had for breakfast, a buttered toasted bagel and some tea. I think H may have spoken to me, but I wasn’t paying attention.

Then: Recuperated the next day by lolling in bed, reading, napping, and having soup brought to me by best friend or attentive male (not necessarily the same one from night before).
Now: Next day, crawl out of bed after an hour and a half of sleep, leaving the baby taking up all the room in the bed, hustle the other boys to dress and eat breakfast, shove them out the door with H who mercifully is still here (he slept through all the vomiting). Tell H I will call his coworker and tell him he is going to be late picking him up; have to call directory assistance for the phone number, it’s unlisted, finally call H’s workplace and relay the message to the secretary, for all the good that will do. Baby starts crying and begins to perform his remora act. Clean up the vomit he’s just spewed; change my clothes again. As soon as I can, park him in front of The Wonder Pets and run around gathering up all vomit-y clothing, blankets, sheets, etc. Throw laundry in with double bleach. Change The Baby’s messy diaper. Yup, both ends. Yay, stomach bug. Call the ped, am recited the standard “One-ounce-of-fluid-every-fifteen-minutes-for-an-hour” speech which I already knew but because I am a good parent, I called to confirm. Fall asleep nursing the baby in the armchair, wake (just before piano tuner arrives) with baby still attached, a crick in my neck, and drool running down my chin.

Then: If I hated someone, I was permitted to hate them no matter what.
Now: Remember all the mean things I said about my mother-in-law? Now feel like a worm as she agreed to collect Seg from preschool and keep him for the afternoon, returning him only after she collects Primo from kindergarten. Am a WORM.

Then: If feeling better that evening, go to McDonald’s for perfect hangover food: fries and cheeseburgers.
Now: Realize that despite the fact that The Baby will not be eating anything, and as I reek of puke I have no appetite, must still think of something reasonable to feed two older boys and H. Fuck. Cannot order pizza, as have had that within past week and repeats that soon are simply not acceptable. They all had mac-and-cheese last night, and besides, H will NOT eat that again. Am completely out of chicken nuggets.

Then: Would often go out that evening to drink AGAIN.
Now: Even though I have had plans to go out tonight for at least a week, am almost certain I will not go, as I cannot leave the vomiting baby with H, not when he has the two older boys as well. Besides, The Baby wants ME and if it makes him feel better, then I WANT to be there for the poor little guy, who is busy moaning and lying pathetically on the sofa.

Then: NEVER talked about baby poop or vomit. I mean, why the hell would I?
Now: Only speak of baby poop and vomit when necessary, which unfortunately seems to be every other day, not including middle-of-the-night emails to Gina and L lamenting the fact that I am awake at 3 goddamn a.m. swabbing baby puke off my back and out of my hair.

So, Ms Gonzalez, whine whine, blather, whinge, so sorry your friend can’t go clubbing with you any longer, that she can’t get her flirt on with Johnny Depp or rock the miniskirt that made Keifer Sutherland ask for her phone number. Grow up. She has a kid, and regardless of how or why she had that child, her first responsibility is to the child, whether you like it or not. Cut her a break. Try and be a friend to her anyway, and soon enough, this too shall pass and she can come out and have fun again sometimes.
And as there's no point in crying about baby bodily fluids, you and she might as well laugh.

In the meantime, regardless of the fact that it’s relatively more pleasant than grown-up puke, do you think *I* enjoy being covered in baby puke?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Henry: Engines don't wear scarves! Percy: Engines with proper funnels do. You've only got a small one!



Seg, upon seeing Mimi's new scarf: "Mama! She doesn't even need to be under the blankets anymore because she'll be so warm!"

My mother-in-law, upon being told I was saying the scarf was "for Mimi," not "for me": "I am not knitting another stitch on that thing!"

Primo, upon hearing I'd finished Mimi's scarf: "Will you knit one for Pooh now?"

H, watching the boys jump on the couch: "Boys, don't jump on the couch while your mother is knitting."

Me, thought-bubbles all round:
1) "Now perhaps I could knit her a butt scarf! To keep the rest of her warm!"
2) "Old bat! Get your ears checked!"
3) "Oh, sure, for Pooh and Snowy and Jason Bear and all of the other eleventy gazillion stuffed animals roaming this house!"
4) "You'll shoot your eye out, you'll shoot your eye out!"

