Friday, November 12, 2010

I love you guys, and I love this blog, and I love reading.
But I need to take a little hiatus.
Too much going on in real life (nothing bad, not at all, just busybusyBUSY), and I am neglecting this.
I don't want to put it out there unless I am doing my best, and I can't with this forum right now.

It's not permanent, I swear.

And two tips for you before I go:
1) Read Skippy Dies by Paul Murray.
2) Buy stock in Lego before I do my Christmas shopping.

You're welcome.
Love to you all.
See you soon.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

There is no trick, only treat.

From left to right: Terzo as Jack Skywalker. You've never heard of him because Terzo made him up, and he apparently wears blue Christmas socks with fisherman sandals and has powdered sugar all over his sweatpants and it's ALL GOOD. Seg as Anakin Skywalker, but Clone Wars Anakin. Whatever THAT distinction means. Primo as Plo Koon. He's a Jedi. I thought I was going to have to make the mask (swim goggles and a repsirator topped with a raw turkey?) but I bought a cheap mask. Just as well, since Primo took it off approximately every fifteen seconds.

Yoda fell asleep in the car on the way home from his brothers' soccer games and slept through trick or treating. We fobbed him off with some fruit roll-ups and a few snack bags of pretzels, and he was good with that.

Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Books I'm reading or have read, summed up in one telling line...

Room - Emma Donoghue.
“I’ve seen enough of Outside. I’m tired and I want to go back to Room.”

All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost - Lan Samantha Chang.
“For each of us, he understood, is born into our own time and eventually the things we held as the center of the world, dearly, unforgivingly, must fade.”

Little Heathens: Hard times and high spirits on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression - Mildred Armstrong Kalish.
“For us children, building character, developing a sense of responsibility, and above all, improving one’s mind constituted the essential focus of our lives.”

Same As It Never Was - Claire Scovell Lazebnik.
“’It’s like you’re a mom now.’
‘Don’t say that. Please don’t say that.’”

A Guide to Quality, Taste, and Style - Tim Gunn.
“Clothes do not exist to humiliate their owners. Please do not force garments into performing psychological tasks for which they are not designed. “

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chi Chi Chi, le le le, viva los mineros de Chile!

"All 33 miners have been rescued. All 6 rescue workers have reached the surface. The mine is clear."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Countess by Rebecca Johns

Rebecca Johns's new novel comes out today.
Link here.
Go buy it. And if you live in Chicago, go to her reading, because I don't and I can't. And I am sorely disappointed.

Sulzer Library, Lincoln Ave. 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Buy her a drink for me, wouldja? (But no blood...)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

O Canada...

I packed six books for a week of vacation, and read four. Whew, that was close.

What I packed:
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Phillip Pullman
The Lonely Polygamist – Brady Udall
Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
Up from the Blue – Susan Henderson
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

What I read:

While Under the Banner of Heaven was a terrific book about fundamental Mormonism, and I love Jon Krakauer and have read everything he's written, because he’s a compelling writer and a meticulous researcher, there’s no denying that Heaven was condemning of its subjects. But I thought Lonely Polygamist dealt with what we consider fringe elements in a matter-of-fact, enlightening, and empathetic way. I never thought I could sympathize with, let alone like, a polygamist man, but I did Golden. And it ultimately helped me make sense of sense how someone you might perceive as normal would wound up where he did, with five wives, 30 children, and a lifestyle that makes his head – and ours - spin. The book made me think about something I thought I had concrete opinions on in a totally different way, and that is never, ever a bad trait in a novel. Udall's Lonely Polygamist was unlike anything I have ever read before. And, honestly, polygamy isn't that far off my long-held fervor for a nice commune.

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ – Phillip Pullman. Jesus/Christ is part of the Myths series which authors include AS Byatt, Margaret Atwood, and Salley Vickers, all great company, retelling myths with a contemporary twist. But this one: Yawn. The intricate and lush writing I expect from Pullman, due to his His Dark Materials trilogy and his Victorian melodramas, is absent in this book. I appreciate that he wrote it in the almost childlike style to mimic the style of the Biblical parables and tales he is riffing on, but it’s boring. And splitting the character of Jesus Christ into twin brothers is certainly an interesting concept but the execution is superficial. There were many gaps, missing details, and inconsistencies -- but of course, many of these are the same missing bits that bother me in the actual Gospels. It felt to me that Pullman wrote this as an exercise, to piss off the church, which he has already proficiently and thoroughly pissed off previously.
The best take on this little book comes from Christopher Hitchens’ otherwise ho-hum review in the New York Times: "It is an attempt by an experienced storyteller to show how even the best-plotted stories can get too far out of hand."

Up from the Blue – Susan Henderson.
In the interest of full disclosure, Sue is a friend. I knew her first as the wife of a college friend whose band I often went to see play, and in recent years, I was lucky enough to reconnect with her. Sue and her husband are one of those couples who seem to have it all together – they are both insanely talented and also insanely nice. A solid debut novel garnering excellent reviews could not have happened to a more deserving writer, in my humble opinion. I enjoyed the book, and it took hardly any time at all for me to stop reading it as Susan’s voice and start feeling Tillie’s. In addition, I really enjoyed the way the time period resonated with me, as a child growing up in the late seventies/early eighties. I did agree with this reviewer on Amazon, about the adult Tillie and her lack of perspective: “What felt missing in this novel was an adult voice - a narration that went beyond superficial story telling.” Adult Tillie was just the same as child Tillie; and we all know that attributes one can forgive in a child can be exhausting, exasperating, and unattractive in an adult. But I really felt the child Tillie, and her agony and curiosity and petulance. I cared deeply about her -- but not at all about adult Tillie.

Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann. See my review from a week or so ago. I am still thinking about this book. That powerful.

Next up: the two books I didn't get to, and A Visit from the Goon Squad. But since I am no longer on vacation, it may take some time.

Also, I have two words for you: Nanaimo bars. You will thank me. Or maybe not. Depending on how much weight you put on...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"You must move forward."

One of the lovely things about vacation is that I can catch up on my reading. I have been slowly working my way through Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, and, as it is a book that deserves to have time taken with it, it's been slow going. But I lost myself in it the first two days of vacation.
I re-emerged slowly, stunned, dazzled.

While Philippe Petit's walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the World trade Center is the thread running through the book, it is balanced perfectly, like Petit, with the intertwining stories of half a dozen inhabitants of New York City on that hot, muggy day in August 1974.

Additionally, this novel is a love song to New York, and in a strange, roundabout way, a love song to the Towers. McCann writes a postscript about his father-in-law's trip down 57 flights to escape the south tower on September 11, 2001, and this, juxtaposed after the dreamy novel detailing Petit's incredible act of beauty and the ordinary lives touched however delicately by it, choked me up.

"Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

dancing with the stars...

Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, my dad was light on his feet. He danced like a dream. It seems he could make anyone look good - when he and my mother danced together, they moved as one - but it was my dad you watched. His long-limbed grace, his poise, the delight shining on his face, his goofy ear-to-ear grin; he made dancing look like something everyone should do, all the time.

It wasn’t until you tried it that you realized how easy he made it look.
When I was very little, I stood on his feet and he swung me around, pretty much carrying me through the steps. But as I got older, he taught me to waltz, and to polka, and to jitterbug. He taught me to stand up straight and move from my hips, and to let the music tell my feet what to do when, and he taught me the sheer joy of dancing with a partner. A touch of the hand on my back, a slight pressure on my waist, or a grasp of my fingers, and the rest of my body, and especially my feet, knew where to go and what to do, in sync with his rhythm. It was magical – it might very well have been magic.

He had a way of shuffling his feet, knees bent, that made him look like he was flowing water, or maybe just gracefully boneless – I saw him move with the same fluidity and grace when he played basketball with me in the driveway.

As a fundamentalist Baptist, I was not permitted to dance in high school. Not for us the slow dancing of prom. My favorite joke for a long time was, “Why don’t Baptists have sex standing up?” The answer, of course, is “Because people will think they are dancing.”

But in my young and wild single days, a friend and I frequented an Irish bar where, every Tuesday evening, people gathered to ceili dance. Ceili is the folk dance of Ireland, and it resembles clogging, or square dancing, or even Highland dancing. Step dancing, the stiff, intricate footwork associated with Michael Flatley and girls in curls and green velvet, is the next step up – you have to know how to do it to do it right. But ceili is a group effort, perfectly suited to beginners; you leap in, usually with a partner, and if you let the old people who know what they’re doing push you around to your proper spot, you pick it up quickly and then it’s a whiz. The music is infectious and you can’t help but move – I find that I assume there’s something seriously wrong with people who can listen to a fiddler play a reel and not move their feet. It’s all I can do to stop myself from dancing, you know, when everyone else is sitting at the table, demurely sipping beer. It’s also very good exercise; I developed calves of steel and remarkable lung capacity.

