Thursday, December 31, 2009

They're coming to take me away, haha...

Badger has cause me to consider doing Blog365 in 2010.

Perhaps having to churn out stuff rather than agonizing and pretending to craft could serve my blogging well.

Or not.

I don't know.

At any rate, happy new year and drive safely tonight.
Thanks for being my Internetty friends.

PS I may just quit writing altogether if I can't fix my defunct D key...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to all...

I am feeling a little melancholy this Christmas Eve.
I am missing my parents.
I am missing my stupid big brother.
I wish my little brother lived closer.

But I have my boys, and H, and my friends, both real and Internet.
I am healthy, my boys are awesome, I got to sing lovely carols this afternoon, and after I play Santa, I plan to curl up in bed with a mug of hot tea and a creepy vampire novel (Let the Right One In).

A peaceful and joyous Christmas to you.

Love, BB

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"I don't want a lot for Christmas..."

I should be

But last night, I picked up the new Harper Connelly.

So I am reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.

  • Am currently burning the 28 CDs of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander to my computer. I assume it will make some lovely listening while I knitknitknit.
  • However, I also am enjoying listening to Anna Karenina via LibriVox. I have tried to READ AK any number of times; the listening is much pleasanter.
  • All this audio goodness is to help me knit the four baby hats my husband asked me to knit for baby-having coworkers. He asked last week. He wants them before Christmas.
  • It was a good excuse to go buy yarn I might not otherwise: a pale pink alpaca/silk blend, and some gorgeous Malabrigo silky merino.
  • At least one of the hats I am knitting is the pink ruffly dealio in here.
  • It's already so adorable I could scream.
  • I am also knitting the umbrella edge beanie in here. I am just not sure in what color yet, although I have some gorgeous soft turquoise-y blue Malabrigo worsted lying around...
  • I am reading actual real live hard copybooks. I swear.
  • I am totally in love with Lillian Nattel's River Midnight. Engrossing and complex and human. LOVE this book.
  • I want to own this, as I will reread it.
  • I also started Kate Jacobs' Knit Two last night. Oh, how I want to love these books, like I love Gil McNeil's Beach Street books.
  • But I don't. They are cold and detached. I don't LIKE any of the characters. She's like Jennifer Chiaverini with all the schmaltz but none of the redeeming heart.
  • I am doing my own Christmas shopping, mostly at Persephone Press. Will keep you updated on my selections.
  • I am also buying myself a lovely pair of chestnut short Uggs boots.
  • I think.
  • Unfortunately, all the Amazon packages flowing into the house these days contain gifts, not goodies for me.
  • I bought H this and this for Christmas. Just today.
  • Our tree is bought and up. It's easily nine feet tall, and smells gloriously like oranges. The tree guy says this is typical of Douglas fir trees.
  • Outside lights are up, framing our front door, and the rest of the decorations will go up this weekend.
  • Baking for teacher gifts will commence this evening. I am leaning towards lemon slice.
  • Kim gave me the world's best lemon bar recipe ever. I think they're festive enough for Christmas gifts...
  • The boys completed their shopping at the school store, and all mysterious packages are sequestered in my bedroom.
  • I hear we may get a few inches of snow this weekend.
  • It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
  • THIS is more like it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All the Whos down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not.

We got out the Christmas books today.
Seg is sprawled on the living room floor, engrossed in The Littlest Angel.
Primo couldn't wait to get his hands on Four Sides, Eight Nights.
And Terzo keeps looking at the book that plays "Jingle Bells."
Requests to have The Polar Express read out loud tonight have already come.

H is bringing a tree home tonight.
I have most of my shopping done, and the boys' lists, carefully annotated, have been mailed to the North Pole.
Caroling in the churchyard is this evening.
I have started thinking about what to bake for teacher gifts, and have already gorged myself sick on cookies at least once.

So why do I still feel like this guy?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Whether your quiver is large or small, you are welcome.*

Oh dear.
I miss you all.
But what with H’s expanded hours and the Fourth Child Who Is Kicking My Butt, I am lucky I have enough brain power to even read, let alone blog about what I’m reading. Bear with me, I will try to do better.
Um, right after Christmas.

I just reread Gil McNeil’s The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club in preparation to read its sequel Needles and Pearls. Not yet out in the US, it was sent to me by a kind friend who sort of accidentally ordered it from a UK bookshop. Equally as charming as the first, the plot takes a couple unexpected turns, but it still qualifies as feel-good reading, and it inspires me to knit more.

I am thoroughly and surprisingly enjoying the weird little novel by Jonathan Miles, Dear American Airlines. Begun as a letter of complaint to the airline during an unexpected and extended layover in O’Hare Airport, Bennie Ford meanders through his life, his relationships, and his personal epiphanies. It’s an odd conceit for a novel but it works, and Bennie is a complicated but sympathetic man.

I also finished Tom Perrotta’s The Abstinence Teacher, but since I read it, weirdly concurrently, with Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, I think I will save my thoughts about that bizarre juxtaposition for another post.

Moving onto Raffaella Barker’s autobiographical Come and Tell Me Some Lies and Lillian Nattel’s engaging The River Midnight.

My husband asked for my marked-up copy of the Persephone Press catalogue, so I am anticipating some lovely, dove grey volumes among my Christmas gifts.

And I just requested a buttload of YA novels from the library today, after catching up on Jess’s blog.

I am going to die before I get to read everything I want to, aren’t I?

from the Quiverfull website (

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

", you can't do - - - I mean, you just....what do you can't...!" *

Oh, dudes.
The cookie mall.
I hate the cookie mall.
Not that I have ever BEEN to the cookie mall.
But I have to bake for it tonight, and I don't want to.
I WANT to curl up in my cozy bed with my new copy of New Moon and bone up on the Volturi, and then move onto my new copy of Eclipse, to refresh all the vampire's back stories.
Shut. Up.
It's been a loooooooooong day.

At least I am not watching "Twilight."

*Bella, as living proof that vampires make you stupid

Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The water is your friend. You don't have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move. "

Our big old house is most decidedly not haunted. BUT: when we first moved in and I would wander about at night after the boys were asleep, I often felt a warm, benevolent presence. I assumed it was 1) my overactive imagination, or 2) the previous owner who had died a very modern and apparently pain-free death from old age at a local hospital and not in our master bedroom. Either way, it was, as I said, benevolent, and eventually, once it became clear that we were staying and taking good care of the house (far better care than he had been able to, for that matter) and seemed intent upon populating it with lots of raucous and messy little boys, the benevolent, warm presence dissipated. After all, with all the mess and chaos around here, who has time anymore to wander round the halls wallowing in a ghostly presence? Not I. I need my sleep. And apparently, so did Henry (the previous owner).

I FINALLY finished The Little Stranger after I resorted to carrying it with me all day and reading it in completely non-creepy places like my pediatrician’s waiting room and the lobby at the gym. Because I found if I read it at home, especially last week when H was out 4 of 5 nights, I kept hearing all sorts of noises – noises I couldn’t seem to just blame on the cats, and the boys were all asleep. I would hear footsteps and rattles and snorts and all sorts of deliciously, horrifyingly creepy odd noises. So I was forced to stop reading it by myself, in my old, drafty, shadowy house. Especially since Henry no longer was around to watch out for me.

So to banish the thought of wet gurgling voices from the laundry chute and wafting cold drafts, I dove quickly into some not so creepy reading.

I picked up Robertson Davies’ The Cunning Man one night last week, because it was handy in a stack by my bed. And the thing about Robertson Davies’ books are that they are so convoluted and dense with details and tangents that often by the time you’ve reached the end, you’ve forgotten all of the beginning and lots of the middle, so he’s perfect for rereading. I am currently three-quarters of the way through and enjoying it just as much as I did the first 2 times I read it.

I also am rereading (albeit unintentionally since I didn’t remember I’d already read it till about halfway though) Mary Kay Andrews’ Hissy Fit. Good, fluffy fun, often with a mild little mystery thrown in. Andrews’ characters are more often than not antique dealers, or at the very least, interior designers or other people who have good reason to frequent antique auctions and estate sales, and considering that the only new pieces of furniture in my entire house are the TV and the dining room table, I find myself sympathizing greatly with them and often wishing I could tag along to the garage sales and junk shops…

Speaking of, I picked up a bunch of books at the local thrift shop last Thursday and immediately immersed myself in Julian Fellowes’ Snobs, which is sort of funny in an abstracted, Thatcher-era England kind of way.

I bought a bunch of books for the boys, including Dave Pilkey’s first six Ricky Ricotta graphic novels, and a pile of Children’s Illustrated Classics.

