Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Thou know'st, the first time that we smell the air, we wawl and cry." *

All that contracting and pressure and ouchies, and so out of breath last night that I couldn’t even sleep, and I am still only 1 cm. SO unfair. But my blood pressure was waaaaaayyy up – because today’s appointment and next week’s appointment had been cancelled – NOT by me – and my chart was missing.

Remember when I told you – did I tell you? – that I told H that he had to remember one thing, that I was strep B positive this pregnancy? And he said, “Well, it’s not as if it’s not in your chart. And how am I supposed to remember that?” And I glared at him and said, “*I* will be in labor. Surely you can remember ONE MEASLY LITTLE THING if I ask you to.” (He looked suitably abashed and mumbled, “Yes, but don’t call me Shirley.”) And there I go this morning, with NO CHART.

No wonder my normally lovely low blood pressure was 140 over 100. But they found the chart and resolved the appointment issue – turns out that the fact of a simple phone call – by me - to suss out the situation at my old doctor’s new practice was enough to cause appointments to be cancelled and charts to be moved, even though I had signed no release forms or cancelled any appointments my own damn self. Jesus Crisis.

When they rechecked my blood pressure before sending me home – no closer to labor than when I’d arrived – it was back to normal. So, I am still contracting, and am still hurting, and can’t breathe, and am very very VERY grumpy, and can’t even think about food, but I am apparently NOT about to have a baby, say, anytime in the next 24 hours. Dammit.

I zipped through The Wednesday Wars last night, though, so must replace that on my hospital stack. I LOVED it. I want to own it, will definitely reread it, and it prompted me to hunt down a copy of The Tempest to reread. I don’t know what happened to my pretty little blue clothbound Yale Shakespeare volume, but I dug out one of my volumes of the teeny red leather Works of Shakespeare – the ones that turn my fingers red, like dyed pistachios do - and started in. (I wasn’t about to lug around my Riverside.) So yeah, I am such a dork that I lay in my doctor’s examining room on my left side, waiting for my blood pressure to decrease, and read Shakespeare.

I thought I had more to say but in the hour since I started writing this post, I have started experiencing what may well be real contractions. So I'll wrap up now and go lie down. And wait for H to return from the car dealership. I called him at work and asked him to bring me a vanilla milkshake, but apparently he got distracted and is bringing me a blue minivan instead.


*King Lear, Act 4, sc. 6, 179–180

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Q: Once I'm in the hospital to deliver, who will see me in that position? *

My dear ones, I got NOTHING. No energy, no creativity, nothing to say to anyone, not even you.

I am sitting around (feeling somewhat akin to Baron Harkonnen), waiting for contractions to begin in earnest. I KNOW my due date is 8 days away, but frankly I am surprised I made it this far. No, I haven’t eaten pineapple or spicy food, had lots of sex (PUH-LEASE, that’s what got me into this mess in the first place), or resorted to nipple stimulation; I am not THAT eager. But I am doing a whole lot of wishing and praying and silent whispering to the fetus to GET. OUT. NOW (not that I don’t love you , baby…).

Public schools had a two-hour delay today – high winds, I guess? Who the hell knows? Not me. And Seg’s back at preschool for the first time in something like a week, still coughing like he’s afflicted by black lung but looking and acting considerably perkier. I am forgoing the usual housework Terzo and I do in the mornings to edit a couple papers before the baby comes. Oh, and, you know, write a post.

I finished the third Sally Lockhart novel yesterday – and in hopes of discovering more about the delicious coupling of Sally and Daniel Goldberg, and reading more adventures involving the delectable Jim, I requested The Tin Princess from the library.

I am about halfway through The Friday Night Knitting Club - reminiscent of Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilt novels, which is a good thing. As usual in an ensemble piece, there are characters I enjoy and some that drive me batty. Some of the plot is out of left field, but that’s ok, there’s enough going on to distract from the occasional creak and groans of plot maneuvering. A very enjoyable read, so far. And it’s making me want to pick up knitting needles again. Dear Suse tried to teach me how to purl via the Internet and email, but I think I need hands-on instruction. My mother-in-law knits, and rather well, so when she returns from Florida, I will ask her to teach me to purl. Remedial Knitting 101. I don’t really want to do anything too complicated, maybe make a scarf or something. I like the idea of acquiring the womanly arts : )

I am still reading Loving Frank - two things: Frank Lloyd Wright was an egotistical, self-absorbed asshole, no matter how talented, and 2) it took me a while to figure out that it is a fictionalized account of the Taliesin murders, which are horrific. I will finish it but maybe not right now. I happen to know children die, and I am not sure I can cope with children dying right now (remember my idiocy in reading Sophie’s Choice while pregnant with Primo? Yeah, don’t want to repeat that mistake…)

My pile of books to take to the hospital keeps changing. Currently the stack includes The Friday Night Knitting Club, I Love You, Beth Cooper, and The Wednesday Wars. Yes, yes, I have some toiletries packed up, and some yoga pants and sweatshirts, but the books are the important thing, don’t you think? I mean, TWO WHOLE DAYS. Yes, of course, I have to feed the baby and whatnot, but still…one baby is nothing compared to the three I’ve got to wrangle at home. And once I get my epidural, I’ll have hours in which to read until I have to push. Contractions, take me away!


* A: Authorized personnel only -- doctors, nurses, orderlies, photographers,
florists, cleaning crews, journalists, etc.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"Dani the girl is singing songs to me beneath the marquee...of her soul..." *

Cusk’s glory is her style, cold and hard and devastatingly specific, empathetic but not sympathetic. - Los Angeles Times

“…the twenty-first-century version of Austen or Thackeray…” – Baltimore Sun

Her prose is called stunning (Christian Science Monitor); evocative and elegant (London Times). Unerring. Masterful. Pitch-perfect.

