Tiny Coconut

I have things.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

This Was The Year

Last year at this time, I made what were not resolutions but, rather, declarations about what would happen this year. And, much to my surprise, I followed through.

In many ways, my life today doesn't look at all like what I'd expected when I made thos declarations. In other ways, it is exactly what I'd hoped for. I'm working from home, doing stuff that I enjoy, stuff that I can get jazzed about. I look forward to doing more of the same. So what if I've lost a 401K that totally kicked butt? So what if I'm currently waiting for an insurance company to decide whether it's going to risk insuring me (and I mean me, not Baroy or the kids, who've already been accepted) because I need a daily chemical kick in the pants to keep my head above water? So what if the kids will no longer have a free ride at the university when they turn 18, because I didn't stay there long enough? So what if I feel like this is mostly my fault, and that if I'd just focused more on what was going on, I wouldn't be in this position right now?

OK. I have to quit that. I'm depressing myself.

This year, there are resolutions rather than declarations, because I don't need to completely change my life in the space of 12 months. This year, I resolve to work at finding a position--hopefully with ParentsConnect, but if not there, somewhere--that provides some of the things I lost with the university job. Oh, who am I kidding? I resolve to find a position where I can work from home and have health insurance. And really, is that too much to ask?

Oh, and if I could drop the eight pounds I've packed on IN THE PAST MONTH, I'd like that, too.

Even though 2006 was mostly focused on my career and making it fit somewhat better into my idea of what I want my family life to look like, the best thing that happened to me this year had nothing to do with writing or 401Ks or health insurance, though it did have everything to do with family.

We love you, Snug.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Books I Read In 2006, Part II

Thanks to you all for your comments and emails about our Christmas of Chaos. I'm glad I could give you all a chuckle. Someone had to laugh, right? Oh, and Donna? Marc and Glen actually called the next day to see how N was doing. Those are two brave, brave men.

Now, on with the show.

These are the books I listened to on my iPod this year. For whatever reason, I picked what was generally a much better crop of audiobooks than I did pulp-and-ink books. There are several I would recommend highly in the list below, including one that will now forevermore be part of the trio of The Best Books I Ever Read...Ever: The Known World. (The other two? Toni Morrison's Beloved, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.)

Child of My Heart by Alice McDermott

What was UP with that main character? She was most opaque protagonist I've ever read. And to no end, as far as I could tell. I should have liked her. Or maybe I shouldn't have. But I didn't feel either way, because she had no depth at all and there was so little that was likeable about her. She never sees the two-year-old Flora again? Oh, well. Never sees the man she gave her virginity to (in the least sexy scene ever written)? Oh, well. Bad things happen to her favorite cousin? Oh, well. Oh, and the narrator on this audiobook? Worst Narrator Ever, By Far.

The Photograph by Penelope Lively

Wonderfully written. Compelling, insightful. The denoument didn't come as any surprise to me, but then again, I'm not entirely sure it was supposed to. A sad story. So sad. Totally worth the tears, though.

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I had this preconceived notion about Shreve, that I wouldn't like her books. I kind of thought of her as a somewhat younger Danielle Steele or something. Clearly, I was wrong. I'm not going to wax rhapsodic about this book, but it was good. Quite good, actually. I could connect with the main character, even though she was only 12. I was swept up, and I enjoyed it. Certainly nothing wrong with that!

Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller

This one certainly went places I wasn't expecting. I was actually more interested in the story of Eva and Mark than in Daisy's story, despite its more intriguing twists. I was disappointed in the way the former story ended, with both seeming to settle, without us getting to see how they got to the settlement so it wouldn't feel so false. In fact, the whole ending was just a little too pat, given the rest of the piece. But, again, I enjoyed it, even stayed up late last night to listen to the ending. Miller is another one of those writers I had written off (no pun intended) as sort of a hack, or not quite my style. (The Good Mother angered and upset me so much that I couldn't even finish it, which may be more a comment on the story line than the writing, though I blamed it on the writing.) But Leya raved about it, and I trust Leya's taste. I wasn't disappointed.

Bee Season by Myla Goldberg

Hmm. An intriguing book. A fascinating buildup. (And spelling bees. I'm a sucker for stories and movies about spelling bees. No, I don't know why.) And yet? A somewhat disappointing ending. Still, it was worth it, as long as you can keep Mel Gibson as the Kabbalah-studying father in the movie version out of your mind. (I could; I didn't see the movie.)

The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Bleh. Two-dimensional characters in a one-dimensional plot line. And, um, WTF was up with that "we" narrator who was clearly not supposed to be any one of them, or maybe was supposed to be all of them? Was that supposed to be Austen-esque? Because it wasn't. It was just disconcerting and annoying.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer

Wow. Not perfect, but close enough. I was carried along, interested throughout, fascinated by this man, and even very much attracted to him, despite the fact that he tried to convince me that he was a monster. I was, in fact, wowed.

Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje

Did Anil (as a character) bother me because Ondaatje is a man writing a woman, or did she bother me because he didn't do a great job of it? It was an interesting story, but only in a few places was it affecting.

Emma by Jane Austen

Loved this book when I read it; loved it again when I heard it. Emma cracks me up.

Fat Girl by Judith Moore

Judith is a good writer, and she has a story to tell. Except...Did she just get bored halfway through? It was a compelling read, and then all of a sudden it was, "and then I grew up and got married and had two kids about whom I have nothing to say except one is thin and one is fat. The end." Wha? Where'd you go, Judith?

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

I really should stop reading Ishiguro, just assume that The Remains of the Day was an aberration in the sense that I actually, you know, thought it was a great book. The others of his that I've read? Not so much with the greatness.

Regarding this particular book: Where was the part where it was revealed that the narrator is totally freaking insane and living in an asylum? Because clearly, that has to be the case. We're meant to think that, right? I don't...I just don't...get it. And again with the one character basically laying out the whole of the plot and all of its twists in a mundane, expository fashion near the end, just as in Never Let Me Go, which was on last year's list of books I heard. What's up with that? What am I missing here?

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I spent the first half of this book trying to figure out what was going to happen, and the second half luxuriating in the fact that nothing was going to happen, that this was just a man’s life, laid out. And that that was A Good Thing. What a lovely book about a lovely, interesting man. Sad and compelling and meandering and good. It made me think about a number of things, including how exactly Marilynne Robinson managed to write an entire book in which there are really no women of note. Oh, and it killed me that there was no epilogue to tell us when his son read his words, and what happened after his death. Which is right, given the book. But I wanted to know!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Wow. Really. What more can you say?

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Another 'reread.' Sort of the ultimate sweeping gothic romance novel, isn't it? I just love it.

Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr

Can I just say? I hate Jay Mohr. Didn’t before I heard this book; didn’t have much opinion about him at all. But now? What a jackass.

A Wedding In December by Anita Shreeve

Not her greatest work, by far. Too many letters that nobody would ever write, too many pat plot points, too many attempts at twisting things around in a way that didn’t work at all. But I did listen raptly all the way through. Even when she’s not at her best, she tells good stories.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones

I’m not sure I can come up with a single thing to criticize in this book. The storytelling was innovative and compelling, the story itself gripping. I came to this book reluctantly, but left it a convert, my life changed in that indefinable way that only the very best books can effect.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Never gets old. Really fun to hear it read out loud. I didn’t want to see the movie (still don’t) but it did add something to hear it instead of reading it (again).

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

Here's my rousing praise: This book wasn't a complete waste of time, just mostly. (Think they'll be using that on the cover of future printings of the book?) But, really, there was so much more potential here than there was ultimate payoff. If you're going to base an entire book on the concept of guilt for an unknown act, you should probably make that act worth the guilt. And if you're going to ask readers to travel along with you for an entire novel while you explore that guilt, you should probably make the plot worth the journey. This wasn't. Plus, I found the romantic subplot to be completely uninspiring.

The Summer He Didn’t Die by Jim Harrison

Two out of three novellas kicking some serious butt ain’t bad, right? And they really did. But if anyone can figure out what the hell I was supposed to take away from the last story, "Tracking," please let me know.

On Writing by Stephen King

I don't read King. (Well, I read The Green Mile once, but only because Baroy made me back when we were dating and you know how that is; you can't tell the guy you're dating that you won't read the books he likes, right? However, once you're married...but I digress.) Still, I thought this was an amazing book on writing. It had some great autobiographical insight, lots of small grammatical points to make (just the sort of thing I love; I will now forevermore reconsider each and every adverb I use, thanks to King), and plenty of larger 'how to be a writer' information thrown in for good measure. I'd totally recommend it to every writer, as well as any King fan.

Blindsided by Richard M. Cohen

This should have been a much better book than it was.

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem

Bizarre, funny, intriguing, offputting stories. I ended up listening to this because, frankly, I was in the library one day and needed a new audiobook, and they didn't have much in the way of CDs, so I took what I could find. I was glad to find this.

Possible Side Effects by Augusten Burroughs

Augusten can’t write quickly enough to satisfy me. I find him hysterical and honest and real and I want to hang out with him, though not when he was drunk. Plus, I really want to meet his dogs.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

I think that See's narrator was much harder on herself than she needed to be, but maybe that's because See did such an incredible job of drawing me into her world, and making me like her. I was extremely impressed with this book, not only because it was a fascinating look at a culture I have almost no connection to, but because--despite that fact--it spoke to me in so many elemental ways about friendship and marriage, about motherhood and the world of women. That's not an easy thing to do.