And also, for me, a weirdly delightful illustrated picture book of the saints, with strange little crayon-y drawings of each saint and a cheerfully obtuse blurb about his or her life (and bloody, painful death, where applicable).
E.g., this lovely little story re: Saint Agnes: "When the emperor saw she was not afraid of pain, he had her clothes stripped off and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd."
Or this gem about St Cecilia:
"The judge condemned her to be smothered by steam. But God protected Cecilia. Then the judge ordered a soldier to kill her with a sword. He struck her three times but did not cut off her head. She fell down, badly wounded, and for three days she remained alive." (Does anyone else hear the voice from Austin Powers: "I'm badly wounded..." or is that just me?)
Peaceful little bedtime stories, no? (Of course, when I was a pre-teen, I was oddly obsessed with Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which was available in our church's library for all to read. But this was the same church that loved to detail the torments of hell to grade-schoolers, so take that for what it's worth...)
All in all, well worth the buck-fifty it cost me...

In other news, the dread Christmas shopping is upon us.
But first, Primo’s birthday.
A friend very kindly gave him a Game Boy this summer, but I am discovering that Game Boy games are obsolete and practically impossible to find. All the games Primo really wants are Gameboy Advance games. So I am currently torn between (among?) 1) buying a used Game Boy Advance and the attendant games, 2) buying a Nintendo DS with which all Game Boy Advance games are compatible as well as, obviously, all the DS games, and 3) refusing to buy any game or gaming consoles at all and hopelessly abandoning my children to the outdated 20th century.

* ~Aleksandr Popov

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"...the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night..."*

Something Missing, by Matthew Dicks, is a strange and compelling little book - much like its main character. Martin Railback is a thief: he supports himself by stealthily entering the homes of his carefully vetted "clients" and stealing whatever he needs: a half-bottle of laundry detergent here, a box of cereal there, a roll or two of toilet paper, a book of stamps. Things most people would never notice missing. His thoroughness and his obsessive-compulsive tendencies lend themselves to the success of his chosen "career." But after he is almost caught one day, he throws caution to the winds (well, for him), and begins to interfere in the lives of his clients, people whom, after all, he considers practically family. Martin reasons, If he can make people's lives better, why shouldn't he? For a common house thief, Martin is a remarkably likeable and engaging guy, and I was surprised how thoroughly drawn into his story I became.

And now for something completely different:

*I Thessalonians 5:4

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"We're never getting off this island, Richard."

Sophie and Kristin asked the most frequently asked question: how do you choose what to read?

I read a bunch of blogs (a quick smattering: Pickle Me This, RubyRed Books, Make a Note). I get reccs from friends whose reading tastes I know and trust (often from their blogs – Jess, Suse, Katya) but also friends from the coffee shop or fellow librarians. Sometimes I just wander the library (usually the library) and pick up whatever looks good – I do this at the bookstore but usually with a pen and paper so I don’t have to BUY everything. Every couple months I run the names of my favorite authors thru Amazon to see if they have anything new coming out. And when I worked in an actual library, it was even easier. Every book that crosses my radar that might interest me gets entered into an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop. But I also have a little notebook I carry in my purse. I have even been known to text myself with book titles.
It’s an organized sickness.

I also find that I must be in the proper mood to appreciate the right book. Which is why I didn’t dive right into the newest Audrey Niffenegger, for example. My brain wanted fast and furious action, and so it was thrilled with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But after that maelstrom of emotion, I was ready for something calmer (albeit just as disturbing). This is why I have dozens of books on my TBR shelves, because you never know what mood may strike at 3am. And sometimes if I am in a slump, I reread an old favorite (Rosamunde Pilcher’s “big books" and Raffaella Barker’s Hens Dancing and Summertime are prime for this).

“…and then of course, there are the problems with follow-through if I actually get something home...”
Don’t let me fool you. For all the reading I do, there are dozens of books sitting on my bookshelves/floor/nightstand, etc. awaiting my attention. More often than not to be ignored for some fly-by-night newcomer…

Paula asked, Have you read The Lace Reader? Did you like it?
I have, and I did enjoy it. I followed it up with The Birth House though and for some reason constantly confuse the two.

sueeeus said...
Have you read Shantaram, and did you like it? (Long, but I liked it for the most part.)
Haven’t read it, and in fact had to go look it up on Amazon, but it looks good. So I will put it on my list.

Have you read Fraction of a Whole, and did you like it? (Tedious, but I eventually finished it. Parts made me laugh, but the tedium outweighed the rest.)
I haven’t read it, but and also had to look it up on Amazon. It doesn’t strike me as the type of book I enjoy.

What about The Housekeeper and the Professor? (Loved it.)
This looks fascinating. I think I will get this to read. The premise sort of reminds me of Nicole Krauss’s Man Walks into a Room.

And Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime? (Loved it.)
Really liked this. Read it in the “trilogy” of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark, as suggested by Badger. Who was right, as always.

(I can read 4 books to your 47,212. How on earth can you read so much??!!!!)
I breathe, I eat, I read. Oh, and I neglect my children.

And now for something completely different, but also from Sueeus:
Are you a bar soap or body wash person?
I like body wash. I will be eternally bitter that SoftSoap stopped making their Milk & Honey bodywash. Bastards.

What's your favorite 70s music?
You're not serious? I don’t know. I listen to a lot of hip-hop crap from my zumba classes (Pitbull, Lady Gaga, etc.), and a lot of stuff like Coldplay and Radiohead because my husband digs them too. I don’t actually like music usually. I have noise issues…

I'm not a follower, but I read all your posts...and here in Australia we got AS Byatt's Children's Book months ago. I still have it sitting in my to-read pile, and felt guilty everytime you mentioned not being able to get it!
Feel guilty no longer – I have my very own copy sitting on my nightstand not being read right now too.

mouselegs [I LOVE that name, btw]:
I'm sure I have questions but can't concentrate with all the shouting (school holidays here). Maybe next week, when there is only one shouting, I will be able to think again.
I anticipate not being able to form a coherent thought until mine are out of the house permanently. In like, 20 years.

I'm sure you've mentioned this before, but favorite pie and recipe? And is there a story behind having a basement oven?
Coconut custard pie. Yum. Recipe here.
And the story is that when we moved into our house 6 years ago, the upstairs oven had one setting: Broil the Shit Out of Something. Have you ever tried to broil chocolate chip cookies? No? Well, I recommend you don’t. We had brought out old range with us, and we hooked it up downstairs next to the functioning gasline, as an interim measure. Well, the interim lasted till last spring, when I finally got my upstairs oven fixed. I would never try to bake anything tricky like a soufflĂ© in there, but for cookies, roast chicken, etc., it’s fine, and it makes scones remarkably well since they requite such high heat. And that is...the rest of the story. (Did anyone else read those Paul Harvey book when they were young? I loved those…)

Eleanor told me how wonderful my blog is (she’s so sweet, if delusional) and adds: Now that I've taken care of that... a question...If I tell you that I've tried to read the 1st 30 pages of "The Children's Book" 3 times already but kept falling asleep would you still love me?
Darling Eleanor, I would love you even if you told me your favorite book was Lace, followed by Lace II, followed by Flowers in the Attic.

1. Where do you store all your books?
Do you keep them all, hand them off to friends, donate, hoard?

I used to be manic about keeping every last one, but in the past few years, I have come to just want the ones I really love or use around me. My very favorites for the most part are in lovely custom-made look-built-in shelves in my bedroom, which were a Christmas gift from H. I have two filled cases in the living room for both my and H’s books. Most of my cookbooks live in a case in the hallway just outside the kitchen. I have a wall lined with shelves on the landing up to the third floor, for all the cheesy paperbacks and travel guides and things that I don’t want to get rid of but also don’t need to display. I have more cases in the third floor office for our computer books and H’s linguistics books and things like that. All my knitting and crafty books are in a smallish bookshelf in my sewing room. The boys each have big bookcases in their rooms for their books, and there’s a bookcase in the third floor playroom for my childhood books that I think they’d like to read someday. In other words, the books are everywhere.
I like to be able to lend out books, and I often buy duplicates intentionally if I run across favorites priced cheaply, so I can give them away. But if I have a book near and dear to me, I usually won’t lend it out, except to Gina.
I usually donate a few bags of paperbacks to our church’s annual book sale, and I sell some at Half Price Books (for example, I just sold all my pregnancy and baby books. And then bought more books with the proceeds.)
Clearly I am a sick woman.

2. Have you thought of writing one?
I have two “novels” sitting in my bedroom right now. One is an outline, a lot of research, and some random chapters. The other is just writing, but it fills about half a notebook. More likely than not, neither one is ever going to see the light of day.

3. How is Flat Edward holding up? Is he going to be replaced by Bill or Eric?
Flat Edward is hanging out in my sewing room. He can never be replaced by any other vampire. However Eric grows close to my heart the further into Charlaine Harris’s novels I get.

4. Did you ever get into the Outlander series?
I read the first one and really liked it (although I admit to some appallment (is that a word?) over the wife-beating scene, and how cheerful Gabaldon was about it.)
But I never read any more. I guess I didn’t see how much more she could possibly have to say, since the first one was like a thousand pages long.

5. My word verification: morusle.
What's the first thing that comes to mind?
Perusal, a small moral or morsel? Am I the only one who plays these silly word games?

I for some reason went to mollusk. So no, you are not the only one. Not by a long shot.

