Monday, July 30, 2012

Doing Stupid Things, Garden Edition.

Twice this past week I've tried to ruin my vegetable garden, but it appears to be fighting back.

The other night I turned the hose on to soak it as I was cooking dinner. I was sure I'd remember to run back outside as soon as I was done making the salad.

Oops. Didn't realize until about 9:00 the next morning that I was flooding not just the garden, but the neighbors' yard and our yard. And we're on metered water now. Can't wait to see that bill.

The second one I'm not even sure how I did... but I know it was me.

I went out this morning to check my daily haul (as I always do) and I let the dog out into the backyard when I walked out. After figuring out how to balance 13 cherry tomatoes, a giant cucumber, a zucchini, five green beans and two fistfuls of basil in my hands, I closed the gate that keeps my garden separate from the rest of the yard, said something sweet to Hurley Dog, and headed inside. I dumped the veggies on the counter and came back to lock the slider because we were on our way to Costco and the grocery store.

Long story, short, I've been home three times today between stores and dropping the kids off and I wondered where ol' HD was hiding. I figured he found a spot in the shade because it's about 100 degrees outside. Finally I started to get worried a minute ago so I went out and called and called him. He always comes right when I do, so that worried me even more. I headed over to the side yard to see if he had somehow gotten out to the front or if someone had gotten in our yard... and there he was, locked in the side yard with the garden, laying in the spot formerly held by my green beans and strawberry plants, looking guilty.

I guess it wouldn't be summer unless Hurley destroyed some portion of my hard work in the garden. And again, I'm sure I'm the one who didn't latch the gate right. I have nobody to blame.

Sigh.

No, Mom, I don't know who got into your garden and ate all those strawberry plants. No idea.
No, Mom, I don't know who got into your garden and ate all those strawberry plants. No idea.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's Zen Time again, boys and girls!

For the last two years, I've declared my second-to-last (penultimate, if we're using our big words) week of summer to be Zen Time, a time: "devoted to [reading] one last book, cooking delicious meals, laying in the sun for hours at a time, wearing spaghetti strap tops, short shorts and bare feet (before I have to turn back into Mrs. P, the modest adult), napping, walking, and drinking."

I can't say I'm happy to see ol' ZT arrive, because it means my summer has nearly zipped away, but I enjoy the idea of devoting a whole week to rolling around in the goodness that is my summer life. My real life. Last year I came up with a list of rules for Zen Time and they seem to still be pretty relevant. Let me summarize 'em for ya:

Don't do anything you don't want to do.

Celebrate the stuff you do love to do.



The end.

For real, though, my only hopes for this next week are to swim a lot and eat good, homemade food. Since I've gotten my fill of ocean recently, I feel like I'm in a good place to zen out. I love the books I'm reading right now (see the sidebar at right for links) and I am sure the monkeys will be more than happy to help me goof off for seven days.


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I would be really, really happy if my tomatoes would go ahead and ripen--I feel like I've been saying since the beginning of June that I have green tomatoes, and all they need to do is turn red. I have basil coming out my ears, waiting to be made into pesto and to be eaten in concert with some olive oil and the aforementioned awesome and well-attended tomatoes from my garden. I'm getting so annoyed. I have this whole garden full of big, beautiful plants and all it's produced so far is some sweet peppers and a boatload of cucumbers. TOMATO TIME, PLEASE. Or, I don't know. Zucchini. Or yellow squash. Or jalapenos. Or any other of the things I PLANTED. So impatient.

So you know, I'll be keeping an eye on that. That's about the extent of my plan when it comes to things around here.

It has been a good summer, especially since I kicked the whole thing off with residency and family time in southern California. But I am not ready to be Mrs. P again. Not, not, not. I'm a bit anxious about the school year that's about to start. Lots of changes this year for me. Here's hoping that ZT helps me celebrate what a wonderful blessing it is to be home with my family before I have to man up and go back to work.

Swimmies

The kids have been up at E's parents all week taking swim lessons. Hence my freedom to go to SF, read books, lay by the pool and post about epic jam failures (and successes). E took them up the first day and watched the first lesson, and I picked them up yesterday so I could see the last one. Now that I have my super duper telephoto lens, I was able to properly stalk my children as they showed off all of their skills.

Every summer I'm amazed at how much stronger they look in the water. All of the sudden, Ad has a big kid body. For both of them, it seems like things just click a little bit better than last year. Hanko dove off the diving board and swam the length of the pool. Roo can do every stroke now, and she's working on side breathing for freestyle. Sigh. They're like, all big and stuff.

