Saturday, June 26, 2010

Segullah Writer's Retreat Exercise-- Sunglasses

I was one of five presenters on the blogging panel at the Segullah Writer's Retreat this weekend,. To close the panel, the fantastic Heather O gave us an assignment to write for 8 minutes on an assigned topic. The topic was sunglasses, and here's my finished product. When I came home, I took five minutes to write this intro, fix typos, and finish it up. 

They told me that I could bring my own sunglasses, but of course, I forgot. So I left the doctor's office, squinting, bleary-eyed, holding my hands out in front of me for balance, with enormous black plastic sunglasses-- you know the ones I'm talking about-- the ones that look like something Keanu Reeves might wear in the Matrix, if Keanu Reeves were someone's great-grandpa. I'd done the Lasik without the drugs, since the nursed asked me if "I thought I'd need something to calm me down" and I didn't want to appear to be a wimp. Instead of being blissed out during the procedure, the doctor talked about how all of the Mormon women at the ward parties he goes to are happy because of Ativan, and I should drop my uptight East Coast ways and join the party.

By the time I got home, I could (sort of) see, but I kept the glasses on, tried to nap, and between the hour of 3 and 4 watched Oprah get progressively clearer on the television. I took the glasses off. Too bright. Back on, eyes hidden in darkness, I could make cranky faces at the kids without them knowing, roll my eyes at my husband's dumb comments over dinner and he was none the wiser. Yeah, I looked kind of dumb, but the anonymity was empowering. If I had taken the drugs, I could have said it was the drugs speaking, but I was drug-free and felt pretty cool.

I wore the glasses on and off for the next few days-- when I was out running in the dark (which just made the January morning seem that much darker) for a parent-teacher conference with my fourth-grader's teacher. I liked how light the glasses were, how comfortable they felt for running, and even sort of reveled in the uncool coolness of them, but gradually they made their way to the bottom of my purse. A few days ago, I reached into my bag for my cute glasses, and out came the free pair from the opthamologist. I had forgotten about them, just as I quickly forgot to buy saline solution for Eddie and got used to being able to see perfectly the moment I woke up. Even though they were slightly crumpled and sat askew on my nose, I put them on anyway, remembering the comforting anonymity of those days when I need them not only to help my corneas repair, but also to help me adjust to the happy newness of being able to see.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Girls' Weekend Out

Every June I get together with some of my best friends for a girls' weekend. When most people think girls' weekend, they think good food, sleeping in, shopping, and hanging out by the pool.

We'll be eating out of the back of the van and running in the middle of the night. In a couple of hours, I'm off to run the Wasatch Back relay, a crazy race of about 190 miles, from Logan to Park City and all spots in between on the east side of the Wasatch. I love this race. It's the third year I've run it, and while I was pretty sure I'd never walk again after the first year, I always come back for more.

Are you running too? I'll keep an eye out for you. I'm runner 9 (my first time in van 2!), which means I get to do the first half of the big mountain climb, which we're scheduled to hit around high noon tomorrow. Sounds like the perfect girls' weekend to me!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


A year ago, I stood shivering on my front steps, wearing my Boston Marathon sweatshirt and running shorts, as the contents of our lives were unloaded into the house. It was a new experience in many ways-- we were in a place I'd never lived before, starting Eddie's first real job, and for the first time in our married lives, we weren't the ones carrying the boxes! I relished the cold weather after losing my shivering impulses during our four years in Houston, and kept looking up at the mountain to the east of our house with such a sense of wonder. It was the kind of day where I felt like I needed to pinch myself-- I couldn't believe it was finally here; the end of school, the new house in the foothills, the life near family we'd missed so much.

During the first month, that "pinch me" feeling never really left. I loved the way that everything seemed to be in such sharp focus. I loved the deep, rich greens of the mountains around me, I ran past yards and felt for the first time in my life an almost insatiable urge to garden (thus far suppressed, I'm afraid). I couldn't believe how welcoming my neighbors and my ward were. My kids were making friends, Eddie was happy in his job, and I kept waking up thinking, "I never want to stop feeling grateful for the blessing of being here."

And that's a lot coming from me, the Yankee from Connecticut who swore for years that she'd never live in Utah.

This spring, the gardens are just as beautiful as last, the green of the mountains just as soothing, my favorite running trail up the canyon just as magical, but I feel like it's because I'm making a conscious effort to keep it that way. Last year, I woke up suffused with the feeling of gratitude; this year I remind myself to be grateful. It's not as effortless, but no less genuine.

Book #73: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestTitle: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Author: Stieg Larsson

When we last saw triple murder suspect Lisbeth Salander at the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, she had been shot in the shoulder and the head while trying to kill her father and buried in a whole in the ground, near a bunch of dead people. Her friend/erstwhile lover/nemesis/protector Mikael Blomkvist, arrived on the scene just in time to call in the police and wrestle to the ground Lisbeth's half-brother, a giant who can feel no pain. So the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire was a cliffhanger, set up to segue right into The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the final book in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy. If The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was Back to the Future, sort of a stand-alone story, then The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could be considered Back to the Future II and III, a single very long story divided into two parts for the sake of giving people a break from the intensity (and charging them twice).