Stomper Girl: Not sure if you read crime fiction (as opposed to True Crime Fiction) but if you do do you have some favourites?
I love Josephine Tey and Elizabeth George, and I like Minette Walters’s earlier stuff. Am enjoying discovering Val McDermid, although she’s very gory. I also have recently discovered Ruth Rendell, who writes psychologically tense novels which just happen to have a perfectly plausible and exciting mystery embedded in them. I am quickly reaching the conclusion that the woman is a genius.

Julia wants to know:
…do you have a favorite A.S. Byatt book, and if yes, which one is it and why?
My favorite AS Byatt book is The Virgin in the Garden. The characters of Alexander and Frederica develop and mature throughout the quartet, but in the first novel, they are so young and vulnerable, and I love learning something else about them every time I reread. The twining of present day (in the book, 1950s) with historical events, and the way in which Byatt draws parallels, intrigues me no end.

Also, do you like Margaret Drabble as well?
I have read one Drabble (The Witch of Exmoor, about which I remember exactly nothing. I know I should read more, as she is Byatt’s sister and it’d be nice to discover another such brilliant author.

And finally, very interested to hear what you think of The Children's Book. I read it last month and am still cogitating over my reactions.
I haven’t started Children’s Book yet. Trying to read Byatt with 4 children around is like, I don’t know, trying to perform brain surgery in the center ring at a circus. My time will come. For now, owning it is enough.

Beth said...
Have you ever finished a book and then hugged it, or am I the only one who does that?
No, you are not alone. I have been known to sleep with said book under my pillow (Hens Dancing); alternately, I have gotten up out of bed and put said book outside my house or in my car because it could not stay in my house One. Minute. Longer (Salem’s Lot).

Penni said...
Okay, if someone were to hand you a girl baby and a boy baby, what would you name them? (I am name obsessed). Would you keep the babies?
(I am very curious where Penni intends to find these babies...Hmmm.) I am name obsessed too. I own way more baby names books than any one person probably should. I also am fascinated by the psychology of names.
If it were a boy – oof, this is tough. I think I used up all the boy names I liked.
If, God forbid, I were to have another boy baby, I would – all other things being equal and with my husband’s opinion mattering not one whit – name him either Eamon or Mark.
If it were a girl – well, if I’d ever had a girl baby, she would have been Eleanor. So I will stick with that. It was my mother’s middle name, and I think it’s lovely and elegant. (She threatened to come back and haunt me if I ever used her first name, which she despised (it was Elsie, which I think is actually sort of cute…))
And yes, I would keep the babies. I mean, why not? I already have the world’s most chaotic household, what’s two more babies? But someone else would have to sleep train them.

If you had to write under a pseudonym what would it be?
Kate something...something hyphenated. Kate Parker – something.
There. Clear as mud. Look for me: Kate Parker-Something.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?
All the cool people I have gotten to “meet,” some in real life.
And all the cool people whom I “meet” and then get to read THEIR books and talk about them on the blog (ahem). There’s something recursively exciting about that process!

Do you like Margaret Atwood? If so, have you read Oryx and Crake? Did you like it? I keep hearing it's awful but feel like I have to read it because I want to read The Year of the Flood which sounds kind of sequel-y.
I usually enjoy Atwood immensely (Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace, I even liked The Blind Assassin and most Atwood fans panned it). Her scope and range are mind-boggling. However, I did not especially like Oryx and Crake. I am dreading picking up Year of the Flood, which I fear I must, since I own and have read everything else she has written, because I think I am going to have to reread O&C and I most emphatically do not want to.

I think this might have been asked, but what book have you hated the most? For me it was Candace Bushnell's Sex and the City.
Hands down Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full. I threw it away in an airport garbage can, I hated it so much. I didn’t even want to leave it on the airplane because I couldn’t inflict it on someone else.

ssheers asks the hardest question of all:
What are your five favorite books?
And then she followed with:
Above, I asked you "What are your five favorite books?" Feel free to modify the question any way you want: go ahead and give us your six or ten or 100 favorite books or change "favorite" to "desert island-worthy" or just tell us the five (or six or ten) books that you've read recently that you enjoyed.

I am such a glutton for books, I will answer ALL of these.

First, the easy question, books I have read recently that I enjoyed. This is marginally more difficult than usual because I stopped keeping a list of what I’d read. I find it freeing to not keep track. I was tired of being stressed about something that is the primary love of my life.
So, off the top of my head:
Friday’s Child - Georgette Heyer. Think fluffy Jane Austen.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Steig Larson. Riveting, once I got past the first 30 pages of boring financial crap. Lisbeth Salander made it all worth it.
The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club - Gil McNeil. Add to my list of comfort reading. Sequel comes out in May.
Aunt Dimity’s Death - Nancy Atherton. More comfort reading. Sweet and quiet.
Abide With Me - Elizabeth Strout. One of the most under-recognized authors of the day, if you ask me. (Although she did win the Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge.)
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate - Jacqueline Kelly. Think Caddie Woodlawn tackles the scientific world.
Under the Banner of Heaven - Jon Krakuaer. Fascinating stuff. What I plan to have in my hand the next time those nice young boys in black pants and white shirts ring my doorbell. I have some questions…

Also, I am really, really enjoying Audrey Niffenegger’s newest, Her Fearful Symmetry. Like, look forward to curling up in bed and stay up way too late reading it enjoying.

My five, no, six, no TEN favorite books (sort of…I played fast and loose with the “book” concept) (also, please note: I could revise and switch and add and subtract books to this all day long, no joke, AND it is not necessarily in order):
1. Possession/The Virgin in the Garden
2. Satanic Verses
3. Stones from the River
4. Roller Skates
5. The Sparrow
6. Emma & Pride and Prejudice
7. The Sandman
graphic novels (Volume 7, “Brief Lives,” is my favorite in the series.)
8. Hens Dancing/Summertime
9. Miss Buncle’s Book/Miss Buncle Married
10. The Cunning Man

My ten desert-island books (see note above):
1. My Riverside Shakespeare
2. Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
3. The Bible
4. Complete works of John Donne
5. Possession
6. Satanic Verses
7. The Divine Comedy
8. The Sandman graphic novels
9. War and Peace
10. The Michelin Green Guide to Florence

Desert island books differ from favorites because one never knows how long it will take to get rescued – you’d hate to run out of reading material.

I know I missed some questions; I swear it won't take me another week to get to them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Devil: We have work to do my loathsome toad. Smeck: Evil work? The Devil: No, knitting. Of course evil work!

Bearette24 asks, Are you answering these questions in your next post? I read your blog, but I don't have the Google follower gadget thingy.
Well, Gott in Himmel, why ever not? It will change your life. Or at least your blog-reading habits. But in short, I will answer questions in this post and then the next. I thought I’d split ‘em up by Book-related and Not, but I am not sure it will be that discrete.

Dearest Suse asked:
How is your knitting going?
I keep knitting Meathead Hats. Hat after hat after hat. I especially enjoy creating or picking out the little decoration at the end...My shawl languishes bedside. And just today I became completely obsessed with knitting rag rugs and sliced up a dozen old t-shirts. Am I insane?

Do you like green yarn? Worsted weight, approximately 200g's worth? Dark green or light green?
Green is my favorite color. Dark is nice, but so is light. And I love yarn. But of course. I just bought more today. And snuck it into the house and then logged it all on Ravelry and photographed it. In other words, I spent hours of my life playing with yarn today. See how sick I have become? I hope you’re pleased.

Have you a quilt on the go?
I do. I always seem to. This one is only in the planning and cutting stages right now. It’s for my niece who is about 2. It’s very pink and green and floral, and it may be the most “designed” quilt I have ever done. I really really like it so far, and hope she does too.

Are you around this weekend for a little Skyping?
Sunday? Saturday is impossible. (Gah! Where did my weekend go??)

My word verification is chokilat. What do you think of that?
It’s a sign from God saying, send Babelbabe more chocolate Timtams.
What? You asked.

Yes, Badger from Texas, what is your question?
I have questions! What book(s) have you just NOT been able to finish, after more than one attempt?
Please don’t hate me.
Life of Pi.
Sophie’s World.
Anna Karenina (although I have read most of this, just not in order).
And I fear The Elegance of the Hedgehog is going to join that list.

What has the weather been like up there?
The weather was crappy and cold and rainy-verging-on-snow-and-sleet until two days ago when the sun came out, the mercury rose, and it’s been a lovely week/end of Indian summer.

Are the leaves pretty yet, or are they done already?
Mostly the leaves are just changing. The maples especially are in full fall glory.

Do you like apple cider?
I love apple cider. I even have a favorite brand from a local farm. But cider mixed with things like cranberries is an abomination unto God.

What are your boys going to be for Halloween?
My boys originally wanted to be esoteric Pokemon characters but over the weekend they changed their minds and want to be a ghost (Terzo), a vampire (Seg), the Grim Reaper (Primo), and the baby is a mummy. (Haha, get it? The baby is a...oh, never mind.)