On the way home we stopped at the outlets to buy school shoes. I think they're all set now. Two weeks left--that's it! I asked them in the car what they wanted to do this summer that we haven't done yet. Ad said "swim every day." Done.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

ZOla-MG

That was such a horrible attempt at a joke that I'm proud. I'm going to leave it to shine in all its awkward glory. You know, Zola? As in Emile Zola? As in ZOMG? Come at me, bro.




Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola
(Here's my attempt at phoenetic French for ya. You say it kind of like this: Teh-rez Ra-kun.)

Mmkay. I want you to ignore that old-as-feez book cover up there and just listen to me.

You listening? Aiight.

I loved this book. No, really! It's so good. I was completely wrapped up in it, and I didn't intend to be. Here's a list of all the reasons I bought it:

1. Kate Winslet was reading the audio book version.

The end.

Yeah, I know. I'm not always real choosy. But in my pursuit of not being the worst read person in history, I try to read the "classics" from time to time (do those have a big C?). You know the kind I mean. The ones from Penguin with the horrible book covers. Books that look like they're about (see above for reference) a person laying on a couch, about to barf from drinking too much of whatever the 19th century equivalent was of Purple Drank... Spoiler alert: It's not about that.

So I chose this one because I don't hate Kate Winslet's voice and it sounded like the kind of thing smart people have read.

Who would have thought I'd like it? But I totally did.

This book is anything BUT boring. Therese is a young woman who marries her wimpy cousin (they did that then, remember?) because his mom kind of takes care of her and she has nothing better going on--homeboy is better than nothing. So she goes and moves in with them and starts her boring life with Mumsy. Lo and behold, a hot artist BFF of Sir Wimpsalot starts coming around--Laurent--and he and Therese start getting it on all the time while her MIL is running the shop and her husband is being all sickly and annoying. Though this secret couple is cool with their adultery, Therese's husbacousin, Camille (not a girl's name--it's France, dude) is totes getting in the way. So they do what any rational people would do: they plot and carry out his murder. By drowning. And guess how the whole happily ever after thing works out for them once he's in the ground? NOT SO WELL. The whole "we killed your bestie and my husband" thing makes them go a little cold. They turn on each other and get mean. It continues from there, blah blah haunted, blah blah anger, etc.

I don't know anything about how other people perceive this book or whether or not it is popular. But it was a great read/listen. There were lots of similarities (in terms of guilt, shame, obsession) to MacBeth. I kept thinking about how it would make a great movie or miniseries if it was set now. A little soap-opera-ish, but that has its place. Totally enjoyed it until the end.

My recommendation: A good one. A classic that doesn't feel stuffy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Jam Sesh

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Jam day.

The kids have been gone all week, so it has been my week to do anything that I want with myself. A few days ago that was San Francisco. Yesterday it pretty much was entertaining mom's cat and sitting on the couch for hours at a time. But today it meant getting my jam on. I had everything prepped by last night, and since it's the same cleanup job whether I make one batch or eleventeen, I decided to spend all day today on jam. Get all my awesome out at once and then do one big clean in the kitchen.

Of course in my infinite wisdom I had been putting up fruit since early July--that's when my peaches are always ready and at the time I wasn't up for a full day of jam-making. So by yesterday I had, in my freezer, pre-measured, prepped fruit for: peach, apricot, strawberry and cherry jam. It was going to be easy peasy.

That was until I took the fruit out of the freezer and set it on the counter for just a minute until I could put it in the fridge to defrost.

Only I didn't ever remember to put it in the fridge. So I got up this morning and the apricots and peaches were still on the counter, ruined. I'm not gonna lie, I had a little moment about it. My peaches from our yard are so good and I had wasted them without the hope of more until July 2013. And I'd wasted all that time I spent peeling peaches and chopping peaches. And I'd wasted the apricots Grandpa gave me. Man, that kind of thing makes me mad, and it was totally my fault.

Anyway, I had enough strawberries and cherries that I could salvage one batch of strawberry-cherry jam. And after that I went to the grocery store and bought a ten pound bag of sugar (I was running low) and hit up the strawberry stand because DAMMIT, I WAS MAKING COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF JAM TODAY. And you will hear absolutely nobody complaining about strawberry anyway, because exactly 101% of the people I know prefer strawberry over any other kind of jam. BUT IT'S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING, YOU SEE? I hate being such a waster.

Not related: Did you know holding a ten pound bag of sugar feels a lot like holding a ten pound baby Addie?

It does.