I wangled a free review copy of Rachel Cusk’s latest novel about a group of mothers in a tony London suburb. I vaguely recalled not liking her previous outing In the Fold but figured that might just be a fluke, a plot that didn’t grab me or unsympathetic characters.

I sat down with Arlington Park Thursday evening.

The first chapter – all five pages – described a rainstorm. In minute, excruciating, painstaking detail. I felt like perhaps I had wandered into a modern-day setting of a horror film like Dracula, or perhaps a supernatural thriller of some sort - surely something dramatic and horrific was going to occur, and soon. But by the end of the chapter, I felt sorry for the poor rain – it had been tortured and twisted and corkscrewed into submission. (I suppose she gets a point or two for anthropomorphizing the rain so successfully…)

When three pages into the next chapter, a character “asseverates” something, I knew I wasn’t going much further. Why merely assert when you can asseverate? When you can use all the big words you know to let your readers know how very SMART you are. (I started making a list of these SAT words that pissed me off, but gave up halfway through chapter four.)

And why skip describing a single detail when you can pad your book with gloriously useless and irrelevant sentences like the following:

…glimpsing the armoured forms of the big, expensive cars crouched among the shadows in driveways all along the park, she had a sort of oceanic sense of malevolence, of a great, diffuse evil silently undulating all around them in the darkness. In the Milfords’ own driveway an enormous glittering Mercedes crouched on the gravel on giant, ogreish tires. Its tinted windows seemed to cast on everything their shuttered, annihilating gaze. Juliet had felt a force of pure aggression emanating from its metal surfaces..

Never mind all the indiscriminate descriptions of pointless details which a better author would know did not pertain to the story in any way, shape, or form, OR add to the atmosphere.

He liked to bathe the giant sixth-formers in the sound of the early English composers.

”I just love coming here,” Christne expostulated, surveying the brutal grandeur of the car park, where the sky still hurled down its unsteady shafts of light and the morning’s rain stood in beads on the coruscating metal of cars and made them look reborn.

(It was about here that I started feeling perhaps Cusk missed her calling as a luxury car salesman or a high-end auto mechanic.)

This particular blurb made me physically nauseated; Cusk describes the stuffed animal lovey of one of the children in the book (and by the way, every single child is completely annoying and unlovable, but you would be too if you had one of these cold automatons for a mother):
Robbie was grey and worn out with Ella’s need for him. He looked shapeless and insensate with the drudgery of love.


Cusk writes like a talented college sophomore who hasn’t learned yet that less is more, that leaving things out is ok, especially if all those details merely overwhelm your story and your character development.

She needs more than a good editor, however; she needs to be less in love with the sound of her own words, with the detailing of Every. Single. Thought. That flits across her mind.

Why do I get the feeling that she writes her first drafts with a fountain pen, in longhand, perhaps on curling sheets of foolscap stacked untidily on the corner of her writing desk? Just a guess...

Her prose is not cold or hard – although most of her characterization is – but neither is it florid or flowery. You can see and feel every gear turning, every cog sliding into place. It’s steely and mechanical and ugly - rather like a (well-constructed) Rube Goldberg contraption.


*"By the Way," Red Hot Chili Peppers

Thursday, January 24, 2008

"One of the disadvantages of being a patrician is that occasionally you are obliged to act like one." *

Daddy goes away and the mice will play, 'cause Mama is a CUPCAKE.
We ordered pizza for dinner tonight, which we ate in front of the Pens-Flyers game, topped off with chocolate pie for dessert and a late bedtime. I now understand why some people parent like this all the time - it's just so much easier. Never mind that my kids will be tired tomorrow, and if we ate chocolate pie every night we'd all weigh a ton. Oh well, it's nice once in a while to be the nice guy...


Important questions:

When did LL Bean stop making River Driver’s shirts for adults? I own one; I need a few more. They seem to only make them for children now. Dumb. Of course, LL Bean is also the company that made my favorite bathing suit of all time – for ONE YEAR. Leaving me to swim for the rest of my natural life in board shorts and a tankini top.

Are you actually supposed to eat gingerbread houses? And if so, how? Do you just pick it apart, leaving the wreck of a house sitting out like the detritus of a real-live Hansel and Gretel attack?

How many times a day does a normal dog poop?

Why do I gag at the sight and smell of any sort of meat for most of my pregnancy only to gorge on flesh in the last two weeks? With Primo, it was Reubens; with this one, it’s cheese steaks with mushrooms and onions. I am actually physically nauseated even as I consume giant-pile-o’-meat, and yet I keep chewing.

Is it wrong that I bribe my seven-year-old to do his homework by promising to request books he wants to read from the library once he's finished?


For those of you following along at home:
1 cm and 50%.
If you have to ask, you really don't want to know (Joke, I am pretty much being discreet for you. You're welcome).


Finished the second Sally Lockhart book, on to the third. An am halfway through Loving Frank which is pretty good. I have Gina's strong recommendation of I Love You, Beth Cooper to read next, and The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books to sit by my bed for my leisurely perusal (and probably making of umpteen lists). Picked up used copies at the library book sale shelf of Jamaica Kincaid's Lucy and Gail Tsukiyama's Dreaming Water.


Everyone is purging, it seems. Badger. Poppy. Me. Tonight I sorted and finally discarded about 95% of my mother's tax returns, estate papers, and other flotsam and jetsam. As the executrix, I had held onto everything JUST IN CASE. (Just in case WHAT? The federal government needed proof that my mother paid for all of her prescriptions from the years 1995 through 1998? that the house that's been under new ownership for eight years now once had perfectly reliable, promptly-paid phone service? that my mother's nursing license was up-to-date till the day she died? I clearly needed to get a good, firm grip.)

My mother's life now apparently has been reduced to two brown paper bags for the recycling dumpster. Sob. But honestly, how long am I mean to hang onto ten-year-old phone bills and fifteen-year-old tax returns? It was time. And ultimately it felt good.

But this baby had better come soon, because otherwise my house will be Spartan.


