Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"Somehow or other it came just the same!"

Yikes. Christmas Eve - it's grey and rainy here, with highs predicted in the 40s, so no chance of snow.

Three of my four boys are coughing like 80-year-old emphysematic men. The nebulizer adds a not-so-pleasant white noise hum to the proceedings.

My brother is expected this afternoon. I am prepared to stuff him full of turkey and wild rice stuffing and jam squares and gingerbread. I was going to make his favorite rum balls but I got overwhelmed - I knew when I was contemplating having the boys roll the rum balls for me that I had truly lost my mind and I punted on those.

Nonetheless, it's Christmas Eve, and somehow that old magic has wormed its way back into my heart - it may skedaddle while I am choking down a plethora of overcooked, cold seafood at my mother-in-law's "Feast" of Seven Fishes. People, tuna salad has NO PLACE on the Christmas Eve table. But for now, I have presents to wrap, and some last-minute gift deliveries to make (the people who make my coffee for me deserve a nice tin of cookies, as well as my friendly and protective mailman), and a Christmas Eve children's service at 430.

To my friends who are celebrating this year with new little people around: enjoy, and kiss that baby for me. The little ones lend a whole new delightful aspect to this holiday.

To all my Internet friends, you are dear to me, and I wish you all the merriest of Christmases.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"My secret weapon is PMS." *

Is THIS a surprise to any of you? Not to me, uh-uh. I mean, I like my husband and all, but c'mon, folks...we are talking sanity here...(it wasn't till halfway through the article that I realized the option to give up neither was, well, an option.)

In other, not-so-controversial news, both Stephanie Kallos (Broken for You) and (of slightly less importance) Wally Lamb have new books out. I bought the Kallos in hardback, following my usual strategy of giving my money to the authors I want to keep writing (some of you, I am thinking I had better just start writing you direct checks, hmmm?); I may buy the Lamb, but more likely will wait for the paperback.

Otherwise, I am reading Twilight. Shut up. A friend recommended I give it a second shot, and while I still find the heroine wildly whiny and annoying, and it reminds me of nothing so much as those serial novels my best friend in 7th grade and I used to write surreptitiously in math class, I can't complain that it's boring. Oh, no.

I survived Primo's birthday weekend, and am now heading determinedly into Christmas, head down, teeth gritted. Bring on the holiday merriment, goddamnit!

*Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Friday, December 12, 2008

"How can you be so stupid? How can you be so cruel?"*

I am awake this morning without a baby attached to me, or a toddler peeing in my bed, or a five-year-old worrying about polar bears, or...well, you get the idea. I am awake. Alone. In the kitchen, on my SECOND mug of hot tea. Pleasantly full of Italian bread and apricot jam.

Today will be better than yesterday was. I swear. I won't yell at my boys for asking for orange juice while I am buttering their toast, or requesting whipped cream on their hot chocolate while I slap together the eleventy gazillionth peanut butter sandwich of my motherly existence. I won't yell at them for asking for a red vitamin instead of a purple vitamin when they KNOW DAMN RIGHT WELL, GODDAMNIT, THAT THERE ARE NO RED VITAMINS LEFT ANDIAMBUYINGMORETODAYISWEARFORGOD'SSAKE!

I hate when I make them stare silently into their cereal bowls and stolidly zip up their jackets and trudge out the door to another day of school, instead of their being silly and loud and loony. And I want to chase them down and cover them with kisses and hug them, and cry.

I wonder if it's right or wrong to tell them that my brain doesn't always work right? Would this help them, or make it worse? It doesn't help ME, but then again, it's my brain.

I showered last night. I swallowed my pills. I slept. All these things have to matter. Yes, the holidays are upon us, but I am taking a deep breath and trying to ride it out. (I will resort to my illicit Valium stash if absolutely necessary.)

Today I have to go buy a new toaster. I should be able to handle this. How difficult can buying a toaster be? (I mean, after I return the one I bought last week because it burns all my toast - but isn't deep enough to burn the full slice...poor planning. Where was Product Development when this decision was made?)

I have a weekend full of odious...I mean, holiday events, sandwiched and stacked and draped all over each other. Full of people and pleasantries and cute singing children and cooing grandparents...oh God, I am tired already.

I'm fine. I really am. Just overwhelmed and dreading all the family holiday crap. Not my immediate little family (I actually love Christmas morning and attending hoopla with my boys). It's all the other obligations that drive me round the bend, that make me want to crawl into my bed and stay there with the duvet over my head till sometime 'round Valentine's Day.

Why didn't I just enter a convent? Or go quietly crazy like Mr. Rochester's wife, so I could live peacefully in the attic? I'll bet they didn't make HER come to Christmas Eve dinner at the in-laws'.


*Jane to Mr Rochester, "Jane Eyre" (1996)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"It's the most wonderful time of the year..."


Turned into this. And after I make another rectangle, I will attempt to connect them into a poncho for my niece. All you expert knitters out there, do NOT laugh. Or if you must - and I don't blame you - do it quietly. Thank you. My knitting ego is very fragile at the moment.

Also, I have to finish the poncho, and this by Christmas, so posting may be as light as it's been, until maybe just before Christmas.

Just be glad I didn't discover plastic canvas, or everybody'd be getting toilet paper cozies or something.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Man shall not live by bread alone..." *

If you don't eat anything all day because you are worried your stomach is still recovering from the Plague this weekend, and then decide to have tea and a couple of slices of toasted, buttered, and apricot-jammed fresh Italian bread for a snack at 4pm, and your baby downs an entire slice of such treated bread himself - don', what? Were the heck was I going with this? You wouldn't BLAME me, because this is delicious and almost good for you. Anyhoo, oh, yes, BREAD.

We have the best Italian bread ever, baked by a teeny bakery in the pseudo-burbs, called Mancini's. My mother-in-law will argue for Sanchioli's (but OF COURSE she's wrong, it's too mushy and soft), and I know people who swear by Rimini's (too crispy-crusted and oily), but I am here to tell you that Mancini's is the BEST. Period. End of discussion. (My baby would tell you the same but his mouth is full of bread and jam right now.)

Which brings me to my second point. (Ha! Like how I did that, acting like I HAD a point?)

Bread Alone by Judith Hendricks.
Wynter Morrison, once a promising baker's apprentice and talented breadmaker, is ditched by her obnoxious executive husband and takes off for Seattle, where she supports herself by working as a baker's assistant.

That's the bloodless synopsis. There are crusty (ha! I kill myself!) work colleagues and devoted old friends, and a quaint old apartment she makes her own, and a couple random quirky characters, and of course love interest(s), but really, all you need to know about this book are the following two facts:

1. It is perfect vacation reading. In fact, it is so perfect that that is where I discovered it. It was sitting on the bookcase in the rec room at our vacation cabin rental, next to the fine literature of Danielle Steele and Frank Peretti. (There was also a remarkably extensive collection of Silhouette romances.)
I picked it up on a lark on Saturday morning and gobbled it down in two days, which, with four boys, and hiking and fishing and making S'mores and birthday celebrations going on around me, is fairly impressive.

2. This book will make you hungry. Very hungry. I ate an entire Trader Joe's Pound Plus bar of milk chocolate with almonds, and the rest of the pan of Terzo's birthday brownies, in two days while reading it. So prepare yourself.

But with Mancini's (NOT Rimini's or Sanchioli's).
Just Mancini's, and, maybe, a little apricot jam.

*Matthew 4:4 (King James Version)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"My dear doctor, I’m surprised to hear you say that I am coughing very badly, because I have been practicing all night."*

So it's come to this.
I seem to be posting once a week.
I used to post once a DAY.

Is it that I am busier?
That I just don't care?
That Facebook has become, as another blogger put it, the lazy blogger's blog?

I guess I just don't have a lot to say, of any import or interest.
Here's what I got:

1. I started Meg Wolitzer's Ten Year Nap tonight. Tedious, self-absorbed, and didactic do not BEGIN to describe the book or its characters.

2. I also started Eva Ibbotsen's Island of the Aunts. I find Ibbotsen's books hit or miss, but this is a hit. Yes, it's a kid book but that may well be where my brain is these days.

3. I started knitting a poncho for my little niece - of course I picked different weight yarn than the pattern recommends, so I am winging the measurements. But it's a PONCHO. How specific could the measurements have to be? (I want to make one for myself but worry about the effects of a poncho on a full-grown woman.) And I don't know what I would do without Suse or Shirty for knitting advice. Thanks, you guys!

4. Huh. Were those gunshots?

5. I bought The Queen of Bedlam, The Amazing and True (or something) Adventures of the Hunt Sisters, another copy of Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black, and Sophie Kinsella's Cocktails for Three (only it's her other pseudonym...alter ego...whatever...) at the thrift store last week. And a video of "The Mighty Ducks" which we watched Friday night and enjoyed very much. Also Primo's third winter jacket, Quarto's first winter jacket, very cute rainboots for him, for when he's a bit older and can, um, WALK, and an awesome knitted sampler-type afghan for the couch.
And - SCORE! - a Liz Claiborne black cotton zip-up cardigan that fits perfectly, with the tags still on, for three dollars.

