Tuesday, November 27, 2012

That awesome moment when...

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you hit upload on your story and you realize you don't have to write anything else on a deadline for the rest of the quarter. That moment when you can go to bed early. Or read something just for fun. Or write because you want to, not because you have to.

That moment is a good one.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What's the word for...

when you have an angsty feeling--a good one--like you need to be doing more than you're doing? Like your insides have changed and your job needs to match them? Like you're not going to be satisfied doing the same thing day in and day out for the rest of your life and you need to be doing something new that earns you a living but also pushes you to try new things and still work with and for smart people who inspire you?  When you're feeling all Belle about wanting adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere? Maybe even just in the small somewhere, but a matter of a few degrees different.

Like wanderlust (which, truth be told, I also have in spades) but for jobs?

That.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Another break that wasn't.

What is the point in one's life when you can stop hoping for something to work out and just accept that it's just not going to happen? Because I think I'm there. Maybe that point is when you're 33ish years old and it's the Sunday before you go back to work after Thanksgiving. Maybe that point is TODAY.

I should know better than to hope for a Thanksgiving holiday that's anything break-like at all. Truth be told, the last two years most of my days off were furlough days, which is a bit different in terms of how I think of it (if my pay is docked for time off, it just feels less awesome to me), but this makes three years in a row when I am knocked down by illness (or in the case of the last two years--the same tooth). So let's pause a minute and give thanks that I didn't have to go in for some kind of macabre annual root canal drama, but seriously. I should know better than to expect my break to be a real break.

As in fun. As in vacation.

The thing is that this year I even did all the appropriate prep work. I had a chart! With colors! I made sure my grading was 100% up to date before the week off. Who does that? Answer? Nobody does, dude. Everybody else I know was bringing home stacks of papers but I was all la ti dah, I don't have to do anything this week because I was a beast and did it all on my prep and last weekend so I'd be free. Not so. Not. So. Stupid, stupid.

I have kind of shitty Thanksgiving luck, it would seem.

The only thing I had to do over the break was some creative writing.. it was going to be CREATIVE! Yay! That's not work, right? Especially if you (as I did) know exactly what you want to write about and you are super inspired. With your jazzy jazz hands. Well it's not so magical if you're death slightly warmed over and you sit at your computer for hours at a time and barely type more than "the." It was less TYPE ALL THE THINGS and more oh my gawd, I've only finished four pages??

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So here we are, Sunday night, I've been off for a week and the only thing I have to show for it is one healthy day, ONE day of fun. I had a great day today: baked a little asparagus tart, had a little Sunday walk, enjoyed a little crafty fun time with some friends. I feel completely healthy, rested, and ready to enjoy a week off. Just in time to go back to work. Ta-da.

Oh well. If I remind myself a lot how grateful I am that I didn't have to burn through five sick days to be this big of a snotball, maybe it will start to seem more awesome that I have to work tomorrow?

Nope.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hard book. Easy book.

33 books so far this year. BAM. I am the mayor of Book Town. Never--ever--in my little life have I read so much at one time.

Here are the latest two I just finished:


Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall is the first in a series of three books by Hilary Mantel (only two are published so far, this one and Bring Up the Bodies) about Thomas Cromwell, a minister to Henry VIII during that whole Catholic/ Protestant/ married/ divorced/ we need a male heir/ annulled/ let's cut off some heads time. Needless to say Thomas Cromwell was witness to some world-changing historical events; but Mantel seeks to demonstrate how Cromwell himself is a personality worthy of exploration. History has sided with Sir Thomas More, but Mantel shows him to be a dark religious fanatic. Conversely, Mantel takes a different approach with Cromwell, too, showing his personality through flashbacks to his childhood and in vignettes with his family to humanize him, rather than portray him as a power-hungry lawyer who maneuvered within Henry's court for his own political gain. All of the major players: Cardinal Wolsey, More, Henry, Anne, Catherine, Mary are seen through Cromwell's eyes.

This is a difficult book to read for a bunch of reasons. The first is the complicated lineage of all of these people--royal and not--who had the habit of naming their children the same things. I found myself having to refer to the family tree and Wikipedia, often. And much of this story is fictionalized, but it does follow the basic story and events that are well known. Though I have a basic understanding of this story, I found this book tested the limits of my knowledge. That's not a bad thing, but it assumes a level of scholarly familiarity with the players that I am not sure many people have. I felt challenged, to say the least.

