Thursday, May 31, 2012

Book Review: The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

Title: The Memory of Running
Author: Ron McLarty
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 67

If you put the word "running" in the title of your book, it pretty much guarantees that I'm going to want to buy it. However, I can't tell you how many times I've bought a book thinking it was actually going to be about running, only to find that there's no actual running in the book. That's what happens in Ron McLarty's novel The Memory of Running, in which there is plenty of bike riding, but little to no running.

When you read this review, please keep in mind that some of my favorite books are those that meander. I don't mind a book that takes several hundred pages and has lots of what seem to be extraneous details, especially if those details come together in the end. I don't mind a cheesy ending if I've learned to fall in love with and cheer for the characters during the journey. And The Memory of Running is a meandering journey-- Smithy Ide starts out the book in East Providence, RI, where he's lived all but a few months of his life. He doesn't exactly live in his parents' basement-- but pretty close. He works the same job in the factory that hired him twenty years earlier, still vacations with his parents, drinks and smokes too much, has never had a real girlfriend, and weighs 279 pounds. When his parents are killed in a car accident and Smithy returns to his home to find that his mentally ill sister's body has been identified in Los Angeles, he takes off on the Raleigh Cruiser bike he rode as a young boy and starts the ride of his life.

At first, Smithy is out of shape and down on his luck, and people keep mistaking him for a homeless person, but as he rides towards Los Angeles, where he will claim his beloved sister's body, he gains strength, both literal and figurative. His weight loss seems almost incidental to the fact that for the first time in his life, he's getting to know himself, processing what Bethany's illness did to their entire family, and maybe even learning to let his guard down enough to love someone else.

McLarty tells a great story, and I found myself really rooting for Smithy. And yes, even though I could have predicted the ending by page 20, I did cry when we all finally got there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's not only the kids who do it...

Today I got my hair cut, and since I felt so fabulous afterwards, I stopped at Zupas to grab a sandwich (and, truth be told, a seven-layer bar). Rose had fallen asleep in the two blocks from the hair salon to the sandwich place, but I carried her in anyway, snuggled up on my shoulder (four hours later she's still asleep-- should I be worried? Maybe, but I've been so productive!). I realized when I was waiting to pay that I had to go to the bathroom, so I paid for my sandwich shuffled down the hall with my bag in one hand and my baby in the other, went into the single stall, locked it, and sat down.

And the knocking started.

I said, "I'll be out in a second."

It took more than a second (Isaac and I shared a blender full of protein shake for breakfast).

They knocked again.

"Just a minute."

They rattled the door.

"I'm in here!"

Then I heard a key in the lock, and the door opened.

"Oh," said the worker, without a trace of shame. "I thought it was locked by accident."

"I called out three times," I whispered as loud as I could, not wanting Rose to be a witness to my shame.

"It's way too loud out here to hear anyone in there."

Well, I hope the old lady who couldn't wait thirty seconds got to pee in peace. If I wanted to be walked in on in the bathroom, I should have held it until I got home.

Not the Queen of the Snappy Comeback

About a week and a half ago, I ran the Ogden Marathon. I used to blog all about my races, but race reports are boring. I will say that the race was awesome-- it wasn't my best time ever, but it was probably the best runner's high I've ever had. I want to run Ogden every year until I can't creak my way down the canyon anymore. Anyway, after I run a marathon, my feet are always a mess. I'm not much of a girly girl, but I have starting indulging in a pedicure after a marathon.

So last Thursday, Rose and I hobbled over to the salon around the corner. I slid into the massage chair, eased my feet into the warm water, and planned to spend the next half hour making silly faces at Rose while the Asian nail tech worked on my feet. I've had a few pedicures at this salon before, and the nail woman has never struck up a conversation with me. To be honest, I wasn't all that sure she spoke English-- she usually points to the posted menu of options and gestures for me to point to what I want.

A few minutes later, another patron in the salon walked over, cooed at Rose (no one can resist cooing over Rose) and asked me how long I'd had her. I answered the woman, and the following conversation ensued:

Nail Tech: That's your baby?
Me: Yep. We brought her home from China two months ago.
NT: China? I heard it's very expensive to adopt from China.
Me: (some sort of noncommittal grunt)
NT: How much did you pay for her?