Monday, December 11, 2006

"You know, I hate to sound like an advertisement, but Dawn is the best soap for the job." - Alice Berkner

Two things:

1)Primo’s birthday party. I now know why my mother-in-law spends each family function in the kitchen, cleaning up, pretty much the moment our forks hit the empty plates – she’s hoping we will all take the hint and GO THE HELL HOME.

2)My Saturday post. I do appreciate all the kind words, but mostly, I was trying to see if I could get across how crazy I sometimes feel, and how I try to not be any crazier. The actual reason for many of those, um, symptoms [Upcoming TMI! Danger, Will Robinson!] made itself abundantly clear sometime this morning – and allow me to say that since it’s been roughly two years, between the pregnancy thing and the nursing thing – well, Blackbird’s package of, shall we say, feminine accoutrement (which she said she can’t use due to their applicatorlessness) came in the mail last week, and just in time. Huh.

Oh, ok, just one more thing:

3)I just received my latest issue of Brain, Child magazine in which a mom of one of Primo’s school friends, a woman I am cultivating as a friend because she is just so cool and funny and smart and nice, has an essay. This fact blew me away because BC is my favorite magazine in the world; the topics are always interesting and/or relevant, and the writing incredibly, consistently solid and skillful. And R’s essay was moving and thoughtful and wry and strong, much like I think she is. And so now not only is she a bona fide rock star type in my world (as if her several published books weren’t enough!), but she *likes* me at least a little bit and is one of the very few people in real life to whom I have revealed the existence of this blog – and she reads it. Wow.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"Common people don’t know what exquisite agony is suffered by gentle people like me!" - Queen Aggravaine, "Once upon A Mattress"

EVERYTHING is making me nuts today.

My socks are bugging me – I push them up, then I push them down, and still I can feel every single annoying little sticky-outy thread on them. They are making my feet sweat, and the seam is pinching my toes.
My hair is in my mouth, and it feels tangled and oily, my glasses keep sliding off my nose.
I have an itchy spot about the size of a half dollar on my back that I have been scratching till it bleeds.

I'm hungry and I finally work up enough energy to venture into the kitchen and get something to eat. The scrape of the knife in the mayonnaise jar, the texture of the bread slices, the chicken fat on my hands is making me bonkers. I wash my hands several times, with hot water and dish soap, and then with lemon hand soap. My skin still feels greasy to me. And now I have breadcrumbs down my shirt from my sandwich, and I can feel every single, solitary, stinking one of them.

The baby absentmindedly pinches my neck while nursing. I want to explode. “Stop pinching me!” I half-yell, half-whine at my thirteen-month-old. (He grins at me and replies, “Hoom bah!”)

The two older boys giggle and bounce in their beds while I try to read bedtime stories to them. Why should I have to try to talk over them? And why must they be so LOUD? “Shut UP!” I hiss at them.
Car doors open and close, and open and close, outside. My shoulders tense as I wait for the next door slam. Then the rumble of the engine idling goes on for what seems forever.

My nightstand’s legs are uneven and it wobbles, thumping rhythmically on the floor every time I pick up my mug of tea; I want to throw the mug across the room (I won’t because it’s my favorite, and irreplaceable, but that is about the only fact that stays my hand. That and the fact that I would then be compelled to not only clean up the tea and broken mug, but every dust bunny on the floor, and straighten out all the books, and possibly refold every item of clothing in every dresser drawer. It would take me all night.)

The cats thumping through the house chasing each other are driving me further insane.

I can’t get my glasses clean enough; no matter how many times I whip them off and swish them clean, I see spots and glare and shadows. For that matter, my lamp is too bright, but the overhead fixture is too dim. Who the fuck bought these useless lamps and fixtures, there’s not a single one that works properly in the whole goddamn house!?

I just barely stop myself from scraping perceived gunk out from between the tiles of the kitchen table with the tip of a butter knife; the only thing preventing me from scrubbing down the kitchen cabinets RIGHT. NOW. - because of course they are greasy and spotted - is the fact that I KNOW I am acting insanely.

I anxiously reckon back the past few days – did I take every dose of Zoloft I was supposed to? I am pretty sure I did. And besides, its efficacy results from maintenance of a therapeutic level, which means that missing one dose should not really affect me as long as I remember to take the next dose as directed.

