Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"I went trick-or-treating, and all I got was a bag full of rocks." *

On Halloween night, the Great Pumpkin rises from his pumpkin patch and flies through the air to deliver toys to all the children.

I spend the night in a pumpkin patch and all that came was a beagle!

I've learned there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.



* Charlie Brown

[Pumpkins brought to you courtesy of Primo, Segundo, & Terzo, with just a little help from H.]

Monday, October 29, 2007

"The truth is that there's more book reviewing available to the average reader now than at any point in decades." *

Marvel 1602- Neil Gaiman; Andy Kubert; Richard Isanove.
I love Gaiman. I love him even more now. This comic – excuse me, graphic novel - is for all the Elizabethan scholars out there; definitely even more enjoyable if you have the slightest inkling about superheroes, including my favorite bunch of mutants, the X-Men. I gobbled it down in one night, like a giant bowl of delicious ice cream, and then handed it off to my superhero-conversant husband who is currently loving it as well.

Summer Reading – Hilma Wolitzer.
I whipped through this book in an evening. I didn’t care in the least for the character of Angela, the bookish, academic spinster who leads the book group in the novel; I found her wishy-washy and annoying. Lissy, the rich and spoiled young trophy wife summering at her estate in the Hamptons, was all right, if not really developed at all; there could have been much more there if Woliitzer had chosen to expand on it. (The casual toss-off plotline regarding Lissy’s beloved nanny was disappointing, there was so much more to delve into there, and I would have liked to see Wolitzer do so.) But I really grew to like and very much enjoyed the development of Michelle, Lissy’s locally-born and -bred housecleaner; she was down-to-earth and practical and had unplumbed depths which were actually revealed and allowed to grow. I liked her determination and spunk, I liked how she came to terms with how she chose to live her life.
I would like to be friends with her.

Farthing – Jo Walton.
Very much in the style of Dorothy Sayers, or maybe even Josephine Tey. Not really much of a mystery to the book (if you are looking for clues and brilliant detective work, this isn’t where you’ll find it), so much as an exploration of characters, stereotypes, and what can happen in the world when you’re not paying attention – a good lesson to be had, in the form of an engrossing, enjoyable novel, for all the Americans who have stuck their heads in the sand and are ignoring our present political idiocies and the upcoming elections. I am looking forward to the sequel, Ha’penny.

Still working on Messenger of Truth - know from experience this will take a while, however enjoyable; The Street of a Thousand Blossoms - am downright loving this, cannot possibly fathom it tanking in the last two hundred pages.


*Blogger Alex Massie, writing on The Debatable Land

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things." *

Does your house have ghosts? It’s nice to see CNN covering all the hard-hitting news stories of the day…

This article was a follow-up to this one: Poll: Third of people believe in ghosts. The sentence in this one that utterly confused me was this: “The most likely candidates for ghostly visits include single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services.” Um, nothing like covering all your bases?

The local paper also had its share of ghost stories today. ‘Tis the season…

I myself have never seen a ghost. (I never hope to see one. But this I tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one. Sorry. Couldn’t help myself...) Anyhoo, I have never seen a ghost. I am torn between wanting to see one, and being grateful that the spirits have never chosen to reveal themselves to me. Because I am a big fat wuss, and would faint straight away, and what fun is that for a ghost?

Sure, as a kid, I did the stupid things we all do: the Bloody Mary chant at the bathroom mirror in the dark, “The Monkey’s Paw” related at dusk so you were scared to venture off your own porch, “Johnny, I Want My Liver back!” told at countless sleepovers.

Once, at the old house (which really wasn’t that old and not nearly as big and creaky as this one), Primo and I were playing in his room at the top of the stairs. The cat was staring out the door, and then Primo turned and said, “The gas mask lady!” and returned to whatever he was doing – disemboweling the laundry basket’s contents, no doubt. I was frozen – do I look, and risk seeing something, or ignore it? I looked, and there was nothing there that I could see, but both the cat and Primo saw…something. (The gas mask lady was a reminder of one of my stupidest parenting moments EVER: H and I took a toddler Primo to an anti-war march with us the previous autumn. Fine. Until the extremists wearing gas masks and dressed as corpses wandered past, and gave Primo nightmares for weeks. He was obsessed with the gas-mask-wearers in particular, and asked a hundred different questions about them. So yes, when he blithely announced, “The gas mask lady!” a shiver went down my spine.)

When we first moved into our current house, bought from the estate of the man who used to live here, I often felt a friendly...not even presence, it wasn’t that strong. It was more a benevolent glow, that someone/thing was happy that a family was living in and taking care of this house. The old man had been sick for a long time, and the house had been allowed to grow dilapidated and shabby (which is precisely why we could afford it). I am not saying that Henry’s ghost was pleased as punch that we replaced the main sewer stack and completely rewired the entire house in the first six months we were here, but I did get the feeling, traipsing around, surveying my new domain at night, that we were wrapped in warm, fuzzy feelings somehow. It is a feeling that has eased up in the past year; perhaps we are not fixing up fast enough, or perhaps Henry got tired of waiting for us to do something really amazing like point the outside of the house and took off for a better place, but at any rate, it’s a good solid house, and we are happy here.

You know, my maternal grandmother was born and raised in the shadow of the Carpathian mountains. She had a touch of something supernatural – she had dreams that came true. Sometimes scary or traumatic ones, but just as often, harmless, happy dreams, resulting merely in a pleasant sense of déjà vu.