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So there you go. Little jammy jams. Four batches; little jars of happy. When you make jam you can't leave the kitchen (or sit down) because everything has to be sterilized and stirred and boiled and then put in a hot water bath and processed and you have to PAY ATTENTION, or, like, you might accidentally poison all your family and friends. So after about four hours and exactly four batches of standing, thinking, measuring and being careful, I'm pretty dang tired.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

San Francisco Sunburn

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I didn't expect a sunburn from our little trip to San Francisco yesterday, but I have just a tinge of pink this morning. The weather was beautiful. K and I took our second annual trip to the ocean... a chance to stand on the edge of the continent for a few hours before school starts (for me, anyway) and life returns to normal for us all. Or if not normal, then maybe life returns to hectic.

I can't imagine how it has been a year since our last trip. We were both talking about what has happened since then, and what a nice marker it is of the year passing. When I think of that time in terms of the new experiences I've had this year, it's kind of amazing. I'm so pleased with how much I've had to grow as a result of my MFA program. (And I'm not just talking writer-wise, but also about how I've finally gotten to have somewhat of a college social experience and how I've had to learn to trust myself more.) The goal is to try some new things this year, too, so by next year there's the same sense of accomplishment.

Instead of Stinson, this time we crossed over the Golden Gate bridge and headed to Ocean Beach. It was a great place to sit and people (and dog!) watch and to watch the cargo ships coming in and out of the bay. We had a nice lunch in the Marina district at my favorite Barney's and after our beach stint, a cappucchino in Tiburon. I feel ten kinds of awesome for driving around all day and remaining panic-free. I don't care if it took a GPS system in my car to help me do that.

I feel lucky to live in California where the ocean is such a short drive away, and lucky to have a good friend who likes to go see it with me. I'm saving up all the awesome of yesterday to get me through the start of the school year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wednesday

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Well, crap. This was a really long post about our busy little day and I had almost finished it when I accidentally hit "home" on my browser instead of clicking over to a new tab. I lost the entire post I had just typed and the only thing that auto-saved was the picture.

Crap, crap, crap and a half. I lost the whole thing and I'm too mad to retype it.  So here's a picture of Henry swimming. The end.

GAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peanut Butter Wars

My family is convinced I'm going to move to a commune. Apparently making your own yogurt and granola gives you that kind of reputation.

Well the joke's on them. I'm no hippie. I like (read: am obsessed with) shaving my legs too much to go completely granola. BUT. The thing is, at the same dinner last week where it was suggested I might, you know, like to take my yogurt and go live in the woods, it also became clear that among my family members (or at least: husband, kids, sister Lis, bro-in-law D, nephews, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Anne and Unkie Dave--not that I'm counting), I am a peanut butter pariah.

That's right. It's so tough being me. Nobody understands me at all.

Now. I'm gonna lay it down, not because I think everybody has to be on my same PB page, but so you understand where I'm coming from.

Backstory. (Warning... high-and-mighty factor: medium.) Ahem.

When we found out a few years ago that E is allergic to, basically, food, I started reading a lot about it. And all that reading and research taught me several things:

1) Processed food is almost never better for your body than something whole that grew on a plant.
2) Lots of foods that are processed have things added into them that you don't necessarily want and/or know you are eating.

Now I'm no good at sticking to any kind of strict diet.  I'm also never, ever, ever going to live in a world without cookies. Or chocolate. Or cake. You get the idea. I have to do the best I can in my meals, because I am always--ALWAYS--going to want to eat dessert. And I grew up with a mother who is more brand-loyal than you can imagine. I was raised on Cheez-Its, Oreos and Ho-Hos. I know my processed, high-sugar foods like nobody's business.

But once we started reading labels for E, we realized EVERYTHING has soy, dairy, or wheat added to it. EVERYTHING. Even stuff you don't think would have any of those things in it. All of the sudden he couldn't eat anything. So my first stab at cooking for E meant buying all kinds of gluten- (or egg- or soy- or dairy-) free substitutes for foods we already ate. But you know what? I hate that fake crap. Once you're used to Kraft Mac & Cheese, you're not going to start liking Uncle Treehugger's Soy-flavored Rice Pasta Curls. You're just not. You grew up on Day-Glo orange pasta and you miss those little happy spirals from the blue box.

So my next attempt (and I credit Michael Pollan) was just to cut as much of the processed stuff at home as possible. When E and I first got married, we ate a lot of food that came in boxes. Like Hamburger Helper. And Mac & Cheese. And Pasta Roni. And instant mashed potatoes. Etc, etc, etc. And I cooked a lot of casseroles even when I did cook my own meals: cheese, sauce (usually made from Campbell's Cream of Something), pasta, etc. All those things taste great, but they were all making E sick (and I realized they weren't doing ANY of us any favors). So we switched (mostly) to a pretty healthy kind of cooking that means we generally eat grilled meat, salads, roasted veggies, and fruits for dinner. Do we still eat boxed stuff or casseroles? Yep. Sometimes. But I cut it way back.

