Sunday, January 31, 2010

I'm sorry, was I saying something?

Well, that went well for what - 4 weeks?
Here I am, 5 days after the lame Hoffman post (so lame it has ONE comment) and I still:

- haven't finished that book
- haven't finished Beautiful Creatures (and probably won't)
- haven't started a single one of my Persephone books
- haven't even cracked open The Blythes are Quoted despite its quick-like-a-bunny delivery
- have to return most of my library books unread because - oh, look! Something shiny!
- ripped out another cowl THREE times (wrong yarn, wrong needles, lost and then made a stitch somewhere, leaving a gaping hole
- stared at the yarn for Gina's housewarming gift but have yet to even cast on
- knit the tricky first 12 rows of an adorable baby hat, put it down, picked it back up and proceeded to knit it backwards, so where all the smooth pretty knit stitches should be, were all lumpy, bumpy purl stitches.

If this is what I am like at almost-40, God help me in my eighties.
If I make it that long.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Crazy is as crazy does.

I am about halfway through Alice Hoffman's new book, The Story Sisters.
I have reached the following two conclusions:

1) The eldest sister is batshit crazy, perhaps driven there by a horrific event in her past or perhaps born that way. Hard to say. But she's beyond disturbed; she's deranged. Possibly psychotic.
And there's only so much magic you can wrap "deranged" and "psychotic" in before you just start looking a little silly.

2) I am beginning to wonder if anyone in this book makes it out alive.

Will keep you posted.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

“People are always asking me about eskimos, but there are no eskimos in Iceland.”

Dance o' joy! I LOVED The Historian and look! Elizabeth Kostova has a new book out.
(Also, interview with author via Joshilyn Jackson's Faster than Kudzu.)

Also, check this:
A sequel to The Little Princess!
By Hilary McKay!
Hilary McKay rocks, and I can't wait to get my hands on this.

Or, for that matter, this:
That, my friends, is the ninth and final installment of the Anne books by LM Montgomery.
I didn't know either.
Turns out I have to order it from Canada because...why? I don't know.

The same stupid reason I have to go through all sorts of ridiculous interlibrary loan or online ordering rigamarole to get Penni Russon's books, instead of just walking into the local bookstore and buying them off the shelf? Publishers in the States are short-sighted and stupid and only want to publish John Grisham's crap books?


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Girls on film, girls on film...

No, not really. A cat or two, lots of brothers, some girls. Sorry. Move along.

For Christmas I gave Seg a camera. I didn't follow my gut; instead, I followed the advice of a well-meaning but ultimately deluded salesman, and the camera I gave Seg was craptacular. Until I can stomach the thought of purchasing either a) a digital camera for him, or 2) a new digital camera for me and gifting him with my old digital camera, I have granted benevolent permission for him to use my camera whenever he likes. It sits in its case on the hall table downstairs, and he may use it whenever and for whatever he likes. He doesn't need to ask; he does need to tell me when the batteries die.

I was trying to get a couple of photos of my latest knitting projects, to log on Ravelry and post on Facebook, and when I downloaded my photos, I also downloaded several weeks worth of Seg's efforts. Oh. My. God. People. He may not be the next Annie Leibovitz, but he's awesome and has an amazing sense of humor. I was howling out loud at some of his shots - whole photo shoots of his brothers posing and posturing and playing, and Seg must have just kept snapping away. I will keep him supplied with fresh batteries for the rest of his natural life.

Now, of course, after that build-up, can I post these photos? Nah. They're, most of them, full-on face shots of my guys, and I'm just not comfortable with that level of exposure. I'm sorry. But I can share a bunch of random photos that I asked him to take for me, or ones that feature members of the family whom I can rest assured will never, ever complain about their photo being plastered on the Internets - you know, like the cats. So away we go...

He LOOKS innocent but I assure you, HE IS NOT.

For his birthday Primo received a cool little game called Bananagrams. He doesn't so much dig the game itself as he does arranging the letter tiles on his dresser. There is always a letter of the day, and sometimes, more meaningful messages.

Primo's cat. He's dumb, but now that we've spent a fortune on fixing his cat manparts so he can pee out kidney stones whenever the heck he feels like it, he better stick around. This is the final photo in a veritable photo essay on "Septimus: The Boy Cat Who Pees Like a Girl." (Yes, essentially we paid a buttload of money for our cat to have sex reassignment surgery.)

Some book p0rn for you. Six new ones were my lovely Christmas gift, ostensibly from H, but selected, ordered, wrapped, and unwrapped by yours truly.