My mother was a tad more dramatic. She claimed to have experienced a ‘time-slip’ at the palace of Versailles, similar to that claimed by Anne Moberley and Eleanor Jourdain, and, later, apparently multiple other tourists.

My favorite supernatural claim by my mother, though, remains this one: My father died in September 1987, and in an unseasonably warm January in ‘89, my mother went to visit the grave and clear up the Christmas wreathes and flowers. As she worked, a bee buzzed around the headstone and the general area. Several times the bee dive-bombed her, and buzzed insistently around her head, but it never stung her. She grew increasingly exasperated and finally she snapped, “Oh for God’s sake, Sam, leave me alone!” and the bee buzzed away. To her dying day, she claimed that damn bee was my father’s spirit, making her as crazy in death as he had in life. (As if she needed any help, right? I know…)

I am of two minds about supernatural phenomena: on one hand/mind, I firmly believe there is incontrovertible evidence proving their existence. On the other hand, my rational brain says, “Pah! Balderdash! Pshaw!” and other old-man expressions of disgust and dismissal. This dichotomy however does not prevent me from reading, being scared by, and thoroughly enjoying a well-written ghost tale, occasionally.

The very first book I can remember scaring the pants off me was Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. You may think me very silly but to this day, I can’t look out of the bathroom window at night without a little shiver. Call me nuts, but you go read it and then tell me it doesn’t have the same effect on you.

The Shining scared me to death too, and I can’t go into the bathroom at night without a split second of, “Oh God, what if there is a dead woman in the bathtub? PLEASE don’t let there be a dead woman in the bathtub…”

(I am beginning to see a pattern here – but c’mon, I am pregnant, I pee six times a night!)

A little closer to home is Ghost Stories of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, penned as a sort of senior thesis by Beth Trapani. This is the sort of book that is really only fun to read if you are familiar with the local stories and real estate. I used to work at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and took a couple classes at CCAC’s North campus, so it was fun to read about the haunting in those places – after the fact.

Mostly, I tend usually to steer away from scary books, as believe it or not, I really don’t enjoy being scared. I am home often enough by myself at night that I see no point in frightening myself with stories of specters and poltergeist when I am nervous enough about real-life burglars, home invaders, and vandals wandering the streets of the city. The dog growling at something I can’t see, or the cat looking intently at a distant point, is enough to make me uneasy. Is someone stealing the porch furniture, or smashing my tomatoes, or, God forbid, cavorting with the undead in the alley? (The undead might be an improvement on the occasional drug dealers...)

The fact is that, once Halloween passes, the menace in the air will disappear, the spookies and creepy-crawlies will retreat for another year, and everything will revert to its usual non-supernatural scariness: drug dealers and burglars and John Ashcroft, oh my.

But you know, if you have any creepy stories to share, please do. It’s not Halloween yet, and I could use a good fright. And I don’t just mean the glimpse I catch of myself in the mirror in the morning.


* Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Eating in Germany is easy because there's basically one kind of food, and it's the wurst." *

Last night H took the two older boys up the street to a local restaurant we want to support as much as we can, to their little Oktoberfest celebration. Because of its late start, and because of the fact that the restaurant is in fact an Indian restaurant, I chose to remain at home with The Baby, eating pizza and watching a Wiggles video. H came home pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food – wurst and sauerkraut and the like, finished off with apple streudel and German chocolate cake. I satisfied my sweets cravings with the last piece of gingerbread (what? I baked them all an apple cake before I ate the last piece…)

I was supposed to have lunch here today, with old friends from my bookstore days, but I have been coughing so much and so hard that it seems to stimulate my gag reflex and defeat my pee-controlling muscles, and really, I couldn’t go out for a nice lunch and risk spewing TB bacteria everywhere AND peeing myself. It just wouldn’t be seemly.

So I slept for a few hours this morning after dosing myself up with vitamin C tablets, and then I got up, did some actual paying work, went to the grocery store (I was out of white cooking wine and baby wipes. And fermented black beans, but I think I have to go to the Strip District for those), and went to the library where I retrieved my latest batch of holds: Summer Reading - Hilma Wolitzer; Whose Body? - Dorothy Sayers; These is my Words : The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901: Arizona Territories – Nancy Turner. I was hoping Jo Walton’s Ha’penny would have been in too, but it’s still ‘in transit.’

I returned The Lightning Thief; I wasn’t all that crazy about it, and it was a little too scary for Primo. I read the first chapter of The Nubian Prince and had to return that, too: it made me (even) sick(er) to my stomach.

I cooked the baked salmon and Brussel sprouts with bacon tonight for dinner, and then had a little fit of first pique and then weepiness because my children not only refused to eat the pasta and sauce I made for them (knowing that being even in the same room with, let alone being asked to ingest, the salmon and sprouts might do them in), but proclaimed how icky and yucky it was. And H got mad at me because I yelled at them, and I threatened to leave and go have dinner somewhere else in peace, and said I liked it better when I worked Thursday evenings, and then H took his dad and Primo off to the benefit symphony concert at the local high school.

I am looking forward to my cup of tea, a big chunk of apple cake, and finishing up Farthing, which is a remarkably engrossing book. I have absolutely no idea whatsoever how it is going to end, and I cannot wait to find out.