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

I don’t know. I was captivated throughout, and yet never once, not for a second, felt like these characters were real to me. Bottom line: I'm glad I 'read' it. And I'm dying to know how much of it was true, and how much of it came out of Boyle's impossibly fertile imagination.

Missing Mom by Joyce Carol Oates

My first Oates book, ever, despite having wanted to read her forever. I don't know how I've managed without her this long! I was sucked in from the beginning, and she never really let me go--nor did she let me down. Nothing earthshattering here, and plenty predictable, but a satisfying journey nonetheless.

We Are All Welcome Here by Elizabeth Berg

I can sum this book up in one underwhelming word: Pedestrian. And yet? I enjoyed it. I think maybe I'm getting soft and easier to please in my old age.

Welcome To the World, Baby Girl by Fannie Flagg

Why did I like this book so much? It's not particularly well-written, and you could see the plot twists a mile away. But it was fun, and it was sweet, and I smiled at the end. Like I said, I thiink maybe I'm getting soft.

King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel by Jonathan Kirsch

I thought this was going to be a sort of fictionalized account of the King David story. It wasn't. It was more of an academic work, and a bit dry. But because I'm new to all this bible stuff, I found it plenty interesting nonetheless. And damn, those were bloody, nasty times. The more things change...

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

Intellectually, I know this was critically acclaimed, and that I was being regaled with intriguing insights and gorgeous prose. So why did I spend the whole thing hyperaware of how hard Gaitskill seemed to be trying to impress me with overblown turns of phrase and hyperbolic descriptions. In the end, I just found myself barely being able to listen to narrative any more, instead chanting over and over again to myself, disgustedly, “Show off. Show off.” And thank goodness. I thought I was getting soft, and this one proved to me that I can still proclaim myself the Life-cereal Mikey of the literary world. I hate (almost) everything!

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Coconuts, Starring In: Christmas Chaos

Scene one: We arrive at Marc and Glen's house in the afternoon of the 23rd to begin our 13th consecutive Christmas together, the four of us. We have a holiday concert to attend at Marc's theater that evening, so the two of them aren't home, but we need to get Snug acclimated before heading out. He's clearly a little spooked at being left in this strange backyard, but we give him a peanut-butter-filled Kong and hope for the best.

Scene two: At the end of the show, N turns to the nearly 30 other theater patrons and announces, "Now we all go back to Uncle Marc and Uncle Glen's house for a party, right?" We have to explain the difference between the idea of we Coconuts gathering at their house, and we Entire Theater gathering at their house. He thinks I'm just being a Scrooge and begins inviting people individually.

Scene three: Glen gets back to the house before us, and lets Snug in from the back yard. When we pull up, Glen and Snug stand at the front door, and as N and Em approach the house, Glen opens the screen door invitingly. Snug bolts. Past N, past Em, past Baroy, past me. I utter many unimaginative curse words and start running after him, but he turns the corner at a flat-out sprint. Marc and Glen live just a block from a Very Major thoroughfare, and Snug's heading right for it. All I can think is that this is not going to turn out as well as things did when he bolted from me in our sleepy little 'burb a few months back. But as I clomp around the corner myself, I catch a flash of Snug disappearing into the alley behing Marc and Glen's house.

"Here Snuggie," I call, trying to sound calm. "Here, big boy. Don't be scared. We're back! Come here!" As I talk, I walk up the alley, arms outstretched. I might as well be talking cat, however. Snug takes one look at me and rushes past, wild-eyed with panic.

It's over; it's over, I think. From now on, Christmas will always be The Day Snug Died Under the Wheels of a Present-Laden Minivan.

But what to my wondering eyes do appear--right behind me, in fact--but Baroy. And with moves that belie the fact that he's a 5'4", 51-year-old Jew, he tackles that fast-moving pup with a single bob-and-weave. And just like that, Snug is back in the house, all wagging tail and licking tongue again.

Scene four: We discover that, pre-escape, Snug had apparently tried to tunnel out of the yard, right through the middle of Marc and Glen's carefully maintained lawn. Sigh. We apologize, and Baroy tries to undo some of the damage by tamping down the damp earth with his sneakers.

Scene five: That done, we finally begin to move our stuff into the bedrooms we'll be sleeping in. It isn't until Baroy has gone down the beige-carpeted hallway and into the beige-carpeted bedroom that we realize he's been leaving muddy footprints the entire way.

Scene six: After Baroy and I try to clean the mud with a previously untouched bottle of enzymatic cleaner, I go back outside to bring in Snug's doggie bed and begin to drag THAT down the hallway as well. As I go, my foot hits something hard, and over goes the crystal decanter that Marc and Glen use to keep the hallway door open. I didn't think it was possible for glass to shatter into that many pieces when it hits carpeting. Apparently, it is.

