Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Bevy of Brief Book Reviews

This is what I've been reading lately:

David Copperfield
Charles Dickens

This one I read during the deepest throws of morning sickness.

In lieu of an original review here, I'm simply going to copy-and-paste from a letter I wrote to my mother-in-law, who loves Mr. Dickens, around that time:

"It's funny that you've been reading Dickens lately, because I, too, have been engaged with one of his books. But with a different response than yours, I am sad to admit. I'm reading David Copperfield, which I bought years ago because it was a required read for an English Novels class I took in college. I only got about halfway then, and -- fortunately for me -- my professor didn't like Dickens enough to test very heavily on that novel. I picked it up again just recently because I wanted something to read that I didn't mind associating with nausea. Well, I've again read through about half of it-- happily, but not lustily-- and am again contemplating laying it to rest. Dickens' prose is delightful and his characters endearing, but delightful and endearing can only get me so far -- about 400 pages of teeny print far-- before I start wishing that there was something more meaty to the text. Perhaps I should try one of his other novels."

(I didn't finish it.)

Long Quiet Highway: Waking up in America
Natalie Goldberg

Long Quiet Highway is the spiritual autobiography of Natalie Goldberg, who has most famously written "Writing Down the Bones," a book about writing that I adored. Unfortunately, I did not adore this book-- though I did, at least, read the whole thing.

In LQH, Natalie Goldberg details her journey from life as an a-religious secular Jew, to years lived openly as a spiritualistic hippie, and ultimately to her discovery of and integration into Zen Buddhism. The primary insight I gained from this book is that a daily spiritual practice is the central core of any sustainable spirituality. The two things that kept me from really enjoying the book were as follows:

1) Goldberg's spirituality seemed to degrade from an awareness of truth and light to an intense hero worship centering around her Zen Master. I wanted to shake her and be like, "This isn't about Katagiri Roshi! This is about sitting sazen! Aren't you listening to yourself?"

2) The writing style started to wear on me after a while. Goldberg is really big on concrete details, which can be charming, but after hundreds of pages of, "My friend and I sat in an rusty brick restaurant with black-and-white-tiled floors and shiny red booths. The waitress had puffy blonde hair and wore pink lipstick. We drank cups of black coffee and licked the dry crumbs that fell from our Danishes while we talked...." I started to get really sick of concrete details. Again, you might chalk this up to the fact that I was just plain sick.

Cold Sassy Tree
Olive Ann Burns

Excellent. I am a sucker for a good Southern novel. And this was a really good Southern novel. It had an excellent premise, fabulous writing, and very real characters. I can't describe it any better than the book review on the front of the cover: "Rich with emotion, humor and tenderness...A novel about an old man growing young, a young man growing up, and the modern age coming to a small southern town."

Two thumbs up for Cold Sassy Tree.

The Shell Seekers
Rosamunde Pilcher

One of my college roommates--an English major, even--really loved this book. She would vehemently defend its merits against the attacks of my other two English major roommates. My mother has had a copy of it sitting on her paperback shelf for as long as I can remember, and I finally decided to pick it up and give it a go. Fifty pages in I decided to give it a pitch.

It read too much like a cheap romance novel. There was a whole bunch of "telling" vs. "showing," long paragraphs of background information that would have fit better in flashbacks and hints, lots of fakey details you could tell were included by the author as a bit of wishful thinking--a childless career woman who slept with men like they were bed pillow, an apartment decorated all in white, a mother who spent her days feeding strangers in her warm kitchen while she mended at the "freshly scrubbed table." I kept getting the distinct impression that this book was not so much an attempt to tell a story as it was an attempt by the author to escape her own reality. I decided to endure all this, however, and see just what it was that English Major #1 liked so much about this book, but when I got to this scene, I hit a wall and couldn't make myself go any more:

(The following describes a woman who randomly met a man at a boat party in the middle of the Caribbean, spent two days frolicking with him on an island, and decided to leave her life in London as a successful magazine editor in order to live with him.)

"She finished The Mill on the Floss and started in on Wuthering Heights and then Jane Austen. She read Satre, Recherche du temps perdu, and, for the first time in her life, War and Peace. She read classics, biographies, novels by authors she had never even heard of. She read John Cheever and Joseph Conrad, and a battered copy of The Treasure Seekers.

"And as these books were all familiar old friends to Cosmo, they were able to spend their evenings deep in long literary discussions, usually to the background accompaniment of music; the "New World," and Elgar's "Enigma Variations," and symphonies or operas in their entirety."