Which do you prefer: taking the kids around the 'hood to get treats, or staying home and passing out treats yourself?
I *prefer* to hole up in my bedroom in the dark and drink vodka till it’s all over.

Janet demands to know, and with good reason as I have been putting this off forever because, really, who wants to drive across Pennsylvania with four children by herself? Not I. Especially. When are you coming East to visit us and introduce us to your little hooligans?
Now that I’ve answered the above question (the Halloween one), are you sure you WANT to meet the hooligans?
I am hoping to get home in the spring, or whenever my next ancient relative dies, whichever comes first.

Blogger daysgoby said...(How much does it crack me up that each of you is labeled “Blogger.” Like I didn’t know that. )

What book do you keep beside your bed?
Hahahaaaaaa. Singular? Lemme see, there right now: The two Mason-Dixon knitting books. The newest Fables graphic novel, which H brought home for me this afternoon. The Girl Who Played with Fire. Her Fearful Symmetry which I started this morning. Two weeks’ worth of Newsweek. A couple blank books, full of things like random scribblings, Christmas planning lists, and work research notes. And any other books moving up the TBR queue.

What's your favorite thing to do in the winter?
I love ice skating. Love it. I used to skate two or three times a week pre-children. I also like to ski but it’s expensive and much harder to do, with or without children.

Are you happy living where you are, or would you rather be more citified/rural than you are now?
I adore where I live and would not trade it for anything. The only thing that would make it better would be a bigger yard – but I can live with our small one for everything else good here. (Although if we ever won the lottery, I’d buy the duplex next door, knock it down, and promptly install a fire pit and some chickens.) We are only blocks from several parks, so it’s not a huge big deal.

What type of conversationalist are you? Do you hang back, sip your coffee and nod a lot, or jump in and chat?
I never, ever, ever shut up and can’t seem to help myself. I often leave a conversation and ten minutes later become convinced that my partner in conversation is cursing me and thinking, “What an unpleasant, talkative, and rude person.”I console myself that I am fairly amusing, most times.

Do you have any pets?
I have 2 cats. They are brother and sister; the girl is Emmy and the boy is Septimus (named after Septimus Hodge in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia). Seppie is pretty sick right now, so I am hoping he is ok. And we are due for another goldfish (the last one was named Jasper; the next will be named Emmett).

What's your favorite thing to do that you don't write a lot of blog posts about?
Swimming or running. Although I do have a blog post somewhere in my Drafts folder all about swimming featured in novels.

I think I will wrap up this round with some questions from the Queen, Blackbird, whom I haven’t actually talked to in far too long.
Do you have any Winter plans for you and the boys? I'm always impressed with your trips to the zoo/parks/coffee shop.
Don’t be – if I just sat at home with them, we’d all be dead sooner rather than later.
There is a whale exhibit at the Natural History Museum Primo wants to see, and the boys are asking to go check out the Heinz History Center because of the Pittsburgh Penguins (hockey type) exhibit. There are also new penguins (the birds) at the Aviary. I owe them all a trip back to the art museum, which they loved the first time. Otherwise, we go to the library, I go to the gym where they hang out in the daycare and watch Pokemon cartoons, and we spend as much time as possible up at the park until winter closes in. We have lots of Halloween activities planned (parties, bonfire, parade, in addition to good old trick-or-treating), and hockey championships coming up...

What's going on with those boys anyhow? I feel like I'm not up to speed on them.
Primo is rocking 3rd grade. He is getting into computer game design bigtime, and I am having a tough time keeping him in books. On the other hand, his lack of bulk is not helping his hockey or soccer career, and as the games get more aggressive and competitive, and the other kids grow bigger, I am afraid he may have to look for another sport to play. I am also terrified our sick cat is going to die, which would KILL Primo. He adores that cat and is terribly worried.
Seg continues to come into his own in 1st grade, although I have had no fewer than 4 teachers pull me aside to tell me how different my two boys are. As if I was unaware. Please. If I hadn’t actually given birth to both of them, I myself would swear one of them was adopted. He is playing soccer and hockey, too, and his piano lessons are coming along beautifully. He plays with both hands now, with chords and runs and all kinds of complicated musical stuff I have never and will never understand. He is also reading much more than he used to, he is currently engrossed in the newest Wimpy Kid book.
Terzo is a love but channels my maternal grandfather, which can be disconcerting. He also has a startling and, frankly, scary propensity for fierce tantrums (or as my pediatrician terms them, “heroic.”) He is in preschool 4 mornings a week now, when I miss him very much.
And Quarto is a never-ending source of frustration and amusement. He moves at the speed of light, enjoys flinging trains at people, and refuses to actually USE his somewhat extensive vocabulary. He does, however, bark at every dog we encounter.

What's doing with the house? No reno projects to report on?
The house continues to fall down around our ears. We have installation of storm windows scheduled for the next month, and I am getting bids on a bunch of interior painting. We talk a lot about the kitchen redo, but never seem to actually ever get to it. Now that the oven upstairs works, who needs new countertops, I ask you?

Do the kids like to read as much as you do? C'mon, one of them MUST hate it.
I don’t think Seg is rabid the way Primo and I are, but that’s ok. But the baby shows signs of being as crazed as me...

Would you consider attending BlogHer 10? I can name at least four bloggers who would LOVE to meet you and, without your kidney cooler, could be easily convinced that you are a darling.
I. Am. There.
(Have you got room on your lawn for a smallish tent?)
I am sure no one would be convinced I was a darling, with or without the kidney cooler, but that’s ok. God, I could use the laugh…do you remember how much we laughed in Bethlehem? It was extraordinary, I am still surprised we didn’t do ourselves harm.

And on that pleasant note, I draw "Part I, Questions You Didn’t Even Know You Cared About," to a close. Thanks for awesome questions, and for making me feel so loved (awwww…..) I will answer the rest as soon as my hoodlums give me another straight twenty minutes of peace.


*"God, the Devil, and Bob"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"You like me! You really like me!"

Aw, you guys. I feel so loved.
(Per Debi's instructions : ))

I am splitting up the questions into two posts: one book-related, and the other not.
Will probably do the non first...

In the meantime, I have a favor to ask, as I use the power of the Internet for good.

A friend's son (hi, Janet!) is doing a project at school and it's got something to do with the fifty States. He is trying to get postcards from all fifty states (huh, I wonder if he needs Guam?). I am emailing a bunch of you (Liz, Blackbird, Velma, Joke, Badger) because I know where you live, but if any of you live in a state from which you'd be willing to send a postcard to a cute and hardworking kiddo, lemme know via email and I'll send the addy.

Because apparently some other kid's mom already has all fifty states and DC, and I hate over-achievers.

You rock.


*Sally Field

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

“We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.”

I can't help but notice I lost a "follower."
I only had 6 as it was.
Was it something I said?
Something I didn't say?
Was it my lack of stunning photography/amusing (or not) stories about my children/mundane taste in reading material?

I was GOING to maybe, kinda sorta, possibly jump on the Kim/Suse/Blackbird/Badger bandwagon and open the field for questions, but then I realized I have regressed to junior high and am, frankly, terrified that not only will no one want to ask a single question because who the hell cares, but actually, that no one is even reading.


If you wanna ask something..., even something sorta silly or whatever , you can. You know, if you want to. But you don't HAVE to.

I already have the crickets cued up.

*Lloyd Alexander

Monday, October 19, 2009

I always look for a woman who has a's a gal who's capable of making a decision she'll regret in the future.*

30 pages in, I didn't get it.
Financial mysteries bore me, and I was ready to quit.
Besides, the translation is clunky and awkward.

35 pages in, I met Lisbeth Salander.
And I am still reading.

*Richard Jeni

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“Families are about love overcoming emotional torture.”

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Understood Betsy were both resourceful, clever, funny, smart girls with minds of their own but also with a huge capacity for love and family. I read the books over and over again, I treasure them as an adult, and I still think I would have been great friends with each girl. I wanted Aunt Miranda to come round and decide to love me, I wanted Uncle Henry to make me maple syrup candy on fresh-fallen Vermont snow, and I wanted Cousin Ann to help me discover my inner strength and courage.

Elizabeth Enright's Melendy books (The Four-Story Mistake; The Saturdays; Then There Were Five; Spiderweb for Two) entranced me. The Melendy family is delightful. They fight with each other just like a REAL family, but they also adore each other and have the most awesomely fun adventures ever. Their affection expands to include their dog, their housekeeper Cuffy, the handyman Willie, and the stately, elderly Mrs Oliphant. I figured if they could adopt Mark, they could certainly adopt me – after all, Randy and I were practically the same age! I grew up with two brothers, one younger, one older. I never actively longed for a sister - but then I met Randy and wanted HER as my sister.

