Monday, December 31, 2007

Be It Resolved

There are only about fifteen minutes until midnight here on the West Coast; we're back from our New York New Year's celebration (confetti and champagne at 9 pm in a room with 10 adults and 11 children under the age of 11) and N is still up (Em went to another friend's house after the party; they're going to the Rose Parade in the morning!), so I only have seconds to myself to put this down. And thus, without further ado, here it is: My Resolution.

I hereby resolve to be more selfish this year. Actually, I resolve to be more *effectively* selfish. In looking back at the last year, I feel like I spent almost the entire thing waiting for some kind of cosmic 'permission' to stop working so hard and stressing so much and to just do things that would make me feel better. But that permission never came...and all the hard work and stress got me NOwhere except depressed and angry. So, this year, I'm not going to wait. I'm going to work my garden even if that isn't going to help get us out of our financial morass, and I'm going to pick up my cross stitching again (it's been like TWO YEARS since I did ANY kind of crafting!) and I'm going to cook more homemade, healthy dinners since our health is worth the extra time and effort, and I'm not going to just let the housework slide because I have work to do...because the work never ends, and the housework keeps on sliding, and it's just NOT WORTH IT.

So there. I'm going back to the '80s and starting my own Me Decade in 2008.

And you?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Push or No?

I'm looking for advice here. But first, a little bit of background: I've talked so much about N's social issues--and about how much better things have been of late--that it's hard to find one post that summarizes them. Suffice it to say, he has social issues. He's had them for a long time. Also suffice it to say that those social issues are becoming squished into a smaller and smaller area of his area with an epicenter that sits squarely over his school. Put more bluntly: He has many social problems at school, not so many outside of it.

More background: His birthday, last year, was an unqualified disaster...if only from my point of view...and it's taken me almost a full year to shake off the feelings it engendered in me.

So, on to the advice-needing. In order to avoid last year's birthday mistake, I resolved to begin planning (and inviting) EARLY this year. And so, today, I started talking party-planning with N. We came up with the idea of having a golf party here--OK, so it's actually an idea my friend Deb had a year ago, but I remembered it and brought it up and N thought it was great, so I'm taking credit--for which we will set up a little miniature golf course in the backyard, and I'll give all the kids plastic putters and golf balls as their goodie bag gifts, and they can play with/beat each other over the heads with them while they're at the party. Fun for all! And N is already planning the 'golf cake' I'm going to make for him...with PINK grass. (Since he was three or four, this kid has had it in his head that the only yummy cake icing is pink cake icing...and he's insisted I use it on every cake I make for him.)

Then we sat down to make up an invite list. First up, of course, was WeeyumWise, the Best Friend Since the Beginning of Time. Then, in quick succession, the names of all the kids in The Gang. And six kids from our block, five of whom are significantly older than N. Then silence. And so I prompt: What about your friends from Hebrew school? His face lights up. "I forgot! We have to invite Zach! And Lex!" Great. And who should we invite from school? My pen is poised to write, until he says: "Nobody. I don't want to invite nobody from school."

He won't budge. "I just don't want to," he says in reply to my repeated entreaties, to my suggestions of individual kids he seems to like. "Nope, not him. Not her either." Finally, I ask: Do you feel like you don't have any friends at school? He nods, then shakes his head a little and names a couple of kids who are his friends. But then adds, "But I don't want to invite them to my party. I just want these people on the list already."

And so my question: Do I overrule? Do I assume he won't remember this conversation a month from now, and send out invitations to his classmates anyway? Do I keep pushing him on a regular basis to rethink this decision? Or do I simply respect his opinion, and invite the 16 kids he DID put on his list, and leave it at that? Because that's a lot of kids, right? Even if about half of them are really Em's friends?

I know this is mostly about me. It's about me wanting him to have lots of friends, and thinking that his not wanting to have anyone from his class at his party means he's an outcast there. As if inviting them would change that if it were true. As if attending a birthday party is a sign of true friendship. I'm just being stupid. That list has seven or eight little boys and girls who N really enjoys spending time with. They are his friends. They are his real friends. That's good. That's a victory.

Truth is, when I got over feeling the gut-punch of hearing those words come from my sweet little boy as he sat on my lap planning his party...when I got over that, I had to admit that choosing not to invite the kids from his class--the kids he chooses not to play with on a daily basis in the school yard--was a pretty mature thing to do. It felt like something he meant, that he was sure about. It didn't feel like it was coming out of thin air, or out of some external pressure he was picking up on, like so much of what he says and does. And I guess I should respect that. Because he is asking me to. Because he is telling me what he wants.

Right? Wrong?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Books I Heard in 2007, Part III

This should do it...

21. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron: I guess these were funny little essays...but meant for someone else. There was almost nothing that Nora talked about in this book that wasn’t almost diametrically opposed to my own point of view on a topic. The things she cares about are unimportant to me, which would be fine if she didn't write as if what she felt and she thought was universally shared by all women. In other words, she sounded like she thought she was talking to me—that’s the way she wrote these pieces—but she utterly was not.

22. Open House by Elizabeth Berg: Cute. Doesn’t deserve much more than that, but cute. Maybe it does deserve more. Sweet. Enjoyable. Totally obvious. Instantly forgettable.

23. A Prairie Home Companion 20th Anniversary Collection by Garrison Keillor: Oh, wait. This wasn’t a book. It was a taping of the ‘best of’s from a radio show. Never mind. (Made me laugh, though. I know that he has many detractors, but still, he always makes me laugh.)

24. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller: It was intriguing, nearly splendid in parts, but then got bogged down and weird in others. It didn’t quite make a point, and I beg to differ with the title (it was not about an African childhood; it was about Alexandra’s mother). Still, I enjoyed it, listened all the way through, and would even recommend it, if not vociferously.

