Thursday, December 20, 2007

Now this is a girl who loves her pizza...

This is what happens when you don't nap all day and spend the afternoon at two class parties. I think I need to join her...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Marathon update

The marathon is two weeks from tomorrow. I guess I should be feeling all pumped up and excited. I should be glad that I don't have to run like a crazy woman over Christmas break because it's time to taper I should be picking out cute clothes to wear for the race and pumping my brain full of positive thoughts.

I'm feeling stressed and nervous. I haven't run much in the last week, mostly because it's been nearly impossible to find the time with Isaac. I used to turn the tv on in the playroom, close my bedroom door, and let the kids fend for themselves while I did a quick 4 miler on the treadmill (it takes me almost exactly as much time as a show on Noggin). But I don't dare do that now that Isaac has become Body Cast Man. He doesn't fit in the jogging stroller either (believe me, I tried). It's really just the next five days I have to mentally survive without a good running solution. Although Utah is out for Christmas (you can't fit a cast like that in the cheap seats of an airplane), my family is coming to "help" over the holidays, and in my book the greatest help anyone can give me right now is 30 minutes to myself to take a quick run.

I also have two issues with my booty that I'm afraid might affect my marathon performance. I'm sure that you'll be excited to know that the rest of this post will be devoted to my bottom. If you don't feel like reading, don't. Yes, I am turning into an old lady. The first problem is a literal pain in the butt. It started out about six weeks ago, shortly after my first 20 mile run (when Isaac was home from the hospital the first time but not yet mobile). We're not sure if it was caused by the running or all of the heavy lifting I've been doing, but Eddie and I think it's ischial tuberosity, and if that's the case, then from what I've read, not much can be done about it. Rest doesn't help too much, stretching doesn't help much, medications don't help much.

The other problem is that I haven't quite figured out the right formula of protein bars, drinks and gels to keep me from needing to find a portapotty on the marathon route. I'm usually good for the first eight miles or so, and then my colon decides to relax. On my last 20 miler, I spent a good five minutes in a construction portapotty, and I don't have that kind of time to waste if I'm running injured and still want to come in under 3:40.

So you can talk to me in fifteen days about the marathon, but right now, I'd just as likely bite off your head if you were to politely inquire about it.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Newsflash: sometimes Mother does know best

For the last few years, Oreo Truffles and Peppermint Bark have been staples of my holiday baking. Every year I end up swearing over both of them when the white chocolate seizes up and turns into a gloppy mess. My mom, often on the receiving end of the telephone line from my foul-mouthed tirades, always tells me that I should swear off the cheap white chocolate chips and buy white baking chocolate (not that "candy coating" crap, because it's nasty).

I've never believed her. My mom's tastes in chocolate tends to run to Sharffen Berger, Valrohna, and other chichi brands. Ghirardelli and Guittard are ok and she only uses Nestle as a last resort. This is the woman who filled up a Central Market grocery cart this spring with several hundred dollars worth of chocolate for making my sister's wedding cake. So I just thought she was being snobby. I mean, after all, weren't white chocolate chips just the same thing as the stuff in the bar, but in a different shape?

This year I guess I was feeling flush when I did my holiday baking shopping. I sprang for a mix of chips and bars. I started out my baking with chips, but ended up with the inevitably seized up mess, so I decided to break out the bars. They worked beautifully! Instead of swearing over ugly truffles and uglier peppermint bark, I have beautiful truffles and gorgeous peppermint bark! It's delicious too!!!

So I guess Mom really does know best. Maybe that means I should revisit her position on things like wearing slips under my skirts and not allowing my kids outside in cold weather without their jackets.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Book #67: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

Title: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
Author: Charles J. Shields

Before reading Mockingbird, I knew a couple of things about Nelle Harper Lee. I knew that she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. I knew that she had been the research assistant who worked with Truman Capote on In Cold Blood. And I knew that she had a reputation for being quite a recluse. In fact, she's so reluctant to be in the public eye that she refused to take any part in the publication of Mockingbird, so although it's a complimentary look at her life, it's definitely an unauthorized biography.