Because every straight guy that you meet randomly at a boat party in the Caribbean is going to feel that he could include Middlemarch and Mozart on his list of old familiar friends. The entire image that came to my mind at this point--I could just see the two of them wearing matching turtleneck sweaters, Cosmo waving a pencil blithely in the air to Ein Klein Nachtmusik while pointing out a significant passage in Bronte --was so utterly repulsive to me that I actually slammed the cover shut. I felt brain cells draining out of my head and, though I frantically tried to stuff them back in, it was too late. They were gone forever. Don't let the same thing happen to you, my friends.

Jerry Spinelli

This was donated to my workplace and, after giving our clients ample opportunity to pick it out of the donation bin, I finally decided that it was meant to be mine. Loser, like every Spinelli book I've ever picked up, was a delightful read. Spinelli hasn't forgotten what it's like to be a child, and his novels really show that. Each one provides fresh insights into the innocence, vulnerability, and wounds of childhood.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Because everybody wants to hear, in great detail, about every time I've thrown up.

This second trimester has been a little weird. I do feel better--more energetic and less nauseous--and yet, I've been throwing up a lot more. I threw up once during the entire 13 weeks of my first trimester; I've thrown up 4 times during the 1 1/2 weeks that I've been in my second.

This is something I feel that I need to note on my blog because I am not a thrower-upper, which means that puking is a little traumatizing for me. Before this pregnancy, the last time I had up-chucked was 2004. The last time I barfed before that was 1998. The last time I blew chunks before that was was 1992.

Over the course of this pregnancy, I have thrown up in the following places: some lilac bushes, a gutter, my mom's bathroom sink, my kitchen sink, and on my kitchen floor.

My favorite occasion, if such a term could be used for so unpleasant an activity, was the lilac bushes. I was out for a walk with two friends--Nick and Nathan--when I suddenly started to dry-heave. I ran over to the nearest bushes, where, after much gagging and great effort, I deposited the entire contents of my stomach: 1/2 cup of bean-with-bacon soup, 1 prenatal vitamin, 50 mg of Zoloft, and 50 of Vitamin B6. The entire time I was retching, Nick and Nathan huddled in the background, horrified, and discussing what should be done.

"Do you think she needs some water?"
"Rach? Can we get you something? Do you need some water?"
"Maybe we should run home and get her something to drink."
"Rach? Is there something we can do for you?"

I wanted to say, "Please just let me heave in peace!" But I didn't have the strength. When I finally got the situation under control, however, I was glad to have them. Nick gave me a hug while Nathan ran across the street to ask some strangers for a drink of water.

"Hi," said Nathan to the lady who answered the door at the house where he'd knocked. He was wearing knee-length dress shorts, blue canvas boatshoes, and a v-neck t-shirt with striped pastels. "My friend over there, across the street?" he pointed across the road, "She's pregnant. And, um, she just threw up. Could we get a drink of water?"

"Oh, poor kid," said the lady, squinting at me. "Of course she can have some water," She retreated into her kitchen and returned with a bottle of water. "You let me know if we can do anything else for her."

Nathan ran back across the street with the water. "She says let her know if they can do anything else," he said. The lady and her husband were both standing in the doorway of their home. I waved. They waved back. "I need a Kleenex," I told Nathan. "I threw up out my nose." So he ran back across the street and, after some gesticulating and animated explanation, returned with a Kleenex.

I blew the excess crap out of my nose, timidly swallowed some of the water, and waved gratefully again at the people who were still watching from behind their screen door. It made me glad to live in Shelley. And glad to have friends. Even friends who talk while you barf.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Newsletter: Months 19 and 20

Dear Little Boy,

Right now I'm sitting at the computer and you're sitting in your doorway jumper, happily hopping and spinning away. This letter is late--later than usual, even--so I've decided to roll the past two months into one. I'm sorry. But really, month 19 was a rough month for us--maybe one neither one of us would care to remember--so I won't dwell on it too long. In fact, we both spent a fair portion of your 19th month of life crying.

This is how it was. I, newly pregnant, was miserably sick and wanted to be left alone to die in peace; you, firstborn and spoilt, were unhappy about my inactivity and wanted to be romped with at every moment. It was all I could do to occasionally heft myself off the couch, heave you into your high chair, plunk some graham crackers and fruit cocktail on your tray, and pour you a glass of milk. You, on the other hand, felt that I should do more. So, while I tried to nap on the couch, you would crawl on top of me, pull my hair, bite any exposed bits of skin, and force me to stand up in my weakened condition, pick up all 26 wriggling pounds of you, and dump you into your "time out" pen. Upon your release from prison, you would run around finding illicit and dangerous activities in which to participate. And after I had been forced to leave my position of repose for the 30th time in 15 minutes to direct you away from the garbage can, I would usually begin to cry. This, of course, would make you cry. So we would sit together, amongst heaps of toys I was too tired to pick up and too tired to make you pick you, and we would bawl together. Gone were blissful daily walks to the park. Gone were happy romps in homemade tents in the front room. Gone were twirling dance sessions in the kitchen.