My second foray into rhythm was when I signed myself up for a zumba class at the gym about a year ago. Zumba is a fusion of Latin dance and hiphop coolness, all disguised as exercise. I am no Britney Spears, it’s true, but I find that if I just lose myself in the thrumming beat and don’t watch myself in the mirror, I don’t feel nearly as awkward as I am sure I look. Sometimes I fantasize about breaking out my moves at some wedding with an insanely cool DJ who has no aversion to playing profanity-laced, innuendo-laden, bass-heavy dance music.

But I learned long ago to leave the wedding reception before the bride’s dance with her father. I didn’t dance with my dad at my wedding – he had been dead for close to eight years by then. My older brother gave me away, filling in my father’s traditional role perfectly fine, but I couldn’t dance with someone else, for the dance that was supposed to be his. And watching another happy bride dance with her dad, however awkward, makes me ache for my dad. Makes me wish ferociously that he had danced with me at my wedding.

My father-in-law dances well enough, he knows the steps; probably a generational thing. But his dancing is studied, and full of effort. You get the impression that he’s talking to himself in his head as he spins and twirls and guides my mother-in-law. My father’s dancing was effortless.
He was in his element.
He looked dancing like I feel swimming.

Recently I was out to dinner with friends. We sat outside at a tapas bar, and an older gentleman played soft, slow Brazilian jazz. The owner of the restaurant, a tall, slim man with a Brooklyn accent I couldn’t quite believe was real, danced with his wife on the little brick patio, and his loose, light stepping made my throat tighten. He danced like my dad. Controlled but free, fluid and graceful and lithe...I longed to ask him to dance with me. He may very well have, but I was more afraid that were we to dance, I would lay my head on his shoulder and weep.

Monday, September 20, 2010

the elusive mazurka bar

I just finished The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Wynter Morrison makes a return, and now she's co-owner of the Queen Street Bakery, still mixing up delicious-sounding loaves.

Into the mix this time around is thrown a disappearing boyfriend, a mysterious and annoying cake decorator, a bereft apprentice, a foot-dragging ex-husband, and a lovelorn landlord.

The story skips and jumps around a bit, and there are characters I would love to read about in spin-off novels. But the real star, as before, is the bakery. At least for me.

And this time round I was determined to bake a Mazurka bar, the cookie Ellen, the bakery's original owner, is famous for. Turns out the recipe is elusive; according to the blogs and reviews I found, even Hendricks doesn't have one.

So I intend to have a good time trying...I started with this one: from, and while it doesn't feature the light, flaky pastry mentioned in the book, it is indeed delicious, especially warmed, with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. The apricots cut the sweetness of the crust just the perfect little amount, and I shamelessly scrape the almost caramelized bits of butter off the bottom of the pan and pop them into my mouth when no one else is in the kitchen.

However, this one also tantalizes: from Yulinka Cooks. Although there's no oatmeal, and I am pretty sure the mazurka bars in Bread Alone contained oatmeal, I am willing to try them. I am a sucker for dried fruit and nuts.

This recipe, from Feathered Nest, is more similar to the first than the second, but the fruit is fresh and goes on top of the crust rather than between. I have a bowlful of prune plums that might be put to work in this recipe someday soon.

I am still Googling and searching my stash of cookbooks and cooking magazines, to round up more contestants. Anyone want to come help me taste test?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

There is no proof, Septimus. The thing that is perfectly obvious is that the note in the margin was a joke to make you all mad.

I am almost done The Baker's Apprentice. It was exactly as I expected. And now I am about to embark on a quest for the Mazurka bar, which the bakery in the novel sells.

Let the Great World Spin is beautifully, carefully written. It is a book with which one must take one's time.

Just started Deliverance this afternoon, and broke out my pretty Persephone Press edition of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding.

But in the meantime, I am rereading Tom Stoppard's brilliant play, Arcadia.
This man will always be Septimus Hodge to me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

soapbox post

This annoys the everliving shit out of me.

I was going to write a whole diatribe about why Americans think everything needs to be Americanized, and why the general zeitgeist seems to be that anything remotely European is too foreign and hard for us to cope with, but I am too tired.

I read Let the Right One IN THE ORIGINAL SWEDISH -- well, no, no, I didn't, but I read it ages ago. In the original translation, with the original title, because someone who had seen the original movie raved about it. I liked it well enough. It was a good read.

I will ignore this ridiculous Americanized media tie-in edition, as well as the stupid American remake of the movie.

Just as I will ignore the American remake of the film of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Guess what, America? It's OK to NOT be American. Seriously. The rest of the world has lots to offer, some of it even better than what we have here.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Everything is never as it seems...

Books I bought today:

The Baker's Apprentice - Judith Ryan Hendricks. I read Bread Alone because I picked it up off a shelf of a vacation rental a couple years ago. I really enjoyed it. It was comfort reading - full of delicious food and you knew it was going to end happily. I didn't know there was a sequel till I stumbled over it today at the bookstore, where I'd gone with Primo to buy the new 39 Clues book, and for Seg, yet another complete sticker book of something Star Wars. Seg offered to give me his saved up money for part of his book, but considering he helped me sort and put away 6 baskets of laundry this morning, quite cheerfully, I got it for him. I like to do little things like that for my Seg; he is such a kind and generous soul himself.

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel. Can't wait to start this one.

I came home with a hankering to finally read Let the Great World Spin, which I bought ages ago, so dug it up and found my copy of Master and Commander in the process, so both are now sitting on my nightstand.

And I am moving through my pile of Persephone Press books; it's the weather, I crave pleasant domestic novels.


Just finished Sara Gruen's The Ape House. While I read it straight through in two nights, I won't say it was an especially great book. There are characters I liked, a few I didn't get At. All., and I don't really care about bonobos. As Katya said, "[It's] not that I want anything to happen to them, [I'm] not interested in reading about them." Precisely. But despite all this equivocation, I am glad I read it. I scored it at the library on the New Books display, so that was a bonus, too.


Why can I have a book in my house for months or sometimes even years before I am hit with the burning desire to read it RIGHT NOW? See above, Let the Great World Spin. I like to go bookshopping on my own shelves. The price is right.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tasty Kake...

It was an oddly blissful week, full of relatives and old friends.

Also, cocktails, lots and lots of laughing, and, um, yes, nostalgic eating of panzarottis and cheese steaks and peanut butter Kandy Kakes. (Can't resist this link to fun facts about Tasty Kakes.)

Lots of other kids for the boys to play with.

Lots of chlorinated water, and plenty of dirt, and tons of Star Wars battles.

Dinners were low-key; having another mother there to assuage my fears that Primo was going to die of malnutrition was wonderful, or maybe it was just the calming effect of the delicious pina coladas she made me. Never mind, the ketchup bottle took pride of place on the table, and the kids ate popsicles all day long, and everyone survived without developing scurvy or rickets.

I haven’t slept that well in years. In fact, why B didn’t come pounding on my door at 8 every morning, I do not know, but I will be eternally, shamefacedly grateful – I slept till TEN on Saturday while she plied my guys with Cheerios and sausage, and how blessed am I to have such a true friend?

The house tumbled with kids all day long, but the cacophony didn’t make me nearly so twitchy as it does at home. Even though I still had to feed and bathe and discipline them (occasionally), the week was relaxing. (The evening sweep of straightening and the preparation of meals goes much more quickly and pleasantly with two sets of hands.)

It does apparently take a village.

The twenty-first century sucks in some ways.

But I can’t hate it too much, because I wouldn’t have been able to resurrect this village of cousins and friends without its technology.


Thank you, Facebook.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

You can go home again, but it won't be pretty...

The house is tan now, not mint green.

The huge locust tree out front, the one that constantly dropped branches and that my parents worried would fall on our roof with every storm, is gone. As are the evergreen bushes that shielded the concrete porch's stark lines and sheltered the crocuses my mom planted, that heralded the arrival of spring.

The side yard, where I practiced and practiced and practiced my running roundoffs, and attempted (unsuccessfully) aerials all summer afternoon, is cemented over, with a giant blue truck parked there.
The red monster truck is parked out front. I wonder how the Glowackis and the Hills feel about that. It's pretty butt ugly and takes up way more than its fair share of space.

My dad's garden and wild orange lilies are gone, replaced by a huge dog kennel of chainlink, reaching skyward. Exactly how big is that dog, I wonder? It makes our teeny little chainlink fence, the one that protected us from the neighbors' ferocious terriers - ha - seem like a plaything. We would breathlessly leap the fence to retrieve errant balls, with the doggies yapping loudly at our heels.

There is also a giant, faux-gingerbread-y garden "shed," large and sturdy enough to house a small family. I have no doubt it harbors a loud, exhaust-belching (and wholly unnecessary) riding mower.

Old Lady Weston's house is no longer the spooky, Gothic mansion hulking halfway down the block; its porch boasts pretty hanging baskets and the yard a picket fence. The Rosatis' split-level no longer hosts the biggest collection of gaudy lawn ornaments any of us have ever seen; the Teitzes no longer claim a secret, turquoise pool none of us ever swam in.

I don't even know if the Barneys or the Bobos still live here, but the apartment in which my parents lived for the first three years of their marriage is still there, with its gravel driveway into which my mother flung her engagement ring one angry night.

