Monday, June 27, 2011

falling for me

Who doesn't love a good makeover story? That's what half of television is these days, it seems. Take a ungroomed gal in baggy clothes and give her a dress and haircut and wow! Cut off the old guy's foot-long beard and shazam! Add some paint and throw pillows and presto! The allure of change endlessly appealing if it's happening to someone else.

"Falling for Me" by Anna David is a trusty example of the story. She was single and emotionally entangled with an unavailable man when she came across "Sex and the Single Girl" by Helen Gurley Brown and got inspired by her joie de vivre. She decorates her apartment, takes cooking classes, studies French and travels to Spain.

I think being single when you don't want to be single is analogous to being infertile. In both cases, you are yearning for a relationship that doesn't exist. It may never exist. It is out of your control. You feel blocked off from the life everyone else enjoys all around you. I think society has a greater amount of sympathy for the infertile. There are awareness efforts and a sense that it's terribly unjust. But being single? There's nothing anyone can do. I wish there was more empathy in that regard.

I found it gratifying to read about her efforts to improve her life. She is a likable writer and totally relatable. Her exploits in the kitchen made me remember my terror of cooking for others. She said her apartment was full of the cheapest possible functional things. I totally remember those days in grad school.

The dating travails get tiresome - perhaps it's just not my thing but I can't get interested in date stories that are a string of IMing and emailing. It seems removed and synthetic. I remember a quote from somewhere about how young adults of the current generation will never get to know each other the way we (30-somethings) did. We fell in love in person, having conversations across the table, holdings hands on walks. Generation facebook will flirt and date and fall in love by virtual communication. He posted a message about me, he "poked" my page, he "winked" at me.

eating the rainbow

"Eating the Rainbow" published by Star Bright Books is a fun board book teaching both colors and food names. It has a simple organization, clear and attractive, of the foods (apple, raspberries, strawberry, tomato) and photos of cute babies chomping away. My son would love this book since he likes identifying colors and I love that he would learn some new vocabulary! He hasn't seen figs or litchis on his plate yet. I'm a big fan of introducing kids to healthy eating at an early age so this book is a perfect example.

Monday, December 13, 2010

gift of an ordinary day

What do you do with the best days of your life? How to you keep them intact? How do you preserve happiness?

These are the best days of my life, I know. These are the days of pure love, of hearts swelling, of the beautiful gift of a little boy.

He has been going around giving kisses to everything - Christmas tree ornaments, his toys, the chair. He has such a big heart. Yesterday he said "Nose" and wanted me to kiss his nose. Then he said "Ear" and I kissed his ear. Then we did cheek, chin, forehead, mouth, top of head. I love cuddling him!

Last night he woke up at midnight crying so I cuddled him on the couch. Then we went to our bed and he slept with his cheek pressed to mine and his feet against Joe's head. He didn't sleep in, he woke up with Joe and wanted breakfast.

We had a great routine last week - every morning we went to the gym and he played "balls" at the childcare room. I loved getting my workout in! But today he threw a fit and didn't want me to leave. So I scooped him up and we went to the library.

I reread "The Gift of an Ordinary Day" by Katrina Kenison last night. I need to go back to that book over and over again so I learn the message anew. This little boy is only growing up and away from me - so do not get annoyed when he is clingy. Savor singing "Frosty the Snowman" over and over - these moments are fleeting. Don't be short-tempered when he wakes you up - treasure the sweetness of his chubby cheek pressed against yours. It is a temporary gift.

We have five and a half hours of daylight today. It is also very cold - 8 degrees. We made cookies this weekend in two sessions and I gave them out to the neighbors. The biggest triumph is that I didn't eat any! That is very good since I didn't get my gym time today!

I'm excited for this week - having my husband home.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

the help

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is fantastic in every way! It's going to be a great movie, I can't wait! I loved the story about the color divide in the 1960s South. It has lots of great roles for actresses.

I also read "The Dogs of Babel" by Carolyn Parkhurst and loved its depiction of a grief-struck widower struggling to make sense of a mystery and then finally letting himself know what he always knew. The reveal at the ending made utter sense and was done great skill and sensitivity.

I did not care for "The House on Oyster Creek" by Heidi Jon Schmidt. The omniscient narrator was an intriguing twist on an old tale - woman married to rich man who doesn't understand her and gets a crush on local handyman, etc. But their relationship never really got off the ground or held my interest. The pacing was very slow. There were some nice lines though - she felt as if she was coming unraveled and he held the string or something like that.

"Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer is a powerful and challenging book. It's so good, it's dismaying. I don't know how I'm going to go grocery shopping after reading. He asks - what is eating meat worth to you? He lists all the costs - ecological destruction, global warming, risks of a pandemic due to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, etc. But what makes his book different from Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver is an emphasis on the suffering of animals. Pollan and Kingsolver say - eat local foods for your health and the planet's health. Foer says - animals are sentient creatures, not products, and they should be treated as such. He depicts PETA with sympathy.

I do eat seafood - I started being "pescaterian" in high school. I thought meat was gross and liked the idea of limiting my appetite. It's possible to eat fantastic meals without beef or chicken or pork and it's more likely they will be healthy for you. So why not? I've stuck to it for years and now I am glad! I didn't go vegetarian for environmental reasons but now that I'm more familiar with the costs of eating meat, I am certainly glad I didn't contribute.

His discussion of "bycatch" and the "war of extermination" going on in the oceans is giving me pause now. I keep getting attracted to vegan lifestyles - "Food Inc" and Alicia Silverstone's "The Kind Diet" get me riled up. But then I end up eating lots of processed soy, which doesn't seem healthy either.