Scene seven: After we vacuum up the hallway, we put the kids to bed and begin to drink. And drink. And drink.

Scene eight: On the morning of Christmas eve, I wake up nauseated and realize that I've not only forgotten to take my antidepressants, but have forgotten to BRING my antidepressants. Despite the fact that our house is an hour away, I head out.

Scene nine: I grab my pills and a few other forgotten items. Since my gas tank is almost on empty, I stop at the gas station to fill up, and then at the bagel place in our neighborhood to try to take some of the burden off of Glen, who has to shop for the traditional Christmas Eve dinner (eggplant parmesan and pasta, all topped with homemade-by-Glen sauce) and shouldn't have to worry about the Christmas Day breakfast as well. When I go to pay, I realize that my AmEx is no longer in my wallet. The AmEx I just used at the gas station. SHIT.

Scene ten: I drive back to the gas station, banging my head on the steering wheel as I go. It's bad enough to lose a credit card, but I've probably had to replace this particular card four times in the past year, for the exact same reason. The last time was less than two months ago. My brain. It used to work. It's so sad how much it doesn't now.

Scene eleven: A Christmas Miracle occurs. Someone found and turned in my AmEx. I show ID, and I walk away, muttering to myself, "Any other day of the year? It's being used to finance a terrorist attack. Thank god it's Christmas." Somewhere in Burbank, my rabbi begins to sob.

Scene twelve: Because Marc and Glen have been so busy at their day jobs and in the theater, they have not yet decorated the tree, so we all do it together. It takes almost two calm, fun, uneventful hours. Another Christmas Miracle.

Scene thirteen: After the sauce is made and eggplant parm is assembled, we fry up some extra eggplant for Em, who likes it "plain." Half an hour later, we walk into the kitchen to find an empty plate bearing obvious Snuggly tongue prints. Em is the only one who doesn't find this funny.

Scene fourteen: N talkes a glass of milk into the bedroom and manages to knock it over and splatter the wall, the draperies and the carpeting. Out comes the enzymatic cleaner again.

Scene fifteen: We have a wonderful dinner and a nice calm evening. Glen writes out Santa's note to Em and N, and we sit around and bullshit while the kids watch TV in the bedroom and fall asleep quietly. We dare to breathe a sigh of relief. We are stupid.

Scene sixteen: It is 4:30 am when N appears in the doorway and says, "I threw up all over the bed." He lies. It is only all over half the bed. Em's half is untouched, and she somehow sleeps through the entire cleanup. (Yep. More enzymatic cleaner.) That kid is TIRED. We move N into our bed in the other room, where he sleeps for a good 45 minutes before throwing up all over that bed...and its pillows as well. We strip the sheets, finish the bottle of enzymatic cleaner, pull out the sleeping bag we'd brought just in case, and put N back to sleep there. He throws up on the sleeping bag at 6:30. It's waterproof. I wipe it off and put him back in it. He sleeps until 9:30 in the morning, after we've all had breakfast and opened our stockings. He then proceeds to stare into space blankly for the next two hours, refusing to open his presents. He has a fever of well over 101. We gather everything up, load it into the car, and spend fifteen seconds saying goodbye, followed by fifteen minutes of abject apologies for basically hitting their house like a tornado.

Scene seventeen: Marc and Glen stand outside waving goodbye to us. As we drive away, Baroy turns to me and sighs. "Well, 13 years was a pretty good run. Do you think they'll actually put the house on the market, or just change their phone number?"

Anyone want to host some Jews for the holiday next year? I'd say we're not much trouble, but I'd be lying through my teeth.


Saturday, December 23, 2006


We live next door to a family of fundamentalist Christians, people who homeschool because "there's not enough religion in the schools." (And yes, that includes the religious schools.) People who don't do Halloween or Santa. People who believe in creationism and in the absolutely wrongness of homosexuality.

This should be a recipe for utter disaster, Baroy and I being the ultimate in liberal Jews who protest against any infiltration of religion into the school system, who considered naming their dog Darwin as an hommage, who have more gay people in their lives than straight ones.

It isn't a disaster. In fact, it's been wonderful.

The V's are everything you could ask for in a neighbor. When I had to take Baroy to the hospital one night a few years back, they were the people we called to take the kids. Em and N and their two boys are the best of friends, despite the occasional debate over whether or not the Bible can be taken literally or whether or not Santa really exists. D (the mom) and I have had many heart-to-hearts; when something goes badly in my life, she puts in a few words of prayer for me; when something goes wrong in hers, I offer whatever counsel I can. I send over matzoh ball soup when I make an extra-big batch; she sends along baklavah when her mom comes to town and starts baking. We can count on one another for whatever the other one needs.

We just try not to talk about politics.