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest starts off an hour or two after the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, with Lisbeth undergoing life-saving brain surgery. She remains under guard, in seclusion in a hospital for most of the novel, while she and Mikael and Erika Berger and a host of other familiar faces go about the task of restoring Lisbeth's basic human rights and bringing down hidden, evil elements within and without the Swedish government. It's extremely complicated, and unless you've read the first two books, probably won't make a heck of a lot of sense, so let's just leave the plot there. One of the things I find most interesting (and sometimes frustrating) about the Millennium books is the way that they're almost entirely unedited (presumably because Larsson died right after delivering them to a publisher) and they show a certain rawness (he describes, for example, exactly what everyone is wearing-- and it's always black pants, a white shirt, and a dark jacket of some sort-- is that a uniform in Sweden or something?).

While I'd ordinarily feel gypped with a single story that spans two novels, I really think it works here. I listened to the book on my iPod, and I was sufficiently gripped by the story to keep listening even when I wasn't driving or doing laundry, and I found the end to be satisfying both intellectually and emotionally. Now I'm just sad that there aren't going to be any more Salander books.

Book #72: The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden: A NovelTitle: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton

How would you react if you found out that someone you knew and loved wasn't who you thought they were? After Cassandra's grandmother Nell dies, Cassandra discovers that Nell wasn't the Australian-born woman she always thought she was, but rather a woman whose childhood was a mystery. Cassandra takes on the task of unraveling the mystery of her grandmother's origins, and in the process, starts fully living her own life again after a decade of mourning the accidental deaths of her husband and son.

Morton does a wonderful job tackling shifting perspectives. The story is told from the point of view of at least three characters (Nell, Cassandra, and the mysterious Authoress, Eliza), and spans more than 100 years. While sometimes I felt a little bit let down at having to leave Eliza's story to hear more about Cassandra, I prefer to think that's because all three stories were engrossing, not because the point of view shifts were jarring. The characters were also well-drawn-- prickly and mysterious enough to make you want to know more about them, but not such jerks that you don't care about their lives. My main criticism of the novel is that I thought the main mystery of the story was pretty darn transparent and I couldn't believe how dense all of the characters were not to be able to figure out the secret of Nell's origins. But then again, I also knew from the second scene in Glee last night that the Vocal Adrenaline coach was going to adopt Quinn's baby. What can I say, I have a second sense about these things.

Writing conventions aside, the thing that kept me most interested in The Forgotten Garden is the way Morton explores secret family relationships. We had a similar disclosure about my great-grandmother after she died 10 years ago (although my grandma, unlike Nell, perpetrated the story herself), and I've always though that it would be great fodder for writing. It turns out that Madden's story was inspired by a similar case within her own family.

Book #71: Dispensation

Dispensation: Latter-Day FictionTitle: Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction
Editor: Angela Hallstrom

I like to think I know what I enjoy reading. I like stories that are artful, thought-provoking, challenging. I like stories about faith and inner struggles. I like stories that give me insight into the culture from which they derive. I like stories that are readable. Most of all, though, I like novels. I'm a binge reader (you're not surprised by that if you've read the blog for long) and I want a story that I want to keep coming back to, one that will go with me from the carpool line to the doctor's waiting room, to the kitchen counter while I chop vegetables, to my bed at the end of the night. As a result, I read a lot more novels than short stories. In fact, I've probably been known to say that I don't really like short stories.

But I do like Dispensation. And it's not because Angela Hallstrom, the collection's editor, is a friend. It's because even though it's a collection of short stories, which forces my novel-loving brain to switch gears, reset, and reboot when I finish one and start another (I still read the book as if it were a novel, one after the other after the other), Dispensation is, at its heart, a collection that contains all of the other stuff I talked about up there when I talked about what I like. I love that there are great short stories coming out of my culture, my people (literally-- some of these people are professors, colleagues, friends), that the Jewish synagogue down the street is mentioned in one story, that the exact route I run in the Avenues when I want to hit the hills so hard that I'm afraid I'll throw up by the time I'm done is referenced in another, while a third takes place in the back garden of a house in South Africa.

What I liked most about Dispensation is that while the stories come out of a Mormon faith and a Mormon culture, they exemplify the idea that there are lots of ways to be a Mormon in this world. I had no problem seeing the characters in these stories as the people I see next to me on the pews of my ward building on Sunday, looking clean-scrubbed and generic, giving the right answers in Sunday School, but still having rich and complicated lives. I felt this most profoundly with Margaret Young's "Zoo Sounds," where a bishop's wife mourns for her son who is in jail, and with Helen Walker Jones's "Voluptuous" where the protagonist, a teenage girl, could be one of the faces in my Sunday School class.

