Friday, August 31, 2007

Minefield

One of the purposes of having four kids in six and a half years was so they'd go through the stages of their childhood at roughly the same time. I could throw them in the bath together, they'd all take swimming lessons at the same time, and they'd all (yikes!) go to college around the same time. I really didn't want to end up pushing a stroller at Bryce's high school graduation.

But I'm beginning to realize that I might not have had them close enough together. When Bryce was a baby-- he ruled the roost. As soon as he could crawl and pull up, we babyproofed the house and got rid of all of the tchotchkes that could end up in his mouth. Other than emptying our bookshelves and VCR tapes on a daily basis, he didn't get into too much trouble in the "moblie but still stupid" phase of babyhood. It was pretty much the same scenario with Annie. Bryce had toys that she'd get into, but since he's less than two years older than she is, he'd get annoyed when she'd knock over his blocks or get into his puzzles, but other than getting sat on or knocked over, she was never in any imminent danger. Pretty much ditto the situation for Isaac, except that he had two older siblings who would scream if he got into their stuff.

But in the last two years, Bryce and Annie have moved on from blocks and stuffed animals to Polly Pockets and Star Wars action figures and Legos. I keep the kids' doors closed most of the day (and they have to keep all of their "big kid" toys in their rooms instead of the playroom) but in a single day the other day, I found a Lego walkie talkie, a Polly shoe, part of a South Beach Diet bar wrapper, and a leaf in Maren's mouth. And she was sucking on a Thomas engine too, so even if she hasn't choked to death or died from Polly magnets in the intestine, she'll probably be done in by lead paint.

At this point, I'm glad for the 100 fewer kid hours in the house each week. Maybe, just maybe, it will decrease the mess to the degree that I can keep up with Maren and what she puts in her mouth.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

He may be potty-trained...

This one. Yep, he's adorable, but he just doesn't get it. He uses the potty without any problems now. It's been days since he's had an accident of any kind. He even wipes his own bottom, a skill that neither of my other kids picked up for years after potty training. But he hasn't quite grasped the concept that he doesn't need to change his clean underpants every time he goes to the bathroom. Yesterday I did five loads of laundry. In those five loads were fourteen little pairs of Diego and Shrek underpants. He doesn't tell me he needs new underpants-- he just goes upstairs and puts them on himself. From now on, his discarded unders are going to get the sniff test, and if they still smell like Tide, they're going right back in the drawer. Maybe we'll get through the weekend without running out.

Here are those eight month pictures I tried to take the other day...



















Book #45: The Maytrees



Title: The Maytrees
Author: Annie Dillard
I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't read much Annie Dillard in the past. For some reason, she has always intimidated the crap out of me. Writers who write fiction, but have a strong social conscience that comes forth in their writing (like Barbara Kingsolver and Annie Dillard), tend to make me nervous, for some indefinable reason.
Whatever the reason, after reading The Maytrees, I feel like I've been missing something by not reading Annie Dillard sooner. For one thing, The Maytrees is an interesting story-- Lou and Maytree meet and marries when they're young, have a child together, and ten years later he leaves with her best friend, Deary. Twenty years after that, Maytree and Deary return so Lou can nurse Maytree back to health and Deary in her final months. But more than just a story, The Maytrees is a great novel of character and place and time. It's not written exactly chronologically, so Dillard reinforces the idea of time throughout with her style. And though it's spare (about 200 pages) it seems somehow sparer. It's not a quick read, even though it's short-- instead, it's more like poetry as prose. And it's defnitely not the last I'll read of Annie Dillard.

Book #44: Scarlet Feather


Title: Scarlet Feather

Author: Maeve Binchy

Ever since I feel in love with Circle of Friends as a high school student, I've always equated Maeve Binchy novels with comfort food. They're easy going down and very satisfying. Circle of Friends was like a good pan of my childhood best friend Lucy's mom's mac and cheese (follow that?)-- you know, the really crusty, cheesy kind. Tara Road, and the other handful of Binchy books I've read over the years could also be neatly categorized as "mac and cheese books."

Scarlet Feather, ironically enough for my metaphor, is the story of caterers. I can imagine Ms. Binchy seeing the same couple catering the same parties all over Dublin, and using them as her inspiration. In fact, I feel like she did a great job on her research of what really goes into catering work (I worked in events planning for a couple of years while I was in grad school, so I have some experience on that end). I also really enjoyed the sidestory of Simon and Maud, the twin cousins-in-law of the protagonist. But I found myself incredibly frustrated with Cathy Scarlet, around whom the story centers. At the beginning of the novel, Cathy appears to have it all-- a great business, a wonderful husband, good parents, etc... But she's cranky. I don't know if Binchy intended to make her so crotchety. After the fifteenth argument with her "horrible" mother-in-law, I began to think that Cathy was really the horrible one. When her husband suggested that she follow him to a job in the Netherlands and leave her business behind, I felt like she reacted in a similarly crotchety way. But Scarlet Feather, at least for me, raised issues of whether a wife should want to follow her husband to a job halfway around the world (a curve ball she hadn't seen coming) or whether a husband should put on a brave face when an oops pregnancy happens (a curve ball he hadn't seen coming). It all ended rather comfortably, I guess, but I thought she should have worked harder on her marriage. As I was reading it I felt like I was watching an accident happening. I wanted to reach out and tell them to pull their heads out of their butts. Anyway, if Scarlet Feather is mac and cheese, then it's the mac and cheese I made once in the crockpot that curdled. I think we ate it anyway, but it was pretty disgusting. Pretty sad for a book about cooking, right?

Week in Training: August 27-September 2

Monday: 4 1/4 miles, outside
Tuesday: 2 miles of hills, spin class
Wednesday: 7 miles, outside, with a stray German Shepherd who decided I was his friend, not good times
Thursday: ditto Tuesday
Friday: 4 1/4 miles, speedwork (5K time 20:36)
Saturday: 12.4 in 1:40 and it felt fantastic!!! One of those runs that makes you remember why you love it.

Total miles run: Just about 30 exactly
Total other stuff: 2 spinning classes

Monday, August 27, 2007

You know how they say a picture is worth 1,000 words?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Well, these pictures are worth $179.99, plus tax.

You see, it all started last Thursday. Maren was turning eight months old that day, and I wanted to get a picture of her on her eight-month birthday. So I took my camera out, and shot this picture (it's Maren with my friend's daughter, Lucy). I immediately got the "change batteries" signal on the camera. So I dutifully changed the batteries. But as I was sitting at the desk, changing the batteries, I got interrupted, and left the camera on the desk.

Four hours later, I found the camera lying on the playroom floor. It was dead. Irrevocably dead. I had been watching my friend's three kids all afternoon, and freely admit that with seven kids in the house, keeping track of the camera was not my highest priority. Signs point to Isaac as the camera killer, since the last three pictures on the memory card bear his signature (they're all pictures of his underwear on the bathroom floor).

Under ordinary circumstances, I'd weigh my camera options a little bit. We'd had this one for two years, and it served us well. I probably would have done some research for the best model at the best price and ordered it online. But school started today. Annie started kindergarten. And there was no way I was going to let that day pass without pictures (I know some grandmas living in far away places who would have been very unhappy with me). So on Saturday, Annie and I went to Target, bought the two-years-newer version of the same camera we already had. It wasn't even on sale (gasp!).

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are the pictures I paid $179.99 for.

Bryce-- starting 2nd grade:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Annie on her first day of kindergarten:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

All of the school-age kids (Isaac starts preschool next Wednesday):
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Walking and waiting:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Annie M.?

I spent a long, long time obsessing over my kids' names. It was on my mind from the moment the line on the stick turned pink until Eddie and I finally came to a consensus we both could live with. Since I grew up with an unusual name ("how do you pronounce that?"), I wanted to give my kids names that were fairly easy to pronounce and spell, but uncommon enough that they wouldn't forever be known by their last initial in elementary school. We studied the Social Security administration website, and decided that we wouldn't be comfortable naming our kids anything in the top 50.