This is the photo you can click on to enlarge so you can see the titles. Go on, I know you want to. It's exactly what *I* do when other people post photos of piles of books on their blogs.

And some office supply p0rn for Badger. This was, and I quote Primo, "the second best present ever." If I'd known he was so easy, I might've been tempted to skip the DS. (But, really? Nice call, Aunt D. Incredibly thoughtful and right on the money for my fussy little scribbler.)

THIS is what happens when you allow your child free rein with your camera. (That rat's-nest of hair? Me. The blondie next to me? We call him Oedipus.)

The whole POINT behind this post: my first cowl ever. Knitted for H's cousin's daughter who is in the Peace Corps in Jordan, where apparently they don't heat houses, ever. So, it's kind of cold. This should help keep her warm, and it keeps your hands free, without any fussy scarf knotting or whatever. Knit with James C. Brett Marble Chunky in Denim, on size 13 needles.

Liked the cowl so much, I immediately cast on a second, as a gift for Peg from The Palmyra Sliver, who is in town for work, and with whom I have dined and drunk beer two nights this week. She's lovely, and we felt as if we'd know each other forever. Which weirdly, we may have, as it turns out she lived six houses down from me on my little dead-end street in New Jersey for one year in high school. Knit with Malabrigo Twist in Sotobosque, on size 11 needles.

Unlike my Seg, I neglected to take any pictures whatsoever of said beerfests.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We have decided how sad it is for others that they cannot appreciate our genius.

Does anyone have any idea why I requested this from the library? At first I thought it was a mistake since I picked up Tracy Chevalier's Remarkable Creatures (more on this later) at the same time. But I don't think so -- it looks like a book I would like to read. But I have positively no recollection of requesting it or the faintest idea what prompted me to.

Anyone who tells you that bearing and rearing small children does not turn your brain to mush is a liar.

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Every day of her life she would be at some point damp, then drying, and for one solid time, wet."

She was not swimming for fun or exercise or habit. She had never joined a swimming team, not even in high school. It was like the air for her: she was amphibious.
“Wet,” from Passion and Affect, Laurie Colwin

Every Friday night of my childhood, with my aunt and brothers, I swam at a grotty little city YMCA. The water was dark green and murky, and you couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. Afterwards, we would struggle to pull jeans up wet legs and tuck our sopping hair into scratchy wool hats, and go home where my dad would make us big cups of hot tea with honey and lemon. After my aunt was mugged one Friday night coming out of the Y, we switched to a suburban YWCA and my aunt would take us to Wanamaker’s for some candy after swimming.

My Aunt K taught every single one of her numerous nieces, nephews, and smallfry relations to swim. Some of us took to it like, well, like fish to water. I took courses and swam races and qualified as a lifeguard; I feel as if I have been swimming for my whole life. I am as comfortable – possibly more so – in the water as I am on earth. In the water I feel sleek and strong and confident. Probably because in the water I AM. I can swim for an hour or two at a time. I think I must have been some sort of fish in a former life. Often I have wished for gills (a la Kevin Costner in "Waterworld"). How lovely would that be, to swoop and swim and stroke underwater without having to come up for air? Bliss.

I swam a slow, easy crawl, out to the float and past the markers. I felt my body move easily through the water. I was a fish, a whale, a creature that belonged in water. There was perfect sympathy between me and the lake…It was wonderful and terrible. I had never swum so well, I could not bear to stop. Life gives few moments of such ease…I was not going to stop. My happiness, for the moment, was boundless. I thought of Mr. Jacobowitz – I pretended he was swimming next to me like a big, friendly seal. I savored the silver taste of lake water in my mouth and swam, arm over arm, to the destination before me.
Geraldine Coleshares, in Goodbye Without Leaving - Laurie Colwin

At summer camp, we would get up at 5am to swim some mornings. (If you could churn out a half mile or a mile, you earned a badge and some serious street cred.) Often we were allowed to swim after evening vespers, too. This in addition to any lessons we had in the morning, and afternoon free swim. Sometimes, instead of the pool, we would take out the canoes and jump in the creek.

I swim outside, in the outdoor city pool or friends' pools. Four hundred miles inland, I yearn for the ocean, and when I am near it, I can't bear to not be IN it. I love swimming at the gym, where the pool is surrounded by windows, when it’s cold and snowy outside but warm and steamy inside.

When I am stressed or sad or angry or depressed or whatever, I get in the pool. I usually swim lap upon lap, front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke. I kickboard. I float. I dive. Chlorine cures most ills (including my yearly winter sinus infections). I emerge from the water cleansed, spent, and totally calm. Usually pretty happy, too.