Every Jewish holiday, the V's will send over a card or a gift for the kids. On Chanukah, they make up gift bags for my kids for EVERY NIGHT OF THE HOLIDAY. They make the kids feel really special. Last night, on the final night of Chanukah, they sent a whole bunch of treats for the whole family, along with a note:

"Wishing you a miracle of lights and God's everlasting blessings for you and your loves one. A special thank you always for all the 'neighborly' mercies you have given to us V's--from a cup of sugar to putting out a BBQ fire!"

I may have proffered the needed cup of sugar, and Baroy may have been the one to rush over when the grill was aflame and Papa V wasn't at home, but the blessings and mercies of having the Vs next door fall equally upon us. The V's have not only lent a hand when we needed to lift a heavy television and volunteered to watch the cats when we're away, but they've taught me, by example, about tolerance. It's a lot harder to tar an entire group with a single brush of negativity when they live next door to you and are your friends.

Merry Christmas to the V family--and to all of you out there who celebrate. Thanks for the mercies, the blessings, and the lessons learned.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Which I Am Mean...Again

We were watching a movie, the four of us, when N started goofing around and refusing to listen to his father and I when we tried to get him to take his game into another room. He began to yell and make a fuss. I gave him a three count, then told him he'd have to go to his room to calm down.

He started to stomp off, then wheeled around to face me, screaming with all his might: "MEAN!"

He paused, and then--apparently unsure whether he'd gotten his point across--added, "IE!"

What was really mean, I think, was that neither Baroy nor Em nor I could hold back the hysterical giggles until he'd made it to his room and slammed his door.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Quick Glimpse Inside

One of the things that makes N such a mystery to me is his inability to let me inside, to tell me what he's thinking and feeling beyond the simplest of basic emotions.

Actually, that statement may be wrong. I'm not sure it's an inability to let me inside. It may be an inability to verbalize what he's thinking and feeling, despite *wanting* to let me inside. Or it may be a desire not to let me inside, ability be damned.

Whatever it is, it makes the moments when I get even the most fleeting of glimpses that much more special to me.

A few days ago, on the way home from the last day of school before break, we ran into one of N's kindy friends and her usually-at-work mother, and realized they live just a couple of blocks up from us, almost shouting distance. N and T started playing together, and T's mom invited us inside for a quick, impromptu playdate. Such things are almost unheard-of in N's world, and we both enjoyed it immensely. N, in fact, hasn't stopped talking about it since.

Today, with Em and Baroy both at friends' homes, I decided to take N to a nearby park. As we drove past T's house, he again began talking about how he wants to have another playdate with her. The conversation went from there:

Me: Yeah, you really liked playing with T, huh?

N: Actually, I like T's mom better than T.

Me, thrown but recovering quickly and seeing an opportunity: You know, I've noticed that you often seem to like grownups better than children. Do you think you do? Do you like grownups best, or children best?

N, not hesitating: Grownups.

Me: Why do you think that is? Why do you like grownups best?

N, again not hesitating: Because they give me 'tention, and they play with me, and they give me hugs and kisses like you do.

That was the whole of it. When I tried to delve deeper, he wandered off into that place he goes where the answers have no connection to the questions and it's impossible to follow him at all. (Again, I'm not sure he does this becaue he has some sort of language difficulty, or because he's deliberately trying to hide.)

But I do have to say, that glimpse was enough, for now. And I have to admit that he does make a good case for preferring adults. I'd rather hang with someone who pays 'tention to me, too.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Closer, Ever Closer

I'm only about 50 hits away from 100,000! This is exciting! To me! Only to me!

I'll shut up now.

Thanks to whoever is #100,000. If you happen to grab a screenshot and send it to me, I'll, um, do something nice for you. No, I don't know what.


Books I Read In 2006, Part I

I kept lists. I kept sometimes-notes. I kept the road to hell paved with my good intentions.

What the following was supposed to be was an appropriately linked, well-thought out compilation of the books I read this year (in several parts) followed by the books I listened to this year (in several parts). But, being crazy-busy with work (a Very Good Thing! I know!), none of this has happened. And so, I present to you the first of I-don't-yet-know-how-many parts featuring unlinked books (you'll just have to search Powell's, Amazon, B&N, Coliseum, whatever, yourself) with sketchy, not-especially-useful comments on the side.

But, hey, it's something. And there are some true gems in here this year. So take a browse, and keep coming back in the next week or two for more, OK?

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion was one of my college obsessions--and part pretension, too, since reading her definitely made me feel hip and intellectual. (Yes, I know that using the word hip in the early 1980s meant that I obviously was very much NOT hip. I wasn't. I'm OK with that.) This book is a quick read, simultaneously deep and sad, cool and removed. Her style is inimitable (and trust me, I've tried at times); her voice so very much her own. I found myself wondering if anyone else could have pulled this piece off the way she has. I doubt it. In the end, I find myself admiring and yet somehow feeling left out. And an aside: She talks at one point about how she and John would spend money incautiously when they shouldn't have been doing so. If Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne couldn't live in a carefree manner on the money from their writings, then I might as well pack it in right now.