And I have no desire whatsoever to return to my desk job, because then I would miss THIS:

And this (he was a mite cold, watching his brother's hockey game):

I was cold too, because he had just knocked over my entire mug of fresh, hot tea, and stolen my jacket. But I still am glad I don't have to miss any more.
* Dave Barry

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“My sorrow, when she's here with me, thinks these dark days of autumn rain are beautiful as days can be..." *

It’s a cold, rainy day – perfect for hanging out in the attic, playing with trains. And when you’ve built the entire island of Sodor, then it’s time to set up the little IKEA tent and watch Terzo push his little plastic trucks in and out, and in and out, and in and out, of the tent door for an hour while I lie on the futon and reread for the gazillionth time The President’s Daughter. (What with Ellen Emerson White FINALLY coming out with a new book about Meg and her family, at the end of this month, it seemed like a good reread.)

We just walked up to preschool in the drizzle and fetched Seg, and now I am on my way upstairs with a picnic lunch – nothing fancy: pb&j sandwiches, pretzels, apple slices, chocolate milk. We will lunch in the tent (those of us who fit – in other words, NOT ME), and this afternoon I will bake a spice cake I haven’t tried before from Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions, and make some baked salmon and a pan of Brussel sprouts with bacon and Yukon Gold potatoes for dinner, and the boys will play Battleship and Clue Jr. and Pokemon, and the rain can keep drumming down on the roof.


* Robert Frost

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

“The White House: I don't know whether it's the finest public housing in American or the crown jewel of the prison system” *

OH, YAY!!!!


* Bill Clinton

People who count their chickens before they hatch act very wisely, because chickens run about so absurdly, it's impossible to count them accurately.

My first real non-work work day.

It’s pouring rain and I am happily ensconced in bed with my cat, my laptop, and my APA manual, editing a dissertation chapter, and sending out a few invoices, and fitting in PTA duties among the paying tasks.

Next, I must spend some time fighting with the new version of Microsoft Word. I hate Microsoft. I DESPISE Microsoft. The interface for Word 2007 is completely non-intuitive. I can’t find several features I absolutely rely on, and mostly, I hate that Microsoft has appropriated XML, which is inherently structured to be non-proprietary, and created this monster of Microsoft-XML proprietorship. Damn Bill Gates. I don’t care how many small children from Third World nations he pays to have inoculated; he’s a power-hungry, control-freak, raging pain in the ass.

I offer you this in lieu of actual content (courtesy of Sarah Louise, who turned me on to Savage Chickens):

* Oscar Wilde

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball." *

I wandered around the disappointing new-ish Borders the other night – you think I’d learn, I NEVER find anything I want there. And it has all the charm of an inner-city basketball court – cement, steel, the only thing missing are those little spiky barbed-wire thingeys on top of the chainlink. Let's not even mention the surly baristas.

I did spend some time hunkered in front of the graphic novels section, speedreading through Neil Gaiman’s The Last Temptation. Gaiman may be a genius, but he clearly phoned that one in. Hey, we all do it occasionally.

So instead of Borders, I spent the next afternoon at my beloved B&N. I bought a paperback , illustrated copy of Stardust, and the newest Titanic book for Seg’s Christmas haul. I wanted to buy a copy of Marvel 1602 but neither store had one in stock. I will get it from the library instead.

Speaking of, H went out yesterday afternoon to run some errands – wine store, post office, the library – because he COULD, what with me not being at work and all - and he picked up my holds for me.

The Nubian Prince - Juan Bonilla
The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan
Farthing - Jo Walton

I spent some of yesterday reading Messenger of Truth, the latest Maisie Dobbs. Have I discussed this with you all before? I really enjoy Maisie, but I cannot sit down and read one of the books for more than an hour at a clip. It’s not that they are boring - I always return to the current installment eager to see what happens next, but I can’t get lost in them. Is this a fatal flaw, or should I just be grateful I enjoy them in the end?

So H took himself off to his wine-tasting club last night, I hunkered down in bed with tea, a box of Kleenex, and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, which true to My Favorite Librarian’s word, sucked me right in.

I was ready to sleep about ten, but needed something to sooth me a bit, so read the first few chapters of Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice. It is so completely different from the other two I have read - Catherine Called Birdy and Matilda Bone - that it sort of threw me for a loop and I read almost half of it. It’s not as personable, the main character not as engaging, as the others. Which doesn’t mean I don’t like it, or Beetle, the protagonist. It’s just not as cozy and lighthearted and amusing; it’s grittier, and more real, somehow. I am not explaining this very well. You could just go read it, it’ll take you all of an hour.

Anyway, I finally went to bed at eleven and when I woke up this morning to H making the boys pancakes downstairs, I rolled right over, snuggled back under the comforter, and finished off the last twenty pages of The Haunting of Hill House. It was one of those books which made me wish for a writers’ sealed envelope at the back (like The Eleventh Hour), explaining and revealing all the secrets. Because I *think * I know what it was all about, but I also am sure I must have missed something. Those of you who have said the same, please email me and help me out. I won’t say anymore here, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I am thoroughly perplexed.

I know this post will make at least Badger’s brain hurt – three books at once! But I will finish Midwife’s Apprentice today, so then it’ll only be two, and that’s way more manageable, yes, Badge?


*Phil Jackson

Saturday, October 20, 2007

"This world of words and meanings makes you feel outside something that you feel already deep inside." *

Wilco was incredible.

We were in the fifth row – I could pretend the whole time that Jeff was looking at ME. In fact, when he scolded a woman in the third row for sitting down, and she retorted, “I’m PREGNANT,” most of the other people we knew at the show, who weren’t actually sitting with us, thought he was talking to me.

He played a two-and-a-half-hour set, a nice mix of all his stuff, including big hits, and most of the new album.