But when the sun cuts through the atrium and the steam rises up from the pool, the water takes on a bright, edgy haze and I lose myself. I watch my shadow crawl across the tiles below and don’t feel the pain of doing as many as 50 sets although all the other Dolphins bitterly complain. All I feel is the sweet shuddering relief with each breath I draw and the relentless silence of my mind. I don’t mention these bouts of timeless love of the infinite universe to anyone…
Pip, in Swimming, Nicola Keegan

Nicola Keegan’s Swimming is a disjointed book – it examines a teenaged life through the lens of a swimming pool – there’s a lot left unexplored and unsaid, and Pip Ash is not an endearing character. But I respect her toughness, and I empathize with her love of swimming, and the water. She was born to be in water. It is the only place where some things make any sense at all.

After all, we spend the first nine months of our lives swimming round in a warm little amniotic paddling pool. I guess some of us never really let go.
"Wet," from Passion and Affect - Laurie Colwin

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Remember how the Europeans said in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, "Today we are all Americans"?

Today we are all Haitians.
Except most of us have more cash.
Pray - donate - do what you can to show you care.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mother in law...Mother in law...She worries me so...

Katy asked me a bunch of questions that I never answered. I am sorry, Katy, especially since the first question might have required more urgent attention!

What is the best advice/number one suggestion you would give for dealing with a mother-in-law that not even her son particularly likes and lives about 2000 miles away?
Even if your husband doesn’t especially like her, she did give birth to him. She gets a point or two just for that, right? So, be sure to send Christmas and birthday cards. When/if you visit, just grit your teeth, bring a nice hostess gift, and try to relax as much as you can – it won’t last long. And, most importantly, be grateful she’s 2,000 miles away.

I hope this helps. In-laws are tough, even if you adore them.

How did you know what to name your babies when they were born?
My oldest son is named for my father who died when I was a teenager. I always knew that if I had a son, he would be named after my dad. I THOUGHT we were going to nickname him Sam (as my dad was), but it didn’t fit: my fussy little guy is the perfect Simon.
Our second son was named in honor of John Lennon. H denies this now, but we even considered, very briefly and stupidly, Lennon. I lobbied a bit for Maxwell, since “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” is my favorite Beatles song, but there are way too many Maxes and I am glad we went with Jude.
Our third son is named for my father-in-law, but he is never ever Jim; he is James or Jamie. We thought his name would actually be Angus James, but he didn’t LOOK like an Angus at all, so we reversed them and now we’re glad we did.
The fourth – heck, we were fresh out of names. We just liked Luke. It had always been a contender, and it’s time had come. Besides, Lukifer is the perfect nickname for him.
You just KNOW when a name fits a baby. Seriously. It sounds nuts, but you do.
And now we return to our regularly scheduled baby pseudonyms, and will never speak of this again.

Why don't we live in the same neighborhood? Would I still think you were cool if we lived near each other?
We don’t live in the same neighborhood because you skedaddled out of Pittsburgh upon graduation and I stayed and now I am married to a Pittsburgher so will more than likely never leave. As for the second question: I dunno, maybe. I hope so. We could hang out and knit together...

What is your opinion of rain? Did having kids change your feelings towards precipitation?
I love rain. It gives me the perfect excuse to be lazy.
I have actually always loved rain. Bright sunlight can give me migraines. (But for that matter, so does change in the barometric pressure.)
But having kids makes you think about weather differently. For example, this crazy snow we’ve gotten this winter, while delightful, wreaks havoc with my plans for myself when the chilluns are in school. Due to snow delays and closings, my kids have been home a good bit, and on top of the snow, it’s been frigid, really too cold to throw them outside for any length of time. However, I do get to take them sledding and skating, so that’s fun. I guess I am realizing that, with my little guys around now, I prefer snow precipitation to rain precip.

I hope that all helps. I’m sorry it took so long.
And now I am going to bed with a chocolate croissant and The Birthing House, which might be very creepy or very silly, I haven’t decided which yet.

Friday, January 08, 2010

I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death.

My little brother knows me far too well.
A big box from Amazon arrived yesterday containing everyone’s Christmas presents from my brother and his wife.
The boys received really neat games.
H got a book about the failure of big business (he and D discuss the strangest things but hey, I am just happy *I* don’t have to talk about them).
I received this delightful and attractive little tome:
I love this kind of thing; these bits of arcane knowledge about the natural world make me feel...empowered.
I think in another life I would have made a perfect midwife-healer sort of character:
1. I am superb in a crisis.
2. I have a stomach of iron.
3. I generally want people to leave me alone.