6. I wonder if there's any hot water left? With the stomach flu rampaging through the house in the past 2 days and the laundry going 24/7 - not to mention hosing down pukey little boys regularly - geez, I'd love a hot shower but I am not sure there's any hot water left for me.

7. If there's a snow day tomorrow, I may die.

8. That's about it.


9. Just 'cause I am not posting more often does not mean I lurve you all any less.

*John Curran Philpott (and no, I have no idea if he's real...)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come."*

When I was what is these days called a “tween,” I was enamored of orphan stories. Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Sarah Crewe and Mary Lennox and Pollyanna and Rose Campbell and Elizabeth Ann Putney. But much as I adored each and every one of these poor, parentless girls, my all-time favorite was Judy Abbott, of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs. Judy is plucked from an orphanage and sent to college where she wholeheartedly enjoys her studies and living life as a normal girl. Her education is paid for by a rich benefactor, one of the trustees of the orphanage, and in return she is obliged to write a duty letter occasionally, informing him of her progress in her studies. Instead, Judy enthusiastically adopts said trustee, pretending he is an elderly uncle, and writes him amusing, anecdotal letters (accompanied by adorable little sketches) about everything she is doing and learning and loving. These letters comprise the book Daddy Long Legs (the nickname is what she affectionately calls her “uncle.”)

Judy Abbott is exactly the sort of girl you'd want for your roommate, so she could involve you in all her adventures large and small. Her sunniness, openness, and enthusiasm make her a joy and a delight to be around. The novel is comfort reading of the first degree and I have no idea how many times I have reread it, and its sequel, Dear Enemy.

Until I opened The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yesterday evening, I had not encountered such an enchanting heroine detailing her life in letters since my first encounter with Judy. And now Juliet Ashton has captured my heart and my imagination. Written in the form of letters, the book details the German occupation of Guernsey Island, and the ways in which its occupants, cut off from the world for five years, cope. Juliet, an author interested in writing the island’s story, is charming and funny and wry. The book is completely captivating; I could not stop reading. I was in love, with Juliet, with the island, with its inhabitants, with Sidney, Juliet’s editor, and with Sophie, Sidney’s sister and Juliet’s best friend. And indeed, there is a feisty and engaging orphan featured as well. I don’t want to tell you more – I want you to go read it. I want to buy my own copy to have and reread and look at on my shelf. It’s a wonderful little book. (And I have to say it would make a fabulous Christmas gift for anyone on your list for whom you have absolutely no idea what to buy.)

And now, just as Juliet points out how wonderful it is that a book captures you with a tiny detail which leads you to another book and a detail in that book leads you to a third, I must go read up on the history and inhabitants of Guernsey, embarking on yet another tangential treasure hunt.


*Victor Hugo

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I don't want to go to PTA meetings." *

I generally like to craft my posts.

I disdain those rambling, stream-of-consciousness, badly spelled posts that most people, including my husband, think of when they think of your typical everyday blogger.
I view my blog as a venue for my writing; it affords me practice and polishing and often valuable feedback.

However, my life is caroming out of control right now, nothing major, just, you know, life with four children and a workaholic husband and the holidays looming (and we all know how I loooove the holidays), and as I hang gamely onto the reins and wildly mix my metaphors, I offer you a random, streaming post straight from my consciousness. Although I am pretty sure everything is correctly spelled.

I am reading:
Volumes seven and eight of the Fables graphic novels. Unfortunately, I got my husband hooked on them, so I am now waiting for Mr Slowpoke (who is plodding through Grapes of Wrath at the same time) to finish volume eight so I CAN READ MY OWN LIBRARY BOOKS.
The Monk Downstairs. I am enjoying the fine writing, and the steady character development.
Laura Lippmann’s No Good Deeds. I continue to heart Tess and find Crow annoying and smug and self-righteous and immature.
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard. If you liked Rosamunde Pilcher’s big books (Shell Seekers, Coming Home), or Penny Vicenzi’s Spoils of Time trilogy, you would enjoy this, too, the first in Howard’s Cazalet series.

Books I have sitting on my nightstand: Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music, Allan Moore’s Watchmen, Georgette Heyer’s Venetia.

Books I must pickup from the library: that book about the potato peels, Fun Home, and Telex from Cuba, recommended by Lauren Groff, whom I emailed recently about something on her blog, and she emailed me back, a lovely, funny response. I love her even more now. And I loved her quite a bit already, if you recall. (Monsters of Templeton - have you read it? No? What the heck are you waiting for??)

Things going on this week: a movie the boys want to see showing at their school one evening, courtesy of the PTA; a members-only preview of the model railroad Christmas set up at the science center; the usual piano, drumming, etc. lessons.
A meeting regarding the gifted ed pilot program at the boys’ school, same night as the trains.
H’s band practice, the same night as the movie.

I MUST go grocery shopping.
And I have a ham I bought totally spur-of-the-moment last week that I must bake.
I need to have my new glasses readjusted AGAIN.
I have envelopes to deliver to the PTA mailbox for my husband, and envelopes to pick up.

And I am dreading school pickup this week. Because – have I told you about my run-in with smoking parents at school pickup? No? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, but suffice it to say that I am dreading picking up the boys after school. Because I can only be bold and brave for so long, and then I just want to curl into a ball and cry.

I want this bumper sticker:

But now I must gird my loins, bundle the snotty baby and my three-year-old Dalmatian-costume-wearing boy, and go buy eggs and bread and milk and butter and applesauce and diapers. Mostly diapers.

Here, have some baby butt:

*Stevie Nicks

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"We don't understand life any better at forty than at twenty, but we know it and admit it."*

Lots of people I know have grand plans for their lives. I have political activist friends who put their money (and time and effort) where their mouths are. I have deeply, devoutly religious friends who try, every day, to touch lives and make the world a better place. Heck, I am married to a serial altruist who works like a fiend at his job not just because he loves it but because it makes a difference, a real, definable difference, in the lives of disabled children and stricken adults.

I, on the other hand, am a slacker. Left to my own devices and barring the need for income or effort on the children’s behalf, I could be very content lying around on my couch all day, reading multiple novels concurrently, noodling on Facebook, racking up ginormous scores on WordTwist, eating takeout, napping regularly, and exerting myself pretty much only to go run or do some desultory yoga.

I have come to terms with this aspect of my personality. Fairly early, as it turns out, as most people face up to their basic ordinariness round about that crisis-inducing 40th birthday (or, if you’re really an overachiever, 35th).

In my early 20s, however, I decided that I was never going to take Broadway or the design world by storm – nor did I especially want to, considering the level of effort and concentration it would have required, and I settled, more happily than not, into a regular and relatively lucrative career of painting scenery. Which it turns out I did very well, with little effort on my part. Yay for undiscovered natural talents.

When I got bored with that, I somehow managed to stumble - through the efforts of an old friend I ran into at a funeral, of all places – into technical writing, and more specifically, medical software manual writing. Stultifying as that sounds to most normal people, I found it fascinating. I loved it. But a few years and two babies later, our lovely little documentation company was bought out by a trucking firm (I know. WTF?) and I quit, to go to grad school.

I finished grad school by (sensibly, yes, but also) placidly accepting that any woman with a husband, a house, and two children under the age of three cannot possibly devote all her energy to her schoolwork. In fact, she is lucky she gets to do it at all, let alone agonize over it and redo it and tweak it till it's perfect. Somehow, I managed to graduate with honors anyway, and it was time to get a real job. Quel horror (and no, I don’t speak French. Or Italian, or Spanish. Too much work involved...)

Yet I once again somehow landed a plum job working fifteen hours a week, ostensibly doing research for a professor and organizing his research and papers, but in reality, working about five hours a week and spending the rest of my time with my co-workers, meandering over to the park to buy Thai food off the trucks or running down to Starbucks for a “quick coffee.”

I got my first “real” job at a local university library, but I worked only part-time. When a full-time position opened up, I was not even tempted to apply. The full-time librarians spend a lot of time and energy playing politics and attending meetings; I liked working the desk. It entertained me to track down obscure German medical journals for the ILL department or to set up foreign students’ laptops for wireless access in Japanese. I didn’t HAVE to do any of these things but the fact that I COULD amused me. They would have amused me far less if I had been required to do them. Because that’s just how I roll, dudes.

And then, you know, I had another baby because if you have four children at home to care for, no one expects you to get a REAL job. And you can go get coffee any time you want; hell, you are practically expected to.

I dealt with my feelings of insecurity and inadequacy about my inherent laziness early on, which is about the only time I was ahead of the curve. I spent many of my teenage years striving to be extraordinary and all it did, in hindsight, was stress me out. (Well, yes, there's the handy degree from a venerable educational institution, but even that, really? Dumb luck.) I'm a fairly ordinary kind of girl - reasonably intelligent, cute enough when I put forth a little effort, sometimes - but only sometimes - very funny...I have taught myself to be more easygoing, more relaxed, to chill and try to enjoy and appreciate my life more. And I am truly okay with my ordinariness.

I approach my forties (two birthdays from now) – the birthday of crisis and sturm und drang – fairly contented with my lot in life.

Which is fortunate, as I really don’t have the wherewithal to do much about changing it.

*Jules Renard

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

“Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself.”