The last time I had a prescription filled, the pharmacy gave me generic Zoloft, sertraline. Is it really the same? Is it maybe not as strong, not as effective? Is that why I am experiencing this upswing in my obsessive-compulsive tendencies? I poke around at work in the pharmaceutical databases, and they all swear it’s identical. Which makes sense. But why oh why am I so on edge? Why are all my filters turned off, why is my super-bat-hearing turned on? Why am I sure that even were I lying naked, in a cloud of pillows, in a dark and silent-as-the-tomb room, that every single sense would still be twinging and raging and straining?

This kind of episode doesn’t happen often anymore but when it does, I am reminded that every single day used to be some variant of this, that I lived close to twenty-eight years like this before my therapist and psychiatrist soothed, recommended, and cajoled me into trying prescription drugs to ease my symptoms and calm my frantic, scrabbling brain cells.
“If you had diabetes, you would not think twice about taking insulin,” they told me.
And they were right. But because my symptoms were mental, I was convinced that if I were only strong enough, I could control them, just by sheer brain- and willpower.
I could be calm, and gentle, and easy in my own skin.
Oh, how very wrong I was.
And now I live in fear of the day when the meds stop working; I am already at the maximum dosage and have been for about two years – my shrink tells me that people on the same dosage who feel it doesn’t do what it’s meant to wind up hospitalized.

And I try not to think about my poor besieged liver. My mother died of liver disease, possibly from years and years of powerful migraine medications taken almost daily. I take migraine meds as well (the only benefit of pregnancy - other than the actual baby - was that I never once got a migraine the entire twenty-seven months total I was gestating), and now Zoloft – to calm my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, to alleviate the otherwise-constant low-lying hum of anxiety, to make function properly my fucked-up brain synapses.

I used to take Serzone, but it was pulled off the market several years ago when it was discovered that its use could cause acute liver failure. And yet given the choice between the spectre of acute liver failure or the re-manifestation of my OCD symptoms, I pick liver failure. As I once told my therapist, I’d rather live years less, the (slightly more sane) way I am now, than go off the drugs and live till I was ninety.

My beloved and wonderful boys are the only reason I would second-guess that decision - but what would be the point of being around longer for my children if they hated me and couldn’t stand to be around me because, frankly, I was NUTS?

Although it is worth keeping in mind that I look lousy in yellow.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"You spin me right round, baby, right round, like a record, baby, right round round round." - Dead or Alive

Every couple of months the staff at the library gets an email from our collection development librarian asking for popular book recommendations. I take advantage of this request by listing everything I have had any sort of inclination to read within the past, say, six months. Because very few people use our popular fiction section, so it is mine, mine, mine, mine, MINE. Or at least I generally get first dibs.

Here's this go-round's list: Did I miss any?

FICTION:

The Emperor’s Children – Claire Messud
What Came Before He Shot Her - Elizabeth George. One of the few mystery writers I REALLY enjoy.
Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai. I may buy this.
One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson. Will definitely buy this, I adore her and everything she's written.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy. Terrible reviews, but still...
Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
A Spot of Bother – Mark Haddon
Black Swan Green – David Mitchell. I have read this; I am merely exhibiting my altruistic nature.
Intuition – Allegra Goodman. Am routinely disappointed by her novels, and yet I continue to hope.
Uses of Enchantment - Heidi Julavits
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation. Volume One: The pox party – MT Anderson. Mmmmm. Pox.
The Zero – Jess Walter
A Disorder Peculiar to the Country – Ken Kalfus. Tried to read this, will try again. Because I am dogged that way.
The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield. More altruism.
Snow – Orhan Pamuk. I actually own this, but hey, he just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Echo Maker – Richard Powers. Tell me his plot doesn't sound fascinating.