I read Shirley Jackson's "Raising Demons," a sequel to "Life Among the Savages." It was cute but more of the same, not very different from the first book. It kind of made me sad to read that her later life was full of problems with addiction and agoraphobia. Those years with her little ones were the best of her life, perhaps.

I am currently very excited about a special book about my son's second year! I am making a photo book on Shutterfly.

Friday, October 22, 2010

church mice

I have also been reading a slew of children's books! I came across a recommendation for Graham Oakley's Church Mice series and ordered some online. They are from the 1970s and they are funny, with beautiful detailed drawings that give a twist on the text. The stories are sort of James Bond adventures starring two mice and a cat who has heard so many sermons he is nonviolent. Very adorable and charming and witty.

I also have "Evening" by Susan Minot to read and "Raising Demons" by Shirley Jackson, the sequel to "Life Among the Savages." I have a big stack of library books, including MFK Fisher's "The Art of Eating" and "Coming into the Country" by John McPhee - the classic book about Alaska. "Red Families v. Blue Families" by Cahn and Carbone should be interesting, based on an article I read in The New Yorker. "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett is supposed to be good. "The Last Supper" is also by Rachel Cusk. I also have "Red Hook Road" by Ayelet Waldman, which got good reviews but I have to get into the right mood to read about a bride and groom killed.

at home in japan

Not sure how I came across "At Home in Japan" by Rebecca Otowa but it was an interesting peek at a different culture. I am obviously interested in reading about Americans in Europe and this was a different setting. It's not very involved or detailed about her relationship with her husband and how she adjusted to Japan - she is close lipped about her intimate life. But she talks about the house she lives in and how it has been in her husband's family for over 300 years. She talks about the bath culture and how women are expected to cook meals with many courses with dazzling presentation. She doesn't talk about how hard it must be to sacrifice your sense as an individual over and over - that make me miserable. Rural Japan is not necessarily a place I'm drawn to but it was interesting. ("If You Follow Me" was also set in rural Japan and I loved that book!)

"The Lost Girls" by Amanda Pressner, Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett needed an editor with a chainsaw. I was aghast when I saw this 300-page tome! This is not War and Peace, people. I enjoy their blog and peppy attitude about traveling. They seem down to earth and friendly. But this book made the mistake of thinking they were the interesting part of the story and not their experiences traveling. Perhaps I sound mean, but none of these women are Elizabeth Gilbert when it comes to writing ability. The blog felt a lot more immediate and interesting than the book.

"Peppermints in the Parlor" by Barbara Brooks Wallace was really enjoyable! I wish I had read it as a preteen. It has shades of "A Little Princess" in that a young girl is orphaned, declared penniless and must work as a servant in a mansion run by an evil woman. She strives to brighten the dour lives of the old folks by sneaking in a kitten and befriends a young boy named Kipper and uses lots of Cockney slang. The plot is nothing new but there are some unforgettable images - a tea bag passed down a long table and everyone uses it until there's no flavor at all. People sitting around the parlor tempted but deathly terrified of taking a peppermint. A trapdoor leading to an underground labrynth. Too much fun for a young reader!

"Five Little Peppers and How They Grew" by Margaret Sidney is a classic, I know, but it doesn't have much appeal to adults. Too sickeningly sweet, plot similar to "Little Women" but with less complex characters. The family is poor but loving - they charm a indolent boy with a rich grandfather who becomes their benefactor, etc. If I wanted a children's book about the beginning of the 20th century, I'd go for "All of a Kind Family" anyway! Those books are wonderfully warm and fun to read.

russian winter

I knew I'd like "Russian Winter" by Daphne Kalotay because the premise was so intriguing - ballerina who defected from communist Russia auctions off her jewelry, which raise questions from the past. And I did love it. It captures what life was like under Stalin - the atmosphere of wondering if you are being watched, the distrust, the people disappearing. A professor suspects the ballerina is his mother, based on his investigation of jewelry, and tries to connect with her but she refuses. The mystery propels you to the end, where everything is exposed in a shocking way. Great read - perfect for cold weather. I read "A Reliable Wife" around this time last year and loved the spooky atmosphere of my book connecting to the weather.

I read "I Was Told There'd Be Cake" by Sloane Crosley and thought the essays were fun - but I was really grossed out by the story about her bathroom. I was perplexed why she always gets rave reviews and accolades like "the next David Sedaris!" - and then I discovered she is a book publicist. So every writer is going to promote her book, so she'll like them. Duh. Anyway, I read "How Did You Get This Number" by Sloane Crosley and liked it. She writes about an Alaska wedding trip gone wrong, the junior high board game called "Girl Talk", and buying stolen merchandise from a furniture salesman while going through a breakup. The essays were witty and well-crafted but nothing earth-shaking.

I got Maira Kalman's book the day it came out! "And the Pursuit of Happiness" is another of her hybrid art/essays works with musing on democracy and celebrations of our history paired with whimsical drawings and photos. I love her!

"Mitten Strings for God" by Katrina Kenison is an extremely powerful book about motherhood that captures the mood I strive for. I loved her other book "The Gift of an Ordinary Day" and sought out this book. She writes about creating a peaceful home of creativity and appreciation. She encourages living by your own standards and not racing around doing things just because everyone else is. She advocates a lot of the principles of Waldorf schools - no TV, lots of nature, emphasizing self-reliance. Her reflections really touched me, esp her comments on the challenge raising kids to value living a good life, not just having good things. I want to read parts of this book to my husband - and try to convince him we shouldn't get a TV! Stop the frenzy and savor simplicity.