Shields does a great job painting a portrait of what life was like growing up in Monroeville, Alabama (Nelle and Truman were next-door neighbors and best friends), gives lots of insight into her childhood and family life (her father, A.C. Lee, was the inspiration for Atticus Finch), shows Lee as a stubborn nonconformist who abandoned law school to move to New York and write, and suggests reasons for why Lee never published another book (most of her literary support system either died or retired around the time she finished her second manuscript) and why she withdrew from society.

When Lee published her novel, she was about the same age that I am now. She had dreamed of being a writer since childhood. She had worked on her manuscript for several years, even quitting her job for a year to devote herself full-time to her story. When it was published, nurturing it became her full-time job. She went on book tours and speaking engagements nearly nonstop for a couple of years, at which point she worked for several more years on the production of the film version of the novel. So from its incubus until Peck accepted the best actor trophy at the Oscars, Nelle Harper Lee had lived To Kill A Mockingbird for at least a decade. I know I have such a one-track mind lately, but even though NHL never married or had a child, it seemed to me like TKAM was her baby. It took years to create and years to promote, and its success definitely took her by surprise. It seems like people sometimes judge her unfairly by saying that since TKAM was her only novel, that she didn't live up to her potential as a writer. Would someone say that about a SAHM who only had one child? I don't think so. As I try to figure out what life holds for me in the post-baby stage, I really hope that I'll be able to find something fulfilling and productive, but I also know that with all of my babies, they, like Lee's novel, definitely need nurturing in the post-production stage.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holy cast!

Isaac came home from the hospital today, sporting the big mama of all casts, the infamous spica cast. It weighs as much as he does, and looks like this:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Have you ever had a crack in your windshield?

When I was student teaching, I had to drive from my apartment in Provo to Skyline High School in Salt Lake City every morning. It was usually dark, and there was lots of road construction. I tried to avoid driving behind those huge heavy trucks hauling gravel, but one morning one of them sent out a rock that hit my windshield. It got a tiny ding, and I thought I was pretty lucky considering the earsplitting thud it made. When I left school that afternoon, I was shocked to find that the tiny little ding had spread like a spider web all across my entire windshield.

Today, I was surprised to find out that the same phenonmenon that makes tiny windshield cracks blossom into a big mess of glass also applies to broken bones. Maybe not all broken bones, but to my kid's broken bone. What was such a teeny tiny fracture that it barely registered on the x-ray last Friday is now a serious enough break that Isaac is back in the hospital and the surgeons are considering putting in plates and screws to stabilize it. He's having an MRI done tomorrow to rule out the possibility that he might still have some infection in the bone, and then they'll decide what they're going to do with him.

So, while we're not exactly back to square one with Isaac, the "it's just a broken leg" rejoicing has definitely been tempered. Ugh. Happy holidays and all that.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's it. I'm messing with Texas

Dear Texas,

Even though I know it's not your fault that you have such a sucky climate, from time to time I still feel the need to point it out to you. It's the middle of December, for gosh dangit, and it should not be 75 degrees and muggy when I go outside to run at 7:30am. My air conditioner should not be running around the clock when my Christmas decorations are up. Do you realize that there's something sick and wrong about that? I know, you'll say that if I hate the climate here so much, I should go move to Oklahoma, which is getting pummelled by ice storms right now, or Minnesota, where the sun doesn't shine unless it's below zero, or Alaska, where the sun doesn't shine at all. I have relatives who live in all three of those states, and I'm guessing that they'd probably be happy for a chance to spend some time with Texas right now.

But enough is enough. It got hot here in March this year. It's been hot ever since. It's now two weeks from Christmas, and it's still freaking hot. I thought that Texans were joking when they warned me that the Houston climate had two seasons, "hot" and "hotter." I guess they weren't. Every time Eddie talks about a great cardiology opportunity in the Houston area, I send him my best nostril-flaring glare and warn him not to even think about it. I love so many things about living here-- I love the restaurants, the shopping, the great schools, the cheap housing, the relatively short commute for Eddie, the zoo and museums, the beach, and the friendly locals. I do not like the fact that I don't think my body has been truly dry since June of 2005.