*Marcus Licinius Crassus, in "Spartacus"

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Perform random acts of pieness.*

January 23 is National Pie Day here in the States. It's a little-known holiday to most, but to bakers in general, and to me in particular, it is a sacred obligation. (OK, I made up that part, or at least the part about to other bakers.) I have long been on record for my love of all things pie, but it never hurts to remind everyone now and again.
Because pie ROCKS.

H has flown off to California for five days, so I can bake whatever I like best and not worry about his tastes. Which means I am making a coconut custard pie for ME. There are exactly two other people in this world who I am aware of liking coconut custard pie - my father-in-law who is currently in Florida, and my friend P who is in California and whom H will be seeing Saturday evening. I will tell H to taunt P with the idea of my coconut custard pie. (Of course, P is the sort of guy who might just hop a plane to get himself a piece of pie.)

Impossible Coconut Custard Pie

4 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup Bisquick
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBSP butter, softened
Coconut to taste (I only use Baker's)

Mix all ingredients in blender till smooth (I throw in a handful of coconut here, too.
Pour into a 9" or 10" pie plate (preferably one with 2" sides).
Sprinkle generously with grated coconut.
Bake about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, until done. Coconut will brown slightly, and a thin knife blade inserted in the middle should come out clean.
Cool on rack, and do not cut until completely cool.
Refrigerate after serving (if there's any left!).
Yummy cold, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or late-night snack.

And this chocolate pie from James Villa's never-let-me-down-yet cookbook My Mother's Southern Desserts will be baked up for the boys who are chocolate fiends. I was initially looking for a basic chocolate pudding icebox sort of pie, but then decided this sounded too good and too easy not to try. I have never baked anything from this cookbook that was not delectable.

Plain Ole Dixie Chocolate Pie

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 large egg yolks
1/8 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 prebaked 9" chocolate wafer pie shell (recipe below)
1 cup heavy cream,, whipped to stiff peaks

In large heavy saucepan, combine cocoa, cornstarch, egg yolks, salt, and sugar.
Beat well with a whisk till blended.
Over low heat, gradually add milk, whisk till smooth, and cook slowly until thickened, stirring constantly.
Remove pan from heat, add the vanilla, stir, and let cool.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pie crust.
Chill till slightly firm but not hard.
Serve topped with whipped cream.

Chocolate Wafer Pie Shell
1-1/2 cups finely crushed chocolate wafer crumbs (I may use chocolate grahams if I can't find the Nabisco wafers I like.)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350.
Grease 9" pie plate.
In medium bowl, mix wafer crumbs, butter and sugar, and mix till well-blended and crumbs are evenly moistened.
Press into bottom and sides of pie plate.
Bake till firm, about 10 minutes.
Allow to cool completely before filling.

Go forth and bake pie.
Or at least eat some.
We will be. And we can't do ALL the work. Some of us are very pregnant and need some help eating pie.

Oh, and here's your bonus pie track for the day: the delectable Ralph of Ralph's World, with Peggy's Pie Parlor Polka. (Follow the link, scroll down, and click on the appropriate player for "Peggy's Pie Parlor Polka.")


*American Pie Council

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

You're 18, you don't know what you want. And you won't know what you want 'til you're 45, and even if you get it, you'll be too old to use it.*

Steph at Crooked House (in my opinion one of the most under-rated/read bloggers going - so go check her out NOW) has tagged me.

Here are the rules, which I am supposed to post:
- Link to the person that tagged you.
- Post the rules on your blog. - Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
- Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
- Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

Six Not-so-terribly-fascinating Things about Me

1) I am currently engrossed in my January/early February binge eating of those hard little cinnamon hearts that are sold only around Valentine’s Day. Yes, they turn my lips and tongue bright red (not to mention my fingertips and therefore the pages of any book I happen to be reading), and give me heartburn, and make my jaw ache – yet every year for about six weeks I buy and eat bags and bags of them.

2) I HATE to wear socks and/or shoes. The minute I get in my house, regardless of the outside temp, I kick off my shoes and rip off my socks and wander around barefoot, even if the rest of me is layered in wool sweaters and thermal undies. Even the Uggishs have not cured me of this habit.

3) I love snow. Not necessarily going out in it, although I do enjoy a good run in the falling snow, and I love to ski – but just the fact of snow. It’s like I have license to hang around the house and do nothing all day. Well, you know, as much nothing as I can get away with…

4) I really hate to throw things away. You never know when you might need x, y, or z…that said, I JUST pitched all the sympathy cards from my dad’s death (20 years ago) and my mom’s death (10 years ago). I felt coldhearted, but c’mon….what am I gonna do with them, use ‘em for craft projects with the kids?

5) I am vaguely ashamed of the fact that I am very interested in religion. Not just in an academic way, although had I gone to grad school for English lit, my dissertation topic would have had something to do with the direct influence of the church on the literature of 17th century England (yes, I adore John Donne). But in a more visceral way – although my brain argues there is no God, I can’t get past eighteen years of indoctrination and I still firmly believe in God, Heaven, and Hell. Not that I have the foggiest idea what exactly I think about all of them at the moment, other than I am meant to be writing a Lenten meditation for our church brochure and am totally stymied.

6) I have been pregnant four times – given birth three times – and I am still not sure, until my water breaks, if I am in labor or not. Pathetic, no?

*Walter Stratford, in "10 Things I Hate About You" (a movie which I really need to own, I realize)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"It sometimes happens, even in the best of families, that a baby is born." *

I finished The Virgin of Small Plains in less than 24 hours. It was a good, if ultimately throwaway, mystery/suspense novel. I have read all of Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain mysteries and enjoyed them for what they were – straightforward mysteries with likeable characters and always a twist at the end. I am really glad I did not buy this as I am trying to cut back on my book-accumulating (haha!), but I am glad I read it. It was just what I needed to take my mind off the gross goings-on in my household. (Rebecca – I liked it, but depending on the subject matter of your new book, you may not need to change your title. Virgin’s getting a lot of word-of-mouth press, but it’s not like it’s a new Atwood or Byatt; it’s a serviceable, enjoyable mystery novel.)