Mr Gandhi, I must respectfully disagree.

This morning I am proud and awed and a little giddy. I feel ridiculously optimistic and hopeful. I love my country more than ever. I am so proud to be an American, more than ever before.

And because I am nearly speechless with joy, I offer a meme. It's all my euphoria can handle.


Where is your mobile phone?
Plugged in to the charger on the hall table exactly where it belongs.

Where is your significant other?
Work. Where he is the majority of his waking hours. Sigh.

Your hair colour?
Brown with lots of grey.

Your mother?

Your father?
Him too.

Your favorite thing?
Kisses from my babies. Books. Rum. Salty, crunchy things. My new jeans.

Your dream last night?

Your dream goal?
Survival into their teen years…

The room you’re in?
Coffee shop.

Your hobby?
Reading. Quilting. Running.

Your fear?

Where do you want to be in six years?
In the middle of President Obama’s second term.

Where were you last night?
In Gina’s living room, watching history being made.

What you’re not?
Graceful. Poised. Chic.

One of your wish-list items?
A flatscreen big-ass TV so my husband will stop rearranging the furniture every time he watches TV. Or maybe glasses for my husband.

Where you grew up?
New Jersey.

The last thing you did?
Ordered a tea and a pastry

What are you wearing?
Obama '08 t-shirt, my new sweetheart-cut Old Navy jeans, my Keen Mary Janes

Your TV?
A small, old TV that would be just fine except for the above…

Your pets?
2 cats. I miss my fish.

Your computer?
Dell Inspiron laptop.

Your mood?

Missing someone?
Yeah – some of my ex-pat friends whom I would love to have here with me to celebrate

Your car?
A minivan

Something you’re not wearing?
A jacket

Favourite shop?
Book. Thrift.

Your summer?
Hot, long, but fun.

Love someone?
Lots of people, especially today, but mostly my boys. All of them. All five.

Your favourite colour?

When is the last time you laughed?
Just now,, joshing the mailman

Last time you cried?
Last night. Tears of joy and awe and admiration.

Friday, October 31, 2008

"From ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night..."

We had Perry the Platypus.

We had his evil archnemesis, Dr Doofenschmirtz.

We had Spiderm—
No, wait, Bob the Buil---
No, wait, ME ---
Ah, finally! A pumpkin! Of course!

(We looked like that old SNL Superhero Party sketch, rolling down the street.
Or the beginning of a bad joke: “A platypus, a pumpkin, and a bat walk into a bar…”)

We had a grumpy little teething baby we left at home with Daddy, handing out Twizzlers (Can you tell who bought the candy in this house?)

We had a couple very pleasant couple of hours trick-or-treating.

The house on the corner gave out full-sized candy bars. (Incontheivable!)
My French friend C sat on her porch playing her flute – perhaps a traditional Gallic celebration?
Her neighbor Michael sported an orange prison jumpsuit stenciled with the words “Shut down Guantanamo.”
He let the children try his surprisingly lovely-sounding drum crafted from an empty propane container and then accompanied them on his clarinet.

There were blocks with no lights on at all. And there were blocks with every house ablaze, carved pumpkins and spooky scarecrows, at least one seizure-inducing light show, and lots of little old Italian ladies cooing over cute costumes.

This was the scariest house.

I saw a pea pod, several ninjas, umpteen princesses, the entire cast of the Wizard of Oz, two puppies, a turtle, a bat, a few little devils, lots of superheroes, a cowboy, and hardly any uncostumed attitudinal teenagers.

Sadly there are no MalloCups and NO Mounds bars in my kids’ Halloween haul. Plenty of “safe” (peanut-free) candy (Laffy Taffy, Smarties, gum). The usual chocolate suspects – KitKats, Hershey bars, and a couple rogue Three Musketeers. The groan-inducing raisins and pretzels. My digestive tract has lately informed me that chocolate is NOT its friend, so that’s all ok after all.

After trick or treating, there was a parade led by drummers up the street to the church on the corner. There was an organ concert, a costume contest, magic tricks, hot apple cider and treats, and if the parade is anything to go by, lots and lots of giggly, punchy, sugar-crazed kids.

I have some exhausted, sugared-up, partied-out kiddoes to put to bed, as our church bells toll in the distance and our glow-in-the-dark skeletons dangle from their porch light gibbets.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"The person who knows HOW will always have a job. The person who knows WHY will always be his boss."*

Is what happens when the mother of four boys gains a little niece.
And goes looking for turquoise sweatpants for a Halloween costume, at Old Navy.
When all the adorable little summer dresses are on sale.

It's rather sad, isn't it?
I got gift receipts so my sister-in-law can return whatever she hates or doesn't want or need. But gosh, it was so much fun picking out clothes for a little girl!

Is the pile of books (at least some of them) traveling with me.
Not rather sad. Just sad.

*Alanis Morissette

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Is love a tender thing? it is too rough, Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn."*

I whipped through the next (or should I say last) Tess Monaghan novel, By a Spider’s Thread. Accustomed as I was to the slower pace of the previous books, and how that pace lent itself to setting down the book and picking it up hours later, then setting it down, picking it up, and on and on, this book took me by surprise. I sat down with it after I put the last boy to bed, and at midnight forced myself to close it and go to sleep.

It’s the sort of book that, when I was single and unencumbered by anything other than, oh, a paying job at which I had to appear in a somewhat timely fashion each morning, I would have sat up till I finished it, chewing off every fingernail I had in the process.

Beyond the usual entertaining characters, this book had an exciting plot, not just a coincidental amalgam of crime and discovery of culprits.

And there was real chemistry between Tess and her client, the dark, handsome, and sophisticated Orthodox Jew Mark Rubin. In the previous book, I often felt that Tess had so much more in common with her co-worker, a redheaded ex-cop who was a little too earnest for Tess’s tastes, than she does with her boyfriend, Crow. But it wasn’t until I was immersed in this one, following Mark’s and Tess’s chase of his runaway wife and appreciating the witty repartee and emotional connection between the two of them, that it occurred to me that I know next to nothing about the supposedly devoted and loving Crow, who seems to disappear from Tess’s life every other novel. And the little I do know leads me to believe he is emotionally immature and a bit…um….boring. We are TOLD about Crow but we don't experience his interactions with Tess all that often. Because of this narrative quirk, it's hard to judge the level of rapport and affection between those two (unlike Tess's interactions with, say, her Aunt Kitty or Tyner, which are full of both emotion and information). And I am beginning to feel like it's because there's just not a whole lot to Crow.

So. Do I hope that Crow comes round once again, so Tess is happy, or do I hope he stays away and she winds up in a somewhat implausible but much more fulfilling relationship with Mark or some other worthy guy? Because, as you well know, Lippman consults with me. Yep. Me and Laura – like THIS.

Harrumph. What do I know from love and/or romance? *I* would have happily sent Ethan off with Mattie (with their own stupid pickle dish), and helped silly young Romeo sneak away with his Juliet.

But then I also would have pushed damn Anna under the train myself….

*Romeo & Juliet, Act I, sc. 4

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

“If Beethoven had been killed in a plane crash at the age of 22, it would have changed the history of music, and of aviation.”*

I am alone in my house for the next six hours. Well, except for the plumber, but he hardly counts. The only function he serves (other than replacing our main water valve, I mean) is keeping me honest. In other words, I do have work to do, and I will do it. I won’t nap or lie around twiddling my thumbs. That’s fine. I like working when it’s quiet and peaceful and I can make innumerable cups of tea for myself without having to get anyone else anything.

But one must prioritize, and here is my dilemma: I am going out of town next weekend. Our trip begins Friday morning and we return Monday evening. I have formal dinner obligations each evening, and two different recreational tour type things going on for several hours both Saturday and Sunday. However, I have two six-hour plane rides (albeit with a transfer on each). I have a space of several hours the first morning when H must attend a business meeting. Other than a lengthy massage, I have no other plans, so I am guessing that even with eight hours sleep each night, I will have a minimum of, say, two hours a day to lie by the pool and read.


I have three books in my hold queue at the library but likely will not get any of them before next weekend: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, recommended enthusiastically by my friend L, Kate Atkinson’s newest, When Will There Be Good News?, and a book just reviewed by the usually reliable Laura Miller from Salon, Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

I am picking up today Georgette Heyer’s Venetia and Laura Lippman’s By a Spider’s Thread, but anticipate finishing these before leaving.

I am staring at a living room bookcase and have several unread books there: The Worst Journey in the World, The Falls (I HATE JCO, why do I own this?), Orhan Pamuk’s Snow, John Thorne’s cooking essays, Mouth Wide Open, review copies of Alice Sebold’s Almost Moon (am I the only person in creation not to have read Lovely Bones?) and Richard Price’s Lush Life. But none of these scream, Read me!

I am hearing some buzz about Edgar Sawtelle, anyone know anything about it? Jumpha Lahiri has something new, but it’s short stories, and I don’t feel like short stories. I haven’t read Meg Wolitzer’s Ten Year Nap yet, and I don’t even own Salman Rushdie’s most recent, The Enchantress of Florence (his last few novels have been majorly disappointing anyway).

And for God's sake, don't tell me to give Nightingales of Troy another go just yet.

