Monday, February 25, 2013

Recent Read: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Everything since Wolf Hall has been work. Good books, work. I haven't been in a real read-y kind of mood lately... I made myself read so much to get ahead and the kinds of books I was choosing were so serious that I got a little bit burned out on books for a while. Plus, I think trying to keep up with The New Yorker (which I love, though) has cut into my book time a bit.

So with this one (and the book I'm reading now) I wanted something fun. I tend to float back and forth between serious books and not. This one was not. It was just fun.


Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This book was fun. Pure fun. It's not serious. I don't think people will remember it as an important book, but I liked it. It kept me entertained. It reminded me of being a kid, of wanting to get to the end to find out what happens, to solve the mystery. (And there's something to be said for that forward propulsion in any story, right?) It's a decent mashup of the hero's journey/quest archetype with a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys feel to it. Set in modern day(ish) San Francisco. Google plays a prominent role. The language sometimes felt a little bit young/YA for my taste, but the characters were likable and the basic premise was, as I said, fun.

So what's it about? It's about an out-of-work guy, Clay, who goes to work in a mysterious 24 hour bookstore as a clerk. Soon after he begins working there, he discovers that the bookstore is connected to a secret society (why wouldn't it be?) which is connected to a maybe-cult/corporation, which is both creating code and trying to unlock even older code. He befriends a plucky young programmer from Google, and together with the quirky, literate patrons of the bookstore (who are also trying to figure out just what secrets it holds) they try to work together (and use computers!) to sneak around and unlock the great mysteries of the Unbroken Spine.

Sloan is creative, and even the most recognizable aspects of the quest archetype are handled in a way that's fun to read. I'm sorry I keep typing the word fun. But I think that's the best way to describe it. Light. Playful. Happy. Enjoyable. Even though Sloan follows some canned formulas here, he did so with a wink to the genre. I was on board.

My recommendation: A good light read. Nerdy, but not serious. Like a Holodeck episode of Star Trek.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Weekend in Pictures

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Lunch in Larkspur
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Shopping
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Driving through Dominican University to say hi
Finished this. Fun.
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Temple Coffee
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Farmer's Market
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What $16 will get ya.
Webkinz debates at the cash register.
Debates about how to spend allowance happen at the Justice cash register.
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I settle the great peanut butter debate once and for all by just making my own.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Sunbeam

There's a moment sometime in February when the light changes. I always notice it in the afternoons. The sun is poised just right to stream through the back windows of our house and remind me that warmer weather is coming.

After school, I can usually find the animals napping on the rug by the back door, and I'll admit that even at 33 years old I love to lay down on the floor next to them and enjoy the warmth like a little kid. I find myself making up reasons to be in the back of the house, when previously I'd been happy to occupy other rooms. Even if I'm not in the light, I just want to be by it.

Twinkle likes to nap in the sunbeam. Me too.

This time of year makes me think of applying to MFA programs. It was early spring of 2011 when I sat on the floor in my bedroom and nervously took calls from program directors who had reviewed my applications. Sat on my bedroom floor in the sun and tried to be my best, most interesting self so I'd get in.

Life opened up for me with those calls. One in particular. The sunbeam makes me think about that. Also, it's warm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Great Migration

Four weeks post-surgery, I stood in my bathroom, waiting for the shower to heat up. Freaking out. In my left hand I held the end of a clear string, like thin fishing line. I had just thoughtlessly unspooled it out of myself, from the left edge of my still-healing Cesarean scar, and now I held about a yard of filament out from the side of my naked body. The other end lay anchored somewhere inside my abdomen, and it swirled gently from my scar to my pinched fingers. It gleamed in the sunlight that streamed through my bathroom window. Unsure of what I had done—had I just unthreaded the surgical opening in the front of my stomach? Were my guts moments from falling onto the floor?—and also sure I couldn’t walk around with three feet of clear line hanging outside of myself, I grabbed a pair of nail scissors and snipped off the line like it was a stray thread on a coat.

That afternoon when I stepped into the bathroom, I wasn’t planning to undo my stitches. When I caught sight of the small bit of plastic thread sticking out of my torso, I grabbed it thoughtlessly, thinking it was a tiny fleck on my skin, not thinking it was the end of a much longer line of cord the doctor used weeks before to hold together my inner workings. But once I tugged, I had an arms length of string, and a problematic situation on my hands. Since I cut it off—that second, panicky move—I didn’t tell anyone for a month or two because I was worried about what I’d done. I was sure things would sort themselves out. Well, I hoped. I figured either I’d end up back in the hospital with loose organ problems, or nothing would happen, and my body would keep it together.

Thankfully, the latter was what happened. My post-pregnancy body managed to heal without falling apart. But that post-pregnancy body was fraught with all manner of other surprises in the months to come.