All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreeve

This was recommended to me by a woman in my office, who said it was one of her all-time favorites. I admired the writing, but it left me cold. The problem? No sympathetic characters. An unreliable narrator. And a story of obsession that didn't really feel obsessive through most of it. Thought-provoking, but good? I'm not sure.

What Goes Up: Surviving the Manic Episode of a Loved One by Judy Eron

After I wrote Taming Bipolar Disorder and Judy 'found' it (or me) somehow, she and I corresponded and she sent me a copy of her book. I say this to do due diligence and reveal possible biases. Still, I was really impressed with this book. It's the story of the final, manic year in the life of Judy's husband, and of his subsequent suicide. It's painful, and it's unflinching, and it's good.

Julia's Mother: Life Lessons in the Pediatric ER by William Bonadio, M.D.

The only lesson I could glean from this book is to never let Dr. Bonadio near either of my children. These were some of the most depressing, least inspirational, least insightful medical stories I've ever read. Unimpressive. Not to mention that Bonadio has a very fast and loose relationship with grammar and, especially, tenses, which is something that makes me uncomfortable. I spent most of this book mentally editing, rather than reading.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

There is nothing like rereading (and rereading and rereading) Austen in my view. What IS it about her writing? I often wonder, would I have enjoyed this book as much if I were closer to it in time? Half of the joy of Austen is being so completely transported to a time long past, so completely swayed by her worldview. I long to be these women, these heroines. (Well, maybe not Emma. She was just a bitch. But fun to hang with, I think.)

Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I love the concepts behind the stories Marquez writes; loves how he takes you to these weird places that then feel perfectly normal, perfectly logical. Magical realism, indeed. But I didn’t love this book. It felt...unfinished, maybe. I’m not sure. I did, however, enjoy it. I always enjoy reading Marquez; he is a true master of his craft.

The Accidental by Ali Smith

This book made me feel stupid, or out of it, or something, and I resented it for doing that to me. In the end, I felt as if it was three-quarters of a really great book, but one overwhelming quarter of posturing and pomposity.

The Everything Labrador Retriever Book: A complete guide to raising, training, and caring for your Lab by Kim Campbell Thornton

Did I mention we adopted Snug at the end of May? And that I read this book at the end of May? That's pretty much all you need to know about that.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Gets richer and more meaningful every time I read it. It’s absolutely timeless, despite being rooted in an era. Fitzgerald could write, by golly. (Yes, I do believe that's the first time in my life I used the phrase "by golly.") If I had a hat, it would be off...again.

Persepolis and Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi

Maybe I just haven’t read a large enough number of graphic novels to be all critical and cynical about the genre, or maybe these two (like Maus and Maus II, my only other forays into this area, to which many critics have compared the Persepolis books, for obvious reasons) are just kick-ass good. I like to think it’s the latter. Devastating, informative and somehow, despite the relative paucity of words, deep all at the same time, I was breathless and teary by the end. Bravo.

A Dog Year by Jon Katz

The New Work of Dogs by Jon Katz

Katz on Dogs by Jon Katz

See above, about us adopting Snug in May, and thus reading these in June/July. Except this is different. These books are awesome. I wouldn't have read them pre-Snug, for sure, but they not only interested me and held me in their grip when I read them post, but they also taught me on an elemental level about some of what it is to bring a dog into your family. Katz has stuff to say, and it's all food for thought.

The Doll People by Ann Martin

What do you do when your then-8-year-old daughter glues herself to a book for a couple of days straight, then comes breathlessly to you holding said book out and saying, "Mommy. You HAVE to read this. It's so great!"? You read it, that's what you do. And you don't make snide comments about holes in the plot. You sit down afterwards and say things like, "And what did you think about the part when..." and "Weren't you surprised when she..." and you watch her eyes shine and your heart sings inside, because books have always been your life and any time they can be part of hers is something to celebrate.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Hmmm. I don't know. Yes. And no. And yes.

(Months later, feeling guilty that I never wrote more than that little note after the book, I considered trying to write more. But I'm not sure what I have to say. I liked this book. A lot. But at the same time, I'm not sure I liked it THAT much. Which is meaningless. And so I'll leave it be.)