I wonder when the houses all shrunk.
And when the huge, overreaching mulberry tree was chopped down.
And when our "woods" became a scrub patch on the side of the freeway wall.
I wonder if the kids still play hockey in the cul-de-sac, and if there are blockwide games of Kick-the-Can and jailbreak in the dusk. Or if maybe the children are all holed up in Stacie's basement, playing Atari.

But Peggy still offers up home-baked cookies, and Mr Hill is pottering around his garage.

Some things never change.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 27, Day Before NJ edition

On today’s upcoming vacation menu, for (chewy) starters: some nonfiction. William Langweische’s American Ground: The unbuilding of the World Trade Center. I have been a fan of Langweische’s writing since he wrote for “The Atlantic.” He can take what seems like the most prosaic of topics and imbue it with such energy and interest that the book becomes a page-turner. This book was no exception. It was tough to read, but he handled the information in a sensitive, compassionate manner.

First course (pasta): Tender is the Night. I dunno, don’t ask. Sometimes books just leap off the shelf at you.

Main course (meat): The Passage. This is nominally a vampire book – yes, there are vamps, but they could just as easily be zombies or plague or some other great and unavoidable evil. The Passage is much more than a summer blockbuster featuring bloodsuckers. It reminds me of Stephen King’s epic The Stand. I am about three-quarters of the way through it; it is compulsively readable, but it is not going to end well, so I keep procrastinating wrapping it up.

Main course (vegetarian): The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman. LOVE. But then I am a Goodman fan.

Palate cleanser: Brideshead Revisited. I had never read this, can you believe that?

For afters, we have the following books, all of which I saw at Target yesterday and thought, I should read that. But I already own them. Bargain! They join the TBR pile:

The Zookeeper’s Wife - Diane Ackerman
Sarah’s Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
Cutting for Stone - Abraham Vorghese

I did almost buy World War Z but managed to restrain myself.

Nom, nom, nom. (That’s the sound the zombies make, too…)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Homemade Life - Molly Wizenberg

I like food. I like cooking it, I like eating it, I like talking about it, and I like reading about it. I like food memoirs. I love MFK Fisher, John Thorne, Laurie Colwin. I enjoyed Nigel Slater’s books, and Ruth Reichl’s sort-of-food-memoirs.
I have cooked my way through Bonny Wolf’s Talking with my Mouth Full and Michael Lee West’s Consuming Passions. So when I first picked up A Homemade Life at the library a year or so ago, I was pretty sure I’d at least enjoy reading it.

The first third is mostly about her charming, idiosyncratic, but loving family. The middle third of the book is situated in Paris where she studies and then teaches for a chunk of time, and the last third is about starting her blog, Orangette, and meeting her husband.

The recipes separate a decent food memoir from a stellar one, and these recipes look divine. The chapter on Molly’s mother’s Christmas cookies made me vow to buy it the minute it came out in paperback, and so I did; I plan to crank out some of the fruit-nut balls this December for teacher gifts. I have at least a dozen other pages tabbed to try: her father’s potato salad, the ginger pear cake, the lemon yogurt cake, her exchange/foster mother’s tuna croquettes, the Dutch baby pancakes. The list goes on.

It’s precisely the sort of food book that makes you want to go rummage through the pantry for something delicious to eat.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday break

We've been having a very nice weekend.
Friday night we all watched a Thomas movie (even the big boys liked it), and then when the Littlers were in bed, me and Primo and Seg sat around eating Oreos and watching "Cake Boss."

Yesterday I managed to get myself to the gym. But the rest of the day the boys played outside, then we trooped to the pool for an hour, and then ice cream for "dinner," with French toast and fruit for "dessert."

Seg is off on to a birthday party today, and Primo just turned down a playdate with his best friend because he is, in his words, "tired and grumpy." He's lying down, reading.

H is expected home late this evening.

I have been glued to The Passage.

I did haul everyone to Barnes and Noble, to buy the birthday present for Seg's party. I also bought Allegra Goodman's new book, The Cookbook Collector; Molly Wizenberg's food memoir, A Homemade Life (already adding more recipes to the must-try list); and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, because I am sick to death of coping with the library hold list.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 22 - The Wedding Version

Four small boys.
Seventy-two hours.
H out of town.

I am afraid it's going to be very Lord of the Flies round these parts for the weekend.

It's going to have to involve an awful lot of alcohol.

Or Benadryl.

But the good news is, I have The Passage to read.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 20

What exactly is it about online friendships?

Is it because you can edit what you say before hitting that Send button? You can be as smart and witty as you want to be, because you have a moment to think before you speak – er, send.

Is it because you rarely meet the person in real life, so the mystery is always maintained, no matter how close you grow?

For example, I adore Suse. We email. We snail mail each other things. We have Skyped, and I have seen her and heard her voice. But I have never, much to my regret, sat next to her at a coffee shop and watched her stir 6 sugars into her coffee or harangue the barista because there's not enough foam on her latte. (I am not saying Suse does that; just that she could and I would never know. Perhaps I should have picked a more hypothetical example.) I have no idea if the fact that I pick my cuticles or constantly run my hands through my hair or curse at old people driving too slowly in giant cars would drive her round the bend, and there is a very good chance that we will never spend quite long enough together to find out.

When I met up with Blackbird, lo, eons ago, we had a mere weekend to catch up and cram in everything we wanted to say; perhaps if we were next door neighbors, that intensity and feeling of, I dunno, being almost in love - you know, like a girl crush - I wanted Blackbird to see only the funniest, smartest bits of me - would dissipate. Of course it must. My next door neighbor, whom I happen to like very, very much, has heard me scream at my kids, and watched me retrieve my paper in ratty old pajamas and unwashed hair, and puts up with having to look at my toy-scattered front yard on a regular basis. And we are still good friends. But the magic, as it were, has long since gone.

Which isn’t to say that Suse and Blackbird don’t know the REAL me; they maybe just know the BEST of me, because I have the luxury of editing myself.

I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.

I still have friends “in real life;” dear friends to whom I can talk in person and with whom I lounge around and drink and knit and eat burgers. I could not live without them. But often the stupid things that flit through my brain are voiced before I stop myself; I reveal things in ways I wish later I hadn’t. And if I get a bad haircut or have a big zit on my chin, there’s no hiding it. There is no editing “in real life.”

Here’s another interesting thought: I interact mostly online even with one of my closest friends in real life. Gina lives four miles away from me, but we often won’t see each other for weeks on end. But we email and text and call…so is it the case that were this means of communication not available that we would slowly cease to be friends? In this case, I think not – Gina and I have been friends from before the crazy burgeoning of online communication. It does mean I can chat with her during the day as often as I like, at each other’s convenience. And I think that may be one of the keys to the success of online relationships – they are indeed conducted at one’s convenience. As someone who curses every time the phone rings, this is a huge advantage.

(Although I will point out, re: that perceived convenience, that Gina and I may be unique in that, if we have plans, neither of us considers it remotely rude or odd to say, “I don’t feel like going out in the cold tonight, and I’m achy and just want to go to bed.” There is never any recrimination or sulking or anything; it is a true luxury to have a friend one can blow off without repercussions or guilt.)

Via the Internet I have met many lovely people whom I am proud to consider friends, whom I may never meet in real life, and who, honestly, may come and go from within our loose circle of acquaintances. But this doesn’t make them any less “true” friends.

What do you think?

NOTE: NO names have been changed in the writing of this blog post. I reiterate, Suse may very well only take FIVE sugars in her coffee.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

water, water everywhere...

Despite the huge piles of library books cluttering up my bedroom, I have nothing to read.
Last night I cracked open The Bell Jar.

What a writer.
I am not a huge poetry person, but I must check out Plath's poems now, too.

And you should all probably be grateful that we have an electric oven.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Friday, Day 17, summer vacation

Watched "Lightning Thief" with bigger boys. Abysmal. How could they cut out entire characters? And the dialogue! Blergh...Paul the octopus predicts Spain for the World Cup winner...reading Jen Lancaster's Pretty in Plaid; if you are my FB friend, you will see that ole Jen had nothing on me...but she is very funny...tomorrow's plans: zumba, soccer, watch soccer, soccersoccersoccer is that all I ever think about? Well, you know, hockey season is over...picked up The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life from the library, despite the fact that I can't recall who recommended it and the fact that it reminds me of I Don't Know How She Does It so far...anyone have a copy of Lorrie Moore's Anagrams they could lend me? I can't find it at my library. If worse comes to worse, I will buy it, but just rereading Robertson Davies' Fifth Business because some guy I email reminded me of Davies and I love him- Davies, not the craving tomatoes, what does that mean my body wants?...library books: LEGO: A Love Story; Bitter Seeds; Don't You Forget About Me; Food of a Younger Land; MOM: A celebration of mothers from StoryCorps; William Langewiesche's American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center; Michael Pollan's Food Rules; Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey; George Carlin's Last Words. Capsule reviews will follow eventually. G'night.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Day 15, summer vacation 2010

Today I had a blazing epiphany at the gym.