Highlights for me: “On and On and On,” “Impossible Germany,” “Hate It Here,” and “Heavy Metal Drummer.”
He did not play “California Stars;” he DID play “Kidsmoke,” which is the only Wilco song I actively dislike. Oh well.

Jeff’s put on a bit of weight, and was dressed in his usual frumpy attire complete with hat, and resembled no one so much as Bilbo Baggins. But he was in a very good mood, and his guitar players were awesome (is Pat Sansone like what? Twelve? Thirteen?), and my God, he played for TWO AND A HALF HOURS.

After the show, everyone else was heading out for more drinks; I could not have kept up with these people when I was in prime drinking trim (college), let alone now. But we are old and boring, so H and I headed home, for a cup of tea, an apricot hamantaschen, and a chapter of Maisie Dobbs (for me) and Terry Pratchett (for him).

What a great night.

"On and On and On," Wilco, from Sky Blue Sky

Friday, October 19, 2007

"I'd like to dream my troubles all away on a bed of California Stars..."

I feel MUCH better after a dozen listenings to my dear, moody, genius Jeff Tweedy singing "California Stars," from Wilco's album "Mermaid Avenue."

You listen to it a few times and see if YOU can maintain a bad mood...go on, I dare you....

"I'd like to rest my heavy head tonight on a bed of California stars." *

Oh my God, what a FOUL day. To paraphrase Primo’s principal doing morning announcements: “Good morning, children, today is Foul Friday.”

It’s not the rain or grey skies – in fact, they’re sort of ok; the mood I am in, sunshine would be like a slap in the face.

It could be the hurt-y ears, the sore throat, or the nagging heachache.

It’s more likely whatever pregnancy hormones have kicked in, making it imposssible for me to stand being touched. At all. Especially those sorts of lovely kinds of touching your small children do – you know, digging their feet into your back when lying in bed with you, pulling your hair, climbing over your head, yanking on your clothes. I don’t want to be massaged by tiny, pointy, sharp-nailed little toes EVER and especially, dear God, not now. Even the dog has taken to following me around the house; if I turn too quickly – like, anything faster than the speed of molasses, I step on him. If I weren’t preggers, I’d swear I was PMSing.

The heady thought of freedom from the soul-sucking place of employment I just left (I missed the masturbator in the stacks yesterday; see what I am giving up?) makes me feel marginially better but I am also in a weirdly apathetic panic (I know, seems like an oxymoron but it’s not) about not having a “real” job.

We have tickets to see Wilco tonight – I love Wilco and I was really looking forward to it, but the reality is that before I can go have fun, I have to pick up Seg from preschool, run errands (how did I forget to buy diapers while grocery shopping yesterday??), feed them all lunch, pack up diapers and clothes and pillows and their stuffed animals and whatever else they need for an overnight stay, deal with whoever’s going to come care for the dog, pick up Primo from school, drive across town to the babysitter’s, drop off the boys, go pick up H, find a place to park along with the thousands of other people downtown attending 1) the Wilco show, 2) the Pens game, 3) the Duquesne football game, and/or 4) parents’ weekend activities.

All without alcohol.

All I really want to do is go to bed with some books and pull the comforter over my head. In peace, quiet, dark, and warmth. I want to SLEEP.

At least I don’t have to work tomorrow.
So I can write a post about the books I bought yesterday, and what I am reading now, and what I finished and what I thought of them, and the books I got from the library, and all sorts of other much more interesting things than me whining about, um, having a life.

Don't pay any attention to me.


* "California Stars," Wilco

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

"But of course! Nothing says 'romance' like a kidnapped injured woman!" *


This. The illustrated version.

Because I read this article in The Guardian.

Now I also want to read this:

And this, Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market."
(Or maybe I will just listen to it.)

I want to know more about this man, who sounds like a real character. To say the least.
He LOOKS crazy, doesn't he?
Has anyone written a biography?
Must find out...

Also want:
To read some of the stories in here:

How could I have missed Carter? Her books look weird and clever and funny, and they have been promptly added to my must-read list.

I loved the film of “The Princess Bride” and want to read the book now.

And how could Neil not tell us the actual name of the story from Lucy Clifford? I just finished The Haunting of Hill House and could do with more "strange and disturbing." He spookily riffed on "The New Mother" in his creepy-oh-so-creepy Coraline, so maybe that’s what he is talking about...

So I want to read Stardust, and I might even want to see the film, if only to check out the can-can-dancing pirate.

And of course, it probably goes without saying that I want (you know, PLATONICALLY):

I mean, c'mon, who wouldn't?!
Gosh, I love me some Neil and am happily engaged in reading his journal archives right now. So smart. So funny. (Have I mentioned so smart?)


*Yvaine, in the movie adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust

Monday, October 15, 2007

"When items go a long time unused, unloved and uncared for, they become stuck, stagnant energy that actually physically drains you of your energy." *

How is that I live in what is essentially a six-bedroom house, and have not one empty room in which to pile crap so I can move the boys into their new room and worry about the mess in the other room later?

And how did we accumulate so much crap? Hmmmm? I got rid of so much stuff when we moved four years ago – I streamlined clothes and toys and all sorts of paraphernalia. And here I am, today, with more stuff than before.

I know some of it is that we seem to be the dumping ground for H’s family’s stuff that they don’t want anymore. Much as I hate the china cabinet, it does a fine job holding my china and table linens. I appreciate the hand-me-down clothes; the hand-me-down toys, really, not so much. And I actively say no if it involves anything motorized...and still..