Month 20 has been better, however.

As you can see from the pictures, you continue to wax more and more adorable with each new dawn. Grandma Hanson frequently comments, "I just keep thinking he couldn't possibly get any cuter. Then he goes and does it: he gets even cuter. How is that even possible?" The answer is: I have no idea. And yet, it happens. It must be a miracle.

My favorite time of the day has become our mornings together. When I come in to get you out of your crib I always sing, "Good Morning! Good Morning! You're my sweetest little boy! Good Morning! Good Morning! To you!" while you bounce up and down on the mattress and smile at me. Then we sit in your rocking chair and cuddle and talk for 20 minutes or so. You suck on my hair and poke at my face and babble on in the sweet little toddler language that only makes sense to you; I giggle and squeeze you and help you remember what "eyes" and "noses" and "mouths" are. You eventually wiggle your way out of my arms and run over to unplug the nightlight, which I quickly confiscate, and we move on to the breakfast portion of our day, which is not nearly so pleasant, because it usually involves me throwing up and you throwing food.

I have had several people request that I mention here that you currently have a mild obsession with sitting on people's heads. Uncle Sue even went so far as to call it an "insatiable desire," pointing to the way in which you, post head-conquest, wiggle and readjust your behind in a way that seems to say, "this just isn't as satisfying as I had hoped it would be." No prone adult or child is safe from your bum-to-head assaults. Some even seek after them. The very first thing your Aunt Briar did when she came to visit was lie down on the floor because she wanted to see if you would really sit on her head like everyone said you would. You, of course, complied.

Your vocabulary continues to develop, and a cute thing you do is use one word for multiple purposes. For example, you say "no" for "no," "no" for "yes," and "no" for "nose." "Ahdah" means "all done," "all gone," "amen," and "the end." "Hottt" (and yes, you emphasize the 't' sound) can indicate anything thermally warm as well as anything that might be causing you mild discomfort. In fact, I just fed you some spicy hot V8, which made you declare with certainty, "Hottt!" I realized this month that you've been saying "horse" for a while-- but you pronounce it "hsss," so it took me several weeks to realize that's what you were saying. You also have added "choo-choo," "kkkkkiiii" (for icky), "iss," (yes), "wiaes," (please), and "ahwwo" (for hello) to your lexicon.

A bonus to your developing language skills has been the fact that you often tattle on yourself while participating in nefarious toddler deeds. "No," I'll hear you saying in your bedroom. "No. No. No." And sure enough, when I go to investigate, you'll be pulling diaper wipes out of their container. "No," you'll say from the kitchen, and sure enough, I'll catch you pulling rotten banana peels and shredded credit card offers out of the garbage can. And when I make my entrance, you usually look up with your big blues and say, "Uh oh."
One of your favorite activities is swinging, though people observing you from a close distance wouldn't be able to tell. You'll walk over to a swing, beg to be put in it, and then swing--without any expression--for as long as my limited attention span can stand it. You don't smile. You don't laugh. Other little kids will come over, swing, and leave, be replaced by other little kids who will swing for a little while and leave, and you will continue to swing and swing. Sometimes I'll stop you and say, "Are you done? Do you want down?" "No," you'll say. "Does that mean yes?" I'll ask, acting like I'm going to take you out of the swing, "No!" you'll say. So I'll push you for a while longer. I can talk you into playing on the other equipment briefly, but those are temporary distractions from the real purpose of the playground: the swing set.

There's been a fair amount of cross-dressing in your life as of late. You've taken to picking up stray articles of my clothing and putting them on yourself. This often comes across as quite fashionable. Here you are pictured wearing a halter top dress. While we were visiting at Auntie Collette's house a few weeks ago, cousin Calysta took it into her head to put you in a pink ruffly girl dress that fit a jumbo-sized doll her grandma had given her. It also fit you. You looked adorable and I wished desperately for a camera, though I must say that you didn't really look like a girl. You looked like a little boy dressed up in bloomers and a skirt.

For the most part, you are a joy to have around--I call you "my little sparkle"-- though we have been struggling to teach you that biting and hair pulling are unacceptable behaviors. It seems like nothing works. Saying "no" and showing you how to touch "gently" doesn't seem to have made an impact. Saying "no" and putting you in time-out hasn't touched you at all. Getting really mad and yelling just makes you giggle. We're hoping that time will help our situation, because your little teeth are razor sharp and your strong little arms can pull hair extra hard.


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