Now what do you say to that? Remember, this is someone whose English is limited (although apparently not as limited as I thought). Do I answer her question based on how much the adoption cost? But it makes her sound like a commodity, not a baby, and what we paid for was a service-- the processing of fees from both governments and the adoption agency, as well as her care for the year she was in the SWI. We didn't pay anything for her, but the adoption did cost money. Do I tell the woman, who was then wielding a pair of scissors as she trimmed my cuticles, that it's none of her business? Because really, it's not, right? I have told friends and family what our adoption expenses were, and they were sizeable, but referring to it as "paying for a baby" sounds awful, so I chalked it up to the fact that her English might not be good enough to understand all the nuances, and cited nice, round number, picked up a People magazine, and started pointing out pictures of Drew Barrymore and Princess Kate to Rose, who decided she wanted to eat the pages.

But the nail tech was undeterred. After picking her jaw up off the floor, she continued:

NT: I read in a magazine that for like $150 you can get her mouth fixed.
Me: There are lots of US charities where doctors volunteer to do surgeries for kids in countries where they might not get them otherwise.
NT: Did you pay $150 for her surgery?

Do I actually tell her how much it cost? Because even with insurance, it was a lot more than $150, and completely worth every penny, all hundreds of thousands of them. Do I say that there won't just be one, but at least half a dozen additional surgeries in Rose's future? I'm torn-- because on one hand I recognize that the tech's interest is genuine, and I love talking about adoption, but between the insensitive questions and my worry that any response I try to give is going to be misunderstood because of our language barrier, I just said that our insurance was paying for it and left it at that.

Rose was grabbing for the remote and happily bouncing along to the motions of the massage chair at that moment, blissfully oblivious to the conversation going on around her. But she won't always be. While the vast majority of our interactions with curious strangers have been positive since we've brought Rose home, I know we'll have lots more conversations like these in our future. And honestly, I'm not sure how to handle them. The pleaser in me wants to give the stranger what they want to know, but I also have my daughter to protect and empower, and sometimes I won't be able to please the stranger without putting Rose in an awkward position. I knew I'd face these kinds of challenges, and I was great with thinking up snappy comebacks when I was enduring all of those months of waiting for Rose, but now that she's here, they don't come to me so quickly. I just hope she can muddle through with me and not hold it against me too much when I murmur a number and stare at my shiny pink toes.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May Madness

It's 2pm, and Rose is snoozing away in her crib. I keep checking my watch, since Isaac's first-grade music performance starts in 20 minutes. I figure I can give her seven or eight minutes of shuteye before I have to cruelly wake her up to take her to that performance, then to Maren's school for a quick pick up, then to Annie's school for the last few minutes of her orchestra concert. We'll come home, grab a bottle, then get back in the car to drop Annie off at dance, then we'll be headed to Bryce's class play, followed by another swing down to the dance studio, and then bed, after a round of celebratory milkshakes at Shivers. And tonight is a relatively easy night-- we opted out of Bryce's guitar lesson and have said no to playdates. You should look at our schedule on Tuesdays.

Anyway, with these last few weeks of school winding down, Rose and I find ourselves on every invite list-- sixth-grade dance, preschool graduation, fifth-grade play, and she's gotten more culture in the form of listening to kids bang out Yankee Doodle on the clarinet and dance to "Rainbow Connection" than she ever could have imagined during the year she spent in relative isolation in China. Sometimes I worry that she's traded living in her back on a crib to facing backwards in the car seat, but she doesn't seem to mind too much.

I used to think that December was the craziest month of the year, but since I've had four kids in school, I've revised my opinion-- it's definitely May, when everyone has to celebrate every accomplishment in school, music, dance, scouts, swimming, etc... I guess the upside to this month of concerts and plays is that Rose has gotten to see absolutely every activity she could conceivably be interested in participating in once she gets old enough to walk and talk and hold a musical instrument.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fitness Helps Cancer Patients by guest blogger David Haas

Fitness Helps Cancer Patients

Receiving a difficult diagnosis like cancer is a life-altering experience that can easily lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression. Fortunately, there are things cancer patients can be doing on their own that counter those commonly-seen negatives. Research is showing that physical fitness through regular exercise can significantly improve the quality of life of cancer patients by increasing energy levels, boosting their immune system, and raising spirits.