Some of it is that I am a child of a child of the Depression so find it extremely difficult to get rid of anything that might even remotely come in handy someday. Which is why we have three Winnie the Pooh comforters, two Bob the Builder comforters, and several extra random bed comforters, including one down one, plus myriad extra sheet sets and blankets, folded up in a cabinet in what serves as our guest room. And three boxes of glassware and mugs in the basement. Next to about four different car seats, and piles of porch furniture cushions.

Not to mention the cut-glass punch bowl with sixteen matching cups that was my mother’s, that I cannot bear to let go, even though I have never used it, not even once; the canning kettle I have used exactly once; the ice cream maker (which I actually use occasionally but takes up a lot of space); the old coffee pot that still works; the blender that SUCKS but matches my mixer and food processor; the hanging glass rack that might be cute if we ever get around to punching that hole in the dining room/kitchen wall; the three glow-in-the-dark skeletons Primo and I trashpicked for Halloween decorations; and a boxful of a variety of leftover paper goods (three Thomas the Tank Engine plates, a pack of Bob the Builder napkins, etc.).

I cleared out what will be the baby’s room closet yesterday (the catchall for our winter coats, my maternity clothes, and H’s “extra” guitars (don’t ask)). I now have two more bags to go to Vietnam Vets – since H’s old suit has not been removed from that closet since I unpacked it into there four years ago (thank God, since it’s really ugly – he is a handsome man but his mother used to buy clothes for him, God help us all); ditto to several winter coats, a pile of size-small maternity clothes, and the four size-six skirts that I had been holding onto. I simply threw away the three bent curtain rods, the lid of a wicker basket that has long since been thrown out, and a pile of papers.

(In the plus column, I found that pair of pumps that I needed to wear with the dress I wore to the bat mitzvah in June. I kept them. They were the only thing I had missed.)

Into that closet will go the clothes – sorted by size and labeled in office-paper boxes I have been bringing home from work in droves; once the fourth baby outgrows the clothes, right to Goodwill, or the Parental Stress Center, or somewhere NOT my house. Same with the extra pack-n-play (how did we wind up with two?), the dozens and dozens of baby blankets, the two mobiles, and the baby bathtub you use for all of two or three months. I also plan to donate the boys’ sneakers they’ve outgrown, the gazillion baby hats they never wore, and all those sleepers that button up the back. The old computer monitor can go. The boxes of photo frames, stacks of old Martha Stewart magazines, and crates of LPs can be Freecycled.

Notice I mention not one word about my hundreds of books, however?

I am a hypocrite of the highest order.

But I feel better already.


* Ariane Benefit

Saturday, October 13, 2007

It never rains but it pours...

Currently in my bag:
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
Matilda Bone - Karen Cushman

On my nightstand:
The Midwife’s Apprentice - Karen Cushman
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms - Gail Tsukiyama
The House of the Scorpion - Nancy Farmer
Bridge of Sighs - Richard Russo
Summertime - Raffaela Barker

Waiting for me at the library:
Beneath the Skin - Nicci French
The Nubian Prince - Juan Bonilla
Farthing - Jo Walton
The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan


In other news, today is my last Saturday at the library.
I am a little sad, but mostly relieved. Maybe now I can finish up some of those projects around the house I never seem to have time for.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"October comes with rain whipping around the ankles in waves of white at night..." *

It has suddenly – literally overnight – become autumn.

The Baby is decked out in corduroys and a striped sweater. I had to dive into my scarf drawer last night to wrap up my throat to go out (my neck and ears are perpetually cold).

My drink of choice now is hot tea, although the boys clamor for hot cocoa.

We got three squash and another head of cabbage from our CSA; we are having baked butternut squash and sautéed spinach and zucchini pancakes for dinner tonight, maybe with the last of the tomatoes. I am riffling through Nigella right now to decide on a dessert: gingerbread maybe? Lemon syrup loaf cake? Plain ole pumpkin pie?

Now I wish my oven were in my kitchen and not in my basement (which was a blessing all summer).

I am finally again looking at the yards of fabric that are almost my living room curtains. I need to buy curtain rings and do some ironing but otherwise the cozy suede-y chocolate brown drapes will be up soon, blocking out drafts.

The porch furniture can be stacked up and covered for the winter now. And we had to go buy a new rake as our old one had mysteriously disappeared and the leaves are beginning to drift down.

I do believe this weather is what has restored my reading mojo. What better to do in cool weather than curl up in bed under a down comforter and read, cup of hot tea close at hand?

I tried to go buy a sofa today but I couldn’t seem to get to IKEA so that will have to wait, but this weather calls for a sofa as well, stocked with cozy throws and preferably in front of a nice fire (I am pricing vents and gas logs...)

Bring on the fall, I am ready.


* Louis MacNeice [one of my favorite poets]
"Autumn Journal", IX

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"That's really not my bag, baby." *

I returned Mirabilis to the library today and was gratified to discover that My Favorite Librarian felt exactly the same way about it that I did. Isn’t it weird that I liked the characters and wanted to know what happened to them, but I didn’t find the book compelling enough to keep reading? I think that’s a weird trick; honestly, not every writer could pull that one off.

I was herding frogs, er, three small boys in the library, but managed to convey to MFL that I was in a reading slump and could she recommend anything. I returned downstairs to check out the boys’ stack of books (and a copy of The House of the Scorpion for me) and there was a pile of books awaiting me. Alas, I had already read Water for Elephants and A Spot of Bother (but see how good she is? I really liked both those books.); I have not read Gail Tsukiyama’s The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, so it came home with me.