When Bryce started kindergarten, the first friend he made in his class was Bryce C., who was also in his class in first grade, and is now in his second grade class. Bryce was #90-something on the SSA list the year Bryce was born, but there are four Bryces in the seven second-grade classes at our elementary school. We just happen to live in an area with a large concentration of Bryces, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago, a new family moved into our ward. Their daughter, born within a month of our daughter, is also named Anne (which was about #300 on the SSA list in 2002). So my daughter is now Annie M. in her Primary class (with seven kids total). Today, Annie's kindergarten teacher called me to let me know that there's another Annie in the class, so she wanted to know if she'd prefer to be called Anne (definitely not), Annie M, or Annie Caroline. Now I'm 0-2 in picking unique enough names that my kids are the only one with that name in their elementary school class.

Ironically enough, Annie's teacher's name is Sheila. And when she got me on the phone, her first question was, "how do you pronounce your name?"

Babysitters-- cheaper than therapy

We live in a neighborhood with lots of young kids, but not nearly as many older kids. Our ward is similar-- just a couple of Young Women, and a nursery nearly 70 strong. So babysitters are in high demand here. I've been using the same babysitter since we moved here, and always felt a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach whenver it was time to call her. Sometimes I'd call and say, "If there's a night over the next three weeks when you're available, please let me know" but if I needed her on a specific night, I knew I needed to reserve her early, because all of the moms of the 69 other nursery kids were likely to be calling her too.

One of the brightest spots in our neverending summer was suddenly finding myself with more than one option for a babysitter. First, our regular babysitter's little sister came of babysitting age (she's 11, almost 12, but it works for me). Then a family moved into the ward, and their three teenagers have all announced from the pulpit that they are ready and willing to babysit. Better yet, they're homeschooled, so they can even come on school nights or during the day, which means I might actually make it to a dentist appointment once this year. I love that I can call up either house and ask for any of the kids who would be willing to sit for us on a particular night. It greatly increases my chances of finding someone and decreases the number of calls I have to make (and therefore the nervous feeling in my stomach that only brownies seem to satisfy).

So we've been going out a lot more often this summer. I used to call our sitter only when it was absolutely necessary (for boring work parties and the like-- approximately every couple of months) because I was too afraid of rejection (when you're calling teenagers, I guess you tend to revert to a teenage rejection mentality). Now, with five potential sitters, we've been going out every other week. I've eaten so well (we went to the Melting Pot last night and it was GOOD!), but most of all, I've had so much fun dating my husband. It's not like I've fallen out of love with him or gotten bored or anything like that, but going out with him regularly reminds me of how much I like him as a person, not just as a dad or a couch potato or a lump on the other side of the bed.

Ever since I got married I've heard marriage counselors give the advice that couples should go on a weekly date. When we were first married, we always did. Once we added a houseful of kids, it seemed like an impossibility. But now it seems like a bi-monthly date might be possible-- and I'm enjoying how much fun dates with Eddie can be! And even though a babysitter is pricey, it's definitely cheaper, and more fun I'd imagine, than therapy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

ISO: a running buddy

When I started to get into a daily exercise routine, shortly after we moved to Minnesota, one of the things that kept me motivated was that I had friends to work out with. For the first year, whenever the weather was good, we'd load up our kids in strollers, joggers, slings and bjorns and do a 3-4 mile walk, followed by play time at the park. The kids loved it, and since Eddie was an intern and never, ever home, it was often my only adult interaction for the whole day. Gradually, we built up to running, and trained for a half-marathon together.

Since that time, I've always tried to have a running buddy. Not necessarily someone I'd run with every day, but someone I could rely on for a run or two a week. Someone to keep me motivated. Someone to chat with when the miles get long. Someone to go to races with when your husband tells you he'll be too overwhelmed to meet you with a bunch of kids at the finish line.

Then, last year, I got pregnant. And, as chance would have it, so did two of the three girls I ran with regularly. I kept running. The other girls, like most sane pregnant women, quit running after a while. So once they were easing themselves back into running, I was already into it full-force, working on my speed. And now, eight months later, I've worked on my speed so much that I don't have running buddies anymore. I don't mean to be jerky or intimidating when I say this, but I've gotten to the point where I'm just too fast for my old running buddies. Yeah, I'll do a long run with them every once in a while, but it's not the same as it used to be. It's fun to socialize, but the running part isn't that great. It's a little bit akin to walking down the street to the mailbox with a toddler who wants to inspect every crack in the sidewalk.

So I was at a ward Girls' Night Out last night and several of the girls were talking about getting started running this year and the races they want to do. I was pushing them to do the October half-marathon, but I couldn't find anyone who would bite. I emailed another girl who I know used to run, and she said she was just getting back into it and she'd email me when she was up to speed again. I'm more than happy to cheer people along at the finish line at Race for the Cure or the Halloween 5K, and even come along for the occasional three-miler with the girls in the ward, but I really miss having someone who can match me, step for step, on the ten-miler or the twelve-miler. That's when I'd like more company than just my iPod.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Week in Training: August 20-25

This is the last week with the kids home for the summer, and I'm trying to get the fall schedule re-established. So here's the first week of what I hope will become my fall workout schedule:

Monday: 4.25 mile run, focusing on speedwork
Tuesday: spin class followed by 1800yd swim (3x500 yd free, 2x100yd IM, 100 yd breaststroke)
Wednesday: 7 miles outside
Thursday: spin class with no swimming
Friday: 4.25 mile run, focusing on hills
Saturday: 8 miles, which is shorter than I was hoping and in my neighborhood, but it was better than nothing, which is what I almost got

Running total: 23.5 miles
Other stuff: 2 spin classes, 1800yd swim

The scale shows this morning that I gained two pounds in the last week. I'm not exactly sure how that happened since I haven't been eating any differently in the last week. When we got takeout on Saturday night I even got a salad (well, a cobb salad, so full of avocado and blue cheese, with fried green beans as an appetizer). Weird. So I'm also going to try to be really good with my food this week and hope I can get back to normal.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Thought for the Day....

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." Anna Quindlen

Amen, sista.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is this karma?

On the nights that Eddie is at home, the kids usually go to bed just fine. Maren starts begging for her final nursing around 6:30. Isaac is more than happy to climb in his own bed at 7, no matter what fun thing the big kids might be up to. And maybe Eddie is meaner than I am, but Bryce and Annie don't seem to fight him at 8:00 when they're supposed to be hitting the sheets. Of course, Bryce often talks to himself for hours after he gets in bed, but when Eddie's home, that's his domain and I don't have to deal with it.

But for seven of the last nine nights, Eddie has been gone at bedtime. He's been on-call three times, had two Guys' Nights Out (which he rarely gets, so I try not to begrudge him too much), and one work-related dinner at a nice restaurant. The other night we were on a date (but that was more than a week ago, so the complainer in me has resurfaced).

The kids have been awful at bedtime. Annie can never fall asleep and ends up sobbing in bed. Last night I brought her into bed at me at 10pm when she was truly hysterical and she kicked me all night. Bryce has an elaborate 30-minute ritual involving feeding all of his "pets" (don't you dare call them stuffed animals) before he can get in bed. Both of the big kids come into the bedroom constantly when I'm nursing and I don't have a door defender. Even sweet, mild Isaac put up a fight last night when it was time to get in bed and Toy Story 2 was playing in the next room. To add insult to injury, Maren has been waking up every night at 2am and nursing on and off until it's time to get up for good (before 6). I guess if there's such thing as karma, Eddie must be a much better person than I am, because he definitely has better luck with the bedtime routine.

Eddie worked last night. He's due home any minute. I'm going for a run. I'm not sure I really want to run all that much, but I want some time to myself. I would probably just go back to bed, but Annie's in there and I know I'd just get kicked.

