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