While there were individual stories I didn't love, those few stories are far outweighed by really great ones. I was particularly impressed with the stories by women. In addition to the stories by Jones and Young, I was very moved by "Obbligato" by Lisa Madsen Rubilar, "White Shell" by Arianne Cope  and "Clothing Esther" by Lisa Torcasso Downing. There are just too many good stories to name each one.

Friday, June 4, 2010

This is what procrastination looks like...

I should be writing a paper. It's a big one, and I haven't done serious research in more than a decade. So I'm feeling way in over my head. I don't even know how to do a journal search any more! With not much on my schedule this morning, I should have been researching, winnowing, outlining. Instead, I did this:
It will look better once I get a couple more frames. And once Maren gets old enough to paint or draw her quota. For now, it will do, empty frames and all.

As for me, I'll be folding the laundry. Even folding laundry is better than writing research papers. I also noticed that my windows really need cleaning.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Book #70: The Big Short

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineTitle: The Big Short
Author: Michael Lewis

If you know Michael Lewis only from the movie based on his book The Blind Side, you may be surprised that he has chosen, in his latest book, to tackle the complicated issue of how Wall Street behaved recklessly in the years leading up to the most recent financial crisis, and how those who bet against the housing market made millions as the country's economic system went into free fall. If you know Michael Lewis from Moneyball or Liar's Poker, you're probably not surprised that he's come back to people who use statistics and educated guesses to their financial benefit.

Two years ago, I never would have considered reading The Big Short, If I had picked it up by accident, all of the talk about CDOs and Credit Default Swaps and FICO scores and tranches would have had me dropping the book like a hot potato. I credit two years of running while listening to the Money Honeys of the Planet Money podcast for giving the book some context. I think that if you're not an active investor or a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal, The Big Short might be a challenging read. Annie asked me what it was about, and it took me an hour to explain it to her, starting with a definition of what a mortgage was, which is just about all I knew when I started listening to Planet Money.

Lewis does a good job explaining all of the technical stuff in The Big Short, but the strength of the book is in the three or four characters he follows, all of whom noticed that as creditors loaned more and more money to less and less suitable borrowers, the likelihood that those borrowers would eventually default on their loans rose, and if housing prices hit a downturn, investors could make lots and lots of money by buying mortgage-backed securities at reduced rates and insurance policies for the full-market value. When borrowers defaulted, these investors would cash in their insurance policies and be rich. Lewis follows a guy with Aspergers who quit his neurology residency to advise people to invest in his hedge fund (and shows them breathing down his neck when they investment didn't pay off as quickly as they'd hoped), a couple of guys working within the Wall Street establishment, and a few guys working out of a garage in Berkeley. Continuing in the vein he started with Liar's Poker, Lewis continues to show that investors on Wall Street are (in general) greedy, stupid, and overconfident, and will almost always choose to make money for their companies instead of their clients (after all, the company pays the big bonus).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


This morning, this arrived:

So these got moved down here:

And now I have a vision of what I want to put on this wall (I'm going to go through my kids' memory bins and cull artwork-- then frame it and slap it up there):
 (I did not fold the blanket like that). Wow, that wall needs something, doesn't it?

But I still get overwhelmed thinking about what to do with all of this:

This was on the truck too (because who wants a boring tan recliner when you can have a hot lime green one?):
(whoops, I missed the tags).

The boring tan recliner from the bedroom and the blastedly uncomfortable love seat from the playroom were shifted to the treadmill room (you'll be glad to know I'm not running in an empty room anymore-- although there's still nothing to look at in the running cave):

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Memorial Day

As a parent, I tend to overindulge. Their wish is my command. If they want to go see a new movie on the day it comes out, we're there. If they beg loudly enough for a toy, they usually get it. It's not something I'm proud of, but I'm being honest here. I'm good at going overboard and not good at saying no.

This weekend we didn't have much planned. Eddie's parents were out of town and his sister was getting her kids ready to go to camp, so unlike most of the people crowing Smith's yesterday morning, we didn't have an agenda. I bought a pack of hot dogs and the fixings for s'mores, and figured that we could use the wood that's been sitting in our garage all winter and have a little backyard cookout.

We thought about taking the kids to see Shrek, but ended up instead at Liberty Park, where we walked around the aviary for an hour. When we got home, Eddie built the fire, and we started roasting. We dragged chairs into the backyard from all over the house, dug some paper plates out of the bottom of our plate bin, and started cooking. It wasn't a pretty party or a fancy party, or even much of a party at all. But Maren had this look of complete bliss on her face, and she kept saying, "Thanks for making us a fire, Dad." The kids burned marshmallows and stuffed their faces and didn't fight. With four little kids, it seems like someone is always unhappy, but yesterday, for at least an hour, we found the ever-elusive "Love at Home." I would have taken a picture, but running for the camera was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment, and happiness doesn't always look like much of anything, just a bunch of mismatched chairs, half-eaten hot dogs, and sticky smiles.