The biggest surprise to me as a new mom, as an admirer in curious wonder at my own body, as one who bought a ticket to the museum of oh, that’s what happens, was that after my first child, my belly button moved.

It moved.

It moved, up.

Before my first baby, I read a lot. Holistic Mommy stuff. Traditional Mommy stuff. Attachment Parenting Mommy stuff. Scientific stuff. Research-backed stuff. Religious stuff. Stuff with pictures. Any stuff I could get my hands on.

I expected the body changes, and while they were new experiences, none of them were surprises in theory. Pregnancy alters the frame, and there was a grand resifting following that first child. Even in the years after she was born when I managed to keep my weight about the same, I could tell it had settled into different nooks and crannies. My hips, which had been straight and boyish before, widened. My waist thickened a bit, as did my thighs. My arms grew strong from holding her. I had a perpetual lean of the hip so I could balance her atop it.

But the belly button thing was a surprise. Not once had I read about it packing up for higher ground, and yet each day as I stood in front of my bathroom mirror (where all self-examination happened) I would do mental calculations, and every time, come to the same conclusion that there was a definite change in navel location. My belly button had a new home, about an inch higher than where it used to be.

I supposed that a lifting of the belly button wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. After all, I saw a chart once that showed the rearrangement of a woman’s vital organs during pregnancy. It was astounding. The human body basically decommissions itself as a shell for important guts to allow that adorable parasite to grow within it for almost a year. Most of one's organs get crammed up into the space that previously was only for upper digestion and air. (Small wonder pregnant moms have heartburn all the time and can't breathe for shit.) This change happens over a period of months, so I supposed that it was perfectly plausible for the belly button, the navel, to reposition and settle into a new home which was higher and closer to my upper stomach than my lower.

Nothing about my navel itself had changed. I still had an “innie.” Pregnancy weight had pushed it outward, but once the baby was out, my navel retreated back to its ordinary state. It was still my same navel. Just not where I remembered it.

For years before I was ever pregnant, years before Google made it easy to know things that are both stupid and embarrassing to ask, I wondered: what is on the other side of our belly buttons as adults? Finally I got the chance to ask a doctor and a nurse, who basically both gave me the same answer: not much. Since the navel’s job is done once we’re born, it’s more of a cosmetic leftover. An external feature riding on the outside of our skin.

Perhaps it just… slipped upward a little. As I tried to rationalize the move, I pictured my navel like a floating life raft on the sea. No anchor. Why couldn't it move? Why weren't more people talking about this, anyway?

This was an amazing discovery, I decided, and I was a pioneer of mothering. Oprah would want to call me. This was going to be something groundbreaking that nobody had ever talked to pregnant women about before. Why wasn’t this a part of the national conversation? Why wasn’t this whole belly button thing, like, happening, right now? I was certain that people just needed to get on board with the belly button movement. Every time I went into the bathroom to wait for the shower to heat up, I checked. Yep. Moved. Closer to my breasts than it was when I was a teenager.

I talked to my husband about it. I made him check.

Yeah, it definitely looks higher, he said. It is closer to your boobs. But why would it move? Do they do that?

Sure looks like it, I said. The body is a mysterious thing. A mysterious and beautiful thing.

That sucker migrated north, like a bird in winter.

And then one day I stood in the bathroom alone, again. I wasn’t thinking about my belly button, per se, or anything specific, just noticing. In the afternoon light—the same light that had caught the glint of the dissolvable stitch just after surgery when I'd yanked out three feet of line and almost undone myself—I studied my stretch-marked skin, my tan lines, the effects of gravity and of the passing of years. And I put my hands under my drooping breasts and lifted them up just like a bra. Like a good bra, the kind that cost $40, the kind that give you back the boobs of your twenties. I lifted my breasts back up. Way up--to age 19--and suddenly it was so painfully apparent to me.

Location of belly button: same.

Distance from breasts to navel: greatly reduced by effects of gravity.

My belly button didn’t move up.

My boobs moved. Down.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Goodbye two ways

Shoes and scones.

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My mom's cleaning out my old bedroom to make a fitness room (that's always the way it happens, isn't it?) and I'm under contract to go through one box or bag of my old stuff each time I come over to the house. Today it was a teal flamingo bag full of pointe shoes and ballet slippers, circa 1993-2000. I couldn't find my first pair (I'm hoping they're in another box somewhere) but I did save one token pair from this giant stack. I also have a similarly large pile somewhere at our house from my professional dancing days (E and I were married by then, and I was going through pointe shoes at a much faster rate than I did in my studio days).