And the thought of using feverfew to ease my migraines, or lavender to destress, is intriguing to me. Especially if it works.
I feel positively medieval deploying my little bottle of Rescue Remedy.

Many of the most sympathetic characters I enjoy in fiction are midwife/healers.
Or, as the more skeptical in their lives term them: witches.

Although I came to Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice and Matilda Bone as an adult, I also would have loved them as a junior high schooler.
The novels of Alice Hoffman are rife with these witchy women, replete with their profound knowledge of plant lore and the supernatural: the Sparrow women in The Probable Future, Seventh Heaven’s Nora Silk, and most famously, Gillian and Sally Owens in Practical Magic.
Sarah Addison Allen’s lovely Garden Spells follows in the Practical Magic vein, and Claire’s use of her horticultural expertise is blended almost seamlessly with supernatural elements.

Other midwife/healer characters in literature I love include the reserved yet ferocious-in-love Dora Rare in Ami Mckay’s The Birth House; the stubborn, wily, and fiercely independent Hannah Trevor in Margaret Lawrence’s Hearts and Bones; and the more relaxed and intuitive Misha in Lillian Nattel’s wonderful River Midnight.

I’d make a great witch.
Equipped with all the right books now, too.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Веселого Різдва і з Новим Роком

Tomorrow is Ukrainian Christmas.
Because I am half Ukrainian, and my boys therefore are a quarter Ukrainian, we observe this tradition, just as my mom did when I was a child.

The Christmas tree remains up and decorated until tomorrow evening. All the other decorations and lights have already come down but leaving the tree up is nice, and I find that there are no tears from the boys upon ceremonial observation of this last vestige of the Christmas holidays. (Note the traditional spider web ornament.)

I baked a snickerdoodle coffee cake. It’s not grain pudding, true, but it’s also more likely my guys will enjoy this more.

I have a couple of books to wrap up for each boy: a coloring book, a couple novels I think Primo will like, that sort of little thing. I know they hope each year I will cave and get them a BIG gift, go out with a bang as it were (requests have even been made this year for Nintendo games), but I resolutely observe my personal imprint upon this tradition and give them books.

My mother used to cook halupchi for dinner on the day; I am thinking stuffed eggplant might be an acceptable substitute in these near-meatless parts.

It may be a little silly, this haphazard celebration of what should probably be a solemn holiday, but it keeps me in touch with my heritage, and I feel I am honoring my relatives and ancestors whom I admire and love, and it wraps up the holiday season nicely, in a low key way. It precludes that dreadful feeling of “Oh, all the nice stuff is over now!” and lets us down gently.

Khrystos Razhdaietsia!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"It’s the sort of novel Laura Bush might curl up with in the White House solarium if it were not about Laura Bush."

How does someone who seems like a nice, down-to-earth, NORMAL woman like Laura Bush wind up married to George Bush, and as First Lady of the United States?

I didn’t know what to expect from Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel American Wife; I actively disliked her other books. But from the first page of this one, I was drawn in and kept engrossed. I know it’s a novel but I still felt that American Wife slowly revealed to me in perfect, sense-making clarity who Alice Blackwell, and by extension, Laura Bush, was. I mean, there has to be something more there, than just some robotic, plasticine Stepford FLOTUS. I can sense it, and I don't think I am the only one.

I don’t think it’s any secret that I was not, am not, and never will be a George Bush fan. I mean, look at the man - he's a buffoon. He's a child. But I like Laura Bush. I probably disagree with much of her politics, but I think she seems like a nice person. Maybe too nice a person to hang out with me, even. And I don't know how someone like her, someone with a quiet sense of class and decency, winds up with someone like him.

In addition, the fact of the matter is that I want the President of the United States to be smarter than me – and I’d be shocked to find out that George Bush is. But it would not especially surprise me to find out that Laura is at least as smart as me.

And of course, the fact that she’s a librarian immediately conjures kindred-spirit leanings.