The only reason my body should ever expect to have to run a couple miles as fast as it can is because someone got run over by the combine and I am getting them help.

I am built to dig potatoes in the fields, not samba to Latin tunes.
(By the time my hips get to where my feet are, they are supposed to be going in the opposite direction anyway.)

My ankles were designed to be covered by Wellies worn as I muck out the cow and horse stalls.

When Stalin starved out his people, I may have lasted longer than most, but in modern times in America, that cuts no ice.

My Eastern European peasant stock cannot be disguised, much as I may long to be a true gym rat with jutting vertebrae and hipbones.

Not that this means I give up, as my brain rather likes its endorphins.

But it may change the feelings of inadequacy engendered in me by about half of the denizens of my health club.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Day 14, Summer Vacation

Currently reading Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs.
In this bit, he and his wife discuss their second son's upcoming bris.

'It's not going to hurt,' I told [him], though, of course...I had no idea whether it was going to hurt him or not. That was one of the skills you learned as a father fairly early on, and it had roots as ancient as whatever words Abraham had crafted to lure his son Isaac up that mountainside to the high place where he would bare his beloved child's breast to the heavens, as he had been commanded to do by the almighty asshole or by the god-shaped madness whose voice was rolling like thunder through his brain. It was not the making of a covenant that the rite called Brit Milah commemorated, but the betrayal of one. Because you promised your children, simply by virtue of having them, and thereafter a hundred times a day, that you would shield them, always and with all your might, from harm, from madness, from men with their knives and their bloody ideas. I supposed it was never too soon for them to start learning what a liar you were.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Monday - Day 13 of Summer Vacation

My dining room is mostly finished.
The painter/contractor (my lovely neighbor) just (just! ha!) has to re-install the double-hung 6-over-1 original window he found miraculously sandwiched between plywood plugs, and then deal with the giant bay window with coffered ceiling. Which is a big job - but most of the furniture can be put back.

The room itself was a huge job - the linear feet of moulding alone made me want to weep with despair. Not to mention the plaster ceiling that needed patching, the uneven plaster on the walls, and the ornate fireplace mantel. He did an amazing job. I can't believe it's the same room.

It is now a warm pumpkin-y, terra cotta-y color, with a white ceiling and cream woodwork, except for the mantel cabinet doors which were stripped down to their original oak so he could find the hinges and glass leading. They look so lovely that I am contemplating stripping the whole mantel, because F assures me that it's oak.
But one insanity at a time, thank you very much.

I need REAL dining room furniture.
Our table and chairs are pale, Shaker-style IKEA pieces, which are just fine. They are sturdy, easy to keep presentable, and have clean, stark lines.

I have a glass-fronted cherry Mission-style cabinet that I use as a china cabinet. Yes, the boys cracked one of the panes of glass, but that's fairly easily fixable.

My grandmother's old cedar chest holds all my table linens. It's pretty, but there's no obvious place for it to sit; however, it has huge sentimental value so I refuse to store it away or get rid of it.

But the main china cabinet is a cast-off from my brother- and sister-in-law that I thought was hideous when they had it in their dining room, yet when they were going to throw it out in favor of a new (even more hideous) set, for some reason H and I said, Sure, we'll take it. It's almost as if we don't believe we deserve new, nice furniture, in our taste. I DESPISE this thing. It's flimsy and battered, and is way too small for our embarrassingly palatial dining room. The room screams for a big, chunky, solid piece anchoring the sconce wall. Instead, this thing wobbles and teeters on its ridiculous little legs and rattles every time someone walks by it.


To that end, I have spoken to the man who built the bookcases in the bedroom,and we are designing a cabinet/set of shelves, with maybe glass doors and with drawers for all the linens, to fit into the space between the outside wall and the fireplace. It's as if that space was made for some sort of built-in, and if he does even half as beautiful a job as he did in my bedroom, I will be delighted. Besides, think of all that storage space!

But, you know, now that you mention it? You know what else I hate?
All the crap plates and bowls and tureens and jugs and glasses various relatives have pawned off on me when they were clearing out *their* basements.

So I arranged my pretty, beloved things - my grandmother's Depression glass, the Czech crystal friends gave us as a wedding gift or my brother brought back for me from his travels, my treasured and oft-used wine glasses, hand-thrown and glazed pottery we have picked up and been given here and there - in the cabinets and am packing away in the basement, wrapped carefully and labeled, the stuff that I hate but can't in good conscience give to Goodwill because, well, what if my mother-in-law asks someday where the crystal urn Great-great Aunt Ethel gave us is?

As soon as I convince H that a dining room without an ugly green polka dotted area rug is a) easier to clean, and b) much more attractive and elegant, I will be quite pleased with the one grown-up room in my house.

If only I could get the boys to stop sticking things to the walls.
I threatened to beat any child who thought they must attached sticky foam letters to my freshly-painted walls.
Even if those letters spell "MOM."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Friday - Day 12 of Summer Vacation

******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********
"Remember Me" with Robert Pattinson (of Twilight fame) amd Emilie de Ravin
******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********
******MOVIE SPOILER ALERT*********

OK, you have been warned.

H was out playing guitars last night.
When he does this, I usually plunk in front of the TV, watch some stupid movie he has no interest in seeing, and knit.

Last night, I watched "Remember Me."

RPatz plays Tyler Hawkins, a 22-year-old New Yorker who is coping with a family tragedy, and trying to be a good son and brother, and who falls in love with the daughter of a cop who unjustly beat him up and has pretty horrific family history of her own. It is NOT a comedy - it is a complicated, thoughtful, actually quite lovely movie about a young man trying to find his way in the world, and Pattinson displays acting skill of which I did not, frankly, think him capable. (Of course, he was also nice to look at...)

The movie was just about over, and I could not puzzle out how in God's green earth they were going to end it. It seemed pretty clear it wasn't just going to be some smarmy happy ending, the rest of the movie was too complex for that....but the smaller tragedy of what happens to the character is compounded by the huge scale tragedy of the day -- it ends on Sept 11, 2001, which you should see coming, looking back - but you don't see it at all.

RPatz's character is waiting for his high-powered father in his offices...the camera pans from him looking out at the city, saying what a beautiful day, and then the camera slowly pans out to outside the building looking at him, silhouetted in a window of one of the WTC towers. And from there...well....

I had a visceral reaction - I felt like I was going to vomit.
I sobbed, and could not stop.

Does everyone else remember sitting in front of CNN or Fox that day, watching live footage, praying and shaking and crying (and in my case, frantically speed dialing two loved ones who worked across the West Side Highway from the Towers)? I felt like that's what we all did, that tragic and horrible morning.

Till now I have pretty successfully avoided any commercial representation of that day on purpose...."Man on Wire" was bad enough and that was just the Towers, not what happened. This was...different. Punch to the gut.

And *I* am lucky, because everyone I love who was in danger at all was safe at the end of that day.
And it still affected me that way.

I am experiencing, in the words of Joke, "hangover" today.

I can't shake it.

I really, really wish I had never watched it.

But then I would have missed an otherwise wonderful movie.
Even the ending, while maybe manipulative, was not trite or overdone.

But I have a very hard time with anyone using the events of that day for any form of entertainment.
I finally stopped sobbing, but my eyes are still swollen today.

I probably should have just watched "New Moon" again.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Day 11 of Summer Vacation

I am paralyzed.
I need to clear up the kitchen and mop the floor.
I need to put the dining room furniture back where it belongs.
I need to grocery shop.

Instead, I am sitting in my bedroom, putzing around on the computer, eating goldfish crackers straight out of the bag.

I don't want to be climbed on or sat upon or tugged at.
I don't want small boys to put their feet on me.
I don't want to look at one more crayoned picture or listen to one more tediously detailed plot description of a new DS game.
I am tired of having to share everything I put in my mouth or want to look at.
I don't want to be called Mama a thousand times a day, for a thousand small favors.

I want the baby to get his hand out of the cracker bag so I can get mine in.

I may not survive summer vacation.

I do not want to be in my own skin any longer.

I want to be in someone else's skin, some person who is a good mother with patience and spontaneity and an interest in hauling her kids to a museum or playdate.
I want to be the person who doesn't care that the seven year old just spilled a full cup of juice on her freshly washed floor, or that none of the males in her house seem capable of peeing IN the toilet.
I want to be the person who doesn't wish to throttle her husband for coming home early to take a nap, or for getting in her way while making dinner so he can wash his hands at the kitchen sink.
I want to be the mom who doesn't yell and roar and throw things.
I want to be a person who puts on clean clothes in the morning and they stay clean, most of the day, not sullied by popsicle stickiness or diaper residue or snot.

I can't take a vacation because when I do, my husband gets angry about why I need time to myself. I don't know if he actually hates me, but I sure feel like he does.

He works constantly, and I don't feel like explaining anymore to anyone that he loves to work like this but I am burnt out.

I very probably could deal with this by upping my medication dosage.
Or drinking more. Like, starting at 11am every morning.

I hate that I in theory adore my children but in reality wish every last one of them would leave me alone.