Speaking of the locals, dear Texas, what do you do to inspire such loyalty from them? Do you pay them a kickback? Because they seem relatively unperturbed by the sight of candy cane lights on palm trees, of Santa wearing shorts, or of Christmas displays where Santa is riding a surfboard. They even seem to be proud of totally incongruous things like putting jingle bells on their flip flops. One thing that you've shown me is that the crusty New Englander in my heart needs seasons. Four of them. One of them must be cold. I may be tough about a lot of things, but I'm hopeless when it comes to the weather.


Hot in Houston

Monday, December 10, 2007

My lack of gaming skills makes me a bad mom

We've been pretty cooped up around here lately. Isaac's white blood cell count has been on the low side and I don't want to expose him to unnecessary germs, his cast is very cumbersome, and Maren is too mobile for her own good. When Bryce was a baby I took him out somewhere every single days (zoo trips are necessary for five-month-olds, aren't they?), but somehow, over the years, I've gotten worn down and we now go nowhere. Not to the store (the cast is too big to fit through the hole in the cart), not to the Chick-Fil-A playground (germs are not our friends), not to church (see #2), not anywhere.

While I'm not totally insane staying home with #3 and #4 in the same way that I would have been with #1, Mondays, when the big kids go back to school, have been hard for Isaac. Today we took a jog in the stroller, baked our final batch of Christmas cookies, did some laundry, watched a LOT of Noggin, read books and played with Playmobil. Then we looked at the clock and it was 10:00 am. Eddie called about that time, and I started whining about how hard it is to entertain him. Eddie's suggestion was to turn on the Wii and play a few games for Isaac.

I hate the Wii. I don't know if I hate to play it, because I refuse to play it. I hate it on principle. On the principle that I was very, very bad at any and all video games I came across as a child and teenager, and there's just about nothing I want to do less than subject myself to mortification in front of my children (or anyone else). It's no coincidence that any sport I've ever been good at involves zero hand-eye coordination. It's a skill I'm naturally lacking and have no desire to improve. Eddie has suggested that I practice in private until I'm comfortable going public, but why would I want to spend any more time doing something I know I hate to do? We had friends who invited us to their house last year to play Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and I had sweaty palms the whole way over. Too many flashbacks to getting smoked by my little brother playing Super Mario Brothers. Somehow, denying my three-year-old the right to watch me play video games for his enjoyment makes me a bad parent. He might be "sosososososo happy" making cookies (a direct quote from yesterday, which made me smile because I've been worrying that his bad luck would rub off on his mental state) but until I pull out the big guns (literally), I'm apparently not living up to my duties as a parent?

In my mind, that's what dads and big brothers are for. I might bemoan the fact that I'm doing dishes or folding laundry while they bond over the Wii, but I'd rather be scrubbing toilets than actually playing it myself. And that's why, even though Bryce has not touched his homework yet today, he's now working to "catch the king of the pond" for his poor hobbled baby brother.

Book #66: The Abstinence Teacher

Title: The Abstinence Teacher
Author: Tom Perrotta

Ruth Ramsey is a divorced fortysomething, plodding along in life, teaching sex education in a New England public school when she gets blindsided by the religious right wing. After admitting that "some people seem to enjoy oral sex," a brouhaha of epic proportions ensues in her town, resulting in the school board adopting a curriculum based on abstience. Ruth, a die-hard atheist whose mantra has been "condoms, condoms, condoms" has a hard time swallowing her pride, and her new teaching responsibilities. She soon learns that her daughter's soccer coach, Tim, is one of those crazy Christians. He's a born-again who turned to God to try to stay sober. Despite their differences, Tim and Ruth seem strangely drawn to each other.