Help. Me.

I can manage to find three presentable formal dresses, and reasonably decent hiking clothes, and a new nosepiece for my glasses, all with a minimum of fuss.

But the only thing I am more worried about than the plane crashing is what the heck I am reading when it goes down.

*Tom Stoppard

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"I don't see myself as beautiful, because I can see a lot of flaws." - Angelina Jolie

Yeah, like you LIE.


I just returned from my more or less weekly grocery shop.

Never mind that, even with coupons and sales, my grocery bill is almost a hundred dollars more than it's typically been.

Never mind that Terzo is potty-training and I spent the entire hour waiting for a river of pee to flow beneath the cart.

What REALLY pissed me off, however, was the InStyle (or maybe it was People) magazine featuring sleek and lovely Angelina Jolie on the front cover. In a hot black dress, gorgeous high heels, rivers of lustrous mahogany hair, and two more lines added to the tattoos of her children's birth longitudes and latitudes.

And the headlines that screamed: "Angelina looks better than ever!"

But mostly what pissed me off? Her modest claim that she dropped her 50 pounds of babyweight by "breastfeeding and chasing [her] children."

Well, Angie, YOU are a big fat (well, not so fat) liar.

You know what? *I* breastfeed, and *I* run around like a freaking lunatic after my four children, and I *still* could stand drop 30 pounds. (And before you ask, I used to be thin. Like 5'8", 110 pounds thin.) In fact, I allow Jillian Michaels to kick my ass on a regular basis, and I do yoga every morning, and I run a few days a week, and yes, I am looking pretty decent, but my body does not resemble Angelina Jolie's body in any way whatsoever.

Well, except my hair. But mine's just lustrous because it needs washing.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"That does put a damper on our relationship." *

Ladies and gentleman (er, Joke): I give you the unreadable, the unfinishable, and the merely dull.

Nightingales of Troy - Alice Fulton. I picked up this wonderfully-titled, charmingly-covered book of related short stories on a whim. I read the flapcopy and predicted it would be one of those sleeper books. You know, the one all the indie bookstores are handselling like crazy. And I may well be right. I found her writing evocative, and the first story was enveloping. But, first, I think I always try too hard to remember stuff when I read “interrelated” short stories instead of just going with the flow, and this book did not make that easy. Secondly, the next story, about the degenerate priest? Totally derailed me so that I no longer cared. The book valiantly tried to pull me back in with the story about the girl meeting her fiancee’s parents, but at that point, in my current mindset, I was lost. Maybe not forever, but for now. (Caveat: Gina is reading this and I believe greatly enjoying it. Feel free to tell me I am way wrong, dear.)

Gods in Alabama –Joshilyn Jackson. Having read The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and liking it a lot, I started Jackson’s first novel. I found it very slow going. The plot was modeled on a story game two characters play in the book, so that was a cool bit of meta-ness, but mostly, I found it predictable. Since I know Jackson grows more proficient, I will definitely try her other novels. This one had its moments, but overall was a disappointment. Also? I found the protagonist incredibly self-righteous. Yawn.

I had three minutes to browse the library’s New Books section where I found a paperback about a scholar who is delving into her family’s history, revolving around the Salem witch trials. Kinda like The Lace Reader which was very good. I tend to enjoy those academic mysteries (like Possession and Lady of the Snakes), so great, right? Except that, when I told Gina about it and she looked it up on Amazon, it came up on a Christian website, from a small imprint of a major publisher which specializes in Christian fiction. Um, no thanks, I will pass. Having read enough Grace Livingston Hill in junior high to satisfy my penchant for both romance and Christian values ruining perfectly good novels, I returned it unread, and a little disappointed.

An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. Not really fair to slot this in the unthinkable or the unreadable. I read it, like all Maisie Dobbs books, in manageable increments because too much of Maisie in one sitting can be stultifying. It was as enjoyable at the time as the others in the series, but just as forgettable. I find it more interesting to track the happenings in the characters’ lives (Billy and his family are emigrating to Scotland, and Penelope’s (that’s not right. What IS her name?) sons get kicked out of boarding school!) than I do following the ersatz mysteries. But I do believe Winspear intends just that, so that’s fine. In fact, while trying to track down the best friend’s name, I found this comment, which, review-wise, nails Revenge and all the other Maisie books precisely on their heads: An Incomplete Revenge is an old-fashioned book reminiscent of very early Agatha Christie--there are lots of coincidences, a complicated plot with a gather-them-altogether ending, and rather stereotypical characters. And in spite of all that, the novel does have, like Christie's, a certain narrative power.

Still Life with Husband - Lauren Fox. I received this as a review copy and would happily email the editor that I am FINALLY reviewing it if I hadn’t lost all my email addies in the Big Crash. It’s a decent book – the writer is skilled (although should you be able to tell that it’s largely autobiographical? I am not sure if that is a flaw or not…), and the characters are developed enough (mostly into big fat boring jerks, but nonetheless), except for the heroine. I felt like she was a caricature of a woman carrying on an affair, (and of course, she is the one character you want to be much more fully dimensional, in a book exploring the complexities of emotion and deed that lead to an extramarital affair). I confess I found both the husband and the boyfriend jaw-achingly boring (but that may just be because I don’t share the author’s taste in men). Fox does nail the excitement and thrill of carrying on the initial flirtation; once the affair was consummated, it started feeling a little more like a Sweet Valley High novel. But maybe that’s because, oh, the cliché! the boyfriend suffered a fit of morals at that point and the heroine swooned around pining after him and breaking the husband’s heart. Oh, and, OF COURSE, she winds up pregnant (saw THAT coming at around page ten). It’s not a bad read, but there are certainly much better books on adultery out there on which to waste your time (Sarah Duncan’s Adultery for Beginners, Tom Perrotta’s Little Children, hell, Madame Bovary).

Also, I must point out that the cover and title (much like Adultery for Beginners) made it very, let’s say, awkward for me to leave this lying around the house while I read it. Of course, that alone is probably a decent indicator that I am not conducting a raging affair. As you know, opportunities to conduct romantic illicit affairs abound for the sleep-deprived, milk-stained, rumpled mom-of-four. Seriously, some men totally dig nursing bras and Teddy Grahams.

Just ask Quarto.

*Westley, "The Princess Bride"

Thursday, October 09, 2008

“I create feelings in others that they themselves don’t understand.”*

When last I left you, lo, these many eons ago, I was reading The Sugar House, another Tess Monaghan mystery from Laura Lippman. I am two more down the line now, having ploughed through In a Strange City and now working on The Last Place. Tess continues to engage me, although I still think the actual mysteries are a tad weak. It doesn’t matter, the characters are interesting, and Tess grows with each novel. Plus, they are easily picked up and put down and picked up and put down and picked up and…you get the idea. (I think they would make fun movies, but trying to cast Crow is tough. Anyone who has read them, help me out, would you?)

A few years ago now, I whizzed through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, and have since proselytized about them to anyone and everyone I know with even half a brain (and I know lots of people with half brains, says the pot). But the graphic novel switch switched off until Gina lent me Bill Willingham’s Fables graphic novels. Not as intricate or deep as Sandman, they are nonetheless fun reads, and I read the first three on vacation. They ARE perfect vacation reading. The violence was gratuitous and the love story unbelievable (I fell madly in love with Gaiman’s Morpheus – what woman didn’t? but while I know I was supposed to be in love with Bigby Wolf, I most decidedly am not), but overall, they are great fun. I especially enjoy some of the more obscure Fables that show up – John Barleycorn and Bluebeard, for example. I just started the fourth, starring Little Boy Blue (yes, he of horn fame, who now auditions for gigs in NY blues clubs).

People, I cannot seem to finish City of Thieves even though I think it an admirably well-plotted and written book. I AM going to finish it if it kills me. WHAT is wrong with me? I am reading too many books at once, you suggest? Hmmm, well, possibly, as I am also halfway through the immensely enjoyable The Grand Sophy. Poppy’s most strongly suggested Georgette Heyer novel is like Jane Austen’s more fun, floofier novels (Emma, say, as opposed to S&S). And like every single creature in the novel, I myself am just an eensy bit in love with the irrepressible and vivacious Sophy.

Also, because I was too sore to walk up the steps after letting Jillian Michaels purportedly shred but actually kick my ass, I started Joanna Trollope’s newest, Friday Nights, which is coming along swimmingly if forgettably, just like every other Joanna Trollope novel I have ever read.

But wait, there’s more. To help Primo with his first-ever book report assignment, I am giggling and reading (and giggling some more) Eva Ibbotsen’s Which Witch? What a hoot!

In my next post: books I simply could not start, finish, or even think about any longer.

The End.

*Lightning McQueen, "Cars"

Monday, October 06, 2008

"The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." *

David Foster Wallace committed suicide a couple weeks ago.

I like Wallace well enough - his essay on cruise ships in his collection, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments was sheer brilliance, totally hilarious. I didn't want him to be my boyfriend (like Gina did) but he was a talented writer with a lot of appeal; he definitely had found his niche, and no one should die at the age of 46. Too young, too talented.