I am tired of being me.
I think everyday of David Foster Wallace talking about how he got tired of having to work so hard just to exist everyday.
Not to be happy or fulfilled but just to exist.
I know exactly what he means.

And I am sick of myself.
And I will keep going, and eventually I will snap out of it somehow, and in ten years none of this will matter and I will wish for my children climbing all over me.

But right now, right now...right now I feel like bathing in my self-pity, sinking under its surface and letting it fill my ears and mouth, letting it drown me.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday - Day 10 of Summer Vacation

You can have finely crafted posts once a month, or I can just post stream-of-consciousness (a la James Joyce - HA!) slightly more often. I am opting for the second because, well, it's my blog.

I read Brunonia Barry's newest, The Map of True Places, over the past three days. It's a little disjointed, but the characters are nicely drawn and the main character, Zee Finch, is intensely sympathetic. I liked it more than The Lace Reader, but there are some characters from that novel that show up for cameos of sorts in this one, so that's fun.

I am laughing myself simple reading Jancee Dunn's Why is My Mother Getting a Tattoo? And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask I LOVED her But Enough About Me: A Jersey Girl's Unlikely Adventures Among the Absurdly Famous, but assumed it was a Jersey thing. Nope. This one is even funnier, and I may be a little bit in love with her family. Seriously, I thought I was going to wake the whole house up last night reading this.

I picked up Barbara Kingsolver's Lacuna from the library again; hope I am in the mood for it this time.

But, honestly, everyone I know seems to be having babies, so a lot of free time is taken up with whipping out baby gifts. It gives me a fine excuse to buy yarn but not a whole lot of time for reading.

And tonight I will be going to see "Eclipse," without knitting needles in hand. An unusual occurrence. But I must pay attention to sparkly vampires.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lazy, hazy days of summer...

Oh, dudes.
Deb, you were right. And I was wrong. It's not that there's not more time - it's just that I am BRAINDEAD.

I have a gajillion half-read books sitting around.
My Google reader Items to Be read is up to like six hundred.
I have five different projects on the needles.

I have four boys to care for 24-freaking-7.

Some nights, I go out after the boys and H are in bed. I take my book and drive to my favorite neighborhood bar, and order a Pilsner Urquell and some buffalo bites, and watch whatever sporting event is on TV. It's calming, it's peaceful, it's restorative.

I wonder if the bar has free wireless...

Monday, June 07, 2010


Bonk - Mary Roach
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
Eclipse - Stefenie Meyer
Mallory's Oracle - Carol O'Connell

Yep, now you know.
School's out in a week; hope I have more time to blog then...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book? (Psalm 56:8)

This rainy, chilly Sunday morning, I wake at around 5 or so. One of my children is sobbing. At least, it’s not sobbing that I have ever heard before from any of them (yes, it’s true, mamas can pick out the cry of her child in a crowd, let alone her own house). But it must be one of them, who else is here?

I was confused when it appeared that all three boys currently under my care were sleeping peacefully (albeit two in one bed – impromptu slumber party). Even though I saw them in bed, I then thought, It’s coming from outside (I know, don’t think I didn’t think that. Cue the axe murderer.) My still asleep brain somehow could handle the fact that despite the fact that I had just laid eyes on all three children IN THE HOUSE, apparently one of them was locked outside, crying.

When I opened the front door, there was a small figure – so small that at first I thought it was a dog – huddled in the middle of my street, sobbing heartbrokenly.

Next thought: someone’s cat got run over. As I approached (yeah, if you’re thinking, Idiot! get in line with my husband), I realized it was one person, a (seemingly) young, teeny tiny girl, sobbing as if her heart would break – or indeed, as if it already had.

Sadly, because we live when we do, in the society we do, the gut instinct that led me out into the street to find a crying child cautioned me against getting too close – that this girl could have a gun or be whacked out on drugs, or be of danger to me – and more importantly, to my sleeping children in my house - somehow.

I spent close to an hour sitting out on the street with her. She never moved, just cried and cried and cried. She repeated things like, “I don’t have anybody! I don’t trust anyone! I have no home!” over and over.

Because I live where I live, there are certain things that immediately pop into my head when a ruckus occurs out on the street, especially in the off hours.

Was she drunk?
(I don’t think she was.)

Was the guy sitting in the shiny new SUV parked behind her her boyfriend, her father, her pimp?
(Turns out the boy was her boyfriend. He was a slight, clean-cut teenager who was somewhere between exasperation, resignation, and amusement with his girlfriend (I think) and her drama.)

Did he have a gun?
(Yeah, I asked her that, and I am not proud, but you know, I wasn’t approaching a strange car without at least some inkling of who or what was in there.)

Should I call the police, the women’s shelter, her mom?
(No, no, no. I got out of her that she was 18. She looked about 10.)

Mostly, she HAD to get out of the street before someone – most likely my newspaper guy – ran her over.

A woman driving home from an engagement party – immaculately dressed, driving a silver BMW – stopped to see if she could help. I was just glad for another face at that point. The boyfriend never emerged from the car (seems he’d been driving around following her as she wandered the streets, sobbing, and had pretty much given up on talking any sense at all into her.) I offered to call the cops, I offered a jacket, I offered food, money for a cab. She just kept repeating “I don’t know anymore!” and sobbing. (Well, once I thought she asked for Cheerios, but I was wrong.)

I had just about decided there was nothing I could much do, if she didn’t want me calling the police. I told her to come knock on my door if there was anything I could do to help, reiterating my earlier offers of phone calls, food, money. I told the very polite boyfriend the same thing. I was about to reluctantly disappear back into my house and let the drama go on without me.

Then, an angel descended. No, not really. But my rector, one of the nicest men alive, and a man of God so he’d know what to do, drove up the street. He didn’t have any more idea than I did, but he was leaning towards calling the police.

Then, before any of us could make a move, the girl unfolded herself and stalked regally down my alley, disappearing. She was lovely, even after crying for an hour, crumpled on the wet pavement.

The silver BMW lady wanted to leave, I could tell. She had been talking out her car window to the boyfriend. He had said that the girl was upset over something (yeah, I wasn’t gonna pry, wasn’t it enough that I had engendered a three-ring circus?) and he’d been driving around, following her, for hours. On one hand, great, she was pulling the Camille act all over the neighborhood at 5 o-freaking-clock in the morning. On the other, that was some serious emotion I saw. Whatever was upsetting her – however trivial or laughable it may have been to any of us – was real to her. (Of course at 18 *I* thought my heart was never going to recover from Michael Madigan loving someone else and not me anymore. So, you know, 18. So young. A child.)

I am still ashamed that my first presumption was that she was drunk, my second that she was a prostitute (are hookers rocking Converse tennis and skinny jeans these days?). I am ashamed that I worried about a gun. I did not do any of these things JUST because both young people were African American; I did it because they were strangers, and gallivanting around my neighborhood in the wee hours of the morning, and because I had three sleeping children in the house behind me. If they had been white teenagers, I actually would have been less sympathetic. Which smacks of racism right there – my assumption that a white teenager has resources that a black girl might not have is just as prejudiced. (I still would have asked about the gun. I hate guns. They terrify me. And apparently everyone in the world but me has one at this point.)

All I know is that I heard a child crying and the mom in me wanted to fix it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even really make her feel better. But maybe, sometime, when she thinks about how no one cares, she’ll recall how some crazy middle-aged lady wearing pajamas and a retainer stood out in the wet street for an hour, talking to her, teasing out details of her life, trying to find a way to help.

I even offered her her Cheerios. Thank God I’d gone grocery shopping yesterday.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jai ho!

I am laughing out loud reading this:

I am enjoying this second in the series almost more than the first:

Quirky but fun, I'll stick with it to see where it goes:

And I just wept my way through the last chapters of this. Seriously, I need to stop reading books that make me cry.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

All that tread the globe are but a handful to the tribes that slumber in its bosom.

Having spent the past hour and a half sobbing, I finally close the book and put it down. My eyes are swollen, my nose is running, and I feel spent.

I go upstairs and check on each of my boys, gently patting their long limbs under the covers, tucking well-loved stuffed animals into the crooks of their arms. I smooth their hair back from their foreheads, I kiss their cheeks, I breathe in their little boy smell.

The book I just finished has put on the table for examination the worst of every mother's fears, and while I am glad I read it, the book will go on my shelf and probably not be opened ever again by me. It is not the sort of book one rereads, despite the true compassion and love I feel for some of the characters.

It is a book that forces me to look at What if? and when it comes to my boys, the only what if I want to contemplate is a happy one. To speculate otherwise feels like tempting fate; although, sometimes, I think of it as protection. Like if I can imagine the worst, it will never, ever happen. Either way, I can't think too hard about this novel, it is too heartbreaking.

Yet I wake up this morning snarly and cranky from lack of sleep and a nagging headache. I find myself grousing at my beloved boys for demanding too much too early, for being too loud, for simply acting like little boys. Oh, the dichotomy of motherhood.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Half Price Books booty. Arrrrrr!