Perrotta, the author of Election and Little Children, is a satirist. Both Ruth and Tim have been painted with fairly broad strokes. I almost felt like I was watching Crossfire, or Mary Matalin and James Carville (see, it works for them!). His overall message seems to be that being a closed-minded atheist is as bad as being a blind follower of Christianity. As if we didn't know that already. Perrotta, as I already knew, is a master at building sexual tension, so the book was entertaining for that aspect alone. And he's really, really funny. At one point, Ruth says that "Pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power" and I guess that her statement applies to Perrotta's novel too.

Book #65: The Alchemist

Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho

I'll admit that I suppressed a groan when my book group selected The Alchemist to put on our reading list this year. I generally hate "spiritual" books. I particularly can't stand anything written by Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie wasn't terrible, but everything else I've read has been positively gag-worthy). I also knew that a lot of readers compared The Alchemist with St. Exupery's The Little Prince, which I also hated. And believe me, it wasn't just because I was struggling with my French because I hated it just as much when I read it in English.

With those incredibly low expectations in mind, I have to say that the book wasn't as terrible as I thought it would be. I'll liken it to eating dinner at Applebees. In my mind, I hate Applebees. Applebees represents all that is bad about cheapy chain restaurants with bad microwaved food. But a year or so ago I had dinner at Applebees and it wasn't awful. It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful.

And so it was with The Alchemist. It's a fable about a boy who dreams about finding a treasure, follows his heart, and takes a circuitous journey to reach his treasure. The main point of the book is that we can all accomplish great things if we follow the inner promptings of our heart and stay true to the desires within us. I think that for someone who is as unattached as a sixteen-year-old shepherd, that's probably true. But as a 32-year-old mom with a house and four kids and a husband, I sometimes need to temper my dreams. So I'll give Coelho points for inspiration, but not for practicality.

Book #64: Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA

Title: Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA
Author: Julia Alvarez

I must admit, I had never even heard of a quinceanera (a celebration of womanhood, usually taking place on or near a Hispanic girl's fifteenth birthday) until about five years ago. I went to high school with lots of Latinas (predominantly Puerto Ricans), and although my Jewish friends were getting bar and bat mitzvahed all over the place, I don't recall any of my Latina friends having Quinceaneras. Or maybe I just wasn't invited. In Once Upon a Quinceanera, Julia Alvarez explores the root tradition of quinceaneras, takes the reader through one girl's celebration, discusses the issues of materialism and sexism and cultural adaptation inherent in the celebration, looks at the at-risk-ness of Hispanic girls, and talks a lot about her own experience of growing up as a Latina.

I first picked up Once Upon a Quinceanera because I've read several of Julia Alvarez's works in the past, and really enjoyed them. Everything I've read before has been either a memoir or a novel, based on her life. I was excited to read this book, because as a work of non-autobiographical non-fiction, I thought I'd get to see her tackle a subject other than herself. I now think she's incapable of talking about someone other than herself. For the first few chapters, I got what I expected to get-- an explanation of the celebration, the reasons behind the celebration, interviews with quinceaneras, their families and the behind-the-scenes people. But then the book turned into (once again) Alvarez's own story. It was an interesting story, but not necessarily one that belonged in this book.

Friday, December 7, 2007

And just to show how twisted my perspective has become...

As I previously mentioned, Isaac had his PICC line pulled yesterday. Afterwards we went to Target and bought him a hot chocolate (which he spilled) and a toy to celebrate. We came home and he spent the afternoon happily and freely bouncing from couch to couch and down the stairs. Then, after an hour or two of bouncing, he sat back on the couch to watch him some Noggin, and when he tried to get up, he couldn't walk.

Gone are the days when I'm relaxed about Isaac's health. Two months ago, I would have shrugged it off, but since this is how his osteomyelitis presented in the first place, I was on the phone with the pediatrician immediately, sure that MRSA had come knocking again. I had horrendous visions of spending another two weeks (or longer) in the hospital. I was wondering how we'd explain to him that he missed Christmas (explaining away a missed birthday party and Halloween was hard enough). My mind was racing with the implications of long-term antibiotic therapy and chronic osteomyelitis. The pediatrician told me to relax and bring him by in the morning if he still couldn't walk. I put both of our moms on standby to fly down in case he was going back for more surgery. My sister-in-law organized a family fast. In short, we were on the verge of a full-scale panic.