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Nope. I should have known after being one of the few people who was totally unimpressed with Middlesex, which is supposedly the better book, that this one wouldn’t thrill me. Guess what? It didn’t. Mostly, I think, it was that I found the “we” narration to be odd, and creepy. Obsessive, well beyond either reason or reality. I'm sure it was the key to the book, but it didn't open anything for me. Except, perhaps, the door to my deep, deep wells of annoyance at pretension and arrogance. And there was all this weirdness about what happened when, and I spent way too much time and energy trying to figure out who had tried to kill themselves when and waiting for the other shoe to drop and feeling completley unimpressed or inspired by the dull thump that I heard when it did. I guess I just didn’t get it.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Devil On His Shoulder

N hops into the family room, chatting away to his stable of imaginary friends. (I probably should be impressed by the fact that they've stuck around for more than three years now, right? I should consider it a testament to my almost-6-year-old child's imagination rather than a sign of an impending psychotic break, right? RIGHT?)

He stops when he reaches me: "Mommy, can I have some Goldfish?"


"I'm going to have the whole bag, OK?"

"No. Put some in a bowl."


"Because I don't want you eating a whole bag of Goldfish."

"Oh. OK." And he hops away.

Once he's cleared the family room, I hear his conversation with the imaginary friend begin again.

"Eat the whole bag," says the imaginary friend in a high, squeaky voice.

"But my Mommy said to put it in a bowl," he replies in his own voice.

"Don't do it. Eat the whole bag. Come on."

"I can't. My Mommy said so."

"You're a baby."

"I'm NOT."

"Yes, you are."

I can't stand it any more: "Baaa, Little Bit, whoever you are! Stop trying to get N in trouble," I yell into the kitchen.

"See, I told you," I hear N retort to his meddlesome friend.

"You should still eat the whole bag," the friend replies.

I hate that imaginary busybody.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006


* Not so much on the ire. Or on the agreement. Or on anything, for that matter. I have a feeling you all think I'm turning into Crazy Religious Lady. Well, you definitely got the crazy part right.

* N got on the scale in my bathroom the other day, and then insisted that I get on after him. I outweigh him by exactly 100 pounds. Damn, that Lexapro is helping me to pack on the pounds.

* I've recently started doing some freelance work for a female essayist/comedian/radio personality who has, for many years now, been one of my heroes and among my absolute favorite writers out there. (I'm not naming names only because I'm never sure about whether or not it's 'kosher' to proclaim yourself as so-and-so's scriptwriter, or if you're supposed to help them keep up the fiction that they regularly produce a body of work so broad and so wide that it would require no sleep and several additional hours in the day for them to even attempt it.) So you can only imagine my elation when, after she went to edit one of the first of my pieces, she emailed my friend and editor and told her that "this writer is clever" and that there was "some quality prose here." Swoooooooooooon. Of course, she then went and added on a single phrase at the end of what I'd written that brought the entire thing together and left me sitting there, slack-jawed, thinking, "How does she DO that?" Still, as a result of her praise, I can now officially die happy.

* I've been given a bunch of new work and a whole new set of responsibilities over at ParentsConnect, which are keeping me engaged and busy and occasionally pulling my hair out. But in a good way. I guess. In any case, we're putting together lots of new content in preparation for some changes that are going to hit the site sometime in early spring. Stay tuned.

* My university job? What university job? Oh, the one which is still paying me until the end of the year, but which I wrote off as of the day that I had to begin arguing with them over vacation pay, and shut the door on as of the day that I filled out an application for medical insurance that will eventually bankrupt us--not with premiums, which are low, but with deductibles, which are almost as high as what I make in a year. Yay for healthcare in the U S of A!

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Monday, December 11, 2006

In Which I Blaspheme And No Doubt Raise The Ire Of Many Of My Readers

As part of my Reintroduction to Judaism course, I've been reading the Torah. (And I think it is quite telling about the state of my previous education in Judaism--i.e., none--that it came as a shock to me to realize that the Torah and the Bible are the same thing. I knew that Jews didn't call it the Old Testament, it being our only Testament, but I had no idea that those Torah scrolls up in the ark on the bima in the synagogue bore the same stories as in the old, leather-bound family "Hebrew Bible" that I'd never bothered to read, but which sits on my bookshelf nonetheless.)

Here's what I'm taking away from this reading: There are some fan-fucking-tastic stories in that book. And it's fascinating literature, fascinating reading. But this God guy? I hate to say it, but he really does come off as kind of a capricious jerk. I'd always assumed that if and when I developed a relationship with God, it would be with a God, a force, that cared about and reached out to each and every person on the earth. But the God in the Torah? He totally plays favorites. Being a pious person isn't nearly enough for him to show you favor. He seems to be all about collateral damage; huge numbers of people dying in battles so that he can teach one person a lesson. And he seems to also way favor the exalted over the everday Joe. What's that about?

Not to mention that this 'holy book,' this 'word of God,' appears to me to be filled with contradictions and mistakes. Sure, bible scholars have other names for them--doublets being my personal favorite way to explain away the fact that the same story is often told twice, with conflicting details--but they are what they are. That would be all well and good, except...This is the basis for why we so often go to war, both figuratively and literally, with one another? This is why we discriminate against our fellow man/woman, if said man/woman wants to love someone of their own gender? This is why there is so much hate out there? This document that can be manipulated to say almost anything you want, if you just put the right kind of spin on it?