Magyk, the first Septimus Heap. Primo liked it well enough to ask me to get the next few.

The Amulet of Samarkand, the first of the Bartimaeus trilogy. I haven’t given this to Primo yet. He is travelling with his dad next week, and will need reading material for the plane. (And if you think I am sending library books out of state with that child, you are sadly mistaken.)

Jason and the Golden Fleece - by James Riordan. We are all about mythology these days.

Star Wars 1,2, 4-6 – More plane material.

H.I.V.E. (Higher Institute of Villainous Education) – Mark Waldon. Yeah, I couldn’t decide if this looked stupid or cool. For a buck, I decided to give it a shot. Primo hasn’t finished it yet, though. I started it and still can’t decide if it’s stupid or cool.

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club – Gil McNeil. I love this book. It’s right up there with Raffaella Barker’s Hens Dancing and Summertime for go-to comfort reading of the English novel variety – only with bonus knitting and yarn talk.

Bonjour Tristesse – Francoise Sagan. The classic French coming-of-age tale, blahblahblah. I forget where I first read about this. I have a moldy green hardback copy, but this is a compact little QP version. So I can throw away the moldy one.

Keeping Watch – Laurie R. King. One of King’s non-Mary Russell novels.

Until I Find You – John Irving. If you ask me (and you have), Irving jumped the shark about two thirds of the way through Owen Meany. But for a dollar, I am willing to give him another chance.

Model: The ugly business of beautiful women – Michael Gross. Why do I want to read this? I do seem to have a thing for exposes of an industry – think Fast Food Nation, The American Way of Birth and …Death, and most of Mary Roach’s books. Or those books that delve into the nasty underside of the sports of figure skating and women’s gymnastics. They make good reading.

Astrid & Veronika – Linda Olsson.

In Fact: The best of creative nonfiction - (Lee Gutkind, ed.). Sometimes I need books lying around that I can pick up and put down, and pick up and put down, and pick up and put down…this is one of those. Plus, Gutkind teaches at the local university.

A High Wind in Jamaica – Richard Hughes. One of you recommended this to me when I was reading something else that was allegedly similar. Yeah, I know. I’m killing you with details.

The King’s Daughter – Suzanne Martel. Mail order brides and pioneer living. Excellent.

The Mother Dance – Harriet Lerner. Cuz I love reading books that tell me what I am doing wrong. But of course. Also, it makes H crazy to see me reading books like this.

This Day in the Life: Diaries from women across America (24 hours of true life stories). Aren’t there some bloggers we all know in this?

World of Knitted Toys. I have already been apprised of which child wants which animal.

I'm missing three. Huh. That'll teach me to keep my receipts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

But, wait, there's more...

Despite the cold and the rain and the slog back to my car that took me longer than the actual relay leg I ran, the marathon was a blast. Thank you for your support, both emotional and financial.

On Mother's Day I participated in a Race for the Cure event that more properly could be billed Zumba for the Cure - a bunch of our instructors led a class at the starting line of the race, and a bunch of us zumba nuts danced along. It was fun. I probably should've worn soccer cleats, and a jacket, but it was still fun. It was a lovely way to spend Mother's Day morning.

H and the boys took me out for a Mother's Day brunch on Saturday, to a new-ish, posh-ish little eatery up the street. The food was quite nice, but not especially kid-friendly, even when they TRIED to be kid-friendly (hint: my children don't generally care for goat cheese or sourdough, no matter how you disguise it). Our meal culminated dramatically in a water glass shattering as Terzo drank from it, provoking lots of mouth-washing-out and finger-sweeping with no regard for our fellow diners' sensibilities. I have no doubt that both the waitstaff and the other diners were pleased and relieved to see the back of us.

Also Saturday I took advantage of ferrying Primo to a birthday party to go to a Half Price Books and spend lots of money. Well, not too much - 20 books for $45 bucks. Not so shabby. I picked up a bunch of stuff I have been pushing Primo to try - the first Septimus Heap book, for example. I also scored the novelizations of the original Star Wars trilogy, and the novels of what kids today call Episodes 1 & 2 and us old folks call those abominations that George Lucas inflicted on us after finding out that Vader is Luke's father (what? you didn't know that? sorry.) Anyway, even though the books appear to be verbatim transcriptions of the movies, both Primo and Seg are very much enjoying them.

I prefer to rummage through the clearance racks, even at HPB, rather than pay "full price" (all of $4.98 in most cases) for anything, so I returned home with a grocery bag smorgasbord of literature. I will post a list for you shortly. If you care.

I also had to venture to Borders to buy the birthday gift for the party (Rick Riordan's newest, The Red Pyramid) and found myself somehow emerging, blinking, into the light with the new Anna Quindlen, Every Last One, and volume 3 of the Sandman graphic novels, as I progress in my quest to own (and read, over and over) the entire brilliant series.

You'd think my trip to the library last week, in which I snagged both the newest Mary Kay Andrews AND the new Lori Lansens, AND my requested copy of The Walking Dead compendium, would have sated somewhat my thirst for piles of books surrounding my bed and scattered all over my house, but apparently not.

Friday, April 30, 2010

coming this weekend to a marathon course near you...

This Sunday I am running the second leg of the marathon relay, with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training.

I am going to (briefly) emerge from (relative) anonymity to let you all know about this, and to encourage you to donate to my cause, if you feel so led.

My Team in Training Page

I will bet every single one of us knows someone affected by blood cancer of some sort. It may be a friend of a friend, or a coworker with whom you are not especially close. My friend H is running for her father, and for her young cousin. It might be a young nephew or niece, or an aunt, or a mother. In my case, it is the former principal of my boys' school, a man I met maybe a total of half a dozen times.

We applied for kindergarten for Primo in the spring of 2006. We interviewed with principals and toured facilities and sat in on classes. H came home from an initial tour and meeting at our school, absolutely bowled over by the spirit and dedication evident in every child, every class, every teacher, every project he saw there. This remarkable environment was headed up by Mr. O'Keefe, a smart and compassionate educator who made everything with which he was involved better. He helped make the school into "the crown jewel of the...public school system," and he was tireless in his efforts to make the educational experience for his children more engaging and more challenging. He clearly loved those children, and they clearly knew it, and they loved him right back.

He met my son twice, and each time I was blown away with his level of engagement with Primo. He remembered every detail about Primo, and he really cared what my son needed, and, equally impressively, was interested also in what he had to offer. Do you know what an expectation like that can mean to a child?

Mr O'Keefe passed away last spring, and my son requested that I take him to the funeral service. I did, and I can tell you that while everyone was sad, even in his passing Mr O'Keefe touched each of us, brightening our lives and strengthening our love for our school and its community.

As I churn out my 4.5 miles Sunday morning, I will think of Mr O'Keefe. He may not have been my best friend, or a friendly neighbor, but he was someone incredibly special who was taken from us much, much too soon, by a disease which one day, I hope, will be curable.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Name? Austin Danger Powers. Sex? Yes please!

The Dangerous Stuff from the Toffee House.
I was given a free sample while shopping at a charming little stationery store last week. Then, when the owner discovered it was my birthday, she nicely gifted me a half-pound bag of The Dangerous Stuff.
She knew EXACTLY what she was doing...
I am pretty sure their secret ingredient is crack.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ohioans and fifers and mares, oh my!

I am waiting for the two year old to fall asleep (the four year old conked out in his brother's bed about an hour ago) so I can go downstairs, eat potato sticks from a can, wash them down with a rum-and-Coke, read The Walking Dead, and watch "2012."

No, H is not here. What makes you ask?

(PS Lots of vomits round these parts this past week (on the part of my children, that is). Lots of good reading, though, and also, some delicious chocolate/candy addiction. If I ever find my camera cord, I have knitting p0rn to show you, too. More later. xoxo)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

“What most persons consider as virtue, after the age of 40 is simply a loss of energy”

OK, so old Voltaire has been dead for several hundred years and yet his wisdom lives on in me.

I turned forty today.
My mother used to tell me that the forties were her best decade.
I think I understand why.

Myself, I have a good husband, four dear, healthy, lovely children, a house and a neighborhood I wouldn't trade for anything, smart, funny, loving friends (both IRL and on the 'nets), and I can rest assured I will be able to pay my student loan bill every month - a lovely feeling.

Said husband conjured up for my birthday dinner pizza from my favorite place, a delicious chocolate raspberry cream cake, and one of the Sandman graphic novels I did not yet own. (Last night he took me out for an amazing sushi dinner. It's been a veritable 48 hour celebration.)

My body, despite its lumps and flubber, is strong and fit, and heck, in the past ten years bore and nourished four children quite handily.

In my thirties I became a runner, taught myself to knit, and took up zumba (in that process becoming enamored of wholly inappropriate hip-hop artists young enough to be my teenagers) -- and in the next decade, I have plans to learn to rock climb, play women's ice hockey, and continue to improve my skiing form.

My life is coming together.
I am slowly growing comfortable in my skin.
I realize life can change, and will continue to be full of ups and downs, surprises and adventures both large and small, excitement and boredom and happiness and love. I realize there may be great grief in my future, but I rest assured there will also be great joy.