I started Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. I have the last Maisie Dobbs to read. The newest Richard Russo lies under my nightstand, beckoning seductively. I am enjoying Awakened by the Moon, a biography of Margaret Wise Brown but it’s not the sort of book you can just sit and read for hours. I pulled Jonathan Strange off my shelf after that spate of LibraryThing memes people have been posting.

I feel my reading mojo returning.


* Austin Powers

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Even educated fleas do it..." *

Swiped from just about everyone else on the Internet.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users (as of today). As usual, bold what you have read, italicise what you started but couldn’t finish, and strike through what you couldn’t stand. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your to-read list (they are actually in my possession, on my TBR shelf, is how I interpreted this one). I also took the liberty of annotating because I know you all care desperately about what I think.


Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I will give this another shot; I think you have to be in the right mood to get through this book. And someone on Badger’s list just reiterated what I have heard a thousand times: the first 100 pages SUCK. Oh, great.

Anna Karenina. I want to love this book; I just can’t seem to.

Crime and Punishment

Catch-22. The movie was brilliant.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
. I think Marquez is a genius; see Love in the Time of Cholera.

Wuthering Heights
* I have read it more than once but I still hate it.

The Silmarillion

Life of Pi. Someone explain all the fuss about this book to me, please?

The Name of the Rose

Don Quixote

Moby Dick. Melville bores the crap out of me.

Ulysses. Had to read it for a class; it was all right, and parts were terrific.

Madame Bovary

The Odyssey. How did I get thru college not having to read this?

Pride and Prejudice* Total comfort reading.

Jane Eyre*

A Tale of Two Cities

The Brothers Karamazov. My Russian reading experience is woefully pathetic; I’ve read some Chekhov and Gogol, and parts of Doctor Zhivago, but that’s it.

Guns, Germs, and Steel

War and Peace. I had a friend who ripped his copy into thirds so he didn’t have to carry the whole thing around with him; this might be smart.

Vanity Fair

The Time Traveller’s Wife

The Iliad. See The Odyssey.


The Blind Assassin

The Kite Runner

Mrs. Dalloway

Great Expectations*

American Gods. I love Gaiman’s Sandman but his novels…eh.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Dave Eggars is the most self-absorbed writer I have ever encountered. I didn’t just hate this book, I DESPISED it.

Atlas Shrugged. I read The Fountainhead; I don’t need to read this, too. Sorry.

Reading Lolita in Tehran. See Life of Pi.

Memoirs of a Geisha. YAWWWWN.

Middlesex. GREAT book, when the hell is Eugenides going to get on the stick and write another?


Wicked. Oh how I wanted to love this. But I didn’t.

The Canterbury Tales. Funny and totally irreverent.

The Historian. I really liked this.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Love in the Time of Cholera* One of my favorite books ever.

Brave New World. Dated but still interesting.

The Fountainhead. I remember really liking this but I don’t think I will ever reread it.

Foucault’s Pendulum



The Count of Monte Cristo. Oh God. I hated this. Interminable, melodramatic. It might make an excellent comic book, though.


A Clockwork Orange

Anansi Boys

The Once and Future King. H thinks this book is brilliant. The Arthurian legends have never really done it for me though.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible


Angels & Demons
. If you’ve read this, you don’t need to read Da Vinci Code, and vice versa.

The Inferno. I have the Pinsky translation on my shelf.

The Satanic Verses* In my top ten favorite books, ever. Admittedly, the first time I read it, I had an amazingly brilliant and patient prof walking us through all the nuances and history, and that made a huge difference to my reading experience of this book.

Sense and Sensibility. My least favorite Austen.

The Picture of Dorian Gray*

Mansfield Park

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

To the Lighthouse

Tess of the D’Urbervilles
. Did anyone else want to slap Tess silly?

Oliver Twist

Gulliver’s Travels

Les Misérables

The Corrections

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I think Chabon is one of the most overrated contemporary writers. And his wife is a lunatic.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


The Prince
. As a junior high schooler, I developed a wholly inappropriate crush on Machiavelli. So sue me.

The Sound and the Fury. I’ve read other Faulkner; he was ok but I have no pressing need to read more.

Angela’s Ashes

The God of Small Things. It’s not often a Booker prize winner disappoints but I have never gotten past the first chapter about the family’s pickle business….

A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present



A Confederacy of Dunces

A Short History of Nearly Everything. I love Bryson but this one just doesn’t pique my interest.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being



The Scarlet Letter

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Mists of Avalon

Oryx and Crake


Cloud Atlas. Mitchell is brilliant, a contemporary writer to watch, right up there with Byatt.

The Confusion. Have never heard of this.

Lolita. BRILLIANT. If you haven’t read it, you do not know what you are missing.


Northanger Abbey
. What is WRONG with all these people who haven’t read any Austen, hmmmm?

The Catcher in the Rye*

On the Road

The Hunchback of Notre Dame


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Aeneid. See Odyssey & Iliad.

Watership Down. I think I read this as a teenager but I can’t recall a damn thing about it so it doesn’t count.

Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit. Tried to reread this recently with the boys but they are too young right now and it scared them. Maybe in a few years.

In Cold Blood. I should have loved this book; someone please tell me why I didn’t.

White Teeth

Treasure Island. Will probably read this with the boys at some point.

David Copperfield

The Three Musketeers. Will probably read this with the boys at some point.


