Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Television

If you're reading along you've heard a lot about my writing and working and running and politics. But you might have forgotten that I'm a sedentary starch. Here's a reminder.

My Facebook profile says that my favorite television programs are The Vicar of Dibley and In Treatment (both on DVD). Those are two of the most brilliantly conceived and written shows I've ever seen. In general, I love the well-rounded characters, the well-constructed plots, the beautifully crafted dialogue. I'm all about scripted dramas.

But in the summer, in the summer my tastes take a dramatic turn. Or, rather, a not-so-dramatic turn. And suddenly I'm all about a certain type of "reality" television.
But as much fun as we have watching people's humiliations and triumphs, my favorite TV night of the summer week is still the one where I get to watch Lie to Me.

Well done, writers, actors, producers. Well done.

What're you watching?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jogging in Slow Motion

I ran home from a meeting at church tonight.

There's something really powerful about running to or from someplace, rather than just running in a circle for exercise.

There's also something really powerful about running 5 miles in a row without stopping.

(Except for a brief walk up Hillary Step - have I mentioned that I live on the summit of Mount Everest? When it rains and floods I'm very glad of this. When I'm running or walking home I'm not so pleased.)

So I felt pretty good when I got home. Until Paul figured my per-mile pace for me. I've been running for 2 months now and I can run 5 miles with only a brief walk and that only because of a hill I can barely scale without climbing ropes and carabiners. I should be happy with this progress, right?

On the other hand, there's a minimum speed one can go and still be "running," no matter what one's gait looks like.

Seriously, after my first ever 5 miler I felt fine. I felt like I could have kept going (this in itself is probably evidence I should have been pushing the pace a little harder). I wasn't in pain. I won't go so far as to say that I was having fun, but I certainly wasn't miserable.

But I couldn't run a marathon. Because at some point race organizers force slow runners into the sag wagon, close the aide stations, and reopen the city streets to traffic. And I'm slow enough to worry about that.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Long Cut

Last summer my sister-in-law donated 13 inches of hair to Locks of Love and she looked great.

While my in-laws were here visiting shortly thereafter, I took advantage of the free babysitting to schedule things like my annual well-woman visit and my annual haircut.

"How much are you going to have them cut off?" my father-in-law asked, thinking I was going to do something dramatic like Paul's sister just did.

"Actually, I'm planning to ask if she can cut my hair to be 6 inches longer," I said. The last little bit of hair growth, like the last little bit of weight loss, always seems to take the longest.

I came home after my haircut and my mother-in-law looked puzzled. "It actually is longer!" she said.

And it was!

But I didn't get extensions. The stylist just blew it out straight rather than curly.

That was so much fun I decided to treat myself to more than annual haircuts over the past year. In fact, I think I decided that once every 3 months would be nice. I've made it twice since then. Alas. Something always comes up that seems a more compelling addition to the budget than my vanity.

Still, I'm currently reduced to wearing constant ponytails, so I think I really will try to sneak in a hair cut later this summer. Maybe next month, when the in-laws are here. How on earth do other women find the time and money for bi-monthly hair cuts and colorings?

I need to figure that out, because seeing pictures like this one remind me that my hair is not, presently, acceptable.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

If You're Lucky Enough To Be at the Beach, You're Lucky Enough

Ellie lying out:

My parents on the coolest morning of the week:

Proof that I was there:



(On their way to the park. Or perhaps a public flogging, given their expressions.)

A Thousand Words:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vacation in the Mitten

We just got back from several days in glorious, wonderful, fabulous Michigan. Western Michigan, where I could go for a jog in the middle of the day without dying from the heat but couldn't sit around the outdoor fireplace at night without being thoroughly explored by various and sundry representatives of Class Insecta.  Or rather Phylum Arthropoda.  All things considered, I figure I came out well ahead. It was great to spend time in a rented house with my whole family, watching my girls play with their cousins while catching up with my sisters and cooking food for my parents (for a change!).

"What was your favorite part of our vacation?" I asked at dinner tonight.

"Going to the beach!" said Ada.

"Riding in the wagon!" said Ellie. (That would be on the not exactly arduous 2-block stroll to and from the beach. There was room for my 6-year-old in the wagon because my sister's baby refused to ride. She preferred to run pell-mell screaming, "Water! Water!" until she face planted on concrete or sand.)

"I don't want to talk right now!" That would be Paul listing his not-quite-favorite part of vacation. After several days in a row of cool, breezy Michigan running - including jogging on sand - he came home with an excruciating back spasm. And apparently having me step on the sore spots repeatedly (he asked! I promise! I'm not gratuitously cruel!) wasn't the best thing for him.