And, in case you were wondering, I might not be around much in the next week. It looks like there's a possibility that Hurricane Dean could come our way. Just in case, we booked a room in Dallas for three nights in the middle of the week. If I have to flee, at least I have a place to stay (one that isn't my brother-in-law's tiny condo).

Book #43: One Good Turn

Title: One Good Turn
Author: Kate Atkinson

In One Good Turn, a group of people is gathered outside a theatre during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when they witness an episode of road rage. Atkinson then follows the stories of the victim, the perpetrator, and several witnesses over the next few days as their lives become more and more interconnected.

After reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum, I thought I knew what to expect from Kate Atkinson-- intellectual chick-lit (is that an oxymoron?). But One Good Turn is so different. Instead of a family drama, it's a thriller. And even though the genre is so different, it's equally fantastic, if you can suspend disbelief and actually believe that there are only about ten people in Edinburgh (the coincidences in the book are amazing, but Atkinson seems very aware that she's taking us for an unrealistic ride, and having fun with it).

Book #42: Restless



Title: Restless
Author: William Boyd

When I was hurting for book ideas a few weeks ago, I headed over to amazon.com for some recommendations. Editors from all over were recommending Restless, so I reserved it. According to the book jacket, William Boyd has written several screenplays, and I think the book would work much better as a screenplay. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, but I think the WWII story of a butt-kicking female spy and her daughter, discovering her own butt-kicking nature in the 1970s, would make a fantastic movie. It was also billed as a love story, but I could see right through the romance and into the deception right away. The book suffers, in my opinion, from the Blair Witch Project syndrome-- a good enough book on its own, but it doesn't hold up to overhype.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I gotta get me a set of balls...

I've been logging many miles on the minivan in the last couple of weeks. My longest drive of the day, from our house to the swim club, is along a stretch of tollway with only two lanes. And for some reason, the thing that has irritated me most since swimming lessons started up again has not been trying to keep Isaac awake on his way over to swimming, or breastfeeding Maren in the waiting room (often full of the adolescent male siblings of swimmers), or listening to the big kids whine all the way over and all the way back about how bored they are and how I'm ruining their summers. Nope. It's the darn slow drivers in the left lane. I get behind them, bide my time until I can stand it no longer, and then break out on the right to pass. Then, of course, the drivers decide to speed up, leaving me to either seriously gun it, or else brake and resume my former position when I approach a smaller car in the slow lane.

I think it's because I'm a girl in a minivan. A girl, driving a minivan, could not possibly be a gutsy driver. At least not in the opinion of someone who has this on the back of his truck:



At least twice in the last week, I've followed (and passed) guys with the balls on their trucks. But balls or no balls, it seems that most of the people I end up passing on the right are the drivers of large pickups, invariably men who feel like they own the road, and who might be threatened by little ole me. Whatever.

Get me a set of balls. I'll strap them on the back of my minivan and blast them all off the highway.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The pink plate (aka "kindergarten feminism")

We have a set of plastic plates at our house. They're the same ones that most people in the Western world own, thanks to IKEA selling a set of six for $1.50. In fact, I believe that I already blogged about acquiring these plates about a year ago, and paying like $10 for the set off eBay, so mine weren't exactly the screaming deal everyone else in the world got them for. The set of six comes in a rainbow of colors: dark blue, light blue (aka "cerulean" at our house), yellow, orange, green and pink.

Annie, like most little girls, has been either genetically or culturally programmed to adore the color pink. Her bedroom (I've also blogged about her bedroom), screams little girl, with light pink bubblegum walls above the chair rail, dark pink bubblegum walls beneath, and a pink-striped quilt. There's not much in the room that isn't pink. Pink has been her color.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when she went to art camp and came home in love with the color blue ("blue has so much more variation, Mom").

Now, pink is on the list of things she does not do (like eat vegetables, share willingly with her little brother, or wear socks with seams). I tried giving her the pink plate for lunch the other day, and she got huffy with me. She said, "You always give me the pink plate and I think it's because I'm a girl. It's not fair. You never give the boys the pink plate" (it's true, I don't).

She then told me I was being "sexist" and told me that if I didn't start rotating the plate equally (Bryce, in the other room, yelled in, "I'm not eating off that thing") then I should put it at the bottom of the pile. I told her I'd just let Maren use it. But that idea didn't fly either. "She shouldn't get stuck with the pink plate because she's a girl, either." To think that a month ago I was divvying up the pink plate, bowl, cup, and utensils among Annie and her friends so that each one would have a representative amount of pink in their table service.

I guess my baby girl is growing up. And teaching me to think a little bit more about the ways I model gender identity in my house. Or else she's just being a bratty five-year-old. Either way, I've got to admire her spunk.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Zoo-y week

I've been whining for weeks about how bored, bored, bored I've been this summer. This week I won't be bored, but I'm not sure that the alternative is any better.

Isaac is in his second of two weeks of daily swim lessons at 2pm (during Maren's nap, of course). They're half an hour away, which means that we've spent a lot of every afternoon in the car lately.

This morning, Bryce started his week of zoo camp. He's been looking forward to it ALL summer. This morning, we left the house bright and early to fight rush hour traffic on the way to the zoo. Of course, I got roped in to taking the non-campers to the zoo too, at least until the 100+ degree heat forced us out.

So by the time we got home, it was lunchtime, and after that, time to get back into the car to take Isaac to swimming lessons. From there we went straight to the zoo ("I got to pet a chinchilla!"), followed by Payless for ballet and tap shoes (lessons start tomorrow and I still have to sew in elastic tonight), Wal-Mart (don't ask-- it was not fun) and McDonalds (no energy to cook after that).

I get to repeat the drill every day this week. Lucky me. The upside is that the house doesn't get used enough to turn into a wreck, which is a good thing because I don't have the time to clean it anyway.

I have a friend with seven kids. The oldest ones are in high school. I remember her talking last year about how she spent hours and hours in the car every day shuttling her kids from place to place. When school starts next week, the shuttle will start regular service again too-- carpool to the elementary school, both ways to preschool twice a week, baseball practice, baseball games, ballet class and swimming lessons will keep me busy. I like busy. I just hope type-A baby can stand it (she's not all to in love with the car). But I have this to say-- by the time my kids are teenagers and need some serious shuttling, I'm getting myself a pimped out minivan so I can shuttle in comfort and style.

Week in Training: August 13-18

Monday: 4.25 outside, a few hours after dinner
Tuesday: 9:30 spinning class with 2 miles of hill intervals after
Wednesday: hoping for 6 miles outside, early in the morning (I let Eddie sleep in and took the day off)
Thursday: 4.25 speedwork
Friday: 4.25 hills
Saturday: 9.6 outside. Hot.

Total mileage: 23.35
Total other stuff: just one stinking spinning class.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What should I suggest that my book club read in the coming year?

In September, our book club picks new books to read for the year. Last year I came prepared for Selection Night like I always did in my book club in Minnesota-- with a whole tote bag full of books that I'd read over the previous couple of years and a lawyer's attitude, with a case to make for each book in the bag. In Minnesota, our book club was pretty big-- we could expect ten or twelve people to come out each time, so I'd be lucky to have one of the books in my bag chosen on Selection Night.

But here in Texas, the book club thing hasn't caught on with the same fervor. There are five or six of us who are regulars, but I was the only one who showed up at Selection Night 2006 with a whole tote bag full of books. As a result, a lot of my books got chosen for the lineup. While it made me feel good to feel like I represented my books well and got them chosen, it's made for sort of boring reading (or non-reading) for me this last year. Of the twelve books in the 2006-2007 lineup, I had read all but three of them before. I know, I know, I read more than just about anyone, but it was hard for me to get excited about reading the books when I felt like I had just read them.