* Cole Porter, "Let's Do It"

Monday, October 08, 2007

"Who the hell ever heard of sacrificing a head of lettuce?" *

- 4 lbs of bone-in chuck (MUCH cheaper than short ribs) for veggie soup stock, to use up some of the two heads of cabbage from our CSA. It’s always good to have gallons of soup in the freezer.

- A 3-lb corned beef brisket, to use up more cabbage (my husband is half-Irish, he likes corned beef and cabbage. Blech.)

- 1 lb meatloaf mix (veal, beef, and pork). For stuffed peppers to freeze, to use up the peppers from our CSA.

- 1 lb 85% lean ground beef – for hamburgers for grilling tonight

- 2 Delmonico steaks – also for grilling tonight, because I had a yen for FLESH, with baked potatoes and salad

This is more meat than I usually buy in six months.
I feel like a cavewoman.
I hunted-and-gathered my way through the grocery store’s organic meat department.

Now I must go hunt mastodon….

*Archie Bunker

Sunday, October 07, 2007

"The bride, lovely herself, and lovely by her side a bevy of bright nymphs, with sober grace came glittering like a star, and took her place." *

It’s all Lazy Cow’s fault that I am dying to write a blog post in the style of Raffaella Barker’s Hens Dancing. Which is only just, as the wedding I attended yesterday would fit right into one of Barker’s delightful and rustic novels. (But you'll have to bear with my rather more prosaic prose.)

H and I should not be allowed to attend weddings together; we are a bad bad influence on each other, and spend much of the ceremony stifling giggles and shaking with silent laughter. We can’t even look at each other. We’re like a couple of VERY immature teenagers. The first thing that set us off was H’s colleague’s wife who wore big black sunglasses in the church, throughout the whole ceremony. Next came the minister, with a ridiculously Dickensian name and references to his “clan” of thirteen brothers and sisters. We wondered if his brothers and sisters were named for months of the year as he was. The soloist – a very black man with very white teeth that matched his even whiter suit, shirt, and tie – embarked on a soulful rendition of "This Little Light of Mine," fabulously incongruent in this Wonderbread enclave of Protestantism, and I nearly peed my pants. When the recessional turned out to be a booming version of the Hallelujah Chorus (the bride is 45), H and I totally lost it, but fortunately at the point the ceremony was mercifully concluded and no one noticed our childish behavior. I am not proud of our juvenile and politically incorrect behavior, but gosh, it was fun.

I had wound up wearing a little black wrap dress I bought at Target two years ago, and found in the back of my closet, tags still on. It looked far better as a maternity dress than as a regular dress, and paired with a dangly black and silver necklace and black slingback pumps, served remarkably well.

I wasn’t sure if I would be woefully overdressed for the reception at the bride’s brother’s house, out in the middle of nowhere; we had no idea what to expect. The trailer homes we passed on the way there did not fill me with especially high expectations.

Turns out I was appropriately attired, with the exception that every other woman there experienced –except for the old ladies in their orthopedic shoes and the teenagers in their flipflops: heels sinking into the grass every time we took a step. By the salad course, I think everyone had kicked off their shoes and we were all fine.

The backyard was actually several acres of perfect, green, rolling grass, causing the cavorting flower girls and ringbearers to resemble nothing so much as a Ralph Lauren ad. The white tent was strung with Christmas lights, and the tables were clustered with candles and flowers, and the food was delicious.

The Port-a-Potties concerned me, but by a certain time I had to pee so badly I didn’t care what I had to brave. However, they were the nicest Port-a-Potties I have EVER seen, and were cleaner than my bathroom at home.

By ten we had eaten the cake (white almond with buttercream frosting) and H had handily put away several large whiskeys, and so we hurtled home on Rte 30 listening to a Penguins victory, and then to bed.

Lovely day. The bride was radiant, the groom was gracefully tipsy, and other than the fact that the caterer ran out of coffee, everything else was pretty much perfect.


* John Dryden

Friday, October 05, 2007

I couldn't pick just one. Do yourself a favor and go read them all. I laughed so hard I was crying.

So ok, there you have it.
I emailed my resignation letter this morning.

The relief I feel at knowing I only have one more Saturday to work is immense.

The panic I feel that all of my freelance work will now dry up is also immense.

In better, more comforting news:

Everyone’s ears are back to normal-ish. Primo went off to Picture Day with two normal ears and wearing the usual white shirt of his school uniform, because that’s what he wanted to wear and I didn’t have the energy or really even the desire to argue.

I saw my OB yesterday. At 21 weeks, I am still nauseated and have gained no weight, but I have stopped losing weight, and the baby appears healthy. I even look sorta fetching, in a pregnant-person sort of way.

I bought the last Maisie Dobbs I haven’t read, Messenger of Truth. And The Air We Breathe is wonderful.

I am supposed to be running the Scholastic Book Fair at Primo’s school the week of Thanksgiving. I have no clue what I am doing, so I am frantically lining up parent volunteers and setting up meetings.

We have a wedding to attend tomorrow afternoon. As I told H, who works with the couple, I nominate the groom as “Least Likely Person I Have Ever Met to Be Married Once, Let Alone Twice.” And yet here he is, on his second wife. The ways of love are exceedingly strange.

I am off to collect Seg from preschool, along with his little friend C, and haul them and The Baby to the zoo. Because Seg asked, and he never really asks for anything. I HATE the zoo. But I suppose I can stand it for a couple hours. Of course, it’s October 5 and freakishly warm, which makes me very grumpy. You can control many things, but not the weather (or the panic which is threatening again).