The book reveals a quiet, moral, intense, and very private woman to the world. One with whom I found myself sympathizing. One whom I admired and liked and wanted to defend. But I think the most amazing revelation in the book wasn’t how I came to feel about Alice/Laura, but how through explorations of and meditations on Alice’s thoughts and ambitions and opinions, I came to understand Charlie Blackwell/George Bush a little better. This honest take on Charlie Blackwell’s political clumsiness, a quote almost at the very end of the book, explains perfectly just about everything I don’t get about George Bush and his presidency:
“Being president is for him like taking a ninth-grade English test on The Odyssey, and he’s the kid who did most of the reading, he studied for an hour the night before, but he’s not one of the people who loved the book. Besides, he’d always rather crack a funny joke in class than offer a genuine insight.”
(American Wife, p. 525)

Sittenfeld has written a stellar novel, one which I didn’t want to put down, and one which cast some light on the perplexing leading players of current events. If she doesn’t exactly solve the puzzle, she gives us a few useful clues about how to perhaps approach the solution, making me eager to both see what she comes up with next and to enthusiastically recommend this book.

And if I haven’t convinced you, maybe Maureen Dowd can.

I know I'm not getting this right - this book was eye-opening. It was riveting and I can't believe how much I liked it. And how much I liked Alice/Laura, despite her ridiculous husband.

Friday, January 01, 2010

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere! and gie's a hand o’ thine! And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught, for auld lang syne.

As I write this, it is snowing again.
This makes me inordinately happy. Even though last week’s snow is grey slush and the grossness prevents me from wearing my new Uggs 24/7. I must put on the wellies when I go outside. But still snowflakes bring out the little kid in me.

The boys are downstairs squabbling.
The baby's diaper needs changing, and I have already mopped the bathroom twice this morning.
H is STILL home.
I generally am not a wife who complains when her husband works a lot (as is usually the case) or when he’s home on vacation. And it’s not his presence, precisely – it’s simply that the holidays, and all of us home, and some protracted bouts of various gross illnesses have me longing for routine and a clean, decluttered house that smells of something more pleasant than Clorox.

And I was forced to pry the D key cover off, and now I look like I am typing everything on the white trash equivalent of a normal laptop.

And it’s only the first!
Hmmm. Perhaps it is going to be a looooong year…

So. Enough of that. [Moving briskly to another subject, perhaps accompanied by a hand clap of some authoritative sort.]

(Hmm, it isn’t all bad – I did have a delicious dream last night about Robert Pattinson and pirates. Seriously. Not all bad, indeed.) I mean, it's hard to be wholly pessimistic when RPatz looks at you like THIS.

Last year I took an almost unprecedented-for-me step of NOT keeping track of my reading activity. The tracking and tallying of books was cramping my reading pleasure, and there’s just no list or analysis or spreadsheet worth that price. Of course, I am not and never have been a linear, organized sort of reader. I more often than not have two or three or six books going at once, and I finish or not according to whim. I do NOT feel compelled to finish a book merely because I started it – life is too short. Uber-librarian Nancy Pearl’s rule of thumb works well for me: you read the first 50 pages, and if you aren’t engaged, put the book down.

However, while I read what I wanted when I wanted, willy-nilly, and in fact, actually sacrificed some reading time to my newfound knitting passion, I miss being able to talk about the best book I read in the past year, or the worst, or the most compelling mystery, or whatever. I still maintained my “Books I want to check out” list, in spreadsheet form this year. The problem with it being a spreadsheet living on my laptop is that when I most need it – at the library or bookstore, usually – it’s unavailable. But the little purse notebook always seems to get lost or destroyed. I am toying with the idea of maintaining the list on the Notes tool of my primitive cell phone. Perhaps more on this later.

This morning I dug out the few old blank books in which I maintained my TBR list and various reviews, and without much forethought took my new favorite Sharpie and my favorite blank book – a nice, thick number with a black leather cover and a tidy elastic band to keep it all together - and inscribed “2010” in bright blue across the first blank page.
Under it, the title of the book I finished last night – yes, this is cheating, but it was a GOOD book.
Under that, in pencil for easy erasing, the titles of the six – SIX! – books I am currently reading. This reckoning will take place every few weeks, just to give me a loose idea of what I am reading (and finishing or not finishing). The pencil lists are informal and will not be erased or updated, but as each book is finished, its title will be added to the list with the blue Sharpie.

That’s the plan.

I am not going to promise to blog every day. It’s just not a feasible undertaking what with my four small annoying children and/or my husband’s grumpy looks every time I flip open my laptop.
I am going to change my tag strategy and probably be much looser about post titles/quotes. Or at least their attribution.
But I will try to post more regularly.
And be as interesting as possible.
I also promise not to discuss any bodily fluids requiring Clorox clean up after this post.
I think those are resolutions I can keep.

Happy 2010, and may the new year and new decade bring you peace, love, and lots of great new books.