So, yeah. Sad. But not like if one of my idols like AS Byatt or David Mitchell had died, or if a writer I think of as a friend had passed away, even from natural causes. But three weeks later, I am still thinking about him. Just about every day, at least once, he crosses my insipid little mind, and I feel sad for him, and confused, and also, overwhelmingly, empathetic. I GET IT.

I am not saying I am suicidal – far from it, actually. (Besides, what sort of mother would kill herself when her children are this small? The guilt alone would deter me. My mom died when I was 28, and I was a wreck then.)

I am tired and often overwhelmed and frequently frustrated. I wish my house was cleaner, and I am sick of cooking chicken and pasta, and pasta and chicken, and more chicken, and more pasta, because those are the only things everyone will eat, and I wish that I had my act together enough to have up baby gates already for my crawling infant, and the patience to follow my three-year-old around with a bottle of Febreze, a handful of rags, MORE clean underwear, and a smile on my face.

I wish I could sit down at my computer and write every day for several hours instead of in snippets and snatched moments throughout the day while the boys fight and the baby fusses and I have to simultaneously engage in pretend dialogue with a shark handpuppet.

I can’t recall the last book I finished – which is extremely sad, and those of you who know me well know this is probably the most disturbing admission I feel I have ever made. I have never ever before in my life not had time to read. I have sneered at mothers who said they didn’t have time to read. “Why,” I would proudly declare, “it’s all I do. I eat, I sleep, I breathe, I read.” Well, not anymore. (And the sleeping isn’t all that consistent either.)

I get migraines consistently, and wake up with a headache probably four days out of seven.

But despite all this, life is ok. Often even more than ok. I have many hours, even days, of happiness and fun and absolute joy with my babies. I don’t hate my husband (most of the time) and sometimes I even like him a bunch. I have several close friends whom I even get to see occasionally, and several reliable and wonderful babysitters, and a fun (if slightly crazy) family. I have my Facebook pals, and my bloggie buddies, and a dear friend several thousand miles away whom I have never met but I love like crazy anyway.

So here’s what upsets me. Yes, Wallace’s death upsets me, and also, the fact that it went largely unremarked except by the literary community. But what sticks with me, and keeps coming back to haunt me, leaving a stone in the pit of my stomach, is Elizabeth Wurtzel’s quote about Wallace’s suicide:

"So here is the miserable truth that those of us who are given to depression are forced to face when David Foster Wallace commits suicide: It didn’t and doesn’t turn out well. There is no happy ending to the story of sorrow if you are born with a predilection for despair. The world is, after all, a coarse and brutal and cruel place. It’s only a matter of how long you can live with it."

Her words display the bare, unvarnished truth for all to see and acknowledge. And it makes me want to lie down on the floor somewhere dark and warm, and cry.
Because it came to me this morning, finally, that these words, even more than Wallace’s actual death, are what has been dogging me. These words, and the truth underlying them, that I indeed was born with a “predilection to despair,” leave me acknowledging that what’s been wrong with me lately can’t just be attributed to lack of sleep and not enough time to myself, although those things certainly contribute. The reason I haven’t wanted to blog or write or read or exercise or really do much of anything is because I am cycling through my zombie phase. As I have done all my life, and as I will continue to do, I presume. And when I am in that place, and realize that’s where I am, I am overcome with both melancholy and exhaustion. Because it doesn’t ever end. It eases, it changes, it ebbs and flows, but it never ever ends. It’s only a matter of how long you can live with it.

*David Foster Wallace

Thursday, October 02, 2008

“When a man arrives at great prosperity, God did it; when he falls into disaster, he did it himself.”*

Hey all.

Accompanying my laptop's death was the disappearance of all my contact info.

So...if you email me, or plan to ever, or have in the past and still care to hear from me, PLEASE shoot me an email at

So I can rebuild my life - er, my contacts info - from the ground up.
Thank you.

Post coming soon, I promise.

A real one.
With content and, you know, thoughts, and all.
About books and stuff.

*Mark Twain

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"They say one of a baby's first non-verbal forms of communication is pointing. Clicking must be somewhere just after that."

Oh, people.

If your computer ever implodes and contracts some sort of weirdo virus and downloads porn (really!) and all sorts of other nasty stuff and then displays the Blue Screen of Death, and then you call Dell (via India) and they are more concerned with your expired warranty than helping you, and then they also tell you that you should have in your possession an actual system recovery disk without which you can do nothing...and so you rip your house apart looking for the dang thing and you find two of them but neither is for YOUR computer...but then it turns out your husband knows enough to know that your system recovery disk is actually ON your hard drive...and then he backs up all your files but forgets your Outlook address book and any of your Firefox bookmarks....and then you have to sneak around to get your hands on a copy of Windows 2007 because you used an employee copy perfectly legally from your old job but you no longer work there...and your version of Word 2003 requires a key you don't have handy so you can't write the blog post you have been meaning to write for the past two weeks...not that you've really had time to read anything what with attending funerals and cooking dinners for unappreciative children and all...and you finally have time but then the baby wakes up screaming exactly twenty minutes after you have finally gotten the other three boys to bed...?

If this happens to you?

Have another drink.
Or two.

Or five.

It worked for me.

So far.


Saturday, September 13, 2008

"...the way to have them live on is to never stop loving them."*

My Aunt K died last night. It was probably expected by some (she was in her mid-eighties and had not been especially well these past two years), but a demented cousin withheld critical info from the family, and it came as a shock to me. I will - I WANT - to write a post about my aunt, but not right now, as I am planning a trip home for the funeral. She was amazing and wonderful, and I loved her very much.

And in other, much less important news: my laptop bit it yesterday - apparently I did something to my security settings and it downloaded a virus (along with all sorts of other nasty, icky stuff), and then the Blue Screen of Death appeared. I can't open the OS, not even in Safe Mode. And my warranty is expired. (And of course - OF COURSE - there was a half-edited dissertation on there, not backed up because I wasn't finished with it yet. Sigh.)

So I will be out of commission, and contact, for a bit.

The silver lining in the laptop situation is that the demise of the laptop has forced me to do other things with my time (since the desktop is ALL. THE. WAY. UP. on the third floor.) So I have finished reading two books, and am almost done two more, and have started another. So I will have lots to tell you when I do return.

(I am waiting for the silver lining to appear around Aunt K's death. Perhaps it's that I will get my two littlest guys to Jersey to meet the rest of my ancient aunts and uncles.)


My dear Aunt K
1920-something - September 12, 2008
(Her birthday is today, 9/13; as near as we can figure, she was 83 or 84.)

*"The Crow"

Monday, September 08, 2008

"Most men do not spend a lot of time fretting about the size of their pants."*

Fact #287,952 it is good to know about one's husband:

He fits into size 16 women's jeans.

In fact, they are too big for him.

Fortunately (for me but also for him), they are too big for me as well.

They join their other large siblings to take the one-way trip to Goodwill.

*Dave Barry

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"His heart was three sizes too small..."

I am a rotten person.
I know this about myself.
I am not kind or loving or particularly nice. I try to make people feel welcome in my home but the graciousness and ease of the natural hostess do not come easily to me.
I tend to yell at my kids more than cuddle them, and my husband has actually complained about my utter lack of physical affection.
I am fairly self-absorbed. I am anti-social and most nights would rather sit at home with a book than go out with friends, regardless of how wonderful my friends are (and miraculously, I do seem to have wonderful friends who put up with me for unbeknownst-to-me reasons).
I tend to like smart people and patronize stupid people.
I am most definitely an elitist. I assure you, Obama's got nothing on me.

I know all these things about myself. I am mostly ok with them because I have tried to fix the ones that bother me (the hostess one) and don't really care about some of them (the elitist part).

But I shocked myself with my reaction this morning to the following incident:

An elderly woman hobbling down the path to her car stopped and made a point of calling to my husband, "Sir! Sir, I was watching you in church and watching you just now, and you are a terrific father, a fine father. I am sure you're a wonderful husband and son too. But I was watching you, and you are a wonderful father."

Did I swell with pride (because H is indeed a fine father, indeed, more than a fine father, an exemplary father)?
Did I mentally pat myself on the back for picking such a good man and having the foresight to marry him?

I pretty much ignored the entire little incident (in my defense, I had my arms full of slobbering, crying baby at the moment) and I thought - snarled - to myself, "What the f*&! am I, chopped liver?"


Thursday, September 04, 2008

"He was observant of a world he didn't understand but he told a wonderful story."*

"This [crack in the sidewalk] looks like a shark."

"These are little pancakes!" (No, I have no clue what he means...)

"Mickey Mouse!"

"Idy likes the sun."

"Quarto lost his hat!" (half a block back...)

"Mommy's wearing her new shoes."

"People live here now." (The house finally sold.)

"This one has a sign now!" (House next door is now up for sale.)


"This [walking backwards] is fun."

And the question is...?

*Cuba Gooding, Jr.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"I lost on Jeopardy, baby..."

Another gimme, but I am warming up. Thanks for playing. And somebody please give me a link to Eleanor so I can read her.

Today's answers:

A (childless) neighbour who parks his car in front of my house. Necessitating shepherding four kids across the street or carrying groceries down the block.

The neverending noise of lawncare implements.

The pool closed yesterday; temps this week are predicted to be near 90.