Anyway, as I started to cook this way I felt better too. And honestly I don't like the idea of getting wood pulp in my shredded cheese or sugar or soy or preservatives or whatever other crud they cram in my food to make it last longer and/or mask whatever other thing they took out. I try to buy food that looks like food and spoils if you don't eat it. So even though I don't follow any kind of strict DIET, I'm a label-reader and I try to buy things that have fewer ingredients, and simpler ingredients. And (again--I credit Pollan) I don't buy anything with a health claim on it (because usually the health claim masks a bunch of added crap they've had to put in to replace whatever is missing). We don't do great, but we do know more about what we're eating. We try.

Now. The other thing (and this is related to the cookies) is that I know I'm never going to control what we eat when we're out in the world. In our extended families, food is love. And I love food and I love love and I love family meals. And at some of those meals, Jello is a side dish. I don't want us to not eat something when we eat at someone's house. Plus, again, all that food tastes too good. So I figure I can control what we eat at home, and that's probably 80% (85%? 90%?) of what we eat. Because yes, also, we're still going to go to McDonald's from time to time, and we're going to eat cheesy potato casseroles at relatives' houses. But if it's only once in a while, it's better than all the time.



Back to the PB. (finally?)

So the deal with peanut butter is this: Have you read a peanut butter label lately? I'm talking about the Big Two: Jif and Skippy. Jif and Skippy taste like magic. I don't deny this. They are the perfect smooth consistency, as though the little baby Jesus himself invented a snack that could make you feel like everything in the whole world is going to ALWAYS BE OKAY because this peanut butter is hugging you from the inside. But those two PBs both have added sugar and hydrogenated oils. So I don't buy them.

I know, I'm so mean, right? I want peanut butter that is made of the fewest ingredients possible. Hopefully, just peanuts. Or peanuts and a little salt. That's it. I don't need added oil (especially if it's hydrogenated/trans fat-laden) and my kids especially don't need any added sugar. (And Natural Jif? Not that different from regular Jif.) There are all kinds of debates about whether or not peanut butter has enough trans fat to do anything to you. But the FDA lets companies claim 0 trans fat in their products as long as they have below a certain amount--not really 0. And everyone agrees hydrogenated oils are bad. I'd just rather not mess with the added stuff and wait around to see if it makes us sick. It's not worth it to me.

The problem here is that if E had to declare loyalty to a country, it would be the Republic of Shelf-Stable Peanut Butter. He would be mayor of Jif Town. (Don't even get me started on his white bread.)

Anyhoo, nobody likes stirring the natural peanut butter. Yes, it's harder to spread, too. The kids have been eating it for most of their lives because they don't know any better, and I make 99.999% of the lunches around here anyway. I do the stirring. We eat a boatload of peanut butter. So I don't want my kids all sugared up when they're already eating bread and jam. I just don't.

The problem is that recently in a fatigued trip to Target, I gave. I allowed a "treat" jar of Jif into my basket as a ONE TIME special purchase. For summer. For generosity's sake. For being awesome.  I shot myself in the foot in this peanut butter war... E thought I'd declared allegiance to his side, and he entreated the children to continue to ask for future jars of said (less-healthy) peanut butter. Then the other night, he enlisted my family.

And now I know I was wrong. E was right. Jif is delicious and it should be enjoyed by everyone.

NO, NOT REALLY. I asked E how this should end and that's what he came up with.  So I'm not sure what to say, but for now I'm holding the line. My oil-on-top, natural, unsweetened line.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

While we wait to see what the bacteria do...

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Just kidding, I'm not worried about these bacteria. These are good ones. Jamie Lee Curtis is gonna have nothin' on me.

"Yogurt is a culture." That's what my high school boyfriend (not E) told me when I'd go visit him at his yogurt shop job between my dance classes. Of course he was repeating what he'd been hearing from our friend's dad, the owner, who was ever-happy to school my bf in the ways of acidophilus. And though I was more interested that one particular employee than the millions of bacteria growing in the machine, the phrase stuck. I repeat it to myself every time I buy yogurt: Yogurt is a culture.

Yesterday I brought home a bad thing of Vanilla Chobani and subsequently had a tantrum about wasting $6.99 on spoiled yogurt. I decided it was time to give homemade a try. I followed this recipe and used whole milk and a (new) container of plain yogurt from the store as a starter. It was incredibly easy. My little culture thrived. Party, party, party.

It's incredibly tasty, too. Of course I might be imagining this, but it tastes very fresh. I'm always trying to buy the yogurt with the fewest ingredients (a la Michael Pollan's instruction never to buy a food with a health claim on it because they had to add something bad to make up for what they took out), and this feels like a good way to keep it simple (and organic). Right now I'm enjoying my creation with a little pumpkin spice seasoning and honey. I topped it with some of yesterday's homemade granola. Yummy.