I received this heartwarming and thoughtful email from an acquaintance who is growing into a real friend:

Congrats on completing your 40th year!

Enjoy the day, the week, the month--enjoy it all! Really. Why not?

Ten years from now even Quarto will be in middle school, yes? It will come fast.

Along the way, more blessings and wonders and surprises than you can imagine. In those ups and the inevitable downs, friends and neighbors will always be close by. As we are now.

This birthday--as on each day--you are our gift. And we celebrate!

Happy Birthday!

And I think I am finally old enough to not give a crap what people think of me, not even about how I spend my hard-earned money. So I just placed an order for several more Persephone books. Happy birthday to me!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Someone at Amazon loves me.

Amazon Assist for Firefox? Best thing EVER.

No longer do I need to navigate between tabs (WHAT did we do before tabbed browsing?) to look for a book I read about on someone's blog. I have the little toolbar at the bottom of my screen, and voila! I pick the book I want, and if I wish to read more, Amazon opens that record in a new tab.

For that matter, WHAT did we do before Amazon?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"This is Ground Control to Major Tom..."

Capsule reviews:

The Girl Who Chased the Moon – Sarah Addison Allen

Another enchanting novel from the author of Garden Spells (but stronger and more cohesive than Sugar Queen, in my humble opinion). I loved the characters – our lovely heroine, Emily Benedict, who returns to her lost mother’s hometown to discover her mother’s secrets but live her own life; Shelby Vance, Emily’s giant, reclusive grandfather; Julia Winterson, the lonely baker with secrets of her own. The story is straightforward but woven with enough magical threads to keep you guessing and entranced. And I feel it's only fair to warn you that it makes you hungry, too.

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd – Jim Fergus

Little Wolf, the leader of the Cheynne Indian tribes, proposes to President Ulysses S Grant that 1000 white women be given to the Indians as brides, to bear and raise mixed race children within the Indian tribes; he contends that this action would bond the Indians to the whites and promote peace. President Grant reacts with outer horror and shock, but secretly approves a plan to recruit the thousand women from prisons, brothels, mental institutions, and tenements. May Dodd engineers her escape thusly from the mental institution to which her socially rigid family had committed her, and travels west, to marry the chief himself and live among the Cheyenne. Her journals tell her life’s story, and her adventures going westward and living with the tribe. This is a work of fiction, but it could easily be read as truth, so clear and real is May. I have no idea how I didn’t read this book when it first came out; it’s a debut novel that more than pleasantly surprised me.

Nanny Returns – Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Krauss

The Nanny Diaries broke my heart at its end, and you’d think I’d have learned, but no. I WANT Nanny to swoop in and save Grayer X (and, in this book, his younger brother Stilton) but instead a combination of mature, compassionate decisions on Nanny’s part and some heavily coincidental but nevertheless satisfying happenings in the lives of Mr & Mrs X wind up leaving me brokenhearted again. Every child deserves the unconditional (if at times smothering : )) love that they give us. I may yell at my kids and I may crave a few hours of alone time, but I adore my boys and play with them and listen to them and don’t care if they get dirt on my clothes or muss up my hair. I’ll take maple-syrup-sticky fingers patting my cheek in love and chocolatey fingers clutching mine any day over a perfect coif and unblemished manicure, and I’ll never understand why you’d have children if you felt otherwise. Apparently neither does Nanny. A satisfying sequel to the only other book of McCaughlin’s and Krauss’ that I liked.

I am wrapping up The Forgotten Garden and have the newest Maisie Dobbs waiting. So, you know, hang around...

Friday, April 09, 2010

"I am a Jedi master, you idiot!"

So, I went to the "new" library today, where my two year old ran around like a crackhead (me, arms loaded with books, in hot pursuit), undressed in the middle of the reading room, and pressed the alarm button in the elevator. They may never let me return. (I am picturing the head librarian dramatically pointing east, telling me to run away and never return, to the bullet-riddled wasteland of the OTHER library branch.)

But I had forgotten that *this* library participates in the Bestsellers program, which means they have stacks and stacks of all the newest books.

After finding for Primo the next three Alex Rider books and a bunch of Star Wars graphic novels, I snagged Emma McLaughlin's and Nicola Krauss's Nanny Returns, which I have a real reluctance to read, since the ending of The Nanny Diaries broke my heart -- but I'll read it anyway; and Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed, since I am one of those people who enjoyed Eat, Love, Pray and I want to read more of her whackadoodle exploits.

The only book that could have truly completed this trilogy was Julia Powell's Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, which I am DYING to read because, hello? Luuuunatic! Plus, I want to find out what her amazingly long-suffering husband winds up doing.

(Which reminds me, I read somewhere that Elizabeth Gilbert's first husband is writing a book. The marketing campaign I imagine for that one amuses me no end.)

But instead, I picked up my reserved copy of Anne Rice's Out of Egypt (shut up) because a friend recommended it after a conversation about Christianity and Easter and (wow, this must be the whacko post) Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ."

It's gonna be a good reading weekend.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness. - Thomas Bulfinch

I am reading real, grown-up books, I am, but this past week, my son's copy of The Lightning Thief was lying right. there. and I didn't want to get up off the couch, so...I started it.
And sat up waaaaaay past my bedtime last night reading it.

I don't think it's a poor man's Harry Potter.
I do think it's grounded pretty firmly in Greek mythology and as such is working within a known universe, but using a new twist, which
I think Riordan is a good writer - funny, succinct, with little flourishes that make you go, "Huh."

Primo wants to see the movie but I don't want to. I want to finish reading the series before clouding it with someone else's (let alone the prosaic and didactic Chris Columbus's) view of this world.

In other news, I am so seriously tired that I am starting to wonder if I am perhaps anemic. If I didn't know it was not physically possible, I'd be terrified I was pregnant, that's how tired I am. Y-A-W-N.

It's summer here. Which kinda bites, since none of my summer clothes quite achieve the level of comfort, both physical and sartorial, that my yoga pants do.

And I am about to turn forty.

Maybe THAT'S why I am reading children's books.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh, how the mighty have fallen...

I am fortunate enough to live in a city with a pretty dang terrific public library system.

There is a fabulous main branch in a gorgeous old building near the universities, and a number of smaller branches all over the city. The collection is expansive and what one branch does not have, another does. If no branch has a book you want, the ILL department will get it for you, usually at no cost. Until recently, no fines were charged for kids’ materials, and the fines were something insane like 15 cents a day on adult books. Just this year the fines went up, and they began charging fines for children’s materials. I can’t blame them in the least – the budget woes are enough to make a library patron weep. So now fines are something like a quarter a day for overdue books, and they charge for all kids’ materials, which, since I live with Mr. Oh-was-I-supposed-to-return-that-book-sometime-this-year? (and I am not talking about H) means I frequently fork over large amounts of cash to my appreciative librarians. But it’s all for a good cause, which we use with astonishing frequency and almost always successful results. If I didn’t have this amazing library, I would buy way more books than I already do, which is saying something.

Our closest branch closed last spring for renovations. It seems renovations turned into gut the whole dang building and start from scratch, and it’s STILL closed. It’s scheduled to re-open this summer, but unless the plans include al fresco reading rooms, it doesn’t seem likely.

The next closest branch is a lovely library. It’s a smaller collection than I am used to, but it’s in a beautiful old building, and it has a huge, sunny children’s room with a nice train table and some arm chairs where my kids can play while I steal a few minutes in the grown up stacks to find something to read. The staff there has welcomed the closed branch’s clientele with warmth and enthusiasm, and while they won’t hang onto my holds for me until I can show up to get them regardless of the date I am SUPPOSED to pick them up (oh, Suzy my Favorite Librarian, how I miss you), they are happy to hold them a day or two longer if I call specifically.

But: here’s the catch. (There’s ALWAYS a catch.)

Theat next closest branch is in a not so nice part of town. A part of town that I am, quite frankly, not entirely comfortable driving through . A part of town in which I make absolutely sure I have locked my van doors. A part of town in which, were I unfortunate enough to have to live there, I would not be comfortable throwing my kids outside to play all the time the way I do now. It LOOKS fine. It usually IS fine. Except when it’s not. It was the epicenter of the gang activity in the 1990s, activity which has seen a renewal and increase in the past year or two. And this past weekend, an elderly woman, a local resident, was shot by a 15 year old boy, who was trying to shoot someone else who had shot one of HIS friends last year. He was firing an illegal (but of course) handgun off a railroad trestle into oncoming traffic and managed to hit this woman who was walking home from the library.

My (city-born and raised) husband has never been especially happy with my decision to go to this branch, and take the boys there. He lived here in the early ‘90s and remembers all too well the cesspit this neighborhood was.

My argument has always been, But we live IN a city. Things can happen ANYWHERE. And while there was a shooting just outside my house last Labor Day, on a beautiful sunny summer day when my boys were riding their bikes in our alley, you can somehow rationalize even that – after all, to not rationalize that event means selling a house and uprooting a family from a community and friends and schools…but this. This I can change. We don’t HAVE to go to this branch. Even though I feel fearful and hopelessly, glaringly middle class and, and, I admit it, WHITE, letting this scare me off.