The rate at which my children outgrow their shoes.

They inform me of this at 8 am on a gym day.

Night terrors.

Scratched DVDs from the library.

I can’t renew library DVDs online.

Seg’s tendency to preface Every. Single. Thing. he says with “Mommy?”

Terzo‘s reluctance for diaper changes but his equal reluctance for potty-training.

Tomorrow: Something else clever. Trust me.
And has Liz had her baby yet?

*Weird Al Yankovic

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Brown paper packages tied up with string..."*

In an effort to kickstart my hibernating writing mojo, I am trying a few different things (remember the boxes gimmick?)

The first is the 100 Word Blog Post. Kim swiped it from someone I don't read, and I am swiping it from Kim. (If I got the genealogy wrong, I apologize.)

I am thinking of coupling it with a Jeopardy-style quiz (although all I can think of is, "Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?")

Here we go, the first outing. Leave the answer (in the form of a question, natch) in comments:

Turkey Hill Coconut Cream Pie and Baskin-Robbins Nutty Coconut ice creams.

BLTs, homegrown tomatoes dripping juice down my wrists, with a glass of iced tea, some SunChips, and organic carrots.

Bacardi cocktails topped off with seltzer. (I do feel a little funny drinking a pink drink.)

Ricky Gervaise and “Extras.”

More specifically, Gervaise’s wonderful laugh. Simply hearing it makes me happy.

Cooler evenings.

Cynthia Kaplan’s Leave the Building Quickly

The Baby rocking back and forth and then flinging himself headlong to gain more ground in his quest to circumvent the first floor.

Segundo trouncing H and Primo at real Monopoly.


*C'mon, this was a gimme.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands, I used to go see on the landing in the summer."*


The pool closes this weekend. And the temps go up to 85+ on Wednesday. Of course.

Reading Maisie Dobbs (still), Laura Lippman (still), and Cynthia Kaplan, who I may be just the eensiest bit in love with. Her essays ring so true (the one about her grandma with Alzheimer's is pure genius).

Following political stuff pretty closely right now, and am so proud of Obama. I think he is going to win, and I think that his presidency will be historic in more ways than just the one that gets touted in the mass media.

Wanting coconut ice cream. And a few consecutive hours to read and think and write. And maybe some Chex Mix. Also, a few limes (which I also forgot at the grocery store) to try my hand at mojitos.

Spent the day yesterday sorting game and puzzle pieces and putting them away in the new closet storage system (read: milk crates), moving books onto the boys' new bookshelves and culling the collection, washing, sorting, and putting away laundry, finding uniform pants and shirts, scrubbing the brick and mortar dust off the porch and porch furniture, calling the shrub removal guy/the water department/the plumber, all the household tasks that little sick guys who want to be held have prevented me from doing the past week.

Could I be any more boring? It's been much the same here on this blog for several weeks and I apologize. Sick starting...Labor Day festivities (ha! I was smart enough to decide against the giant party here, sometimes I am not as dumb as I think)...migraine...check back in another week. The babysitter will be here on a regular basis, two of the four will be in school all day, I will have active clients again, my brain may begin to function on other than a reptile level again, and I might be more interesting. Don't worry, it's all fine, just not a lot of brainpower or time...have a lovely, long weekend.

*Wilco. But of course.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Tweedly dee..."*

I totally forgot my little brother's birthday. By DAYS. I am a rotten sister.

Two of my four little guys have fevers, and one of the other two has a weird rash, completely putting the kibosh on all those "Last week of summer" fun plans, or even just a jaunt to the duck pond or pool. This SUCKS. (Seriously, they all look awful and sick enough that I don't even want to drag them to the grocery store, but man, I need some limes. Mama needs her mojitos, yo.)

We had dinner guests Sunday evening. I threw together a meal - tomato tart, Italian bread, steamed yellow squash, a cold roast chicken, and a big dish of homemade aioli. There were no vampires getting near any of us that night. Well, except the boys who saw fit to drown their chicken in ketchup rather than garlic. What does ketchup keep away, werewolves?

I made a batch of lemon curd, folded in stiff whipped cream, and piled it into a butter-and-amaretti-cookie crust. That was dessert. YUM.

I have been conversing with the inimitable Joke regarding cocktail shakers, and have adopted the procurement of a Boston shaker as my thrift shop goal of the moment. (In the meantime, I am mixing my Bacardi cocktails using a Sam Adams pint glass and a giant plastic McDonald's cup - I ooze class, I know.) Lately I have been thrifting lotsa books, some neat old linens (and a set of superhero sheets), baking ramekins, a pair of pretty pewter lamps, and some terrific skirts. I even discovered a new thrift shop on the other side of the river, while on the hunt for a breakfast place. I found the breakfast place, too, and had a delicious plate of eggs over easy, home fries, and toasted ciabatta. Plus lashings of hot, fresh coffee. Heaven.

I started the newest Maisie Dobbs while guzzling lovely coffee - it is just like all the other Maisie Dobbs books, that is, comforting and charmingly archaic and NICE.

I am also reading another Tess Monaghan mystery, The Sugar House. I whizzed through The Lace Reader; all you guys who like Amanda Eyre Ward and Joshilyn Jackson might enjoy this. I think The Gargoyle is going back until a later time, I just don't seem to have the brainpower for this right now. I really enjoyed Jincy Willett's The Writing Class; clever and funny. I have a few review copies of a few books floating around to tackle next, so keep your eye peeled for those reviews...

School starts Thursday; kindergarten the Thursday after. THANK GOD.

That's it, my 'nettie friends. Not a whole lotta shaking going on at all.

Oh, but I am busy being inspired by this post; I ran Sunday, did yoga this morning and weight training after, and have runs planned for the next two days. My goal is the Turkey Trot Thanksgiving Day. After that, who knows? I still have yet to complete that half-marathon...although I HAVE been playing lots of TETRIS Marathon on Facebook...

*The Backyardigans, "Tale of the Mighty Knights"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road..."*

Every good adventure begins with – climbing in the minivan and driving to a starting point? Uh, not necessarily, but in this case, yes, yes, we did just that.

The picnic pavilion in a city park that was the TECHNICAL starting point. Primo insisted that we walk the twenty yards to the pavilion to “begin properly.” (And yes, the little pedant actually said just that.)

Then, we had to go under the road, via tunnel. A smelly, graffitied tunnel, in which the boys had a very good time screaming for echo effect.

The fork in the road.

At the big rock, turn left. (I kept saying to myself, because there was no one else there to appreciate my cleverness, “Go that way, really fast...if anything gets in your way, TURN!”)

Find the stonework “bridge.” Strangely enough, it sorta was an ACTUAL bridge. No quotemarks needed. Huh. Funny, that.

Counting paces. I lost count around 90 somewhere, but I winged it and the boys didn’t seem to notice. Given that they were counting, too.

Primo: “Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven...(continuing to walk) blah blah blah...thirty...(still walking) blah blah blah blahbeddy blah blah....thirty-one, thirty-two...(still walking) blah blah more blah blahblahblah....thirty-three, thirty-four...”
Seg (very quiet and serious, concentrating): “One hundred and two, one hundred and three, one hundred and four, one hundred and stop) Mom? What comes after one hundred and five?”

The tree with branches that look like a 4. I was not convinced, but it was the closest we could find, and it turned out to be correct.

More counting, and a search for a fallen log and a rocky cave. Primo found it, not quite so far as ninety steps, and not quite so rocky OR cavelike as we’d expected. In utter disregard for spiders or snakes, he stuck a skinny hand into the most obvious fallen log and felt around. The rocks were really broken cinderblock, but we coped admirably, as all intrepid explorers do when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. Or something like that.

We checked out earlier signatures and stamps, and the boys finally grasped the significance of my insisting on their bringing their new markers, which have little stamps on the ends. I used green footprints, Primo used black spiders, Seg used turquoise squiggles, Terzo used yellow moons – er, yellow suns, and we stamped the bottom with the pad in the Tupperware, for Quarto and good measure. Then we carefully sealed the whole shebang back up and Primo tucked it back into its hiding spot for the next travellers.

I was forced to discourage further exploration into the woods, as the ravine on one side was a fairly steep and densely wooded downhill, and the other side rose precipitously overhead, and I had the baby in the snugli so was unable to follow offroad. Terzo admired a fuzzy white caterpillar, and a cicada shell, and a giant daddy-long-legs. Sadly, much dog poop was sighted and commented upon. The boys insisted on pulling a Shawn Johnson and treading carefully, if not gracefully, atop the stone quote-bridge-unquote, over a gully full of branches and rocks and an eensy little trickling creek.

And this is where revelation struck. Like a lightbulb switching on, or more like, blowing out.