Alas. Next year we'll shop for souvenirs.  (Pictures tomorrow.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Paint with All the Colors of the Wind

Ranken Jordan Children's Rehab Hospital does great work with therapies for kids. And they just offered their first ever special needs ballet class. Ellie - currently obsessed with Angelina Ballerina - thought it was the best thing ever.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Date Night

My mother always frowned on gift certificates for close friends and family. In general I agree that the value of a gift is more than just monetary. Seeing how someone else sees you - especially when they get it exactly right - is so touching. And some of the best gifts I've ever gotten were things I'd never have purchased for myself but loved having.

That said, some of the most thoughtful gifts I've ever received have been gift certificates, too. Like my friend who knows that I love Kaldi's but can't always afford to write at a booth under a charming pendant light while sipping latte and eating zucchini sunflower bread.

My mother-in-law frequently gives me gift certificates, too, and I really really appreciate them. She treats me with things I wouldn't buy for myself but totally crave. A year and a half ago she sent Paul and me each a gift certificate for an hour-long massage plus $50 for a babysitter. How cool is that?!

So Saturday night Paul and I had an unconventional date night.

(I do tend to hold onto gift certificates longer than I should, perhaps enjoying the feeling of promise and something to look forward to almost like enjoying the wrapped presents under a Christmas tree.)

The girls were thrilled to finally have a babysitter again, after months of deprivation. Paul and I relaxed into absolutely fabulous late afternoon massages followed by an early dinner at a favorite restaurant. (I amused myself by looking at women as they walked in and guessing: Mom? Not a Mom. There's a particularly harried expression many parents wear while dining out with their young children.)

After dinner we popped across the street for dessert at Borders. Yes, the bookstore. We spent a couple of relaxing hours with coffee, books, magazines, and each other. (Naturally we brought home something for the kids every place we stopped with the exception of the spa. And that was a near thing.)

But we still had a little time to kill before heading home - the whole point of hiring a babysitter for date night is to get a night off from the evening routine, isn't it? - so we stopped in at Office Depot.

I needed a new file box and some Sour Patch Kids. We took a relaxing drive through some lovely neighborhoods with no one demanding that we sing along to "I've Been Working On the Railroad."

Paul took the sitter home and I got set up with my fabulous new supplies, then we watched Inside Man and I reorganized my "office" filing system.

Great night!

My friend laughed this morning and said that if I told single people about this particular date night they'd run screaming. Hah! But it works for us. We're geeks like that, and we were before we had kids, too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Renaissance Faire

Bloody Sunday

President George W. Bush Covers U2's Sunday Bloody Sunday. (Awesome editing!)

This week brought to you by financial planning, family budget meetings, and freelance freelance freelance. (I'm trying to put in 5 solid hours each day in my "free" time without interfering with my TV parenting time. The spring class I was taking just ended tonight, too. It's been a time management logistical puzzle!)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Long Haul

We're nearing the summer road tripping season so I thought I'd share a little snippet I wrote in the car last winter:

Picture our journey north to my parents' house for Christmas. Paul drives, prominent jaw jutting out, teeth clenched from exhaustion and the stress of driving in the rain. The girls have a DVD of their own choosing playing on our "in car entertainment system." Since they refuse headphones, this renders the stereo useless for those of us in the front seats.

So Paul's listening to the new "Wheel of Time" novel on his iPod. Ada's watching the movie, periodically demanding my attention so that she can talk to me about Tinkerbell. Ellie's over-excited and a bit whiny. I'm reading picture books aloud, passing back various toys, and generally trying to encourage her to relax.

I'm also trying to finish knitting my sister's Christmas legwarmers and am quickly becoming miserable, snapping at the children. Multitasking: epic fail.

My iPod isn't working. Then I remember: I have a laptop! Car lighter-charger isn't working. No worries. I have a good two hours of regeneration right here. Ear clip/bud thingie inserted, music on, volume UP UP UP UP. What whining children?

Knitting joy.

Satellite dish in my eye tell me more tell me more.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Jerusalem Market

A few weeks ago the girls converted some quarters into shekels and blew all their cash on a traveling petting zoo.  Witness:

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher

This month for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club I'm discussing A SUDDEN COUNTRY: A Novel by Karen Fisher.

First let me just say that A SUDDEN COUNTRY is the author's first novel and was a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist.  Seriously.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was reading this book and it was making me crabby.  Now I've finished.  In fact, I finished the novel quite quickly, as I raced to the end to see how the two main story lines would resolve.  (More on those in a moment.)

First a bit on why the book annoyed me so much as I read it.  I called it "Madame Bovary on the Oregon Trail" and it's helpful to note that I didn't have a blast reading Flaubert's masterpiece, either.  I spent the first half of A Sudden Country talking aloud to the female main character, Lucy.  "Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it. You idiot. You'll ruin everything. Seriously, don't do it.  Fine, do it.  Die if you want; lose your children, whatever. See if I care."

The characters in the novel are nuanced and flawed.  I mean, really flawed.  And that's good and all, but it's hard to like any of them.  Hard life, hard people, occasionally making stupid choices possibly just because they can.  So rarely do they have significant choices to make.  Anyway.