I am about halfway through Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke and while I must say to Lazy Cow that you are seriously smoking crack if you think these are better than the Northern Lights trilogy (not that I adore you any less…), I am enjoying them. Shades of Mary Russell, shades of Nancy Drew – Fun. Predictable. I am looking forward to the next one. Which is waiting for me downstairs as I requested all of them at once from the library.

I also picked up Loving Frank on the recommendation of a bookseller at B&N whose taste I trust, and The Friday Night Knitting Club (Amy, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think. Do I EVER hesitate to do that? : )). My Favorite Librarian left me a note on my stack of holds advising me to get Gods Behaving Badly, so I requested that. I do love that woman. Quid pro quo, I told her to read Haven Kimmel’s The Used World. I am clearly thrilled to death about my “discovery” of Kimmel and wish to spread the gospel to all the world.

Josh Swiller’s The Unheard: A Memoir of Deafness and Africa started out whinier than I cared for, but quickly ramped up into a fine read. I appreciated his honest take on life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa – he tried to romanticize the experience but eventually saw that he couldn’t and was very straightforward about his disillusionment. And I really found interesting his assertion that being a white man in Africa essentially removed his handicap, and he could then experience life as a hearing person. Since language was a barrier anyway, and the Africans were careful to speak slowly, simply, and straight at him, he could experience what it was like to just be a normal hearing person, to a certain extent. Fascinating observation. Because H was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa in the eighties, I find these sort of memoirs interesting, but this is the first one I have actually enjoyed. Not that I have the faintest desire to visit Africa.


In other exciting news, my little brother and his wife had their second baby this weekend, a little girl. Everybody’s doing great, although my brother *sounds* like he’s been run over by a truck. Is my husband the only new father who goes home, has a nice dinner, showers, and sleeps – while he can?


"...This is not necessarily cause for alarm. The important thing is to keep your wits about you and borrow some money."
- Elinor Goulding Smith

Friday, January 18, 2008

"Maybe we were just lucky!" *

What's next - LOCUST?

Don't ask. Just know that if you need me, I'll be curled up in bed, head under the covers, whimpering.

(The baby is fine. It's nothing dire, just disgusting, and one more fucking thing.)


* from "Locusts: The 8th Plague"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Ooooh - oooh- ooohh, Mr Kotter, Mr Kotter!" *

Connie Willis has a new short story/novella anthology, collecting her work from the past twenty years or so. I know how my other B&N gift card is being spent...


* Horshack, in "Welcome Back, Kotter"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I get crazy in a bookstore. It makes my heart beat hard because I want to buy everything. *

Upcoming/new books which interest me:

January 2008
Touchstone – Laurie R. King. I STILL haven’t read Art of Deception…and yet…
The Chameleon’s Shadow - Minette Walters. This is out already and getting good reviews.
The Knitting Circle - Ann Hood. How did I miss a new book by Ann Hood? I like her.
People of the Book - Geraldine Brooks. Had this in my hand today. Put it back. Second time I’ve done that - March was SO disappointing that I worry…
The Anatomy of Deception - Laurence Goldstone.

February 2008
Incomplete Revenge - Jacqueline Winspear. I like me some Maisie.
Remember Me? - Sophie Kinsella. Fluff, but fun.
Deep Dish - Mary Kay Andrews. Ditto. Andrews is usually hilariously funny.
Tall Grass - Sandra Dallas.
Schuyler’s Monster: A father’s journey with his wordless daughter - Robert Rummel-Hudson.
Redeemed: A Spiritual Misfit Stumbles Toward God, Marginal Sanity, and the Peace that Passes All Understanding - Heather King. You know me and crazy religious people.

March 2008
11 - Dreamers of the Day - Mary Doria Russell.

April 2008
Certain Girls - Jennifer Weiner. Hope it’s better than Goodnight Nobody which I found superficial and disappointing.
Unaccustomed Earth - Jumpha Lahiri. Yay!
Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories - Elizabeth Strout.
Of Love and War: The Civil War Letters and Medicinal Books of Augustus V. Ball. Because I am weird.

Today I bought Allegra Goodman’s The Family Markowitz and Haven Kimmel’s (my new love) Something Rising (Light and Swift).

I picked up from the library books 2 and 3 of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, The Unheard, and a Paul Auster (City of Glass) (having read the Siri Hustvedt and liking it so much, decided I should try her hubby’s books…) Also a nonfiction book called Body of Work about an anatomy lab.

I requested a bunch of books – mostly suggestions from you guys and the bookstore lady: Loving Frank; The Virgin of Small Plains; The Friday Night Knitting Club; The Wednesday Wars; The Heroines. (I am STILL waiting on my requests for I Am Legend and Foreskin’s Lament.) Apparently I am laboring under the delusion that I will have time to read in the next month or so…


* Reese Witherspoon
(I KNEW I liked that girl.)

Monday, January 14, 2008

"It's not easy being a mother. If it were easy, fathers would do it." *

Oh people. My brain has decided it’s time for this parasi—er, baby to win.

I spent HOURS yesterday formatting an APA bibliography for a new client, only to realize at 10 pm that she needed it in MLA. Which incidentally is NOT a format I can do in my sleep. And her fellowship proposal is due tomorrow. I nearly vomited. I am terrified to hear from her. No news is good news, and all that. Fortunately, she had already done most of the hard work and really did not even need me, except for some hand-holding. Needless to say, I will NOT be charging her.

But it’s time for me to put my editing empire on hold and concentrate on getting through this pregnancy and those sleep-deprived first months without losing any old clients. Someday my brain will function again. I think.