So.... I need your help. Hit me with your best books. I still want to bring a tote bag full of books for Selection Night in a few weeks, but I want it to be filled with great books I haven't read yet. You know everything I've read in the last two years. Wow me, surprise me, impress me. Whatever. Don't be nervous that I won't like your suggestions-- I'll read anything. The book club is comprised of LDS women, but only the cool ones come, so while anything X-rated is probably out, PG-13 is definitely ok. Our suburb of 80,000+ is finally getting its first bookstore in the next month or two (that says something about the state of literacy around here, I'm afraid) and I'll even be able to buy some of the books without having to drive for half an hour to do it!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Five questions from Amber

1- What is your favorite meal to make for your family?
Lately (as in the last five years or so), I haven't been so big on cooking. It's an ordeal. Kid #1 and kid #2 eat almost nothing willingly and I still haven't gotten mean enough to stop being a short-order cook. So my favorite thing, besides ordering pizza, is probably the pasta, garlic bread and salad combo. It's really easy, I can spice it up a little bit by changing the sauce on the pasta, and everyone in the family will eat at least one of the items offered. I also love making Thanksgiving dinner, because even if my kids will only eat mashed potatoes and crescent rolls, the other guests at the table are appreciative of my culinary skilz.

2- What is your least favorite chore?
Other than making dinner? Putting the kids to bed. I've handed that role over to my darling husband. Tonight, unfortunately, he's on the town and I've got two kids down, and a chapter of Harry Potter and two kids to go.

3- Why do you blog?
I write therefore I am? It makes me feel less invisible, It's funny because I'm the life of the party in my own home, but sometimes I feel sort of out of the loop with the rest of reality.

4- What is your favorite board/computer game?
I had a pretty severe solitaire addiction in college, that with counseling, and my roommate graduating and taking her computer with her, I was able to conquer. I know I'll sound boring when I say this, but I'm too competitive to love playing games. I hate to lose more than I love to play.

5- If you could live anywhere comfortably (job/salary/cost of living not relevant) where would you live and why?
The last decade and a half have made me quite a nomad. I love where I grew up (Fairfield County, CT) but no one in my family is there anymore, and it would be a hike to see them from there. Also, since we've been far from family for the 12 years of medical training, I want to live near family again. My brother lives in Alaska. My parents live in rural Minnesota. My sister lives in rural Illinois. Eddie's family lives in Utah. I am so not a rural girl, so at this point I'd say Utah. Yes, I am so desperate to live near someone who shares DNA with my children that I'm willing to give up the beautiful rolling hills of Nashville, the temperate year-round breezes of San Francisco, the rocky, ghostly beaches of New England, and even (gulp!) the ancient and modern bustle of London.

So my five questions:

1) Which of your children's names do you think suits them best and why?
2) Chocolate-- dark, milk or white?
3) You're going on a cruise around the world and can only take five books-- what do you take? (the standard works is a cop out, ladies)
4) How do you get through a blogging slump?
5) What has been the most profound change in your life in the last year?

I'm tagging: Courtney, G, Kermit, Taffi, and Misty

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Overheard at the dinner table...

Eddie: Where is Chad?
Bryce: Africa
Eddie: Where is China?
Annie: Asia
Eddie: Where is Argentina?
Bryce: South America
Eddie: Where is Vietnam?
Annie: Asia
Eddie: Where is Niger?
Bryce: Africa
Eddie: Where is Turkey?
Isaac: At the farm

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Death by Ben and Jerry

A couple of weeks ago I was on the phone with my mom when she mentioned that she was making hot fudge. I hadn't had homemade hot fudge since Christmas, and the mere mention of it was enough to have me wake up in the middle of the night with some pregnancy-worthy cravings.

So on Saturday, when the rest of the family was at Underdog, Maren and I made hot fudge. At this point in my life (sad to say), I know the recipe by heart. As far as I'm concerned, there is only one recipe for hot fudge-- the one from this cookbook



I've eaten a lot of hot fudge in my day, and I've never met it's equal. Maren, precocious little thing that she is, likes it too. And just so I'm not alone in my gluttony, I'll share the recipe with you:

4 squares of unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. heavy cream

Melt together chocolate and butter on top of a double boiler. Whisk in cocoa. Stir in sugar with a slotted spoon (yeah, you need a lot of utensils for this recipe) until the mixture resembles wet sand. Scrape down sides. Let it sit over the simmering water for 20 minutes. Stir in milk and cream and cook for 1 hour, making sure to keep water in the bottom of the double boiler. Makes enough to share with your family for two nights, or enough to hoard and eat over your ice cream while you watch tv after the kids are in bed for about two weeks.

Book #41: Runner's World Complete Guide to Women's Running



Title: Runner's World Complete Guide to Women's Running
Author: Dagny Scott

I've already alluded to this book in other posts. It's a great reference book-- one that will stay on my shelves for as long as I'm a runner. I've already thought of several people I'd like to give it to for a gift. I really wish I'd read the chapter on running during pregnancy during my first pregnancy-- then maybe I would have stayed in better shape before realizing during pregnancies 3 & 4 that running isn't a no-no when you're growing a baby.

But there were a few things that bugged about the book. First of all, it's sort of geared towards beginners. That's great for a beginning runner, but that's not me. Secondly, it has this weird combination of memoir and reference book. There's no "about the author" page-- no personal info at all on the back cover. But after reaind the "training log" sections, I know that Dagny Scott was a runner as a kid, almost qualified for the Olympics, had issues with her body image, got divorced, had to have surgery for a medical condition, and got pregnant. But without the bio page, that stuff sort of seems to exist in a vacuum for me. I liked the training logs, but they almost didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book. I'd really like to read some good running memoirs, but this, for all of the disclosures, wasn't it.

Book #40: Behind the Scenes at the Museum




Title: Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Author: Kate Atkinson

Every so often, I come across a book that I'm really surprised I haven't read before. Surely, at some point over the last twelve years, someone must have told me to read this book. But if they did, I don't remember it at all. It's the story of Ruby Lennox and her female family members up to four generations back. I must admit that Ruby's mom bears an occasional passing resemblance to mine (although mine is nicer, I must admit). I loved the meandering storyline, loved the footnotes, loved the significant references to airing cupboards. It was a really fun read. And now that I'm done, I'm really interested in seeing how autobiographical (if at all) the novel is. I have more Kate Atkinson on my reading list after this one!

Just "a good pair of shoes"?

I started running shortly after becoming a stay-at-home-mom. One of the things that originally attracted me to it was the fact that it was almost entirely free. All I needed, my friends assured me, was a good pair of shoes. Shortly after that, winter fell, and "a good pair of shoes" turned into a $500 treadmill, which I still rationalized was cheaper than a gym membership (or, alternativey, therapy). Soon, I realized that I needed special socks with extra cushioning, a supportive sports bra, and something other than my husband's cast-off t-shirts to go out in. Once I looked cute, I needed a place for the kids to sit, so I got the $80 used jogger, followed, two years later, by the $300 jogger.

Several years later, running hasn't gotten any cheaper. I can count on needing a couple of pairs of shoes a year. Race entry fees vary from about $25 for the cheap races, to upwards of $80 for triathlons and marathons. And speaking of triathlons, once I decided to cycle and swim for cross-training, that necessistated the purchase of a bike and a gym membership. Just yesterday I bought myself one of these so I no longer have to stash a water bottle near a stop sign or a fire hydrant and hope that a dog doesn't pee on it before I have the chance to drink out of it.

For years and year, people would ask me what I wanted for my birthday or for Christmas, and I always had the hardest time coming up with ideas. Not anymore.

How about this:
















Or these:




















Or these:


























And that's not even getting into the whole idea of getting a new bike. So running, for beginners, may be cheap. But I don't think it's just an inexpensive way for me to run off steam any longer. It's an obsession-- and obsessions are expensive.

Monday, August 6, 2007

when school starts, does Mom get a vacation?

It has been a long summer-- literally. Here in Texas, the state legislature decided that school isn't allowed to start before a certain date towards the end of the month (three weeks from today!!!), but the kids still got out of school before Memorial Day. So we got about three extra weeks of summer. And the summer weather seems to have the same melting effect on my kids that water does to the Wicked Witch of the West. So summer in Texas is sort of like spending three months in Hell. Hell with large mosquitos, that is.