This morning, Eddie took him to the pediatrician, who sent us to an infectious diseases specialist. He had more blood drawn and more x-rays taken. His infection rates looked ok, but they saw something weird on the x-ray and sent him to see an orthopedic surgeon. It turns out that in all the joyful bouncing yesterday, Isaac got a hairline fracture in his femur. The bone already had a hole drilled in it and was weak, so I guess it was more prone to fracture than it otherwise would have been.

If you had told me two months ago that I would be happy to hear that my kid had a broken leg, I wouldn't have believed you. But today, I accepted that news with a smile on my face. Yeah, it sucks, but the alternative could have been so much worse.

The bad news is, no cute pictures of Isaac sledding and skiing in Utah at Christmas. The good news is, we can still go to Utah for Christmas.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Running buddies...

This fall, I've had two of the best running buddies ever. They don't talk too much, don't whine too much, and occasionally get so relaxed that they fall asleep. The bigger one likes to take along "guns" to protect us from dogs. This morning our gun was a hair curler. The smaller one just goes along for the ride. Here they are, with Isaac showing off his crazy hat head:

Can you understand my reluctance to leave the baby phase behind when you see how Eddie and I create sweet faces like this?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Free at last, free at last....

...Tomorrow at 9:15 in the morning, Isaac will be free at last. Or at least his arm will be. The pediatrician called today to say that after consulting with his friend in infectious diseases, he's decided that it would probably be best for Isaac to stop taking the IV antibiotics. His immune system is becoming more and more compromised each week (and yeah, Annie has a hacking cough-- we're trying to quarantine her), so they think that it's more important to keep some of his white blood cells alive than to continue the drugs. I'm glad. He's been on the meds for more than six weeks. Tomorrow he's getting the PICC line pulled and I'm going to come home and run him a big bubble bath. Six weeks is a very long time for a three-year-old to go without a bath. Since baths and PICC lines aren't compatible, we've developed sort of a middle ages approach toward bathing around here. His hands and face get washed occasionally, we wash the hair before church on Sunday, but most of his body has not had a good scrubbing since before Halloween. I don't think he smells. But maybe I'm just so used to his funk that it doesn't bother me anymore.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Getting my head in the game

Those of you without older kids might not recognize the High School Musical reference in my title, but we've been listening to HSM and HSM2 for months around here, so I have the dorky songs in my head more often than not. Anyway, I think I've got my head back in the running game. Isaac's illness threw my training for a loop, but I'm back on track. I did 15 miles two Saturdays ago, 20 last Saturday, and twelve today. I have another 20 planned for next Saturday and 15 for the next Saturday, and then I'll be just two weeks away from the race. How did it get here so quickly? The funny thing is that twelve miles now feels like a short run. I can hardly believe that one month today I'll be slapping that 26.2 sticker on the back of my van and driving it with pride.

Book #63: New England White

Title: New England White
Author: Stephen L. Carter

While I was reading New England White, Maren picked up the book and dropped the corner of it right on my big toe. It bled, and a week later it's still bruised. It's a big, deep, heavy, satisfying book. I guess it would be classified as a mystery, since the mystery of who killed economics professor Kellen Zant runs throughout the novel, but it's also an exploration of upper-middle and upper-class African American culture, the saga of the Carlyle family, and a weather log (the book starts with the first snowfall in November and wraps up with the spring thaw, and it snows more in this book than I ever saw in 18 years of living in New England).

Readers at complained that the novel was too long. It is long. But it's more than just a mystery. I expect that if Carter cut 200 pages (what several reviewers felt should be done), we would have lost much of the cultural backdrop. I loved the story, but I really felt like I got an education in how a whole group of people lives and thinks in America, warts and all (the positive and negative aspects of African American social clubs were especially interesting). What I liked best about the novel was the story of Julia and Lemaster and their children, especially as Julia gains a backbone through her investigation of Zant's murder. Definitely worth reading and persisting.