25. My Antonia by Willa Cather: Hmmmm. I need to think about this one. I loved this story, but there were thing that really bugged me, these huge gaping holes in the story...or maybe I just missed the parts? Like the part where he actually says ANYTHING about how losing his parents affected him? Or, since the argument could go that that wasn’t part of the Antonia story, how about ANYTHING about the loss of his GRANDparents? You know, the people who raised him? He goes off to college, and doesn’t come back for 20-some years, and when he comes back, he waxes all elegiac about the house next door and how new people live there, but...the house he lived in? The people who raised him? Nada. What the fuck? Plus, not knowing who that initial narrator was supposed to be, which of the many characters in the book was the woman on the train...drove me friggin NUTS. I’m just saying.

26. A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore: Holy shit. How did I manage to ignore him for so long? I think it was because the first time I heard his name was in association with all these Jesus-themed books, and I didn't listen to anything that followed. But now? I plan to devour everything this man has ever written. In short: This book was flat-out brilliant, and even flatter-out hilarious.

27. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld: My first and abiding thought: Where’s the part where this is for ADULTS? I suppose I could possibly have cared less about this story, but I'm not sure how.

28. March by Geraldine Brooks: It's going to sound like I was lukewarm about this book, and in a way I was; I really could have taken or left this book and it wouldn't have bothered me either way. But that's not really fair, because it's a good story, and has some interesting things to say about narrator reliability in the end. It just didn't really rock my world, or even move it from side to side. It did make me determined to read Little Women with Em this coming year, though.

29. You Suck by Christopher Moore: Bwah! He cracks me up.

30. The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay: Huh? Wha? I really wish I would just stop listening to/reading a book when I find myself so completely annoyed by every minute I spend with it. It’s not that this book sucked (which it sort of did). It’s that it’s so poorly stilted and uninteresting and...and it’s about BOOKS. So it should ROCK. But, instead, it rolled.

31. The Amalgamation Polka by Stephen Wright: I can't remember why I even picked this up in the first place, because the whole Civil War battles thing? I'd just spent a week or two there with March (above) and that pretty much did it for me in that arena. Except here we were, in this strange little book with a vocabulary that made even ME--the kind of person who has always used a $10 word when a $.10 word would do--roll my eyes in derision. In the end, all I could think of to say was: Um, uh. OK. Whatever.

32. A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel: This is why I love memoirs, right here. This book. Perfect.

33. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki: Interesting. And then not. Annoying. And then less so. Poetic. And then ham-handed. I get what Ozeki was trying to do, but I hate being talked down to by authors who are trying to ‘teach’ stuff to me as they write fiction. And, as a science writer, I especially hated how stilted she made all the medical and environmental sections. It was an interesting concept, overall, and not something done to death, which I appreciated, but in the end, it was just not well enough done to overcome its downsides.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Books I Heard in 2007, Part II

11. After the Wreck, I Picked Myself Up, Spread My Wings, And Flew Away by Joyce Carol Oates: Too pat at the end, but man could she get inside what it can feel like to be a teenager.

12. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult: I think I’m over her now. Yes, I’m SURE I’m over her now. This sucked.

13. Runaway by Alice Munro: How good are these stories? I was, sadness in the pit of my stomach the third in the series of stories about Juliette, when everything went in a direction I just didn’t want it to go, because it just made me too sad, too hopeless. God, she’s good. Her writing is transcendent. Simple, and yet transcendent.

14. The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson: Old, dated in places, un-PC-ish in others (enough to make me cringe)...and yet freaking hilarious in so many spots. I laughed out loud more than once; actually, I laughed out loud more than a dozen times.

15. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan: I hate abridged versions of books, and if I’d realized this was abridged, I wouldn’t have bothered. Which would have been a pity, because it was really quite sweet—for a book about how a woman can raise 10 kids despite having a drunken, abusive asshole for a husband. Glad I listened. Nothing earthshattering here, but still. Glad I listened.

16. The Sea by John Banville: I listened all the way through because it wasn’t an especially long book. But, frankly, had it been longer, I’d have given up halfway in, out of sheer boredom and lack of interest. And yet. The writing was quite wonderful, and I guess in that sense I can see why it won the 2005 Man Booker Prize, but it didn’t touch me. Except for the ending, which I didn't see coming. And when a book gets me in the end, when there are plot twists I didn’t even pick up on—old, over-read, way-too-jaded TC—then I have to give the book its due. I wouldn’t say you should rush out and drop everything, etc., the end, it turned out not to have been a waste of time. And though it doesn't sound like much, that’s more than just faint praise.

17. Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood: I’m not convinced that this worked better as a collection of short stories than it would have as a cohesive novel, but I suppose I can see the argument for doing it the way she did. In any case, it was good. Not great. But really, solidly good.

18. The Know It All by AJ Jacobs: Even for a memoir (of sorts), this book was self-indulgent and often silly, and when it wasn’t it was preachy and pretentious. Still, I really enjoyed it. And not just because he uses my “I’m not a hypochondriac; I have things” line almost verbatim at least twice. But because I like book geeks. And anyone who read the Encyclopedia Britannica cover to cover and thinks that's cool is a book geek.

19. Fraud by David Rakoff: Yep. Still have a crush on him.

20. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood: You know, I hadn't read any Atwood since The Handmaid's Tale in...what, the late '80s? Earlier? Anyway, I had it in my head that she'd gone commercial and silly and overly sci-fi-ish, none of which are things I'm especially interested in spending my time reading. But I kept hearing her books recommended, and then I listened to Moral Disorders and liked it, so I gave this one a try. Bad choice. God, I couldn’t wait for this book to end. It’s not that it was badly written, but rather that it was completely and totally overwritten. The book-within-a-book thing? Why? It was...condescending. And its characters—to a man and/or woman—were utterly unlikeable or unsympathetic or, worst of all, just plain boring. As was the novel as a whole. What a disappointment.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Books I Heard in 2007, Part I

By the time I get through this year's collection of audiobooks, you all are going to think I'm Mikey (as in "Let's get Mikey! He hates everything!") of Life cereal fame. It's not true. I liked...a couple of books this year. Probably close to half of what I listened to, even. (Hey, it's not my fault if more than half of everything written these days just plain sucks.)

1. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger: Loved it...and wrote about it on my old blog. Read all about it.

2. All Aunt Hagar’s Children by Edward P. Jones: It wasn’t The Known World, but nothing could be. Still, it passed my personal short-story test: I wanted more. Not more of a particular story, because Jones is a good writer, and his stories were complete in themselves. But more of the characters, because they were so alive and vibrant. I wanted to hear more about them, and spend more time with them.

3. Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner: Oh, dear god, no. No. I can’t believe I listened to this entire book. I can’t believe I wasted my time on this...plot. And these characterizations. And that ENDING. Holy shit, that sucked. (The one saving grace? Weiner is such a pro as a writer overall that there are funny moments, good turns of phrase, etc. The writing as writing—as words, one after the other, making sense, having a ring to them—doesn’t suck. But the book? Totally sucks.)

4. After This by Alice McDermott: Nope. That definitely didn’t do it for me. I didn’t like these people, and I didn’t especially care about them, and I wasn’t at all sad when this was over.

5. The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg: I really have to remember to write my impressions of these books immediately after listening to them, because if I let it go even a little while, the wholly forgettable ones among them get, well, forgotten. And yet, I know I found this book fairly compelling as a story, and that I ‘read’ (listened to) it with a fair amount of emotion. I just can’t remember what that emotion was, or whether it was positive or negative. (I’m guessing I’ve just blown my chance of being quoted on the jacket cover of this book’s next reprint, huh?)

6. Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff: What is it with these hysterically funny gay men and their devastating and hilarious books of essays? I fall in love with them one after another...Sedaris, Burroughs, and now Rakoff. I wish I had half his sense of humor, and a quarter of his writing talent.

7. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: Yeah, it dragged here and there a little bit. But not enough to make a difference: It’s a good book, a great premise, and I am now a Bryson fan.

8. Digging to America by Anne Tyler: Ugh. Why do I keep reading Tyler when I haven’t found anything I’ve liked since Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant? (Or MAYbe the Accidental Tourist, except the movie version was so awful, and Gina Davis so annoying in it, that it’s been forever tainted in my mind.) In any case, this didn’t break my “nope, still not especially liking Tyler’s books” streak.

9. Heat by Bill Buford: Damn, I’m hungry now.

10. The Night Watch by Sarah Waters: Incredibly good. I thought it would annoy me, the sort of contrived structure of the piece, but it actually worked beautifully. Left me with many questions, but was still so satisfying as a story, as a novel, as a world to exist in for a little while.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Federal Holiday to All

Every Friday, the rabbi at our synagogue sends out a mass email with what is called a d'var torah, a discussion of the topics brought up by that week's torah portion (called a parsha). After the d'var torah, he gives the 'calendar of events' for the upcoming week or weeks. The one I got yesterday, for example, read as follows:
Tonight: Shabbat Evening Potluck - 6:15 pm, followed by Cool Shabbat Evening Service - 7:30 pm.
Saturday: Shabbat morning service - 9:30 am.
Sunday: No Religious School.
Monday: No Pre-School.
Tuesday: Office closed for federal holiday.
Wednesday and Thursday: Carpet installation in office.
Can I tell you that it took me a full minute to realize what 'federal holiday' he was talking about for Tuesday? And that, when I did, I laughed for a full minute more--and hard? After all, here I'd assumed that I'd pretty much covered the it's hard to be a Jew on Christmas thing, but apparently I have little to complain about compared to my clergy.

(FYI, the conversation at the potluck last night? A detailed and rousing discussion of whether it's traditional to go to a Chinese restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and whether that should be alternated or combined with going to the movies. I love my temple.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Books I Read in 2007, Part II

[This time, withOUT an annoyingly self-pitying intro!]

11. Three Junes by Julia Glass: I loved (like LOVED) the first two Junes, which may be why I was so disappointed by the third, rather mediocre June. (One book, three sections. Guess which month they’re each set in?) By the way, my timing in reading this book was intensely weird, considering that I read the parts about the death of a father, his cremation and his memorial service, on the airplane both to and from, yes, you guessed it, my dead father’s memorial service, after his cremation. Spooky.

12. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon: This was the pick of my synagogue's book club. And I had such high hopes, since several people whose opinions I really respect read and loved it. Whereas I...didn't. Well, I read it. I just didn't love it. Or, really, like it. I thought the language was fun, though I had the constant feeling that I was missing so many puns by not being enough of a Yiddish maven. And it seemed like it was going to be a really great plot, until it veered in the last third of the book into places that I literally couldn't follow. I seriously had no idea what happened at the end of the book, even after finishing it. So, yeah. I wasn't quite as enamored of it as so many other readers were--including more than half the compilers of Top Ten lists in major newspapers. Which is to say, never mind me. I apparently don't know what I'm talking about.

13. My Sister from the Black Lagoon by Laurie Fox: No, seriously. They published this? What a waste of an advance. I'd picked it up at because it was about mental illness, and I'm always up for a good Crazy Person story, being one myself. But it wasn't a good Crazy Person story. It was a very BAD story, and hardly about the Crazy Person at all. It's been a long time since I disliked a book quite this completely--probably since I read Carrie Fisher's The Best Awful. [TC shudders just from recalling that one...]

14. Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Miriam by Maggie Anton: Another pick from my synagogue book club; the second in a series. (I wrote about the first one in Part I of this list.) I found this volume simultaneously fascinating and infuriating. So many gay Medieval Jews (the fascinating part) treating their wives atrociously (the infuriating part). Of course, to even say this is to ruin the experience for anyone who, like me, comes to this book with no information on what it is about, and assumes--based on Book I--that it will be more variations on the same Talmud, wine and romance theme. Uh, no. Not so much. But that's OK, because I liked this version--with its themes of Talmud, lust, and foreskins--a whole lot more.

15. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Fascinating. Great execution of a really interesting concept. This is the sort of book I would have liked to have read with a group...not a book club, though, but rather a literary crit class. Because I feel as if I missed a lot of symbolism and threading and foreshadowing (and post-shadowing, too) in this very complex novel. I could have used a guide of some sort to help me get more out of it. I think I would have liked that. Even so, I enjoyed it greatly, and recommend it highly.

16. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: Nothing will be gained from hearing me go on and on about Jane Austen and how much I adore her, because really, where's the novelty in that? But I do. The only interesting thing I have to say with regards to this book is to recommend reading it the way I read it: through DailyLit. If you haven't ever checked out DailyLit, do. Plenty of free books to be had there. And how strange to have Austen appear suddenly on my laptop, amidst the penis enlargement and Vicodin ads. It made my day, every day. Now I just need to decide what to read next...

17. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert: There is a section early in this book, in the part about Italy, where she talks about antidepressants and her feelings about them, and damn if she didn’t basically rewrite everything I’ve ever written on the subject myself. But enough about me--even if that similarity did raise every hair on my body in eerie recognition. Gilbert does a great job with this memoir. The whole book is really...I don’t want to say inspiring, because I really felt, the whole time, like she is in such a different place in her life than I am in mine, and thus I wasn't 'inspired' to try to be like her in any real way. ‘Searching for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia’ isn’t really something you can do when you have two kids under the age of 11, you know? And yet I have the feeling that somewhere in there, there’s a way I can make her journey mine. I just need to think about it a bit more.

18. Away by Amy Bloom: Yet another synagogue-book-club read. The writing is almost edibly gorgeous, though distancing, and I felt as if I understood almost every other character in the book better than I understood Lillian. And, oh, wasn’t the last fifth of the book taken almost directly out of a Harlequin Romance I once read? There is likely more to say, but really, all I could think of through most of the book was this: Why is there an enormous bowl of fruit on the cover? What did I miss?

19. Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh: Ooooh, that Kimble guy is a big freaking jerk. And boy did he remind me of my dad in a lot of ways. And wow did I not need THAT for my bedtime reading. Nonetheless--despite the soap opera-ish aspect of the story, and the similarities to my father, and the somewhat disappointing end--it's a good book. Written well, executed well. A quick, good read. Didn't rock my world, but didn't waste my time. And that really isn't meant to damn with faint praise. It's meant to simply praise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I'm working on a really cool article for a really major magazine, which I am superstitiously not talking about too much, since I'm sort of convinced I'm going to screw it up and then you'd all be asking me about it and looking for it in the magazine, and I'd just want to kill myself.

But I did just have to say this: It's been a long time since I've done any real science reporting, and I had forgotten just how big of a kick it is to do a really great interview. Don't get me wrong; I hate having to do interviews, because I am insanely phone phobic with people I don't know, and it is almost physically painful to have to dial the number of a relative stranger, even if he or she has agreed to the interview and is waiting patiently for my call. But once the call is underway--and once I determine whether the person on the other end is friendly or aggressive, helpful or annoyed at the interruption, down-to-earth or convinced he's the Medical Messiah--then I can relax and start to enjoy the familiar-after-more-than-20-years-in-this-business feeling of learning something from a master...and learning it before almost anyone else has learned it. (I never said I wasn't competitive.) This isn't investigative reporting; I don't do that, and I wouldn't be any good at it. This is barely reporting at all. Really, what it is is education. And I have always loved learning, especially when that learning involves connecting rather arcane bits of information with a much larger and more relevant subject, and the person I'm talking to helps me to make those connections for myself.

In other words, I'm still just an eighth-grader at heart, waiting for my biology teacher to put a hand on my shoulder and say, "Yes, TC! Exactly! Good work!"

The boost from this morning's interview won't take me very far--especially after the call this morning from the mechanic working on Baroy's car, detailing another $500-plus in repairs he thinks needs to be done but we won't approve because we just don't have it--but it's something. And, right now, I needed something.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Books I Read in 2007, Part I

In a vain attempt to not let this become The Blog of Doom and Destruction, I am not going to devote this entry to discussing how, after the washer and the tires and the teeth, Baroy's transmission died on Sunday morning, soon to leave a $2,000-we-don't-have hole in our bank account. And I'm definitely not going to devote this entry to detailing how, for the first time, we talked seriously about When It Will Be Time to Give Up and Put the House on the Market Before We Lose Everything (well, OK, it was more sobbing than talking, but you get my drift...). No decisions have been made, so maybe it's best I'm not going to get into it; there are still miracles possible, I suppose, and even if there aren't, the Time to Give Up is not yet. It's only a few months away, best I can figure, but it's not yet.

And so I don't want to think or write about it any more. Instead, let's talk books. Ah, but first, a quick, self-indulgent, if-this-doesn't-cheer-me-up-nothing-will bit of conversation from about 15 minutes ago:

Baroy (calling from N's room): N, come help me clean up in here!
N (standing by the whiteboard in the kitchen and immediately bursting into tears): BUT!
Baroy: No buts. Come here now.
Baroy: NOW.
N (in full wailing mode): BUT I'M WRITING A LOVE LETTER TO MOMMY!

I have a 6-year-old who writes me love letters. What could put a damper on that?

And so, onward to the first installment of Books I Read in 2007:

1. First, I should mention that I read large chunks of a number of different books for my adult education class at my temple this year. The one that really stuck out (aside from, you know, the Torah) was one that I have really only had time to 'taste' along the way: Jewish Literacy, by Joseph Telushkin. If you have questions about Jewish history or ethics or traditions or what-have-you, Teluskin's hefty-yet-concise volume has the answers. Especially to the what-have-you questions. This is now a permanent bedside-table book.

2. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: Frankly, my dear, I expected better. I'd heard so much about Bechdel, and while I've never been a regular reader of Dykes to Watch Out For, I've always been impressed with what I did manage to catch. But this...memoir...just seemed somehow shallow. Or something. It's not just that it didn't resonate, but it didn't capture me, either. And I expected it to.

3. I'm a member of romance writer Shirley Jump's yahoogroup, Just Write It, and find both her and her writing totally captivating. (Don't even think about judging me, you book snob over there in the corner. I have a long-standing love of the Harlequin genre that can be traced back to my preteen years, when my grandmother used to subscribe to Harlequin Romances, and passed each batch of books on to me. Together, we devoured dozens of the suckers each year, and even went to fan luncheons together. Every time I read a romance novel these days, I think of Grandma. And I miss those luncheons.) And so, I've made it a point to pick up all of Shirley's books along the way. This year's crop included: Pretty Bad (in which I had the added fun of seeing characters from a previous book come back to visit); The Legacy; Back to Mr. & Mrs.; Married By Morning; Miracle on Christmas Eve; and Really Something. They were all really fun. Which is exactly what they're supposed to be.

4. A Good Dog by Jon Katz: I love Jon Katz. And not just because I once emailed him after reading an article of his in Slate, and he wrote me back, just like a real person. I also love all his books. But this one just about tore my heart open. There will never be another Orson.

5. Night by Elie Wiesel: I wrote about this on my old blog, when I first started reading it. It never got any easier. It never got any less painful. It never got any less beautiful.

6. Rashi’s Daughters (Book One: Joheved) by Maggie Anton: Maggie's a member of some sort at my synagogue, and our rabbi and his wife just adore her, as do a number of other members there. When this book first came out, the synagogue's book club read it and--when I decided to join the club in the beginning of this year--they told me it was a Must Read, even if I'd missed the discussion by several months. At first I found it, frankly, slow. Not at all what I'd expected. And yet, its language and its ideas are rich and intriguing in many ways, and held me. I could not stop reading it. Nor could I quite figure out why. By the end of the book, I found that I much preferred Joheved's younger sister, Miriam, and was really looking forward to reading 'her' book when it came out later in the year. I'll be talking about that book later, but here's a hint: It was Not At All Slow. And also not at all what I'd expected, based on this first installment.

7. The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt (essays, edited by Ruth Andrew Ellison): This book of essays, which includes funny and touching pieces from people like Ayelet Waldman, Aimee Bender, Molly Jong-Fast, and more, was the first book I read for my temple book club. And, as I told my fellow book club members, I have to say that while many of the essays were in many ways wonderful...the book as a whole depressed me a little. It was all about people walking away from Judaism, walking away from faith. And because, in certain ways, I’m walking TOWARD it these days, I’d have liked to have heard more about modern, young (in my dreams, I know, but I still do think of myself as young) Jewish women who are embracing and finding something to savor in Judaism. (Yes, I realize that then it couldn’t be called The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt. Work with me, will you?)

8. Small Island by Andrea Levy: What a great book. Well deserving of its awards; well deserving of being read. Fabulous writing. You could absolutely hear the accents and feel the emotions--despite the fact that there were four major characters, and the book skipped around in time and place and voice. And not only that: It was also a great story. A really, really great story. Socked me in the stomach at the end...a feeling which caught me by surprise. I truly didn’t see it coming, though I was well aware of my attachment to some of these folks, despite all their faults and foibles.

9. Davita’s Harp by Chaim Potok: I read this on the recommendation of one of the older ladies at my synagogue; she bought a copy for our temple library, but first insisted I take it home and read it. And so I did. It was not at all what I thought it would be. Such spare writing, such an interesting story. I won’t say it changed my life, but I’m glad I read it. Which sounds trite, in retrospect, but is nonetheless simply and completely true.

10. Bobbie Faye’s Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey: I’ve ‘known’ Toni--in that weird blogger-to-blogger-plus-having-friends-in-common way--for a number of years now, but I didn’t know what her fiction writing was like. This was wildly fun. Silly, implausible, but laugh-out-loud funny, romantic, and—did I mention?—fun. Not my genre, not what I’d normally read, but that made it even MORE fun, I think. Plus, I didn’t see the final twists coming, so that was cool, too. Looking forward to reading the second book soon. I can't IMAGINE how she's going to keep this much momentum and energy going.

[More to come...]

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Morning's Post

When I was planning out this post this morning, it was going to be about how it is simply impossible that Em came out of me. I was going to be saying that because--after a rather traumatic day yesterday where Baroy took her to the dentist because there was a lump on her gum, and it turned out to be an abscess that had formed over a dead, capped tooth and so the tooth needed to be pulled--this child who supposedly is related to ME, hypochondriac extraordinaire, basically refused all pain medication and insisted on attending her soccer practice last night, even though she wasn't allowed to participate. And when I went to pick her up from practice, she was sobbing almost hysterically, and I thought, "Oh, she's in pain!" and went running to her, only to find out that she was pissed because the coach had made it a fun practice and let the parents play against the kids, and she wasn't allowed to play with them. And it was as if her heart were broken. Whereas, had it been me...well, it wouldn't have been, because if there's anything I have always hated more than dentists, it was playing team sports, which I have always sucked at and found way too stressful. And had I been there at that practice, I would probably have found a reason not to play, even for fun. Whereas my kid thought it was the Worst Day Ever, not because she had a tooth yanked from her head, but because she had to WATCH while her teammates beat the pants off their parents.

So that's what I was going to write about. Until I got to Em's classroom today for her class's holiday party, and found out that she had lost most of a filling in a tooth on the OTHER side of her mouth. At which point I was going to write a post about how much money has been flying out of our house in just the past two weeks (the current tally: a broken washing machine that couldn't be repaired, thus requiring a brand-new one to be purchased; four new tires for Baroy's car yesterday after he blew one on the freeway and was told at least two others were close behind; Em's pulled tooth from yesterday; and now probably a crown or something for the tooth that had lost its filling.