So many memories in these stinky old shoes. But then, what can you do with them? You're probably looking at thousands of dollars of shoes in just that picture, but they're not the kind of item with some kind of purpose in my now life. Just look at that one upside down ballet slipper on the left. A disgusting, disgusting memory trigger. (For some wonderful memories!) That's my high school and college years in a bag.

And yet one doesn't want to encourage hoarding tendencies. Into the garbage they went. Onward.

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I'm also saying goodbye tonight--no, not to the scones, although I'll make short work of them, I promise--to Downton Abbey, Season 3. Why didn't I know it was all over after tonight? Why, little baby Jesus, WHY? I'm NOT READY.

I made scones so I'd have something theme-appropriate to stuff in my face tonight when I sit down in front of PBS to eat my feelings.

So sad.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Speaking Terms With Spinach

Saturday morning. Favorite.

Oh, Saturday morning. Where have you been?

I was so happy to wake on my own at about 6:00 this morning (after sleeping through the night!) and see (once I got up) that it was sunny and beautiful outside. I knew I could sneak a quiet hour or two alone on the couch by the front window. I haven't even turned on the TV. I'm just sitting here, watching cats. I'm that woman and I love it.

Meancat pretends not to be mean.

I also decided to spend this morning getting reacquainted with two things my body has missed: vegetables and coffee. I haven't been well enough to go to the grocery store and since I was sick on the heels of a school trip, E's been bringing home take-out food for just about every meal--and God bless 'im, or we wouldn't have been able to eat. But that gets expensive. Last night I needed to haul my but to the grocery store or we were going to have to go out in the backyard this morning to forage in the remnants of last spring's garden for vittles. Muddy, muddy vittles. So one big trip to the store later, I'm enjoying my healthy-as-tree-bark green smoothie and home brewed cup of coffee. It's been a while.

In this morning's smoothie:

1 cup soymilk
1 tbsp almond butter
2 cups raw spinach
1/2 frozen banana
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
3 ice cubes
1/4 cup water

Spinach before 8:00 AM? You bet. Sickies like me need all the help we can get.

Today I'm also going to catch up with my girl Roo and take her on a much-needed girl date. Our most significant interaction lately has been the tense grunting we did at each other when we worked on her science fair project, so it's time to leave the boys behind and put her in a space where any girl would open up and start chatting: the mall.

You think I'm joking, but I'm not. By 1:00 today, Roo and I will be BBFLs again.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Ladies of Disneyland

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After our six college tours, it was time to turn the high school kids loose on Disneyland. I wish I had felt better so I could have had more energy, but there's no such thing as a wasted trip to Disneyland for me. I love it, love it, love it, even when I feel kinda sicky. It was fun to go with my friends from school and put my Disneyland-map-in-head skills to the test. From just about any point in the park I can point you to the nearest bathroom, churro, or Mickey Pretzel. These things come in handy.

It felt like a quick trip--we had to pick and choose what we did. We had Saturday night in the park (after visits to SDSU and UCSD) and then most of Sunday. Saturday was reeeeally busy, so we didn't get on a lot of rides, but we hit the favorites and we were able to meet up with two of my former students in the park. (Color me proud, once again!) We managed to catch the tail end of the fireworks, Saturday, too. Sunday we were in the park early and it was nice and empty. By afternoon I was starting to really feel sick and run down--I had to get out of line for Soarin' because I felt a little woozy--so I sat down to enjoy another of my Disney pastimes: people watching. We finished our trip with a relaxing lunch at the Blue Bayou, and then we were back on our bus by 5:00, headed for home.

I still haven't gotten to see Cars Land, but I know I will, and hopefully by the time I finally get there the lines will have gotten a little shorter. By Sunday my cold was too bad to care, and we were running out of time when we made it over to California Adventure. Hopefully I can make it back down south soon with the monkeys. They're still begging for another trip down there since Henry was so sick on our vacation this summer and we were there days before the Cars Land opening.

I couldn't be more thankful for the group of teachers I got to travel with. Four smart, hilarious, amazing ladies that I respect so much.  Totally easy travel companions. All five of us roomed together and it was a blast. Like a three night slumber party. We kept each other giggling at night, playing "would you rather...?" and gossiping like teenagers. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

College Visits | UC Riverside, San Diego State & UC San Diego

After getting soaked at Pomona, we headed over to UC Riverside to get almost drowned in a downpour.

I've been to Riverside many a time with our school's Mock Trial team, and I am officially a student of UC Riverside through my MFA program, which runs out of the Palm Desert Campus. But I have never been to the main campus. I was excited to see it.