Despite the fact that, unlike the above books, Hilary McKay’s novels (Saffy’s Angel; Caddy Ever After; Indigo’s Star; Permanent Rose (and there’s a new one coming out this spring, Forever Rose)) are set firmly in modern day England, complete with modern-day ills – the Casson family’s mother is a thoroughly distracted artist, their father lives away and eventually shows up with a girlfriend - the flavor is much the same. The children are charming and scrappy and funny and fiercely loyal to each other, and to their wingnut parents. As so many of their friends did, I could have slipped right into the warm, messy, friendly chaos of the Casson household.

Janine Boissard’s lovely (and hard to find!) novels chronicle the lives of the Moreau sisters, growing up in France with a nurturing mother and a fiercely protective father. I remember noting that French teenagers are much more sophisticated than American teenagers.

I adored Trixie Belden and her friendly parents, rambling, comfy house, and propensity for solving scary-but-not-dangerous mysteries. Why could I never find any mysteries to solve in my safe little suburb? Hmmm?

My favorite Anne of Green Gables book is Anne of Ingleside, the one in which Anne has a gajillion children tumbling happily around a big old house. I’d fit right in, of course I would, Anne (and Susan) would love me as she did Rilla and Nan and Walter and the rest.
And sometimes I even dreamed of finding out I was Rose’s long-lost girl cousin - Uncle Alec would adopt me, too, and I could live in the Aunt-Hill, and he could make me eat porridge and brown bread and ride ponies and throw away my corsets. (I had a bit of a crush on Uncle Alec.)

Even though I had a family and a home of my own, something in each of these books made me long to be embraced by these characters, to become their friend, and to be welcomed to their homes and into their family. I wanted to be a real part of each of these families.

Last night I read Jeanne Birdsall’s second Penderwick book, The Penderwicks of Gardam Street. The first, simply titled The Penderwicks, didn’t do a lot for me, truth be told. The plot was ridiculous, the book's events absurd, and the ending completely unsatisfying. Nevertheless, I liked the girls. A lot. I loved Rosalind’s devotion to her family, Skye’s stubbornness, Jane’s creativity, and Batty’s resourcefulness. (Do we ever find out what Batty is short for??) I loved the way they functioned as a unit, and the way they helped each other and their dad.

I did not immediately read the second book when it was published but when I stumbled upon it at the library last week, I picked it up. Birdsall doesn’t do it *again* – actually, this second book is far and away BETTER than the first. Yes, the plot is predictable, but the girls are charming, inventive, silly, and downright delightful, each trying to figure out her place in the family and the world at large. Yet again, I’ve found a family I want to adopt me.

*Matt Groening

Thursday, October 08, 2009

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

So first I bought this:
Then I bought this, having waited impatiently for months for it to come out in the States:

But then last night, about to crawl into my toasty warm bed with a bag of almond M&Ms, what did I pick up off the shelf? This:

Which I am, sort of to my chagrin, enjoying immensely. I almost got rid of these Aunt Dimity books that had been my mom's (she had maybe 4 or 5 of them) but I couldn't bring myself I am glad I didn't, because I NEVER would have picked this up at the library or bookstore...

*CS Lewis

Monday, October 05, 2009

"We're plastic but we still have fun!"*

Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction this year, and while I don’t really know the Pulitzer like I do the Booker, it sounds impressive enough, yes? (The Road, Lonesome Dove, and Middlesex also won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, but then again, so did March. Y-A-W-N.) Olive Kitteridge was a great little book – it reminded me on one hand of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (which I believe I mentioned before) which I started to reread while in WV; OK was a much more subtle, even devious novel than OK -- but the premise is almost identical.

Once I finished OK, I recalled that I had read Strout’s Amy and Isabelle, and that it had surprised me by not being some sort of Jodi Picoult/Anita Shreve/Oprah Book Club novel and instead was a slow-moving but nicely written novel that I enjoyed very much -- but also don’t recall much about.

Strout has a book there in the middle, called Abide with Me, which I promptly ordered form Amazon in a book buying frenzy: “It’s only ONE CENT!” Never mind that shipping is 4 dollars, the book was only one cent! I am almost finished with it, and it has that same deceptively slow-moving plotting and backwards character development that OK has; in other words, you’re reading along, lulled by some quiet, almost morose storytelling when WHAM! some simple detail is dropped into the story oh so casually, and it blows up the whole story in your face. So then you readreadread, to see what else is going to happen next ohmygod….wash, rinse, repeat (but in a good way).

In other words, Elizabeth Strout should hurry up and write another book; I want to know what’s she going to come up with next.

In the meantime, I have the newest Audrey Niffenegger on my nightstand, which I hope to finish before AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book FINALLY comes out in the States on October 6. Which is, holy crap, TOMORROW. Ok, so that’s not gonna happen, I guess. The reading, not the release. I wonder if I can manage a trip to both the library and the bookstore tomorrow…there are books on hold at the library that I must pick up, if they haven’t already been shipped back from whence they came…and even if I can’t read The Children’s Book right away, I need to hold it in my hot little hands and be able to stare lovingly at it sitting on my bookshelf.

*"Paparazzi," Lady Gaga. It is to my possibly everlasting shame that I discover this song which I have grown increasingly fond of, is by the dubious Lady Gaga. I blame my newfound horrible taste in music (Pitbull, anyone?) on zumba.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light."*

Some of my closest friends are people I met (and in some cases still only "know") online.

The Internet presents whole new way of interacting with friends and keeping in touch.
It keeps me sane on days when I may feel very alone at home with small kids, to be able to Facebook (it is so a verb, shut up) and read blogs and email and chat with other women who are there now, too -- or have been there and survived.

Cari is a woman whom I emailed a couple of times, usually about running; I read her blog from time to time and kept up on her life. We were by no stretch of the imagination close friends -- but she was an amazing mom to three beautiful kids, and a real ray of sunshine.

Cari passed away this past week after bravely and steadfastly fighting cancer. She lived an active and vibrant life and leaves behind a family, friends, and probably countless online connections.

My thoughts and prayers for strength and peace are with her husband, Melvin; her three children, Cameron, Max, and Ella; her mom who kindly updated Cari's blog to keep us all posted in the past few weeks; and all of her friends IRL and online.

Cari, the world is a sadder and darker place without you.

*Dylan Thomas

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"This is not the time for complacency or over-confidence."

I am skedaddling out of town.
The G-20 summit begins in Pittsburgh tomorrow.

And while I have a bizarre interest in its goings-on, apparently the city of Pittsburgh is not quite up to the challenge. My kids' schools are closed, as are most museums, cultural attractions, many libraries, and most downtown companies.

And with Yom Kippur on Monday (a Pittsburgh Public School holiday also), I was staring down the barrel of five days with my children at home, more or less by myself, since H works not-Downtown -- so he can actually get to work.

So we're getting the heck out of Dodge.

It'll actually be nice to escape the perpetual sound of these, which have been hovering over the city all day now:

There's already been some interesting activity:
(Those are Greenpeace protesters rappelling from the West End bridge this afternoon.)

Good times, yo.

P.S. What am I taking to read? Nicola Keegan's Swimming, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, and Ariana Franklin's Mistress of the Art of Death.

*Gordon Brown, on G-20 cooperation

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"We believe it to be one of the strongest lists in recent memory...a span of styles and themes that make this an outstandingly rich fictional mix."*

In short:

Persepolis/Persepolis 2 – Marjane Satrapi.
The first book was wonderful. The second, not so much; she seemed like she was merely capitalizing on the success of the first.

Little Bee – Chris Cleave.
This novel will stick with me for a long time. Little Bee is an enigmatic yet strong character. The story was almost fable-like in its execution, or maybe that’s how I dealt with how disturbing it was.

Harm Done – Ruth Rendell.
The Water’s Lovely – Ruth Rendell.
Rendell is a master. Her mysteries are never about the actual mystery but about being a human.

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn.
Totally unpredictable, unlike Sharp Objects (or maybe I am just not the brightest bulb…). Her character development is much stronger, too, even if the writing is somewhat scattered at times. There ARE unexplained parts, but nothing too nagging. A very satisfying read.

And you know what makes me craziest about this: Longlist announced for Man Booker Prize 2009?
A.S. Byatt’s novel, The Children’s Book, isn’t even available in the States till October.
Bet we could get our hands on the new Dan Brown though.


*James Naughtie, chair of the Man Booker prize judges (I just wanted to use his name, I admit it.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The fundamental job of a toddler is to rule the universe.

Oh for pete’s sake, people, I am BUSY. What do you want from me?

Oh. You hadn’t even noticed I was absent?
My bad.
Nothing to see here, move along.

I am no longer editing dissertations. Which also means I no longer have a babysitter two days a week. This is better for everyone, trust me. (Except, you know, people who read my blog. Because I am no longer in front of my computer all day twice a week.) Most clients pay a lot of lip service to the concept of me working only 16 hours a week, on 2 consecutive weekdays, but in reality I was emailed and called all hours of the day and night, including weekends, and I found myself snarling at my children and ignoring my family to get work done – most of which was probably underappreciated. I was stiffed by one client, and fired by another because she was not my priority, and I had had it.