I spent my suburban eighties childhood running free. My mother pushed us outdoors early every summer morning and we didn’t come back – hell, we weren’t ALLOWED to come back - until it got dark. (I would swear to you that she locked the door behind us but she denied it to her dying day.) We were allowed to ride our bikes as far as we physically could pedal – to the 7-11 for Slurpees, or the corner store for candy and popsicles, or to my friend Stacie’s house to play Atari. We fished in the pond down the road and swam in our little pool in our huge, grassy backyard and built giant cities and intricate buildings in the sandpile. I perfected my sandpie, baked in a carefully constructed giant sand oven and decorated with flowers from my mom’s garden, one long summer when I was eight or so. We built tree forts in the woods at the end of our street and conducted long drawn-out rubberband gun battles from them. In the evenings, while the adults sat on the porches and smoked and talked, we played kick-the-can and Red Rover, Red Rover, and Jailbreak. We were allowed to hide anywhere we liked, except Old Lady Weston’s yard, because she’d sic her dog on you. (Granted, the dog was only a yappy little terrier, but it added an exciting frisson of fear to our night games...) We caught fireflies and climbed trees and played hockey in the street, everyone scrambling for the safety of the curb when a car turned down our cul-de-sac. My mother lamented the lack of grass on the base path we’d worn into her front yard playing wiffleball.

In many ways, my childhood was enchanted. It had fireworks, and trips down the shore, and all the popsicles we could eat. It featured ice cream trucks and endless afternoons playing Barbies in my friend Rosanne’s basement and hot sunny days cheering my All-Star older brother on at the Little League field. I was part of a tribe of children, all running loose and wild and free in the suburban paradise of South Jersey.

And my children? They are growing up in the city. We teach them to ride their bikes and rollerskate and play kickball and hockey in the brick alley. We tramp through the parks and play t-ball at the baseball field and swim in the lovely neighbourhood pool. But they do not, nor will they ever, have the glorious freedom to go where they like, when they like, with whomever they like, all the livelong hot summer days. Their playdates are structured and arranged and, more often than not, chauffeured and chaperoned. Our yard is fenced and I can’t imagine being comfortable with it any other way.

But the boys climb our huge old magnolia tree and I force myself to let them. I let them get stuck and let them yell and let them fall off their bikes or skates, and try to relax. I let them teeter across the stone “bridge” and run ahead around the bend in the path and try to swing themselves across the monkey bars over and over again, without helping, without hovering, without even seemingly paying attention (but I am, oh, I am). Because, in this age of dark panel vans cruising our school zones, and Amber Alerts issued on a daily basis, and entitled drivers disregarding crosswalks and stop signs, my children are having a very different childhood than I had. It is much more structured and sheltered, and while it is still as fun and exciting and unrushed as I can make it, it is not and can’t be the blissfully unfettered, free-range loveliness that my childhood summers were.

Although we did wrap up our adventure with big bowls of ice cream, as is only right and proper.

Some things never change.

*"Time of Your Life," Green Day

Saturday, August 16, 2008

“Ice-cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn't illegal.”*

This is Me
[I stole this from Joke, and Suse, and Poppy, and, um, everybody else....]

Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Brown with lots of grey
Dyed or Natural: Natural – who has time to maintain color?
Curly or Straight: Stick straight except for a weird wave at the back that ruins the line of every bob I’ve ever had cut
Right- or Left-handed: Right
Tan or Pale: Ghostly pale
Jeans or Khakis: Khakis. Although I prefer skirts.
Country, Rap, or Rock: Rock, I guess
Car: Honda Odyssey minivan – and I LOVE it
Place in order of preference--T.V., book, movie, music: Books, Music, Movies,
Your heritage: Pure eastern European peasant stock
Shoes you're wearing today: None at the moment but Keen Berkeley clogs previously. New and in love…
Your weakness(es): Blue cheese, watching womens’ gymnastics, Terzo saying ‘ice keem’
Your perfect pizza: Pizza Sola’s blanco (thin, crispy crust, lots of garlic)
Favorite color: Grey
Favorite place: My bed
Goal you'd like to achieve: To get back down to a size eight (due to being able to run four miles without dying)
Your most overused phrase(s): I am NOT the maid!
Your thoughts first waking up: Goddamnit.
Your best physical feature(s): My feet and my wrists
Your bedtime: Later than it should be
Your most missed memory: I don’t remember.
Pepsi or Coke: Coke.
McDonald's or Burger King: McDonald’s
Single or group dates: I don’t date
Adidas or Nike: Adidas. I tried New Balance and Nike, but I stick with Adidas now.
Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea: Neither, unless you count the tea bags, in which case, Lipton Cold Brew bags
Chocolate or vanilla: Chocolate
Cappuccino or coffee: Nonfat double-shot latte

Smoke: Not anymore
Cuss: Too much
Have a boyfriend/girlfriend: Not anymore
Take a shower: Occasionally.
Have a crush(es): Yep.
Think you've been in love: Yeah, pretty sure.
Want to get married: Never again
Believe in yourself: I guess so.
Believe in God: I guess so.
Believe in your government: No
Get motion sickness: Yes. One of my abiding regrets is that I cannot read in a moving vehicle, thereby wasting lots of prime reading time
Think you're attractive: If I weren’t so fat…
Think you're a health freak: No
Get along with your parents: It’s hard to NOT get along with a dead person, you know?
Like thunderstorms: Yes

Drank alcohol: Hells, yeah!
Gone on a date: Yes.
Gone to the mall: God, yes, for the stupid family portrait my SILs insist upon
Been on stage: No, I don’t do stages
Eaten an entire box of Oreos: No
Eaten sushi: Yes
Been dumped: Uh, no
Gone skating: Rollerblading, yes. I save ice skating for winter.
Gone skinny dipping: No
Stolen anything: No. Unless you count this meme

Played a game that required removal of clothing: Hasn’t everyone?
Been trashed or extremely intoxicated: I try not to think about it.
Been caught "doing something": I am too tired to “do anything”
Been called a tease: He’s too tired to call me a tease
Gotten beaten up: Only if you count my three-year-old kicking the crap out of me while trying to climb me like a tree
Age you hope to be married: I am married. Thank you.
Number of children you'd like: Four is enough for anyone.
Describe your dream wedding: Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
What do you want to be when you grow up: A grown-up

Best eye color?: Doesn’t matter
Best hair color?: Dark
Short or long hair: Clean
Height: Tall tall TALL. The taller, the better. I love long, lanky guys.
Best first date location: Just a normal restaurant will do. I hate cutesy first dates.
Best first kiss location: Lips?

Number of people I could trust with my life: 1
Number of CDs: Don’t know. Lots, but most are H’s.
Number of piercings: Active: Four, two in each ear. I let the third hole in my left ear close up.
Number of tattoos: None and doesn’t that make me cool?
Number of times my name has appeared in the newspaper: A few, I am an unrepentant letter-to-the-editor writer
Number of scars on my body: Three, I think


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.*

I am NOT dead. I am not even crazy. The week went remarkably well, helped along by many friends, planning of activities to wear the boys out, and copious amounts of alcohol (for me). My babysitter returned (although this prompted new issues which are a story for another post).

We had a pizza party, went to the pool, took in a jazz concert in the park (complete with a planned kids’ scavenger hunt), had the grandparents over for dinner and cards, enjoyed a trip with a group of friends to Idlewild Amusement Park, watched movies, and generally just treated the week like a little vacation.

Did I have time to read or run or write blog posts? I did NOT. So now that I’ve given the activity roundup, here’s the book roundup:

Library books sitting in a pile waiting to be read:
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks. I am almost done this and enjoyed it immensely, although I agree with Suse’s thoughts about the protagonist. I will definitely reread it, to more fully appreciate the back story now that I have absorbed all the plot twists.

Whatever Makes You Happy - William Sutcliffe. Gina read it. And liked it well enough.

An Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. I really like the Maisie Dobbs series, and I do want to buy this (but in paperback so it matches my other ones –I’m a weirdo, I know. No need to tell me) but I don’t want to wait that long to actually read it.

Good-bye and Amen - Beth Gutcheon. I am a huge Gutcheon fan, although this is a sequel to one of her weaker novels, Leeway Cottage.

The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Lekha Banerjee Divakaruni. There’s a good chance I won’t get to this one. I like Divakaruni’s books in theory, but seldom are they as enjoyable as I think they will be. This is a retelling of the Mahabarata, and I am just not that compelled. And yet I checked it out and brought it home. It’s a sickness, I tell you.

The Writing Class - Jincy Willett. I think Willett is a funny and talented writer, and yet I always seem to forget that. I am looking forward to this one.

City of Thieves - David Benioff. A recommendation from my Shalom-Auslander-loving librarian.

Leave the Building Quickly - Cynthia Kaplan. I think I like Kaplan. I know I’ve read her other stuff. I’ll let you know...

The Plague of Doves - Louise Erdrich. Recommended by one of my latest crushes, Lauren Groff, of Monsters of Templeton fame...I’ve never read any Erdrich and her books look interesting. In fact, I just picked up The Master Butcher’s Singing Club for fifty cents at the library sale...

Don't You Forget About Me - Jancee Dunn. Dunn’s But Enough About Me: How a Small-Town Girl Went from Shag Carpet to the Red Carpet felt like a nostalgic trip back to my 1980s Jersey roots (like the ones I teased into that wall o’ bangs look). I am halfway through and this is very much the same feel. Funny and sweet and light. Even if MY mother never sprung for TWO Swatches...

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson. This book is suddenly EVERYWHERE, and while it looks decidedly odd, I thought I’d give it a shot.

In Big Trouble - Laura Lippman. The next Tess Monaghan.