Reading this, you'd think that my foray into religion has turned me off of religion. You couldn't be more wrong. I think that these issues make religion all that much more approachable for someone like me. I can look at it with my scientific mind and my literary bent, and I can grapple with it. I can consider and question. It's so clear to me that I'm not being told to simply accept. Nobody with a brain can simply 'accept' the Torah as it is written. I'm encouraged both by my rabbi and by the document itself--or so it seems to me--to consider the stories therein parables, which are thereby enriched with meaning and depth because I'm not told to take them at face value. And since questioning and wondering are what I do best, that makes religion so much more approachable to me.

In fact, what I like about Judaism is that this kind of questioning is not only accepted, but expected of me. After Jacob wrestles with "the angel" and wins, he is told that his name is no longer Jacob, but Israel--he who wrestles with God. As one of the people Israel, I am officially a God-wrestler. What I am doing, what I am thinking, is what I am supposed to be doing and thinking. I feel accepted in my religion, despite my doubts and my concerns. I feel welcomed to be exactly who I am, and to say and think exactly what I'm saying and thinking, except maybe without quite so much profane language.

It's quite the journey.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Uniquely Deep

"And how do you think he's doing, socially?" I asked near the end of our parent-teacher conference on Tuesday afternoon, after Mrs. W had gone over N's report-card grades, his academic strengths and weaknesses, and his still-obvious bouts of anxiety in class and how she's been handling them.

She leaned back in her chair and considered me. "I think there's still an issue there," she said, and then stopped. "I know what I want to say, but I feel like I need time to consider my words. Would it be OK if we waited until Thursday to talk about this a little more?"

[Thursdays are when I volunteer in N's classroom; I help out until the first recess, and then Mrs. W and I talk until she has to go out and watch the kids.]

"Sure," I said, a little worried. What could she possibly have to say that requires 48 hours of thought-gathering?

Today, in the fifteen minutes we had to talk, I found out.

She had this to say: "I think that N has a hard time finding common ground with other kids in the class because he's so different from them. He's definitely unique."

She had this to say: "N has a depth to him that I can't quite put my finger on, but I think it's a big part of what's going on with him."

She had this to say: "We may well ultimately find out that he's gifted."

She had this to say: "He may well ultimately be served well by being retained in kindergarten for another year because of some of his immaturity issues."

She had this to say: "On the other hand, he's drawn to adults and older kids, and another year in kindergarten isn't going to help with that."

She had this to say: "He's very sensitive."

She had this to say: "He has definite signs of anxiety, and we need to be sensitive to that, to take pressure off of him, because he can't perform under pressure."

She had this to say: "What I'd love to see is for N to find someone to be close friends with, to get close to another child in the class."

She had this to say: "I'm not sure it's going to happen."

She had this to say: "No, I'm not really sure how to make it happen."

I had a lot to say, myself. But, really, she said it all.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pressure Cooker

So there's car stuff, and work stuff, and kid stuff. There's stuff at the temple, stuff at the school, stuff at home. I keep moving, and I keep working, and it's fine. It's really fine. It's going to be fine.

It's just not going to let me take the time I need to write about it, is all.


Monday, December 04, 2006

Many Thousands of Dollars And A Few Nervous Breakdowns Later...

Meet Blue Clifford:

[My now-deader-than-a-doorknob very very red Mazda MPV was dubbed Big Red by N after viewing The Clifford Movie, in which the Clifford is named Big Red by a circus trainer. When asked what my new car should be called, N hesitated only seconds before announcing, "Purple Clifford." I had to proclaim that I would not be calling the car Purple Clifford since it is blue, not purple, before N would consider a slight revision to the name. He may only be 5, but he's one stubborn little cuss. He also makes a cameo appearance in the top photo.]

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Friday, December 01, 2006

When It Rains

Car. Just died. Officially.

AFTER the 800 bucks two weeks ago when the radiator overheated and we had to replace it and get new hoses.

AFTER the 50 bucks for the failed smog check.

AFTER the 100 bucks for the new switch that caused us to fail the smog check.

AFTER the 150 bucks for the brake job we did at the same time because we were going to have to do one sooner rather than later.

AFTER the 100 bucks we just sent in to DMV to renew my registration, trying to avoid having to pay a late fee and being assured the switch fix should solve the smog check failure problem.

NOW it turns out that the whole radiator thing cracked a head gasket, and it'd cost 2 GRAND to fix it.

All this AFTER I spent the morning trying to make sure I get all my vacation pay when I'm LAID OFF at the end of this month.


Helloooooooooo used car lot.

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