Exercise Increases Energy

Getting physical exercise may seen unappealing until you consider its many benefits. Cancer treatment can be very demanding and draining on the body. Feelings of fatigue are very common among cancer patients. Exercise increases energy through its ability to raise your body's metabolic rate. This can give you more energy and help you lose any excess weight you may be carrying around.

Not only does exercise increase metabolism, but the effects are seen hours after your initial workout. Hours later you will still have a higher than normal metabolism, with more energy coming your way, and more fat loss. If you are doing resistance training like weight lifting, you will also be building muscle, which can counter the muscle-wasting effect seen in some forms of cancer.

Immune System Effects

Exercise has also been shown to increase the effectiveness and activity of the immune system. Even though you may be getting treatment for cancer, like mesothelioma treatment, it will be your own body's immune system that will ultimately defeat the cancer. Exercise increases the activity of the body's natural killer T-cells that scavenge your body for foreign invaders like cancer cells. Exercise invigorates the body and puts it on a "war footing" to fight any pathogens in your body.

Exercise Lifts Spirits

Another great benefit to exercising is the way that it can alleviate feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Exercise promotes endorphin release. These powerful chemicals are the body's own form of painkillers. They alleviate pain, promoting feelings of calm and security. The effects also linger long after the exercise is over. Some cancer patients have been able to cut back on their pain medication when the "endorphin effect" is seen.

Cancer Patients Urged to Exercise

Recently, the American Cancer Society issued new guidelines urging oncologists to discuss healthy eating and exercise with their cancer patients. Currently, most doctors focus on killing the cancer through radiation and chemotherapy, at the omission of natural healing.

Officials at the American Cancer Society have been recommending such an approach for years, but not until recently has the evidence become so overwhelming that they felt compelled to issue such a strong statement.

Since 2007, over 100 studies have been conducted among cancer survivors, showing that physical fitness and healthy diets are associated with lower rates of cancer recurrence and longer survival.

If you are considering exercising, it is important that you consult with your health care provider to ensure that you find an exercise routine appropriate for your condition.

David Haas is a cancer support group and awareness program advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. In addition to researching the many valuable programs available to our site’s visitors, David often blogs about programs and campaigns underway at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, as well as creative fitness ideas for those dealing with cancer, while creating relationships with similar organizations.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pocket Full of Kryptonite

I think we've already established the fact that Rose is a superbaby. The progress she's made in the last two months is so impressive, it won't be long before she's off and running, leaping tall buildings in a single bound. And just look at that face. It's adorable, right?

Now look closer. First of all, you might notice that she no longer has her evil nasal stent, Rose's most recent nemesis. When we took it out last Wednesday, bits and pieces of everything she had eaten or drunk since the surgery came rushing out with it. It was both incredibly disgusting and a little bit thrilling.

Anyway, you might think that with the nasal stents gone and Rose's pretty little face healing beautifully, all would be peaceful here in our fair city. But just like Achilles had his heel, Superman had Kryptonite, and Metroman had copper, Rose's weakness is soft, white, and made by Kimberly-Clark. That's right-- our girl crumples at the sight of Kleenex. Or rather, she bucks, fights, squirms and completely loses it as soon as she sees me heading toward the innocuous-looking blue box on our kitchen counter.

I don't need a cape- my runny nose is my best accessory
Unfortunately, with a partially open palate, Rose really needs Kleenex. Everything she eats and drinks escapes through her nose. She's been very partial to the Kellogg's cereal bars lately, you know the ones filled with strawberry jam? Consequently, her nose always looks like it's bleeding. With every bottle, rivulets of milk escape from her left nostril. I hear "Does she have a cold?" almost every time I take her in public. But she also has stitches just below her nose, so it's a hard balance for a kleenex-wielding supervillain-- do I try to keep the nose clean, which results in a grumpy baby? Or do I let it drip and run, allowing Rose to get a second meal out of whatever escapes from her nostrils? Or do I leave it alone at home but wipe scrupulously in public? This third option is what I usually resort to, but she wails so loud when I do try to wipe that I have to weigh whether the grocery store grannies are more likely to cluck over a dirty nose or a kid who is absolutely beside herself when the tissue comes into view.