Anyway, I guess it boils down to the fact that after 10 weeks with four kids around the house, I am slowly losing my mind. The house is filthy. We eat out whenever I can't find something to scrounge in the freezer (chicken nuggets, again?). I've spent much too much time hanging out in front of the computer. And I do not care. Even when I'm "getting a break," like today when I went to Target (with Annie) and the running store (with Isaac), or I went to a Girl's Weekend Out (with Maren), I'm never really by myself. The baby gets up at 6am and Bryce doesn't fall asleep until around 10pm most nights (we do put him in bed much earlier). I'd love a day or a weekend or even just a couple of hours with no one touching me, no work to do, and, most of all, no one calling me Mom.

Eddie does try. The other day, he took the three big kids to see Underdog, but Maren, who was supposed to take a nap, didn't fall asleep until they were on their way home. On Saturday, as I was getting in the shower, both Annie and Isaac begged to jump in along with me. My workouts are the only time I really get to myself, and I cherish them, but today's got interrupted when cranky Maren got stuck in the big kids' bathroom.

I guess I wonder if I got a break, how long it would take to feel less downtrodden. My friend Kristin says that even though she likes spending vacations alone with her husband, she hates that she doesn't feel guilty when she comes home to her kids. Would I feel better after an afternoon? A day? Could I summon up the energy to vacuum the bedrooms and clean the boys' pissy toilet if I knew that I could have a couple of hours completely to myself tomorrow? Would I need a night? A week? I'm training for a marathon now, and I wonder if I'm doing it just so I'm sure to have four hours to myself four months from now.

In a month, Bryce and Annie will be back in school full-time. Isaac will be gone at preschool two days a week. We'll be back in the full swing of baseball practice and piano lessons and ballet classes. I'm hoping that it will kick-start my usually unflagging energy. I just realized this morning that while I'm so excited for some time (almost) to myself, when Annie starts kindergarten I'll be losing my very best babysitter. I'll need the energy to keep all of the crap that's accumulating on the floor out of Maren's mouth.

Week in Training: August 6-11

Monday: 4.25 miles, sorta fartlek, did 5K in 21:10
Tuesday: planning a spinning class and about 40 minutes of swimming (got in 30 minutes-- had to take a detour to the bathroom to change Isaac after a potty accident)
Wednesday: 6.7 miles outside, after dinner in the 98-degree heat. Blech
Thursday: ditto Tuesday, minus the potty accident
Friday: ditto Monday, 5K pace of 20:57
Saturday: long run-- 12 miles. Hot, hot, hot!

Excuse the mess, I'm unpacking


Welcome to the new blog! After nearly two years at Typepad, my blog and I have moved back to Blogger. We liked it at Typepad, but it's the high-rent district (as in not free), and since I was leasing, I couldn't really decorate the way I liked. Besides, I like the neighbors (my fellow Blogger bloggers) better here.

So, reset your bookmarks and bloglines and excuse the mess as I unpack and redecorate. If you're willing to lend your advice and expertise and help me decorate, I'd love it! I know what I want, I just don't know how to do it. Pretty soon we'll be up and running again!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Sunday Pants

I'm a ritualistic sort of girl. When I eat M&Ms, I always eat the green ones last. I can't take ice cream out of the container without putting a bite in my own mouth. And on Sunday afternoons after church, I wear the Sunday Pants.



What are the Sunday Pants? They're a pair of grey, flowy lounge pants, made out of t-shirt material and purchased at GAP body at least eight years ago. I know this because they're a size 10, which is a size I haven't worn since my first baby was born more than seven years ago. So they don't fit all that well. But they are the single most comfortable item of clothing I have ever worn. I always giggle at the people on What Not to Wear who can't get rid of their ugly t-shirts, but I'd be hard-pressed to toss out the Sunday Pants.



They're a part of my Sunday ritual. I come home from church, put on the pants, eat something bad for me, and, if Eddie's home (he's not today) take a nap. They're the perfect pants for napping-- the material is light enough that I don't feel like I've got blankets on my legs, and they're loose enough at the waist that they don't feel like they're strangling me.



But the pants have seen better days. Much, much better days. I've worn them through four pregnancies, and at every phase in between. I've tried replacing them, but I've never found another pair that's the equal of the Sunday Pants. They're at the stage now that I'm embarrassed to be seen by the Deacons when they come by to collect fast offerings. I can no longer wear them when they Home Teachers come to visit (which is fine, since they don't come often). Pretty soon, the waistband is going to fall off entirely, and the Sunday Pants will be trashcan bound.



Until then, you know how you can find me on Sabbath afternoons-- wearing the Sunday Pants. And if I actually let you catch a glimpse of me wearing them, you'll know that you and I are very good friends. 



--originally published 8/5/07

moving house

My parents are moving. They've lived for the last ten years in the same condo in Chicago, and in that time, their garage, always a scary place, has become so crammed full of cake pans and Christmas decorations that just walking into the place is sure to unleash a whole stream of invective from either of my parents.



The movers are coming next week, and for each of the last three or four weekends, my parents have spent long hours in the garage, trying to decide what they can purge from their lives. Last week they stumbled across a box containing all of my dad's report cards and yearbooks. They sat in the living room and laughed about his bad grades in conduct in first grade, and then returned the whole box to the "save" pile.



When it comes to my stuff, I've always been a "less is more" kind of girl. I'll pack two suitcases for our whole family of six to go on vacation for two weeks. I like my posessions, but I also think I'm pretty good at winnowing.



But when it comes to things I've written, it's a whole new story.



You see, I too am moving house. About two years ago, I started blogging. I went to blogger because it was free, but quickly left because it was plagued with problems. So I've been paying to blog at Typepad since January of 2006. In that time, my friends who stuck with blogger have gotten cool templates, added music, and formed a tight little circle with their fellow blogger neighbors, since you can click on their names in the blogger comments and go directly to their blogs. To get to my blog, you have to follow a convoluted path, or else remember the url, which is also not so easy.



So I've undertaken the (large) role of moving all 407 of my posts over to blogger. It's a big job, and sort of like my dad's report cards, even the silly posts are making the move with me.



I'll keep you posted. Once the archives are moved and the place looks good enough for company, I'll invite you over.



--originally published 8/4/07

the clean floor stage

We took the kids to the beach on Saturday. Maren, who is seven months now (I know, waaah!), loved crawling in the sand. She'd get up on all fours, rock back and forth, and take off towards the surf. But then she'd sit back up, fill her fists with sand, and stuff them in her mouth. Over and over, I'd take her into the water, rinse off her little hands, and set her back down. And within a minute or two, her mouth would be full of sand again. She didn't like the sand in her mouth, but she just couldn't resist putting her sandy hands in there, either.



Eddie and I were laughing, because she's got the hand-mouth motor skills down, but she's still lacking the thought process that tells her that she shouldn't. Sort of like me when there's peanut butter brownie trifle in the house.



Pretzels_003_2So we've entered the clean-floor stage of parenting. I'll freely admit that under normal circumstances, my floors are likely to be a mess. I'm much more likely to make beds or clean counters or scrub toilets than I am to sweep floors. And most of the time, it's not such a big deal. But right now, Maren looks like a dust-bunny half the time. Annie had a red-haired Annie wig from her halloween costume last year, and I'm finding red haired strands wrapped around Maren's fingers four or five times a day.



And so, for the next few months, until she gets over her oral fixation, I'll be sweeping and vacuuming and mopping the floor a lot more than usual. I'm sure the kids would say that getting a dog would be the best solution to the problem, since a dog would eat all of our food scraps and stray goldfish. But who needs a dog when you've got a Maren?