But more significant to why this was difficult reading (and this relates to the above paragraph) is Mantel's unusual narrative style. She uses a third person point of view that is limited to Cromwell's perspective. That's clear enough. But her style of denoting dialogue can be downright confusing. There are large portions of the book where she uses quotation marks to denote conversation, and then sometimes (suddenly and at times without apparent reason) she will switch into dialogue without quotations marks--several times on the same page as when she had been previously using them. This, combined with her habit of using pronouns to refer to characters rather than their specific names, made for some confusing reading. I decided after a while to try to just go with it, but I can say it seemed like an unnecessary stylistic choice. The closest I could come to a reason for it was that she meant the conversation denoted with quotation marks to be of greater import, where the dialogue without was meant to merely suggest the nature of the conversation--at times, it seemed like what a person would overhear and maybe not know for sure.

I chose this book to read because I'm interested to read the next one in the series and I wanted to have the full picture. It was a challenge, but I'm glad I read it. As a writer I enjoy the idea that you can reexamine historical figures in different lights and I think Mantel does this well. Strangely enough, Cromwell (on whom she says this book focuses) was the least fleshed-out to me. I felt like I was seeing through his eyes, but that he (as a character) was underdeveloped  I had a strong understanding of what he witnessed, but not what he felt. This was definitely a historical read rather than a literary one--some sections were long and heavy--but I like the Tudor story enough that I'm glad I read it.

My recommendation: A good one for history nerds and/or persistent readers.

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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior is set in rural Tennessee, and it opens with a mother of two, Dellarobia Turnbow, hiking away from her house to commit adultery. What she mistakes for fire in the forest above her house is a cloud of monarch butterflies who have made their home mistakenly in the Appalachian mountains for the winter, rather than Mexico. Dellarobia returns home to her family, taking the butterflies as a sign, but ultimately they bring more change to her life than she was going to enact with her single act of rebellion, anyway.

Much in the way that Wolf Hall felt to be such a challenge, this book felt too easy. Everything about it read as shallow and too neatly tied up to me. And it's too bad. I really wanted to like it, but I felt like it didn't hold up to comparison to some of Kingsolver's other books that were presented with more depth. It's no secret that Kingsolver has been my favorite author for some time. I love teaching Animal Dreams and I especially found Poisonwood Bible and The Lacuna to be both entertaining and complex from a structural and stylistic perspective. I think what Kingsolver does best is presenting a story from different points of view that end up converging in the end to tie the narrative together. In Animal Dreams she does this with Codi and Homero, in Poisonwood, it is each of the sisters who present a piece of the puzzle, and in Lacuna she uses faux historical documents and biographical information to tell different pieces of the story. She excels at using different voices, and I couldn't help but feel disappointed that this story was told from a single voice--and one that I didn't find that engaging or sympathetic.

That's not to say the single voice ruined this book for me. It didn't. I found it mildly interesting as far as story, but it did feel like a rehash of some of the same ideas she uses in her other work. The protagonist, Dellarobia (what a mouthful of a name!) seemed like a revisit of Codi from Animal Dreams or some of her characters in The Bean Trees or Prodigal Summer. Maybe I know her work too well. I don't know. Even the thread of "flight" that was woven through the story felt like it had been done before--and done better--in her other books.

But the biggest thing that bothered me in this book was how preachy it was. I understand that Kingsolver uses her books as vehicles for social causes. I don't have a problem with that, or really, her causes. But it felt as though she had such disdain for her own characters--for a rural way of life--and that made it not work for me. When the visiting scientist spends pages and pages of dialogue explaining Global Warming to the main character as though she is a child, Kingsolver's bias was too strong and kind of off-putting. And rather than present her characters as equally having something to bring to the table, the country folk ended up looking like sad idiots who just wouldn't listen. There's one scene in particular where Dellarobia explains to Ovid that there's just no science or math being taught in schools, and his shock and her defenseless shrug were just too... I don't know. Obvious?

I wanted to like this book. Heck, I wanted to love it. I just couldn't. It was a miss for me.

My recommendation: Pass on this one, sadly.

Planky McPlankerson

The poor monkeys have been stuck in the house with me all week while I'm sick, and by Wednesday night they started to get a little weird from lack of physical exertion.

I made them have mandatory dance time with the Kinect before bed. They played Just Dance Disney Version for about an hour.

And then this...

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turned into this...

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which meant they did this...

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and this...

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And then E came home and jumped in...

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And then they started doing this...

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and...

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Hope everyone else had a happy Planksgiving too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Currently.

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resting up after Roo's big birthday party weekend. She got her rest beginning at about 7:00 AM, post sleepover (above), but mine didn't come until after party #2 when my body almost shut down yesterday. We're talking full-body aches, fever, sore throat, sore ear shenanigans. There's nothing like your body mandating two days of sleep to wreck all plans you had for your vacation.