Book #62: The Devil's Feather

Title: The Devil's Feather
Author: Minette Walters

Connie Burns is a woman who has seen it all. As a child, she and her white family were run off their farm in Africa when the government took it over. As an adult, she has been a war correspondent in Sierra Leone, war-torn Asia, and Iraq. In Iraq, she meets a man from her past, who she thinks may be a serial killer. Shortly after beginning to research the man (she's looking into him despite his assurances that he'll kill her if she does), he kidnaps her, makes it look like a politically-motivated killing, and rapes and tortures her for three days. Upon her release, she makes a break for a deserted old house in the English countryside. A house with a past. A house without DSL or cell phone service. The perfect place to soothe your frayed nerves when a deranged man who has already raped you and now wants to kill you is on the loose.

Despite the "girl in peril" idiocy Burns showed (it reminded me a little bit of those dumb girls in horror movies who go into darkened rooms when they know a killer is on the loose), I really enjoyed The Devil's Feather. It was quick-paced, kept me reading late into the night, and resulted in a very messy home. It also has some good girl-power scenes where Connie and her neighbor reenact some Thelma and Louise style buttkicking.

Book #61: The Life of Pi

Title: The Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel

We read this book for the November meeting of our book club. Unfortunately, I wasn't done with it in time to attend, but Eddie and his mom and I had an impromptu discussion of the book at home instead. Eddie's mom said that she loved the first half of the book, where Pi Patel is living in India and exploring different religions. He was raised Hindu, but also adopts Christianity and Islam, and finds no contradiction in actively practicing all three at once. The first part of the novel seems like sort of a traditional bildungsroman, where the young protagonist comes of age. In this case, he grows up the son of a zookeeper, who like many Indians in the 1970s, decides to emigrate to Canada, which is where the book gets really interesting.

On the ship to Canada, his family and the contents of his father's zoo on board, Pi survives a shipwreck. For nearly a year, he lives on a lifeboat. At the beginning of his time on the lifeboat, he's living with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a large male tiger named Richard Parker. The hyena, zebra and orangutan quickly meet their ends, and Pi and Richard Parker must learn to survive with each other. Eddie loved this part of the book. I'm not surprised-- it was sort of like Survivor on steroids. Survivor with a tiger, of course.

The last chapter is where both parts of the book come together. The reader must decide if Pi is telling the truth about living with Richard Parker, or if he's made a myth, styled after religious myths, in order to help him make sense of his experience on the boat. Am I, as an active believer of the LDS faith allowed to admit that I believe that myth is an important part of Christian (and even Mormon) religious history? Myth helps us understand and process truth in a way that's accessible to us. Alone on a boat, Pi may have died or gone insane. With Richard Parker, real or imagined, he was able to live to tell his story.

Book #60: The Poe Shadow

Title: The Poe Shadow
Author: Matthew Pearl

In The Poe Shadow, Quentin Clark, a young lawyer living in Baltimore, gives up love and livelihood in an obsessive search to lift Edgar Allan Poe's name out of the gutter after he died in embarrassing circumstances. Clark's travels take him to Paris, where he finds not one, but two men who consider themselves the inspiration for Poe's famous detective, Dupin. Clark and the two Dupin's work against each other to solve the mystery surrounding Poe's death.

Pearl's novel The Dante Club was released to high acclaim several years ago. I haven't read it, but picked up The Poe Shadow based on its reputation. His second novel was pretty good, but it was a slow read. Pearl did such a great job of tapping into the loquaciousness of the 19th century novel, where writers were paid by the word (Huck Finn or Great Expectations, anyone?) that it seemed hard for me to believe at times that The Poe Shadow was written in the 21st-century. Overall, the story satisfied-- it even ended in a relatively predictable scene of Victorian-era domestic bliss, but the pace seemed more suited to a horse-drawn carriage than a modern minivan.

Book #59: The lost book

I was reading something when Isaac got sick. Something I finished while he was in the hospital. Something that I can't remember at all right now. Should I remember it in the future, I'll post about it.