Add this to the list of things that make me feel like a badass mom: cutting up a whole chicken, baking bread from scratch, creating a meal when there's nothing in the fridge, making yogurt. BOOM.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Recipe: Leslie's Granola

This recipe has been making the rounds in my family ever since my mom's cousin Leslie came to visit a while ago. Addie just recently discovered the magic that is yogurt + fresh fruit + granola, so I decided to give the recipe a try. This recipe is delicious and it smells like heaven when it's cooking.

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Granola

6 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped almonds*
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
3/4 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup canola oil**

*Instead of 2 cups almonds, I used 1 cup almonds and 1/2 cup each of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
**You could also use coconut oil. I'm going to the next time I make this.

Makes 13 cups of granola.

Preheat oven to 250°. Lightly spray 2 cookie sheets or cover with parchment paper. Mix ingredients. Transfer to baking sheets. Bake one hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Cool slightly, then transfer to a large bowl. Raisins (or dried cranberries!) can be added at this point.

As prepared above, per 1/4 cup: 142 calories, 7.4 g fat, 4.2 mg sodium, 17.8 g carb, 2.1 g fiber, 9.5 g sugar, 2.6 g protein.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How the library is pissing me off.



Yeah, yeah. Marriage. But let's talk about something serious for a minute. The library is messing with me.

I'm kind of particular when it comes to my books. I have little routines that keep me from feeling book stress, and when I stick to them life is just a little easier.

For instance: I usually only "let" myself have two books at a time. One on my Kindle or hard copy, and one audio book. Otherwise my eyes get bigger than my--err--brain, and I end up with a stack of books on my nightstand and I start to feel like I'm in tenth grade again, staring down a pile of assigned novels for the summer... and I DON'T WANNA. I start to get ooky and worried and that makes me want to read exactly none of my books. That makes me want to have a tantrum and watch a marathon of Real Housewives.

If I see or hear of a book I think I'll like, I add it to my Amazon wish list. When I finish a book, I let myself buy one--ONE ONLY--more. Then I can read that one and take as long as I want and not feel like I'm late on an assignment. When I finish that book, I repeat. I have a subscription to audible, so I get one book a month from them, which is just about right. I feel like this keeps me from getting ahead of myself and spending too much money, and it means I'm usually reading something I want to read in the moment, rather than reading something I bought a long time ago because I think I ought not to waste it.

Anyway, the library is messing with my mojo. The awesome thing about the library is that I can get (duh) books from them or download ebooks from them, for free. The shitty thing about the library is that all of the books I want to get (ebook or book-book) are always so popular, they have a wait list. You can't just walk into a library anymore and find what you want. It won't happen without planning. So I put myself on the list, say a few prayers to the book gods and wait for my number to come up.

You know when it comes up? At exactly the MOST INCONVENIENT TIME. And no biggie, right? Just let it go? But the problem is that once I let a book go I'm no longer on the list. If I let it go, I'm going to have to remember to put myself on the list again. Which never happens. And if I DO get a book, I have 21 days to read it (which is reasonable, unless I'm already in the middle of seventeen other books). And now those beezies are charging a $1* reshelving fee if you don't come pick up a book you have on reserve. (Guess how many dollars I've spent on that already...)

*Dude, I totally support the idea of supporting libraries, but the whole $1 thing is adding to my stress. I'm not saying libraries don't need a dollar. Ease up.

So when I get that horribly timed email that tells me my book is ready for pickup or that I can finally--FINALLY!--get my ebook, I feel like I have to get it right now. And then I start getting backed up on the other things I'm reading. And I get a little, well, crazy.

So as of right now I'm listening to Therese Raquin, and I have Treasure Island!!! waiting for me, also (because I got a little backed up on audio books when I stopped running) and I have Little Women on my Kindle, but it's boring me so I started reading Middlesex because I bought it at the used bookstore a few months ago, and today I get an email saying Blood, Bones, and Butter is ready. So of course I downloaded that, too, and now I only have 21 days to read it and OH MY GOD I NEED THERAPY.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm not sure I agree with Eleanor.





No one can make you feel inferior without your consent, Eleanor Roosevelt said.

You have to let someone hurt you. Ergo, if you're sad because somebody said something you didn't like, it's definitely your fault. Dummy. (Man, she was harsh.) We've all heard that. Seems like it would be easy to just avoid getting hurt then, right? Don't let people hurt you. You control it. You control your reaction. Why does anybody let things get to them then? Why not just brush off the comments, keep things surface level and avoid the hurt?