In the meantime, the boys are in their new room, more or less. No bunkbeds yet, which means Terzo is still in a room by himself. But we are moving the office/computer room upstairs, as soon as the cable company comes to move the data line, and H is moving his bed downstairs into the smaller back bedroom where his guitars can live comfortably in the closet year-round, and the baby will sleep in the front bedroom, when s/he gets around to actually sleeping in his/her own room. I am recycling and Freecycling and throwing stuff out, and giving stuff to Goodwill, and generally just clearing clutter. Maternity clothes – mostly gone. Class notes from undergrad AND grad school – gone. Reams of crinkled paper and used coloring books – gone.

Oh, and I did ten loads of laundry yesterday. I am woman, hear me whimper.

On a happier note, I have been reading some awesome books, dudes.

What I Loved - Siri Hustvedt. This book took an unexpected turn at the end, but it worked out all right. Mostly I loved the first half, and read the second half to find out what happened to everyone. It was worth it.

The Solace of Leaving Early - Haven Kimmel. It would be hyperbolic for me to say that Kimmel is one of today’s most underrated writers. But my personal opinion is that it would be verging on truth. Her writing is considered (without being painful or self-conscious), intelligent, and multilayered. Her characters are wonderfully real. I look forward to reading anything she writes next, and to what she’ll be writing in twenty years. Like David Mitchell, her early work is exciting and inventive (Kimmel isn’t as quirky as Mitchell, though), and I can’t wait to see what they come up with after a decade or two of writing under their belts.

The Ivy Chronicles - This was a throwaway I picked up at Goodwill for a buck, about a woman who launches a kindergarten-prep business for the millionaires of Manhattan. It was funny and light and entertaining. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

I am still plodding along with What Was She Thinking? (Notes on a Scandal), and read almost half of the quiet but engrossing Septembers of Shiraz last night (after the MLA/APA debacle was fixed). I have some requests waiting at the library, and just requested Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series, too. I have to have books on hand for when I go into labor – gotta have stuff to read at the hospital. I am as excited for this hospital time as I used to be for vacations to the shore or to Paris. Ok, well maybe not Paris.


* Dorothy (Bea Arthur), on "The Golden Girls"

Saturday, January 12, 2008

"Chicken. Which is so ironic, considering that I'm a vegetarian." *

They say bad things happen in threes.
Let's hope it's not fours.
I really don't think I can cope with more right now.Maybe next week...

Bad Thing #1:
On Wednesday evening Primo got the staples out of his scalp. Two came easily; the third had been put in incorrectly at the ER, and so his ped had to shoot his scalp full of Novocaine to wrench the damn thing out. That's one white uniform shirt that will go directly into the rag pile, do not pass Oxy-Clean, do not collect two hundred dollars. It was NOT a pleasant evening, much as I adore my pediatrician.

Bad Thing #2:
Stupid male OB/GYN freaking me out about the fetus. See here.

Bad Thing #3:
Chicken pox.
Yes, you heard me correctly.
Chicken. Pox.
For which all three of my children have been vaccinated, per the AAP's recommended vaccination guidelines. And which are required for Pittsburgh public schools.

This was not a break-through case, like you might have a month or so after your vaccine. No, this was a bona fide case. Seems the vaccine has about a 3% failure rate. And Seg just got lucky. Lucky middle child syndrome, we call it around here.

So now he is in the bathtub full of warm water and baking soda, and daily ingesting huge amounts of some antiviral stuff that is meant to stop the pox in their trax (see how I did that? Clever, huh?)

And everyone we know is freaking out.
Do you remember how when WE were small, your parents WANTED you to get chicken pox, to get it the hell out of the way?
I never actually attended one, but I have heard tell of "chicken pox parties," thrown by the lucky first victim, to infect all the other kids and get it over with. I recall having chicken pox in my mouth and up my nose and in my ears and between my toes; I was miserable and itchy, but that's about it. My brother had it even worse; he had pox, um, up his butt.

Now though? I mean, I am not sending Seg to school or anything crazy, but seriously, I am sorta shocked no one's come to fly the plague flag from our porch. Sheesh. Everybody's been vaccinated, and most people my age have had chicken pox, and still you'd think we were infected with bubonic plague or worse. So we are just hunkering down and keeping Seg comfy, and waiting for his pox to scab up; Primo and Terzo had boosters, just in case.

If you aren't itching by now, just from power of suggestion, you are probably the only one.


* Phoebe, on "Friends," episode: "The One with the Chickenpox"

Friday, January 11, 2008

“Gynecologists: perhaps the most ignorant class of men, when it comes to knowledge of women, in the country.” *

When I chose my ob/gyn practice fifteen-plus years ago, I chose a practice based primarily on one thing: I wanted women doctors. Yes, I was interested in medical credentials and personalities, but mostly I wanted someone who COULD experience anything I might – whether or not they actually had was irrelevant. I felt that a woman doctor could best understand any symptom or feeling or fear I described, and be able to better empathize than any male doctor, regardless of how kind or gracious or experienced. (In fact, this theme has followed through my PCP, dermatologist, dentist, and therapist. Call me crazy, but I am just much more comfortable with female doctors.)

I stayed with the practice through my original doctor leaving the practice and several shifts in personnel. I became intimately – and I mean intimately – acquainted with every doctor in the practice throughout two years of infertility worries, and then three pregnancies and deliveries. Yes, I had my favorites among the five doctors and one nurse-practitioner, but I felt comfortable with all of them, and supremely confident in their abilities and willingness to listen to me, empathize, advise, and keep in mind my needs and wishes with regards to birth control, birth plans, and all other manner of female stuff. Truly, I could not have been happier with my doctors.