My dear beloved babysitter was making a two-bus trek across town twice a week because she loves me and she loves my boys, but now, if something crops up, I can always take them to her house and she’ll watch them whenever I need her. So I can, you know, go get a massage or whatever. (Ha. Like that’s likely. In fact, H just asked if I really needed to pay her to watch Q on Terzo’s first morning of preschool. Since the other option is my MIL, who is getting elderly and doesn’t like to watch Q if he’s awake, and since it’s not likely he’ll sleep from 830 am till noon, that option is not an option.)

The two older boys started school, and Terzo starts next Monday (I will cry even if his incessant chattering makes my ears feel like they’re bleeding), and then I will be home alone with one small child for half the day and two small children the other half of the day and oh, what shall I do with all my free time? Perhaps I will blog more consistently. If you’re very very lucky.

Because now that I no longer have to spend my evenings correcting bad grammar, I actually have some time for both my WordTwist addiction and my book addiction. I have been reading. Lots of cool stuff. So brace yourself.

That is all.

Wait, no it's not:
P.S. I think my children have sucked all my funny out. Along with my snarky and my smart. I am not deluding myself when I say I used to be quite a bit more clever. Now I am all, "Insert Blog Post A into Blog Reader B..."
Someday the funny will return.

*Lawrence Kutner

Thursday, August 27, 2009

“At least you'll never be a vegetable - even artichokes have hearts.”

In the good old days (read: pre-kids), I would take 5 or 6 books on vacation with me, and read 4 or 5 of them. What I was reading on vacation often required much more consideration than what I was wearing (although I must say, the little shift dress I picked up on a whim at Target the day before we left? PERFECT beach dress. Cool, comfy, and cute enough to go out for dinner or sit around on the deck with cocktails.).

I took 6 books with me this past vacation:
The second 39 Clues book, One False Note
A Ruth Rendell mystery, The Water’s Lovely, which I was already halfway through.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
The latest Charlaine Harris/Sookie Stackhouse novel
Swimming by Nicola Keegan
And Under the Banner of Heaven which I was also already halfway through.

I managed to finish the 39 Clues book one afternoon while the boys were in New Haven with H.
I managed about half of the newest Sookie one evening down the shore, when all the other adults fell asleep.

And that is it.

Man, vacation is not what it used to be.

Even my knitting took a vacation – I got lots done on the Hogwarts scarf while in the car (8 hours to CT, another 5 (DON’T ASK) down to Stone Harbor, then almost 8 back here), but otherwise, after one ridiculous day when 1) I thought I would get to sit on my beach chair and knit, and 2) said knitting got covered in sand, I gave up.

I spent one evening leafing through all the magazines in the beach house; Mrs S reads all sorts of good stuff and gets great catalogues as well. So, of course, I now have a list of other books I have to read….

What I’m reading now:
Little Bee - Chris Cleave. This book was almost too cutesy about itself; the flapcopy reads:
“We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book.
It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it.
Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this:”

And then it goes on to a VERY brief admission that there are two women characters in this book and they meet at one point and then at another. And that is all.
But now that I am drawn into the book (100 pages in), I don’t care. It’s charming and wrenching and beautiful; I might be in love.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. This reminds me VERY much of my all-time favorite childhood book (and one of my just plain favorite books ever), Roller Skates. Calpurnia might be almost as wonderful as Lucinda Wyman.

Plenty: One man, one woman, and a raucous year of eating locally, from the originators of the 100-Mile Diet. The guy is a great writer; it’s a really intriguing topic, and so far, I recommend it.

What I got from the library but may not get to:
A Great and Terrible Beauty. I am not sure I am really in the mood for more vampires just now.
The Scenic Route. This was one of the magazine lists and I jotted it down, but I just happened to see it at the library yesterday. Eh. Seems more like a poor (wo)man’s Eat, Love, Pray, but I could be wrong.

What I bought today (oh, let me go off on a tangent and sing the praises of Half Price Books’ clearance shelves. I almost never even look at the regular priced stuff anymore unless I am looking for something VERY specific. Nevertheless, I did almost buy Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother – I don’t care if she is a train wreck, she’s a fine writer; and Gil McNeil’s The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club, which might be one of the most delightful and comforting books I have read in a long time and which reminded me very much of my beloved Hens Dancing):

Motherless Brooklyn - Jonathan Lethem. Because Lethem is a genius, and I need to reread this. I almost put it back, but then I opened it randomly waiting in line, and laughed out loud at the lines I read. Sold.
HomeLand - Sam Lipsyte. Um, why did I buy this? Looks good but can’t remember exactly how or why it crossed my radar.
City of Thieves - MUST get past gross revenge scene to appreciate the rest of this beautiful and haunting little novel.
Geek Love - Katherine Dunn. Ok, ok, I’ll try this AGAIN.
With Bold Knife and Fork - MFK Fisher. Always fun to read about food, from a master.

And what I ordered yesterday:
Knitalong. Because I need to make my little nephew a purple Meathead Hat.

And also, these dance sneakers.
Because I appear to be taking this gym/zumba thing seriously.
If I start wearing off-the-shoulder sweatshirts, someone slap me.

*Amélie Poulain, whoever the heck that is

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Quick, quick, like a bunny...

Damn these kids. Primo has me unscrambling anagrams for his 39 Clues fixation.
Anyone know Russian geography better than I do?
And now I have to read the dang things. Grrr.

If you are a Raffaella Barker fan(Hens Dancing, Summertime) (and I am), you will like Gil McNeil's The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. However, looking at that now I've typed it, I have no idea where they got that title.

Has anyone read Chris Cleave's Little Bee? Should I read it?

*This is the one I totally cannot get. I THINK they are all Russian cities, but possibly this cheating?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

"They only see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead."

For you, a smattering of bookish thoughts.
I can barely form a coherent sentence these days: who has time to think straight? You’ll have to make do with this for the moment.

I caved and bought the newest Sookie Stackhouse; I couldn’t wait for it from the library. I haven’t started it though. It’s sitting tantalizingly on my nightstand. (Yes, since you ask, I was also the sort of child who hoarded her Halloween candy until her brothers’ candy was all gone.) I also bought the third Harper Connelly (and read it in an evening) and the first Lily Bard book, which also waits on my nightstand.

I borrowed a few anthologies from the library with Sookie stories in them: “One Word Answer” from Bite, which gives some of Hadley’s backstory, and “Dracula Night” from Many Bloody Returns. It was pleasant to have a Sookie fix while I steeled myself to spending twenty bucks on the hardcover Dead and Gone. (Eventually, I used one of the boys’ Easter B&N giftcards from their grandmother instead. Because THAT is the kind of mother I am.)

Richard Russo has a new book out; as I haven’t managed to slog through Bridge of Sighs, I doubt I will be running out to spend 30 dollars on the newest. I love love love his earlier books, but his last two were spotty at best. Philippa Gregory tackles the Plantagenets: The White Queen is released in late August. A Touch of Dead, billed as “Sookie Stackhouse: The complete stories” is released in October, as is the next Harper Connnelly book. And of course, A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book has an October release (finally!) here in the States.

Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven sat on my TBR pile for well over a year, but once I picked it up and started it (why is it you need to be in a certain mood to want to read and to enjoy certain books?), I couldn’t put it down. Fascinating stuff. Fundies are crazy, no matter which religion they are affiliated with.

I just started Ruth Rendell’s The Water’s Lovely. It’s one of those books that you THINK you have twigged from the beginning, but as it’s Ruth Rendell, I am quite sure I do not. I am sure I will enjoy the ride.

Jacqueline Kelly’s The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate (thanks for the recc, Jess!), Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, and Maggie Sefton’s Knit One, Kill Two wait for me at the library. My local branch is closed for 18 months for renovations, so I have been going to the next closest, in a kind of dicey, economically challenged neighborhood. At first I was a bit nervous, but the building is positively lovely (high ceilings, lots of marble and warm, rich wood), and the staff are incredibly sweet and totally happy that the East Liberty patrons are coming there for the duration. H doesn’t want me to take the kids there, as the neighborhood is somewhat well known for its gunfire and other crime, but I am happy enough to point out that the microbrewery where he picks up two growlers a week is only two blocks away from the library, and the middle-class minivanned people who buy beer there don’t let the thought of gunfire stop THEM.

And there you have it.

30 days till school starts.

*Cole Sear, "The Sixth Sense"

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"It’s all this mistaken notion that if we avoid everything, we’ll avoid risk."

In the past week of summer vacation, I have permitted the following activities:

My eight-year-old stayed at home to play computer games while I and the three Littlers walked a block up to the little neighborhood market to buy cheese for dinner sandwiches that night.

My eight-year-old and six-year-old walked to the vending machines at the pool from the playground sort of next to the pool, to buy treats for themselves and their brothers after swim lessons. Then they went back again because Seg punched the wrong numbers into the vending machines and wound up with peanut butter crackers instead of a bag of Skittles. My friend M and I stayed at the playground, chatting and watching our Littlers play in the dirt and run around.