I just know this-- I don't wanna be a supervillain. I'm not cut out for it. I'd much rather be a sidekick, because Rosie and I make a great pair.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Book Review: Dispirited by Luisa Perkins

Title: Dispirited
Author: Luisa Perkins
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Kindle for iPad
Books I've read this year: 66

When you're a senior in high school and your mother gets married and moves your family to a new house in a new town, you can probably expect that the transition will be rough. But when your new stepbrother's body is inhabited by an evil spirit, and the dispossessed spirit of your actual stepbrother starts following you around, begging you to help him get back in, then that transition may be really rough.

Cathy doesn't just see the spirit of her stepbrother, Blake. She also sees a little girl, a house in the woods that burned down almost two hundred years ago, a magical necklace, and a host of evil spirits just like the murderous one inhabiting and destroying Blake's body. Obviously, this situation leads to lots of problems for Cathy-- for one thing, people think she's crazy, which isn't great for her budding relationship with Rich, or with her parents. But she still feels compelled to help Blake, even when that choice puts her own life at risk.

Perkins shows that she has serious writing chops with Dispirited. One of the gutsiest things she does is fill the story with children. I don't mean teenagers like Cathy and Rich and the new evil Blake-- I mean actual children-- Cathy has two younger sisters, and Blake's spirit, who calls himself Bunny, are all under ten. So often in fiction written for adults, children come off as precious or precocious, and Perkins's child characters are neither. Perhaps the fact that she has six of her own kids helped her to be able to write their characters in a realistic way. She also does a great job with shifting points of view, which can be tricky. Each character's voice was distinctive enough to be realistic but not so distinctive that it was distracting. The book, which takes place in a Hudson River community outside of New York City, also has a richly evocative setting where the history of the place plays an important role in the actions in the novel.

Dispirited is the kind of book that I don't ordinarily think I'd like. First of all, it's speculative fiction, and a dark kind of speculative fiction. The problem for me lies in the fact that I don't know what the rules of the world are when the book opens. But Cathy doesn't know the rules either-- she's lived in "our" world for all of her eighteen years, and this is the first time that she's had anything like this happen to her. I think this approach really works, because Cathy is just as surprised as we are as readers by the fact that she can wander into a house that no longer exists and see spirits and get answers from dreams. While I never felt that I completely understood the rules of this world, I felt that I was discovering how it worked alongside the protagonist.

Secondly, Dispirited is a book that plays with theological ideas. Nine times out of ten, I'll read a book about angels or spirits and hate it because books with angels and spirits are usually cheesy. But Dispirited is never cheesy. It's also a book where the characters could be but are not necessarily Mormon, but the idea of three overlapping worlds, one possessed by humans, one possessed by the spirits of the dead, and one possessed by evil spirits without bodies, is one that comes straight from our theology. Furthermore, Bunny gets the action of the story off to a start when he, as a young boy, desperately desires to be reunited with his dead mother. He's willing to do anything, even to learn how to disengage his spirit from his body to go look for her. The book's end came as a surprise to me, it actually seemed like the only way this story could have ended in a satisfactory way, especially to people who believe that families are only separated by death for a temporary period of time.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finding her voice

When we got Rose's referral back in September, I noticed that the orphanage described her as being both "intense" and "easygoing." I wrote it off as a mistake, because aren't intense and easygoing sort of opposite personality characteristics? The first day we had her, she seemed very easygoing. She didn't cry when Ms. Tang handed her over to us, and she mostly just sat and observed, her big brown eyes open wide.

We didn't see the intense side of Rose until we got her home, where she's been a striver, reaching for toys, begging to be swung just a little bit higher, scooting herself over to the back door on her little butt so she can see the chickens. She also found that if she cried, someone would (almost always) come running to pick her up, so she started to work that angle too.

All that talking can wear a girl out.
But she didn't say much. We knew from the fact that she didn't recognize her name that people probably didn't talk to her that much. And then after her surgery, with her palate (mostly) closed and her eustachian tubes wide open, she could hear. And then the babbling began.

One day last week, I was driving around town. This poor baby drives around town for hours every day-- which is where the easygoing side comes in handy. I heard her squeak. That was new-- other than blowing raspberries and making an "i" sound, she didn't talk much at all. Pretty soon she was going "nanananana" and "mmmmmmm."

Our new favorite game has been to give meaning to everything Rose says.

If Maren's around, anything with an "m"-sound is Maren.

Obviously anything with an "n"-sound is Annie.

And she really does say "Mama" but I'm not deluding myself into thinking that she really means me. Okay, yes I am.