Then two months ago, squarely (or should I say roundly?) in the sixth month of my pregnancy, not one but two of the doctors dropped the I’m-leaving-the-practice bombshell. And why? Some scheduling/flexibility issues – all of my doctors have youngish children - but mostly because the higher-ups (assuredly all men) at the hospital had decided to merge my group with another practice – one with three male doctors and one woman doctor (who would not actually practice at the office to which I go). Said higher-ups saw no reason whatsoever (according to two of my doctors with whom I discussed my concerns) why any woman would prefer an all-female-doctor OB/GYN practice. So this change took effect at the end of the year, leaving me with a practice of two women doctors whom I know, and three male doctors, none of whom I have ever even met and don’t really want to meet.

And yet, today I met the first male doctor.

Who, not promisingly, spent the first four minutes in the room explaining how his name is pronounced (it’s an Indian name but not terribly complicated and I had greeted him with it, pronounced properly, when he came in), joking about how the fact that I was a librarian made me assuredly very interested in breaking down words and figuring out how to pronounce things properly. Uh, ok.

Then he told me I had an internal exam due to see if I have begun dilating. I had spent some time the night before considering this; I knew it was probably coming. And call me a Puritan or tell me I am acting like some fundamentalist crazy woman, but I don’t want a male I don’t know probing around my reproductive parts. I am not a prude; I enjoyed a healthy and perhaps overactive or even indiscriminate sex life in my youth. But, again call me crazy, but having sex (fun! exciting!) with someone you barely know is very different from being closely, clinically examined by someone you barely know. And I know plenty of you fine upstanding citizens would think it would be the other way round, but for me, in my fuddy-duddy middle-aged years, it’s not. I’d like to keep my private regions’ viewings restricted to my husband and my female doctor. Dr Pronounce-my-name-right seemed a little put out (but at the tender age of what? maybe 24? Doogie would have to learn to cope). I assured him that while I was certain he was a very fine doctor, I really was not comfortable with a male OB/GYN, and in fact, once the baby was delivered, chances were excellent that I would be following one of my old doctors to her new, all-female-doctor practice. Nothing personal. He seemed compelled at this point to explain that no one PLANNED this merger months ago and it certainly wasn’t intended to make me feel uncomfortable – all of which I acknowledged politely and stuck to my guns.

So after a few seconds’ stand-off, he decided to measure my belly and listen to the heartbeat. And then he said, “Hmmm, I see here you started this pregnancy at 190. And now you weigh 186.” (And there I was, pleased that I had put ON two pounds in the past two weeks.) I explained the whole I-vomit-continuously-almost-the-entire-pregnancy (um, all FOUR of them) predicament to him, and assured him I was indeed eating, just stuff like fruit and eggs, not burgers and fries and pounds of chocolate – very unlike me (in fact, H has threatened to search the basement for pods lately...) And I also explained that at 5’8” and 190 pre-pregnancy, I certainly had some poundage to lose, if necessary. AND all through the previous eight months, all the doctors (his now esteemed colleagues) had made sure the baby was growing properly, that the heartbeat and movement were good, that my measurements were right on, and I had had two previous ultrasounds, all of which confirmed the health of the baby.

Still he looked concerned. “I’d feel better if you were to get another ultrasound,” he said. He measured my belly again. “Hmmm. You seem to be measuring a little...small.” Oh. OH. Shit. “I am concerned that the placenta may not be feeding the fetus properly.” He furrowed his young brow.

So. What to do but say, “Fine, ok, I will be happy to go have another ultrasound.” And leave the office, prescription clutched in hand, and despite the rational part of my brain – you know the part that remembers this is my fourth, very normal pregnancy and that, up to this point not one other doctor has been anything but reassuring that the baby is fine, in fact, perfect - telling me that everything is just fine, I call H to whom I sob that the baby is not right and I have apparently been STARVING my poor little fetus.

You see where this is going, don’t you? Of course you do. You are probably well-rested, and not eight months pregnant, and fully caffeinated. (Plus, you probably are not half as defensive as I am on any given day, about any given issue. Years of therapy, I tell you...)

The baby is FINE. Perfect, even. The ultrasound tech, who has been doing this for 23 years, used those exact words. “Perfect.”

And then she said, “Why did your doctor want you to have this ultrasound?”
So I explained that I was apparently measuring a centimeter or two small, and she LAUGHED. And told me the baby weighs six pounds, and if he continues to grow at this rate, I will be giving birth to an 8-pound, 3-ounce baby.

Well, at least he’s not an alien, right?

So then of course, I spent the afternoon wondering if this was Dr. Mister’s way of asserting his male power. Or just his inexperience showing. Or what. And I decide I don’t care. I am giving birth to this child (hoping that I pull one of the female doctors whom I know – because don’t even get me started on my fears of unnecessary c-sections or episiotomies), and getting my tubes tied, and then switching practices, so as to be comfortable revealing my private parts as necessary to any doctor in my chosen practice.

And just for your edification, when I stopped at the Chinese take-out place for my daily fix of fried rice, the little old lady there looked at me and said, "Hmmm. You having boy." And here *I* thought I was having pork fried rice and an order of hot and sour soup.


* HL Mencken

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Anyone who has ever slipped a foot inside a warm, cozy Ugg boot cannot dispute the comfort factor.*

I did it. Just like everyone else. (See, Mom? Off the bridge I go...)

I bought a pair of Uggs - well, in my case, Uggs knock-offs.
Steve Madden, to be precise.
On clearance at Famous Footwear, less ten bucks with my January coupon.
Beige, with a sort of sweater top on top of the typical suede foot part.

I thought, Wouldn't it be nice to remove even a single step from my crazed morning routine? There will be no searching for socks - just pull on my boots and off we go. As if I am that sporty...

And dudes, they might be sorta ugly but ohmigod, my feet are in heaven.

I was exchanging H's sneakers - does anyone else act as their husband's personal shopper, or is just me? And so I look at these as my commission. Yeah, that's it.

Dudes, I put them on this morning and haven't taken them off yet. I may sleep in them.
And I despise shoes, and socks even more. I wear my Tevas and Crocs so far into winter, it's a wonder my toes are not routinely frostbitten.
So these ugly frumpy boots? The PERFECT solution. Ahhhh.