The three older boys roasted marshmallows and flung wood onto the fire, and traipsed around the woods collecting feathers and walnuts and leaves, and slept outside in a tent. I sat on a porch swing next to the fire with a bottle of Straub’s and my friend A and talked (when I wasn't bogarting their burnt marshmallows).

The two older boys and their friend rode their bicycles and scooter around and around the block and up and down the alley playing some sort of tag they made up involving Harry Potter and much loud casting of spells (their extremely common use of the Cruciatus curse might give me pause for concern...)

The three older boys ate popsicles on the front porch while I put the baby down for a nap upstairs.

The two older boys took my coupons and went and retrieved items I needed in other aisles of the grocery store while I waited for the damn fishman to give me my order.

The two older boys continued playing a game in the van (windows down but vehicle locked, of course, parked DIRECTLY in front of the coffee shop and with several people we knew sitting at the tables out front) while I ran into the coffee shop to pick up a (pre-called/ordered) latte.

None of these sound completely crazy, do they?

I mean, really REALLY beyond-the-pale crazy?

Because they are activities that have been a little tough for me. A little tough on my over-protective, overactive mothering instincts. Activities that frankly fly in the face of the helicopter parenting most of us practice (or are expected to practice) these days. While the boys were on the porch, I envisioned – I dunno – Jack the Ripper? White slavers? A slavering pedophile in a panel van looking for his puppy?

Yes, we live in the city, which means I lock my doors and car at night. I will not allow my children to play in the actual street. I am cordial but distant with strangers walking up and down the street.

But *I* grew up riding my bike where I pleased, and was pretty much left to my own devices most of the summer, and a lot of the rest of the year. (Remember this post?)

We kids ran up and down and IN the street, and we built treehouses in the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac (which incidentally backed up onto a major freeway, separated from our street by a cinder block wall and little else). We played hockey and kickball in the street ("CAR!"), and I was allowed to walk not only to my friend Roseann’s house at the end of the street, but to my friend Stacie’s house, across the previously mentioned highway (there was an overpass). I was permitted to walk down the street the other way to the pond, to fish and skate and to hang out with my friend Stephanie. I was permitted to ride my bike anywhere I could pedal it, which often included the 7-11, the movie theatre, and the ice cream store (all roughly within a mile radius).

In addition, I was sent away every single summer for weeks at a time to camp (and loved every blessed minute of it), where I had a large posse of friends I didn’t see the rest of the year; we ran around in the woods (sometimes in the middle of the night), canoed and kayaked and played in the creek; we climbed all over a ropes course and in the trees like monkeys; we camped outside, built large fires, learned to shoot a bow-and-arrow and a BB gun, and swam miles in the freezing cold pool at 5am to earn meaningless badges.

I was not only permitted but EXPECTED to walk the two long blocks to the bus stop and take a public bus three miles home from school in the winter months, when my mother didn’t drive due to snow (my older brother was with me most days, and this didn't start till I was in second grade). (One memorable snowy day, when my brother was not in school for some reason or another, I fell asleep and missed my stop. The bus driver turned around at the end of the route and drove me to my doorstep.)

I was a Free Range Kid.

Before the days of 24-hours-a-day news channels trumpeting every single missing child (and even some not really missing), before the days of Stranger Danger programs and the prominence of organized sports, before the days of your kids’ friends all living in the ‘burbs to which you must drive, I think most of us my age (39ish) were.

After reading Lenore Skenazy’s wonderful and reassuring book Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, I feel like a new convert.

Lenore Skenazy is passionate about her cause: Giving children — and their parents – freedom. For the kids, it’s the freedom to play outside without grown-ups, to make mistakes, to climb trees, to walk to school alone, to frolic. For their parents, it’s giving them the confidence to let go of irrational fears that make them to want to place their children under lock and key or 24/7 surveillance. Or both. (from Picket Fence Post.)

The zeal with which I am now actively trying to develop my children’s independence must necessarily (and wisely) be tempered by a number of factors. For example:

- Their ages –would I send the three-year-old to the vending machine alone? I WOULD NOT.

- By their personalities and common sense - Would I leave the six-year-old home alone for half an hour? I actually might, since my six-year-old is the most responsible of all my children – it might depend on where I was going, and how he felt about it.

- And by MY common sense: Would I drive my twelve-year-old to the local mall, along with a friend, and leave them in charge of three younger siblings, including a three-year-old? Boy, for all my zeal and independence-building, I sure would not. (I have an eight-year-old and a three-year-old. I would not trust them at a large public shopping mall with anyone but me, and sometimes I even wonder about me.)

Skenazy allowed her then-nine-year-old to ride the subway alone. For this feat of mothering confidence, she was interviewed all over national TV and vilified by lots and lots of plastic talking heads in the media. She discusses this reaction in her book, and she then goes on to discuss why we have become such a fearful and overprotective society. She backs up her strong opinions with solid empirical evidence, citing, among others, David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, and several prominent NY pediatricians (her own included). She cites numbers at a dizzying speed, debunking many of our long-held and weirdly cherished beliefs re: stranger kidnapping, online predators, cell phone use by children, and the need for toilet locks (I personally gave up toilet locks when I couldn't get one open at an, er, critical moment. Thank God we have two bathrooms). Her tone is friendly but firm; her writing style would seem most at home in a mommy blog (I don’t think that’s an insult, is it?).

I may be a little bit in love with her and her ideas, and if we lived in the same city, I would so find her and make her be my (enabling and supportive) mommy friend.

Would I let my nine-year-old ride the subway alone? Perhaps, if he’d grown up in NYC and was used to riding the subway with me and it was daytime and he didn’t have to switch trains...see how it goes? You have to use your parenting instincts and skills to make the best decision for you and for your child.

But you also must stretch a little, take a few chances – let them spread their wings and attempt a solo flight. Because eventually (dear God, I hope and pray) they grow up and move out and must do their own laundry, and believe it or not, little Junior needs to know how to turn on the stove and live in his own place and ride the subway to work at some point.

*Lenore Skenazy

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"I shall gather myself into myself again..." *

I don’t like you.

Actually, I do, but it may seem like I don’t.

While I do indeed have several lovely and fun friends who go out and drink with me, or knit with me, or just hang out with me, I usually prefer to be by myself. I don’t require company to go get a beer, or to eat dinner out, or to see a movie, or to go shopping for yarn or clothes or books.
I really enjoy being alone.
The people for whom I forsake this aloneness are very few.
And I generally don’t do it for long, if I can help it.

Fortunately my husband is not too different, and we have our own separate lives (in addition to our mostly pleasant life together, that is, with our beloved, if demanding and perpetually going, children). I go out to browse a bookstore or the yarn shop, or to get a cup of coffee by myself, or run or swim for a long, solitary, fulfilling, time on a regular basis. We have separate bedrooms, and have for years. We both like our space, and our solitude.
I more than like it – I require it.

It’s not my fault. I get skittish and short and cranky if I am with other people for too long. Especially if I am with other people in a smallish space, and especially especially if there are other people there whom I don’t care for.

I have always regarded this as a personality flaw. Obviously, there is something fundamentally wrong with a person who so often disdains the company of the very nice, funny, smart people whom I am lucky enough to call my friends. I know I am VERY lucky that they put up with me and this oddity of personality. (Perhaps this is because many of my friends share this quirk to some degree?)

But, again, I can’t help it. My brain is wired this way. I need chunks of time to be by myself, to recharge my batteries, so I can venture out into polite society again.

And – again – I always thought of this somewhat shamefully, as a giant pointer to everything else that is screwed up in my weird brain. Until my dear friend A lent me her copy of Anneli Rufus’ Party of One – The Loner’s Manifesto.

Oh my God, the revelations.
The chapter on the emotional wrench of mandatory participation in family holidays.
The pages on eating alone. On enjoying eating alone.
The commiseration about how one can adore one’s children but at the same time need to be away from them, away from their constant, never-ending demands.
This simple explanation of what I go through just about every day:
“…time shared, even with true friends, often requires loners to put in extra time alone, overtime, to recharge. It is a matter of energy: As a rule, loners have less for the social machinery, the talk and sympathy. Our fuel runs out. That is what nonloners don’t understand about us, what they cannot see. We do not choose to have such tiny fuel tanks. These can be quite inconvenient. They are why we seem rude, when we are, why we seem bored and often are. Spaced-out and often are. Running on empty.
Not heartless. Not unappreciative. Not fools. We know the rest of the world has big tanks. We know they don’t know.”

And this:
“They [nonloners] do not understand that what we have to give is not always what others have to give…being friends with a loner requires patience and the wisdom that distance does not mean dislike.”

I have disentangled myself from several friends over the years who don’t get it. Who don’t understand why I don’t want to spend hours chatting on the phone, or seeing them every day. That I value their friendship and their time and all the things they can offer me (and selflessly do), but need some space. (Let’s not even venture into the thorny arena of my spotty and convoluted love life and ex-boy/girlfriends.)