I think I will go clean my bathroom.
Life can't be too bad if you have clean bathrooms.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

"...For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse." *

Poison ivy. In his ear.
Ask me how.
How, you say?
*I*? Have no fucking clue.
Neither does he, or H.
Best we can figure, he was at the playground with some friends after hockey practice, and they were running around in the bushes.
So he’s on prednisone, which is EXACTLY what you want an impossible six-year-old-who-is-already-acting-like-a-two-year-old to be taking for the next week.
But his ear looks better, and he went to school today. (I have been assured he is NOT contagious.)
Which is good, because if he didn’t go to school, I may have been forced to put him in the dog crate for the day.
(I am KIDDING. Do NOT call CYS. (Maybe the SPCA but not CYS.) But he has been impossible.)

Now, the dog, which is what I know you all really care about, has an ear infection. Also on steroids and anti-inflammatories, and we must swab his ears with this gunk every other day till it clears up. Fuck me. But at least the new baby has not arrived yet.
‘cause remember when the cat got hit by a car right after Terzo was born?
That is exactly where I would be with the dog and his ear infection.
But no one cared about the cat. Why is that?
I received zip, zero, NO emails about the plan to just let the cat die.
Do rabid cat lovers not read blogs?
Inquiring minds want to know.
I want to know.

I also want to get my hair cut.
And lie around eating cannoli from the Italian deli, and reading novels.

Oh well.
People in hell want ice water, as my mother used to compassionately point out.
Speaking of...
(Hell? My mother? Both? Who knows?)
It’s been nine years.
Seems like yesterday in some respects, and eons ago in others.


"I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more..." Isaac Asimov

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

“Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood -- never.” *

I was ready to ditch Mirabillis but when I started thinking of buying it, to get through the rest of the story and learn the fates of its complex characters, I realized I should just renew it. Some books are worth the work; this might be one of them.

Citizen Vince was an enjoyable read, and I will definitely read other Jess Walter books, but it didn’t knock my socks off. Nonetheless, it was a fun, well-written, and smart quick read.

My copy of Death Warmed Over: Funeral Food, Rituals, and Customs from Around the World arrived in the mail yesterday; I was spurred to buy this book after reading, and then discussing with Jess, the funeral food chapter in Michael Lee West’s wonderful cookbook/memoir Consuming Passions. I am looking forward to perusing the recipes. Although I can say with certainty I will never attempt the Etruscan grape bread. Yuck.

I have started Andrea Barrett’s newest novel, The Air We Breathe. Barrett’s novels are slow, enveloping, lovely books; reading one is like having a warm bath and then a cup of tea tucked up in bed – her prose is gorgeous and deliberate, the scientific research is impeccable yet fascinating, and her pacing is perfect. You can’t rush through a Barrett novel, any more than you should rush through the bath and the tea. Comfort reading for the intelligent and curious.

Richard Russo’s latest tome – the book is a good two and a half inches thick – is sitting on my nightstand. Russo is also not an author to rush through; this book may well sit there for several months while I await the perfect few days to read it in peace. It may even wait till February when the new baby comes; the two days I spent in the hospital after Terzo’s birth were the closest I have come to a real vacation in seven years. And everyone knows you need a decent book to read on vacation.

Today I must take Primo to the pediatrician, for some sort of weird bug bite which has caused his left ear to swell up to half again its normal size and turn beet-red; take the dog to the vet to see what’s up with his stinky ears; stop at the grocery store for, at the very least, dog food, bread, and diapers; edit a short paper I promised a client by Friday; find the meatloaf I froze last month, that is somewhere in the freezer, to thaw for dinner tonight; buy a rake (so I can clean the leaves up so we don’t have hidden dog poop in the yard anymore). In addition, I am seriously contemplating quitting my job; H is supportive but not pressuring. There is no doubt it would make life easier in many ways. But quitting a job is always a stressful thing, especially since, even though I don’t wish to burn any bridges and would quit professionally (written two weeks’ notice, etc.), the bridges at this place will self-immolate because that’s the kind of place it is. Self-immolation is pretty much the name of the game there. Martyrdom rules. Not so sure I want to be a martyr.


*Albert Camus

Monday, October 01, 2007

Why is my RSS feed thingey not working?

"O bed! O bed! delicious bed!
That heaven upon earth to the weary head." *

So tired.
So very very tired.
Aren’t you supposed to be full of energy in your second trimester?
I am at twenty-one weeks and all I want to do – still – is sleep.

H returned from his trip Friday evening, safe and sound.
It’s good to have him back.
Someone else to yell at, er, care for the children.

I called off work Saturday – something I have not done in the almost three years I have worked there. I have taken vacation days, yes, but not just called and said, “Um, not coming in today.” Which is sort of a big deal as they have no back-up plan for if the Saturday librarian calls off. Panic ensues. I was so tired, I just didn’t care.

Then the in-law infestation yesterday. Which would have been perfectly fine except: 1) the entire event was timed around the Steelers game, about which I personally could not care less; and 2) do people not know when the hell to LEAVE? Hint: if your host has three small children and it’s already an hour past their usual bedtime (of which you are well aware), take your drunken self HOME. Pronto.

I know, I am an ungrateful wretch.
An exhausted, drooping, grumpy, ungrateful wretch.

Who had NO time at all to finish a book, or even read much at all, this past month. How did that happen?


*Thomas Hood, Miss Kilmansegg - Her Dream