Sentence fragments.  I was annoyed by them throughout.  But my least favorite thing about the writing was my friend Jeanne's favorite part, so it's obviously a matter of taste.  Jeanne loved the way the story unfolded slowly, with a sense of mystery.  It drove me crazy.  I thought the vague, dreamlike, and occasionally misleading language drew attention to itself and took me out of the story.  I spent the first few chapters doing math, trying to figure out how Lucy and Israel had all these kids when they'd only been married 4 years, then guessing which kids came from which previous marriages.

Reviewers on Amazon were split between loving the writing style (sentence fragments, partial explanations, imagery-rich details short on clarity) and hating having to read certain sections more than once to figure out what was going on.  I found myself somewhere in the middle.  Sometimes the style worked for me, sometimes it annoyed me.  The author's comment on this issue: "this novel took over ten years, and most of it was written very late at night, by a tired person. So if you find it dreamlike and hypnotic, that’s probably why. I advise reading it under the same circumstances."

I get that!  Enough with the criticism already.

One of the greatest strengths of the novel is the amount of historical detail the author includes "effortlessly."  I'm not usually a huge fan of reading history and require massive doses of personal narrative to make the lessons go down.  (To this day, almost everything I know about ancient Egypt came from a children's novel my mom brought to distract me when I was home sick.)  But at times in A Sudden Country I found the historical anecdotes (daily life on the Oregon Trail) more compelling than story.  The author did a really really good job with her research and with writing it into the story in such a way that it was enjoyable rather than pedantic or distracting.

And then there's the story arc itself.  I love the ending, though I know many people hated it.  I think Lucy's story arc ended just perfectly.  Everything was not wrapped up in a neat little bow, but her life never really was particularly tidy (unlike her home or her campsite).  The other main point of view character and story arc . . . dropped.  Something was building, building, building, I was excited to see how it came out, and then - poof!  Done, over, kaput without ever reaching a conclusion.  Without ever reaching a confrontation, a destination, anything.  It just failed.  This frustrated me.  Doesn't it break all the rules to cut off the story like that without any sort of resolution?  But the more distance I have from the book, the happier I am with the author's choice to handle the story the way she did.

I read a book club version of the novel, and it included an interview with the author as well as a reader's guide bound into the paperback.  You know how sometimes there's one tiny thing someone says or does that jumps out at you and bothers you so much it colors everything else you know about them and their work?  (Tom Cruise's religion, Orson Scott Card's politics, David Hasselhoff's habit of wearing his shirts unbuttoned)  There were two of these such moments in the author interview, and they nearly spoiled the whole reading experience for me.  Now that I've done a bit more research, I suspect that either the author's tone didn't come across perfectly in the interview, or it was edited unsympathetically.  (Note this interview is much more humble and likable, IMO.)

"The road to publication was as rough, believe me, as the journey I was writing about."  I would have laughed at that line at a writer's workshop, but not so much immediately after finishing an engrossing and emotional read.  Really?!  Your search for an agent endangered the lives of your children every day?  You had to leave behind every thing you held most dear?  Sheesh.  I know it's hard to get published, but that's a little Rumpelstiltskin.

This review is far too critical. I'm so glad I read this book. I think you should read it too. It's very good. And educational. Wait! Stop! I mean that in a good way.

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Dude! Ranch.

There are a dozen things I should have done tonight.  Instead, I watched Wanda Sykes do stand up (thank you, Netflix View Instantly through the Wii!) and spent hours planning a vacation.

I'm not sure exactly how we'll pay for this vacation (I foresee a bit more freelance work in my near future).  But I know I'm excited about it!

Our summer plans so far include:
  • Summer school (Ellie)
  • Vacation Bible Camp (Ada)
  • Family vacation on the beach in Michigan with my family (8 adults, 4 mobile grandchildren with two more pending)
  • Swimming lessons (Ellie and Ada)
  • Some assortment of dancing and gymnastics lessons (Ellie and Ada, specifics TBD)
  • Camp K (environmentalist vacation Bible camp (Ellie and Ada)
  • Wyoming vacation!  All four of us will visit Paul's parents.  And then maybejustmaybe Paul and I will leave the girls with Nana and Grandpa and go off on our own for a couple of days.  Will it be hot springs and spa trips?  Hiking, floating, biking, horseback riding, or climbing?  I'm not sure!  But I spec'ed out trips heading north, south, east, and west from our home base; driving and flying; to B&Bs, dude ranches, and spas.  Perhaps I should have been a travel agent.  

We also plan to host a lot of friends and family at our home this summer.  And that's great fun, too.  But right now my head's about 8000 feet in the air, full of outdoor jacuzzis, yurts with composting toilets (gonna skip that one, sorry), and flipping through titles of books I plan to read.

Off to bed.