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thankful for my birthday girl. One of the awesome things about celebrating the kiddos birthdays is that it reminds me not just of how much they've grown, but also how much family surrounds us. We had a busy weekend celebrating our Roo, but it all went relatively well and it was comfortable-easy. Just perfect for her, too.

letting go of my plan for this week. Being sick didn't help me stick to my schedule. If you know me at all, you know my days are broken down into color-coded Google Calendar blocks of time that include things like "read 50 pages" or "make sure you've written up to 15 pages of fiction" or "take chicken out of freezer." I have to do that or I get so overwhelmed by my me/ E/ kids/ school/ UCR/ family/ cooking/ house to-do list that I want to get under my covers and hide. If I write everything down, I only have to look 5 minutes into the future at any given moment. And I can do one thing at a time.

So, I did an amazing job the last two weeks at school making sure I graded essays and projects and notebooks like a mad beast. I made this (also color-coded--duh--Carrie Mathison-esque) bulletin board of grading tasks broken down by hour. I didn't have any take home grading this week because it's crunch time for UCR and I didn't want to have two conflicting responsibilities this week. I have to have my last packets of the quarter in before residency. That's a 10 page critical paper for my fiction class, 10 pages of creative nonfiction, and 25 pages of fiction. The critical paper is done, but I had hoped to have the fiction creative work (a new short story) at least down on paper today. Not so. I've only got about 8 pages and an outline. The good news is that I know exactly where I want this story to go, but the bad news is that I was feeling so awful yesterday that I spent all day in front of my computer and was barely able to type anything.

Today I just decided to let go. To rest. To hydrate. To read. To start over tomorrow.

enjoying the healing powers of chicken and dumplings. I'm old school when it comes to home remedies. Last night it was a hot toddy (which I 100% believe in, too). Today the combined motivation of a package of chicken thighs in the fridge and a still-lingering mystery illness meant I spent some time with my favorite cookbook and one of my favorite recipes. Tastes like healing.

reading Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Flight Behavior. Still retaining my BK Fan Club card. Is it cool to love her work? Don't know. Don't care. Am a fan.

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searching for something to make for dessert tonight with Addie. I was lobbying hard for blondies, but she didn't find anything that inspired her yet. My energy is waning, so this might not happen until tomorrow.

happy that my Thanksgiving shopping is already done. (I'm making my new buddy Ina's brussels sprouts this year.) I was in and out of the store today in ten minutes to get my three pounds of brussels sprouts and pancetta (or as Addie calls it, "circle bacon"). You couldn't pay me to go near a grocery store or retail establishment between now and next week.

still thinking about Lincoln. Man, was that an amazing movie. My dad and I went to see it last weekend and it was equal parts government class instruction (The West Wing meets the Civil War) about how an amendment passes, and crazy-good acting and directing. I couldn't believe the suspense it maintained, even when everyone knows exactly how the story ends. I really enjoyed it from the first minute to the last. I left feeling like Mr. Spielberg did a good thing again for history. (And I'm excited about the book movies to come. Life of Pi? Anna Karenina? I need to see those, stat. Even if it's just to go "oh, the book was so much better.") Go see Lincoln, please.

feeling accomplished because I took a shower today. Tomorrow I'll aim higher.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

At ten, a pre-party stress headache.

Shhh, I whisper in her ear. Not a soft whisper, though. Agressive. A command.

I'm a white noise machine. A loud one, at that. I pause only to inhale.

SSSSSHHHHH. Breath.

Louder: SHHHHH. SHHHHH. Breath.

SHHHHHHHHH.

I pull her close and stroke her arm. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with my fingertips. With my index finger I trace a line from her brow down the center of her nose. Over and over and over, firmly down the bridge, the way they hypnotize chickens, my uncle told me once.  All the while I'm blaring SHHHHH into her ear, using my hands to steady her.

I'm bigger than anything that could hurt you. You can trust me, and you can let go. Let go. No more crying. Sleep.

SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I exhale, one last breath against her soft still-crying whimper.

It works. I feel her body relax against mine. A warm dew collects on her forehead. She radiates soft smell from her hair. She's still.

She's ten today, but our dance of comfort remains the same. It's been years--how many?--since I sang I See The Moon to calm her crying. Or, Edelweiss to distract her to sleep. Yet this afternoon, as she cries out from her room that her headache hurts too bad, the lights are too bright, the lyrics are on my lips before I can think them.

The singing, the shushing, the holding all trigger something deep inside her. Our link is genetic, but we're tied together at this place of Mommy/Ad comfort. She reacts unconsciously just as she did when she was small enough to fit tight against my body in a single bundle.

All day I've been thinking she's so big. I've been wondering where my baby went, how she's suddenly old and foreign.

When she was an infant, people used to stare at me and E as we wrapped her right in a blanket and loudly shushed in her ear: the shout-whisper we'd repeat ad infinitum as we'd walk and pound her steadily on the back. Addie liked aggressive comforting.

Still does.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Out on a school night. Again.

Out on a school night, twice in one month. I am officially a party animal.