--originally published 8/2/07

Training Log: Week of July 30-August 4

Monday, July 30th-- 1 mi of hills, 45 minute spinning class



Tuesday, July 31st-- 4 miles-- 1/2 mi warmup, sprints (4x800, 1x400, with jogging in between, 1/2 mi cool-down



Wednesday, August 1st-- 1 mi warmup (8.2mph), 2 mi tempo run (8.6mph), 1 mi cooldown (8.2mph)



Thursday, August 2nd-- 1.25 mi hills run, spinning class



Friday, August 3rd-- 4.25 miles fartlek



Saturday, August 4th-- 11 miles in 1:20-- felt great!



--originally published 8/1/07

July-- a month in review

I'm baaaack! Lucy and Alissa noticed that I jumped back into the blogging world a couple of days before the end of the month (my book reviews were starting to scare me, so I wanted to get them back under control before I started up in full-force again). Anyway, since I've been gone for a month, I'll give you a quick(ish) recap of the month I missed. Unfortunately, I don't have many pictures. I had many picture-worthy moments, but not enough hands left over from chasing four kids to take any pictures.



I started out July by competing in my first triathlon on the first of the month. Maybe I was over-confident, but it kicked my butt. I came in second in my age group in the swim, first in my age group in the run, and dead last in the bike. Everyone in the whole darn race (kids included) passed me during the bike. The guy at the bike shop promises me that it's just a bad bike (the chain fell off twice during the race and I had to stand in three inches of water-- it was pouring too-- to put it back on). So I have another triathlon on my to-do list, but sometime after I can afford to buy a bike that's not the Target special.



On July 2nd, my mom arrived and we got ready for our big, bad zoo tour. We left early on the morning of July 3rd, and arrived in Nashville 15 long hours later. The kids were good in the car, but fifteen hours is still a very, very long time to be in the car. Especially when you lock your keys in the van during a lunch stop at Wendy's and have to wait for AAA to come unlock you (and jump-start the battery-- since the lights were on).



July 4th-- my mom and I decided at the last minute to compete in the Cadillac Firecracker 5K, hosted by the YMCA in Brentwood. I ran it in 21:24, which was second in my age group, and the 12th best women's time overall (there were more than 1000 entrants). After that, we went to a parade in my godmother's subdivision and went to see Ratatouille.



July 5th-- we left Annie behind with Annie (my godmother) and set off for Memphis at the crack of dawn. Well, not exactly the crack of dawn because my mom dragged me to a spinning class first, but you get the idea. The boys and I walked around the whole zoo (and were very pleased to see LiLi and YaYa, the giant pandas, strolling around instead of snoozing) while my mom and Maren went to the Williams-Sonoma outlet. After lunch, we drove to St. Louis and had dinner at Crown Candy Kitchen, one of my favorite places to eat from back when we lived there, and a great place to eat, as long as it's light out (it's in the 'hood).



On Friday, the 6th, my mom started the day at 5am at the YMCA, where she fell on her hip and came back to the hotel, thinking she had broken it (she had her hip replaced a couple of years ago). But she still threw me out the door to do my run (10K in Forest Park, and a nice running guy tried to pick me up-- if he only knew what kind of baggage I carry, he probably would have started running a little bit faster!). After I got back, we went to a medical supply store, bought my mom a set of crutches (she later found out the hip is just bruised), and spent the next 5 1/2 hours seeing every single animal at the St. Louis Zoo. We followed it up with a stop at Ted Drewes, where Bryce had the audacity to complain that it was so boring to eat ice cream there.



After a quick zoom through the Botanical Garden the next morning, we headed back to Nashville, where we spent the weekend, and returned to Houston on Monday the 9th.



On Friday the 13th, Eddie, the kids and I drove to Dallas, had dinner with his brother, and got a ride to the airport to fly to Utah (left the lights on in the van again, necessitating yet another jump start). Our niece, Natalie, was baptized on Saturday, we went to church on Sunday, and on Monday set off for Bryce Canyon. For two days we hiked (Eddie and I took the big kids on the Navajo Loop trail) and rode horses (well, Eddie and Bryce rode horses, I'm allergic). On Wednesday our entire family, baby and toddler included, hiked to the Y on the mountain in Provo. On Thursday, I snuck out and spent the weekend with lots and lots of online friends while Eddie managed the three big kids by himself. We flew home Sunday morning and drove back from Dallas that afternoon.



I've been digging out since then. We've had swimming lessons and art camps and a beach trip with Eddie's brother over the last two weeks. I've been deep-cleaning my house and contemplating running the Houston marathon and planning my grandparents' 60th anniversary in September. I also got a new battery for the car.



But things are good-- and we're back, for good this time. Our vacations are done for the summer and we have only 27 days to sweat it out until school starts again. I'll be making an effort to blog much more regularly and I'm adding my training logs to the blog too, mostly so I can look back and see what I've done.



Hope you're all having a great summer!



--originally published 8/1/07

Notice anything missing on my blog?

That's right, over to the left, on the sidebar. There are no books on my bedside table right now. I'm currently bookless. And I know I'm a reading addict, because it makes me feel all nervous and jittery that I don't have a book to read. I keep prowling around the house, picking up Newsweek and realizing I've already read everything that interests me, and looking for something to read that I haven't read before. Something other than E. L. Doctorow's March, which is the book I always try to read when I'm out of reading material, and I still haven't been able to get into it.



Eddie laughs at me because he says that when he finishes reading a book, he sets it down with a huge sigh of relief and feels accomplished. He studiously avoids finding another book to tie him down too quickly. I, on the other hand, treat my books like Linus treated his scruffy blue blanket-- I take one everywhere with me. They get toted around the house, around town in my purse, and even in the church bag if I think Gospel Doctrine will be boring (ok, so I'm kidding about that last one). As soon as I finish a book, I have to go to my pile and put my hands on the next one. Maybe it's an illness, but at least it's an educated sort of illness, right?



Anyway, I'm biding my time until the next slew of library reserves comes in (this afternoon, I hope), by reading the book Runner's World publishes for female runners. It's textbook dry and boring, but I think it might be convincing me that I need to run a marathon. Anyone want to be my running partner? We could talk books as we run.



--originally published 7/31/07

A casualty of the internet era

When I was a kid, I always equated August with school shopping. I loved going out with my mom, letting her dress me up like a little mini-Terry, and coming home with bags filled with tissue paper and clothes that would suit my abnormally large rib cage (as my mom always pointed out when we were shopping, setting me up for years of rib cage hate).



She probably didn't like the shopping experience as much as I did. Since there were three of us, it inevitably meant at least three trips for her, plus a lot of running around to get shoes and socks and backpacks and odds and ends before school started.



Now that I have kids, August still means school shopping. Of the point-and-click variety. Over the last few days, Annie and I have sat on the couch with my laptop and gotten her a whole bunch of school clothes (the school has a pretty strict dress code and she has been very worried that her clothes wouldn't be "cute enough" so I've been putting some good effort into finding things that are cute, but won't get her kicked out of school).



The first box, from Lands' End, arrived in the mail today. Out came four pairs of shoes and a couple of shirts. Within seconds, my three big kids were all running around the house in their new sneakers. It was so much easier (and cheaper, I think) than running all over tarnation with four kids in tow. I still have my sanity intact. Over the next few days, we're expecting boxes from LLBean and Old Navy, and voila, three kids will be outfitted for school.



But I always felt closest to my mom when we were out shopping. Me stepping on pins in the dressing room at Lord and Taylor, her searching for Liz Claiborne "mom jeans" in a size to fit a twelve year-old. I feel like I'm missing out with that with my own kids.



Missing out on it enough to actually take them shopping? To a real store? No freaking way.



--originally published 7/30/07

Book #38: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister: A Novel


Title: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister


Author: Gregory Maguire


Last year I read Wicked. I didn't like it much, even though I really wanted to. So I didn't have very high expectations going into reading Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is the author's reworking of the Cinderella story. One of the stepsisters tells the story of Elise (aka Cinderella), and how she came to be related to Iris and Ruth (aka the ugly stepsisters).