Color me conformist.



Tuesday, January 08, 2008

“I don't have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation” *

Everybody else (if by everybody else, I mean two other bloggers - oops) is doing it, so why not? (And yes, Mom, frankly, if everyone else were jumping off a bridge, I WOULD seriously consider it. So there. )

25 things that shit me to tears

1. Whining
2. Walmart
3. Old people at the grocery store who stand in the middle of the aisle, reviewing their coupons or whatever the hell they are doing IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN AISLE
4. Baggers who put my bananas in with my canned goods
5. Applicator tampons
6. Birth control
7. Sock seams
8. Ultra low-rise jeans
9. Dealing with my contact lenses
10. White chocolate
11. Not having any time to myself
12. The dog
13. Babysitters who cancel at the last minute
14. Bras
15. My car’s lack of power locks
16. Hummers
17. Mitt Romney
18. Artificial sweeteners
19. Trendy books
20. Those advertising circulars that get tossed onto my lawn at least once a day
21. Jehovah’s Witnesses and/or anyone else who rings my doorbell to solicit, proselytize, or try to sell me something
22. Diaper tabs that rip off
23. Antibacterial Kleenex
24. People who don’t squeeze out the kitchen sink sponge
25. Microsoft Office 2007


* Whoopi Goldberg
[I am sure I have used this quote before, but I don't really care, it's so fabulous.]

Monday, January 07, 2008

"What an excellent day for an exorcism!" *

The boys are out playing in our E. coli-festering mudpit of a backyard. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but until we get the fence rebuilt, the dog poops back there (which I do clean up every morning at the least, plus right after he’s gone out on the warm days), and we have NO grass because you wouldn’t have any grass either if you had three- um, make that four – hockey-mad males in your family. And it’s been raining and warm, and the Appalachian-themed dirt has become Appalachian-themed mud, ringed with the composting remnants of the magnolia tree’s leaves. I made the boys wear their Crocs so I could just hose them off when they came in. I would take a picture and show you the yard, but it’s frankly too embarrassing.

I ate half a pound of chocolate-covered raisins last night – I was reading Siri Hustvedt’s excellent What I Loved and chewing my nails and bloodying my cuticles. I decided chewing raisins was preferable to rendering my fingertips useless. But that many raisins? Regardless of whether they are coated in chocolate or not? Equals severe heartburn and tummy distress. I am just recovering, after power-napping for the past twenty minutes underneath the laundry piles (where it’s warm) on my bed. Additionally, the fourteen pounds I have lost this pregnancy are going to pack right back on with a vengeance if I continue eating chocolate-covered anything in this manner. And we do NOT want that. At least I don’t. What I do want is to read Hustvedt’s other books now. And since I took care of all the important errands on Saturday, like renewing my library card, I think I’ll scoot over to the website and request them right now.

I am concurrently reading Zoe Heller’s What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scanda which is ok – I am sort of waiting for it to pick up; and Haven Kimmel’s The Solace of Leaving Early, which is so far just as interesting and engrossing as her other books. I have a chapter or two left in Terra Incognita, which I enjoyed very much but feel like I have been reading FORever.

Next up: a novel I picked up because (I can’t believe I am going to admit this) I liked the cover: Justin Evans’s A Good and Happy Child. I am hoping it is not just going to be a throwaway thriller. But check out those demons – don’t they bode well?


* Pazuzu, in "The Exorcist"

Sunday, January 06, 2008

"Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds." *

I have been laughing my ass off reading these.

Have also been entertained and moved by these and am compiling my own 365 list at the moment.

Last night I read straight through Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells. Think a slightly more contemporary Practical Magic. (Yes, it WAS almost that good.) Go read it.

Also - a very nice person (I forget who, blame it on placenta brain) emailed me personally a while ago offering me their espresso pot that they no longer use, and I neglected to reply because I am an ill-mannered person who was raised by wolves. If you are even still reading, generous person, I would LOVE your espresso pot, in hopes of perhaps saving some of the cash I spend profligately at Starbucks. And if you are still so thoughtfully inclined, email me again, and I swear I will not only reply but be very very grateful. Thank you!

* JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom

Thursday, January 03, 2008

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." *

It's the 2007 BOOK ROUND-UP.
Or something like that.

Number of books read:
(I read Austenland on NYE in one go, it was that fun. Finished it just under the wire, at 11:55.)
For a complete list, click on the "What We've Been Reading: BabelBabe" link to your left.

Number of books bought:
After a January run to Half-Price Books that totaled 43 books, and a February through April also approaching those numbers each month, I eased off considerably in the second half of the year, ending up buying no books at all in July, and only 11 from August through December.

Library books (not counting the gajillion checked out for the boys):
Approximately 90. I think I must have gotten lax about recording these though….I feel like I am constantly checking out library books and requesting library books…I just picked up an armful on New Year’s Eve.

Best books of the year (read, not necessarily published in 2007) (and I linked to my actual review where I could find it):
  • History of Love – Nicole Krauss. I did not find her debut novel, Man Walks Into a Room nearly as compelling, although it started out in a very promising fashion. (Full review here.)
  • Lost City Radio – Daniel Alarcon. Simply lovely. Mysterious yet engaging, and utterly elegant.
  • The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf - Mohja Kahf. I think this book should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t get the need for cultural diversity in America. (Small review here.)
  • Kaaterskill Falls – Allegra Goodman. I am rationing Goodman’s books now, like I ration Kate Atkinson’s. I have a bit of a thing for reading about extreme religion of any type – and this falls into the Orthodox Judaism niche – but not all of Goodman’s books do.
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy. Simply shattering. I did NOT enjoy this one bit, but oh my God, it was amazing. (Full review here.)
  • The Book of Lost Things – John Connelly. Odd. But good. (Full review here.)
  • Liars and Saints – Maile Meloy. Jess summed it up best: Much is left to the imagination in spare detail, but the story still has the weight of a good, satisfying saga.
  • The Used World – Haven Kimmel. Liked it enough to make me go out and buy some of her other books. Her characters are quirky, relatable, and totally unpredictable.