So that's what I was going to write about. Until Baroy called me from the dentist's office, laughing somewhat hysterically, to tell me to get those Tooth Fairy gold coins out again. Because, apparently, the tooth was just crumbling underneath the filling, and since it was a baby tooth, the dentist recommended just yanking it--and doing it today, so that Em didn't have to worry about it all weekend.

And so that is what I am writing about. How my poor baby had to have TWO teeth pulled in the past two days, and how she was crying in fear and pain, and yet how she came home, pulled herself together, and is now--less than an hour later--out in her friend S's backyard with the rest of the neighborhood kids, bleeding into a gauze pad and talking like a mini Don Corleone, and yet giggling and gossiping and having a blast.

Which brings me full circle, I guess. Who's child IS this? And how can I get to be more like her?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Power to the People

There is a God, and she is good (unless she is really just a big jokester, and the email I received from the benefits-powers-that-be at Viacom just an hour ago is part of some horrible prank):

As a result of the input you’ve given to us directly through the sessions and your managers, we want to announce the following changes:

· We are expanding our freelance and temporary medical and dental benefits options to include the United Healthcare plan under which many of you are currently covered. This means anyone who is eligible for benefits in 2008 can opt for medical and dental coverage with United Healthcare at the current rate of contribution, or you can elect instead to enroll in the newly offered Aetna plan.

Thank you, Viacom. I feel like I just won the freaking lottery, and I want to give credit where credit is due, though I'm not sure in whose lap to put the credit. I don't even care why they changed their minds really...All I know is that I would have been willing to bet body parts that that note would never have hit my mailbox, not in a million year.

That sound you hear? That's me, breathing, for the first time in five days.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The News Ticker

If misery loves company, my misery is very happy: Viacom freelancers protest

This doctor (mis)treated my stepfather in 2004, robbing him of most of his sight in his left eye. My stepdad's not one of the people mentioned in this piece, so who knows who many people this fool preyed on? There are times when I wish we had a literal eye-for-an-eye justice system. I'd like to personally aim a laser at that guy's retina and burn it out in retribution. I'm guessing my mom would rather it be done more painfully--perhaps with a spoon and without anesthesia?

The report from N's private speech eval came in. There's nothing in there that I didn't know, except for the first time I have a piece of paper that says he has a speech disorder and has a specific diagnostic code next to it. (Now all I need is health insurance...) So that's good. Besides, who can complain about an evaluation that calls your kid "a sweet, charming and delightful little boy"? I'll provide more detail later, but suffice it to say it says everything I'd hoped it would say.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I am so bitter and angry right now, I can't even think about being funny

It's, what? Three weeks until the end of the year? And the good folks over at Viacom--the folks who own Nickelodeon and thus ParentsConnect, for whom I would say I work, but they've been making it quite clear that I am not any part of their 'family'--decided just yesterday to unveil their changes to our health insurance program. I had been forewarned, by rumors flying around, that it was not a positive change. We freelancers/contractors had been--until now--covered by the same plan as employees. Almost as if we were real people! And thus they needed to put a stop to THAT, toot suite (sweet? depends on your dictionary).

And so now we have Aetna Affordable Health Choices: A Limited Accident & Sickness PPO Insurance Plan.

Affordable? Uh, no. Gonna cost me more than the 'un'limited plan I had until now. Choices? Uh, no. You people have now given me less then three weeks, DURING THE HOLIDAYS, to find something that will actually cover my family, which simply can't be done. Limited? Dingdingdingdingding! Check it: a $25,000 CAP on overall benefits per year. A $50 CAP on prescription drug benefits per month. A $2,000 CAP on hospital-billed charges per year. (But, HEY, don't complain girly! They're also offering SUPPLEMENTAL hospital insurance, for only another $40-some a month--which gives you a whole $100 a day extra as a hospital inpatient or a full $1,000 for one stay in the hospital per year. Yippeee! I'm home free now!)

In other words, this is literal health insurance. Get sick, have an accident...file for bankruptcy. This plan won't come close to covering any kind of 'real' illness. I know for a FACT that it won't cover the operation we were going to try to schedule for N's hernia and testicle next year. (Viacom to N: "Sorry little boy! We needed to save some money so we can give Spongebob a raise! You understand, don't you? And hey, you have one good testicle! What more can you ask for?")

Full court press for a new job begins...well, it began yesterday. After the half-hour crying jag that scared my kids half to death. So much for my need to be at home. So much for N's need to have me around after school. The only upside is that my decision to burn as many bridges as possible when I leave this job will now include passing along info on the way freelancers like myself--someone who has officially worked 35 hours a week every week this year, since I don't get vacation time, and often worked significantly more--are being treated by a company that asks for their loyalty, time, and talents, and gives them a total ass-fucking in return. (Uh, sorry, Mom.) Happy Holidays, Viacom.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


Just a little bit of a newsy, here-and-there, too-stressed-and-busy-to-craft-a-real-entry N-related entry:

The assessment is ON. The occupational therapist visited his class on Tuesday, and spoke with me afterwards, going on and on about how cute N was and how friendly. (I told her that there's friendly, and then there's flirting, and he falls squarely in the latter category, especially with women. I was going to say young women, but the truth is that he told me he wanted to marry the speech pathologist after we visited her, and I'd put her in her mid-to-late 50s, which isn't really young, especially when you're not-yet seven. Actually, what he said was, "I wanna marry that blue girl [she wore a blue shirt the day of the assessment] when I'm old, after I have my firefighter wife.") I'm worried, though, because it didn't sound like the OT 'saw' much. However, his teacher made a point of giving her an article on sensory processing disorder from this week's Time (something she found on her own, and which she gave me a copy of as well), saying that it really sounded like N to her. I like that. A lot. She's obviously thinking about him. Plus, it makes it clear that SHE is seeing stuff too, and it's not just old Munchausen-by-proxy me. (Kidding. Really. But sometimes I get the feeling that the district sees me that way...)