If you're familliar with Wicked, you can expect a similar expansion of the original fairy tale, except it seems to work better here. Maguire sets the story in a painter's house in Holland at the height of the tulip craze, and does his best here, as in Wicked, to sort of explain away the magical elements of the story. It's a fun, light book, reminiscent of The Girl with the Pearl Earring or The Girl in Hyacinth Blue. Could there possibly be a story about Holland in the 17th century where a painter is not prominent?


--originally published 7/30/07

Book #39: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)


Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Author: J.K. Rowling


I read, I loved, I cried and now I feel like I have to reread it immediately so I can remember all of the minute details that my kids ask me.


I feel like it ended in an immensely satisfying way. Rowling started out writing for kids and I felt like she stayed true to her audience by wrapping things up [spoiler alert] with Snape redeemed, two weddings, and a bunch of funerals (although none of the main, main characters). My kids cried when they found out that Hedwig and Dobby died, although they seemed to take the deaths of other characters, including Fred, Lupin, and Mad-Eye, with a grain of salt. Anyway, back to my main point-- Rowling wasn't trying to be groundbreaking in her ending. The series was Harry Potter, not the Sopranos, so I'm really glad that Harry only almost died instead of really died. Bryce, on the other hand, now feels the need to take over where Rowling left off. He's hard at work on book 8, titled Harry Potter and the Last Dementor, in which he brings Hedwig back to life and kills off anyone who Rowling managed to leave standing at the end of book 7. Stay tuned for a few years (until he gets his own computer and can actually do some writing without his sister butting in and begging for some time to play with her webkinz) and I'll be sure to review that one for you too.


--originally published 7/30/07

Book #37: Divisadero

Divisadero


Title: Divisadero


Author: Michael Ondaatje


If Seinfeld was the show about nothing, then Michael Ondaatje is the author who writes about nothing. Not nothing, exactly, in the sense that the characters seem to go through pretty horrifying challenges (burning in a plane and losing a fiance in The English Patient and having your father try to kill your boyfriend/adopted brother in Divisadero, for example). But other than the climactic moment of the attempted murder, not much happens in Divisadero, at least not in a linear fashion, with a resolution and all the stuff that readers of American novels come to expect (but Ondaatje lives in Canada, so maybe that's why).


Anyway, that's not to say I didn't like Divisadero. I did like it. I heard Ondaatje interviewed by Terry Gross a few months ago and she asked about why he chose to lump together (she didn't use that exact wording) what seemed to be several disparate stories, short stories even, into a single novel. Other than having characters who were somewhat related to each other, the stories seem almost entirely separate. The images, separate or related, will stay with me, even if I don't end up remembering how the stories did, or didn't jell together.


--originally published 7/30/07

Book #36: What You Wear Can Change Your Life

What You Wear Can Change Your Life


Title: What You Wear Can Change Your Life


Author: Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine


I must have missed the memo that dresses look great with pants worn underneath. And who knew that most women are not suited to wear black? Other than those few pieces of groundbreaking fashion advice, I wasn't all that surprised by the advice in What You Wear Can Change Your Life. Of course, I've been an avid watcher of the American version of the show for the last three or four years, so I'm all over the advice to wear color and wear things that suit your body and skin tones.


I was mostly impressed by two things in What You Wear Can Change Your Life-- first of all, that Constantine and Woodall model for the book themselves. Trinny is easy to hate-- she's supermodel skinny, but Susannah you've got to love-- she displays all of her real-woman body so we can learn from her mistakes and her successes. Secondly, they recommend holding a party with friends in which you bring clothes you like but don't suit you. You spend the evening trying on each others' clothes and trading around. Sounds like a party to me!


--originally published 7/30/07

Book #35: Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century

Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century


Title: Satan's Circus: Murder, Vice, Police Corruption, and New York's Trial of the Century


Author: Mike Dash


I must admit, I skimmed this book more than read it. It claims to be nonfiction that reads like fiction. But to me, this story of police corruption read more like, well, nonfiction. And coming from me, you probably know that's no high compliment. If you want nonfiction that reads like fiction, stick with Erik Larson.


--originally published 7/30/07

Book #34: I Feel Bad About my Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman


Title: I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman


Author: Nora Ephron


When I was a kid, I read all of the Anne of Green Gables books over a few weeks. When I started out, Anne was twelve years old, and just a few days later, she was the mother of teenagers. When I finished the last book, I cried and cried. Not because the book was sad, but because I felt like Anne had gone through her whole life span in what, for me, was just a few weeks.


Earlier this summer, I read Nora Ephron's Heartburn. In the novel, based very closely on the demise of her marriage to Carl Bernstein, she's a thirty-something woman about to give birth to her second child. In I Feel Bad About My Neck, she's a sixty-something woman whose children are all grown up, musing on botox and exercise and how often she should wash her hair.


Reading I Feel Bad About my Neck gave me the same feeling as I had when reading all of the Anne books so many years ago. In Heartburn, Ephron is my contemporary. In I Feel Bad About my Neck, she's my mother. She's funnier than my mother, but still, she's my mom's contemporary, not mine. I wouldn't call this "thoughts on being a woman" but rather, "thoughts on being a woman of a certain age." Still, she's riotously funny, and the book reads like a breeze.


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #32: On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach: A Novel


Title: On Chesil Beach


Author: Ian McEwan


Speaking of virgins on the wedding night (see my previous post), in Ian McEwan's new novella, On Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence are recent university graduates who find themselves on the afternoon of their wedding at an English seaside hotel. Thousands of generations of cultural history prepare us for what should, inevitably happen next-- the great deflowering. However, Florence, for all her love for Edward, is terrified, and, quite frankly, revolted at the prospect of having sex for the first time.


For several novels now, Ian McEwan has been one of my favorite modern authors. Atonement would probably be found on my top-ten list, and Eddie and I both devoured Saturday. In On Chesil Beach, he does a great job creating characters and through a series of flashbacks, taking us through Florence and Edward's courtship up to the point that they sit on the bed in their hotel room, trying to summon up the courage to take their relationship to the next level (notice the Bachelor allusion there?).


Anyway, I loved the insight into the characters, especially Florence's character. A few months ago I read a novel (one of the book club novels, can't remember the title) that criticized McEwan for not creating believable female characters. I think Florence is a believable character. An ex-family member, in fact, reminds me a lot of her. But I'm glad to say, that even if a woman waits until her wedding night to get busy, most women do not feel the same sense of visceral revulsion that Florence does. At least not in my vast experience with the subject.





--originally published 7/29/07

Book #33: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life


Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life


Author: Barbara Kingsolver


I think that reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has cured me of my recent obsession with food-related literature (either that or I started eating again after my diet ended and real food took the place of just reading about food). Whatever the reason, Kingsolver simultaneously inspired me and made me feel like a total loser.


In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Kingsolver (along with her husband and older daughter) recounts the year that she and her family resolved to live off the land. For one year, they (with relatively small exception) consumed no food that originated more than 100 miles from their homes. Sometimes that meant that they ate a lot of asparagus and in the summer, they were overwhelmed by zucchini.


Kingsolver's book really made me think about the food I consume. I try to buy produce that comes from Texas, but at Target, where I do most of my grocery shopping, virtually all of the vegetables, including the green onions and the bell peppers, come shrinkwrapped from afar (the pepper I ate yesterday came from Canada!?!?). But I rarely think about whether the food I eat is in season. I do recognize that strawberries in June are cheaper and tastier than berries bought in January, but that doesn't mean that I don't buy berries in January.



But Kingsolver really knows how to lay on the guilt. Thick. She tells the story of how her daughter had a friend visiting and when they were at the grocery store the friend wanted a bunch of bananas. Instead of buying the bananas, Kingsolver explained to the girl the cost to the environment (in terms of jet fuel and transportation) of the bananas. Talk about laying it on!