Books I really just enjoyed, regardless of their literary worth:
  • Long May She Reign - Ellen Emerson White. I waited twenty years for this, I am relieved I liked it. Actually, I more than liked it, it was more satisfying than my high school reunion.
  • The White Darkness – Geraldine McCaughrean. Feeding my Ant/arctic obsession. (Small review here.)
  • Popco – Scarlett Thomas. Satiric comic novel dealing with the marketing of children’s toys, although I really enjoyed the homeopathic sidebar bits as well. Thomas is so smart, she’s scary.
  • Austenland - Shannon Hale. Fluff, but oh such fun. Made even better by the fact that the heroine feels as ambivalent about her part in the book as I did about reading it.
  • Instances of the Number Three – Salley Vickers. Vickers writes quiet lovely little novels. This is my favorite of the three I read this year (the other two were Mr Golightley’s Holiday and Miss Garnet’s Angel). Thank you , Suse!
  • I Know This Much is True – Wally Lamb. As engrossing as She Came Undone. I liked the main character and all his flaws and foibles – and his honesty about them.
  • Baker Towers – Jennifer Haigh. Just a good read. Thanks, Gina!
  • Doomsday Book – Connie Willis. The Black Plague. Need I say more? (Full review here.)
  • Mommies Who Drink – Brett Paesel. A very honest look at life-after-children.

Books I started but simply could NOT make myself care enough to finish, much to my disappointment:
  • The Emperor’s Children – Claire Messud. Oh. My. God. YAWN.
  • The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai. The writing in this was gorgeous: intricate and evocative; I just couldn’t care about a single character.
  • The Echo Maker – Richard Powers.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion.
  • The Great Stink – Clare Clarke.
  • A Disorder Peculiar to the Country – Ken Kalfus.
  • Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I may be the only person alive who did not love this book.
  • Saturday – Ian McEwan. I WANT to love McEwan but after attempting several of his books, have given up.
  • Mirabilis - Susann Cokal. How could I NOT love this – it had the plague, and maniacal priests, and a main character who fed an entire town from her bountiful supply of breastmilk. But I COULD NOT get through it.
  • Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures: Stories – Vincent Lam.
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl. Oh, I WANTED to love this. Pessl is so obviously bright and talented and young, what an exciting find. But oh gosh, she's so YOUNG and so is her writing. I don't blame her for her youth, we may yet see great things from her - but WHERE was her editor?

NEXT UP: What I want to read in 2008, forthcoming books to which I am looking forward, etc. Stay tuned.


* Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

" is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." *

We had a delay this morning, and I don’t mean the fact that none of us woke up till 9:30.

I wouldn’t know, having slept through it, but apparently at 6:30 this morning, it was snowing and blowing rather fiercely, causing public schools to call a two-hour delay.

Good thing. (And I sincerely mean that, a statement which would have been met with incredulous stares and raised eyebrows not twenty-four hours ago.)

A child perpetually aware of his physical limitations, Segundo ate a hearty dinner at Grandma’s last night, had two small cookies, and immediately crumpled into my arms sobbing, “I want to go home RIGHT NOW!” Don’t need to tell ME twice – I bundled him into the car, got him home, upstairs, changed into pjs, and teeth brushed in record time, and in bed ASLEEP by 6:50 pm. In which state he remained until 9:30 this morning.

Ah, if only the other two were that simple.

In the twenty minutes it took me to accomplish the above, Primo smashed the back of his head into his grandmother’s coffee table and H had to bundle him up and drive him to Children’s to get stitches. They were home in an astounding hour and a half, complete with three staples in his scalp, some sort of numbing gel all over his hair, and blood spattered on his hockey jersey. (Is there anything cooler to have all over your hockey jersey, I ask?) By the time I got him settled and in bed, it was close to 10:00, and then he asked me to stay with him till he fell asleep. My response to that one is usually, “No WAY,” but seeing as the poor kid had just been unbelievably stoic about his head wound, I complied. (Can I just tell you, confidentially, dear ‘netties, that every time someone called to reassure me that he was fine, I found myself inappropriately wanting to warble in a really bad British accent, “It’s only a flesh wound!” See, this is what happens when you let totally ill-suited people become parents of small children…)

During the hour and a half while Primo et al. were at the hospital, Uncle D drove Terzo home and deposited him, crying and stinky, into my arms. I got him ready for bed, read him a couple of books, and got him to sleep in record time, only to have him wake up sobbing and screaming for me at 4 am-ish. He was simultaneously dripping huge amounts of snot AND completely stuffed up, plus coughing up lungs. Like the Grinch, I got him a drink and sent him (back) to bed, where he alternately slept, snoring loudly enough to wake the dead, and whimpered “Mommy, Mommy, MommyMommyMommyMommyMommyMommy” until I thought my head would explode. He finally truly fell asleep about 5:30 or so and slept till 9:30.

When *I* finally awoke at around 9:30 myself, I had one thought:

I should have eaten more of that damn Good Luck Pretzel. That’ll learn me to be rude to my mother-in-law.


* Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"They call you Lady Luck, but there is room for doubt. At times you have a very unladylike way of running out." *

This is why I hate New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, and any festivities associated therewith:

Doug Savage has hit the New Year's nail squarely on its insufferable head.

And while I'm at it, I also hate the goddamn Good Luck Pretzel and snapped at my MIL tonight when she insisted I had to eat a piece, "I don't HAVE to do anything, I'm pregnant."

2007 book roundup/2008 incoming-books posts coming soon.


* "Luck Be a Lady," from "Guys and Dolls." Comp., Frank Loesser