We need it. That depth. The depth that makes life good. The vulnerability. That's why. For a relationship to mean anything, you have to value the other person's words. You let them have a little piece of your heart, and you hope they will take it and keep it safe. You want to trust that their opinion matters. Otherwise when they said I love you or I'm proud of you or I liked your short story, that wouldn't matter either. It would be nothing.

E's words hold more power for me than anyone else's. His opinion means more in my book, and things like you're right or that sounds like a good plan or this lasagna is really tasty can really make me feel great. Positive assessments of my worth. Not the only measures by which I decide how I do in life, but hopefully a true assessment of my actions by someone who knows me better than anybody else.

Sometimes I'd rather not take his assessment of me as truth, though. When he's critical, when that criticism is personal or of something beyond my control. What then? Because I can't say he's full of crap. I hope he's not--I wanted to believe the good stuff. But I also have to hold myself in enough esteem to believe I'm enough, regardless of what he thinks.

My problem is that I don't know how to turn it off, that part of me that wants his approval. Even when I know he's wrong, or at least that I disagree, it's hard to shield myself from the sting of criticism. I'm conflicted. I know in my heart that I'm better than I've ever been, yet I still let myself feel awful because of some words.

In this case, I'm not sure I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Be careful! I promise I'm not trying to get you to buy cheap prescription drugs.

My last post (which I've deleted) was the result of my email inbox getting hacked. It auto-posted a link to blogger. I deleted the post, but if you see it in your RSS feed or email, please don't open it.

My apologies.

HP

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Currently:

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Hurley, currently.


sweating, post-workout. I haven't been great about doing 100% of the workouts for Insanity, but I've been mostly consistent. Two days I had to substitute other exercise for videos when I couldn't swing the scheduling of it. Two days I had to miss because we were camping, so I'm sort of doubling up for a few days to make up for it. But I'm happy I've (mostly) made it through 17 days of the 60.

happy about how the results of my working out are going. Though I haven't lost any weight (and I was frustrated about that) I've lost inches and gained a lot of strength. All good. I'm gonna drag the monkeys to Kaiser in a minute to test my body fat to see if that has improved.

laughing at my dog, who sits in his chair as though he's a (very long-legged) human.

annoyed that my children put up such a fight about taking a shower all the time. As I tell them regularly, it's just part of being a human. YOU HAVE TO GET CLEAN, MONKEYS.

pleased we had such a good camping experience. I didn't sleep very well, but the rest of it was good. E and I are planning future camping trips, hopefully one or two more this summer.

hungry. No breakfast yet.

sad that we're not going to Yosemite this year.

inspired by all the books I've been reading.

drinking ice water like it's my job.

getting serious about all the jam I have to make soon.

ignoring the fact that I'm supposed to be writing things this summer.

enjoying my time with my kiddos. I don't think I could be a stay-at-home mom all year, but I love, love, love, LURVE pretending I'm one all summer. My kids are so much fun and I love spending time with them. Even when they whine about taking a shower. They're not really ever bad, so I feel really fortunate.

planning another shopping trip to Thrift Town before school starts.

enjoying my house, my garden, my cats, my free time.

dreaming about the beautiful high-elevation lakes we saw on Hwy 88 yesterday. I'd love to go back and spend some serious time by one of those dark blue bodies of water.

excited about school starting up again in August. I'm not ready for it to happen yet, but I'm at the part of summer where I start thinking about how I can do things better in the year to come.

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and here's a little random iPhone photo dump from the last week:

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Farmers' Market lunch with E last week near his office in downtown Sacramento. You can see the capitol at the end of the street.

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E man, doing some serious fireworks for the 4th. Henry was inside, having puked again, but Roo, my mom, my dad and I enjoyed the extravaganza.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Reading!

Books! Books! Books!

Nerd!

I know. I love summer and I love reading. Amen.

Okay, not Amen. Not yet. I've been reading like a crazy person lately. It might have something to do with camping in East Jesus Nowhere for a few days, and with not having any functioning electronics and/or way to contact the outside world, and with trying to get ahead on my crazy reading for fall quarter, and with trying to avoid writing anything. (Avoidance behavior is just about the only way I get things done.) But really, in the weeks before we were gone I was pretty happy to lay on my bed or the chaise in my mom's backyard and read, read, read. Summer time is reading time. I've been assigning summer reading to my students for years--years!--but I am convinced that exactly none of them enjoy it as much as I do. That's too bad. There's some good stuff to be had when you crack a book in the summer time.

And no, I'm not talking about Fifty Shades of Crap. If you're thinking of reading that, please do your brain a favor and go here first.