Anyway, I appreciated Kingsolver's book. I'm looking into subscribing to a CSA. I'll try to hit the farmer's market more often. But I'm still eating my bananas. I guess that here in the tropics, bananas are local anyway.


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #31: Fear of Flying

Fear of Flying


Title: Fear of Flying


Author: Erica Jong


Isadora Wing, a writer who is about to enter the fourth decade of her life, attends a conference in Vienna with her psychiatrist husband. She meets another man (also a psychiatrist). She has sex with that man. She and the new guy leave her husband to go on a consciousness-raising journey throughout Europe, and Isadora has to decide whether or not she will return to her husband when the journey ends.


In my life as a reader, I've heard a lot about Fear of Flying. I've heard that it was a seminal work for many reasons-- that it allowed female characters more sexual freedom (could Carrie Bradshaw exist without Isadora Wing paving the way a generation earlier?), that allowed a reader to accept a delightfully screwed up protagonist (could Becky Bloomwood exist without Isadora Wing paving the way a generation earlier?).


Fear of Flying was loads of fun. And, for a buttoned-up girl who was a virgin on her wedding night, quite an education for me. I did get tired of all of the psychoanalytic mumbo-jumbo of the conference after a while, but doesn't it always seem like the people who put the most stock in psychoanalysis are the ones who are the most screwed up? Are they screwed up to start with and the psychoanalysis helps or does the psychoanalysis actually screw them up? With these bed hopping psychiatrists and psychologists, it's very hard to say. Yeah, Isadora's screwed up, but she makes being screwed up seem sort of fun.


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #30: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Kitchen Confidential Updated Ed: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (P.S.)


Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly


Author: Anthony Bourdain


Anthony Bourdain, chef at Les Halles (a French bistro) in New York City, has worked in the business for more than half of his hard-lived life. As a result, he knows the ins and outs of the New York culinary scene like no one else. Reading Kitchen Confidential is a little bit like reading Star magazine, but instead of the exploits of Britney and LiLo, Bourdain gives us the dirt on the city's chefs.


But since the only thing I like better than a bubble bath and a night with a dampening Star magazine is a good memoir, Bourdain doesn't fail to deliver that either. He gives us a warts-and-all portrayal of his own rise and fall and rebirth as a chef in the city. He made me excited about roasted chicken, eager to try out sushi, and even convinced me to sharpen my knives. I also put several of his other books on my to-read list (including his kitchen-based murder mysteries, one of which was based on his real-life experience working in a kitchen owned by mobsters).


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #29: Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Cooking

Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food


Title: Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Cooking


Authors: Jane and Michael Stern


Continuing with my self-designed American Studies seminar course on books dealing with American eating habits, I felt like I couldn't ignore Jane and Michael Stern, who I grew to love when I lived in Minnesota and regularly listened to Lynn Rosetto Kasper's program, The Splendid Table, every Saturday on NPR (I still miss my NPR!). Anyway, Jane and Michael have been traveling around the US since the early 1970s, just after they both finished graduate school at Yale, in search of the best places to eat across the country.


For me, someone who looks for the next McDonalds on the interstate as soon as the tummies in my minivan start rumbling (on account of my picky eating children and the predictibility of food served at the golden arches, not due to my own preferences for McDonalds french fries), it was fun to read about people who'd never stray into a McD's on the road. In some ways, it made me nostalgic for a time when I'm able to travel the country at a leisurely pace, without having to take into consideration breaks for nursing, potty training toddlers, zoos, or carsick preschoolers (is it still nostalgia if you've never experienced that condition?).


Anyway, I read Two for the Road shortly before my mom and I took my four kids on a trip to Nashville (15 hours from home), Memphis (3 1/2 hours from Nashville), St. Louis (5 hours from Memphis), back to Nashville (5 1/2 hours from St. Louis) and back home. Yep, that's 44 hours in the car, over seven days, with four children ages seven and under, and two adults, one of whom (not me) spent more than half of the trip on crutches. When we were driving through Texarkana, TX on day 7 of the trip, we passed Bryce's Cafeteria, one of the locations the Sterns raved over. We considered stopping. But guess where we ate instead? Yep-- we shared some Happy Meals with Ronald. Good times.


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #28: The Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns


Title: The Thousand Splendid Suns


Author: Khaled Hosseini


If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've probably heard me wax rhapsodic about Khaled Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner (usually in conjunction with how people in my book group are always too squeamish to read it). Anyway, I had really, really high expectations for The Thousand Splendid Suns. I've been waiting to read it ever since I saw Hosseini give a talk on Book TV two years ago, in which he talked about how he was writing a new novel about Afghan women.


So I had unrealistically high expectations when it came to reading The Thousand Splendid Suns.


And I'm pleased to say, that those expectations were met. Exceeded even. Yes, as Eddie pointed out, the first fifty pages of the novel were pretty slow. And yes, it's hard for those of us who live easy lives in America to fathom the kind of suffering that Hosseini's Afghan women go through. But even if most people don't suffer to the degree that Laila and Mariam do (and I hope they don't), very few people have the gift with words that Hosseini does.


I read the book in a 24-hour span. I usually only do that with fluffy Harlan Coben or Shopaholic novels. But I totally immersed myself in Laila and Mariam's world, and emerged, sobbing, the next day.


If you haven't read it yet, and it's on your list-- don't wait. I got this book from the library, and I'm still planning to buy it in hardcover-- it's just one of those books that I want to have in my personal collection.


--originally published 7/29/07

Book #27: Absurdistan

Absurdistan: A Novel


Title: Absurdistan


Author: Gary Shteyngart


Ok, this book is weird. I mean, really weird. It's about the morbidly obese son of a Russian mafioso, living in New York with his Latina girlfriend, who gets stuck in Eastern Europe after his dad kills some high-ranking diplomat (or something, it's been awhile since I read the book). Anyway, Mischa pines for his lover and tries to find a way out of St. Petersburg, eventually ending up in the fictional post-soviet state of Absurdistan, where he becomes a government official after the existing government gets overthrown. Throughout the book, he sings bad rap songs, sends dirty emails to his girlfriend, and samples the delights of all females (including his stepmother) and cuisines available to him.


It was a fun read, but seriously, such a weird ride. I love the visual imagery of a huge white Russian dude rapping, though.


--originally published 7/29/07

Summer break

When I was in college, I spent a summer in French-speaking Belgium, where I learned that basically all of Francophone Europe takes a month of summer off from work to sit on the beach and bake. I know I haven't been around all that much in the last month, but I am taking July as my French-inspired month-long break from blogging. I'm leaving on Tuesday for a week-long zoo tour, and we'll be back for just a couple of days before going to Utah for a 10-day trip. By the time I get back and crawl out from underneath the laundry, July will be mostly done. And when July is over, there will only be 26 days of summer left until I can send the kids back to school. I may survive this summer in Texas, after all.



--originally published 7/1/07

I totally didn't mean to publish that last post

I was writing on Sunday night and had been interrupted about a million times. I didn't even have my thoughts organized yet. I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to publish what I wrote. The more I think about it, I know nothing about sports, aside from some random facts that have slipped into my subconscious after 15 years of watching Sports Center against my will. Anyway, I came on today to find out how far behind I had fallen in my book reviews (four books) and imagine my surprise when it was up there. I guess that Eddie hit publish the other night as he was turning off the laptop. Thanks, to the commenters, for not calling me an idiot. Because that post sure reads like I'm an idiot.



In other news, my parents are moving to rural Minnesota and bought a house up there last week. School has been out for almost a month and all four of my children are still alive. Maren is sitting and starting to crawl. I'm doing my first sprint triathlon next weekend. We'll be gone on our zoo tour of the midwest for a week in July, followed up by 10 days in Utah. We'd stay longer, but my in-laws are remodeling and apparently don't want us. Isaac is potty-trained (mostly), and the mostly is adding to the reason why my in-laws don't want us around any longer. Life is pretty decent-- at least it's as good as it gets in the summer around here. I'm hot-- what can I say?



--originally published 6/22/07