We can travel a few more miles up the road to another branch, in a more upscale, fairly wealthy (and admittedly predominantly white) neighborhood. Where some horrible things have also happened in the past few years, but none quite so random. None that couldn’t be avoided by watching my kids closely and not walking down the street at 10pm and …I know I am rationalizing. But the thought of me ignoring my husband’s concerns, and ignoring the news reports of this innocent bystander dying at the hand of an idiotic teenager with access to illegal firearms, and endangering knowingly my children, who are my life, my heart…I can’t do it.

The only one agonizing over this is me.
Just so you know.
I’ll bet the library staff almost expects its white clientele to hightail it up the road to the next branch, and I think that is what’s bugging me.
I don’t want to be that person.
I don’t want to be that person, so one of my boys doesn’t grow up to be that person.
And yet it’s for my boys that I am becoming that person.
Once again parenthood has managed to turn my perception of myself on its head.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication. - Mike Krzyzewski

It's that time of year again: March Madness. I am, always have been, and will forever remain a loyal Duke fan. Go, Blue Devils! They play Baylor at 5pm tonight. Since I will be partaking in an early Easter dinner (my brother-in-law and his family are in town this week, not next) AND there is a concurrent Penguins game, I may not actually get to watch it. No matter, we all know who wins. (Coach K, my crush on you has abated somewhat but I still love you.)

And as usual, along with NCAA happiness comes The Morning News 2010 Tournament of Books. Each year, I enjoy perusing the list, seeing what I need to read, and hearing lots of opinions on the ones I already have. Is there a purer joy in life than talking books?
This year's long list (usually they only release the sixteen competing novels, so this longlist is a fun first):

The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood - Haven't read. Need to. Have I ever read a less-than-stellar book from Atwood? I have not.

The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker - Baker will always have a special place in my heart for Double Fold. I should read this, althoough his past fiction has left me less than enthused.

Rage, Sergio Bizzio - never heard of this. I have to go spend some time on Powells or Amazon after I write this post. Anything I leave completely blank below? Assume this comment goes there, too. I have some work to do.

The Women, T.C. Boyle - really, all I need to know is when did he become TC instead of T Coraghessen?

Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon

Trouble, Kate Christensen - one of you lovely people is a big Christensen fan - Bearette? I really need to check this out.

Little Bee, Chris Cleave. Ooch. Helluva book. But I am still conflicted about my feelings regarding it.

Fever Chart, Bill Cotter - love the title. The premise interests me, as does its comparison by several reviewers to John Kennedy Toole's brilliant and hysterical Confederacy of Dunces.

Four Freedoms, John Crowley

Everything Matters!, Ron Currie Jr.

Spooner, Pete Dexter - I liked Paris Trout, so I find myself drawn to this. Plus, one Amazon reviewer says this about Spooner: "It's like reading Garrison Keillor through a glass of blood: relentlessly dark, yet ultimately affirming." How do you resist any book described thusly?

Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow - he's as prolific as Joyce Carol Oates. Which fills me with suspicion. However, the subject matter of this book compels me to read it.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos Doxiadis

The Believers, Zoe Heller

Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving - Really? Irving jumped the shark three books ago, as far as I am concerned. And yet I probably will check it out at some point, just for old times' and Garp's sake.

The Book of Night Women, Marlon James

Under the Dome, Stephen King - my first reaction is, REALLY? Stephen King? But I enjoyed many of King's earlier books (Salem's Lot is one of the scariest books I have EVER read), and many people I respect have read - nay, devoured - this and loved it.

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver - see Atwood, above.

Big Machine, Victor Lavalle - the cover is migraine-inducing, and the story sounds like something Dave Eggers would wax rhapsodic over. I'll more than ikely pass.

Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem - I like Lethem. I appreciate his inventiveness and his playfulness with the written word. I find his characters endearing. I will read this. Altho I suspect Motherless Brooklyn will always be my favorite Lethem.

The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon - this isn't even available in the States till September. Grrrr....

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann - wow, this book is EVERYWHERE suddenly. It's being considered for my book group, and since I just watched a fabulous little film called "Man on Wire," about Philippe Petit, the man who walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers, this book is just about perfect for my mindset right now. Doesn't hurt that it's getting great reviews...

Ransom, David Malouf

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel - This looks intriguing.

The City & The City, China Mieville

Manituana, Wu Ming

A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore - I have to point out that this is getting
uniformly disappointing reviews. And much as I like Moore's writing, too much of it at once can be stultifying.

Miles from Nowhere, Nami Mun

Once a Runner, John Parker - yeah, I'll read this since I consider myself a runner of sorts. Despite my 12-minute-mile pace.

Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips - another book suddenly appearing everywhere I read about books.

Generosity, Richard Powers - Didn't he write The Echo Maker? Y.A.W.N.

Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon - seriosuly, is he still alive?

Wetlands, Charlotte Roche - yeah, I can tell you right now I won't read this. Sorry. I couldn't stomach Palahniuk either.

My Abandonment, Peter Rock

That Old Cape Magic, Richard Russo - fine enough book, but Russo has written much better.

Burnt Shadows, Kamila Shamsie

The Help, Kathryn Stockett - I predict this book will become required reading for, if not high schoolers, at least African American and women's studies classes at universities everywhere.

Far North, Marcel Theroux - I do dig post-apocalyptic novels.

The Alternative Hero, Tim Thornton - I like Nick Hornby well enough but do we really need more novels in the vein of his?

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin - I had this out from the library just a week ago. But I am going to admit here, before you all - I am sick of reading about the Irish. After Angela's Ashes, I tell you, I gave up. The Irish people were turned into a franchise, and it sickens and bores me. The Irish put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us poor mutts.

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower - I don't usually do short stories.

This Is Where I Leave You, Jonathan Tropper

My Bird, Fariba Vafi

The Book of Fathers, Miklos Vamos

The Informers, Juan Gabriel Vasquez - I wish it had a more original title, but it looks like a terrific book.

A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert

Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls - Oh, good, did she conjure up some more half-truths and self-indulgent "reminiscences"? Gah.

The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters - creepy, and good. A upside down look at class relations in England, and beautifully written.

Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead - I never read The Intuitionist, even though it was popularly and critically acclaimed. I own it, but it just never grabbed me enough to pick it up. However, this novel looks completely unlike Intuitionist, and it looks like something I would really enjoy.

Lowboy, John Wray

Discuss among yourselves, please.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

We interrupt this month...

for a new laptop.
(I know.)

Should arrive today -- spending the day watching the doorstep, listening for the doorbell. I feel like I am in junior high again.

Meanwhile, I knit and read and fold laundry and cook and...wait, was that the doorbell? Sigh.
You see?

Soon. Soon.
And then I will enlighten you with my opinions on The Reading Group, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, more Vampire Diaries, and the hilariously named One Thousand White Women.

Wait - did I hear footsteps on the porch?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So be easy and free, when you're drinking with me, I'm a man you don't meet everyday...

Happy St Patrick's Day to you!

The party was a success; I only have about 3 pounds of corned beef left over (but let's not talk about the 7 pounds of boiled potatoes in my downstairs fridge, k?); I am now addicted to these amazing cold stuffed potatoes someone brought to the party that have about a gajillion calories per bite but I DON'T CARE. Even though this week has been so busy (pediatrician appointments, school events) and I have been so tired (see: party: 80 to 100 adults, 40 kids, clean up of), that I haven't been to the gym since Monday morning. (Hello, darling chlorinated water, I hear you calling me, I am just too swamped to heed your siren call right now, my warm, blue love...)

I also seem to have reading-related ADD. I can't finish anything.

I am a third of the way through The Children's Book and am currently bogged down in all the politics. I know Byatt will make it worth my while, she always does, but for now it's kinda slow going for this tired old brain.

I was all set to return Suck It Up to the library, but the first three pages made me laugh out loud several times, so it is riding around in my car with me.

I am three-fourths of the way through The Summer We Fell Apart; I like it. Much, much more than I expected to. It came pretty highly recommended, but by someone whose taste I am not entirely familiar with, so I just wasn't sure. I am glad I am reading it. I just wish the characters were not so damn pathetic, every last one of them. The only one who doesn't send me right over the edge, or doesn't make me want to slap him to attention, is the crazily alcoholic brother who can't get his shit together. You know, the one I should hate and pity. Books are weird.

I picked up Elizabeth Noble's The Reading Group in a flying visit to the library (which I made to pick up Fade); I laid down on the couch for a few minutes yesterday afternoon, picked up Reading Group, and then promptly blew off everything I had to do till it was time to pick up the boys from school.
So far, SO good.

I have delusions that I will read lots this upcoming weekend (my second Annual Every Child Left Behind weekend with my high school pals), but realistically, I know better. If anyone can get us to shut up, we might all get some reading done, but that's really, really not likely. Good thing I can knit and talk, though...