The other day, clear as day, she said "yummy" when I was feeding her a piece of banana cake.

If the word has an M or an N and a bunch of vowels, Rose can say it. Or at least we can add meaning to her sweet, nasally gibberish.

Two consonant sounds down, a couple dozen to go.

But I'm not that worried, the intense side of little Rosie is sure to kick in and pretty soon Bryce, Daddy, and Isaac will all be getting their due.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Book Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Title: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Enjoyment Rating: *****
Source: Ordered hardback from Amazon at my mother-in-law's insistence
Books I've read this year: 65

For years and years, I thought I was an extrovert. I think it started around the time I joined the LDS Church-- I suddenly had a chance to reinvent myself. I'd been quiet, shy, and kind of nerdy all my life, but around my church friends I became outgoing, bubbly, and even, for the first time in my life, popular. I was able to keep this going for an hour every weekday morning, three hours on Sundays, and once a month when we got together for dances. I'd even keep up the vivacity through Youth Conferences, Girls Camps, and one two-week BYU summer camp, but I was always the first one into bed at night, and I recognize that was a refuge. But in my home and school life (I was the only member of the LDS Church in my high school), I remained quiet and reserved.

When I got to college, I thought I'd be a social butterfly there too, but after a week or two, I started to get tired of all of the parties every night, and even though I said I'd date 30 guys the first month (to quench myself after a long drought of eligible boys), I only went out three or four times before I settled down with Eddie, who is a classic introvert. He's introverted enough, that, by comparison, I am outgoing and bubbly. I chose several jobs (teaching and college counseling) where it helps to be able to make small talk easily and think on your feet, and I'm not great at either one of those. Every day I'd come home feeling drained, especially the one year when I shared office space with five other people. Even now, as a SAHM, my favorite time of day is the hour after lunch when I put the baby down for a nap and (if they're home) make the other kids leave me alone so I can read. I need that down time in order to have the energy to get me through the rest of the day. I love to talk to good friends, but hate parties where I don't know people, and after a while, I sometimes even wish the good friends would go home. When I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time (I think I was around 30) I was surprised to find that I was an introvert (an ISFJ, to be exact), and suddenly it all made sense.

If you are an introvert, or know, love, or parent one (and you probably do, since 1/3-1/2 of the US is populated by us) then this book would be highly instructive to read. And if you are one of the tribe, you'll probably read it nodding your head the whole time. There are chapters about introverted children (I have at least a couple of them), about how to navigate relationships when one partner is an introvert who wants to spend their weekends riding bikes and the other is an extrovert who wants to throw a party every Friday night, and about how school and workplace environments should be modified to better suit introverts. I loved the chapters on how introverts can find opportunities to recharge during the day, especially when they're in careers (like I was) that force them to be pseudo-extroverts. All in all, Quiet is a great read. I've recommended it to half a dozen friends. I wish it had been available for me to read sooner. Because, seriously folks, who was I kidding? I've already read 65 books and run about 800 miles this year-- both classic hobbies for introverts, and those are the two things that have allowed me to recharge so I can face my life with five loud, messy kids hanging over me all day long.

Book Review: The Book of Madness and Cures by Regina O'Melveny

Title The Book of Madness and Cures
Author: Regina O'Melveny
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible for iPhone
Books I've read this year: 64

I am a sucker for books about strong women, medical subjects, and minutiae, so it's no surprise that I really enjoyed The Book of Madness and Cures, the story of Gabriella, a thirty-year-old physician living in Venice in 1590 who embarks on a quest to find her father, who left home ten years earlier to do research on their shared book about mental diseases. Gabriella, whose defining characteristic is singlemindedness, takes her two closest servants on a trip throughout Europe and into Africa, with hopes that they will find the Elder Doctor Mondini before madness overtakes him.