Anyway, to the books:




Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Am I biased because I met Megan Mayhew Bergman in June at Residency and she was A) a great lecturer, B) sweet as pie, and C) helpful and caring when she sat down to talk to me? SURE I AM! But. This is a great book. And no, I'm not saying that because she signed it for me. The words inside on the pages were, like, interesting. And good.

BOLP is a compilation of short stories, most of them involving people who are a little strange and who are, in some way, connected to animals. Bergman's husband is a vet, and you can tell she's been around animals (and animal people) through what she writes. Though each is a stand-alone story, they each exemplify what Ms. Bergman spoke to us about at our residency, actually, they each contain something strange, and something beautiful. Bergman takes her readers into unusual worlds and makes them seem fragile, tragic, intriguing, and familiar. I admire her prose. As someone who is endeavoring to write short stories, there was a lot to learn from this book.

My recommendation: This is a good one to read when you don't have a lot of time. Pick it up, read a story or two, and put it back down. Each short story will draw you in and each one will leave you with enough to think about. I loved this book.




Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

I've said it before: I hate reading things just because Oprah tells me to. But dammit, I should just admit that sometimes the Great O is right. This is another case where Oprah is going to get to say "I told you so." So you win, Oprah. You win.

Cheryl Strayed's Wild is about her ill-prepared hike through California on the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed starts with a pack that's too heavy and boots that are too small, and no backpacking experience. She gets on the trail, and she doesn't stop until she's in Oregon. Surprisingly, she meets mostly friendly people along the trail, and not surprisingly, she encounters elements of the natural world that are much, much greater than she could have anticipated. She's on the hike to deal with the loss of her mother and the end of her marriage, but rather than spending large chunks of time dealing with her emotional turmoil, she's pulled into the immediacy of the experience.

I can't relate to a months-long hiking trip, but I can say that I connected in a small way with the idea that training for or participating in an endurance sport changes you. Though my own attempt at marathoning was poor, the months I spent alone training for it changed me emotionally. And not in the way you'd think, that I spent hours and hours on running trails contemplating my existence. But the act of enduring something difficult for a long time is itself a kind of meditation, I think. That came through in Strayed's book.

My recommendation: Just admit that Oprah was right and go buy it. This is a very good book. It's bound to be a movie, so when it comes out you can feel smarter than all of your friends because you know what parts they left out.




Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

This book isn't for everybody. There are some people in my life (people that I love) who I know don't take kindly to joking about religion, theirs in particular. So if that's you, I love you and I respect your views and I am telling you that you should not under any circumstances read this book. You will just read it and get mad.

Fortunately, I am not one of those people. I'm okay with laughing at my own beliefs. And I'm also okay with the F-word and a host (see! Christian jargon!) of other inappropriate words and ideas. So when this book was recommended to me, I read it. And I'll be frank (hi, Frank!)--some of this I didn't think was that good. And other parts I did.

Anyhoodle, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff is Christopher Moore's take on the 30-or-so years of Jesus' life that don't show up in the Gospels. So he creates this best friend of Jesus (called Joshua in the book), Biff. And Biff is back along with Maggie (Mary Magdalene) in about the year 2000 in order to sit down and write the true stuff that didn't show up in the other books. Hilarity ensues. This is a Monty Python-ish, funny book about two teenage (and older) boys getting into trouble. At times, the funny stuff actually bothered me. Not because it offended my delicate Christian sensibilities, but because it just wasn't funny. Sometimes it felt like Moore was trying too hard for a joke. That bugged me.  But there were several scenes (I'm thinking in particular of Biff helping Jesus compose the Beatitudes) that were actually, quite funny. You can't win 'em all, I guess, but Moore got a few genuine laughs out of me.

The surprising thing about this book was how Moore wove together different religious traditions and though it was a stretch, his ideas about Jesus spending those years searching out the wise men who had visited him were actually kind of interesting. Moore goes for a link between faiths or at least to show how one could arrive at Christianity by taking the best parts (or reacting to the worst) of other belief systems.

My recommendation: Like I said, not for everyone. But funny. And there's some stuff to think about here. I won't be super gluing The Book of Biff into my Bible or anything, but it was a fun read.




March by Geraldine Brooks

March is a book suggested to me because I'm reading books for school that are companion pieces, continuations or retelling of classics. March is about the father of the girls in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, a father who is largely absent from the action of that story. Brooks uses the context of LW as a framework and then invents the character of Peter March and imagines a plot that runs parallel to that of the original.