Even though it was raining, and freezing, and RAINING SO HARD, I loved it. I'm sure there's a slight bias here, but I was definitely surprised and impressed by this school. Riverside the city isn't anything to write home about, but the university was quite nice. Even though I have been completely impressed beyond belief by my program itself, it's easy to think of it in a void. I think since I do most of my work online (which feels kind of strange and also--at times--completely frustrating because of the stupid program we use) and then I go to residency at a fancy schmancy hotel twice a year for my classes (which feels too good to be true) I didn't have the official college feeling about being in grad school. I think it was good to walk on the campus and feel like I'm sending my money to a legitimate place. I will admit to being a little bit giddy.

Also, do you know UCR invented Cuties? You're welcome, America.

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After UCR, we headed down to La Jolla to check into our next hotel. Our shower was awesomely poop-free, and our hotel was across from a mall where we could let the kiddos shop and find something to eat for dinner. Everyone was back and tucked into bed by a decent hour.

Saturday we visited San Diego State University first. It was the only school that we saw that disappointed me a bit. I think this was probably because it was all but deserted. They don't offer tours on Saturdays, so we pretty much had to just roam around on our own. I loved the Spanish architecture and the Love Library, but there wasn't much else to see here, unfortunately. It's too bad, because from what I hear, SDSU is a pretty lively school.

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Our final college was probably one of my favorites, UC San Diego. It was such a nice mix of nature and modern architecture. Even though it was Saturday, things were happening. Our tour was kind of lame--we didn't get to see a lot of the huge campus--but what we did see was great and I could tell that the philosophy of the school was great. I'd love to learn more about it, actually, so I can help kids apply.

Very comfortable, very beautiful place to be. I loved it here. This was another place I could see my monkeys being happy.

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Thoughts about all of these college visits:

  • It makes me a better high school teacher to go see as many schools as I can.
  • It will help me so much as a parent to see as many schools as I can -- it won't be long until we're doing this for Miss Roo and Hanko.
  • California has so much to offer in terms of different colleges. 
  • I love college bookstores.
  • There are no bad decisions when it comes to choosing a school.
  • God bless my good tennis shoes.

College Visits | Fresno State, CSU Dominguez Hills & Cal Poly Pomona

I'm stuck in bed again today with a monster of a cold that I brought home, so I figure I might as well catch up on a few posts about last weekend.

I was fortunate enough to get to go on a field trip with my school's AVID program with 42 sophomores and juniors to visit colleges. AVID is an amazing program, and I wholeheartedly believe it makes a difference for kids who might need a little help getting to college. I use a lot of AVID teaching strategies in my English classes and I'm hoping someday to teach the AVID elective. This trip was a great chance for me to see how the field trip works... and honestly it was a great peek into some California schools since I hadn't been to any of the six we visited. I'm thankful for the insight, since every year I'm helping seniors fill out college applications. I feel like I can more accurately speak about what they're aiming for.

Back when I was applying to colleges in high school, I did it completely blind. I checked boxes on my application without even thinking about going to the schools to see what the feel of the campus was. E and I want to start taking our kids when they're about junior high age so they will have a good idea of where they want to go. This trip was a good first step for me; I kept trying to imagine Buddy or Miss Roo in each of these places.

This trip was four days, and included six schools: Fresno State, CSU Dominguez Hills, Cal Poly Pomona, UC Riverside, San Diego State, and UC San Diego.

Our first stop was Fresno State University, in central California. It was a nice campus, and it had a really open feel. I could easily see kids transitioning from our high school (which has an Ag focus) to Fresno. In terms of architecture, it was nothing flashy, but it definitely had that college feel to it. Lots of open space. That part reminded me of UC Davis, where I went to school.

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Our next stop after a long drive (and some traffic on the 405) was CSU Dominguez Hills. This was a new school for the other AVID teachers to see, too. We met up with some of our former students, who led our tour. I loved the library building, especially.

I was really pleased to talk to our kids who are studying there and hear what a positive experience they're having. They both said that they feel like their professors really care about them and want to give back to that area. It seems like the whole school has a focus on improving the community. The kids are both thriving. Made me so proud.

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After we left CSUDH, we took the kids to a mall for dinner and then checked into our hotel near LAX. The hotel was nice enough, but we had just settled into our room on the second floor when we heard a gurgling, bubbling noise. To our horror, we had raw sewage bubbling up into our bathtub. Moments later, our toilet overflowed. It took some time for the hotel to find a place to move us, and they had to move the room of students next to us, too. Their bathtub didn't have any poop in it (thank goodness) but it just wasn't draining. After that adventure, we pretty much collapsed into bed.

The next day we woke up and headed for our our third school, Cal Poly Pomona. Beautiful school. E went to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (that's where we got engaged, too), so I've heard about Pomona but I've never seen it. It was gorgeous and in some ways very similar to SLO. It felt small. And well-maintained. Tucked into the mountains. Kind of like a private school. The kind of place I'd be really happy if Henry or Addie decided to go one day.

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