When I was a kid, I babysit for two boys who had the old school Carmen Sandiego game at their house. I'd play it and eat ice cream while my little brother played with the boys. This book reminded me a lot of Carmen Sandiego-- Gabriella goes from city to city, through high mountain passes, past lands where their only companions are wild animals, and meets people who are as eager to throw her off course as others are to help her. I liked Gabriella's nuanced character-- she's strong, but she's also infuriating and insensitive and emotionally clueless at times. Her haughty voice could be annoying (I listened to an audiorecording) but I also appreciated that O'Melveny was willing to create a prickly character. I also cheered when Gabriella prevented the "girl searching for her father" phenomenon from carrying over into another generation. I won't say more than that, except to say that this book did break my cardinal rule of fiction, but in this case, I was enjoying the story so much that I didn't really care.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A post about my hair

A fortuitous thing happened when we were in Guangzhou. I've been trying to grow out a super-short pixie cut for the last year and the in-between stage has been driving me crazy. On the day we went to the Safari Park, a day that I knew would be hot and humid, even without a baby strapped to my chest and a backpack on my back all day long, I tried to pull my hair into two little pigtails and it stayed! Now, mind you, I recognize that two tiny pigtails is a look better suited to Maren, my five-year-old, than to her 37 year-old mother, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

I've worn that look nearly every day since we returned from China. Once I get showered I've expended all of the time Rose is willing to be away from me, so there's no time for things like putting on eyeliner or drying my hair. If you know me, you know that's not a great tragedy in my book, because I hate doing my hair. I'd much rather be playing with my baby than fiddling with a hair dryer and a round brush. And on the days when I do pull out the hair dryer, plop myself on the floor next to my baby, and try to bring the hair beast into submission, it doesn't work anyway-- by the time I stand up and check myself out in the mirror, there's always some weird extra dry piece that looks fried, wavy strands in the middle, and a sopping wet patch in the back.

What you may deduce from this is that I'm not getting a lot of free time these days. It's a good thing, but also not the easiest stage in the world. When we were preparing to get Rose, one of my greatest fears was that she would find it hard to love us. Would she have attachment disorder? Would she just be slow to warm up to us? By the time we left China, I felt fairly confident that we were on the road to attachment, but I also knew that everything could change once we got to Utah.

But it's pretty clear that Rose is attaching to me, and I think that our hospital stay may have precipitated that. When I'm in the room, she wants to be where she can touch me. If she's playing in the family room and I'm doing dishes 15 feet away, that's not nearly close enough, even if she can see me and I'm talking to her. If I'm in the shower and she's outside on the floor two feet away, she's okay for a few minutes as long as I make constant eye contact with her, which makes shaving my legs pretty tricky, so while you're not judging my hair, don't inspect my stubble too closely either. Last night Ed came home after work and scooped her up to play with her like he usually does, and she started to cry and reach for me. If I put my hand on her back, she'd play with him, but only if I was there.

It's progress. It's exactly what I hoped to see.

It's also completely exhausting.

I've been out of the baby phase long enough that my toe dexterity is out of shape (I used to be so good at picking up every little thing with my toes). I still operate under the idea that putting her into the Ergo to make dinner or clean up the basement is a sign of surrender on my part (not surrender to her, just surrender to the idea that I won't be setting her down anytime soon). My boys had a campout in the basement this weekend and took all of their blankets and pillows and stuffed animals down there. I wanted to clean the basement while they were at piano lessons so they couldn't watch me putting all of the Legos back into the Lego bin (which always makes Isaac cry). It took me six trips up and down two flights of stairs to get all of the bedding back upstairs, with Rose strapped to my chest, and that was even before I started rolling up the sleeping bags. I was exhausted, she was exhausted, but we were together.

Don't even think about turning your back on me!
But there's a fine line between love and hate, and I worry that she's going to start resenting me. Since I'm Rose's primary caregiver, I'm also the one responsible for all of her post-operative care. I'm the one giving her the nasty medicine and putting drops in her ears. And I'm the one who has to keep her nasal stents clean, which requires a catheter and saline and lots of tissues, and inevitably results in Rose thrashing and screaming and acting like she hates me more than anyone else on earth (and we have three more weeks of this!). Since her soft palate isn't completely closed, food sometimes works its way into her nostril. Back in the pre-stent days, it would fall right out (and she might even eat it again before I could get to it) but now it gets stuck behind the stent, which must be incredibly painful. I was feeding her tiny bits of bean burrito for lunch today and she got a teeny piece of tortilla up there behind the stent, and the end result was her screaming, me crying, and a little bit of blood in her mouth from when I went after it with the catheter. Now I'm terrified that I messed something up with the surgery and I'm going to get yelled at. I'm doing my best, I really am, and she's been giving me sweet little hugs this week, which we both need, I think. I hope she doesn't hold my pitiful attempts at nursing her against me.