Nice Big American Baby - Judy Budnitz. I thought I'd check out the rest of her stuff after the weird but compelling story "Miracle." But I couldn't get engrossed. Oh well, maybe another time. This might be one to buy so I can pick it up and put it down when I like...her writing is indeed wonderful, if mightily odd.

Books I picked up at Goodwill, all for a total of less than ten dollars:

A Taxonomy of Barnacles - Galt Niederhoffer. I liked the title? I feel like I have read this before, but I can‘t quite recall.

A Voyage for Madmen - Peter Nichols. You are all aware, I believe, of my bizarre penchant for accounts of exploits I myself would never attempt – climbing Mount Everest, canoeing the Amazon, living in the Antarctic to study penguins for six months. Yet another...singlehandedly circumnavigating the globe in a yacht. Yeah. I’ll never do it – I don’t even want to do it. But I’ll sure get a kick out of reading about it.

Heartburn - Nora Ephron. In hardback. A nice addition to my foodie books and novels.

An America Childhood - Annie Dillard. Everyone tells me that since I live in Pittsburgh, this is a must-read.

Family Happiness - Laurie Colwin. A nice trade paperback edition. The one I have is a little grungy mass market paperback; and we’ve already established that I like my books to match...

The Virgin Blue - Tracy Chevalier. I liked Girl with a Pearl Earring well enough, I guess, and Suse likes this book. And I love Suse. So I am going to read it.

Goblin Market and other poems - Christina Rossetti. I first became aware of Christina Rossetti due to Ellen Raskin’s The Tattooed Potato, which I loved even more than The Westing Game if that’s possible. And then for some reason relatively recently, I listened to a reading of “The Goblin Market” and oh boy, is it creepy. This is one of those adorable little Dover Thrift editions.

In the Land of White Death: An epic story of survival in the Siberian Arctic - Valerian Albanov. See above.

Plus a bunch of kids’ books for Primo – Junior Illustrated Classics of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, some random Encyclopedia Browns and and Animorph novelizations – anything to keep him semi-occupied in the two weeks before school begins again. Oh, and The Jolly Christmas Postman in pristine condition, to add to the Christmas basket of seasonal tales.

I’ve been reading:

People of the Book

Don’t You Forget About Me

The Condition. I finally finished this. I liked it but I feel as if the title and the plot description is misleading. The book is only peripherally about a character’s medical issues and how they affect all members of her family; and that’s ok, because it is a detailed, insightful, and nicely written exploration of the dynamic of a fairly typical American family. But the title should have been different. Nitpicky. I know.

Otherwise, I have been keeping the boys from killing each other, dealing with the brickpointers (my entire house, inside and out, despite my best efforts, is covered with a fine layer of gritty red dust) and the plumber, and contemplating my next quilting project (inspired by Duvyken).

The summer is almost over, H’s product release date is almost here, and I have emerged mostly unscathed.

Yay, me.

*The Book of the Beginning, The Mahabharata

Sunday, August 03, 2008

"Up to my ears in bitter tears, can't believe I've sunk this low..."

So tonight H left for a week.

For a very important conference for work. At which he will present a project for which he has been responsible. Which will, no exaggeration, change some people's lives drastically for the better, and also improve others' dying days. (So, you know, when you say, Why can't H take a week off? THAT'S why.)

At first he wanted me to go with him, but the conference is in a location fraught with not-good memories for us as a couple. Better he should go alone. Trust me.

He leaves me at home with four boys who are really beginning to be out of control.
At lunch today, at a fairly - shall we say plebian - dining establishment - our children's behavior caused him to rest his head in his hands and sigh deeply. I said, "Shouldn't *I* be the one doing that? Since, you know, you get to LEAVE in three hours." And he looked at me and simply said, "Yes."

He merrily hopped on an airplane and doesn't return for DAYS.

So, on the way home from the airport, we didn't even stop at the house first. I drove directly to the neighborhood park which hosts an outdoor jazz concert every Sunday evening in August. The three older boys made bracelets (Primo made me a huge, ugly beaded anklet with my name on it which I am more than happy to wear). Then they played Twister and beanbag tic-tac-toe, and participated in a scavenger hunt. *I* sat on my butt and listened to live jazz music and sponged limoncello martinis off my friend A and then I lost Terzo (but we knew so many people at the concert, and I found him again rather quickly) so it was time to go home. Where I dropped the baby into his crib, and the three older boys into bed, and poured myself another rather strong cocktail.

It's going to be a very long week.

PS Did I mention my babysitter's mom died, so she won't be coming this week either? I mean, I understand, her MOM died (she WAS 94), but I would've planned this H-less week differently had I the slightest inkling. All I can say is, pray for me.

*"In the Belly of the Whale," The Newsboys

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"I feel that I may be on my way to gracious living."*

It’s coming up on the dog days of August – and you don’t even need beach reads anymore, it’s so hot. You need “Lie on the porch swing with a sweating glass of iced tea” reads. And here I am, useful as always… Thank you, thank you, I live to serve.

I first encountered Jennifer Niesslein as the co-editor of the wonderful magazine Brain, Child. The only parenting magazine I have ever read that was smarter than me. This magazine addressed the real issues of parenting…for example, not “What is the best brand of diapers?” but “Should you potty train your child at age six months, or not? And why?” OK, yes, that’s extreme, but BC’s take on all kinds of parents and children, living all kinds of lifestyles in all sorts of ways, is refreshing and funny and smart and thoughtful and a terrific read that I awaited eagerly every three months.

So, when one of its brilliant editors produced a book, I snapped it up and read it right away. And while I picked up Practically Perfect in Every Way, with its charmingly retro cover, in hardcover, it has recently been released in paperback – perfect for the beach, or the porch swing, or the bus - wherever. Jennifer graciously agreed to answer some burning questions I had after finishing the book.

BB: What was your favorite chapter (to write, research, whatever)? Why?

Jennifer: Writing the marriage chapter was definitely my favorite because the advice is just so over the top. I mean, really, Dr. Laura—my fella wants to be a knight and slay my dragons? And Dr. Phil: Seriously? We’re supposed to sit down and earnestly discuss what animal the other one is most like? I think the old-schoolness of most of the self-help advice out there really comes into focus when you look at relationship advice. Meaning, the ladies are responsible for it all.

BB: What was your least favorite? Why?

Jennifer: My least favorite to write was the financial advice chapter, just because the learning curve was so steep. When I started, I had no idea how one would go about buying a stock, and so I had the task of both explaining the factual stuff and analyzing the advice itself. But I think my least favorite advice to take was any of the advice that dealt with flesh-and-blood interactions. You can kind of go crazy being hyper-aware of every move you make.

BB: You've said elsewhere you sort of wished you'd left your son out of it. Is he old enough now to know he's in it and what has his reaction been, if any?

Jennifer: I really wish I’d left the part about my son’s social interactions out of it. I think it’s a great read, but writing about it sort of screwed up some real-life relationships. Caleb knows that he’s in the book but doesn’t know what I said. He’s a big supporter of my career though—he really likes the idea that I’m making him famous. (ha ha!) He’s nine now, and we’ll see about his feelings when he gets older.

BB: Is there a book/topic you wish you'd included/left out?

Jennifer: Actually, I’m pretty happy with what I included. I did a whole lot of thinking to include the most popular and ubiquitous experts. I wasn’t going to try anything that seemed super-crazy because I really was being earnest in hoping that some special nugget of advice was would transformative. That said, The Secret wasn’t out yet when I was researching. Maybe I could have wished myself onto the bestseller list.

BB: Your husband is a massively good sport. Did he have any suggestions for topics/books, or did he just kind of go along for the ride?

Jennifer: Holy hell, he is. He’d already read David Bach’s Smart Couples Finish Rich, so he sort of had a leg up on that. But I think Brandon has a quiet way of just not participating when he doesn’t want to. (See: house, decluttering of.) He did suggest, though, for the spirituality chapter, that we attend a sermon at an African-American Baptist church, but it was clear that he just wanted to hear the music. I nixed that idea because I’m superstitious enough to think that one could be smote for entering God’s house just for the tunes.

BB: The important question: are you working on anything new?

Jennifer: I am, but I’m not sure what’s going to come of it get. It’s an historical nonfiction mystery about my great-great grandmother. It’s totally different from PPIEW, and the research is going much slower.

BB: And apropos of a recent post of mine, what are you reading now/what are your 'beach picks'?

Jennifer: I’ve been all up in the historical nonfiction lately. I just finished The Devil in the White City and I’m in the middle of Sin in the Second City. (I don’t know why I’m drawn to the Chicago books.) A few people recommended Carter Beats the Devil to me (it’s fiction), so I’m going to read that next. Plus, I have my small mountain of magazines because I’m a periodical-lover: The New Yorker, Bitch, The Believer.

Two novels I read recently and LOVED are Never Let Me Go and Then We Came to the End. Everyone else has probably read them by now.

Thank you, Jennifer!

And for further reading, dudes, go check out Jennifer’s Internet Presence, and hound her to hurry up with her second book. Next summer is only eleven months away, and you’ll need something else to read.


*Jennifer Niesslein, in Practically Perfect in Every Way