Rufus explores the existence of the loner in film, in art, in literature. She delves into the plight of the loner forced to work in an office environment (cubicles ARE the devil’s handiwork). She examines the friendships and romantic relationships of the loner. She even discusses the miracle of the Internet, the boon of loners everywhere. (It’s much easier to find other loners online. Hi there! I’ll be going now…)

I read half of this book this afternoon, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
I may be sick, but there are other sickos just like me out there.

Reading this book was as good as therapy.

It’s ok to want to be alone.
It’s ok to enjoy your dear friends and then hole up for some solitude.
It’s ok.

Or at least – ha! irony! – I am not alone.

"The Crystal Gazer," Sara Teasdale

Monday, July 20, 2009

I got nothing, people. Go look up your own quotes.

I am too fucking tired, and too thoroughly fed up, to exert any effort right now. Sorry.
I am probably just sick of all the screaming and crying and and whining and yelling - and that's just me.
Or maybe I am bitter that *I* am not going to BlogHer. Not like it matters. Not like any of the cool people would want to hang out with me, or even know who the hell I am. I should just shut up and go read another book. Since I seem to be channeling my inner junior-high-schooler ANYWAY.

The baby just wandered downstairs without any diaper.
And a poopy butt.
God, I just fucking LOVE my life.

Go read Amalah: her book reviews made me laugh so hard I nearly peed myself.

They also made me feel marginally better.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Hey, all you peeps who make fun of me because of my Twilight thang?

And I retort by insisting I am channeling my inner thirteen-year-old?

Well, now I am channeling my inner nine-year-old:
Penguin to Release Last Green Gables Book in its Entirety

I don't think I could be any more excited if Marilla made me a dress with puffed sleeves and decided to rename me Cordelia.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"There is something very special about being away from your parents for the first time, sleeping under the stars, hiking and canoeing."*

Am on book 6 of the Sookie books. Can I tell you how pleased I was that Harris shakes it up a bit, and the series is about Sookie and her life, not just about her love affair with a vampire? Not that there’s anything wrong with women who love vampires. A friend mentioned the repetitive sentence structure of the Sookie books, but I must say I haven’t noticed. I HAVE noticed how funny they are, and how nailbitingly fast-paced they are. They are this summer’s perfect read.

I also went a leetle nuts at Persephone Press’s website (more complete post re: this later, with photos of the pretty, pretty books), but suffice it now to say that I started Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s The Home-Maker and am liking it immensely. I can decisively diagnose Evangeline Knapp with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and think she (and her family) would benefit greatly by regular, daily intake of 200mg of Zoloft. And maybe Ativan as needed. But then where would the novel be? Hmmm. What‘s more important, people, easing a person’s pain or maintaining an entertaining novel? Heck of a question….

I have a buttload of books waiting for me at the library across town (my regular branch is closed for renovations) but as I am depending on my not-so-reliable-in-this-arena husband to pick them up and bring them home, it may be a few days before I actually lay eyes on them. In the stack: Lenore Sken’s Free Range Kids and Penni Russon’s Undine, and the Kim Harrison novels which were mentioned in the same Salon article that turned me on to Sookie.

I sent my oldest off to camp today. It is not sleepaway camp, but it is a real honest-to-God, in the woods, archery and swimming and arts & crafts sort of camp. I think I may have been more excited than he was. I spent 8 summers at sleepaway camp (yeah, my mom didn’t like me much), and one of the single most joyful moments of my Facebook experience (and, oh, there are many), was reconnecting with my camp friends. The girls I met there each summer carried me through my year (which looking back now = odd, since reconnecting with my old high school friends via FB has also been wonderful. But then I guess we have all grown up a bit…)
Regardless, I am thrilled for my boy. (Although, I admit to some neurosis re: summer camp - shocked, you say? Ha. - have you read Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved? Excellent book, but a horrible thing happens to a beloved child at summer camp. I wake up in a cold sweat every now and then, thinking about it. But I am SURE Primo will be fine. He will be more than fine, he will have an awesome time.)

The rest of us will go to the playground to meet up with some other friends, and then zumba class at noon. Which, oh my God, is going to KILL me. Especially since I do not appear to be getting any thinner AT ALL. I just saw photos from last weekend when my husband’s Irish cousins were in town , and I AM A PORKER. I am not a small-boned person, but my frame is too small to be hefting around this weight, I merely look bloated, not healthy and pleasingly plump.

Anyhoo, then I have some sewing to do, and some packages to pack up to mail, and then I have to figure out what to feed this family for dinner. Because, oh, man, am I sick to death of chicken.

*Jami Gertz

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"...for your information not all vampires can take care of themselves." - Sookie Stackhouse

Dudes, I'd write a blog post but I am too busy gobbling down Sookie Stackhouse books. Am currently on number 4, and hey, guess what? My grocery store has all of them so I bought Books 5 and 6 and just sorta, yes, I admit it, put them on my grocery bill. Along with the doughnuts and milk and carrots and's like, sorta, my bonus. Right? Right.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Well, me don't swim too tough so me don't go in the water too deep."

There is NO better litmus test for an excellent book than: Does it cause one to ignore and/or neglect one’s offspring?

I am halfway through the second novel (Living Dead in Dallas) in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire series (yes, the one that HBO series “True Blood” is based on (but I have never seen it nor do I intend to because the vampires are NOT hot)). (The first book is Dead before Dark.)

Yesterday evening, after a nerve-wracking afternoon at the pool, I came home, put the baby in bed, ordered a pizza for the boys, poured myself a double rum-and-Coke, and sat on the couch reading until I finally had to put the Pokemon players to bed at 10 before my husband got home.

Sookie Stackhouse is everything Bella Swan is not: independent, strong, able to stand on her own two feet. (And did I mention NOT wildly annoying?) Also? Fully capable of denying her vampire boyfriend utter control over her and her life. If Bill Compton took a part out of Sookie’s car so she couldn’t go somewhere he deemed unsafe, I would bet, vampire or no, Bill would suffer for it.

Even better, Bill gets this. He admires it. He likes Sookie’s intelligence, self-sufficiency, and vigor. He thinks it’s HOT.

Now, seriously, I think Edward gets sort of a bad rap. It’s not HIS fault Bella’s blood smells like baco, er….his “own personal brand of heroin.” That scent could just as easily have belonged to a competent, determined, and self-sufficient young woman. I would bet Edward would rather have a Sookie Stackhouse of his own.

You know, if he couldn’t have me.

*Bob Marley

Sunday, June 21, 2009

"[T]he reason they're there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it's the other side that matters."*

The summer reading begins.

I have no idea why I feel like I have so much more time to read in the summer; I probably have even less, what with all four boys home all day long, and keeping them busy and entertained (not to mention clean, clothed, and fed). But I often tackle bigger books, or books I have wanted to read for a while, or go on jags of, say, mystery novels featuring the same detective, or a bunch of different novels about one particular time in history or historical figure.

However, this first novel, Jean Heglund's Into the Forest, is a one-off, recommended by a school mom friend who used to be one of my closest friends; which is to say, while she may not spend lots of time with me now, we once not only worked together but socialized a lot and so she knows me rather well, even still. Because this book is right up my alley. Set in the near-ish future, modern civilization has deteriorated to a much more primitive society; there is no longer phone service, electricity or its attendant machinery, access to and/or practice of modern medicine, or much of anything that makes the 21st century what we expect. Two sisters, living rurally with their parents, are the heroines of the novel, if heroine is a word one can use in this context. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, only not quite so godawfully bleak. But close. Awfully damn close. There’s a lot more revealed about what’s happened to society in this novel, and there’s much more plot, but the feel is the same. It’s not as desolate and shattering as The Road, but it is ultimately as horrifying.

I am concurrently reading Philip Henshaw’s The Northern Clemency, [UPDATED: Hensher, NOT Henshaw; I apologize to Mr Hensher, but my criticism still stands.] which is this giant sprawling novel that meander sit sway through several families and their lives during several particular timeframes. So far, so good, but I find the proofreading errors maddening. I suppose it’s not Henshaw’s fault that his editor didn’t catch the homonym misspellings, or the mixing-up of similar character names, but it’s truly distracting, and takes away from the importance and prestige of being a Booker finalist.

I also just started Jose Saramago’s Blindness, am only about thirty pages in.

I thoroughly enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (I must see the movie now), and have several of her other novels waiting for me (on my pretty new bookshelves), probably The Boleyn Inheritance up next. I also have Emma Brown, Charlotte Bronte’s unfinished manuscript, used as the jumping off point for Clare Boylan’s own novel, sitting around, and also Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.

Jennifer Weiner has a new novel coming out in July, a friend just sent me The Brothers K with a note simply saying, “Read this,” I have three books winging their way (or sailing and that’s what’s taking so long?) across the Atlantic from Persephone Press (more on those later), and I think I may send to the Land of the Frozen North for the newest AS Byatt instead of patiently waiting for it to emigrate to the States.

Ok, so, this summer, who’s reading what at the beach, or in your backyard, or at the pool? Big fat novels, long-planned-on classics, or celebrity gossip mags with delicious photos of RPatz? Do tell.

*Jose Saramago