March is a chaplain and then becomes a schoolteacher to freed slaves. He has lost his fortune by giving money to John Brown (man, was I glad as I read this book that I paid attention to the whole Harper's Ferry thing in 11th grade). His contemporaries are Emerson and Thoreau. He is a vegetarian. He and his wife are ardent abolitionists.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. There's a different filter I read things through if they are old, allowing for content that would be considered racist by today's standards. In this case, that filter didn't work and some of it seemed kind of off. Other parts were just too much of a stretch, as though Brooks wanted March to be the best possible kind of human. Being a vegetarian in the time of the Civil War, as an example, just seemed to me to be idiotic. But as Brooks says in her afterword, she modeled March on Alcott's actual father, as Alcott herself modeled the characters of the girls on herself and her sisters. I've said before that I'm not a fan of author's reconstructing plot by taking details from an author's life. I'm not sure why it doesn't work for me, but for some reason it doesn't. It seems like too much of a stretch.

But as much as I had problems with this book I eventually got sucked into it enough that I wanted to see how it would end. It wasn't a bad book, but when I think about it, I'm not a Little Women superfan, either. That, perhaps, has colored how I feel about March.

My recommendation: If you're really into Little Women, you probably want to read this book. It's an interesting idea, filling the gaps in another story. Not one of my favorites, but also not a bad thing to read on a warm summer day in the campground.

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Anybody else reading something good? I'd love to know what it is. Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?

Moths in the Bathroom Door

It was like a natural history museum. You know the ones, with moths pinned on boards under glass, their wings laid carefully flat by gloved hands. But some of these wings still moved, others were frozen into their museum-worthy state in the drain at the bottom of the room or slammed flat in the doorjamb. And instead of smelling like the musty goodness of knowledge, this museum smelled like mildew, sweat, and hot cement. Among other things.

I got real familiar with the bathroom two campsites down from ours this weekend.

Now, as campground bathrooms go, this one was a palace. There were no endless dark pits to speak of, no smells wafting through the camp in the night. And to my great joy, a park ranger came and hosed the whole thing from stem to stern on Monday. So it was clean. It was full of (horrible, cheap, horrible--but still!) toilet paper. There were no towels. There was no soap. So, your standard-issue green campsite bathroom. And as with all camp bathrooms, it was a sizable walk from our tent in the middle of the night.

I don't often wish to be male, but every time we camp and I have to carefully time my liquid consumption in the pre-bed hours around the campfire, I wish for the freedom, the pee-anywhere philosophy (and anatomy) shared by men. Camping with me, post-babies, is a ballet of planning, worrying, strategically placing my flip flops and flashlight so they can be found in the darkness, and very, very serious prayer to a deity who I really hope is listening, because Please God I don't want to run into any bears on my way to the John. Please, please, please don't let there be bears. And let's skip the part where you comment and tell me girls can pee anywhere. Not. Going. To. Happen. Not this girl.

My favorite moths in the night bathroom were the bright green ones, their wings looking chic and black light-ready. Rave moths. And I like those wood-looking ones, too. The moths in general don't bother me much. I coud skip the mosquitoes, sure, and the million nameless beetle-flyish bugs that congregate around the light in the nighttime. The June Bugs make me laugh simply because they're so dumb and clumsy. But in the night, as I try to hurry quickly from stall to sink and dry my hands on the sides of my cut-off sweatpants, I wonder why and how there are so many insects in one place. The enormity of their collective bug power is astounding, and I wonder how a species so (ostensibly) stupid can manage to find its way en masse into a seemingly enclosed building, in pursuit of one glowing orb of happiness.

And anyway, I feel like I would have had that whole bathroom-in-the-night thing down (moths and all) if it wasn't for Mother Nature playing her cruel monthly trick on me this weekend. As if hauling oneself down a hill to pee isn't enough, now we have to factor supplies kept in bear boxes into the equation (mustn't leave anything in the tent that could attract animals!) which means a soul-chilling scrape emanates from a large metal box just before each time I start the march to the facilities. It's like how in high school you started to realize how embarrassing it was to carry your purse to the bathroom because you knew everyone knew you had your period right then. But what could you do? Yeah, nothing. You carried your purse anyway. I was announcing to the entire camp HEY I'M MENSTRUATING, GUYS! each time I had to gather supplies and head to the bathroom in the night.

Lord help me, being a chick sucks.

But just as I was feeling sorry for myself, and annoyed with my self-appointed (by my uterus?) title as Regular Bathroom Inspector (because I'll spare you the other abdominal trauma that comes with my special monthly visitor), I read in Cheryl Strayed's Wild (which I recommend, and I promise it deals with more than this) that Cheryl had a particularly special moment of squatting half-naked on the PCT, taking care of her feminine needs with a more natural, backpacker-type apparatus (that I honestly won't even let myself Google--ew!) just as she was surprised by a fellow hiker. So, moral of the story: it could be worse.