NONFICTION:

Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog – Kitty Burns Florey. How can you not want to read a book about diagramming sentences?!
Istanbul – Orhan Pamuk. See above. Plus, excellent reviews.
Consider the Lobster: And other essays – David Foster Wallace. His A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again essay about cruise ships was so funny; I must read some more.
Falling through the Earth: A memoir – Danielle Trussoni
The Ghost Map: The story of London's most terrifying epidemic - and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world – Steven Johnson. It may have one of the world's longest subtitles, but: Cholera! Whee!
Eat Pray Love: One woman's search for everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia – Elizabeth Gilbert. I am betting this is annoyingly New Age, but I want to find out for myself.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A natural history of four meals – Michael Pollan. (Apropos of nothing other than it's the same author, an acquaintance once told me that she used to masturbate to Pollan's Botany of Desire; could she *possibly* have been telling the truth?)
The Lost: A search for six of six million – Daniel Mendelsohn. What is with these subtitles?!
The Places in Between – Rory Stewart. Per my fascination with all things Afghani.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

“Never be the first to arrive at a party or the last to go home and never, never be both” - David Brown

Excellent party rule.

Here's another: Feed your guests yourself.

I am SICK. TO. DEATH. of being invited to a “party” and then told to bring my own food.

Clue: If you feel you need to throw a party, suck it up and feed people. If you can’t be bothered, DON’T HAVE THE PARTY.

When I invite people to my house, I intend to offer them the full extent of my hospitality. That means I clean so people are not grossed out by my house or bathrooms, so they are comfortable and at home in my home. I make sure there are places to sit, and ashtrays out on the porch, and lots of ice. I consider it my God-given obligation to provide stuff like diet soda for people who can’t or won’t drink regular, plenty of cold water and lemon for non-drinkers, and plenty of beer/wine/a reasonable selection of liquor and mixers for those who like to relax with a drink. I never want people to feel they have to ration themselves because we might run out of drinks.

If I invite you to MY house for MY party, I intend to feed you. If you care to bring something to contribute, that is fine. But it is NOT expected or – horrors – asked for. I chose to throw said party, therefore, *I* am throwing it. I will feed you, yummy food, and plenty of it (and most times I even consider that there may be vegetarian or people who keep kosher). I may be many things but an thoughtless hostess is NOT one.

When did it become acceptable to invite people to your house and tell them to a) bring their own food (a potluck dinner is just not acceptable if you are having a party, I’m sorry) or their own drink? I was raised by wolves and even I know that the only time it is acceptable to have a potluck dinner is if everyone is meeting in a common area, for a common event – family picnic, 4th of July barbecue at the local park, a holiday cookie exchange. Yet in the past six months I have been invited to no fewer than seven parties with an invitation that included the line "Potluck!" or "Bring whatever you like to eat." WTF?!

Again, I repeat: If I invite you to my house, it is MY HOSTESSLY RESPONSIBILITY to provide food and drink.

Now if you invite me for nine pm on a Saturday night, I will not expect a six-course meal; but I do expect munchies and plenty of drinks. However, if you invite me for the dinner hour, you had better be feeding me dinner and not munchies. More than likely my own munchies, no less.

Also, if you impose rules on my coming – I MUST be there by three even though you know my child sleeps till 4pm every afternoon, or the food you have asked me to bring (already a deal-breaker) must be kosher or not chocolate or whatever – I am declining. (I DON’T mean, please don’t bring peanuts because my child goes into anaphylactic shock at the sight of a peanut, or you might want to be aware that my husband is deathly allergic to shellfish. I mean, you must not bring chocolate chip cookies because no one eats chocolate chip cookies for Christmas. Um, ok. I wasn’t bringing chocolate chip cookies anyway, but I won’t be there.)

I don’t want to hear cries of “But I’m poor.” I am willing to wager that I could feed twenty-five people party food (not counting drinks) for twenty-five bucks; if you can’t afford (for example) a dollar a person, then don’t throw the party. Potato chips, pretzels, Chex Mix, hummus and pita, a hunk o’ decent cheese (even just Cracker Barrel) and some crackers – munchies are generally just not that expensive. I am not saying I would necessarily serve just this, but this would be and has been acceptable to me as party food.

So I will warn you all right now – if you invite me to your birthday party, your child’s birthday party, your anniversary party, your Christmas party, whatever, at your home and ask me to bring my own food – I am not coming. I have enough to do, what with arranging babysitters, finding time to get showered and dressed – not to mention finding clothes that fit, and figuring out how to get to your new place or what to give you for your birthday or graduation. I am not doing your cooking, too.

Better a bowl of pretzels and plenty of beer from you, the party-thrower, than lobster thermidor and wine I have had to bring to YOUR party my own self.