Anyway, so if you see me with my hair in pigtails and think, "Doesn't she know that's not the best look for someone of her, ahem, maturity?" please cut me a little slack. Or else I might let you watch the baby for a while. On second thought, I'll keep the baby, but send you down to clean the basement.

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Title: Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Dover Thrift Edition ordered from Amazon
Books I've read this year: 63

After finishing the books for the Whitney Awards, I decided to go back to basics and read a little Jane Austen before delving back into contemporary fiction. When I was reading A Jane Austen Education the author had lots of great things to say about Persuasion and while I know I read it once upon a time, I couldn't remember much of what happened. So I ordered myself the Dover Thrift Edition, and dug in.

I read lots of books-- hardcovers, softcovers, Kindle editions, galleys, PDFs, and I find most of them pretty readable. When I was reading the Whitneys there were a few books where the typeface of the PDFs was uncomfortably small (I must be getting old!) but I just had to expand it a little bit on my iPad and I was good to go. But this edition of Persuasion was really hard to read. I think I've always underestimated the importance of white space on a page, because the tiny, cramped font and the lack of white space made reading an effort. And as much as I love Austen, I already feel like I have to put a bit of effort into reading one of her novels (you don't? Well, good for you.). The end result was that I'd open the book and fall asleep (repeat about 20 times). Finally, I got to the end of the story (reading in the morning when I wasn't tired) but it made the whole experience less pleasurable.

As far as the story goes, I wish that Austen had made us fall in love with Anne earlier on in the novel. I knew enough to recognize that Elizabeth, Mary, and Sir Walter were quite a family to be saddled with, but Anne seemed more milquetoast than heroine. It took me a while to warm up to her. I'm sure Austen had her reasons for this, but I didn't find myself cheering for her until the last fifty pages.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: Hope's Journey by Stephanie Worlton

Title: Hope's Journey
Author: Stephanie Worlton
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: PDF supplied by author
Books I've read this year: 62

Stephanie Worlton's novel Hope's Journey, follows the story of Alex and Sydney, high school seniors living in the Salt Lake valley. Sydney is trying to choose between her many scholarship offers. Alex is planning to spend the year biding his time at college while he prepares for his mission. And they're both trying to "be good"-- which they're finding really hard to do since they're completely in love with each other and overwhelmingly attracted to each other. In fact, they've already slipped up a few times, and they're not sure if they can stay together and keep their hands off each other.

And then Sydney discovers that she's pregnant.

I'm going to talk about the novel in two different ways-- first I want to talk about what it does, and then I want to talk about how it does it. Hope's Journey is an important book, I'd even say a necessary story that our culture needs to hear. Worlton documents the ambivalence that both Alex and Sydney feel, the confusion and anger that they both experience, the judgment that Sydney experiences every day as her belly grows, the double standard that allows Alex to remain relatively free from judgment and even to date other people during Sydney's pregnancy, the pressure Sydney feels to put the baby up for adoption, the economic realities that face teen parents, and the role that prayer and repentance play in their lives. It's an interesting, nuanced story, and Worlton admits that it was influenced by her own experience becoming a teenage mother. I think it's one that should be widely read by Young men and Women, not as a cautionary tale but as one that shows the full ramifications of an act that Worlton doesn't even mention by name (I'm not sure that the book even says "sex" once, which probably says a lot about our culture). I also think it's an important book for families, friends, acquaintances of someone who is or has been in Sydney and Alex's shoes.

That said, the book wasn't always easy to read. I don't fault Worlton for this as much as I fault Cedar Fort, which published the novel. I've read a lot of Cedar Fort books over the last few years, and they all suffer from a lack of thorough editing. In this case, the most problematic thing for me is Alex's voice-- he's characterized as a handsome high school jock, but his prose, especially his thoughts, are really flowery-- they're not the way an 18-year-old guy would talk. There are also a few places where story lines could have been tied up better-- what happened to the red truck? Why did Sydney's brother decide to stay home from his mission? What happened with Alex's evil mom? And then there are the excess of adjectives, the dialogue that doesn't really work, the minor misspellings. These are the kinds of things a good editor should catch. It's kind of a shame, in this case, because it's an accessible, instructive, interesting story, but it could have been better than it is with a really close, careful editing.