Last night K and I had tickets to see Ina Garten speak in the bay area. We lucked out--it was a perfect sunny day, one of the few times I can remember in recent trips when it felt a little warmer by the coast than it did in the Sacramento valley.

And now that I'm no longer afraid of driving places (thank you, GPS!), the world is my oyster. After a bit of scrambling to pick up our tickets, we had a nice dinner and settled in to our seats. The venue was small and Ina was exactly as she appears to be on TV. It was lovely.

She even talked about Jeffrey. First thing. Made my whole day.


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Ina was interviewed at first by a friend, Moira Forbes--the actual interviewer and new CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, was stuck in traffic. This was actually okay... Ms. Forbes asked (I thought) way better questions and kept things moving a little bit better in the first half of the chat. I love listening to people talk about their meandering life paths, how they ended up right where they are. Of course, Ms. Garten has lived somewhat of a charmed life... most of us can't up and buy a store just to start over... most of us don't have the luxury of quitting our jobs (twice!) to find our passion... most of us (if I'm spit-balling) don't just get picked up by our "dream" publisher when we send out our first book proposal. But it was interesting to hear about, certainly.

The most fascinating stuff was how she talked about the thought process behind a recipe, and making things user-friendly for the home cook. I appreciated what she had to say about simple flavors and simple dishes; I think that's definitely why I like her stuff so much.

After the thing was over, we waited for the hall to clear, took another little walk around campus, and gabbed all the way home. Perfect, wonderful evening. Love.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Move this book to the top of your list.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

What an enjoyable read.

I think the first time I heard about this book was when Anderson Cooper said he read it this summer. But it wasn't until my friend Maggie suggested it and reviewed it on Goodreads that I decided to read it. And I didn't let myself read about it beforehand so I was going in pretty much blind. I was entertained from the first page to the last, and I enjoyed the writing style, too, because it felt comfortable. I loved all the interspersed Italian... I had an audio book for this one -- you can find the audio book version I had here -- and I highly recommend that version as well.

Beautiful Ruins is about an extra on the set of the movie Cleopatra in 1962 who is diagnosed with cancer and sent away to a teeny Italian coastal village where she meets the owner of the Hotel Adequate View, Pasquale. The cancer and the reason for her being sent away aren't exactly what they seem, and what comes to light about the woman happens as Walter shows us the characters in California, Italy, Scotland, and Washington State at various time periods. I genuinely didn't know where this book was going to go and I really liked that. I love a book that shows me the characters at all different points of their lives, and this one does that--sometimes out of order, which means that as you're reading, you already know bits and pieces that make you read differently.

I won't give too much away, but I will say that this book is tender, lighthearted, sad, and engaging. I was happy to pop it into my ears and hit the gym because I wanted to know where it was going. Any book that makes me want to exercise just so I can keep reading it is a win for me, and I was sad when it was finished. I think this is a book that just about anybody would love. Completely entertaining.

My recommendation: Go buy it right now.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Blogging by Hand

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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Check.

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How have I not written about voting ever before? I love voting. I especially double-dog loved it this morning when I voted at my new polling place, this adorable retirement home near my house. (This was after waiting in line at the old place--the fire station--to discover that it changed and I didn't notice. Oopsie. But no matter--I got to see firemen and old people and do my civic duty and I still wasn't late to work.) The seniors were just trickling in to the dining hall to eat breakfast as I arrived and there was a homey, warm feeling in the air. The volunteers thanked me for voting and shepherded an 18-year old first-timer through the whole process. Everyone was Disney cute. It smelled like pancakes.

I do wish I'd gotten to use the voting machines I remembered from my childhood--the ones I watched my mom use to punch holes in cards and flip through ballot measures. In this post hanging-chad era, that's gone. But even bubbling in my scantron-y pages I get all puffed up with pride about being American. About getting a choice. About having the right to vote.

Cue West Wing theme song.

Voting makes me feel like a real adult the same way cutting up a whole chicken or hugging my crying kid makes me feel like a real mom.

As budget cuts start to impact schools more and more and our future hangs on the results of how people vote on California's propositions, I've gotten increasingly worked up about this whole process. I'm going to try hard today not to sit and watch the results because I know we won't know how it all shakes out probably until tomorrow, or even later. Patience is not my forte. Over the past five or six years it has been a difficult time to be a public school teacher in California. I'm nervous.

But regardless of what happens today, I'm happy I get to be a part of it. GO VOTE!

Saturday, November 03, 2012

$500 sketch pad

So, while E's outside, still working on the patio cover...

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the rest of us haven't been able to tear ourselves away from this:

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Actually, two apps: Bamboo Paper, and Paper 53. (I bought a Bamboo stylus.)

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Anyhoo, that's it for now. Can't talk. iPad.