Today, while I was working in the classroom, the 'team leader'/school psychologist (but not the Idiot School Psychologist), another young woman, came in to observe him. N came running up to me and said, in a stage whisper, "Is this another girl who's going to talk to me?" (We've been letting him know more or less what's going on--that there are people who will be talking with him and playing with him and trying to figure out the best way to help him do even better in school--so he doesn't feel like a monkey in cage and get confused and anxious.) When I nodded yes, he pumped a fist in the air, and said, "Yipppeeee!" He is just loving having the ladies spend time with him. There is nothing this kid loves more than undivided attention from adults.

And tomorrow begins the testing that will be done by the 'resource specialist' at the school--the woman who does one-on-one reading/math/whatever for kids who need a little extra. I'm not sure he's going to qualify, but I did make a point of telling her to take a look at his test scores from the end of this trimester; the reading test they give on the computers in the computer lab put N as BY FAR the lowest in his class, at a grade equivalent of second month of KINDERGARTEN. You know, when they are STILL LEARNING THE ALPHABET. That is not N. N is possibly not yet reading at grade level, but he's definitely reading. I'd buy late kindergarten. But pre-primer? Nope. So I want someone to help me figure out why that is. (My guess: Test anxiety. Which he would come by honestly, since I totally had it. But also, there's the whole "he kicks butt on math and spelling tests" thing, so I think there's also more than a bit of language disorder in there, too. It seems that the problem lies almost exclusively in any testing that involves whole sentences, especially--at this point at least--fill-in-the-blanks tests. He doesn't do well on those at all.)

The speech therapist has yet to do her thing, and the OT wants to come back and focus more on fine motor stuff, since she didn't get to see enough of that, and I don't know how many days the resource specialist is supposed to take him (she said it would be over "several" days, which is fine, since she's on-site and can just take him for half an hour here and there) and I don't know if the psych will be back one more time or more than one more time...But there's a lot of activity going on. Which I thought would make me feel calmer, but it's just worrying me. Because he's doing really WELL right now, the little bastard. (Just kidding! Love him! To pieces!) So I'm figuring they're all going to wonder why I'm so freaked out, and then they'll laugh me out of the IEP, and then, right around February when it's all over, he'll just fall apart again.

Yep, that glass is DEFinitely half empty.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Poor Widow

You know those stories you always used to hear--back in the day of the Husband Who Worked and the Wife Who Stayed Home Because No Wife of MINE is Going to Work Damnit--about the woman whose husband either died suddenly or left her for his secretary, and the woman didn't know how to write a check or even where the checkbook WAS?

That would be me. If Baroy dies, I am so screwed. (In ADDITION to being bereaved, I mean. I would care! Really I would! Don't look at me like that! I'm just making a point here.) Luckily, being chronically unemployed means he doesn't have a secretary for whom he can leave me. I knew there was an upside to his job situation if only I looked long enough.

I realized this today when I needed to find my passport in order to fill out a bunch of paperwork I have to redo for no reason for ParentsConnect. (Don't ask. No, really, don't. It just makes my head explode in anger and frustration, and then the walls get messy.)

The good news is that I know where the Super Secret Hiding Spot for Important Papers is. (Well, OK. I knew about where it was, and I only looked in three wrong places before hitting the right one. Don't burst my bubble, people.) The bad news? Is that there's a lock box in that location. And that lock box requires a key. And I hadn't the faintest idea where that key was or might be. I didn't even know what KIND of key it was. And since my head was already exploding from the frustration of having to fill out this paperwork in the first place...well, let's just say that then having to try to track down my husband (at the gym/not answering his cell phone for the first hour I tried it over and over again) to find out where the key was made me just the eeeeeeeeniest bit angry. Angrier, I mean. The walls, they are plenty messy now.

I hate feeling like a stranger in my own home. I've abdicated responsibility for most financial/paperwork/legal stuff to Baroy, for very good reasons, most of which fall either under "He's really good at it" or "I'm exceptionally bad at it." But that's no excuse for me having let things get so far away from me that I'm not sure what banks we do business with or who holds our mortgage or how much we have in our investment accounts. (Or is it account, singular? I'm not sure.) And there's no excuse for me not to know where the frickin' key is. Any frickin' key, to any part of this house or our lives.

He just better not die, is all I can say. At least not until I make a copy of that key.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Books I Read With Em in 2007

It's December, and you know what that means. Oh, wait. You only know what that means if you used to read my old, no-longer-owned-by-me blog. So, instead, let me tell you what it means. It means that I am about to embark on a multi-post recounting of the books I read (or heard as audiobooks) in the last 12 months.

I'm going to start with the books that Em and I read together this year. (And by together I mean a literal back-and-forth--sometimes page-by-page, sometimes section-by-section, sometimes until-one-of-our-voices-starts-to-give-out.) There are only a small handful in this list, because we really only get to read every other night--with nights off for sleepovers (hers) and deadlines (mine) and trips (hers and mine) and those times when she's engrossed in whatever book she's reading on her own, and wants to use her bedtime reading time to progress on that end instead.*

Still, good things come in short lists. Or something like that. So, without further ado...
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engel: Reading this book with your child is a singular, not-to-be-missed experience. I cannot think of a single work of children's fiction that is this rich and intelligent and intense. (I'd say that it blows Harry Potter away, except I haven't read Harry Potter, so it would be kind of a stupid thing to say. I'm seriously considering reading the series, though, just so I can say it without sounding stupid.) We were both absolutely swept up in this story--me for the umpteenth time, Em for the first. All I can say is that the promise, the imagining of this kind of reading and sharing experience with my child is what made me want to be a parent. [BTW, we started and finished this well before L'Engel died this year; in fact, we'd already begun reading A Wind in the Door (see below) when her death was announced. It was touching, however, how much it affected much this woman, who Em had never even heard of a year before, had come to mean to her.]
  • Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume: Did I say that reading A Wrinkle in Time with your child was a singular, not-to-be-missed experience? Reading Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret with your 9-year-old daughter is an equally singular, not-to-be-missed experience. There is nothing as sweet as being snuggled up under a comforter with the child who used to be your baby but is now, um, developing into something very much Not Baby, and giggling hysterically and in unison at "We must...We must...We must increase our bust." Nothing. You must do it, you who have pre-pubertal or newly pubertal girls. I insist. You can thank me later. (By the way...I had remembered all the puberty stuff, but had almost completely blanked on the fact that much of the book is about her search for faith and religion and a sense of belonging. It's really quite a rich book, and that surprised me. The intensity with which Em enjoyed it was not a surprise, though it did please me deeply.)
  • Ida B by Katherine Hannigan: There's a funny-to-me-only story behind why we read this book, having to do with a friend who has a kid a year ahead of Em recommending it to us...except actually meaning to recommend So B. It (see below) instead. As we read this book--a sweet book about schooling both at home and not, and about a young girl dealing with her mother's illness--I kept wondering where the part about the mentally challenged mother was, or the part where the girl goes on a journey by herself, as that friend had mentioned. In any case, we both really enjoyed the book, which ultimately swept us both up, even if it wasn't what I was expecting.
  • So B. It by Sarah Weeks: All I can say is that this book almost literally ripped my heart out. Em had to do all the reading for the last couple of chapters, because I couldn’t even get the words out. I sobbed so hard we both wound up laughing. I was a mess. It was a wonderful book, though I would warn any parent out there to make sure you read it with your kid, especially if she’s a preteen. There are some tough topics in there, and some emotionally difficult areas, and even though in our case it was Em who had to hold MY hand through the ending, I think it helped her to have me there, too. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself to assuage my ego. (And yes, I read lots of reviews from people who were wholly unimpressed with this book. I don't care. I loved it, and it broke my heart.)
  • A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engel: This book is hard. There is vocabulary in here that challenged me, much less my 10-year-old kid. And the concepts. This is work-your-brain-and-hard literature. I don't think it's as effective or as transformative as A Wrinkle in Time, but even at her not-as-effective, L'Engel is better than 90 percent of the writers out there, and 98 percent of the writers of kids' books. We both cried at the end for Proginoskes, but then grinned through our tears to find Charles Wallace's oxygen tank already stowed in the corner of the room. We have our next two books picked out (first up: Anne of Green Gables; then either Little Women or Number the Stars, depending on our mood), but after that, Em wants to slot in A Swiftly Tilting Planet. "I don't want to be away from this family for too long," she told me. Me neither.
*Fear not, those who are interested in the reading choices of a just-arrived tween. I convinced her to keep a list of her reading this year, and I'm hoping to convince her to write up a line or two about each one and let me put it on my blog in addition to getting her to post it on hers.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have (Environmentally Friendly) Fun

[I know most people are breathing deeply and not posting today, but--while I make no promises about continuing on an every-day-for-the-rest-of-my-miserable-and-tacky-life basis--I still have stuff to say! So...]

One of Em's best friends had her 11th birthday party last night. Except it wasn't a birthday party, exactly--it was C and Em and C's mom and dad having a Big Time night on the town. The plan was to rent a limo, go have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, cruise down Hollywood Boulevard to take in the sights, and then return to C's house for ice-cream cake and a sleepover. C and Em have been talking about and planning for this for months, choosing and discarding outfits, coordinating earrings, picking out the stuffed animals that would accompany them on their journey. (They may be growing up too fast, but parts of them are lagging deliciously behind.)

Putting aside my personal feelings about hosting such an event were the tables turned (I. Would. Rather. Die.), I was excited for Em, and stayed to chat with C's mom when I dropped her off this afternoon. While I was there, the phone rang. It was the limo company, calling to apologize, but they had a little problem: the limo that C's mom and dad had rented was not going to be available this evening. But, to make it up to them, the limo company would be glad to offer them a choice of a Hummer H-2 stretch limo, or an Escalade. Repeating this all aloud to the girls, C's mom then asked, "So, which would you guys prefer?"

"The Hummer!" the girls screeched in unison, already beginning to jump up and down. But, suddenly, Em stopped jumping.

"But, oh..." she said, her face falling. "I don't know. I mean, Hummers are really bad for the environment, right Mom?"

Pause. Cue hysterical laughter.

Sometimes I wonder if stories like these translate properly on a blog...if it's possible for me to make you understand just how hysterical and how simultaneously, heartbreakingly sweet that moment was. But C's mom and I both had to wipe tears from our eyes. Luckily, Em was only indignantly embarrassed about being laughed at for a few seconds, until I managed to stop giggling and hugging her long enough to assure her that a single ride in a Hummer limo would not, on its own, destroy an entire rainforest or the Alaskan wilderness.

P.S. She was totally over it by the time they stopped by our house on the way home in the limo to pick up C's cake (we have an extra fridge/freezer in our garage, and C's mom's fridge was too small to fit the cake, so I offered to store it for a few hours, since we live right around the corner from them). In fact, she was so over it that she dragged me outside to see how the limo had HARDWOOD FLOORS (since when have hardwood floors become luxurious?) and all sorts of (exceptionally tacky, though she thought they were awesome) neon lights and stuff all over the walls and ceiling, etc. C's dad told me Em had hung out the moon roof as they cruised Hollywood Boulevard, yelling at everyone she could see that it was her friends birthday, and managed to garner C quite a few birthday wishes. I'd say "that's my girl," but really? That is the complete opposite of me. So, instead, I'll say, "that one fabulous girl," and leave it at that.